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.





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…

The Power of Alien Faith

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Here’s my latest post on infant faith on Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Categories: Piles in my office

Through the Ears. Trinity 12. Nursing Home Sermon

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Trinity 12

Sunny Hill Nursing Home

St. Mark 7:31-37

September 5, 2014 (reworked from sermon from 2012)

“Through the Ears”


Iesu Iuva


How did death enter our lives?  Through the ears.


From the serpent’s lying tongue came syllables which entered the ear canals of the woman.  Words formed in her mind.  Then her soul received the words.  Ate them.


When you entertain lying words that deny the words of God, you are not on neutral ground.  There are only 2 possible stances toward God’s word—to accept it as the truth, believe it, cling to it, and reject everything that opposes it; or to debate it, critically examine it, think about whether it pleases you or not.   To do anything other than acknowledge God’s word as the eternal truth is to disobey it.


So when Eve did not reject the lies when the sounds entered her ears and the ideas formed in her mind, her soul became pregnant with sin.  Sin captured her eyes, so that she saw the forbidden fruit as attractive.  Sin captured her will and her body, so that she disobeyd God’s command and warning and took and ate.  Finally, sin, not content with destroying her, took control of her tongue, which it now used as Satan had used the serpent’s tongue—to lie and murder.  She enticed her husband to abandon fellowship with God and to join in fellowship with her in death and the rejection of the truth.


Our physical ears and tongues are more closely tied to our souls than we normally realize.  It was by means of our physical ears that sin was first conceived in human beings.  It was by means of the tongue that sin began to spread.


But now the sin and Satan don’t need to approach us from outside anymore.  It lives within us, and begins to stir up the desires of sin and death from inside.


Now life enters us from the outside.



  1. Jesus opens our ears. The law—we are dead. He proclaims the forgiveness of sins and our ears become open to God’s Word.
  2. Jesus opens the new creation to us. He stands in our place between the wrath of God and us. He takes our groans, pain, and death in Himself before the Father. Dying and rising again, He brings to us the Father’s word that unlocks healing and the new creation.

We join with Jesus in praying for others, mediating for them, serving them. This is the beginning of the new creation, of everlasting life.

God is the Great Philanthropist

September 3, 2014 Leave a comment

…how far the divine mercy, revealed in Scripture, transcends the pagan conception.  Cicero: “Misericordia (mercy) means to be touched by the misery of one who suffers injustice.  For no one is moved to pity by the supplications of a parricide or traitor.” (Tusc. IV, p. 8.)  God, however, is merciful to those who deserve their sufferings.

…God is the greatest Philanthropist.  Titus 3:4: “But after that the kindness and love (philanthropia) of God, our Savior, toward man appeared.”  Luther remarks on this passage: “This philanthropia, love of mankind, embraces all that is called man, no matter how lowly he is…Naturalists call some animals lovers of men, as, for instance, the dog, the horse, the dolphin; for these animals have a natural fondness for me, adapt themselves to them, and serve them gladly, etc.  Such a disposition the Apostle attributes here to our God.”

God’s benevolence or kindness is the opposite of His severity and strictness…It expresses the thought that God does not deal with us as a severe judge, but as a kind lord…Luther: “[Kindness] implies that friendly, lovely course of conduct which renders an individual attractive to all and makes his society so sweet as to move everyone to love and affection.  Such an individual bears with all men, has no disposition to neglect or repel anyone in a harsh, uncouth manner.  Thus God presents Himself in the Gospel to us in a manner altogether lovely and friendly, adapts Himself to all, rejects no one, passes over all our defects, and repels no one with severity.”


Franz Pieper Christian Dogmatics vol. 2 pp. 8-9.

Acceptable Worship. Trinity 11, 2014. St. Luke 18:9-14

August 31, 2014 1 comment

the_pharisee_and_the_tax_collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 31, 2014

“Acceptable Worship”


Iesu iuva!


“There is a lady who lives in this building who goes to church every day,” a homebound member told me. “Every day she goes. And she does all sorts of good things for people around here. And everyone says, ‘Oh, is she holy.’”


This was a story with a hidden question. The question behind the story was: Does going to church daily make you more pleasing to God than going once a week?


The readings for today raise this question: What is acceptable worship to God? What makes a person pleasing to God?


Jesus answers the question in His parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Acceptable worship is faith in Jesus’ offering. Faith in Jesus’ offering, by itself, without any works, makes us acceptable in God’s sight and is acceptable worship to God. By faith in Jesus’ offering, without any works of our own, we are not only close to God but united to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By faith in Jesus’ offering, without any works of our own, all the works and worship of Jesus are imputed to us. By faith in His offering, without any works of our own, we are forgiven our sins and saved from eternal damnation. This is what St. Paul says in the Epistle reading: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)


So does going to church every day and doing good deeds for people bring you closer to God or make you more pleasing to Him? No.


Through faith in Jesus’ offering alone you are already perfectly pleasing to God. Like the tax collector, you are justified in God’s sight through faith in Jesus’ offering alone. Apart from any good works. You are counted as having fulfilled the whole law.

Read more…


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