More than Stuff. Trinity 15, 2014.

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

15th Sunday after Trinity+ St. Peter Lutheran Church+ St. Matthew 6:24-34 + September 28, 2014

“More than Stuff”

Iesu Iuva

 

Dearly beloved in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In most societies throughout history it’s been easy to tell what gods they worshipped.  The biggest and most glorious buildings would always be temples built to honor their gods.  In ancient Rome even the sports stadiums and theaters were associated with pagan worship.  In the middle ages the biggest building in town was always—the church.

What are our biggest buildings?  The giant skyscrapers in downtown Chicago?  They’re built for business.  In most towns shopping malls and banks are among the biggest and most ornate buildings.  Maybe sports arenas fit in there too.

If you judged by our buildings, you might conclude that our society worships money, possessions, and entertainment.

That’s a strange thing.  We often hear Christians crying out about abortion, about gay marriage, about the decline of marriage and family.  And we should hear Christians speaking about these things, because God’s law speaks about them.  But how often are Christian voices heard calling our society to repentance for its false worship of wealth and possessions?  I don’t hear them.  Do you?

Instead what I see is Christians trying to win at the game our society plays.  Instead of critiquing our society’s obsession with material possessions, it seems as though Christians want to show that we can buy just as much stuff as the pagans.  We just want them to sell us “Christian” stuff.  And Christians try to come up with their version of whatever the pagan world is buying.  Is there a rock band or a rapper that’s popular?  In a little while there will be a “Christian” rock band or rapper that sounds just about the same, only with lyrics that vaguely talk about God.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat? “ or “What shall we drink?”  or “What shall we wear?”  For the Gentiles seek after all these things…(Matthew 6:31-32)  Jesus said that the pagan world worried about earthly possessions.  They sought their life in material possessions.  The pagan world is no different today.  It’s just that we have more.  People in Jesus’ day worried about whether they would have food or clothing.  We don’t worry about that as much in our time and place.  But the pagan world still looks for life in material possessions, only now it’s plasma T. V.’s, smart phones, i-pads…

But it’s not just the pagan world that does this, just as it wasn’t in Jesus’ day.  Those who are called by the name of the Lord also serve money and possessions, also known as “Mammon.”  Even those who don’t think of themselves as materialistic have been trained by our society to think of the point of life as being “the pursuit of happiness,” personal happiness, personal comfort.  And always in pursuing our own happiness and comfort we want certain possessions, certain pleasures, a certain level of wealth.  We may have different levels of desire for material things, but what is consistent is our fear that if we are denied those things, we won’t have a full life.

We are afraid of losing life and possessions, but God has already provided us true life through His Son.

Jesus preaches this sermon because you can’t serve both God and money, God and possessions.  If you’re worried about losing your standard of living, you won’t be able to focus on what God has called you to do.  You’ll be tripped up and diverted from your calling every time it looks like doing what God calls you to do might interfere with your income or paying the cable bill.

For instance, think of my calling as a pastor.  God has called me to speak His word without adding to it or subtracting from it.  But what happens if I am concerned with keeping my possessions and comfort?  Then I’m likely to avoid preaching or saying anything that might be unpopular—even if God says it.  Because if people don’t like it, people might leave.  And if enough people leave, I might have to learn how to make French fries.

Or think of your calling as a hearer of God’s Word.  This is a holy calling from God, as much as preaching is.  You are called to support the preaching of God’s Word with the firstfruits of what the Lord gives you.  But if you’re worried about your money and possessions and standard of living, you’ll be tempted to say, “I can’t give anything to the church,” or, “I can only give what’s left over,” or, “I can’t give very generously.  Times are tight.”

In fact, it can go even farther.  The devil tempts people to say, “I can’t go to church because I have to work.”  Now no doubt people have to work and pay the bills.  And sometimes there are no jobs that don’t involve working on Sunday.  But surely even then your need for God’s Word should drive you to find some time in the week where you can receive God’s Word and Sacrament.  God knows I’d make time to give it to you at another time if it was impossible to go to church on Sunday.  I’ve done it before.

But that is just one of many examples of how we are tempted not to fulfill our callings from God because we are anxious about losing possessions and money.  If you think about your other vocations or callings from god you’d find many other examples of where serving mammon either impedes your good works or draws you away from Christ completely.

