Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Soundtrack - Be Scared


Here’s how it works:

1. Open your library (iTunes, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool…
7. Include commentary

OPENING CREDITS: Black Velvet - Alannah Myles. This song is just a wonderful, sultry ditty. Interestingly enough, it came out in the late 80s, right around the time the band Texas formed (in Scotland). Sharleen Spitari, whom I love as a musician, could very easily have sung this.

WAKING UP: "Head Over Feet" - Alannis Morissette. For the first year of its release, this was my favorite song off of Jagged Little Pill, as it is the ultimate girl falls for best friend sort of song. Then it was released, the 8th single. . . and it bummed me out. At the time I was going through a very big kick of thinking that the unreleased tracks separate true fans from the proles -- and my favorite unreleased was suddenly no more (now the best unreleased track is "Forgiven"). How's this for a great line - "You are bearer of unconditional things/ you held your breath and the door for me"

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: "We're Going to Be Friends" - The White Stripes. Okay, this actually works really, really well for the first day of school. Teacher marks our hides against the wall.

FALLING IN LOVE: "We Didn't Start The Fire" - Billy Joel. As a Historian, I love this song. Learn it, and you know the history of the US and the world from 1951 through the 70s.

FIGHT SONG: "Here in Your Bedroom" - Goldfinger. Fantastic song from the 90s, great video, a little bit of ska feel in the rhythm section with strong punk overtones on the guitar and in the refrain. When I wake up tomorrow, will you still feel the same?

BREAKING UP: "I Feel For You" - Prince. No, not Chaka Khan. This is a Prince song... and this is his version. Prince also wrote Manic Monday, Nothing Compares to U, Stand Back (by Stevie Nicks), and of course, tons of stuff by the Time.

PROM: "Strong" - Robbie Williams. I admit it, I like Robbie Williams. Good, boisterous vocals. "And early morning when I wake up/ I look like KISS but without the make up/ that's a good line, I'll have to take it to the Bridge".

LIFE’S OK: "Get Him Back" - Fiona Apple. One of the most powerful performers of my generation. I don't think I know of a person who puts more of herself and her vulnerability into her music. This is off of Extraordinary Machine - go get some. I'd recommend "When the Pawn...."

MENTAL BREAKDOWN: "I Don't Want to Know" - The Donnas. Great song about a gal stalker. I have a fondness for the Donnas, as they are from Palo Alto and formed in the middle school that was two blocks from where I lived. This is off of "Gold Medal" where they did more of a 70's Arena Rock sound rather than punk. Great stuff. "I watched you through the window last night/ and I thought I saw a girl in the candle light/You think that's fair after all I've done/restraining orders one by one/ and I sure hope that was your sister"

DRIVING: "Rock the Casbah" - The Clash. This song is why I am occassionally tempted to yell out "This is not kosher" at the top of my lungs.

FLASHBACK: "Raspberry Beret" - Prince. Okay, so I really like Prince. This is a great time, and admit it, you hear it and you are tempted to walk in through the out door.

GETTING BACK TOGETHER: "Secret Agent Man" - Wendy and Lisa. Wendy and Lisa were the two girls in The Revolution, Prince's Band from Purple Reign. They formed their own band in the late 80s, and this is their cover of Secret Agent Man. I like them lots - they did a song called "Always in My Dreams" - fantastic song.

WEDDING: "Helpless" - Buckcherry. I really liked the early Buckcherry albums, but I haven't followed nearly as much since they got back together. This is off of their second - a good power ballad. "I don't want to live my life today I'm all out of love and I'm tired of changing/ I hope you can help pass the time away"

BIRTH OF CHILD: "Love Walks In" - Van Halen. Okay, so I actually like Van Haggar, partially because I accept that they are something quite different from Van Halen. Less showy, more romantic. "And there she stands in her silken gown/ a sea of light shining down" - fantastic line.

FINAL BATTLE: "Make a Move" - Lostprophets. Good album, underrated album. Interesting music. Wake up.

DEATH SCENE: "Dressed for Success" - Roxette. Okay, I could try to make this something Baptismal... great song, love the fact that "the Look" is on Rock Band 3. I'd love it if they put all of Look Sharp on there, or at least a big Roxette pack. Favorite band for most of my high school days. "And in the dark things happen faster"

FUNERAL SONG: "Forgive Me" - Patti Rothberg. If you do not have the album "Between the 1 and the 9", do yourself a favor and go pick it up. Just a great album. "Well I held you in my thoughts/ and I held you in my dreams/ well maybe I was holding on too tight"

END CREDITS: "New" - No Doubt. I am a No Doubt heretic. I think Return of Saturn was their best album. I think Gwen Stefani looked really good with pink hair. And I like the edge of this song, the sorrow of the album. "Oh you're not old, and you're not familiar"

No Angst

I have never had any angst about the possibility of leaving Lutheranism. I've never seriously thought about going East, or heading to Rome, or jumping ship in any other direction. There's never been a gut-wrenching, soul-searching time for me.



One of the things that I have observed in my brief time on this planet and also in my study of history is that things are always, always messed up. Especially in the Church. ESPECIALLY in the Church. So I see things messy - I see the Church sore oppressed, by schism rent asunder and heresies distressed (I like that hymn) - but I never tend to think that the grass, the doctrine, the life will be greener elsewhere.

Because above all things, I have been trained to know that I am a sinner, that all that I do is tainted and tinged by sin, by this body of death - and that will pop up all over the place. And the only cure and hope I have is Christ.

With all the flaws and mess that I see in this world, that I see in Lutheranism, that I see in the LCMS, that I see in congregations and my fellow clergy -- I expect nothing less. I expect no safe, perfect harbor - for we are in the Church militant. In fact, the safer the harbor, the less I trust it, for where the Gospel is preached, there the Devil will be breathing threats, lies, murder, and death.

Maybe it is just my Jewish Chutzpah, but this gives me boldness.

Sin Boldly, but Believe More Boldly Still.

No Angst - Believe Boldly.

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day – October 31st, 2010 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today we celebrate and observe Reformation Day. Why? Yes, yes, on October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, really giving a start to what becomes known as the Protestant Reformation. But why do we observe this day? I ask because there is a very wrong way to think about Reformation Day, to think about the Reformation. You see, the idea of reform in the Church is nothing new. Read Paul’s epistles. 1st and 2nd Corinthians are calls for that Church to reform. Looking at Church history, I can find calls for reform in every Century of the past 2000 years. What makes this one, the one we celebrate today different? Why do we observe it?

Was it that Luther relied simply upon the Word of God? Well, that’s true. Luther does rely simply upon God’s Word, and much of his calls for reform were to simply calls to be focused on the Word – but there are other reformers like that. When they wrote the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century, that too was a reform of the Church that relied simply upon the Word of God as the source of truth – “and rose again according to the Scriptures.” In fact, any good “reform” in the Church in any age and place relies simply upon the Word. No, the thing that distinguishes the Lutheran Reformation from all others is what Dr. Luther wrote with Thesis number 1. “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” There it is. That is the difference – our reformation is not a single event, but an entire life.

Many reformers have come in the History of the Church, and they have had their plans for fixing things. I could talk about many in detail – Wycliffe and Hus and Gregory the Great and Leo IX, or after Luther you have folks who found other denominations, like Calvin or Wesley. All with their plans for fixing things. All seeing problems in the Church and saying, “Ah, if we do this, it will fix things.” Plenty of reformers came up with plans to fix things, some good, some bad. The Nicene Creed is good reform, it eliminated a lot of heresies. However, new ones just popped up afterwards, many even worse. Some of these reforms weren’t so good. In 1049, Pope Leo IX saw that too many of the clergy were living scandalous lives, so he said, “That’s it, priests can’t get married anymore.” Priests not being allowed to marry has been around less than 1000 years, less than half the history of the Church – a plan to fix things, but it hasn’t removed scandal. Or in the 18th Century, John Wesley thought if we just gave simple guidelines to follow, a simple method, we could perfect people – and you get the Methodist Church. Didn’t make perfect people. All too often reforms come about with the idea that when it happens the Church will be fixed and it’s all good. In fact, this is sometimes the view we can be tempted to take of our own reformation, as though when Luther nails the 95 Theses on the door he “won” and everything was fixed.

“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Here is the Lutheran difference. For Luther, there was no sense of fixing the Church and then it is done, no restoring the Church to some mythical pristine state. Luther was a student of Scripture, a student of history, and someone with keen insight into his own spiritual condition, and as such he saw one truth that stands out clearly. Satan and sin are always trying to destroy Christians and the Christian Church – trying to enslave us to sin, trying to make us fall, to stumble, to forget what we know. And because of this, we the people in the Church, from youngest to oldest, lay and clergy alike, are always, always in need of repentance, always in need of Reform.

Reformation Day ought not simply be a celebratory day for the past, but it ought also be a day where we consider our own lives, where we consider what reform and renewal is needed for us. Until we reach heaven, until our bodies are raised on the last day, we will always need to live lives of repentance. Why is this? Hear what our Lord says in John 8. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” While you live, Satan and your own sinful flesh will keep trying and trying to get you to fall into sin, to get stuck in things worse and worse, to trap you in slavery to sin. This is happening to you now. So I will ask you – what sins tried to ensnare you this week? How was Satan trying to shackle you, to make you less than who you ought to be this past week? Now there’s too many options to mention here, too many sins with which Satan can try to allure you. Are you being tempted to do things that you know are wrong and being trapped that way? Are you being tempted to not act, being tempted towards complacency, not doing the good that you know you ought, and thus trapped that way? Are you being tempted to ignore Christ, to think less and less about His love for you, to put off or minimize the things of Jesus and His Church? Are you being tempted to focus more and more on the world, on stuff, on mammon, on the idols of your own devising and desiring? Yes. These are ways in which Satan attacks you constantly – and as for the specifics, I don’t them, but Satan tailors them to you, to try to appeal to you, to try to shackle you in sin again and again and again.

