Desolations of Many Generations. Day of Supplication and Prayer. Sept 19 2018

September 19, 2018 Leave a comment

church.PNGDay of Supplication and Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4

September 19, 2018

Desolations of Many Generations

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

One thing preachers never say anymore that they did say centuries ago: preachers never tell people when disaster strikes them that God is punishing them for their sins.  That’s just not done.  It is the prevailing opinion today that disaster and destruction falling on a person has nothing to do with whether they are good or bad.

 

Yet despite this, people take disaster and death very personally.  When it comes many people feel very keenly that it came from God and it was personal.  Even though God isn’t supposed to work this way people still feel like He does.  Like He is judging them, singling them out when disaster strikes.

 

It’s not true that the hurricane hit North Carolina and those people died because they were worse sinners than everyone else in the country.  And which people have suffered because of the hurricane as a punishment from God’s wrath, and which people were being corrected by God their loving Father—it’s not possible to judge.  But one thing is certain—it happened because of sin.  There would be no hurricanes, no destruction, no war, no plagues, if their were no sin.

 

For the people of Israel, it was even more obvious that destruction, devastation, and desolation came from God as retribution or correction for sin.  The covenant that God had made with them was that if they strictly obeyed His laws and observed His commandments, they would be miraculously blessed.  God told them in Deuteronomy 15: There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.”  (Deut. 15:4-5)  And God gave them a million promises of blessings like these if they were faithful to His covenant and kept His laws.  He reminded them, for example, how the whole forty years they wandered in the desert, their clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell, as day by day they woke up and ate the manna, the bread God sent from heaven to sustain them in the desert.

 

So if the Israelites were being defeated and oppressed by enemies, or if they were suffering poverty, or plague, or drought, it wasn’t because “these things just happen.”  It was God’s hand punishing or chastising them for disobeying His laws and being unfaithful to His covenant with them.

 

But if in spite of all this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins…I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate….And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”  (Lev. 26:27, 31-33)

 

This is where Martin Luther got what he wrote in the Small Catechism about the close of the ten commandments: What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”  What does this mean?  God threatens to punish all who break these commandments.   Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.  This is not a joke.  It is deadly serious.  Sin angers God and brings His wrath and punishment after it—every sin, every time, to the least of the commandments.

 

So when Isaiah tells us in the 61st chapter about the One who has the Spirit of the Lord upon Him to preach liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to those who are bound, who will go out and build up, raise up, and renew a devastated land and wasted cities, Isaiah is foretelling a day when Israel will be cast away by God because it has turned away from god.  The reason the land is full of ruins and desolations, and the people are poor, chained up, brokenhearted, in prison, is because they sinned against God and brought down His anger on them.  Their sins made God cast them off.

 

That is what makes the picture painted by the 61st chapter of Isaiah so beautiful—this darkness.  It is not a cherry on top of the sundae, what God promises Israel here.  A whole nation has come to see what they really are.  They are not righteous, good people.  That’s not the reason they were chose by God.  They couldn’t be, because God had already promised amazing blessings if they did what He commanded, and shown them ahead of time the consequences if they turned away from Him.  And they did it anyway.  Israel wasn’t just insufficiently righteous.  It was spectacular in its helplessness, its utter impotence regarding the righteousness God requires.  Do you remember in the story of Jesus’ passion, how the Lord asks Peter, James, and John to stay awake with Him, and they kept falling asleep?  And how when He woke them the second or third time, “they did not know what to say to Him?”  Have you experienced that—where you no longer had an answer to give for yourself to God, or any confidence that you can bring and tell God “I promise I won’t do it again?”

 

That is how the people of God are when the person described in Isaiah 61 comes, anointed by God to proclaim good news to the poor and wretched.

 

That is where we are, too, when the good news comes to us.  If we are to be God’s people who build up, raise up, and repair, we must first be the poor, desperate for good news, the broken hearted, needing to be bound up, the captive slaves needing to be ransomed and set free.

 

Yet we very seldom think it’s that bad with us.  It sounds a little overdramatic, even if you’ve spent your life hearing it as a Lutheran.  It’s probably especially difficult if you’re here tonight, one of the few pious people willing to come during the week, confess your sins, and ask God to renew and strengthen you and the whole congregation on this day of supplication.

 

After all, yes, there are some desolate places, some ruins, in our families.  Yes, in our church also, and, truth be told, also in our souls.  Some buildings fallen down, desolate, not repaired.  But who doesn’t have a few ruins in their lives?  And after all, ruins are all a matter of perspective.  One man’s ruin is another man’s palace.

 

But the situation is really far more dire.  These ruins in our homes, church, neighborhoods, lives, are witnesses to the utter ruin and desolation that our sin brings with it.  We have provoked God’s anger and punishment by our sins.  He is truly angry with our sins, and with us, unless we are covered with the robe of righteousness that He provides.

 

Luther tries to teach us this in the questions he prepared for a Christian to ask himself or herself in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood.  “What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?”  Answer: “First, both the command and promise of Christ the Lord.  Second, his own pressing need…”  And the very next question is: “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and feel no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?”  That is the problem.  No hunger and thirst, or not very much.  For the good news.  For the Scripture.  For absolution, for private absolution, without which Luther said the devil would have choked the Reformation out of him.

 

We are not all that hungry for the Lord’s Supper, or preaching, or the teaching of God’s Word in Bible Class, or for the reading of it in our homes, because we don’t realize our need.

 

We recognize it some.  But not fully, and not very often.  And so we are also not aware of how good the good news is, and how good the good Lord is who sends it; how comforting is the one who comes to bind up our hearts; how terrible the chains and the prison of sin are.  How wonderful the sound of those chains being taken off, the sound of the words of absolution in response to the sins we have confessed.