For instance, how many people choose to live in sin rather than get married as God has commanded, because marriage comes at the risk of your spouse divorcing you and taking the money?  Or our calling to be citizens: we are called to submit to earthly authority out of fear of God, but how many Christians are eager to find any loophole that enables them to avoid taxes or get money from the government they aren’t really entitled to?

Now, who can say that they have never bowed down to this idol called mammon?  Don’t you often forsake your calling or are unfaithful because you are afraid of what the costs will be?

But isn’t life more than this, Jesus asks, more than food and drink, more than what you put on?  And aren’t you worth more than the grass and the birds?  And look how liberally God provides for them.  He extravagantly clothes the grass of the field better than Solomon in all his splendor.  And the grass of the field is here today and tomorrow thrown into the oven.  Aren’t you worth more than the grass?

God is the God who provides.  On the way up the mountain of Moriah, Isaac asked his father Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham told him, “The Lord himself will provide the lamb, my son.”  He is the Lord who provides what we need for our life on earth.  He is the Lord who provided our life in the first place.

And He provided still more; He provided His Son, His only Son, whom He loves.  He provided Him to the human race so that He would be one of us.  He exalted our human nature so that the eternal God is a man forever.  His flesh and blood sits forever at the right hand of God for us.  So we aren’t here today and tomorrow in the oven like the grass.  That’s how we would be in our sin.  But now the eternal God is joined to us and we are to live in union with Him forever.

And He was united to us by the nails of the cross where He made His perfectly faithful body and life wear the shameful garment of our corruption.  He redeemed us by His death so that we stand before the Father with no faults.

For His sake we receive daily bread, because He has turned away God’s wrath and brought about reconciliation with God.  And He teaches us to pray with Him, “Give us this day our daily bread,” giving us the assurance that God will not cast us out because we pray together with His beloved Son, who is one of us.

But He provides more than daily bread.

He provides us with God’s righteousness shed in atonement for our sins.  It is a righteousness that God has accomplished for us, a righteousness received as a gift, by faith alone.

He provides us more than earthly food.  He gives us spiritual food that makes our souls alive—the Word of His grace.

He provides us with glorious spiritual dress, more splendid than the beauty of the lilies.  He gives us the glory of His resurrected body.  We are to put on spiritual and immortal bodies in which we will see and reflect the glory of God in our flesh.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Seek Christ in His Word and Sacraments.  Don’t be afraid to be faithful in your calling; God has already provided for you eternal food and drink and clothing in His Son.  He will surely take care of your daily bread.

And He will give you more than what is just bread.  He will give you spiritual nourishment and spiritual joy.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Giving, Serving, Witnessing. Trinity 14, 2014

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

14th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Galatans 5:16-24

September 21, 2014

“Giving, Serving, Witnessing”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Beloved in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Through the past few weeks we have been hearing that “you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

 

What does that mean? It means that by the Holy Spirit Christ writes into your hearts the promise that you are redeemed and righteous through His death on the cross and that alone.  And He writes this promise in your hearts through the Holy Scripture and the means of grace in the Divine Service.

 

Today’s sermon is about the good works that follow from this writing of Jesus in serving, giving, and witnessing.

 

Good works are a necessary part of Jesus’ letter. They aren’t necessary for our salvation.  The good news is that our salvation has been accomplished by Jesus.  But good works are necessary because when Jesus is writing His promise of salvation on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, our hearts are being changed.  We want to do what pleases God because we are thankful and joyful because of this promise of salvation in Christ which He has written into our hearts.

 

But it’s not quite that simple. The writing of Jesus’ letter in our hearts is opposed by the old writing that is already there—the writing of sin, which has defaced and distorted our human nature.  So Christians are conflicted.  They are carrying two letters in them, one from the Holy Spirit, whose message is life and salvation.  The other from the flesh, whose message is sin and death.

 

Paul described this conflict in the epistle reading. “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.  For these are opposed to each other, that you may not do what you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

Read more…

An Example of Announcement for Communion or Confession (2nd Discussion)

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

loehe5 profileHere’s the second of three discussions from Loehe’s example of announcement for confession.  I call it “announcement for communion” because that’s how it was referred to in the Missouri Synod.

It can be found in Der Lutheraner volume 3, p. 44.  And you can get an English translation of the book here.

 

Second Discussion

Margaretta: I would like to come to the confessional.

Parson: That’s good, why do you want to?