Thus, every Reformation Day is a call to repentance. Repent. Turn away from these temptations. Don’t simply assume that you are doing fine, that everything is hunky dory. Don’t be tempted to assume that a quick little dab of spiritual duck tape, the latest book with 12 steps to having whatever it is that they are selling will simply fix things and then you will be done. As long as you live, your life will need to be one of repentance, for Satan your foe crouches like a prowling lion, ready to pounce. Sin lies crouching at your door, and it is easy to fall. Repent. Seek out your sin and turn away from it.

But turn to where? When you see our sin, when you see our struggle – and if you see your sin you are going to see struggle, because the simple fact is we tend to like our pet sins, we like to give into them, and it is a struggle to break them down – when you see these things, where do you turn? Our Lord says “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth with set you free.” The cure, the solution, the strength for struggle, the shelter and protection you have been given is the Word of God. And what makes this Word of God so good at protection? Because the Word of God gives you Christ Jesus Himself. Think about this – Jesus says that when you are in the Word, you are His disciples, you are learning and following Him. He says that when you are in the Word, you will know the Truth. This isn’t just “truth” as in you will know neat little facts – a few chapters later in John our Lord says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Your solution, your hope, your salvation is Christ Jesus Himself – and where do you find Jesus, where can you be sure that He is present for you, present to forgive you, to restore you, to reform and reshape you after Satan and the world have done their best to wear you down. When your Lord has promised to be – in His Word, whether that Word is read and proclaimed, whether that Word is attached to water in His gift of Baptism, whether that Word is attached to bread and wine so that our Lord can give you His own Body and Blood thereby. Abide in the Word – not simply so that you know more stuff – but when you Abide in the Word of Christ you abide in Christ – and it is Christ Jesus who gives life, Christ Jesus who wins victory for you over Satan, Christ Jesus who is your mighty fortress who wins victory for you where with might of yours could naught be done. A Christian is simply one who continually is turned away from sin and unto Christ.

Every call to repentance, every call to turn away from sin, every preaching of the Law of God, must be accompanied by the proclamation of the Gospel, the proclamation that Christ Jesus, with His perfect life, death, and resurrection has won you salvation, has freed you from the power of the devil, has given you new life, given you strength to resist evil, has forgiven you and cleansed you from your sin. And this is a continual thing. This is something that is to shape your entire life here on this earth. You will always need Christ and His Word of forgiveness to defend and protect you from Satan, for the Devil never stops seeking your downfall. Our lives are not like a football game, where the referee blows the whistle and then suddenly Satan stops and says, “Oh well, I guess I can’t try and tackle you anymore.” Satan doesn’t fight fairly or politely. And we are worn down, battered and bruised by his assaults. To you who are bruised and battered by sin, Christ Jesus our Lord comes, and He speaks a Word of forgiveness and life. You are forgiven and have life in Christ. He calls you to abide in Him by calling you to His table, where through His Supper He will abide in you. Over and over and over our Lord gives you life and forgiveness, to defend you against Satan, to reshape your heart that Satan continually tries to break. His love for you endures, and He will always reshape you, reform you through His Word.

We call this day Reformation Day because of specific historical events. And that is a good and fine thing – I’m never going to knock talking about History, and especially Church History. But in reality, every Sunday, every worship here, every time the Baptized children of God are gathered around God’s Word and Preaching, every time we come to the Supper and receive Christ’s life giving Body and Blood, it is Reformation Day, for through these means, through His Word and Sacraments Christ Jesus our Lord takes us and reforms us, reshapes us, renews us so that we might continue to remain in Him despite the attacks and assaults of the devil. Our old evil foe now means deadly woe – but for you fights the valiant One who God Himself Elected, Christ Jesus – He fought for you upon the Cross, and He fights in you and for you now through His Word, through the grace He gave you at your baptism, and through His Supper. God grant to us continual reform all the days of our lives until we reach the new life of the resurrection on the Last Day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. +

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I have an "It's Time" of my own

It's Time.

It's time to quit lamenting that the ELCA is on the road to hell in a handbasket.

It's time to stop holding out dreams that anti-homosexual scraps and dissendents will some how suddenly revert to confessional Lutheranism magically.

It's time to abandon dreams of some uber-national-confessional Synod.

These dreams of glory are just damaging, distracting, and full of despair.

Instead, it is time for a change.

It is time to strive to restore fellowship with those who had stood side by side with Missouri from the beginning of our History.

It is time to focus on finding ways we can restore unity with those who already hold a Quia Subscription to the Confessions.

It is time to shift the efforts we throw at the ELCA onto Wisconsin and the ELS.

It is time to seek to restore the Synodical Conference.

Theological Dictum #17

Time for Theological Dictum #17

"Converts to Lutheranism appreciate the uniquely Lutheran approach to the Freedom of the Gospel, while those born Lutherans tend to want to be like someone else."

This really is two ideas, but they are interrelated. If you want to understand the fullness of the Lutheran focus that we are saved by Grace through Faith, apart from Works - ask one who wasn't born being taught this - who had spent years in bondage in other denominations. Mike Baker's post on Sanctification is a fantastic example of this. He understands the burden of works, because he was under the burden of works for so long. As one dear lady of the congregation reminds me, one of the members who has since passed (although his widow is a dear, dear, member still) would always say, "You Lutherans don't know what you have."

I think most of us are aware of the idea of the converts really knowing their stuff -- shoot, that's part of the whole idea of reformation. Part of the reason why Luther was such a Lutheran was the fact that he had been burdened by the Law. However, while we might... notice that Lutherans can fade, we don't ponder the other side of the great convert coin.

Oh, we will lament children not coming to church after they are confirmed (and good Lutheran kids from good Lutheran families!) - or look confused when a Lutheran jumps ship to the local _______ Church (here it typically ends up being Baptist). Or even just stop coming, period. And we wonder what has gone wrong.

Lutherans end up tossing away what they have so they can be like someone else. Here in Oklahoma, there is that desire to be at that big church. I'm sure in places where Lutheran Churches are big, there is a desire to be a larger fish at a small pond. If your friends go fishing on Sunday morning, that's a nice thing too.

So, why does this happen? Is it just that we don't discipline our children well enough? Partially - again, if you treat Church as unimportant, they are going to treat it as even less important than you do. But the real point isn't our discipline or lack there of - it is why don't they appreciate the Gospel?

The Gospel works in contrast to the Law - in conquering the Law. It is great that for us fights the valiant one - but if you aren't aware of any battle - who cares. It is great that you've been tossed a life preserver, but if you don't think you are drowning... that's nice. And then, along comes some neat quirk - oh, look how popular they are. Oh, look, they get to sing rock songs. Oh, look, they get to speak in tongues. Oh, look, they are so confident about how good they are. And we can slide off that way.

I like to make a distinction between preaching something and preaching about something. I don't preach about Christ, or about forgiveness. I preach Christ. I preach forgiveness. Preaching gives these things to people. We need solid preaching that isn't just lectures about something abstract - preaching is to be "sacramental" - it is to give Christ, it is to be proclamation not just of what Christ has done but what He does and gives now, this moment, by His Word. You are forgiven, Christ builds your faith, binds your wounds from this life, strengthens you to turn from sin.

However, there is something we need to preach *about* more. We need to preach *about* these false and abominable doctrines. We need to warn folks by warning them *about* the traps and snares that come along with the other sparkly things other Churches offer.

I am always amazed when a Lutheran would move to a Baptist Church. So, you no longer believe in the real presence? So, you think your children aren't really baptized anymore? (While an individual could get caught up in an enthusiastic Im-gonna-get-myself-baptized excitement, pointing to a child and saying, "So she's not really baptized anymore is what you are saying" puts a slightly different perspective on it.) But we don't think of the consequences, the implications of false doctrine. We don't see how they bind us - we don't see how these other theologies rob us of the Gospel... and so we forget what we have.

Sometimes I think we should just think of 3rd use of the Law as "teaching" teaching about what is good... and what is bad. It doesn't give life, but it warns the Christian of potential dangers (and if those are dangers that are hitting them, it becomes 2nd use, preparing for the Gospel again). Warn about false doctrine. Specifically and bluntly. False doctrine takes your eyes off of Christ, tell them how.

Mike Baker's Dictum

Mike Baker has a fantastic dictum at his blog. To sum, it is this:

You cannot have charismatic Lutheranism for the same reason that there are no flaming snowballs or air-filled vacuums.

What follows is my response to this wondrous dictum.

Ah, but you could have a flaming snowball, if you were to make a snowball, pack it densely, cover it with a foreign, flamable substance, then light the substance and throw the snowball. For a short time the snowball would survive before the fire melted it.

Of course, this makes the analogy work all the better, I think. People latch on to an idea foreign to Lutheranism and compartmentalize it - oh, yes, yes, saved by Grace, Word and Sacraments, but look at this AWESOME cool thing. For a time, that will work (this is an aspect of Pieper's Felcitious Inconsistency - that happily people don't always think their faith destroying heresies through to their logical conclusions) - but just as the flame will melt the snowball, so to this foreign focus will come to dominate their entire theology, and snuff Lutheranism out.

Once you start down the Charismatic Path, forever will it dominate your destiny!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theological Dictum #5

We are much more apt to lament the liturgical quirks we lack than to appreciate and understand what we have received.

This is true of both fine practices and horrible practices that we do not have but desire.