 

And that’s the reason that our church is bereaved of its children and is becoming more and more desolate—at least as far as people who attend and listen go.  We are lacking in hunger for Christ and His good news.  But our world has no hunger at all for Christ or His glad tidings.  And unlike days gone by, few people see the value of pretending like they do.

 

Jesus says an amazing thing, an amazingly comforting and hopeful thing in this chapter.  He says that He has been anointed and commissioned by God to proclaim good news to us who are bankrupt and lacking in righteousness.  His good news to us who only have the ability in ourselves to further provoke God’s wrath—His glad tidings to us is that our sins are forgiven.  At no cost, with no contribution from us.  We are free.

 

And not only so.  As we come out of the prison, the Lord clothes us with joy, anoints us with the oil of joy.  Takes away the ashes of our sin and failure and clothes us with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  And He sends us out to build up, raise up, and renew the desolate places, the ruined cities.  Not only the ruins caused by our sins, but the desolations of “generations of generations”—that have been there so long no one remembers how they got there.  God brings us out of prison and makes us rebuild what is ruined and desolate in our churches, family, world.

 

But first we must be in prison, brokenhearted, poor, with no way to get ourselves out.  We already are but do not feel it.  So let us begin by confessing our hearts unable to sense our need, receive His word that looses us from this sin along with all our other sins; let us come out of the prison and call upon Him to rebuild us, so that we eagerly run to Jesus who comes with good news.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria8888

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The Dead Will Hear the Voice of the Son of God. Trinity 16, 2018

September 16, 2018 Leave a comment

trinity 16 widow at nain16th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 7:11-17

September 16, 2018

The Dead Will Hear the Voice of the Son of God

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

The Word of Jesus Christ is powerful.  More powerful than an earthquake that shakes the mountains or a hurricane that displaces thousands of people.

 

The word goes out from Jesus’ mouth to those who are dead.  And the dead hear Jesus’ word.  And the dead rise in obedience to His Word.

 

Why is this relevant to you?  Why is it still relevant to your grandchildren or great nephews or neighbors?

 

Do they die?

 

An old hymn says, “In the midst of life we are in death.”  St. Augustine, the great theologian who preached a little before the fall of Rome, called this life “a dying life or [a] living death.”

 

This is a dying life, because while we are alive we are dying.  It is a living death because even while we are alive we are dead, most of us.  For most people this is a prelude to a death that never ends.

 

So there is comfort in the power of Jesus’ Word, that He speaks to the dead and they live.

 

But death isn’t merely around us, in our loved ones, in the fabric of the world like a mildew.  Death is in us.  Death has dominion over us.  It has power over us, like a master over a slave.

 

It reminds us of its power over us when sickness erupts in us; death makes its presence felt as we age.  Our bodies, our beauty, our strength, our minds deteriorate and wane.  Finally our souls are forcibly and painfully separated from our bodies.  This is called temporal death—death in time.

 

But the Bible also makes it clear that there is a second death, the death of damnation, where the godless will be eternally separated from God, in whom alone there is life.

 

Thirdly there is the spiritual death in which all people are conceived.  We are naturally dead, as dead as this young man being carried out of Nain.  It is a matter of being dead to God, so that we are separated from God’s life, unable and unwilling to hear His Word by which He gives life.

 

The sad thing is that people are willing to be spiritually dead.  They prefer it.  Have you noticed how happy people are to look for life in created things that can’t give life?  Even Christians act this way.  And frequently it is through death that God chastens us so that we stop seeking life in created things and set our hearts on things above (Col. 3).  He uses the pain of our loved ones dying or our own brushes with death to put to death our sinful nature that wants to run after what the world calls life, to awaken us so that we seek the eternal life that is not in money or toys or houses or cars or even in our husband, wife, or children—the eternal life that is in God alone.

 

But by this you can test yourself, whether you are spiritually alive.  A person who is alive to God not only believes in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ.  A person who is spiritually alive loves God.  He sees his family and friends, his money and possessions, even his body and life, as gifts of God, by which God shows us His goodness so that we will be drawn to Him and His love.  Do you love God? And if you say you love Him, do your works testify to your love for God?

 

The good news in the reading from St. Luke is that Jesus’ word has power to speak to those who are dead and call them forth from death.  It can do this and will do this for those who have died the death in time that we all will experience.  Jesus says An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of God’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29). 

 

Jesus’ Word also has power to give life even to those who are dying.  He says in the 8th chapter of John: Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death (v. 51).  Anyone who believes Jesus’ word and holds on to it, even when he is dying, will live.  He will die not despairing, in terror, fearing as the grave and death and hell close over him, but with confidence that his sins are forgiven and that his death has been swallowed up in the death of Jesus.

 

And Jesus’ Word has power to raise those who are spiritually dead, dead to God, dead in trespasses and sins, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now working in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-2)—that spirit being the devil.  It has the power to raise those who are dead to God, seeking their life in earthly things, and make them lovers of God.

 

His Word has power to do these things because even though He is a man and speaks with the voice of a man in the Gospel reading, He is the eternal God who speaks and it comes to be.  Who raises the dead and calls that which is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17). 

 

In His mouth, in His Word, is the power to speak to the dead and call them to life.  In His heart is the desire to help those who are under the power of death.  That is what Luke tells us very clearly.  As this funeral procession is passing out of the gate and He is going in, with His crowd, Jesus is filled with compassion for the widow, and He says to her, “Do not cry.”