M.  So that I confess my sins.

Pn: So, even you have sins?

M:  We are all sinners and fall short of the glory we should have before God.

Pn:  Do you also know your sins?

M: Some we know and some we don’t.

Pn.: But one must still know those that are known, else, there wouldn’t be known sins, so do you know them?

M.:  I’ve never done anything wrong, and no one can say I have.

Read more…

An Example of Announcement for Communion

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

loeheA little before I was born a practice that had been common in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod passed into oblivion.  It was called “announcement for communion.”  People used to go talk to the pastor before they went to the Lord’s Supper.  I’ve never really been too sure what went on in these talks.  From asking older people in the church I’ve gathered that over time it became little more than a ritual of going to church and signing your name in a book as intending to commune.  Later people began to phone in their announcements.

But it always struck me as interesting that there was this practice in the Lutheran Church that bore some resemblance to confession prior to communion and that it only recently died out.  Yet you never hear anyone talk about it or suggest resurrecting it.  I’ve written another post touching on the subject (here), but that was two years ago and I can’t remember what I said.

I’ve been flipping around in a fantastic book I bought recently–a translation of C. F. W. Walther’s early volumes of Der Lutheraner, the newspaper he started before the Missouri Synod was even founded.  (Thanks to Pr. Joel Baseley for his work in translating it; you can find the book here.)  I stumbled upon a sample dialogue between a pastor and would-be communicants at announcement for communion, authored by no less than Wilhelm Loehe.  I reprint part of it here for your edification and perhaps to entice you to buy a copy of the book.

A note: the confession referred to in what follows seems to have been a corporate service of confession and absolution rather than private confession and absolution.  Although in the first century and a half or so after the reformation it was normal for Lutherans to go to private confession before communion, by the time this was published (December 1846) private confession and absolution was seldom used.

 

Announcement for Confession

A sketch as to its nature.  by W. Loehe

 

First Discussion

Balthisar: Good day, Parson.

Parson: Good day, Balthisar, what do you want?

B.  I want to announce for Confession this Saturday and the Lord’s Supper Sunday.

Pn.  So why do you want the Lord’s Supper now?

B.  Why?  I think it is now the time to have the Lord’s Supper again.

Pn.  Why now?  Is it because you do that every year at Advent?

B.  Yes, in my family we’ve always thought we should observe that, so if it’s Pentecost or Christmas day or in Advent we go to the Lord’s Supper.  So I do that, too.

Pn.  So you are going because of that custom?

B.  Sure, why not?  I don’t agree with the tradition many hold, who go but once a year.

Read more…

Writing the Promise In our Hearts. Trinity 13, 2014.

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

13th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 10:22-37; Galatians 3:15-22

September 14, 2014

“Writing the Promise in our Hearts: Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Cor. 3:3

 

Jesus is writing a letter on our hearts.

 

What is the letter about? It’s a promise.

 

A promise of salvation.

 

Of salvation from sin and its dreadful curse—death and hell.

 

How the world needs to read this letter that Jesus writes on our hearts!

 

Because the world only knows one way out of the curse of sin. That is to pursue it by works, by law.

 

But there is no loophole in the law of God wide enough for us to squeeze through. Not even an expert in the law can find a way.  The judge can’t be fooled.

 

The lawyer asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “You know the answer to that question.  What does the law say?”

 

Well, it says You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Right, says Jesus. Do that, and you will live.

 

Well, now, but who is my neighbor?   Do I have to love just my close relatives as myself?  Or all of my countrymen?

 

No, not just your relatives, says Jesus. Not just your friends.  Not just your countrymen.  But love sees an enemy in misery, suffering and doesn’t stop to ask, “Do I need to help him?”  Love just loves.  It takes the enemy, shreds its clothes to bandage him, pours its own medicine and balm on his wounds, puts him on its own animal, spends its own money to nurse him back to health.  Love is love.  It’s not bookkeeping.  It’s generous, spendthrift, because it’s rich.  Love never fails.

 

Love like that and you will live.

 

Isn’t it pretty that Jesus says to love like that?

 

Not if you’re going to be judged by that law. The lawyer finds no loopholes with Jesus.  The door to eternal life through the law has just been shut in our faces.