Relevance and Hipness - the False Heart of the Reformation

Today, when people want to change the Church, why do they wish to change? To make things "Relevant"? Or is it a desire to be trendy, to get with the times, to be "hip". Yes, I use the word "hip" on purpose precisely because it is not hip to the times to use "hip", which is my way of pointing out that our attempts to be hip are dated before they are begun.

Relevance and Hipness are the modern day bowls of red lentils for which pagan-loving Esaus will sell their birthright of the Gospel for.

If you wish to be happy fitting in with local culture (like Esau with his pagan wives) while your parents cry and you abandon the focus on the Messiah, do not be surprised when you are cut off, lost, and floundering spiritually, even amidst earthly splendor.

Heart of the Reformation

What is the heart of the Reformation? What is its center, it's key. What is the true and great reform that sets it off?

Now, this is a tough question, for there were many things that were impacted or reformed in those heady days. But what was the heart, the center, the main thing from which all others flow?

Was it clarifying the use of the Sacraments? Luther is wonderful on speaking on Baptism and the Supper, in removing the false burdens from Confession and Absolution. And while the release from the Babylonian Captivity of the Church is vital and important, that's not the heart.

Was it the restoration of Christian Freedom? Was it a return to a proper focus on what Good Works are? Well, even though On the Freedom of a Christian may be my favorite writing of Luther - it's not the center.

Oh, well, it must have been that we were released from the Tyranny of the Pope - that we discovered that we have the right to reform the Church how we want! Um - that's not quite what Luther said (see To the German Nobility if you don't understand why Luther wasn't a rabble rouser), nor is the right to rebel, despite what Patriotic Germans might tell you, the heart of the Reformation.

Was it the reform of the Mass and Liturgy? I'll say no, for while this is important and vital, it took time, and wasn't the center of things. We don't even get DS5 until 1526.

No. The heart is this - that Christ Jesus died and rose for the Justification of Sinners - and that this is to be proclaimed.

Luther says, "When God's Word is not preached, one had better neither sin nor read, or even come together." (AE 53:11) In the Smalcald Articles, when he lists the ways in which the Gospel is given to us, what does he put first? Not Baptism, nor the Supper, nor the Keys, nor even the much malaigned mutual conversation of the brethern, but first and foremost is preaching - "God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preaching in the whole world. This is the particular office of the Gospel."

Those of you who are pastors - the most important thing you will do this week is Preach the Gospel. Not preach about the Gospel, not simply give advice for Christian living, discourses on the third use, not admonitions to Christian living, not merely exhorting people to remember Jesus - but your highest task will be to preach the Gospel - to speak Words that give life and forgiveness and salvation to those who by faith have ears to hear. To preach Satan away from your people and back into hell by preaching Christ Himself - for Christ comes to people by the Word of the Gospel you proclaim.

This is more important than anything else you will do this week. Period. It should be the center of your focus and thoughts as well.

Those of you who are hearers of the Word - the most important thing that you will do this week is hear the Gospel of Christ proclaimed unto you. The Law of the sermon will break your heart, drive you to sorrow for your sin... and if the sermon does not, ask your pastor - "Where is the 2nd use of the Law here? Where is my sinfulness that my flesh would hide brought to light? Why do you not care for me so?" And indeed, you will hear the Gospel proclaimed in straight, concrete fashion. Christ Jesus has died - for you. He has conquered sin - for you - especially the sin you struggle against. Christ Jesus is always with His Church through His Word and Sacraments - for you. And if your Pastor does not preach this Gospel for you, ask your pastor - "Where is the Gospel? Where is Christ for me in your sermon? Why does your sermon not give me Christ, give me forgiveness, give me life? I need the Gospel, and it is your call and duty, you have been ordained to give it to me! Why are you not!"

Preaching the Gospel is the heart of the reformation. It is the heart of worship, for the 3rd Commandment means, "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise. . . preaching. Preaching and His Word, but we should glad hear and learn it." Tend to it if you are a preacher, gladly hear and learn it if you are a hearer. And be centered in the Gospel always.

Not a Victory Party

Reformation Day is coming. Be sure to observe it rightly.

Reformation Day is not simply a self-congratulatory, back-slapping day. It is not V-R Day. It is not "We got it right and everyone else is dumb" Day.

It is a day where we ought to be focused on one simple truth. Because the Church is full of sinners who will wish to twist and corrupt doctrine, who will want to turn away from the clear and pure Gospel and substitute things of their own devising, the Church is always, always in need of Reform.

This is something that is true when one looks at history. Why does Paul write most of his Epistles. Because Churches had fallen into error and needed reform. Why did the councils and Synods meet? Because Churches had fallen into error and needed reform. Why are there arguments over doctrine? Because people have fallen into error and need reform.

Why are you called to repent all the time. Because you fall into sin, error, and vice, and you need reform. You need repentance and forgiveness. You need to be revived by the Gospel.

Reformation Day is not a day where we simply say, "ah, we got it, we are awesome" - but it is the day when we ought ponder in what ways we ourselves have gone astray, a day when we are called to seek reform in our own life. A day to make sure that our focus is still upon the Valiant One whom God Himself elected, and not our own wishes, wants, desires, or plans.

Rejoice this Reformation Day for the reform that God gives His Church - but also examine yourself to see that where you yourself need to reform.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What do you crave - A Lutheran Apology

What do you crave from your Church? What do you desire?

Now, that's a loaded question. There are many things that one might want from a Church that aren't spiritual in the least. Eliminate those from the consideration. What aspect of the Christian life do you desire most from your Church?

Some crave what I will call, for lack of a better word, the mystical. That sense of wonder and joy that comes from being in Communion with God. This is no mean thing.

Some crave holiness. That in the Church they will see their own growth and maturation. Indeed, this too is no mean thing.

Some crave support to wend through the dangerous trials of this life. Again, this is wise, for the devil is real and this world is harsh and coarse and would wear us down. The support of the other members of the Body of Christ is no mean thing.

I have been thinking about this because the question has sort of been raised - articles on Pelikan's conversion, appeals to me to head to Rome even here on my own blog. Just people moving out of Lutheranism has shown up a bit more -- and this is an appropriate time for this as we approach Reformation Sunday.

Why am I and do I remain a Lutheran? It isn't because I disdain the mystical experience... I think some of the most profound words ever spoken are, "therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud..." That's pretty awesome. Nor do I remain Lutheran because I disdain holiness. One of the great joys of my time as Pastor here in Lahoma has been seeing maturation in this in my people and in myself. (Now, I think too much of a focus there upon can lead to anxiety and despair - just like too much practice can wear down an athlete and make them hesitant come the game.) Nor do I disdain community and those sorts of aspects.

But I remain a Lutheran for one simple thing. Above all of those things, I crave one thing. The forgiveness of sins. The sure, solid proclamation that because of Christ my sin is forgiven, atoned for, done away with.

That is the kingdom of Christ, that is His righteousness... and all those things above will be added to you. And added safely.

And I crave this, because it is what my body, my sinful flesh desires the least. From a selfish point of view, many things would be better than simply being focused upon forgiveness, upon the Gospel. I could have glory, I could be entertained, I could have a more positive attitude about myself, I could have friends congratulating me. And more over, I could have all these things with a religious sheen or veneer plastered on to them.

I could crave entertainment and escapism and call it mysticism.
I could crave a self-focused religion and call it holiness.
I could crave stuff and call it community.

And I will admit, I could crave license and call it Christian liberty (which is why I am *not* Lutheran merely because of "freedom").

The one thing my flesh never craves is the forgiveness of sins. Escape from punishment and consequences perhaps - but never the forgiveness of sin. Never the focus that I really am a sinner - never the full sweetness that Christ Jesus has died for my sin.

By body, my flesh revolts against that, is offended by it, despises it. And so that proclamation of Law and Gospel, that giving of God's forgiveness over and against myself, that is what I crave.

I am a Lutheran because above all things, I crave the forgiveness of my very real and many sins - and while I rejoice at all the things that come with this forgiveness, I never want Christ and His forgiveness to take a back seat to any of these other gifts.

Trinity 21 Sermon

Trinity 21 – October 24th, 2010 – John 4:46-54

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The word “sign” in John’s Gospel is a wonderful word. It is a word that lets you know that there is going to be proof, evidence, that Jesus is the Messiah, sent by the Father to redeem the world. If you were a good Jewish person in Jesus day, you would know that according to the Law if you had two or three signs, two or three witnesses testifying to a statement, then that statement was trustworthy, it was real. After the wedding in Cana in Galilee, John tells us that this was Jesus’ first sign, first public evidence proving that He is the Messiah. Well, He’s in Cana again, and we are going to see another sign.

“So [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee, where He had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went down to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” Jesus had been wandering around, He’s been in Jerusalem, He’d been in Samaria, and now, He’s back in Galilee. And this official from Capernaum, where Jesus spent a lot of time, hears that Jesus is back around, and he goes to Jesus and begs Him to come to his house and heal his son. Seems pretty good so far, doesn’t it? Except Jesus’ reply is sort of curt to this man. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Well, why would Jesus say that to this fellow? He obviously believes. . . I mean, he came to Jesus to ask for healing, he wants Jesus to come. Why would Jesus say that unless there are signs there won’t be belief?

