Monday, March 30, 2009

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – March 29th, 2009

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
As a pastor who talks to other pastors, I hear about all sorts of complaints about the Church and its preachers. “You know, churches today are just too mean.” You are of your father the devil. “We should be more understanding of the trials people face, let them deal in their own way. We shouldn’t be so judgmental.” And your will is to do your father’s desires. “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong, I can do as I please!” He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth. “Well, that might have been how they did things back in Jesus’ day, but things are just too different today.” There is no truth in him. “I don’t know why you are so harsh, we are pretty good people after all.” When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. One of the burdens we face today, dear friends, is the simple fact that this world, at least as we know it in America, is becoming more obviously and openly opposed to Christ and His Church. In reality, this is the way it has always been, but we see it more now. We see people rejecting the Church – and we panic. We think, “What will we do – we have to do something.” This is nothing new. In the 50s the big catch word was “relevant” – we have to make the church relevant to the people, in other words, whatever we think people want. And there have been other things – the 60s and 70s gave us the folk masses set to acoustic guitar, in the 80s there was the big push to make the Church and worship more exciting, in the 90s the big focus was on trying to meet “felt needs”, a few years ago everything was “extreme”, now a big one is being authentic, keeping it real. In a few years there will be some other gimmick. People aren’t coming – *we* have to do something.

All of this is so unneeded. There is a simple truth that we in our vanity, in our salesmanship mentality have forgotten in the US – people don’t reject the Gospel because it isn’t relevant, or it doesn’t hit their felt needs. The problem isn’t that we don’t package the Gospel rightly – it’s something much simpler than that. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. People are terrified of the truth. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is discussing things with the Pharisees, and He has just told them that He is the Messiah who comes to bring truth, that the Truth will set them free from sin. Just prior to our text, our Lord said “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And the Pharisees don’t want any of that. And Christ calls them on it. Why do they not understand? Why do not they not care? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. This is the simple fact – that sinful folk do not like to hear God’s Word. The Pharisees didn’t like it in the text – they even plan to stone Jesus. People don’t like it today, either.

Why? Why don’t people like hearing God’s Word? A lot of it has to do with the Law. God’s Law is an unpleasant thing. You want an example of God’s Law being unpleasant – look at our Old Testament lesson. Hear what God commands Abraham to do – Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering. . . . That’s a statement of Law right there. Isaac is going to die. And he deserves death. Abraham can’t argue against it – Abraham knows that he himself hasn’t done anything to earn this child – in fact, as we have been studying in Sunday morning bible class on Genesis, Abraham has been doing almost anything and everything but what God wants him to do when it comes to his family and children. Abraham can’t gainsay God here – if God wants Isaac dead, well, that’s the wages of sin.

That’s hard. That is hard to bear – that is a harsh truth. We don’t like the truth. Think about how much work and effort people will put into justifying themselves, into escaping the blame for something – and even when there is no punishment, really, even when admitting that you’ve done wrong only might mean that someone doesn’t think as well of you for a few days. We will duck and dance – it’s not my fault. Oh, how we will dance and dodge. And what about when something doesn’t go right in our life - We will get angry and rail – how can you do this to me God! I don’t deserve this. Eh, that’s not true. Your toil in this life is nothing – you deserve death. That’s what the truth is, that what God says in His Word. That’s what gets the Pharisees so steamed at Jesus.

Abraham trusted the Lord, though; Abraham knew that God’s Word was more than just a word of Law – but also a word of Gospel, a word of mercy. That’s why he’s bold to take Isaac, that’s why he tells the servants who stay behind that they both will come back down the mount – Abraham trusts in God’s mercy – God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice. And we see that God does do so – a ram is given to take Isaac’s place. Imagine the joy that Abraham would have had at being stopped, at looking up and seeing the ram and knowing that his Isaac would live. This is the joy that Christ speaks of in the Gospel – Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Of course Abraham rejoiced – because God would spare Abraham’s son Isaac at the cost of His own Son, Christ Jesus. This is the heart of the Gospel – not that there are no consequences to sin, not that our sin doesn’t matter or doesn’t deserve death – but rather this – Christ Jesus has come and has born up the weight of sin in our place, that He suffers and dies for us upon the Cross, that with His death and resurrection He sets us free from sin. This is the great and wondrous word of the Gospel – this is what the Gospel truly is – that you are forgiven by God not on account of your works, not on account of your effort, but on account of the precious death and resurrection of Christ Jesus your Lord.

And yet – the Pharisees in the text are still angry, still reject Christ after he explains this. People today still reject it. Why? Because the Gospel truth is this – that Jesus is our Savior. The Gospel makes sense only if we know and believe the Law. Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Law, He fulfills it to be our Savior. If Jesus is our Savior – it means that we need to be saved, it means that we lack, that we sin, that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t perfectly fine as we are, that we always can and ought to do better. You can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the Law first – because the two go hand in hand. And that is why so many people reject the Gospel – they reject the truth of the Law – and so they reject the truth of the Gospel as well. When do the Pharisees want to stone Jesus – not just when He says that they are sinners, but when He reveals to them who He is – Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. The Gospel is that God gets involved in your life, that God is the one who saves you – and that involvement of God is something that man according to his sinful nature fears – that he runs away from, just like Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall.

So what do we make of all of this? We see that all too many people don’t like the truth of God’s Word. They don’t like the Law rightly preached – calling their sin what it is – sin, and pointing out that it is wrong and deserves punishment – temporal and eternal punishment as we confessed together a few moments ago. They don’t like the Gospel either – the truth that God and God alone is our Savior, without any worth or merit in us. First, we need remember that this applies to us as well. It is not just people out there who do not like God’s truth – your own sinful flesh will rebel against it – your own pride that still clings to you will rebel against it. That is why we have a focus on repentance, that is why we are to daily drown our old Adam and instead be focused upon Christ. That is why we are to come here and hear preaching, hear absolution, receive Christ’s Body and Blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith – so that we ourselves don’t fall away.

But also this. We are tempted, especially in this day and age, to soft sell God’s truth. To try and make it more appealing to sinful man, to accommodate and cater to people – thinking that if we just get them in the door, eventually, eventually they will learn. We are tempted to put what we think people want to hear over what God says. Then, they won’t be mad at us, or think ill of us. But dear friends – that is not the way. Consider you yourself – you were brought to faith and you have been kept in that faith by what – by God’s Word rightly preached and rightly taught. That’s the same thing the people who don’t believe right now need – the same thing your family and friends need as well. The truth is that they are in need of God’s love – and that God richly loves them and offers them salvation and forgiveness. Speak them the Word, over and over again, even if they don’t like it. That doesn’t mean be a jerk about it, but be honest and truthful, even when the truth is difficult and hard to hear. That’s what Christ does here – and the Pharisees certainly don’t like it. And He speaks over and over again – and some never like it – but because our Lord preaches again and again – some do end up believing. Because the Apostles preach God’s Word in its truth, some do end up believing. Because faithful Christians, Pastors, parents, friends spoke God’s Word in truth and purity to you, you believe. And we are part of that chain now – now we are called to speak God’s Word rightly, so that the people we know might know what God’s truth is, so that the Holy Spirit might work, not through the plans we dream up, but that the Spirit might work through the Word which He places upon our lips.