Because we don’t love like that. We’re out in the cold, or out in the fire and darkness.  How often do you really take on the pain and grief of other people as your own?  Maybe your children, your siblings, your parents.  But as the circle widens the warmth of our love begins to cool.  It’s tiring to pour yourself into the bottomless pit of people’s need and misery.  We run out of love and life long before people run out of needs.  And when it comes to our adversaries, the thought of stoking the fire of love to warm those who take our compassion as weakness and folly—our hearts freeze up completely.

 

But without that kind of love we are under the curse of God’s law. Death and hell are our lot.  Because that, after all, is the way God loves us.  Unceasingly, overwhelmingly, gratuitously, not taking account of the cost or our worthiness but only our great need.  And then we turn around and withhold love.  His great love pours through us like a sieve.  It’s wasted on us.  We neither love Him nor our poor neighbor in return.

 

That is the problem for us with God’s law. It’s not that God’s law isn’t beautiful and good.  It commands what is beautiful and good—heartfelt, generous love and kindness toward our neighbor.  But we don’t have this love in us, and the Law of God does not have the power to create it in us.  Paul says in the Epistle reading, If a law had been given that could give life, righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.  The law is not able to give us life so that we love like it commands.  It shows us what is beautiful and good, but we are not able to do it.

 

That’s why Jesus writes His letter in our hearts. It is a letter containing the promise of salvation.  It is not a law that commands works of love but a pure promise of salvation.  Paul says that God did not give Abraham the promise that He would inherit eternal life by a law but by a promise.  He did not tell Abraham what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  He freely and unconditionally promised eternal l life to Abraham.

 

Salvation from sin and everlasting death comes to us in the same way. God does not give it to us by a law, but by a promise.  He freely and unconditionally promises eternal life to sinners for the sake of Jesus’ death and merit.

 

Jesus is the good Samaritan to us. He finds us dead in trespasses and sins.  We do not have love.  We are dead.  Not just half-dead; completely dead.  So the Son of God becomes man and lives in love, fulfilling God’s law, meriting eternal life.  Then He lays down His meritorious life and its reward so that it will be ours.  Like the good Samaritan made bandages out of his own clothes to wrap the wounds of the man who fell among robbers, Jesus gives up His righteousness to clothe us and dies a sinner.  He covers us with His wholeness and His perfect love and gives Himself up to taste the wrath of God which belongs to us.

 

And He promises us eternal life on the basis of what He has done. It is an unconditional promise of eternal life, just as the Samaritan unconditionally nursed the man who was beaten half to death to life.

 

This is the promise that God writes about in the letter He writes on our hearts. It is not a tale about our love, how we have sacrificed ourselves for God or other people and made ourselves worthy of heaven.  What God writes on our hearts is the promise of salvation through His Son, who unconditionally died for our sins on the cross.

 

How does God write this promise on our hearts? In the Divine Service and through Holy Scripture.

 

We need Him to write this promise on our hearts. Otherwise we remain like the lawyer, searching around desperately for a way to be justified by the law.  But when we are under the law, we do not find life; only death.  “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  When we are under the law, we are under a covenant that produces death.  It commands us to love freely and spontaneously and generously without asking who we should love or how much.  And we can’t do it.  We remain locked up and condemned by the law’s curse.

 

And that is the only way we know apart from God writing the free promise of salvation through His Son on our hearts.

 

But when God proclaims His promise of the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake, He is writing this promise in our hearts and making them a joyful letter that contains the promise of salvation. That’s why if you want to grow as a Christian and if the Church is going to grow spiritually it only happens through the Divine Service and the Scripture.

 

In the Divine Service God proclaims through the preacher that Jesus’ holy life of love is for you . He writes that promise on your heart by His Spirit.  He does it by proclaiming Christ’s righteousness and death for you in the sermon.  He does it by loosing you of your sins in the absolution.

 

Then He proclaims that Christ’s death is for you at the words of institution at the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”  You come and eat and drink the very body and blood that Jesus gave and shed on Calvary to free and cleanse you of sin and its curse.

 

These are the ways the Spirit writes the promise of salvation on your hearts. You become a living letter testifying to the promise of God that He has freely pardoned the world of its sins in the death of His Son.

 

As you read the Scripture during the week, the Holy Spirit continues this work of writing on you. His writing is living writing—the very life-giving breath of God.  It not only inscribes the letters of the promise on your heart, but it is living writing that frees you from the old writing of the law and its bondage to death.  You begin to spontaneously love your neighbor as the law commands, like the good Samaritan.