Here is why. This fellow understands that Jesus is holy, that He has power – but he doesn’t get it fully. What does this official ask Jesus? Come, come and heal my son. I want to see you lay hands on him, I want to hear your cry out with a loud voice, I want You to heal him thusly. The thing is… does Jesus need to walk up to this boy to heal him? Does Jesus need to walk up to this son to heal him? The man is insistent – “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’” We are wasting time with talking Jesus, when we should be walking. Let’s get a move on it, before my kid dies. What this fellow completely overlooks is that Jesus doesn’t need to go with him to heal the kid, Jesus can heal him right there. The guy doesn’t fully understand just how powerful Christ is, and so he tries to boss Jesus around. I hate to sound so critical of this guy, but while there is good, while it’s good that he knows to go to Jesus – he’s trying to micromanage Jesus, he’s selling Jesus short, and we need to be critical of things like this, we need to be wary of this sort of attitude, especially in ourselves.

One of the dangers around us here in the bible belt is a tendency to almost quietly sell Jesus short, to undercut His power, and substitute our own. To think that He can’t do things that He says He does. The obvious one for me is talking to people about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus refers to baptism as being born again – the scriptures call it a gift that unites you to Christ, Peter says in his epistle, “Baptism now saves you.” And yet, what do we hear about it? Oh, it’s just symbolic. Oh, baptizing infants doesn’t do any good unless they decide to do it themselves, because what’s important is that you are giving yourself to God. Do you see how this sells short Christ Jesus? This whole power and wonder of God working through Water and His Word gets undercut… it’s as though people assume that Jesus couldn’t really mean all this stuff He says in His Word about what He gives us in Baptism, so we make Baptism about what we show and give to Jesus. Or the Lord’s Supper – this drives me nuts. Jesus says, “This is My Body” – and then people will say it isn’t. Oh, it’s just symbolic. How can this be Jesus’ Body, He’s stuck up in heaven? I just don’t understand how this could be Jesus’ Body, how can it be His Body. Well, maybe because He’s God and He said, “This Is My Body” and what He says goes. You see, this is the danger – that we will slowly doubt, undercut, deny what Jesus Himself says because… it is mysterious and wondrous to us and we can’t comprehend it, because it’s about Him being more powerful than us and in control, and we like to be the ones in charge. Think about what we hear about prayer. Oh, if you just say this prayer the right way God’s gonna give you blessings. Am I in charge of God? Do I get to say, “You must bless me and in this way”? And this is where the man in our lesson errs. Please heal my son – great. You need to come down and heal him in this way – not so great.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” Now, I will praise this man. Jesus doesn’t give the man precisely what he asked, what he demanded. Jesus doesn’t go to Capernaum. He does something better. Jesus speaks a word of life. Go, your son will live. And hearing, the man believes – the man learns and gets it. If Jesus says something, it’s going to be, it will be true. And so in faith, he heads home. His plans of dragging Jesus along with him are dashed – but as he walks home, he goes trusting in Christ Jesus and His Word. And that trust proves true – the servants come running to meet him – Your son lives. And what do you know – the son is healed at the very hour when Jesus said, “Go, your son will live.” “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when He had come from Judea to Galilee.” The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Who is this Jesus – well, let’s see, He speaks, and then there is life. Hmm, can we think of Someone who speaks, and then there is life, say life springing up from the ground? This is a God thing that Jesus does – this shows that He is God, that He is the Word of God by Whom all things were made. This is what Jesus does – He restores life. If you want to know who God is, He is the One who gives life, and He gives it by the power of His Word. What Jesus says, is. And this truth, this wonder is revealed, is shown to us by this miracle – it is the proof of who Jesus is, it is His credentials. This Man Jesus is God come down to save us.

Now, what do we learn and take from this? Consider your own life, what you see. How many of you see your bodies not working like they used to? How many of you see signs of age and wear when you look in the mirror? Oh, as a society we try to hide that today, don’t we? But it’s there. Or how many of you, when you look at your lives see things broken – broken friendships, broken families, broken people, even yourself broken – just all those things that wear you down. Some of these tails of woe I know, some I don’t. You know some of mine, some you don’t. We all have them. We are sinful people living in a sinful world – nasty horrible stuff happens and we all get older and things start wearing down and dreams and plans don’t work out right. This is reality. How do we respond?

The world gives us a few answers. One answer the world gives is to simply ignore these problems, pretend they don’t exist. Oh, you could just go get blottoed or high, stoned off your rocker, that way you don’t have to face reality. Or, you could do what is more common – live for stuff, the latest and greatest gadget, show, car, tractor, or doohickey that will entertain you and keep you distracted. The world offers many ways for us to pretend that the difficulties of life aren’t there – dab a little make-up on and you’re just as young as you used to be, get the spiffy car and you’ll feel footloose and fancy free, or just drink till you forget. And of course, these are all lies – none of it is real, none of it fixes the problem – but it is appealing. Another answer the world gives is the simple dour answer. What you see is what you get. That’s all there is – only what you can understand and make sense of – and that it. So live for yourself, take what you want, make the best of things because it’s dog eat dog out there, so get to biting and fighting. There’s lots of that out there.

But you know reality. You know what is going on. Sinners in a sinful world. It’s all death. Our bodies, they break and die. Our friendships, they can break and die. Hopes – they can break and die. That’s the reality of life in a fallen world, and if left to our own devices, all the toys, all the money, all the drugs, all the ambition and power won’t change that fact.

To you who know this, Jesus says, “Go, you will live.” That’s what forgiveness is, that’s what everything that happens in this place is – it is simply Jesus saying to you, “Go with confidence and peace, face down anything you see in this life, for you will live.” When Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He is facing down all this junk and trash we see in life, the stuff we don’t talk about – and Jesus stares down, takes it upon Himself, let’s the world do it’s worst to Him, let’s the world kill Him most cruelly – takes the wages of our sin upon Himself. And on the third day – He rises. He rises victoriously over sin, death, the world – all this junk tried to destroy Him and He just strides on out of the tomb. He is the God of Life, the God who creates with a Word, the God who forgives with a Word, the God who gives new life in Himself with a Word. And Jesus says to you in His Word, when you are feeling the weight of this world upon you – Go, You will live.

Do you feel your own body turning against you? Go, you will live. You will live eternally, and even if you die here, you will live again, because Christ’s Word of life will not be broken. You are going to live better in the resurrection than you do now. Do you look around and see friendships broken, relationships destroyed? Go, you will live. You have been Baptized into Christ Jesus, made part of the Communion of Saints, brought into a family that after the resurrection of the dead on the last day will have no more problems, will not break, but will be united with Christ forever. Do you see things wrong in this world? Go, you will live. You will live eternally in the new heavens and the new earth where moth and rust do not destroy, where there is peace. Do you see sin in your own flesh, wearing you down? Go, you will live. Christ Jesus has forgiven you, and your sin is done away with, destroyed, and in the life of the world to come it will not be remembered any more.

I myself can’t understand what that will be like. I can’t imagine what it will be like to be in a body that isn’t falling apart, to no longer have sinful desires clinging to me. But this is what Jesus has promised to us, and so as we go about our lives here, we believe. We trust in His Word of life, for He is true God, and what He says is true – and He says that you will live, and this is a truth and a joy that no one can take from you. His Word is true, and shall be forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Dictum on Attendence

Theological Dictum # 53

Children will be twice as likely as their parents to skip church.

What does this mean? If your parents skipped church 5% of the time, you'll probably skip 10%. If your parents missed a Sunday a month, you'll probably come twice a month. If you bring your kids to church less than twice a month, simply don't expect them to attend church once they get out of the house.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I want to be Catholic.

I want to be Catholic. I want to hold to the Catholic Faith, whole and undefiled. I want to join my voice to the saints of all ages.

I think this is obvious (at least I would hope it is). However, what is amusing is this. I do not need to go anywhere else to be Catholic. I *am* in the visible Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the Catholic Church. If Moses, Elijah, and Paul were send bodily to earth again for some on reason and were in western Garfield county on Sunday morning - they would attend with joy.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church lacks nothing. God grant that we remain as His Church often is, the faithful remnant in this world.

I want to be Catholic. And thanks be to God, by His Grace I am.

Not Ready to Be Bishops

One of the things that is wonderful about the Missouri Synod is the high number of bishops we have. Every head pastor is a bishop in the full, biblical sense of the word. What is a bishop? The overseer put in place to oversee a flock of Christians, to be responsible for the preaching and teaching, the administration of the Sacraments, the spiritual oversight.

Talking to friends of other denominations, speaking to the Bishop (to say nothing of merely seeing the bishop) is a rare event. He will show up on a visit and then be gone from the particular parish, normally off to some distant city (or city so large that being on the other side of it is distant as well). We don't have that problem - the men who are given the call and duty to speak the Word of God, to make decisions are there on the spot, readily available. We have siphoned the burecractic aspects of the modern "bishopric" into an office removed from the parish - and that is generally fine (if sometime accompanied by annoying disconnects).

However, we have a different problem. We are too hasty to make people bishops. We are too hasty to send men to congregations where they are on their own - where they hold the highest office within the Church.

Generally we only have 1 year of lower-orders - the year of vicarage, which is a messed up almost deacon sort of thing. We think classroom training with a dash of parish is enough to fully prepare. While one doesn't necessarily need to have had a long time in the parish assisting a bishop before he is ready to be a bishop - many do. Many should.

We need to change this. Now, the problem would be how could we as we are organized along congregational lines, things like that. If I could make a simple change, it would be this.

If a congregation already has a pastor and wishes to call a second, they cannot fill this second position from the field. They must call from the Seminary.

What would this do? More spots where young pastors wouldn't be "bishops" yet - they would get to serve as full clergy who assist the bishop.

I think this one, simple change would do much, over the years, to improve the quality of our pastors. I think too many guys get sent off on their own and they drift off into weird ways. Let's have folks under someone for a longer time to maybe work that out - to help build up some of the emotional maturity required.