 

He wants to release the man from death and the widow from the grief of death.  He does this miracle to show that it is His will that human beings under the power of death not remain slaves and victims of death.

 

One day He will speak, and as the verse above said, All who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of God, and come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

 

Only when that day comes will the people who belong to Christ be released from the power of death forever.  That is what Paul means when he writes “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’”  1 Cor. 15: 54-55

 

So it is not a sin to cry when our loved ones die and are buried.  But it is a mistake to think that if Jesus were to raise them up, now, like he did the widow’s son, the pain of death would be taken away.  No—they would still have to die.  Once we had an imperishable, immortal body.  We were created in the image of God.  We had life in ourselves.  But now we have put on mortality.  Adam put on mortality, a body of death, when He ate from the tree God had forbidden.  And we wear the same body, a body of death.  But when Jesus returns and speaks, the dead will come forth from the graves, and those who have done good will put on immortality, and life, and glory, and will sing a victory song over death.  Death will be swallowed up in victory.

 

But for those who have done evil, they will be raised only to face judgment and the sentence of everlasting death.

 

That is why Jesus is still doing the miracle He did at Nain, and He must still do it, or we perish.  His miracle is that He raises those who are dead in trespasses and sins through His Word.

 

That is the only way one who is spiritually dead becomes alive.  Dead people do not raise themselves.  A dead person is totally helpless.  He must be raised to life, and only God can do that.

 

God must raise the spiritually dead person.  And God does it just as He did in the reading.  He speaks and raises the dead.  Today He speaks through the preaching of God’s Word.  Through the minister by which He speaks the word in Holy Baptism—“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

When He raises a person from the dead spiritually, He does two things—He brings them to a recognition of their sin and the condemnation that is over them, from which they cannot set themselves free.  When this recognition of sin comes to a person, it is not merely idle knowledge that we are sinners, we are all sinners, and so on.  It is a conviction that a person is lost and condemned.  It brings with it remorse, sorrow, a desire to be set free from sin and damnation.

 

Secondly, He brings the convicted sinner to believe in Jesus.  Even though the sinner may be weak in faith, and full of trembling, and also still full of sinful desires, Jesus speaks and declares to the sinner that his sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ death.  That is what “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” means.  It means you are adopted by the Triune God for the sake of Jesus who died for you.  All your sins are forgiven, and when you die, it will not be death.  It will be the death of your old sinful body so that a new one may be raised up in immortality to live with God and see God.

 

Those who are repentant, who fear because of their sins, and believe that Jesus has taken away their sin and death, are alive spiritually.  And if you remain alive spiritually, you will hear the voice of Jesus summon you from your grave, and you will come out to receive the reward of the righteous, of those who have done good.  Imagine that being God’s final statement about your life!  That will be His final statement about you if you believe the Gospel, the good news Jesus speaks.  Because that is what He declares in the Gospel.  You are released from death, released from the wages of sin, because I have borne your sin.  I am your righteousness.  I am your life!

 

If you believe this, you have been made alive just like the young man from Nain.  In an even better way.  Because he still had to die again.  But those who believe in Jesus have been raised up to eternal life.

 

Jesus’ Word is powerful.  It speaks to the dead and summons them to life.  And He is speaking among us in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

 

So like the crowds, we should fear, recognizing the power of God’s Word at work among us.  We should not take it lightly, but gladly hear and learn it, and consider it our highest treasure, because it raises us from the dead and keeps us alive to God.

 

We should fear and not turn away from Christ back into willful sins, into spiritual death.

 

Instead we should seek out His word, so that His life that He has placed within us may grow and increase.  Since it is only His Word that gives life to the dead, we should run to it for deliverance from all the death we see at work in us and in the world.

 

And as we do so we will grow in joy and confidence even in the midst of death.  As He promised: If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (John 8:51).

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Spiritual Violence. Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Altar Guild Service) 2018.

john baptists head.PNGThe Martyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29, Revelation 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-4

August 30, 2018

Spiritual Violence

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

An altar is furniture for an older type of worship that has mostly gone extinct.  It is necessary equipment for worship that is a matter of life and death.  In this older type of worship one did not worship by talking, singing, feeling, or thinking.  Worship was killing.  It was holy violence.  Whether you worshipped idols or the true God, the worshippers understood that a death was necessary to approach the holy.

 

God did not reject this kind of worship.  He mandated it.  He told His people to build an altar and prescribed the types of animals to be killed, the times when they should be killed, what parts of the animals should be burned, what parts should be eaten by the priests, what parts by the other worshippers, and where the victim’s blood should be poured—usually on the corners of the altar and on its base.

 

Being on the altar guild in those days was much dirtier work.

 

Why was killing and violence not only part of worship, but the center of it, even in the Old Testament?  Because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)  The wages of sin is death, and worse than death.  For the God of justice to forgive sins and dwell with His people there must be blood.  There must be a death, an atonement for the sinful.  There must be a sacrificial victim.

 

Only then can singing and praise and prayer ascend before God as a pleasing aroma—only together with the smoke of the flesh of the victim being burned on the altar.

 

It is no accident that front and center in the church is not a pulpit, not a stage, but an altar.  It reminds us that killing, violence was necessary to bring us near to God.  When you go about the altar and put white linen on it, and lights, and colors, you are dressing a monument and a reminder of the spiritual violence without which we cannot have a relationship with God.

 

The reading from Revelation pictures for us another altar, this one in heaven.  It is startling.  Surely in heaven there is no need for an altar, a place for ritual killing, because in heaven all sin has been removed.  There is no more need for a sacrifice to take away sin.  But what is true in heaven is also true here in the church on earth.  There are no more sacrifices being made to take away sins.  That has already been done, once for all, not on an altar but on the cross that stood outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

 

Yet Revelation 6 pictures an altar in heaven.  Underneath it are those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne (Rev. 6: 9). 