And we know this, we see this, we understand this when and only when we hear and believe the Word of God in its truth and purity. We have been brought to faith – we know the weight of the Law, even when we don’t like it – and so we know the sweetness of the Gospel – so we cling to Christ in faith because He has drawn us unto Himself by His Word. Let us continue to glory only in Christ and His Cross, His salvation which He won for us – and let us keep this on our lips, so that those we know might not be led astray by the latest trendy fad in the world, but that they might hear the Truth of God’s love for them. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An appreciation for home

Last night, really for the first time since I have been the pastor here, I officiated at a communion service at a sister congregation. In our Lenten rotation it was my turn (finally, after nearly 5 years) to head to Redeemer, Pastor Hall's congregation, and Pastor Hall thought it would be good to have a communion service for the Annunciation instead of the normal lenten series we had been doing.

As Redeemer does things different than Zion, there were many things that I got to do which I hadn't done since I had been here. I got to chant more than just the intro line to the Gloria in DS III (and Mrs. Hall said I wasn't that far off key - I was at points, but just needed practice), there were kneelers for communion. . . even had two assistants for distrubution, so I only had to worry about distributing our Lord's Body (here I also handle the chalice for anyone who hasn't taken individual as well). A choir sang in Latin. . . cha cha cha! (And I could translate the Latin, which was sort of neat, too) It went very well (only attempted to commune one gal who wasn't confirmed, but she waved me off. . .) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. . . but. . . .

It was. . . different than being here. I've gotten used to the way things are done here. This past 5 years is the longest stretch in my life where I have been at one Church and one Church alone. . . really ever (I had a 5 year stretch that ended when I was a fourth grader). Things have gotten comfortable for me here - and the differences stood out. Redeemer's communion ware is very heavy and nice (the first time I went to lift the chalice, I basically didn't pick it up. . . you have to be careful how hard you pull up lest you slosh!), and their temporary sanctuary during their building project is by far the most well designed one I've seen. Communing 30 or so at a table is different than communing 8 to 10 all huddled up front here.

So what is the response I have?

1. An appreciation for home. It's not that I appreciate my own congregation more now - rather I realize just how much I have come to appreciate the things here.

2. And understanding of the difference between congregations. I had heard over and over from people how another place "just isn't the same." And that IS true - there are differences, and when you have gotten used to something, you've gotten used to something.

3. The importance of the unity of liturgical worship. Yet even as I saw those differences, what I saw was that more wondrous truth that in spite of the local variations and slight differences in custom - it's the same Church, same Lord, they are truly our sister congregation (indeed, come what may in this world of sin, I'm pretty sure that Redeemer will remain our sister congregation) and that there is a unity that is beyond. . . beyond what we are used to talking about. Even though it was different -- if for some reason I had to be there regularly (as a parishoner. . . panic not Hall, I'm not after your job. . . although that wireless mike you have IS nice) it would still be home. And that's something that we in our individualistic country today need to remember.

Just some thoughts for the day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fort Wayne's Roman Bishop

So according to cnn the Roman Catholic Bishop (of both Fort Wayne and South Bend) is going to skip President Obama's speech at Notre Dame. The reason given is President Obama's recent Stem-cell and Abortion policies. I have a few things.

1. Is this getting any press or play in Fort Wayne?

2. This is brilliant, in my opinion. A lot of people would say, "Don't let him speak." Nope - that isn't a clear statement of disapproval, it just seems mean and harsh. Rather, let him speak, and let your absence be a clear sign of disapproval, and disapproval directly of the specific policies which you name.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jeff is Awesome. . . Todd. . . well. . . we don't know yet

I will just have to say that Jeff at Issues Etc is all sorts of awesome, as he for the 2nd time has picked out this blog as the blog of the week. Thus we can conclude that he is a man of upstanding theological and moral character.

This Todd Wilken character. . . I'm not so sure about him, though yet. Jeff I know has good taste. . . Todd. . . well, you know. . . I just probably have a innate lack of trust of anyone with that name as my mom would play "Sweeney Todd" while I was a child growing up.

Still, awesome kuddos to Jeff.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another sermon to preach

Lent 4 – March 22nd, 2009 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Lent can be a hard and rough time, an intense time in the Church. I know full well that the sermons the past three weeks have been somewhat blunt and intense. That’s what happens in Lent. And I think that the intensity of Lent, the intensity of a focus on repentance can be a bit shocking to us today in America because we have forgotten that there is a cost of discipleship, that there is a weight and burden attached to being a Christian. It shows up in the old hymns. We sing in A Mighty Fortress - “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife”. We sing in What a Friend We have in Jesus – “Are we weak and heavy laden. . .Do your friends despise, forsake you? These are hymns that are describing the burden, the true burden in this life of being a Christian, of turning your back upon the world. . . and letting the world kick you in the backside. This is something that Christ though is blunt and honest about – we hear Him teach this, but somehow in America our mindset has gotten twisted. We think that because we are Christians we should have things easier, that if we are good little Christian boys and girls that we should get more toys. When we think of Saints, do we think of people who suffered all, even death, for the sake of Christ, or when we think of Saints, do we think of green beer or excuses for flowers and boxes of chocolate, or even a guy in a red suit bringing us presents because, gosh darnit, we’ve just been so good that we’ve earned, earned our presents.

In America we’ve sort of lost the expectation that the Christian life is hard and difficult – and as such, Lent seems insanely burdensome – the concept of giving something up astounding – and as such, we don’t understand what Christ our Lord teaches in the Gospel today – Refreshment Sunday – the pink Sunday of Lent. What we are going to do today is look at the feeding of the 5000, but in terms of burden and relief, in terms of trials in this life and being rescued. It fits well, and it is something we need to hear, need to be rightly focused on.

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples. Now, the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread that these people may eat?” Here is the familiar set up. Jesus has been doing miracles, He has been preaching, and large crowds begin to follow Him. And Jesus sees the crowds, and Jesus asks the disciples a simple question. Where are we going to buy bread to feed these folks? Now, consider this. You’ve been walking all day, following after a person. Jesus had gone onto the other side of the Sea of Galilee, so you may have gone many, many miles following Jesus, eager to hear Him, eager to see Him in action. In a hot, dusty, rugged area. All the day long.

What would these people following Jesus here look like? They would be a mess, they would be tired, they would be hungry. There is a cost, a burden associated with these people following Jesus. Their bodies are worn. They’ve probably missed lunch, if not more meals than that. The money they would have earned that day – never gotten by them. They have made a sacrifice, their life is harder right now because they are in that crowd. Things of this life, they gave up, simply to follow Christ.