Just because a man graduates from the sem doesn't mean he's ready to be a bishop - but all too often, we expect them to be. This is rough. Support your local bishop, especially if he is young.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Beecroft, Tim and Betsy

Here is a video from Trinity - and our own Tim and Betsy Fleming (okay, so they are members at Grace, but they both were confirmed here at Zion) show up.

Oh yeah, this needs a title

If you haven't checked it out - the Worldview Everlasting We've Got Answers page is one of the best resources on the internet for addressing tough theological questions (now they need to sort and organize it so we can click on a side bar and have questions about baptism or whatever show up). I have a feeling things I see on this site are going to get my mental juices flowing.

In particular I thought I would write about a question that dealt with whether or not Baptism was just a sign like circumcision. In particular there was this line - "I believe baptism, of the earthly water, is but a sign and indeed not baptism at all but a proclamation of one belonging to Christ for others to see, Then there is the comparison to Circumcision being a sign, or even a marriage.

Baptism is a "sign" like circumcision - but the thing that we forget is that "signs" by God are real and actually do things. When Jesus changes water to wine - this is a tangible change... and John calls it a "sign". When the official's son is healed - that is a tangible change - and it is called a sign. When one was circumcised in Israel, it wasn't just symbolic - it meant one was no officially part of Israel.

Signs in Scripture aren't just things that point to some higher reality (that Scriptural word is "type") - but they are things that are real and concrete. Yet we are so ingrained to think in symbolic ways that we neglect reality.

This is because signs aren't something we do or create - they are things that God accomplishes for us. Circumcision is a sign - a sign from God to the one circumcised that he was now part of God's covenant people. Signs are God working in us, thumping us and reminding us.

And Baptism thumps me all the time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Modified Sweeping Generalizations

I have been doing more reading and observing, so I think I will modify my previous sweeping generalizations. New modifications are in italics.

+ + + + +

Here are some sweeping theological generalizations.

1. The less you see the depths of your own sinfulness, the more likely you are to gravitate away from Confessional Lutheranism.

2a. If you love the liturgy and see your sin being defeated and removed more and more in this life , you will gravitate towards the East.

2b. If you love your works and history and see God's grace as primarily helping you overcome your sin, you will gravitate towards Rome.

2c. If you love your works but disdain both history and your sin, you will gravitate towards Evangelicalism and Contemporary worship.

2d. If you decide to love your sin, you will gravitate towards theological liberalism or even depart from Christianity entirely.

3. We always tend to underestimate our own sin, which is why there are so few Lutherans in the world.

+ + + + + + + +

Do I doubt that I am or ought to grow in holiness? By no means. Do I doubt that God's strength and grace gives me victory over specific and concrete temptation. By no means.

But if I behold my own holiness and see it as mine... it is no longer holiness but pride. If I see my own good works, they are no longer good, but pride. When I look at the sins which I have conquered over, I cannot but help to see many more that I have not conquered over.

Paul was a good man. He was the greatest of the Pharisee. If ever there was a man who could point to his own holiness, it would be Paul. Yet as he grew in the faith, what does he say. What I want to do, I do not, and what I do not want to do, I do. Oh wretch that I am. The saying is trustworthy, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I *am* the foremost.

To grow and mature in your faith is to see more and more the depths of your sin. To know and see that you are not getting better, but rather you just had really low standards. To understand the utter and constant sinfulness that comes across every thought, word, and deed.

Are my thoughts not as vile as they once were, are my words not as coarse, are my deeds not as shocking as they once were? Um, I suppose. But behold how wicked my thoughts, words, and deeds are - for they are not perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect. Is my sin less because my anger flares not as high? Is it less lustful now that it isn't as explicit? Or does it all fall woefully short of the glory of God.

We are so tempted to focus on our current growth and maturation - like the 4 year old who thinks he is grown because he can use the drinking fountain by himself. Salvation is both now and not yet - the now is true - but the not yet is what I long for. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Active Members?

Sometimes we will talk about active members. Active membership.

I think this is poor language.

Why? Membership in the Church is not determined by or centered around my activity. To be in the Church is to be in the Body of Christ - it is to be an attendee, an recipient of Communion, a participant in the things of worship.

When we speak of "active" we aren't focusing on the worship life on a congregation. I have people who are very active - who will help out with social events and the like - but attending worship... eh, rare. But they are "active"... they are serving and showing love.

But that's secondary, not primary. We've made it primary with our language.

Do you want to be a bad theologian?

Do you want to be a bad theologian.

Then try to be "smart" and "figure" things out. Try to find ways around all the things in Scripture and theology that you don't like. You're smart - find the loopholes. Come up with something new (Luther and his ilk were just products of their time, and didn't get all the things we do in our own, after all).

If you want to be a bad theologian, have the attitude above.

If you want to be a good theologian - read Luther, Chemnitz, Sasse. See how they approach things. See how they interpret the Scriptures and set goals. Then act in that way. Write in that way. Think in that way.

Always be a student. Then you might be an okay theologian.

(It astonishes me how many "well trained" people are determined to publicly speak on things that they don't know... just rant about their own ideas that I'd expect a first year seminarian or my confirmands to recognize as off base. If you have something that is new and novel - stuff it).

(But, but, but what about your novel approaches, oh Gadfly!?!?!? Saying that ethics is simply that a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, bound to love his neighbor is nothing new at all. It's old school. And deconstruction... it ain't really new at all. Go read Luther deconstruct the Roman Sacramental system - it's called "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church". Good stuff.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Decay of the 3rd Use

I think people have a hard time with the 3rd use, because the 3rd use of the Law so rarely remains the 3rd use of the Law. It decays in one of two ways.

There is the 3-2 decay. This is the one that the hearer often brings about. I hear a good statement of the 3rd use of the Law. I am to love my neighbor. This is good, this is a guide for my life. But I am a sinful man, and when I hear that I am to love my neighbor (3rd), I also know and understand that I have not loved my neighbor (2nd). For the humble Christian, 3rd use will decay to 2nd.

Then there is the 3-1 decay. This occurs when people think they are using the third use, but then turn it into first use. For example - let us say we have some rules established for good order. Say the black and do the red. This could be viewed as a third use of the law - for the sake of good order, this is a good thing to do. However, once the idea of threat or punishment is added, once it becomes "you will say the black and do the red... or else" then it becomes 1st use of the Law, a curb used no longer to promote good behavior but to punish and curb wickedness.

I'm not saying that's bad. I tend to think Christians need a bit of the first use, cause my sinful flesh needs to be thumped on the nose every now and then. But it's 1st use.

Perhaps the reason the 3rd use of the law attracts such debate and confusion is because in reality... we don't use the 3rd use all that often. We might call it third, but we are really using it like 1 or 2.

The Third Use of the Law

Christians will sometimes talk about 3 uses of the Law. The first use is that of a curb, where the simple threat of punishment (either Divine or human, temporal or eternal) will keep people from behaving badly. The great theologian Governor Tarkin understood this - "Fear will keep the systems in line, fear of this battle station." This first use is quite useful - it's sort of the basis of much of our legal system - and even the most wicked person can be brought to heel by it (although, as the above mentioned Tarkin doctrine shows, it has limitations and can be prone to abuse).

The second use is that of a mirror, a theological use where the Law shows man his own sin, showing man that he is not righteous as God created him to be and desires him to be. This is the what is sometimes called the theological use of the Law. As a theologian, this is vitally important - if one does not know his own sin, one will despise his Savior. If you insist you aren't drowning, you aren't going to care about the life preserver.

Then there is the 3rd use of the Law. This is often called a guide or a trellis. The idea is that for the Christian, the one who has been brought to faith, who is redeemed, who has the New Man in him, can look at the Law and learn from it, can shape his life according to, and view the Law as a guide for structuring his life.

This is true.

However, until the resurrection of the dead upon the last day, as long as I am in my flesh, I am not simply a new man, I am also a sinner with the old Adam. The problem comes in when we teach the 3rd use of the law not thinking or understanding that any use of the 3rd use, of what I ought to do, will automatically also be 2nd use of the Law showing what I have not done.

We forget this. "Here is how you go and live your life as a good little Christian" is rightly heard as "I haven't done that - ergo I am a bad Christian".

For the person with the burdened conscience, the Law ALWAYS has this 2nd use overtone. It always hits like a hammer.

And while you have flesh and blood, it should always hit you like a hammer as well. If it isn't. . . why not? Why do you think so highly of yourself that this correction of the Law is merely a small thing compared to the wonders of getting the better rules for living? What do you think of yourself - and is that in line with what the Scriptures say?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Beauty of the Oklahoma District

(Note: I think I am coming down with something. My mind is racing - which normally happens when I am feverish. My wife came down with stuff hard yesterday, I think it comes to me. One more post before laying down might be in order)

I have figured out why I like the Oklahoma District so much. It is just like a congregation.

We are having elections at our congregational voters' meeting this Sunday. No one really "wants" an office. In fact, I think everyone who is in office will probably just be re-elected. Why aren't people clamoring to be President, or this, or that?

Because it is just an office - a set of responsibilities over and above what one already has.

Thus the fundamental character of the Oklahoma District of the LCMS. No one here "wants" office. Our offices in the district don't give us power, or control, or cushy jobs. They just give us more work to do.

I'm the Circuit Counselor. I get no financial gain from this. I simply get more work (and I miss the yearly golf outing because our DP schedules a meeting during it!). Pastor Hall is the 3rd Vice President. No compensation, no extra glory. Just duties. There's not even that much prestige. One of the 9 of us needed to be CC - I got dumped with it. One of the Twenty of us needed to be the regional VP - Hall got dumped with it.