 

In the ancient church there was a tradition of burying the bones of those who had been killed for their witness to Christ—the martyrs—under the altar.  Many superstitions arose about this, but the picture was that the martyrs had shared in the death of Jesus.  Each Sunday as the Church remembered the death of Christ by receiving the Lord’s body crucified for them and His blood shed for them once on the tree, they knew that they were participating in the sacrifice of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world; they knew that that sacrifice covered them and their sins, and it also covered the martyrs who had died confessing Jesus.  They knew that they were joined with God the Father, with His Son, and with all the saints in heaven as they ate and drank the body and blood of the victim that had removed sins once and for all.  They knew that the same sacrifice of Jesus that had enabled the martyrs to win the victory and be faithful unto death would work in them to share the sufferings of Jesus and His glory.

 

The altar in our church, just as the one in heaven, is no longer one at which victims are slain physically and physically burnt up as offerings.  It is the place in which we participate in the final sacrifice that takes away sins forever.  And when we participate in it in faith we also engage in real sacrifice.  Not a physical shedding of blood, but a spiritual offering of our bodies to God.  We offer our bodies together with our money, our voices, our time, and our hands.

 

God’s name cannot be honored and glorified by mere talk and mere feelings.  This is why a person who says he worships God out in nature or on the golf course doesn’t know what he’s saying—unless he worships God at the altar on Sundays.  God is honored and worshipped by those who receive the sacrifice He prepared—the sacrifice of His Son.  Only then can we thanks and praise Him acceptably at all times and in all places.

 

For the example of this, see John the Baptist.  John honored God’s name by preaching repentance, which means a death, an acknowledgement that we are God’s enemies, and a desire to forsake all our sin and service to the devil.  He preached it to the common people.  He preached it to the priests.  He preached it to the king.  He preached general repentance and He preached the particular sins particular sinners had to repent of.  He told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife.”  He told Herod that he could not sleep with whoever Herod was in love with.  And now that he had quote unquote married her, he couldn’t say, “What’s done is done,” and move on.  He had to repent or be damned, put Herodias away or die in his sin.

 

This is spiritual violence.  It was not violence against Herod and Herod’s wife, but violence against himself.  John was offering Himself to God—head, hands, and inner parts.  Body and soul.  A whole burnt offering.

 

It would of course be painful to Herod and Herodias to part and be baptized, but not nearly as painful as the refusal to listen to God who spoke through John.

 

We live in a world of Herods and Herodiases who are raising their children to be like Herodias’ daughter.  Not that the world is different now than it has ever been.  People have been slaves of sin and enemies of God since the beginning when Cain murdered his brother for offering true worship to God, worship that arises from faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

 

No one is rescued from being an enemy of God by sensible worship that fits in with their lifestyles.  If Herod is going to be saved, it will only be through spiritual violence, through bloodshed.  If our Herods are going to be saved, it will only be through the blood of the Lamb, witnessed to them through His faithful martyrs who are willing to faithfully witness to Christ and suffer for it.

 

John was a witness to Herod.  A few years later, another witness came to Jerusalem and stood before Herod, another martyr who offered Himself to God, proclaiming unconditional repentance and the unconditional forgiveness of sins.  And they slaughtered this martyr too by nailing Him to a cross.’

 

By this violent worship, by the shedding of this victim’s blood, the world’s sins were taken away, and by no other.

 

The altar you care for is a memorial to this one sacrifice.  It is the place where we participate in the one sacrifice that took away sin forever.  You are testifying that there is no other way for a world of Herods and Herodiases and their children to be saved from the wrath of God than through Jesus’ violent attack upon our sins.  He did not wish them away or talk them away.  He took them and died for them.

 

When we were baptized, we took part in His death.  We took our leave of a life in which we do what we want and follow the course of this world.  We died with Jesus to this world.  We were baptized into Him for the remission of sins.

 

Now it is our life not to encourage Herodias and Herod in their fornication, or to praise Herodias’ daughter as she grows up to be like her mother.  It’s not our life to seek their approval and to make things easy on our flesh.

 

Our life is a life of spiritual violence, because our life is in Christ.  We partake of the death of God’s Son from this altar and we offer up our bodies as we do so.  We put to death our flesh that wants to banquet and boast like Herod and marry illegitimately like Herodias and to silence whoever criticizes us.  We put to death our flesh that wants to soften God’s law and thereby take away the forgiveness of sins from those who listen to us.  We offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices because we are covered by the altar of Jesus who was slain to redeem us.  We return to our baptism in which we were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We are carried away to a tomb, like John, so we may rise with Jesus and His faithful witnesses in victory.

 

And then we come down to the altar and take our place with the martyrs who are resting, in their white robes, beneath the altar of Jesus Christ.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Gerhard on the Inner Promptings of Christ Within the Soul

Christ turns away from each soul that does not wish to hear Him, just as here He turned away from the Pharisees.  He “knocks” at each soul through His Word, as He Himself says in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  Whoever hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and hold My evening meal with him, and he with Me.”  This is the door of our hearts at which Christ knocks.  Whenever we find a good thought within us and give it heed, He desires to enter into our hearts; but if we suppress it, He passes us by.  This is Christ speaking from within; whenever He speaks we should reply like Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

 

Each good thought is a spiritual ember kindled by the Spirit’s heavenly fire; one must not extinguish it, but preserve it so that it will finally ignite into the fire of devotion.  In the Old Testament God commanded them at all times to preserve the holy fire that fell upon the sacrifices so that it would not extinguish.  This is also how we should preserve the fire in God’s temple, that is, in our hearts, and not quench it.  Whenever the Lord God instill in you a righteous thought, be it by the preached Word or otherwise, He is laying a stone on the spiritual edifice of your everlasting bliss.  You must not hinder this work; for if you do: “Whoever ruins God’s temple will Himself be ruined (1 Cor. 3:17).

 

Johann Gerhard, Postilla vol 2 (Malone, Texas: Repristination Press), 140.

He Has Done All Things Well. Trinity 12, 2018

jesus heals deaf mute.PNGTwelfth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 7:31-37

August 19, 2018

He Has Done All Things Well

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  Mark 7:37

 

This is what the crowds said about Jesus in Galilee two thousand years ago.  “You have to see this Jesus of Nazareth.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  He has done all things well.”

 

They did not realize what they were saying because, like most people today, they thought Jesus a holy man, but nothing more.  But the words they used to describe Jesus are the words God uses to describe His work in creating the world.  And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.  Gen. 1:31

 

God did all things well when He made the world and all that is in it.  Even people who know nothing of God recognize the goodness of His work, even in this fallen world, because His work is life.  Every day we are confronted with the goodness of God’s work despite the pain and evil that is in the world.  We see it in the faces of our children and grandchildren.  We see it in the mountains and the sea and the sunrise and the stars and moon.  We breathe it in with the air.  We taste and eat the goodness of God’s work at the table.  We put it on in the morning when we get dressed.

 

And even when we see the things that human beings have done well, these are still God’s works.  Humans make symphonies only because God made the laws of sound.  We build towers, but God made stone and steel, and He made the mind of man creative like Himself.

 

But even though the goodness of God’s Work remains in the world, we also wake up every day to a world that cannot be said to be good.  We turn on the television and death appears to greet us, and fires, and poverty, and suffering.  And if we don’t turn on the television, we see the evil in the world every day anyway.  We see it in the faces of our children too, even when we try to hide our faces from it.  We see it in the natural world when it is spoiled to satisfy man’s greed for profit.  We eat and drink it when we eat and drink more than we need and we forget about it until the doctor tells us we’re sick.  We put on our clothes in the morning to hide from ourselves the evil that is in the world, that takes its toll on us, day by day, as we grow older and approach the time when we will no longer see the sun and the good works of God in the land of the living.

 

God’s good work gave us life in the beginning, and He continues to do this work today.  He has done all things well.  He is still doing all things well.  He sustains the world and the life He created the same way He made it—by His powerful Word.  The life of the world is His Work.  It is not the work of random chance, as the popular myths of our wise men run.  Nor is life and prosperity and human achievement our work, as people believe, even Christians.  Life and everything good in this world is the work of God by means of His Word.  He is the Lord of life.  This world and the goodness in it continues because He continues His Work of creating, of giving life.

 

What is not good in creation is our work.  Everything from the wrinkles on our skin, to deafness and muteness, to war and disease, is our work.  We can take the credit and the glory for those things, because God did not do them.  We did when we turned away from God’s Word by which He gives life.  That is the cause of them all, and the most serious result is that we, by nature, no longer know or recognize or thank the God who gave life.

 

Today many, many people in the developed world (as we call it) no longer believe in God.  Or they vaguely believe that there is some supreme being, but they make no effort to seek or know Him.  Other than that they seem to be decent people, many of them—they don’t steal, are fairly honest and compassionate by our present standards.  Yet God calls this the chief of all sins—to not know Him and trust, fear, and love Him above all things.  It is the root of all sin, to not love God above all things and look to Him for everything good.  To look to yourself, or to false gods or human philosophies to give you life and what you need to keep living.

 

But now we have Jesus.  Even sinful men recognize He has done all things well, even giving life to the deaf and mute, opening the ears of the deaf, loosing their tongues.  He does the works of God because, unbeknownst even to the crowds spreading His praise throughout Galilee, He is God.  He is the Creator incarnate, having become one of His creatures who have fallen away from Him and no longer worship or know Him.

 

And down among us He continues to do all things well.  He continues to give life, to create out of nothing.  Out of deaf ears He creates the ability to hear.  Out of speechless tongues He gives the ability to talk plainly.  He makes human beings whole and alive where their lives are impaired and they are dying.

 

Why does He do this?  He is showing that He intends to repair our evil works.  Our closing our ears to God’s Word, beginning with Adam, brought us death.  Most of you here this morning and listening on the radio know death.  Most of you are not young, and death is now much more real to us than it was to us when we were children and when we were just beginning our lives as adults.  Our world tries to philosophize death away.  “It’s a part of life,” we say.  It is a part of life now, but in the beginning it was not so, God says.  He created a world in which there was life and no death.  It is our work that we now have to accept our lives passing away, our beauty, our strength, our minds fading, loved ones torn away from us.

 

Jesus has come to repair what we have brought on ourselves.  That is what He shows by healing this deaf man.  Though we brought death on ourselves, He does not want to leave us in death.  He does not want us to remain bound by death, crippled, sick, bent over, deaf, mute, blind.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, says Jesus (John 10: 10).  The Creator becomes one of us to undo our evil works and give us abundant life.  What kind of grace is this?

 

Is this not good news?  Do you not want what the Creator has come to give?  Do you not want life?

 

Then how do we receive life, new life, from Him?  The same way we did in the beginning.  God spoke, and it came to be.  He calls that which is not as though it were; He calls into being that which does not exist (Rom. 4:17).

 

Through His Word Jesus restores life to us in body and soul.  Indeed He does more than restore life—He gives new life, a better life than at the first Creation, when there was no death.  He gives us His own life as sons and heirs of God.  And He gives it by recreating us, making us good, making us a new creation through faith in His Word that shows Him crucified and dead for our sins and resurrected for our righteousness.

 

He takes us aside and makes us see our works. Death was our work when we turned aside from the God who created us.  Not just that.  He makes you see that death is your work, not just ours.  It is the work you did by sinning.  You were born in sin, and when you learned God’s commandments you repeated the sins of Adam and disobeyed God.  You did not love God with your whole heart. You have ignored His Word.  Even you, the Christian.  You did not call upon God’s name with your whole heart and look to Him alone for everything good.  And from that comes all your other bad works—gossip, vengeance, anger, cursing, lies, lust, coveting, disobedience to parents, mistreatment of your spouse, pride, complacency.

 

He opens your ears so that you hear God say these awful words in His Law and pronounce His judgment on you.

 

And then He speaks another word that looses your soul just as the mute man’s tongue was loosed.  He says, Your sins are forgiven you, a word just as strange as Ephphatha to us who by nature deny we have real sins or that they need to be forgiven.  By this word He opens you to God.

 

When Jesus was baptized He saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending on Him like a dove.  God the Father was not only declaring Jesus His well-beloved Son but showing that He was opening up heaven to human beings through Jesus.  Pouring out life, eternal life, restoration through Jesus.

 

In Holy Baptism God opened you up to this life because He placed you in Jesus, into His death and destruction of your sin, of the old corrupt world and humanity, and into His resurrection, into His new life to God, the firstborn of a new human race.

 

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone; behold, the new has come.  (2 Cor. 5:17) 

 

The Creator has become a man to do all things well, to create you anew.  Not merely to cure wrinkles, to give us the body of a twenty year old, to make the deaf hear and the mute speak, like a divine elective surgeon.  He has come to make us open to God, to give us a world where there is nothing but God’s good works and none of our bad ones and where neither He nor we will ever die again (Rom. 6).  To make us free from our bad works and the death they bring.  This comes through His mighty Word, that created you in the beginning, that has recreated you as God’s son and heir in Holy Baptism, pouring out His holy name on you in the water.  The same word opens your ears to see the merciful Creator take your sins away with the body that was pierced for your transgressions and the blood poured out to reconcile you to God.  It invites you to take and eat, take and drink the body and blood of the Creator, given for your sins so that you may share His eternal life.

 

He who has done all things well in His death and Resurrection comes to make you well.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Kinder Postill, 12th Sunday after Trinity

12th Sunday after TrinityOn the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel of Mark, the 7th Chapter.

 

And there Jesus again, going out from the regions of Tyre and Sidon, came to the Sea of Galilee, in the midst of the region of the ten cities.  And they brought to Him a deaf person who was dumb.  And they asked Him that He would lay His hand on him.  And He took him apart from the people and lay His fingers in his ears, and spat and touched his tongue, and looked up into heaven, sighed, and said, “Ephphatha”—that is, “Be ye opened.”  And immediately his ears were opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed, and he talked correctly.  And He forbade them, that they should tell no one.  But the more He forbade, the more they spread it abroad, and they were amazed beyond measure, and said: “He has done all things well.  The deaf He has made to hear, and those without speech to talk.”

 

What should I learn from this gospel?

 

Christ makes, out of His own omnipotence, by means of His word, with a special ceremony (gepränge), a dumb and deaf man to hear and speak, forbidding people from talking about it.  But the more He forbade them, the more they spread it around and praised Him, that He had accomplished all things well and had made the deaf to hear and those without speech to talk.

 

What should I learn from this gospel?

 

That I entreat and reach out to (anlangen) Christ, the true helper in need, for help in my distress ; and also should intercede with Him also for other Christians who are suffering distress, that He would graciously receive them.  Because He alone is a Prince of Life, who has power to command sickness and health to all members [of the body.]

 

And that I should not remain on the broad road, but instead should let myself be led apart by Christ, and make use of His dear Word and visible signs of grace, wherewith He touches my tongue, lays His fingers in my ears, spits, etc.

 

Also especially I should consider the power of the divine word, that by it He can control and ward off all sickness, command and forbid the devil.  When He speaks, just so it happens.  When He commands, it stands.  He calls that which is not so that it is.

 

And I should thank God from the heart for all His unspeakable well-doing to us which He has shown to us in body and soul, spread abroad His fame with the little crowd of people, and offer to Him the young bull of the lips.  If the little crowd of people spread abroad Christ’s deeds even though indeed Christ forbade them, much more should we do, since He has earnestly commanded us to do so.

 

What comfort should we draw from this gospel?

 

That my Lord Christ is a powerful, almighty physician, a prince of life, an overcomer of death and all sickness, before whom death and all its satellites or forerunners—sicknesses—must submit when he merely motions at them—much more when He deals with them in His severity.

 

And the faithful Prince of Peace does not break His word, but He hears all those who call upon Him earnestly, does their will, and rescues them.

 

He alone has made all things well, that the devil and we with our disobedience have ruined.

 

Therefore we should glorify His goodness, rejoice and take comfort, and make use of the same against our wickedness.

 

Draw a short prayer from this for me.