Now, as we observed a few weeks ago, Jesus knows quite well what it is to be like out in the desert, tired and hungry. And so we know that Christ will have compassion, that He will seek to alleviate their hunger. However, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t hungry. That doesn’t mean that there was no cost, no burden to the people. It is rough following Christ. Christ doesn’t make things easy – rather this – He will refresh and strengthen them, so that they can recover from this day, so that they can be prepared for the next.

The same is true in your life. Christ knows your life is hard, and He knows that the more you try to live as a Christian, the more you turn away from sin, the more you say no to the people of the world who want to do wickedness, the more you give of yourself so that others can have and rejoice – the more you do these Christ-like things the harder your life is. And so Christ will refresh you. He will bolster you on His Word, He will feed you on His Supper, He will encourage you, He will let you see joys in simple things, simple acts of compassion that the world will never know. But still, we can ask the question. Why the hard stuff in the first place? If Jesus was gonna feed these people, why’d He let them follow Him out around a lake in the first place? If God is going to give us peace and rest, why is there a burden in the first place? This text gives us two reasons, which we will see shortly.

First, listen to what Jesus says to Phillip. “Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Jesus knew what He was going to do – but here is the question. Did the disciples know? And the answer is no. Phillip mutters that a mound of cash wouldn’t do much good. Even Peter, top of the class Peter says, “Eh, a boy has five loaves and two fish, but that doesn’t amount to much.” The disciples didn’t know, they didn’t understand. If they didn’t know what Christ would do, how would they be able to be Christ-like, to do things like Christ? One of the things that we forget is that the Christian life is often compared to training, to learning, to improving. And that is hard. If you want to be a better runner you don’t sit on the couch eating bon-bons – you must run and often. If you want to be a better basketball player you don’t play XBOX or playstation, your Coach is going to send you through drills until you are worn out. If you want to be a better reader, you can’t just read nothing but Clifford the Big Red Dog books, you have to pick up harder and more difficult books, learn words you hadn’t known before. Learning math means you’ve got to do homework. Even in the things of this world, we grow in the face of struggle.

The same thing holds true in our lives as Christians. If we are to grow to be like Christ, we have to be put in places, be given opportunities to do Christ-like things. And that means difficulty. That means showing love even to your enemies, that means praying even for those who persecute you, that means making the care of others your top priority, even if it means a lack for yourself. Our Lord says in Luke that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Recognize the trials in your life for what they are – for they are not simply burdens, but they are opportunities which Christ gives you in order for you to grow, to grow in love, to know in knowledge amd wisdom, to grow in understanding of Christ’s love for you. In this world which is full of sin, we will always need growth in Christ, learning how to struggle against sin, and it will remain a struggle, that is the way things must be here.

Then we know what happens in the text. Christ provides, and He provides abundantly. 12 baskets of leftovers are gathered. Christ does provide us with all that we need, the difficulties are endured and conquered, and we rejoice and give thanks. However, there is that verse at the end of the section that is also of note this morning. Perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. The people have just been fed, have just received this wonderful blessing from Christ – and what do they want to do? They want to do the exact opposite of what Christ wants them to. They want to make Him King, they want more and more blessings, let’s just focus on our bellies and the here and now.

Let me ask a question. Do children who are provided every thing they wish, receive every whim that they desire grow in maturity – or do they become spoiled, miserable brats? The same thing holds true spiritually. You know yourself. If you never had any struggle, any toil, any difficulties, would you grow in your faith? Would you learn to trust God more, or would you rather end up putting your trust in stuff, in blessings? Would you want to see Jesus heal more sick people, show more love to others, or simply fill your belly?

Here is the wonder. Christ provides for us – but he provides what is good for us, what is proper for us, blessings to sustain us, but not blessings to make us lazy and lethargic. He acts in a way that is best for us. Don’t you think that in the text it is best for the people that Jesus withdraws from them there? He didn’t come ultimately to make them tasty bread, He came to win them life and salvation by going to the Cross. But at the moment, the crowd doesn’t see that, they are just focused on their bellies. Christ withdraws because His focus is right. Same thing in our lives now – Christ doesn’t want you focused simply on the pleasures and stuff of this life, this world. This life will never be the end-all be-all of your life, but rather you are being prepared and preserved for the joys of heaven. Christ will bless you, He will sustain you – but He isn’t going to spoil you and He isn’t make you lazy. Rather this – He will sustain you and support you throughout your struggles, indeed for your struggles so that you will conquer them in Him.

This is what we receive in the Word, this is what we receive in Christ’s Supper. Forgiveness strengthens us for life, strengthens us so that we might go out and live. We close this service with the benediction, so that our life in the world this week might be blessed. This is God’s care for us. And it is more than enough, more than we need, and it is given to us simply because He cares for us – but it is the right care, the good care, the proper amount of care, so that we are provided for and so that we also have opportunity to grow. Christ refreshes us, and then He sustains us in our time here in this life, so that we might grow ever more closer to Him. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 19, 2009


One would think that it is easy to become negative in Lent. After all, there is that focus repentance, on our own lack, on our folly. I've been looking at America and seeing the vapid nature of our culture. Isn't it thus easy to become negative?

No. Because Christ is bigger than all of this. That's part of the point of Lent. Everyone likes to think that their culture, their time, their place, their life is fantastic (or at least they feel the need to promote their own). But the thing is, the same criticism of people today are true of any day and age. . . every culture has horrid flaws because they are filled with flawed people.

And yet, Christ Jesus and His Church has spread throughout the world. We are part of the Church catholic, the Church in every time and place -- the Church where we have seen our Lord bring His healing Gospel even to the messed up folks of the past living in the messed up cultures of the past.

Is it negative to see your own lack, your culture's messed up priorities? Not at all - it reminds us simply not to trust in earthborn princes or even our own works and to cling to Christ alone - confident in His love for us and our salvation. What could be more positive and truly uplifting than that?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Denials, denials, denials

America needs Lent. We are the land of denials. We are the land where it is never our fault, where someone else is to blame, where our successes are all our own doing but our failures are always due to someone else's meddling or mere circumstance. We are the land where we were shocked when a President actually says, "The Buck Stops Here." That was 60 some odd years ago. . . it was shocking then; it would be unthinkable now.

The nasty, twisted shape that rugged individualism deforms into, the way the myth of the self-made man crumbles is that we become a nation of denial. We can't admit our lack, our faults - because then we might also need to be humble and take no credit for our successes either.

We in America need Lent. I think more often Pastors get frustrated in Advent, with the over commericialization, and all the "why can't we just sing happy carols now on December 3rd" - and with Lent we don't get as much pressure to just jump to Easter hymns just yet. Americans want to blow through Advent - we don't like that season. . . but it is really Lent that we need. Of course we don't think much of the season of waiting - we are in the richest land in the history of the world.