Thus, the work gets done quickly and properly - without extra hubbabblo, without fan fare, without expense or self-aggrandizement.

Imagine what your congregation would be like if the offices of President and Elders were paid positions. Doesn't that just make you cringe?

Then why for the love of all that is Holy did we ever decide to do this to our own Districts!?!?!?

Theological Dictum #85

Theological Dictum #85

Exegesis removed from or unrelated to the proclamation of the Word is utter folly. The Word was not given to us for the formation of novel theories or "scientific" dissection - it was given to be proclaimed.

I am convinced

I am convinced that the best way to cure many of the doctrinal woes and pitfalls that are within our Synod would best be accomplished in one of two ways:

1. Double the amount of time students spend studying the Confessions, and test them radically and hard upon this truth.


2. Test them with the 333 Questions of Chemnitz's Enchridion.

In either of these tests, demand 98% accuracy, and any wrong questions must be gone over, to make sure that these errors are corrected. If they are not corrected and instead willingly held to, let us commend these students to the NALC or the ELCA.

I realize I have set a standard that I myself might not meet this moment. 6 years in the parish have sharpened some things, but others it has dulled. For a student of theology in an intensive program there should be no excuse.

Certification into this Synod is a doctrinal joke.

Lord have mercy upon us.

(Maybe I shouldn't read Sasse on the history of German Lutheranism early in the morning).

Monday, October 18, 2010

The End of the Chuch Year

In many ways, I love the End of the Church Year. I love it because it just stands out from the rest of the world. It's about the end, about wrath, but about abundant mercy and love which rescues us from this world. It's also the time when you get the "in that place there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth - this is the Gospel of the Lord" fun statements.

But it's not a popular time. We have been taught to be fearful of the end of the world. Some of this is just lousy, self-aggrandizing and egotistical theology. Some of this is love of the world. I like my stuff - so I don't like thinking about leaving it behind.

The End of the Church Year puts this into perspective, and I need it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A bit more on 1 Thessalonians 4

Let's look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 in a bit of detail to get a firmer grip on this idea of the Rapture. And let's look at it verse by verse and just work our way through it.

4:13 - "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."

It is important to note how this passage begins. The concern that people have is what happens to those who have died (or as Paul terms it, fallen asleep). There was an understanding that the return of Christ was imminent. What then of those who have died - do they miss out on the "Kingdom"? See, at the time there was an understanding that there would be a cool reign on Earth (hence why Millennialism is often called a "Jewish myth"). First off, Paul desires to contradict this false understanding of Christ's return, so that we might have hope for those who have already died.

4:14 - "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

Again, note how there is a tie into Christ's death and resurrection. This is good news - this is a focus on the joys of life everlasting and the resurrection of the dead.

4:15 - For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Note here the concern for the faithfully departed - we aren't going to gain anything on or over them - they will be full partakers in everything -- there is an equality, an equal share for the saints of all times and ages in the world to come.

4:16 - For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Note here how when Christ Returns, it will be an obvious and open return. At His return He will come with a cry of command (I think along the lines of "Lazarus, come forth"), the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God. Again - this won't be a secret thing, or a piecemeal thing - when Christ returns... boom, there He is. And what happens - the dead rise. The faithfully departed are departed no longer - Body and Soul restored. Then...

4:17 - Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

And now we get the phrase "caught up" - raptured. But note what happens - those who are raised and those who are left are raptured together... this rapture is simply the description of all of the saints being gathered and brought together to be with Christ eternally.

There are no multiple parts. There are no complex steps. There's no people left behind to wait until the "real" second coming. Everyone together, with Christ - it's all good.

And thus, it is all good. Therefore encourage one another with these words. - 4:18.

A Third Option on Criticism

There are those who say that you ought not disagree with the Fathers... yet will eviscerate Walther and Pieper (or in other denominations, have little respect for recent rulings of their particular denomination).

There are those who will say that we must follow Walther and Pieper, yet ignore the Fathers.

There is a third option - one which I hold to (as my father Luther did before me). Take from all the Fathers, be they Early Church, Reformation, or Missouri, and take what is in them that is in accord with the Scriptures (and the Confessions) and pitch the rest.

Yes, they are all holy men of God... but while they were writing, they were still sinful men, prone to error and tangential theology.

Trinity 20 Sermon

Trinity 20 – October 17th, 2010 – Matthew 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Once again this morning, we are approaching the end of the Church year, and so we hear warnings, admonishments from our Lord about how we could fall away, how we might take this precious gift of faith in Christ Jesus that we have received and then just toss it away. For that is what the Parable of the Wedding Feast is – it is warning us of the temptations that will come, temptations that would try to destroy us. Christ Jesus our Lord explains this to us in this parable.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” First things first – whenever you hear this phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” – this is setting you up for a discussion of how God works. This is about how the Triune God brings salvation through Christ Jesus. So here we are, talking about salvation – and we see a marriage feast. This is Gospel. Done, completed, it is finished and the tomb is empty Gospel. Over and over the Scriptures give us the image of Christ and the Church being a Husband and His Bride – it’s even how the book of Revelation ends. This idea of the Wedding Feast is the completion, the fulfillment of all things. Christ has won salvation, He has won for Himself His own Bride and washed her, made her spotless – the strife is over, the battle done, and all that remains is the everlasting and eternal party in the New Heavens and the New Earth. If we used some of the other services in the hymnal, we would sing on occasion “This is the feast of victory for our God.” That’s what we are talking about – this is triumphant language. The feast is on.

And so the master sends servants to call those who were invited to the feast. Now, this is neat too. The word for “invited” is related to the word for Church in Greek. To be in the Church, to be a member of the Church is to be one who has already been invited by God to the wedding feast. Indeed, do you in the Church not know the salvation that Christ Jesus has won for you, that He has forgiven your sins, that you are washed and cleaned and heaven awaits you? And what do we do here, each and every Sunday? We are gathered by Christ – called to this place to gather and celebrate the mini-feast – the foretaste of the feast to come – to have that brief, refreshing glimpse of the joys and peace of heaven now in the word of forgiveness proclaimed, to recieve the Supper where here on Earth we get Christ Jesus Himself dwelling with us, we get what we will have always and forever in heaven. This is describing us – the Church, our Church.

There is one problem. “But they would not come.” A familiar problem. It’s hard to say much here – because there is a danger in preaching on this – because this isn’t just a time where we who happen to be here this morning get to sit around on our self-righteous backsides and think we are all awesome because we crawled out of bed this morning – this is warning to us here too. Listen. “Again, he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” This isn’t an opportunity for us to pride ourselves on our Church attendance, because right away, the master points to how He has prepared and done everything. Likewise, in the Church, Christ Jesus has done everything for you, He’s done it all, so any thought of “oh, how great I am for coming to Church” is wrong and of the devil because it takes our focus off of Christ. Remember, Satan will always try to take your focus off of this service, this feast that goes on here – whether it is by skipping, or by trying to focus you more on yourself than upon Christ and what He has done. “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” Even as Christ jumps up and down saying, “Look at the forgiveness I have won for you,” you will be tempted to ignore this. You will be tempted to think that you have better things to do – more profit in the work of this life. Or there is this part about seizing the servants. So, what’s going on here? Well, ever been tempted to complain about how the pastor is boring, the dull service that isn’t what I want, I’m not being entertained? The idea behind that phrase “treated them shamefully” is literally “were prideful with them.” Cannot we in our pride sit in judgment on what happens here? If I annoy one of you, won’t Satan tempt you to not come here anymore? Eh, so you think I’m a jerk who picks out lousy hymns and just isn’t as cool as you are – you probably are right – does that change the truth that Christ Jesus here gives you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins? And this is the temptation, that we place other things – our work, our rest, our wants and desires ahead of the wedding feast of Christ Jesus. That temptation is always there – be aware of it, and struggle against it. Why? “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murders and burned their city.” God does not like the disdaining of His gifts, the ignoring of His salvation in Christ Jesus.

And then we move on in the parable. “Then he said to his servants, ‘go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’” 6 chapters later we hear, “Go therefore into all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”. You see the connection? God’s mercy endures forever, and He will always seek, always call more and more people to the Kingdom, make them part of His family through Baptism. In fact, you probably can even think of Baptism as the wedding itself – because where does Christ join Himself to you, where does He wash you and make you part of His Bride, the Church? Baptism. Alright, keep on inviting, keep on Baptizing, keep on bring more people into the Church and bring them to the wedding feast. Again, just a beautiful image of utter and pure Gospel – God still calls people through the Word – even calling us.

Then we hit another snag. Not only will Satan try to make people ignore Church, He will try to corrupt those who are in the Church. Listen. “But when the King came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” So what is going on here? This really hits again to how you view yourself, to Baptism, to forgiveness. A common image of forgiveness is to be clothed by Christ’s righteous – to be covered by His forgiveness. This is true from the beginning of the Scriptures to the end. This is what clothing does in the bible – it covers guilt and shame. Adam and Eve sin, Adam and Eve are naked – and what does God do? He covers them with animal skin clothing, because their own plan for covering themselves was kind of lacking. Even at the end – behold a host arrayed in white – these are those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. This is forgiveness talk – this is Baptismal talk. As a Christian, you are here, you are worthy and able to be in this place only because you are forgiven. This is why the first thing we say here is the Invocation – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – we are here as those who are Baptized, those who have been covered by Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. This is the only reason any of us could stand here before God.