 

I thank you, my Lord Jesus Christ, that You have created me in Your image with sound limbs and not made me a cripple, lame, deaf, or blind person.  Though I have provoked You with my sins to strike me in my members, for me also You have prepared gracious medicine against such plagues, and have specially ordained Your dear Word and holy Sacrament, which you lay in my ears and on my tongue, so that I spiritually hear rightly and learn to speak.  I pray you, dearest throne of grace, that you would preserve me, according to your gracious will, healthy and sound, and not allow Satan to injure the members of my body.  But if I should be injured, then you will add honor and control the bloodthirsty hound and filth of hell powerfully, so that he may not rage against me further than serves Your honor and my salvation.  Loose my tongue that I call upon you rightly.  Open my ears that I fruitfully hear Your divine Word, chastisement and consolation, and in my whole life seek not my own but Your honor, and praise You here in time and there eternally, that You alone have made all things good that I have corrupted.  Oh, my Lord Christ, assist me in my last distress, when I can no more hear or speak, that I nevertheless groan and cry for your grace, so that I may not be poor, dumb, and deaf eternally in hell’s fire, but instead glorify You in eternal life, and hear the eternal, joyful hymn of the whole heavenly host.  Amen.

 

From Christoph Fischer, “Kinder Postill” 1573

https://books.google.com/books?id=KN5TAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christoph_Fischer_%28Theologe,_%E2%80%A0_1598%29

God’s Justice. Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, 2018

pharisee and publican.PNGThe Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 12, 2018

God’s Justice

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

“No justice, no peace.”  You might have heard it chanted on the evening news over the past few years.  It typically comes from crowds of protesters on the political left.  A lot of them are the young people whose voices we no longer hear in the churches of our country.  They are not in churches singing and praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but many of them are in the streets crying for justice, or what they think is justice for homosexuals, or women, or immigrants, or minorities.  They cried out for the state to recognize same sex marriages; they cried out that the police unjustly used violent or lethal measures against African-American men; they cried out for statues of Christopher Columbus or civil war generals to be taken down because the men had been racist or owned slaves.  This is unjust, they said.  This is not right or fair.

 

On the other end of the political divide you don’t see marchers in the street so much, but the complaint against injustice is the same.  Most on the political right decry the injustice of our laws that allow the legal killing of unborn children.  They are angry that the moral landscape of the country has been changed by people at the top—at universities, in judges’ benches, in the media—that these people have taught their children and grandchildren to despise traditional marriage, traditional roles of man and woman, husband and wife.  Taught them to think of their country as fundamentally immoral—racist, sexist, bigoted.  This is unjust, says the political right.  We aren’t going to take it lying down.  “No justice, no peace.”

 

People from all sides of the political spectrum, however, frequently agree that in our time and place the Church is not doing its job.  The Church is not speaking to the people of our time.  I have been told so many times that it is not enough for the Church to teach the Word of God—we have to find other ways to get people’s attention.  It’s interesting.  Crowds will come out into the streets to yell about justice.  There’s no surer way to get an intense emotional reaction out of people right now than to start a conversation or an argument about the justice of the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the President.  Many people, if not most people, in our country are intensely concerned that the President gets justice.  Yet the very heart of the Bible has to do with justice, righteousness.  It proclaims a righteous God who will finally bring justice to our world and the people in it.  It declares what justice and righteousness is and how a person may do justice and be just.  Maybe the problem is not that the Church is preaching the Word of God too much, but that it is holding too much back—that the world is not hearing the Word of God’s justice but sentiment and emotional appeals, like bedtime stories for children.

 

When a person is denied justice, or feels they are, bedtime stories from their mother don’t satisfy.  God is not a God of sentiment.  He is the God of truth and justice.  In the beginning of the 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus addresses our hunger for justice.  He tells his disciples that they should always pray for God to give them justice, to send His Son in glory to establish justice on the earth by judging between the righteous and the unrighteous.  They should keep praying this and not lose heart, because God is not an unjust judge who really doesn’t care if we get justice.  And will not God give justice to elect, who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.  (Luke 18: 7-8)

 

Why does Jesus tell us to pray to God to give us justice?  Because this is an unjust world, and injustice brings suffering.  But human beings can’t fix the injustice in this world, because human beings themselves are unjust.  Only God can solve that problem.  So Jesus says, “Pray to God to bring justice to this world, and don’t give up.”  Pray that He sends His Son to do what we say in the Creed—to judge the living and the dead, when He will destroy every last vestige of sin in believing Christians and when He will cast the unbelieving who do not want Him to be King and Judge out of His creation into the lake of fire.  There all the inexcusable evil that people have done and still do in this world will be punished, because God hates injustice far more than you do.  He hates it so much that He will condemn the unjust to an eternity of torment.

 

 

Is Jesus serious, that we should pray for this to happen?  He is!  Yet few Christians pray for this, consciously.  It seems like pressing the nuclear button to pray for this kind of justice.

 

 

But that is part of the reason why Jesus teaches us to pray this way.  Jesus did not come to earth to affirm our righteousness.  God sent His Son into the world to establish real righteousness, actual righteousness—not changing human laws, but changing human beings so that they obey God’s laws freely and gladly.  Without that there can be no true justice and no peace—either with God or between men.

 

But instead, often, we get disgusted with our neighbor.  Our neighbor is ignorant of God’s Word, and is unwilling to be taught God’s Word, and as a result the way he lives is unjust and harms us.  Young people don’t understand that with the fourth commandment God has given them the duty to discipline their children—so the kids run wild, and older people have to put up with noise and disrespect; they have to pick up the slack for children and grandchildren who aren’t teaching their children God’s Word and bring them to church without the parents help.  They have to babysit all the time.  Other church members don’t volunteer to serve and don’t tithe on their income, so ten or twenty percent of the membership is at the church 4 days a week, giving up all their spare time to serve, and the church is always in danger of running out of money.  This is just talking about people who are in the church or who are related to people who are.  But we get disgusted with them, and if we are disgusted with them, imagine how disgusted we must sound to those who are far away from Christ and His Church!

 

 

Pray to God for justice, Jesus taught in the beginning of chapter 18.  But in this parable he explains it how.

 

Don’t pray like the Pharisee, who comes into God’s presence and thanks God for all his good works.  I thank you that I am not like other men—greedy, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I get.  (Luke 18:11-12)  Jesus isn’t faulting the Pharisee for not committing adultery or stealing, nor for fasting or giving ten percent of his income to God.  He is faulting him for trusting in himself that he was righteous and treating others with contempt (18:9).  We should give generously to God’s church.  We should discipline our body and train ourselves to live godly lives.  We should abstain from adultery and be generous with our money and honest in our dealing.  We should do all those things and still more—we should love our sinful neighbors from our hearts, and put whatever good works and virtues we have to work to help our neighbor who is living in sin and darkness.  We should be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

 

And if we are not, we have nothing to boast about before God, because we also are unjust.  We are also part of the reason the world is a place of injustice and pain.  If all we have is the fact that we come to church, we read the Bible, we tithe, we don’t steal or commit adultery, but our trust is in ourselves and we treat others with contempt, we come to church and we go home not justified.  We go home and God does not count us righteous and just.  And if we remain this way, when He comes again to separate the righteous from the unrighteous, the just from the unjust, our place is with the godless, the tax collectors, the abortionists, the fornicators, who Jesus places on His left and says, Depart from me.  I never knew you.

 

When we pray for God to give justice—as we should do—we should come before God as the tax collector, who kept beating his chest and saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  There was no list of his good deeds, because if a person keeps all of God’s Law and fails at one point, he is guilty of breaking all of it.  There was no talk about how he had lived in comparison to others.  There was no boasting.  There was fear and grief over how he knew he must appear before God.  The tax collector had nothing but fear when he thought of his life when He stood in God’s presence.  When it came to himself, it was like falling into a well with nothing to hold on to and nothing to stand on.

 

That is really how it is for everyone, even Christians who have done many good works, who people regard as sanctified and holy, when it comes to God’s law and their own life.   When people protest in the streets for justice, they cry out against what is unfair.  When someone in power abuses their power to hurt someone they are supposed to help and defend, our heart cries out that this person should not be able to get away with what they have done.  They should not go unpunished.  Our desire and thirst for justice for people who have done wrong, as strong as it is, is nothing in comparison to God’s desire for justice.  I the Lord love justice.  I hate robbery and wrongdoing (Is. 61:8).  If you have done unjust things, thought them, and have an unjust heart, you cannot be proud before Him.  You cannot expect Him to let you off without punishment.  Not if He is just.

 

But the tax collector doesn’t stop there.  He dares to say to God, Be merciful to me, a sinner!  But how can he expect God to be merciful to him?  Is that justice?  How can he ask God to be unjust?

 

He asked the holy and just God this because he was at the temple at the time of sacrifice, where an animal was slain by the priests and its blood poured or painted on the altar to make atonement for the sins of the people.  Inside the temple, behind a curtain, was the ark of the covenant, where God was present with His people to receive their sacrifices and prayers.  Inside the ark was the ten commandments, and on top of it a cover that was called “the mercy seat”—because there, once a year, blood would be sprinkled to cover the people’s transgression of the commandments of God.

 

The tax collector in the parable trusted in God’s promise to receive a substitute who would die for his sins, so that God would remain just, punishing sins, and yet justifying the ungodly.

 

And the One who told this parable is that substitute.  He is the mercy seat which covers our breaking of God’s commandments.

 

He is the one who sends sinners home justified, counted righteous by God.  Because He freely offered Himself to pay for our injustice and take it away.

 

Through Him we can pray for God to bring justice to the world.  In ourselves we can’t, because we ourselves are not just.  In ourselves we are only God’s enemies.  But in Him we can pray it, because through faith in Him alone we are counted just by God.  His death and suffering is our righteousness.

 

On Sundays we come not to the temple in Jerusalem but into the community of His Church where He gives us the body and blood that have cancelled our unrighteousness and injustice.  But He, our mercy seat, always stands at God’s right hand, covering our injustice.  So we pray for Him to bring justice to the earth at all times—not to take vengeance on people we are disgusted with, but to bring about real justice and eternal peace.  Protesters certainly can’t do this—neither can we with our good works.  But He will, and He has commanded us to pray for it.  He will do it because He has established righteousness, provided righteousness, by putting our sins to death in His own body.

 

All around us people are angry.  They want justice, they think—but they don’t know what it is.  Really they don’t want the justice of God.  But God wants to justify them just as He did us.  And He wants to do it through you.

 

Therefore, don’t let the devil and your flesh take you captive and deceive you so that you act as if you are righteous in yourself, so that you turn others away in contempt.  We have a calling, each one of us in this place—to make known the righteousness and justice of God.  We can’t do that by being irritated and disgusted with our world.  In fact, we can’t make it happen at all.  Jesus says, pray and do not give up.  Pray that God would spread His Kingdom.  Then, do good works in your calling.  Tithe, give to the church’s work.  Strive to live a just life according to the ten commandments.  And whatever good works God gives you grace to do, don’t consider them your own.  Your righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus that He accomplished when He carried all our sins on Himself and put them to death.  Let your knowledge and your faithfulness as a Christian serve those who are weaker than you or who know less than you.  God sends you home justified with the body and blood of His Son for that very purpose.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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