No, Lent is the big one. We need to understand repentance, we need to understand just how much of our life is a denial of our own fault - we need to shout mea culpa, mea cupla, mea maxima culpa. . . but who bothers with Latin anymore? No, we don't confess, we cover up, we deny, we try to explain, we admit only to being young and foolish - never wrong. We are the land of the no-fault divorce, of the win-win conflict resolution. We are never wrong.

And that is why, so, so often, there is no Truth in American culture, for all the people crying Lord, Lord in vain.

We need Lent, so that with repentance we might behold our crucified Lord and receive His mercy. Lord have mercy upon us.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Sermon - I think I'm coming up on number 250

Lent 3, March 15th, 2009 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the face of an unpleasant truth, we like to make excuses. We mess up at work – and we can then tell you all sorts of reasons why it’s not our fault. We upset a friend, and well, they just took things completely out of context and blew things all out of proportion. Our kids get into trouble, and it’s not really their fault, it must be those bad kids they’ve been associating with this. And Pastors are no exception. My wife and I were talking about this – ever wonder why Preacher’s kids tend to be so rotten – because too many pastors say, “Oh, not my little angel, they’d never do that” all the while that little angel is running around like hell on wheels. When confronted with an unpleasant truth, when confronted with our sin, we like to stop up our ears, we like to make excuses, we like to cast blame. This, dear friends, is what happens in our Gospel text today. People make excuses, refuse to see what is actually going on – and Christ calls them on it.

Now, [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. As the text starts we see Christ going about His business – taking the battle to Satan, breaking down Satan’s kingdom bit by bit. The Son of God goes forth to war. Look, a demon, let’s take care of him. This is a wondrous thing – this shows that it is God at work for our benefit, God come to rescue us from sin and death and damnation. Surely, that is a joyous thing, surely all will rejoice over that!

But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven. But some people don’t rejoice over this. They make excuses. Duh, no, He’s not sent by God – He’s casting out demons by demons! Duh, no, He’s not from God, we’d need a sign from heaven to prove that. . . not just this. Excuses. Why? Why these excuses, why these false and idiotic reasons not to believe? Jesus calls them on their stupid arguments – But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” Jesus calls them to the carpet. We all know Satan is powerful, that Satan isn’t dumb, that his kingdom is doing fine and wicked right now. If he were divided, it would have crumbled of itself long ago. Besides, it’s sort of dangerous to say that I’m casting out demon in the name of Satan, because your own sons are casting out demons in My Name – attack Jesus, you attack your own sons. Quit holding onto the idiotic ideas.

But why are they there in the first place? A key point to note – Jesus knew their thoughts – Jesus knew what they were thinking. There was something that made Jesus doing these miracles leave a bad taste in their mouth. And then Jesus hits the nail upon the head. “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” There it is. There’s the problem. Whose kingdom? God’s Kingdom. You see, there is no neutrality spiritually, there are no undecided – the people who checked off no religion on that big survey that came out this past week aren’t really undecided – “Whoever is not with Me is against Me.” We are not morally neutral – we are either with Christ, or we are against Him.

That says something, doesn’t it? It says something about sin. We like to slough off sin, we like to make excuses for sin, we like to pretend that it doesn’t matter much. It does. Sin is wicked and vile and gross. Your sin is wicked and vile and gross. It’s not just Hitler, it’s not just Stalin who were sinners – you are as well. That is something that Christ comes and shows – because all sin is against the will of God, all sin pleases Satan. When you sin, you make Satan rejoice and cackle with glee.

And this is where too often our defense mechanisms kick in. How dare you say that about me! Why, I’m a good person! How dare you accuse my little angel of doing something! How dare you say it is my fault! We don’t like hearing that. We are like the people of Jeremiah’s time, hearing the Law preached in it’s full bluntness, hearing that we are sinners who by our sin bring folly upon our own head, and all too often we don’t like that. We fuss, we fight against it, we blame the messenger as it were, we cry out kill the preacher, we cry out “that’s just your interpretation”, we cry out “don’t be so negative, we just need to think happy thoughts.”

Know this for what it is. This is your old, sinful nature kicking in. This is the Old Adam, this is your flesh wanting it’s own way – which since the fall is actually Satan’s way. And Christ knows this – He knows the truth that since the fall you, along with every other naturally born human, have been stuck in Satan’s kingdom, fast bound in Satan’s chains. And we hear the Law, and we are terrified, so terrified we try to deny it and avoid it. The Law means by rights we should be destroyed, that we should be cast out, cast down, just like Satan. It means by nature we are on the wrong side and God would be right to smite us! And that’s rough. But listen – “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Christ doesn’t come to smite you – He comes to smite Satan and claim you, to take you back from Satan.

Don’t you realize that Satan with his temptations, with his urging you to sin, is just trying to keep you trapped? Satan is trying to keep you bound to sin, wrapped up in petty thoughts and jealousies, wrapped up in doubt and fear and misery, wrapped up in trying to pretend you’re perfect when you know you are anything but. That’s his kingdom, where the best you can hope for is a vain, smug, false self-righteousness. But Christ our Lord is not content to let mankind linger there in Satan’s clutches. Instead, He bursts in – for He is the Stronger Man, and He takes up the contest against Satan, and He defeats Satan. And you, dear friends, are the prize He seeks, the treasure our Lord would fight to reclaim – and He finds you, dented and bruised and dirty as you are, for being kept in Satan’s kingdom is a harsh thing, and He washes you clean – claims you as His own – takes you and brings you unto His own house.

That is what your Baptism is. It is where the struggle that Christ fought against Satan upon the cross is made real in your life – it is where it is applied to you – where you are washed clean. And dear friends, the life of Repentance, Confessing your sins, is nothing else than saying, “There, at the font, in my Baptism, is where I live. I am Baptized, I am one whom Christ has claimed and washed clean and forgiven.” As part of the baptismal rite, we ask the person being baptized if they renounce Satan and all his works and all his ways. What is confessing your sin but merely once again renouncing Satan and all his works and all his ways, even the works and ways that pop up again and again in your sinful flesh in this life? Confession is a return to baptism – and we need to return to our Baptism, we need to remember what Christ gave us there all of our days. Christ tells us why.

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first. The idea of “once saved, always saved” just isn’t Scriptural. People can fall away – people can renounce their baptism – and then things are worse than before. When we abandon our Baptism, when we refuse to repent, when that font is no longer the Truth of our life, of who we are – we open ourselves up to great shame and vice and wickedness. We say, Satan, have your way with me.

Therefore, we are to repent, to see that we continually strive to live out our lives as the Baptized. That is why Christ calls us to the supper. The house in the passage was empty – but Christ calls you to the Supper and He fills you with His own Body and Blood so that you are full, so that you are never empty – so that you are always ready to resist the lure of Satan. This is the reality of life on this earth. If we are not with Christ, we are against Him – but see that He calls you unto Himself, He fought to claim you as His own, and He provides His Word to keep you as His own – that is why those who hear the Word of God and keep it, who remain in the Word and in the blessings of life and salvation and forgiveness that the Word gives are indeed well and truly blessed.

Dear friends, I urge and exhort you – turn away from the false excuses you would raise for yourself. They are false, and they only give Satan joy. Rather this, call out to God for mercy, cry out that you know your sin and need rescue, and our Gracious and Loving God will create a clean heart in you, He will renew a right Spirit with you. He does not desire to cast you away, but our Lord’s delight is in casting out and thrusting down Satan, so that you belong to Christ alone, so that He can restore you and uphold you. This is what Christ does – He defeats sin, including your sin. Do not fear to face down your sin, for Christ faces it down with you, indeed, for you. This is the promise He made you at your baptism – this is His promise to you for life. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Real Question is "Why"

I've already had one weighty post today over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds but, as I am in an introspective sort of mood, I figure I will do one more. I'll do it here partially because I know it's something that I'd bump heads with some of the Blackbirds over.

Birth Control is not evil.

There. I said it. Birth Control (provided it is a preventative and not a destructive method) is not evil. Now, if it violates your conscience to use BC, by all means, don't - and defy anyone who mocks you for following your conscience. However, I would like to make a defense of an appropriate, Christian use of birth control.

First, I will admit that there are negative social ramifications of birth control - people will point to that quite often as why it is bad. I don't buy it - BC is a tool, and in a sinful world every tool has negative ramifications. Guns protect our families, and guns make it much easier even for the unskilled to kill, murder, and maim as criminals. Antibiotics are a great healing tool, but we also end up promoting super-bugs from their misuse. The modern Supermarket provides us access to a wonderful assortment of tasty foods where we can have more delight in our daily bread than Solomon did, yet we also get fat on processed food. It's a sinful world, everything, every single blessing can be turned and twisted into something evil and wicked. That's the breaks in a sinful world.

We can't operate simply out of an approach of fear - an approach that something can be misused preventing its right use - that's the trap of legalism and Pietism. "People are misusing the Sacrament, better take it away". . . . That doesn't work. Blessings will be abused. I categorically reject the argument that abuse means all should avoid. Rather - there should be a focus on a right use.

"But then," my straw man might ask, "what of the verses in Scripture like Genesis 1:28 that tell man to be fruitful and multiply, what of the verses that speak of all the blessings that children are!" To that I would respond in two ways.

First, if I were being smarmy, I would respond, "But what of the verses where Virginity is praised, what of the verses where Paul says that he wishes all people were as he were - if we are Virgins we aren't having any kids (one notable exception - but I would argue that exception serves to prove the rule)." We do see places in Scripture where people are expressly encouraged and praised for behavior that doesn't lead to children (and of course, the quick counter to that is that this isn't shown in the context of marriage -- true, but if there are examples where people are shown to be God-pleasing where they aren't multiplying, we can discuss God pleasing non-multiplication). We cannot make children the end-all of the Christian life, anymore than we should make the obtaining of any blessing the end-all of Christian life.

However, if I were being less smarmy and combative and snide, I would probably point to the Genesis 1:28 as well - but the whole verse - "And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the birds of the heaves and over every living thing that moves over the earth." Now no, I'm not going to fall into the overpopulation gambit (i.e. we have filled the earth type of arguing - sorry but there still is room here, that doesn't work well) - rather this. The second part of the verse deals with having dominion - deals with having control.

God has given us reason - and reason like all tools can be used to wrong ends. However, what is the proper use of reason - so that under the Word of God we might rightly exercise control over God's creation. This includes ourselves. This includes the making of tools to aid in that control over creation.

I myself, and my wife, are part of that creation. It is my duty to exercise dominion over my family, that aspect of creation that has been given expressly to me and no other by God to me to the best of my abilities. I will use the tools at my disposal so to do, so long as they are not clearly contrary to God's Word.

Now, I will not argue against the fact that birth control is misused - but here we get to the title of the post. The real question is "Why". With any action, with any decision, we have to ask why. Are we acting out of love or acting out of fear? Are we working for the gain of others or for selfish gain.

We are told we are not to kill. Yet, we do not condemn the soldier who in his duty kills. In fact, as Lutherans we say that it is good, right, and salutary for the soldier to go forth and in the exercise of his vocation to kill and destroy. The why of an action is important.

Likewise, with birth control, the "Why" needs to be discussed. Is birth control being used out of love or out of fear? Is it being used to show care and compassion to the family, or out of selfish desires? There are reasons when having kids might literally be a bad thing - and out of love for family and spouse, I believe I have the right to exercise dominion and say, "I will seek to prevent". If God wills otherwise - so be it - the Lord of Life can defeat latex. I act, but also in humility.

"But, but, but," stammers the straw man, who is so convenient for me today, "Scripture clear says that children are a blessing. How can you turn down God's blessings!" In this life we are always faced with choices between blessings. Material things are blessings - must the father work 80 hours a week to have more stuff - must both parts work to have more stuff - must the acquiring of blessings be the end all, be all of existence? Of course not - we have been given reason so that in subservience to God's Word so that we might attempt to act wisely. There may come a time when 80 hours a week is done out of love and should be done - there may come a time when it would merely be selfish and is to be avoided. There may come a time when mom taking a job is a blessing, and others when it is selfish. Why is important.

Or an example for Pastors. If you receive a call to another congregation, and they offer you $20,000 a year more in salary (and let's toss in better perks to boot) - MUST you accept the call? It's Divine - it's a God pleasing option for you - must you accept these additional blessings? Of course not - using your reason you may choose to decline - but let your decision be made out of love and hope, not fear.

Let us in all things ponder why we act - and let our actions be ones of love. Right now, my wife and I use birth control. She is in school - school is very important to her. That education is important to her, and I believe it is wise so that even if she never has to work, should something happen to me she would have a means of support. It is a sign of my love for her that I will do my best to see that she goes through school (even though it saps my material blessings. . . stinking fees). At this time, this includes the use of birth control so that she can focus on School. Is it wrong to do so? No - for we know that if a child comes (which we actually thought was a very present and real possibility for around 4 days around a year ago), we will give thanks to God to receive the child for the blessing it is. But my mind and conscience has me act this way - and it is not a way that is forbidden - and it is done out of love. Therefore, I will act, and I will let none bind my conscience.

Also, I would urge my fellow pastors to be moderate in binding peoples consciences on this matter. It is true, we live in a day and an age where life is not respected, where children are not viewed as a blessing but rather merely a burden, where people are selfish. But this is not just our day and age, and indeed this is not just a result of the advent of birth control - for so it has been in every day and age since the fall (why else do you think you had child sacrifice so popular among the wicked, why else do you think the Spartans exposed the weak who would be a "burden" - and why else do you think that Paul warns that being married itself is a burden as well). Fighting the tool will not defeat the problem that causes the tool's misuse, any more than gun control will prevent the scourge of crime - rather, it will only wrongly bind and burden the consciences of Christians acting within their Christian liberty.

I submit that you should chiefly encourage people to think about children and decisions regarding them not as the world does, but as Scripture does - that children (all children) are a blessing, that we should view them as such, that God has promised to provide us daily bread, however many of "us" there happen to be in our family. Then we will be prepared to make decisions with a proper why - a why based on love for neighbor and not fear springing from the thoughts and ways of the world. And then. . . let them act - even if it is not the precise way in which you would act. You might wish that they were as you are, but even Paul doesn't bind people to be as he is.

May God have mercy on us all, who so wantonly abuse the gifts of His creation!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – March 8th, 2009

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One of the great myths, the sacred cows of society today is that we as a people have advanced, have evolved, have become better over the course of time – that we in our ever expanding wisdom know so much more than our pathetic forefathers did. This is the myth of the modern world, that we are modern, that we are improving more and more and ever better and better. I, though, am a historian, and to me, it is obvious that this is not the case, that we are no better morally than our grandfathers or our ancestors of 500 years ago. I’m not going to say that we are getting worse all the time either – rather this. Sinful fallen people remain sinful fallen people, and the same temptations we have faced since the days of Adam and Eve are the same ones which we face today.

That is why we can understand the dangers shown in our Gospel text today, that is why the same lessons apply to us. Two contrasting approaches to life are shown to us today in this text. On the one hand we see people living life according to the world’s standards, judging by what the world sees as appropriate, good, and right – and on the other hand we see a person who lives by faith, trusting that God will do what is meet, right, and salutary. These are the two options in the text, they are the same two options that we ourselves see, that we ourselves choose between, that we struggle with to this day. Do we live thinking like the world, accommodating it’s sin, or do we instead in faith determinedly cling to Christ?

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus had been having a go around with the Pharisees and the Scribes prior to our reading – the Pharisees who thought that they were better than others because they kept their unique customs and traditions, the Scribes who would honor God with their lips but despise Him in their hearts. And Jesus seemingly takes a break from having to deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, and He heads north to the coast – to a foreign land. His disciples follow Jesus to this neighboring country, and then we have this most amazing pair of examples laid out for us.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Now, this is fantastic and wonderful. Behold how the gospel has spread! Even in this foreign land, this woman has heard the Word of God proclaimed! She knows who Christ is. Did you hear her – she calls Him Lord, she acknowledges Him as God. She calls Him Son of David – she acknowledges Him as the promised Messiah, great David’s Greater Son – even though she is a foreigner. Think on that – Son of David – even though she is not a Jew, even though she has no pipe dreams of a Jewish kingdom. In fact, an earthly Jewish kingdom would probably be bad for her, as the Canaanite people were viewed as little more than dogs by the Jews in Christ’s day. But she has heard, and by that Word she was brought to faith, and in faith she calls out to Christ for mercy.

Dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more wondrous than a person in faith calling out to God for mercy. She gets it – she understands – she knows her need for the Savior and she knows who that Savior is. This is the happy ending, the happy conclusion, the happy faith that we pray that all people throughout the world would come to. But as always, with things in this life, sin can get in the way. And we see this come up. Note what Jesus does at first – But He did not answer her a word. At first Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, at this point, many preachers, many more fine than me, will begin looking at this text as focusing on the need for a patient faith, for us to remember that God works on His own time table and not ours – that faith trusts that Christ will act in our best interests when He deems it best for us. All of this is true. We see this truth demonstrated often – we see it in the 10 lepers who head towards town and only as they are walking are they healed. We see it again and again in the Scriptures – faith waits upon God, even when it seems God is silent. But with this text, there is an interesting twist – when Jesus is silent, we hear the disciples fail.

And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” They came and begged. . . they begged. Send her away. Get rid of her – she is annoying us. Two prayers are set forth before Christ – one by this foreign woman who calls out for mercy, the other the haughty prayers of the disciples to do away with this woman. I always feel a little shocked when I read this verse – I pray for a living, it is part of my duty as Pastor to see to prayer, and this prayer of the disciples is vile and gross and wicked and evil. Whereas they should have been rejoicing, whereas they should have glorified God that even amongst the people of Tyre and Sidon, the ancient enemies of Israel, their Lord and Master was acknowledged and believed in, they don’t. And they fail. Instead of praying for mercy, instead of praise, they show forth hatred and disdain. And it wasn’t even as though she was complaining about something small and petty – an ingrown toenail. No, it’s a demon. She wants help against a demon. Still, the disciples would turn her away. They would rather let a demon run rampant then have this poor woman aided.

Why? Why did the disciples show such disdain? The reason is simple. Instead of thinking like a Christian, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world and following the world, they fail. If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt. The disciples thought like people of the world, not as people of faith. They failed. I read this verse, and I am disgusted. Then I think, and I am disgusted with myself as well.

Do you think that we in Modern America are immune to our prejudices? Do you think that we haven’t been taught to despise people on the basis of their race or nationality or color, or even gender? Oh sure, we could point to the points where we here were the victims of it – we can go back to 1917 – back then the German church in town wasn’t too popular – but I would wager when it comes to bias, when it comes to hatred and anger – every one of us can give just as good as we get. And who we hate can change. What if I had showed up here 30 years ago in the middle of the cold war with a thick Russian accent – what would you have thought then? Or if I were middle eastern today? Or what if Pastor Brown had shown up and he was actually. . . Brown. And there are other things – how quick we can be to despise the poor or someone who just doesn’t “look” right, or if we hear that someone had done some jail time, or even if they come from “that” family. Whatever it is, it seems the capacity of fallen man to hate is limitless. We too often can write people off just as quickly as the disciples do – and it’s wrong and vile. We play the world’s games, we think along the way the people in the world do – and in so doing we fall in to great sin and hatred and vice and shame.

Our Lord wants to contrast the difference between the hate of the world and the life of faith – He wants to show the disciples and us today how radically different the life of faith is from the attitudes of the world. And so, He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Fine, you disciples wish to think you are high and mighty – so be it. See, alright, is this the type of God you want? Cold and haughty to others? The woman persists. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” There, another answer of harshness, almost like one kid at school picking on another to fit in – is that what you crave disciples? And a vile response at that – Jesus basically called her a female dog, you know what He called her. Is that the type of God you wish for, o Disciples?

But this woman, this faithful, faithful woman, she knows and recognizes the One True God as He is. Our God is not a God of our petty hatreds but a God of steadfast love and mercy. She knows that He will show mercy. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Yes, Lord. What powerful words of faith. Amen. That’s what she says – Amen, Lord, what you have said is true. I am a dog, I am worthy of nothing, nothing which I ask of you. There is no good in me that I should have rights to demand anything of You. But you are the Master, and I know that when I hang around Your table crumbs will fall to me, and I will be satisfied by Your generosity. You are the God of undying love, and You will show love even to unworthy me. And Jesus confirms for us that this is the right answer, that this woman demonstrates our faith, for He answers her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus recognizes and commends her faith – and puts the disciples to shame.