And what do we see in the parable? A man who doesn’t have his wedding garment. And the king is confused – how did you get in here? Everyone whom I invite has his wedding garment, how are you here? Guy doesn’t have anything to say. He must have pitched it, thought the garment wasn’t good, thought he didn’t need it. Bad things result. Likewise, this is how Satan will tempt you, you who are here, who are baptized, who are part of the Church… Satan will tempt you into thinking that you don’t need your Baptism, that you don’t need Jesus’ forgiveness, that you are fine enough and good enough and all this forgiveness stuff is well… if not a total waste of time, just something that those other people one pew over really need, but not you so much. You cannot be and remain in the Church if you despise the forgiveness of your sins – because this is what the Church is all about. Everything that happens here in this place, what we hear, what we say, what we sing, what we eat, is designed to focus us upon Christ Jesus, to give us His forgiveness, to give us His life. Don’t disdain this – either by flat out ignoring it or by thinking it’s beneath you – thinking, “oh, I understand all that forgiveness stuff, Pastor, now just tell me some practical advice for my life.” If you think you just need some practical advice or a pep talk, you don’t understand, because if you were righteous and perfect, you wouldn’t be needing any advice or pep talk in the first place, so that must mean that the real problem is sin, and you need forgiveness. Do not let pride lead you away, lead you to despise what your Lord gives you here.

Because, dear friends, it truly is all done. All things indeed are now prepared. The Lamb who was slain has risen victorious for you, and He has begun His reign. Right now, our Lord is seated at the right hand of the Father, and right now, He comes to bring you the forgiveness of sins in His own Body and Blood, given and shed for you. Right now He comes to you in His Supper, declaring you forgiven, judging you righteous and holy for His sake – the same thing He’s going to do on the last day when He comes back and declares you to be among the living, the living in Christ. You get joy and forgiveness and confidence, confidence that you can stand in the face of all things, even the end of the world and the last day because you are Christ’s – united to Him in Baptism, forgiven, invited to the eternal wedding feast with a place prepared for you. All this our God has done for you. Rejoice in this always. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Simple Way to Know that Rapture Stuff is off base

When people ask about the Rapture, there is a lot of fear and nervousness about it. Seriously, if you look at the popular ideas about the Rapture, there's fires and earthquakes and what if the pilot is raptured out of the plane and what if we are left behind...

These are all off base. If you want to get what the "Rapture" is - it's simple. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The rapture is simple. When Christ returns, it's going to be big and obvious, and all the faithful from all times and places will be gathered around Christ. Anyone who is alive when Christ returns will be "raptured". It's a good thing.

But I'd recommend paying attention to how people talk about the "Rapture" and the End Times. Do they speak of it as a good thing? They ought, for Paul teaches us this so that we might not be concerned about those who have fallen asleep and that we might comfort one another.

Here is the simple way to know if someone is off base when talking about the Rapture. As St. Paul says, "Encourage one another with these words" when someone uses them to try to scare and terrify you, it's not being used rightly.

The Importance of an Argument

We have become an opinion driven culture. We are a society where we have been taught that whatever we think is valid. We see in schools where students are asked what they think or what they feel more than they are to simply state fact. We see it on TV News, where random people will be asked for their reactions to events, as though we should give credence to what any random stranger thinks. We see it in our politics, where there is plenty of rhetoric and catch phrases but not a real explanation of positions. Soundbites a sound argument does not make. And of course, we see it in blogs... if you wish to be frightened, simply look at CNN's comment page.

Now, I would guess that this flows out of the idea that Truth is relative and flexible, and what is more important is our perception of events. Everything is focused on what we think, what we feel, what we want.

When it comes to theology, this whole approach is pointless. In theology we are dealing with the confession of God Almighty and His plan of salvation. We are to articulate this clearly and concisely -- our opinions or thoughts or feels about it really aren't the point. "We" aren't the point, nor is our reaction. The point is Christ Jesus.

In the Church we need to speak the faith not in terms of what we think, what we feel, what we would like - but on the basis of the Scriptures clearly interpreted. We need S-E-E - Statement, Example, Explanation. Make a case, give an example, explain how the example shows your statement to be true.

We are losing this. We can assert what we like. We can say that we just "know it" and that other people don't. But we are losing the ability to answer "why". Why do we say X? Why do we do Y? Why should we avoid 1, 2, and 3?

We must explain this. We can't simply appeal to tradition - for we acknowledge that tradition doesn't bind like Scripture, so a naked appeal to tradition will only win over romantics (which many of us are) who long for a simpler day of the past. It will not convince. We can't simply appeal to our authority - for again, my authority is only in thins concerning the Word of God -- so we are to be thrust upon the Word of God. And we certainly can't appeal to our thoughts, feelings, reactions, or ascetics (as we have been trained by society to do) - for what makes your thoughts or opinions better than another? Nothing.

Please, learn to make an argument! Learn to construct and speak directly. Learn to not rely simply upon emotional appeals, but rest and build upon the Word of God, clearly explained.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Procrastination Thoughts

Do you know what this pastor thinks as he drags his feet just a bit after getting back from a conference this morning?

I should make an educational move entitled: "Dr. Strangeparce, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Greek Participle."

The Greek Participle is a wondrous thing, because it doesn't just in corporate action, but time, location, and direction. Fantastic thing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Always later, never never

One of the things that we can be tempted to think when one of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ fall asleep is, "I never got to tell them ______," where the blank can have many things. Or we might think, "I was going to see them soon, and now I never will."

No. You are wrong when you think such things.

Concerning the physical death of our fellow Christians, it is not a never sort of thing. Christ has died, Christ has risen -> your beloved who has died will rise as well. Now, come that day, you may not want or need to tell them what it pains you now that you hadn't told them. Come that day, you may not wish to see them for whatever it is you wished to see them for now. But it will be better then.

I do not say this to minimize the pain we feel at a loved one's passing. It does indeed stink that things we wanted to say are not said, that we now do not see ones we love seeing.

But this separation is a temporary one, it is a transient one. Like a fog is scattered by the sun and wind, so our sorrow will be blown aside when the Son returns and bids us all rise again.

For Christians, there is always a later. This is the truth we are told by our Lord, this is the truth we confess when we gather with our beloved departed around our Lord's Altar for His Supper (for indeed... the dead in Christ are there, for they are indeed part of the company of heaven), and this is what we look forward to.

For Christians, there is always a later.

Wondrous and Annoying

The most wondrous and most annoying thing about Luther is his approach to the freedom of a Christian. It is wonderful, for it focuses one completely upon Christ and what He has done. It is annoying, for it means I cannot win many practical debates by simply saying, "You CAN'T do that." Instead, I must take the more difficult task of, "My friend, why would you want to do that?"

I bring this up as we have Dr. Cameron MacKenzie lecturing on Luther and his reforms to worship at our District Workers Conference. To sum... Luther thought that we were free to change the liturgy in service of the Gospel (and that "in service of the Gospel" is key), but Luther also clearly teaches that it is a stupid and foolish use of freedom to go off and do something different from everyone else simply to be novel... because being novel fundamentally isn't serving the Gospel.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Safe to Hate?

Now, I was actually thinking about this before I found out that today is national coming out day, or some such thing like that. And what I write here may very well tick off many of my friends, either conservative Christians or my liberal friends. Timing may exacerbate this - oh well.

If you want to know how Satan tempts you, what avenues he takes, ask yourself this question. Who do you think it is safe to hate? Who do you think it is perfectly fine to look at and simply despise for whatever reason?

This is how Satan will tempt you. You will see what someone does, and X is wrong. You will see that one isn't as open minded as you, and you will despise them.

This tempts folks from all across the Spectrum - Conservative and Liberal alike. We can see people doing things that we know (on the basis of whatever moral or ethical system we hold to) are wrong, and just hate them.

There is no one whom it is safe to hate.

Now, I'm not trying to say that there isn't right or wrong. We can discuss that -- perhaps even vehemently. But it is not safe to hate, to have anger.

My anger is not righteous. I am a sinful man, and I will quickly turn my hatred and anger into self-justification. My disgust with another will elevate myself. Pride will kick in - and I will even feel good, I will feel like a better person because I'm not like... them... whoever them is.

Hate is dangerous -- to yourself. It destroys your humility, it destroys empathy which allows you to care for others, even others you disagree with.

Think about those who annoy, anger, or even hurt and harm you. It is not safe to hate them, for that will twist you and weaken you. Rather - strive to show the same care and compassion that Christ has shown you - for though He had what we could call great reasons to "hate" you on account of your sin, He sought only to forgive and restore you.

To hate makes you less than the person you were created to be.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Hardest Thing to Believe

The hardest thing to believe is what we will confess with our antiphon next Sunday.

"The Lord is righteous in all he has | done to us,*
for we have not obeyed his com- | mandments."

This is the hardest thing to believe, for it removes all credit or semblance of righteousness away from me. I am a sinner - mercy me O God!

Yet, so often we are tempted to place that little bit in us - that I obey just slightly better than someone else.

We have no obeyed His commandments. God be merciful to me, a sinner!

On Matthew 13

Many theologians, many greater than I, have take some of the parables in Matthew 13 in a way I would not - especially the parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price. These are understood by many to be about how we are to strive and give up all things for Jesus and thus obtain the kingdom of heaven. (As a note, a very well written version of this may be found here ). This is a very pious approach... I just don't think it does justice to the text, nor is it what our Lord is teaching.

Matthew 13 has 7 parables, and all deal with the Kingdom of Heaven.

1. The Parable of the Sower -- and in the meaning we are told this is about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Seed is the Word.

2. The Parable of the Weeds -- again, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who sows good weed. . . and then there is wickedness.

3. The Parable of the Mustard Seed -- The kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing the littlest weed and it grows.

4. The Parable of the leaven - the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which gives growth to the flour when given to it.

5. The Parable of Treasure in the field -- the Kingdom of Heaven is like the man who finds a treasure in a field and gives all to buy it.