 

Then after God writes on us in the Divine Service and through the Scripture, we pray. We ask God to keep writing.  We take His promise which He has put in our hearts and we use it to call upon God to fulfill His promise, to keep writing on us so that the living letters in which He writes on us will become more clear and distinct to the world.

 

Often Christians try to get by with a minimum of Divine Service, Scripture, and prayer. They don’t realize that the promise of God in Christ, which He writes on our hearts, is our life.  We have no life at all apart from that promise that our sins are forgiven because of the blood of Jesus.  In that promise stands all our life.  Without it we are dead, condemned by the law.

 

If we lack anything—good works, faith, assurance of salvation, confidence in the face of death, joy, peace, self-control—these things only come to us in the Scriptures and the Divine Service. And where the promise of God in Christ is received, prayer rushes forth and cries out that the Lord would continue to write His promise on our hearts and bring it to its fulfillment in eternal life.

 

Yes, the unconditional promise of salvation in Christ is our only life. In the Divine Service and Scripture God is writing this promise on our hearts for us and for the world.  Nowhere else do we get life, forgiveness of sins, salvation.  In no other way than through the Divine Service, Scripture, and prayer, do our lives become living letters in which people can read the promise of salvation in Christ.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

Hymn: I Have Been Crucified with Christ

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment

September 13, 2014 In time for Holy Cross Day

Galatians 2:18-21

 

I live no longer. Jesus cried

“Thy will be done,” and there I died

With Him in dark Gethsemane

As He contemplated for me

In bloody sweat the dearest price—

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

I do not nullify God’s grace

Which shines on me in Jesus’ face

Crowned with sharp thorns and spit upon.

There God has owned me as His son

And seated me upon the heights.

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

If I rebuild what I tore down

Take from your head the thorny crown,

Wipe off the spit and soothe the bruise

My fist has made, I only prove

That I am a transgressor twice.

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

If the law could give righteousness

Why are you treading the winepress

Alone, and drinking down the cup

Of wrath, and being lifted up

A curse, if works could make me right?

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

Father, forgive him, Jesus prayed

As nails my iniquity made

Drove through His bones and through His veins.

My pleasures bought His bitter pains;

He died for me, my heart like ice—

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

My soul is secure in Your hands

Bound to the pole with ropes and bands;

My body wrapped in linen clothes

As soldiers stripe Your back with blows

And for Your garments throw the dice.

I have been crucified with Christ.

 

Hell’s mob assaults my soul with jeers

To its scorn I have closed my ears.

Your bleeding body all I see,

All I hear: “You will be with Me

Today,” You say, “in Paradise.”

I have been crucified with Christ.

A Letter from Christ. 12th Sunday after Trinity 2014.

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

September 7, 2014

“A Letter From Christ”

 

Iesu iuva!

 

The theme for the next several weeks comes from the verses of 2nd Corinthians chapter 3 that immediately precede the Epistle reading you just heard.

 

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need letters of commendation to you or from you, as some do?  You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.  You have been revealed openly as an epistle from Christ, administered by us, not written in ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on fleshly tablets of the heart.  We have this assurance through Christ toward God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to count anything as being from us, but our competence is from God, who has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life  (2 Cor. 3:1-6).

 

Beloved in Christ,

 

There were questions on people’s minds in the church at Corinth.  Some of them questioned Paul’s competence as an apostle.  There must have also been questions about the Corinthians’ qualifications as a church of Christ.  There were so many problems in that congregation: sexual immorality.  False doctrine.  Divisions, even manifesting themselves at the Lord’s Supper.

 

But despite the problems, Paul expresses his assurance.  He is assured of his own qualifications as a minister of the new testament, and he is assured about the Corinthians as the proof of his ministry.  Despite the weakness and chaos in the Corinthian congregation, Paul says, “You have shown that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us.”  Paul claims this congregation of broken sinners as his letter of recommendation from Jesus, his proof that Christ is working through him.

 

In the same way, you, St. Peter Lutheran Church, are a letter not written by a mere human being but by Jesus Christ Himself.  You are a living, breathing letter from Jesus.  And with God’s help I will speak to you about

The paper of Jesus’ letter,

The ink with which He writes,

The manner in which He writes His letter,

The contents of the letter of Jesus, which He writes on your hearts.

Read more…

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