This lent, we are focused once again on Repentance, for repentance is the life of faith. Repentance beats down everything that would distract us from Christ’s Mercy. This woman’s repentance was clear – she was not focused on the prejudices of the world, for the Canaanites were no fans of the Jews – she was not focused on her pride, but rather in faith confessed her sin and lack and unworthiness. Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. In faith she turned away from all these things and turned to Christ alone, seeking from Him alone mercy and salvation. And Christ delivers. Even over and against the powers of a demon, Christ delivers. Of course Christ will cast out this demon, He is here to wreck havoc and chaos amongst Satan’s kingdom. This is the battle He wages all this Lent, this is the battle that reaches its climax on Good Friday. And throughout this season we are called to repent – to turn our eyes away from our sinful and selfish desires, from our hatreds and petty squabbles and to see with the repentant eyes of faith, to behold our Lord win us freedom from our sin. When we look in faith, we will with repentant hearts confess our sins and call out to Christ for mercy, and then we will behold nothing but Christ, we will be as Paul, determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – for Christ is merciful, and He is determined to give you the gifts of life and salvation which He wins for you by His death upon the Cross. God grant that by the power of His Word we are so corrected to see only Him through the eyes of Faith. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

The First Use of the Law

Traditionally we will talk about 3 uses of the Law.

1 - The Curb - the threat of punishment keeps general wickedness contained by fear of punishment.
2 - The Mirror - the Law shows and makes plain one's sin, so one know of one's need for a Savior.
3 - The Rule (or Trellis) - In a Christian, the Law provided direction for the new man.

A lot of times as Christians we key in on the second or third use. We think of the 2nd rule as the theological use - this is the typical use of a sermon where our sin becomes clear. Or we will focus on the third use - the instructive use of the Law - this is how we "ought to be."

I think we forget that as regards our lives here on earth, in time, that first use, the Curb, still holds a major impact. Part of the reason for this is that Christ and Grace doesn't mean that temporal punishments are done away with. If I knock off a bank, I'll still end up in the pokey even should I repent.

However, what about the simple, petty things that we do every day - the non-spectacular sins. If I am curt towards my wife, that might upset her. If I glare at a person who annoys me, that might come back to bite me. There are social and political consequences that result from our actions - and simply put, "You ought to forgive me" is true, but show me the person in this life who forgives perfectly.

We are told in Scripture that perfect love casts out fear, for fear deals with punishment. Yes, it is true that we will not receive punishment from God, for Christ has paid for all. Yes, is it true that we ourselves should be quick to forgive and forego punishment for those who wrong us (indeed, strive, strive for this!). But this is also true - we remain sinners in a sinful world - and our sin, even the small and unthinking ones have real consequences.

We would do well, once in a while, to remember the practical and tangible effects and consequences of our sin. Bruises are real, be they physical or emotional, and the bruised often swing back. This is good for neither. This is why Scripture can rightly warn even believers of this truth (think on Proverbs, if you will).

What it remains is this. I think the simplest approach is as this - A Christian is to strive to neither GIVE offense nor TAKE offense. Provoke not your neighbor to wrath, and be not wrathful yourself.

It's hard to do, but in this life, this is the struggle we must fight against sin.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trust me. . .

Robert Benne writes a critique of the ELCA's statement on homosexuality that got me thinking about something. Towards the end he mentions the paper's use of the idea of "trust" - that we are to "trust" that things get done rightly.

Here is a question (one that is most cynical) - when a person calls upon you to "trust" them in this sinful world, aren't they likely trying to be taking advantage of you? The car salesman who says, "trust me, this vehicle is in tip-top shape" - the lawyer who says, "trust me, I can win you this lawsuit" - the kid who says, "trust me, I'll be home at nine, give me the car keys".

There is a place in the Christian life for trust. We learn right off in the Catechism that we are to "fear, love, and TRUST in God above all things." Our trust should be given to God. In this life, and especially when it comes to things theological, the proof is in the pudding, as it were.

When I say something to my congregation, my rationale should never be "trust me, I'm a pastor" - but rather I should point to the Word, for we know that we can trust God. That is why we are the people of the Word - that is where we can be sure that things are truly trustworthy - for God is worthy of trust. In fact, as preachers we should encourage our hearers to demand that we demonstrate our statements from Scripture - and if we cannot show where Scripture speaks, we servants of the Word ought be silent ourselves.

Beware especially of the theologian whose main point is "trust me" - for we are called to cling to Christ and His Word.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent 1 Sermon

A day late. . .

Lent 1 – March 1st, 2009 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We generally think of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress” as a reformation song. When we think of it, we think of the end of October, leaves falling off the trees and the air getting colder – and yet we sing it every year this first Sunday in Lent – it's the hymn of the day for this Sunday. And in reality, A Mighty Fortress is a hymn that shows what the season of Lent is all about. Lent is a season where in humility we admit, we recognize, we confess our sin – and then behold in awe and wonder our Lord Christ Jesus stride forth to combat Satan in order to wrest us away from Satan’s Kingdom of sin and death unto the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in the season of Lent in general, it is in texts like our Gospel text today where we see what it means when we say that God is our Mighty Fortress.

Christ Jesus does not look like a Mighty Fortress when we see Him at the beginning of our text. And Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Forty days and forty nights, our Lord held His fast – which is the basis of treating Lent as a time of fasting, a time where we too spend forty days of self-denial. But think to yourself what Christ must have looked like in this text. He has been out in the wilderness, out in the desert for 40 days. His hair would have been dirty and windblown and matted. He had been fasting – He would have looked haggard and worn. He would have been weak, frail even. This isn't our typical idea of what a Mighty Fortress looks like. Instead, He looks weak and worn.

Satan thinks our Lord looks weak as well, and Satan decides he is going to try to tangle with Christ. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” So what's the temptation there? He's Jesus, He could do this with ease. We see plenty of examples where Christ will make bread to feed the masses – what's the temptation here? Satan is making an appeal, or at least trying to appeal to Christ's vanity. “Jesus, look at yourself. You are the Son of God – why are You looking like this. . . clean yourself up a bit, have something to eat. End your suffering – You are the Christ – command these stones to become loaves of bread and satisfy Yourself.” Do you see Satan's temptation now? There is a reason why Christ is so haggard, so worn here in the desert – and that is because we sinful human beings are often so haggard and worn, we are run down and worn down, not just by lack in this life, but by the burden of sin. Think on the burdens in your life, the temptations you face, the weight you bear. Know that Christ is determined to share in those burdens, to take His place by your side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. Christ Jesus has come precisely to be worn, to be broken, even to be crucified and die so that He might swallow-up in Himself all the vileness of sin, everything Satan can throw at you. This is what the Lord promised Eve in our Old Testament lesson – that the Messiah will come and will suffer, will have His heel bruised, all so that He can crush the head of the serpent. That is why our Lord replies, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” No, Satan, Christ Jesus will not be a bread-devouring king, He will not be One who satisfies His own belly – rather He will do what God in His Word said – and that is grind you, o wicked serpent, under His heel.

Likewise, dear friends, when Satan tempts you to avoid the difficulties you must face as a Christian, learn from our Lord's example here. As Christians we cling to the Word – and the Word has told us what we are to do, and also told us that the tempter is defeated by Christ – so we cling to Christ and His Word, in our own daily struggles against Satan.

Satan will try another angle of attack. Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning You,' and 'On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.'” Alright, if Jesus wants to live by the Word, Satan will throw the Word in Christ's face. This hits home a point that we can forget today. Satan will try to twist God's Word – Satan will try to play with it and monkey with it so that we fall into false doctrine. Same thing we saw in Genesis – Did God really say – still happens today. Satan loves twisting God's Word. Look, Christ, You have a promise of protection – well, listen to the Word and let Yourself be protected! Moreover, look, we are at the top of the temple, the center of Jerusalem – think of the glory that will come when the Angels bear you safely to the ground – all of Jerusalem will laud you.

Satan tries the same thing against us today – he twists the Word of God on the forked tongue of false preachers to where preaching and teaching stops focusing on Christ, stops focusing on God's love for you in Christ and Him Crucified, and rather shifts to a focus on what stuff, what fame, what glory you can get from being a Christian, how people will laud and think you are wonderful. Anything and everything except Christ Crucified for you, a sinner.

Whereas that false doctrine that strokes our ego and vanity can sound so good to us, Christ doesn't bite. Jesus said to Him, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test.'” No, Satan, your messing with God's Word will not fool Me – for Scripture is plain and clear that we are not to test God in this way – that we are not to try to use God's Word against Him. Likewise, we here today are to pay attention to what people say about God's Word and see if their conclusions are in line with what Scripture as a whole teaches, with what we learned in the Catechism, with what we confess in the Creed – and if it doesn't, we are to reject it. Being a Christian isn't about hearing what we like, but rather learning more and more of God's love and mercy to us.

Satan tries one more tact. The old, evil foe is full of guile, and he really wants to mess things up. Satan brings one more temptation – Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” Satan tries to cut a deal with Jesus. “Alright, I know what you want, Jesus – you want the world back. You want all these people who have sinned and who are bound in my kingdom, bound to sin. I even know, that You will fight me to win them back – but neither of us want that. Here, let's be reasonable – I'll let You have them back, Jesus, without a fight – just fall down and worship me.” Do you see what Satan offers – Satan offers a Crossless Christianity. “Here Jesus, You can have all Your people, but You don't need to go to the cross.” This can be a tempting idea for us too – if we ignore the Cross we never have to think about our sin, we can just assume that we are good people, never worry or struggle against our sin – never think about our Lord's struggles to win the victory over sin. We can be tempted to turn Christianity into a feel good, self-congratulatory society, where we all pat each other on the back about how we are the best of the best. But we are called by God to confront our sin, for our Lord Jesus Christ is determined to face sin.

We hear this shown forth in Christ's curt response to Satan. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.'” Christ our Lord knows the Word, Christ our Lord knows that the focus of our life is God Almighty. We learned in the Catechism the having no other gods before God is shown by fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. And so, as Christians, we in trembling humility acknowledge and confess our sin – that is part of our worship of God. We trust in His salvation, we believe His Word and strive to do things His way, and above all things we trust in Him and His love for us. We trust and love because we see what He does for us. We see Christ our Lord stand up to Satan in our text today, we see Him beat down all the temptations which Satan throws at us. Christ is indeed victorious over Satan – we see Him fighting down Satan here at His temptation – we will see the culmination of our Lord's Battle come Good Friday and Easter, when our Lord's Cross crushes Satan, when His Resurrection wins us from death to life.

But dear friends, what you should remember today is that this fight that Christ fights against Satan is not just a past fight. Our Lord fought down Satan's temptations so that He can be with you now and aid you now in fighting down temptation in your own life. Think on Baptism – Christ joined you unto Himself. Think on the Supper which we will receive – Christ gives you His own Body and Blood. Yes, this is for forgiveness, but it is also to strengthen you and bolster you against the attacks of Satan, it is for the strengthening of your faith, it is to fill you will Christ's love so that you can show forth His love all of your days. Luther has us sing rightly – Christ is by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit – and it is Christ in us, it is the Holy Spirit in us as well who take up the struggle against sin for us, who give us the strength to repent of our past sin and to beat down our sinful nature each day. This is why we gather here – so Christ can deal with the sins of our past by the forgiveness won upon the Cross and prepare us for the struggles of our future, filling us with the same life He showed on Easter, until we reach eternity with Him and share fully in His victory over Satan.

Thus we see today a clear example of how Christ fights for us. This is the same fight He fought on the Cross to win us forgiveness, the same fight He won at the resurrection to give us life, the same fight that He wages in our lives now when He forgives and strengthens us through His Word and Sacraments. This is the awesome battle that your God wages on your behalf, for He will never, never abandon you to the Evil Foe, but rather, He will hold the field forever. Christ Jesus is our Mighty Fortress, and so we face this life with boldness and confidence, knowing that He accomplishes all things for us. In the Name of Christ the Crucified.

3rd Use of the Law and Enthusiasts, the Liturgy

Sometimes we can downplay the Third Use of the Law - we shouldn't but it can happen. I hear about it. No, the third use isn't Gospel, no, it doesn't aid our salvation - and I'd even argue that the third use is always accompanied by the 2nd use, for whenever I see and study what I am to do, I am also reminded of what heretofore I had failed to do.

But the third use of the law is still something we need - lest we become enthusiasts and seek to try to please God on our own terms. That's the main thrust that the Solid Declaration gives. . . even after regeneration, we listen to God's Word. I would say even in the garden, God gave to Adam a Word of Law.

However, the thought I have today is this. If we minimize the idea of the third use of the law, do we end up opening up a way for us to write off the liturgy. What I have seen is that the people who tend to disdain the third use point out how it isn't needed for salvation, that the renewed person should have all that He needs in Christ - what need of the third use.

This sounds like a lot of what I have heard in those who disdain and minimize the liturgy. What need do Christians have for an "order" (note: a legal sounding word) of worship, when they have the Spirit?

But what we must remember is that we were not only created by the Word but we are continually shaped by the Word. This is true in our life, whether it is dealing with the third use, or whether it is a liturgy which ensures that our worship is not done in our own image but in accordance with God's Word.

What do you think - is there a connection in thought? A lot of the guys who disdain the third use seem liturgical. . . but there seems to be a disconnect there.