6. The Pearl of Great Price -- The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who sells all to buy a great pearl.

7. The Parable of the Net - The Kingdom of Heaven has the agents of Christ gather all, and in the judgment separate the righteous from the unjust.

In parables 1-4 and 7, "the Kingdom of Heaven" leads to a discussion on what Christ does for salvation - He plants the seed that grows, He gives the growth, He rescues the faithful from the unrighteous.

Why then would we think that 5 and 6 - both about the kingdom of heaven - would suddenly be about what we have to do for Jesus? Rather - is not Christ Jesus the One who gives up all to purchase, to redeem us?

Now, to be sure, as Christians we are to reflect Christ Jesus - what our Lord does for us should be how we are to live. But the Kingdom of Heaven isn't about you - it's about Jesus and who He is.

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

The Kingdom of Heaven is like

Whenever Jesus says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like"... He isn't talking about what you are like -- He is talking about what He is like.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trinity 10 sermon

Trinity 19 – October 10th, 2010 – Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost +
Here in October, as we move towards the end of the Church Year, we are getting texts about the main ways in which Satan attacks us. Last week our Gospel text was about one main way Satan attacks us – when Satan tries to make us self-righteous and ignore our sin. This week, our text brushes upon the second way in which Satan loves to attack us – and that is when Satan tries to convince us that there really is no forgiveness of sin. Our Lord fended of Satan’s first attack last week, so let us see how He defends us against Satan this week.

“And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.’” First thing off the bat – this may sound a little strange to us, because today if we see someone who is paralyzed, who has some obvious physical malady, we see simply a physical problem, not a spiritual problem. If we saw someone who was paralyzed, we would think that there was some sort of spinal cord injury, or maybe a stroke. We would think of physical causes right off the bat. That wasn’t how people thought, first and foremost in Jesus’ day. The thought, the opinion of the day, was that if there was something manifestly wrong with your body, if some great physical harm befell you, that this would be due to some sin that you, that your parents had committed. The idea was that if you were a leper, or a paralytic, or something like that, then “obviously” you must have done something to royally tick off God. And of course, this whole idea is reinforced when you have the “good” people of society, the Pharisees, the Scribes, who are healthy, wealthy, and certainly thought to be wise all lamenting how horrid you must have been to be struck by God like this.

Now, I suppose that they are partially right. Why do things like diseases happen? Well, we are sinners in a sinful world. Lousy stuff happens. Do we deserve it – well, in the larger sense, yes, because we too are sinful beings, and as such, well, we really don’t have a leg to stand on when some tragedy hits us. The wages of sin isn’t mere tragedy, it is death. We confess that because of our sin we are worthy of punishment, both temporal, here and now, and eternal. Now, in our pride as modern folks, we don’t like thinking this way, we don’t like thinking that lousy stuff could happen to us. It can, and really, we can’t complain. Stuff happens to sinners in a sinful world. However, my dear friends, don’t try to make things equal out. Don’t try wondering, “did sin X cause this problem”? Unless you have a clear Word of God telling you, it’s pointless to try – unless its something like smoking 2 packs a day and getting lung cancer. We can see tangible cause and effect, but unless God has said, “Your doing X has caused Y”, the only thing that our speculation will bring will be crushing and horrid guilt. We’d have that constant uncertainty about our lives, and more over, the underlying assumption would be that God must be angry with us. Do you see what sort of doubt and despair this sort of thinking would bring?

And so Jesus walks up to this poor paralyzed man, and Jesus speaks to Him the most beautiful words he has ever heard. Take heart, My son, your sins are forgiven. Beautiful words – take heart, be encouraged, be gladdened, have joy. And why? Your sins are forgiven. That guilt you have, that fear you have that God must surely hate you – no. You are His son, His child, and He forgives you. Now, we understand the whole mechanics of this – we know that because Christ Jesus dies for us upon the Cross that the wages, the punishments for our sin are doled out in full, we know that because He rises we are promised and given life everlasting, we know that we are made God’s own children in the waters of Holy Baptism, we know that we are joined to Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. All off this is summed up in those simple words. Your sins are forgiven. And at that moment, that poor paralyzed man receives joy and peace and comfort, joy, peace and comfort as he probably hadn’t had in his life. God’s not angry with him – God loves him. Likewise, dear friends. God is not angry with you. God does not despise you, God does not hate you, God isn’t out to get you. You are His child, claimed as His own, and forgiven.

Now, Satan hates Christians who are joyful and at peace. See what he stirs up. “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’” So they hear this joyous pronouncement of forgiveness, and what is their reaction? They grumble, they complain that Jesus is blaspheming. Now, why would they say that Jesus is blaspheming? Because of this – it is understood that only God can forgive sins. If our sins are against God, and every sin is ultimately against God, then only God can truly forgive sins. Makes sense – if you owe me a debt, some fellow off the street can’t just walk up to you and say, “Eh, you don’t have to pay Pastor Brown back.” He’s got no right. Likewise, no mere man acting on his own would have the right to say, “your sins are forgiven.” That is a God thing – and so, they conclude that Jesus is blaspheming. Now, they are wrong, because Jesus is in fact God, so He has every right to forgive this man’s sin, and in fact Jesus delights in forgiving this man’s sin. But did you note where Satan attacks? He attacks the forgiveness of sins. Satan has two plans, two main avenues of attack. The first, he tries to make you ignore your sin – so you die unawares of the danger. The second is this – if you know your sin, if you know you are guilty, Satan will try to keep that guilt with you – he will try to cut you off from forgiveness. And that’s what’s happening here – Satan is trying to cut people off from forgiveness.

And Christ Jesus our Lord isn’t going to stand for that. “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk.” But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ He then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’” Utterly beautiful. So, do you think it is too hard, too much for Jesus to forgive sins? Well, here’s some proof. Rise and walk – and the guy walks. You think this man’s sin kept him lying on this bed and that I can’t forgive that sin? Get up and walk. If I can do that to this man’s paralyzed body, if I can heal his body – I have the authority to heal and cleanse his soul with a Word of forgiveness. This is a wonderful proof of Christ’s authority to forgive sin. This is for you. One of the things that we can forget is that Jesus does this miracles not just for the people He helps, but to be signs and proofs to us. Does Satan try to tell you that there is no forgiveness – behold Christ Jesus, who is the great physician not only of Body, but also of Soul. He who heals in ways that we see also heals with forgiveness, even though we don’t get to look at our soul. This is His love, His might, His power. Christ Jesus can forgive sins.

But here is the neat part of this text. We hear, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid and they glorified God, Who had given such authority to men.” Are you in need of forgiveness? Yes. Can you receive forgiveness, Christ’s forgiveness? Yes. And how? Through men, through those whom God has given authority to forgive sins. Now, this in part does directly refer to me as your Pastor. This is what I am here for – to forgive you your sins. I as a called and ordained servant of the Word, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ – I have been called here to proclaim forgiveness to you, I have been ordained, ordered by God to use this authority given to me to speak a word of forgiveness to you – that is why I am here. I have been called to the public ministry – and when you hear me speak forgiveness – it’s not important that I, Eric Brown, am speaking, but that Christ Jesus has called, ordained, and sent you someone to be your Pastor and to speak this forgiveness to you. Why? He doesn’t want you to doubt that you are forgiven, He doesn’t want to let Satan tear you down. The fact that I am called and ordained is what authorizes me to stand up here and speak these words of forgiveness to you, publicly, in this place.

But it’s more than that. Are you baptized? Are you part of the family of God? Now, while Joe-Blow off the street can’t walk up to anyone and say, “that $50 bucks you owe Pastor Brown, you don’t owe it to him any more” – my wife can say that. Why? Cause she’s part of my family, she is my spouse, my bride, all that I have is hers, and so she has authority to take what is mine and give it away. Likewise, you are part of the Church, you are part of the bride of Christ. Because you are Baptized, because you are covered with the blood of Christ and joined to Him, you too have the authority to speak the forgiveness of sins to people. Now, you don’t have the authority to do so Sunday mornings here – here in this place I as pastor am given that duty, that “public” office is mine – but in your own private, personal lives and callings, you have this authority. Are you a parent? Then you have the authority from God, the duty even, to tell you children that they are forgiven for the sake of Christ Jesus’ death upon the cross. Are you a friend and neighbor? Then you have the authority to tell your friends and neighbors that their sins are forgiven by Christ Jesus. You are able to speak that Word of life unto them. This is an awesome, mind boggling thing. Sometimes I know that we can be almost disappointed that we don’t get to do spiffy faith healings, that we don’t get to do wondrous signs. Well, first off, we’ve prayed for an awful lot of people who by rights should have died and didn’t – let’s not diminish the value of that simply because I don’t get to put my hand on someone’s head and start shaking. But healing – that’s the lesser thing. So you get healed, you are well for what – a few decades at most? Now think about the Word of forgiveness you speak – that creates faith. That gives forgiveness and eternal life, that raises the dead unto heaven. That’s part of the point of the text – that this Word of forgiveness that we have been given by God to speak is more wondrous than anything else we could see in this life.

You have forgiveness in Christ Jesus – it is your possession. It is your treasure. Do not let Satan tell you that this joy and wonder of forgiveness isn’t yours. Cling to it – know that you are forgiven for the sake of Christ Jesus – hear me proclaim it to you hear in this place, come and taste it in Christ’s Supper which He has called and ordained me to give to you. And let this forgiveness reign in your life, let it flow from your own lips to the people whom God places in your private and personal lives who need to hear it. This is the beauty and wonder of His forgiveness – now let us with all fear and reverence glorify God. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost+