Monday, May 27, 2013

(An Old Post Reposted)

Holiness is not defined by living, but by receiving.

Too often in America, we equate holiness with action and living. Live in a holy fashion - do X because X is a holy thing. Be ye holy -- so get to it.

What we neglect or ignore in this whole approach (that we've picked up from our Protestant and Methodist friends) is that holiness is not defined by what I do or my actions, but by what God declares to be holy.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

Being made holy, receiving holiness from God, being called into the holy nation is not defined by my actions - but it is something I have received in mercy.

Do we forget that all those things listed in the explanation to the first article of the Creed are holy? My marriage is holy - not because I or my wife are such good spouses, but because of all people in the world, God set apart my wife for me and me for my wife -- he has made our marriage holy.

My whole life and being He has made holy, for He has called me out of darkness and set me aside from the world to be His holy servant. I happen to be a pastor... but it's not being a pastor that makes me holy. My wife is a nurse -- she is a holy nurse, for God has given her the talents she has and has put her to use.

The food on my table - it is holy. It has been set apart by God that I might recieve it with thanksgiving. Otherwise, how would I dare pray before eating -- do we pray over and bless that which is not holy? May it never be!

When we start think about holiness in terms of what we do - our specific actions, when we take an "I have done X volunteerism that I didn't need to do (see, that was right and holy)" approach, we neglect what true holiness is.

God has set us apart for holiness.

Now, does this manifest itself in our lives. Most surely! But I do not make my actions holy (or holier) because *I* add anything to them. I am holy in Christ Jesus, and that will spill out in me. And when I see that I have been treating the things that God has called Holy less than holy... if I disdain my wife, or my vocation, or my own body... then I need to repent of my sin. Not so that I will be holy - but because God has called and declared me to be holy - and I need always to remember and be focused on His love for me in Christ Jesus and remember who I truly am in Him. God's own forgiven and holy child.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday sermon

Today's Sermon

Trinity Sunday – May 26th, 2013 – John 3:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

          So which are you?  Are you a person of the world, a person who looks out and sees money to be made, deals to be brokered, a life to be lived here and now – or are you a person of God’s Spirit, who sees a world full of sin, but hopes in a world to come?  Are you a child of darkness or a child of God?  Are you content to strive for your best life now, what you want, what you desire – or do you understand that God is your Father and do you strive to be ever more like Him, showing love to all, even and especially those who don’t deserve it?

          Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.”  Nicodemus was a man of the world.  He was a ruler, a well respected man.  People looked up to him – and so he comes to Jesus at night, when no one can see.  He comes to Jesus not when our Lord teaches in the clear light of day, but Nicodemus creeps in after the sun has set, when no one can see.  He comes not merely as an individual, but he comes with the pomp he has as a ruler of the Jews.  We know – we do, and I now speak for my people, even though I am too scared of what they might think to speak in front of them.  With fear of the worldly implications, Nicodemus comes up to Christ Jesus expecting nothing more than a wise teacher – just another man – maybe someone with insight that Nicodemus can use to have more power, more authority here in this life.  Teach me, give me divine principals so that I can act and live here, that I can rule and lead here with power.

          This, dear friends, is why Christ Jesus gives Nicodemus such a seemingly harsh and caustic answer.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Seems a harsh answer.  Seems as though Jesus blows Nicodemus off.  We know that you are from God!  Nick, you wouldn’t know what is from God if it smacked you upside the head.  You can’t.  It is impossible for you – you haven’t been born again.  You won’t recognize God.

          Nicodemus proves our Lord’s point by his response.  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  A worldly answer at best – a disgusting one at worst.  Nicodemus doesn’t see yet – his eyes are fixed solely on the world.  His eyes are checking only the angles he can play, his thoughts on what He must do.  Oh Nicodemus – Christ tells you that you must be born, and you start making foolish plans of your own.  Did you even choose your worldly birth?  How then would you choose a second birth, if the first wasn’t of you?  But Nicodemus is too worldly – he sees things only in terms of what he does, what he brings about, how his plans go.  He blows right past the part about seeing the Kingdom of God – no, what shall I do to be born again, what’s up to me, what’s my part, how can I make this work?

          Christ our Lord responds again.  “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.”  Oh Nicodemus – it’s not about flesh, it’s not about life here.  I am dealing with the mysteries of God and eternity. I am speaking to eternal life with God in paradise restored, not this life here where your bones continue to creak more and more.  This is not an earthly thing – it is spiritual.  You need to receive a Spiritual life.

          Christ here speaks of Baptism – of the way in which most of us in this room came to know and understand Christ – of water and the Word of God united, of the Holy Spirit attaching His power to waters and placing it upon a squirming infant, granting faith in Christ Jesus and remission of sins.  Of giving new life, of being born of the Spirit, of being born again.  Do you not see and understand, dear friends?  In your life, in your life as a Christian all things must begin with God, God at work for you and upon you and in you.  Behold what God does.  He reaches out to you and gives you Spiritual life, makes you His own child.  He takes that which is physical, earthly – water – and to this water He attaches His Word, attaches His Spirit, and thus you are given new life, new ears to hear, new eyes to see God’s Kingdom.  By Baptism you see and understand who God is.  He is the God who would suffer in this sinful world upon the Cross so that He might pull you out of your sin for all eternity.  He is the God who comes to you now so that He might bring you to be with Him where He is in the life of the world to come.  God acts, God works, and then and only then do you see and understand what goes on.  The key is that God acts, God comes to you, and you are given new life.

          “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  Do you see, Nicodemus?  It’s not about your control, your power.  You can’t control God any more than you can control the wind.  And yet, as God provides the wind to cool you on a hot day, behold what God does – He gives out His Spirit to cool and protect you from the fires of hell.  God acts when and where He wills, and we are brought to life in Him.  Do you see Nicodemus?

          Not quite yet.  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”  The classic error, the error that has dogged people on earth since the fall.  God speaks, and we wonder, “How can this be?  It doesn’t make sense to me – my little human mind doesn’t wrap around it – it’s not the way I’d do things.”  Dear friends, if God has said it – how can it not be?  If God almighty, who speaks and creates the world, says something, how can it not come to pass?  Behold the heritage of Adam’s sin – behold your sinful nature at work in Nicodemus’ words here.  Sinful man always doubts God.  Sinful man always thinks that God can’t follow through on His promises, that His Word doesn’t stick.  That is the temptation we face even to this day, here in this place.  The temptation to doubt the Word of God.  To hear of Christ’s forgiveness and ask, “How can this be?”  We see the person who has hurt us, and our blood runs hot, we are angered – and we hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken, and we think, “How could God forgive him – doesn’t God know what He did?”  We sit in the dark, guilt swirling around, thoughts of past wrongs refusing to leave us, and we think, “How can God forgive me – doesn’t He know what I’ve done.”  Always the thought goes to us – what is done to us, what we have done.

          “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.  Do you hear what Christ calls out?  Repent – and listen to what God has done – listen to what Christ Jesus has done.  Believe what He says, believe what He does here on earth.  He went to the Cross, He suffered and died, and sin is destroyed, sin is forgiven.  He destroyed the sins done against you, He suffered in your stead to remove the guilt of your sin.  Behold the simple earthly act – Christ dies upon the Cross – and know the heavenly, the Spiritual significance – that your sin is blotted out, and you are welcomed into the joys of heaven.  See the physical which God provides you to grasp on to, and be taken into the heavenly and the eternal.  Christ descends, He comes down to you, so that He may take you with Him unto heaven.

          This is the pattern.  You cannot work your way to God.  As Paul says, there is no gift that you can give Him that would somehow repay Him.  Rather this – God Himself takes simple earthly things that we are familiar with, and by them, He gives us life and new birth and forgiveness, so that we might be with Him.  This is the beauty of the Trinity.  We cannot approach the Father on our own on account of our sin – so He sends His Son to die for us.  He sends the Holy Spirit so that we might believe in the Son and have eternal life.  And how is this done?  We hear the Word, and the Spirit accompanies that Word and produces faith – and we are brought into the presence of God.  The Word of God is attached to Water, and the Spirit uses that Baptism to give us new life – and we are made part of God’s family.  God takes bread and wine, declares to us that this is now the Body and Blood of His Son – says, “behold, this has touched your lips, your sin is atoned for” – and we enter into the presence of God now on earth, we enter into the presence of God for all eternity.  The Son and the Spirit work here on earth with earthly things – Words, water, bread and wine – and we see and believe these earthly things, and so we see and understand the heavenly things that God gives to us through them.

          God comes to you – God gives you all that is His, life and salvation and peace – all so that you might be with Him.  God sends His Son to you – God pours out His Spirit upon you – so that your eyes might not be set simply on the earthly things of this life, so that your concerns might be more than food and clothing and reputation – but that you might see and understand God and be with Him for eternity.  Understand what God has done for you.  He has called you by the Gospel and washed you in the Waters of Holy Baptism – so you are born again.  He has invited you to His Supper – so you are forgiven and brought into the presence of God, to be in Communion with Him forever.  You are more than just a person slugging through life – you are a child of God, brought by Him into eternal life.  Cling to God, cling to that which He gives to you, that you might enjoy all that He gives you forever and ever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pentecost Sermon

(Saturday Night's storms knocked the office computer to safe mode, hence the late posting)

+In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +

          Dear friends in Christ, a joyous and happy Pentecost to you.  Pentecost, 50 full days after the Passover, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost – that joyous day where we remember the disciples stepping boldly into the temple and preaching Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to so many that need to hear His Gospel.  That is what we think of first when we think of Pentecost, isn’t it?  The preaching of Christ.  Is that what we think of when we speak of Pentecost?  Or do our thoughts zoom straight to the Holy Spirit?  Pentecost is sometimes thought of as the Holy Spirit’s day – the day where we focus on the Spirit – and the Spirit’s phenomenal acts of power and might.  Behold the tongues of flame, behold the speaking in tongues, behold the boldness!

          To what point, dear friends?  Why does the Holy Spirit appear as tongues of fire, why does He grant for this day the ability to the Apostles to speak in tongues?  Was it a simple demonstration of the Spirit’s power?  Was it a matter of the Holy Spirit wishing to remind us that He is here and active?  Peter tells us by quoting the prophet Joel – God will pour out His Spirit so that people will prophesy, and there will be visions, and wonders – and all for one reason.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved.  This is what Peter tells us.  And immediately after quoting Joel, telling the people in the temple what they are seeing – Peter preaches.  Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”

          7 Weeks ago, Peter had been hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews.  Now, on Pentecost, He and the other Apostles stride boldly into the temple, filled with the Spirit, and they proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ.  The miracle, the wonder of Pentecost isn’t the tongues of flame.  The amazing thing that the Spirit does isn’t that He grants the Apostles the ability to speak in tongues – but rather that by the working of the Spirit they speak at all.  Gone is the fear of 7 weeks ago, gone is the confusion and bewilderment of the Apostles of Ascension day as they stand dumbfounded staring up into the sky – and rather the Spirit has come, and now they boldly preach Christ and Him Crucified for our Salvation.

          That is the miracle of Pentecost, dear friends.  The tongues of flame simply bear witness to the fact that these men have been anointed by God for this task.  The speaking in tongues, that is simply so more people can hear and understand.  The key thing, the important thing, that which the Holy Spirit has continued to do through all the ages since that first Pentecost is that the Gospel of Christ Jesus is proclaimed.  This is what the Spirit does – He points to Christ, for it is in Christ Jesus that we have life and forgiveness and salvation, and there is no other name under heaven or earth by which we are to be saved.  That is how the Spirit is the giver of Life – He gives out Christ Jesus and Christ’s life.

          The miracle and wonder of Pentecost, the true miracle and wonder, continues to this day, in every time and place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed.  We know and we see that the Holy Spirit was active on Pentecost.  Do you think He is any less active today?  Do you think that the Holy Spirit has taken a breather?  Paul teaches us that no man may say Jesus is Lord, that no one may confess Christ Jesus except by the Holy Spirit.  Does that not continue on to this day?  Is not the Word of God preached here in this place even to us unworthy sinners?  Do we not marvel that God deigns to come to us and give us forgiveness?  And moreover, do not you yourselves speak of Christ Jesus and what He has done for you and what He has done for the whole world to your family, your friends, your neighbors?  Behold God’s Spirit at work for you and through you!

          Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we can become whimsical.  Oh, if only we had what the Apostles had.  Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we become depressed and ashamed.  I don’t see the Spirit at work in us like that, what’s wrong we me?  When we think like that, we are looking at the wrong thing.  Do you wish to know if the Holy Spirit is indeed active today in the Church?  What then, should you look for?  Not the speaking of tongues, not fires and flames and other such stuff.  Look for the preaching of Christ!  Is Christ proclaimed for the salvation of sinners?  Hear what Jesus says concerning the Spirit and what He will do.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you.  That’s our standard – that’s how we are to look at and judge the Church.  Jesus tells us what the Spirit will do.  Is Christ taught?  Yes indeed.  Do we remember that which Christ has said?  Yes indeed.  Do we receive peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins?  Yes indeed.  Then we know that the Holy Spirit is indeed active here, and active for us.  The Holy Spirit is active in His Church, for the Spirit is the One who calls by the Gospel and enlightens and sanctifies and keeps people in the one, true faith.

          Dear friends, we are the Church of Pentecost.  We are the Spirit’s own Church.  And our focus is not upon trying to make the Holy Spirit bring forth tongues of flame again – our focus is not upon seeing how we can do neat things like speak in tongues again.  If the Holy Spirit wants you to speak in tongues, you will, and if He doesn’t, nothing you do will make Him let you speak in tongues, so don’t worry about it at all.  That’s not what Pentecost was about.  Pentecost was about the preaching of God’s Word spreading to every tongue – even strange tongues like Median or Lybian – or even eventually to the strangest language of them all – our own English language.  Flames and tongues do not make the Church – rather we are the Church for we preach the same message and indeed, we benefit ourselves from the same message that was proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles on that first Pentecost.

          In the Nicene Creed we confess that we believe in one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.  We even call one of our creeds the Apostles’ Creed.  When we say these things, we are making a claim – we are claiming that we hold to the same things that were preached on Pentecost, that we teach the same things that were taught, that the same Spirit who saw Christ proclaimed on Pentecost sees that Christ is proclaimed in our midst this very day.  Towards the end of Acts 2, Luke describes for us what those who believed at Pentecost did.  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Is this not the same thing that we do to this day here in this house?  Do we not week in and week out gather together for fellowship in the Word of God, hearing His teaching?  I know we call that room there the parish hall or the fellowship hall – but it is here, in the Sanctuary where Biblical Fellowship takes place.  Fellowship isn’t Christian social time (not that there’s anything wrong with some good social time, mind you) – but it is where two or three are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, where we are gathered together into one people to Hear God’s Word and receive His forgiveness.  We here with our fellow Christians confess our sins and receive forgiveness.  We here with our fellow Christians devote ourselves not to the ramblings and personal opinions of some quack who happens to be our Pastor, but to the teaching of the Apostles, to the Word of God, to what Scripture teaches us.  It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to the breaking of Bread – that is our Lord’s own Supper, where He took bread and broke it and gave it to the Disciples.  It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to “the prayers” – that we gather together and pray all the prayers in the liturgy of the Church that we Christians have prayed for centuries, some even since the day of Pentecost word for word.

            Just as the message of Christ crucified for sinners was proclaimed on Pentecost, it is proclaimed here today.  And just as people heard and by the power of the Spirit believed, so too we hear the Word today and the Holy Spirit makes us to believe.  We have our sins forgiven again and again here in God’s Church, we grow from the preaching of the Word, we receive forgiveness and strength from our Lord’s Holy Supper, we live our lives as the Baptized – and why?  Because the Holy Spirit is active, because the Holy Spirit is active among us, because the Holy Spirit breathes life into us by the Word of God, and we rejoicing believe in the promises of Life and Salvation in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, by the Spirit of God we confess this same Jesus, we add our own voices to the great throng of saints who have gone before us – we join in the chorus of Angels and Archangels, and glorify God Almighty for the Redemption He sent us in His Son Christ Jesus.   As Peter says, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the LORD our God calls to Himself.”  As Peter says, this is for you.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Some thoughts not my own

Rev. Bror Erickson gives some excellent thoughts about who is the weaker brother and what it means to be offended.

One thing to think about is this.  If you are able to cry out, "I'm offended!" -- you aren't offended in the biblical sense.  To be offended is to be knocked over, fallen and unable to get up, left only to slink away.  If you aren't crushed but rather still wish to fight and lead the charge against another, you aren't offended -- you are indignant.

Indignant is not offended.  We have forgotten the distinction between the two.

The Opposite of Peace

So, if I were to ask you what the opposite of "peace" was, what would you say?  Violence?  War?  Anger?

Might I suggest... drama.

Consider the classic idea of drama itself - it is a story driven by conflict and angst.  In other words, you don't have much "peace" in most stories - otherwise there's not much of a plot.

And then you have the modern idea of drama - where we turn everything into drama.  A small thing, instead of being brushed aside, is made a big deal.  A conversation no longer is a mere conversation - it bespeaks to everything in all the world.  Everything is made into a huge deal, and we are ratcheted up and worked up and stir up, passions enflamed, feelings hurt, so on and so forth.

You know - the opposite of peace.

Here is a secret of the Christian faith.

You, O Christian, don't need to get caught up in the drama.

Really.  You don't.  Christ Jesus lives.  All this will pass away.  Pain, sorrow, stupidity - even your own righteousness that you want to extol (even though it's just filthy rags) - doesn't last.  Won't last.  Is done with, is conquered by Christ.

The story of salvation is complete.  The drama is ended.  It is finished.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ascension Day Observed Sermon

May 12th, 2013 – Luke 24:44-53 – Ascension Day Observed

 Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen

          Christ has not only risen, but He has ascended, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, is exercising His divine power on our behalf.  This past Thursday was Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter.  This morning, we will look at our Lord’s Ascension, and in particular what Words He speaks to the Disciples in the Gospel of Luke, and we will see what words He gives to His Church on earth until He returns again on the last day in Glory.  Let us dive in.

          Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  So, here we are today, almost 2000 years after the Ascension, and I want you to notice, dear friends, that what we end up doing here is exactly the same as what Christ Jesus our Lord and the disciples were doing right in our text.  Our eyes are focused upon the Scriptures, and God opens our eyes to understand them.  There is a focus that we are to have upon God’s Word – be it the Word of the Old Testament which points forward to Christ, which declares what the Christ would do – or be it the Word of the New Testament, which declares what Christ has done.  Whether the text is point to what the coming Messiah would do or whether it declares what Christ Jesus has done, what our Lord says is true – Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  There it is – the point, the entirety of Scripture summed up.  What is the point of God’s Word?  What is the point of our time spent together in that Word, be it here in worship, or be it in study, be it at home in private devotions?  That Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead – and because of this, we have forgiveness.

          This is what Christ gives the Apostles – this is what He tells them to say as He sends them out into all the world.  So, the question that ought to be asked is as follows?  Is this what we proclaim even unto this day?  You see dear friends, the Apostles went out and preached, they did come down off the mountain, they stopped staring at the sky, and Christ and Him Crucified was preached throughout the world.  Indeed, because Christ and Him Crucified was preached, this congregation came into being, formed by people who wanted to see that Christ and Him Crucified would be rightly preached in this little corner of Oklahoma.  Is Christ and Him Crucified still our focus here?

          I bring this up because more and more the American idea of Christianity is less and less about what Christ Jesus has done – and certainly not about His death and resurrection.  That is the trend, that is the movement in our country – away from talking about Christ the Crucified.  And as for the Cross, how many books might you pick up in the Christian book store where it isn’t even mentioned, or perhaps only in passing.  Compare this with what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians – For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Gentile, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.  You are around, you see things.  What does the world desire more, what does the typical American want – to hear of forgiveness and the mysteries of God, or rather something else?  Something wise perhaps– a better way to live, good advice and wisdom for living here on earth, just like the Gentiles of old?  The temptation, dear friends, is for the Church to stop preaching Christ and Him Crucified, and rather to want to supply the earthly wisdom the world wants.  To shift our focus away from Christ and on to this life now.  To forget that Christ has ascended to Heaven, to the Father, to where He will bring us, and rather to focus just on what we can get in the here and now.  Many Churches have fallen, and we need to take heed lest we fall, lest we forget what our focus is to be here.  We are to be in the Word and focused upon He whom the Word proclaims, even Christ Jesus our Lord.

          And Jesus even tells us how He is to be preached and proclaimed.  And that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in My Name to all nations.  So, let us do that again this morning.  Is repentance a part of your life, dear friends?  For you, as an individual, as a person, is repentance a part of your life?  Do you pause, do you think where you have erred, where you have sinned, and do you strive to turn away from that sin, to repent of that sin?  Is repentance a part of your life?

          Repentance isn’t popular.  Well, actually, it is if we think the preacher is telling other people to repent.  It’s quite popular if the preacher rails on the person next to us, or the people out there.  But the message that each one of us needs to take a good hard look at our own lives, needs to see where we sin and we need to beat our own sin down – that’s not popular.  We don’t want to deal with sin – don’t tell me I have to struggle against sin – rather just give me a few easy, simple things to do that prove that I’m a good person.  Thing is – scripture says that we are sinful, sinners through and through, sinners in need of forgiveness.  Scripture says that we need to turn away from our sin.  Luther says that Baptism should lead to daily contrition and repentance – more thought should be given to your struggle against the sins and temptations that hound you other than just breezing through the general confession at the beginning of service.  Our lives are to be ones of repentance – that’s Thesis number 1 of the 95 theses.

          And there is a reason for this.  God isn’t mean, He doesn’t like to brow beat you over the head – rather He wants to give you forgiveness, He wants you to cherish your forgiveness.  Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in the Name of Christ.  We are people who need forgiveness, forgiveness is the cause and the source and the content of faith – and if we stop wanting forgiveness – faith dies.  Think about it – in your own life, think on the times when you have been the most smug, the most confident in your own works – the times when your sin was something that you never thought about.  Did you look to Christ Jesus?  Did you ponder the wonders of the Cross, that God Almighty would die to give you life?  The old Lutheran hymn proclaims “faith clings to Jesus Christ alone” – and when you were so sure that you were a good person, were you clinging to Christ, or were your hands busy patting yourself on the back?

          This is why there is the need for repentance – for when we do not see our sin we see no need for a Savior.  When we do not see our sin, we see no need for the Cross.  Give us other things, God – just make things easy here – after all, I’m a good person, don’t I deserve it?  Our focus is shifted away from Christ, and we forget who we are.  We see no need for Church.  Think on what we teach here.  Although you are a sinful being, God gives you forgiveness and life and salvation here in His Word.  He gives you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin.  God is active for you here.  Would there be anything that we would see as more important?  And yet, we all know what happens – the bed seems awfully nice come Sunday morning – or we think that we had better come, not because we need it but rather “what would people say if I’m not there”.  Bad reasons to skip, self-serving reasons to come.  And we forget our need.

          That is why Christ and Him Crucified is preached.  We see our need for a Savior, and then our Savior is proclaimed to us.  That is the pattern, that is what we have done as the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.  And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.  Why?  Why the continual blessing?  Why the continual thanksgiving?  Because their eyes were focused on Christ and not only what He has done in the past, but what He continues to do, what He continued to give to them each day in His Word and Sacraments.

          We must not think, as some Churches teach, that with the Ascension our Lord leaves us behind.  He has said that He is with us until the end of the age.  And He is.  He is present in His Word.  He is present in His Supper.  He has bound Himself to you at your Baptism.  The reality of the Christian faith is that God Himself is present.  He wants this truth preached – but we are to remember another thing – and this is the particular joy of the Ascension.  Christ desires that He be preached so that we know that He is with us – that He gives us forgiveness and salvation – that He is indeed by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and spirit.  That is true.  That is the truest thing in your life.  Christ is with you – and you are with Christ.  As Christ has ascended, as Christ has risen to heaven – where will you be, O Christian, who is forgiven and attached to Him?  You will be where He is.  The fact that God is here for you now on earth is the proof that God desires you to be with Him for all eternity.  As we just sang “For where the Head is, there as well, I know His member are to dwell, when Christ will come and call them.”  And God desires that nothing distract you from this truth.  Throughout our days on earth our eyes are pulled away from the earthly, the mundane, the nice worldly advice, and rather placed upon Christ Jesus who has died, risen, and ascended – so that we might be sure of our salvation, that we might be sure of our eternal home.

          This is what we see Christ Jesus doing in our Gospel.  He anchors the Church, He ties the Church to His Word, to the proclamation of His death and resurrection, so that we might always know His forgiveness and be tied to Him – so that for eternity we might be with Him as well.  This is why the disciples departed in joy, this is the same joy which we proclaim to this day as well.  Christ has ascended to the Father, and so too shall you, for Christ has claimed you as His own and given you His forgiveness.  Cling to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that as He is in Heaven so shall you be as well.  Amen.  Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed – Alleluia.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


As Christians, we are called to confront reality... if I wanted to be trendy or hip, I might say that we face "two kinds of reality."

On the one hand, we face the reality of sin and death.  Things stink.  You do wrong and wretch and foolish things.  And you will die.

On the other hand, we face the reality of Christ.  God becomes man, suffers, dies, and rises to win you salvation, and He comes to you today in Baptism, in the Word, in His Supper, so that you have forgiveness and His life.

This is reality.  This is the life we live in.

We don't need to run from these.  We do not need to run from our sin, nor shy away from simple, pure grace given without any merit in us.

We don't need to try to persuade people that these are true by clever word play.  It's reality, it's how it is. 

We simply call a thing what it is.

You are a sinner.  Christ has died for you.  Take and Eat.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Easter 6 Sermon

6th Sunday of Easter – May 5th, 2013 – John 16:23-33

 Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen

          Christ Jesus has promised us the comfort that comes from the Presence of the Holy Spirit, has promised that the Helper will be our bulwark in the days of our lives that we lead until He returns.  He gives to us another gift in our reading today.  Listen.  Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My Name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  Now, we can hear these words of our Lord Jesus Christ – and our eyes can light up, like kids on Christmas day seeing the presents under the tree.  Anything?  Really?  Well, I want this and I want that. . . and remember God, you promised!  All too often we can hear this verse and believe that we have found the ultimate promise, the great cracker jack prize of religion.  We can hear this verse, and we start acting like little kids, and not the trusting little child who is the example of faith – but the whining complaining kid you see yelling at their parents at the store, starting to throw a tantrum.  Behold the sinful nature at work.  God offers us a great gift – and too often our first thought can be “ooOOoo – I can get more stuff.  I can have a better and easier life here.”

          What we can forget, dear friends, what we need to remember when we look at our Lord’s Words here is that prayer is a gift to us – but prayer is not the ability to control God.  This verse isn’t about you having the ability to tell God what God needs to do.  This verse isn’t about you having the power to let God know what you want and when you want it.  This verse isn’t even about God making all your finances and health and earthly power run smoothly and strongly.  If that were the case, why would Jesus say at the end of the Gospel lesson – “In the world you will have tribulation”?  If prayer makes God do things my way, I’m not having any tribulation!  No, prayer isn’t us giving orders to God.  Listen again to what Jesus says.  Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My Name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  We hear this, and our ear can key in on the words “whatever you ask” – and we think those are the most important words here.  They aren’t.  The most important words are “in My Name”.

          Prayer is not a promise that you get to control God.  Prayer doesn’t mean you get to be the boss.  Prayer is in the Name of Christ.  So what does that mean?  It means that we have received a wonderful gift from Christ – and this gift is that when we approach God in prayer, we approach God in the Name of Christ Jesus.  We approach God as those forgiven by Christ, those bearing His Name – we are the ones who are blessed – blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.  That applies to you.  Christ is promising that by virtue of your Baptism, by virtue of the fact that that God claimed you and placed His Name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, you will always have access to God, and you will know that God will always hear the prayers you offer in the Name of Christ – that they will not be ignored, that you will not have to wonder if God likes you enough to listen – but rather you know that on account of Christ Jesus you are no longer separated from God because of your sin.  Rather – you are forgiven – approach and pray in confidence – come here and enter His gates, not with terror but with thanksgiving.

          Okay Pastor, that’s all nice and good – so we pray in Jesus’ Name.  It says whatever you ask – doesn’t that mean whatever?  Whatever you ask in My Name – whatever you ask with My authority, with My promises that I have given to you.  It’s not just “whatever you ask” – it’s whatever you ask in Christ’s Name.  That is a key thing to remember.  Prayer isn’t about our power, prayer isn’t about the strength of our faith.  The prayer of a righteous man doesn’t availeth much because that man is cool and can tell God what to do – it availeth much because he is righteous – that is, he has been justified by Christ, he looks to Christ for salvation, he looks to Christ for forgiveness – and as a humble, forgiven servant, the righteous man prays in God’s Name – with Christ’s authority – for what Christ has promised him. You see, prayer always is to relate to God’s Word.  When we pray in God’s Name, our prayer must be God’s Word.  To do something “in someone’s name” is to claim that you have that person’s permission, that person’s command.  I, Eric Brown, couldn’t just decide to go and sign your name to a new house mortgage – I don’t have that authority, in that respect I can’t act in your name.  Now, if you make someone your power of attorney – they can – they can act in your name because you have given them instruction to act in your name.  You speak, and then they can act.  Same thing here.  Christ speaks His Word and gives us authority to act according to His Will.  It doesn’t mean we can do whatever WE want – but rather we can take what we have heard from Christ and use it.

          Christian prayer is always in accordance with the Word of God.  Your prayers in the Name of Christ Jesus are in fact simply to echo the Word of God that you have heard.  Any prayer that runs contrary to the Word of God is not in the Name of Jesus.  Not really.  As a silly example – would, “O Lord, help me rob this bank, O Lord, help me mug this little old lady” be a good prayer?  No, of course not – and God’s not going to bless that.  We don’t shape God by our prayer, we don’t force God to do what we want with our prayer.  Rather this – we let God and His Word shape our prayer – we let Christ teach us how to pray and what to pray for – that we learn to live in agreement with, to live under God’s Word.  This is why James instructs us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers.  Do it.  The Word of God has an impact upon you, it shapes you.  Go forth and do it, be whom You’ve been made to be.  Our prayer is shaped by the Word of God, and we pray for the things that God has promised – and everything else we leave in His hands, trusting in His love.  As an example.  Are you sick or suffering – I can’t point to a verse in Scripture that says that God will get rid of your illness.  I can pray, If it be Thy Will, heavenly Father, restore this person – I can take that to God but I leave that outcome in God’s hands.  However, I can pray that God give you patience, that God comfort you with His Word of forgiveness, that God give you endurance and peace in the midst of your struggles.  Why?  Because that is what He has promised – those are fruits of the Spirit that are ours now.  We hear what God has promised us – and that is what we know that we can ask of God and know that we will get.  You don’t have to wonder if God will see you through trials – He has promised to.  You don’t have to wonder if God will give you strength to fight down temptation – He has promised to.  You don’t have to wonder if God will work all things unto your good – He has promised to.  And so these are what we pray for, so that we might see these promises of God made real in our lives, that we might remember God’s Word and be strengthened, be encouraged, that we might endure.

          For you see – prayer is a gift God gives you not so that you can try to make the earth into your playground, not to try and make it into some self-centered so called heaven on earth – but rather a gift to help you live out your days on earth until you reach the life of the world to come.  Hear again Jesus – I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.  That is the purpose of prayer – that is the reason Christ has given us this gift.  That we might have peace, that we might be confident that Christ Jesus has overcome the world.  It’s been interesting going through Revelation on Wednesday morning – so many people want to read that book so they can figure out when the bad Tribulation will come – no, Jesus has told us it’s already here and it’ll keep on coming.  But take heart, Jesus has won the Victory for you with His death and resurrection.

          You see, the reality that shapes our lives as Christians isn’t that God is super strong and powerful.  He is, but unless He is strong and powerful for us, what good is that? The reality that shapes our lives isn’t that God can give us neat stuff.  He can, but we aren’t a bunch of pagans trying to pester some deity into giving us more goodies, we aren’t out telling God how to do His job.  Rather this – the Cross of Christ Jesus is the reality that shapes our life.  We behold Christ Crucified, and we know that He has conquered over sin – our sin – even that sin that now clings to us and makes us want selfish and stupid things – we behold the Cross and see that Christ has conquered that sin – that it is done away with and destroyed, that we are forgiven.  We see the Cross, it is held before our eyes in the midst of whatever trial, whatever tragedy, whatever suffering we see in this world, and we know that we’ll see all these things in the world for we know that the world is broken by sin – but we see the Cross, and we know that this world full of sin has been overcome by Christ – that in Christ we have the victory over sin, death, over the world that tries to bog us down.  And to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing other than to pray to know the Cross, to understand it better.  To pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying to be kept in God’s Word, to hear again and receive again the forgiveness we need, to have our faith strengthened, to be led away from temptation and delivered from evil, to have help in beating down our unbelief – or in other words, to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying that God would give to us all that Christ won for us upon the Cross – all that He gives to us in His Blessed Word, all that He gives to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, all that He gives to us in His Supper – forgiveness of our sin, life even in the midst of tribulation, and salvation forever.  Prayer in Christ’s Name is always simply that we would better know, better understand, better live out what Christ has done for us.

Until now you have asked nothing in My Name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  Christ has claimed you, placed His name upon you – has said to you that all that He has won and accomplished by going to the Cross and dying and rising again is yours.  Does the world get you down – pray, speak forth back to God His own Word, His own promises – and know that by the power of God’s Word He will create in you a clean heart, He will renew a right spirit within you, He will never cast you away for you come in the Name of His Son – and indeed, he will restore unto You the Joy of His Salvation – for it is Christ’s desire that your joy in His Salvation always be full.  Christ is Risen – (HIRI) Amen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

One of the simple ways in which the distinction between Law and Gospel has been explained is the phrase, "Afflict the Comfortable and Comfort the Afflicted."  The idea is this.  If a person is proud, is content to be in their sin, if they think that they are doing okay -- then you preach the Law.  You show them that there is nothing to be proud of, that they ought not be no longer striving against their sin, let them see that they do fall short.

And when this has been done, when they see the remaining and continuing depth of their sin - then the Gospel is proclaimed, then we are to be the peacemakers, consoling them not with their own works, worth, or merit, but with Christ Jesus and His loving death and resurrection for them.

It's a simple guide.  Afflict the Comfortable.  Comfort the Afflicted.

Thinking on the Sanctification Dust-up of April, I think this simple guide shows why I end up thinking the way I do.

If you are calling for more third use, more exhortation, more guidance... I tend to think you are probably "comfortable."

"Well, how dare you assume that!"

Actually, I think it's a fair assumption.  Consider another saying - the Law always accuses.  This is truth... but then there is the retort, "But it doesn't only accuse!"  See, there are other things the Law does... and what are you expecting it to do?  Not accuse you, but merely guide.

That's being "comfortable" in yourself.

Or consider the thrust that the call for more exhortation is rarely focused on the self (as in, "Preachers, preach more exhortation because *I* need it"), but rather on the neighbor -- you preachers need to exhort those people over there because they need it!

Or in other words, I'm quite comfortable and good right now -- but those folks there, they need to learn.  That's being "comfortable" in yourself.

And of course, the lament that I don't want to look at my cooperation, or spend a lot of time looking at it.  Why do you keep looking at Christ, Brown -- because in myself, I am never comfortable.  I know my sin, and it's ever before me.

I feel the selfishness as I stayed up until 10 last night instead of sleeping early... because I get up this morning to take care of my son and with less sleep I will be a touch more cranky.  I feel my hypocrisy, that is the disdain I feel towards those who think they are better than others and think that they don't need to learn.  Whenever I look at myself, I am afflicted.  And exhortation won't fix that.  Only Christ and His comfort.

Pastors are not theorists.  We are not dealing with abstract truth or mere theories of theology.  We are dealing with the Truth, Christ Jesus - the One who is the Way and the Life as well.  People do not need our subtle and deep thoughts, they need the peace of Christ Jesus.  Really.  That's what they need.

If they do not see this need - then the Law.  Don't worry about "improvement" - God will use this same afflicting Law to also guide.  When they know their need - give them Christ Crucified for them.  Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  This is the theologian and pastor's task.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What We Lutherans Know - Unless We Get Bored

Over here on

Veith quotes an article by Cap Stewart, and of note Stewart says, "As any Lutheran worth his salt will tell you, this distinction is critical for properly understanding the Bible. The law is defined as any imperative statement—i.e, a command to do (or not do) something. The gospel, on the other hand, is an indicative statement—a promise that God has accomplished (or will accomplish). Throughout Scripture, God speaks with the voice of either the law or the gospel, and we need to discern which voice is speaking whenever reading a verse or passage. Pretty simple, right?"

Again, this is a fantastic observation - especially when coupled with his observation on the Gospel: "—a word that, in the Greek, literally means “good news.” As has been explained by men much wiser than I, there is a big difference between good news and good advice. The gospel is the former, not the latter. It is the story of the finished work that God has accomplished on our behalf, apart from our help or assistance or merit. The gospel is not a command, but we often interpret it as such. Just the other day, I heard a lady describe the gospel as being about what we should and shouldn’t do. That’s good advice, not good news—and good advice has no power to save a sinner trapped by the condemnation of the law."

Simple.  Clear.  To the point.

We know the distinction between Law and Gospel. 

We know that in this world, we as sinners need the Gospel to predominate, lest we die despairing.

... yet how often we are tempted to become bored of the Gospel?  To abandon the Gospel as the Truth of God which gives forgiveness and life and salvation - true life indeed... and rather become peddlers of advice in the hopes that some other person will start doing what *we* want them to do?

I know it can seem strange that I don't like to focus on extolling the virtues of exhortation or about how Natural Law can "save" society or things like that. 

It's for one simple reason.

It's not that I'm an antinomian.  It's not that I'm "weak on sanctification."  It's not that I'm a vile liberal or a lawless libertarian.

It's that... I'm still not bored with the Gospel.

I still think the fact Christ Jesus has died for the sins of the world and risen so that I will live again is the greatest news in the world - the greatest new possible.

Even better than Abortion being outlawed or birth control being made illegal (you know, even better than moving to Ireland).  Even better than my political party winning.  Even better than my congregation doubling in size because I found the magic program.  Even better than the Cubs winning the world series.

It's still the best news in the world even when there is tragedy and sorrow in the world.  Even when society collapses and steeples are falling.  It's even the best news if my rights are being trashed and all my first article gifts are in decline.

You know - we used to sing this truth.  "And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife.  Those these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.  The Kingdom ours remaineth."

The best news in the world is this - Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and sin and death and hell have been defeated.  Soli Deo Gloria!