Archive for April, 2012

Martin Luther’s Ambassador: An Unclean Frog Spirit

April 27, 2012 3 comments

Martin Luther's face and hands cast at his death.

Martin Luther's face and hands cast at his death. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 

Behold, I come as a thief.  Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.  Revelation 16:13-15

So….the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) has created a new office of “ambassador”…and it appears that one of the chief tasks of the ambassador will be to practice diplomacy on behalf of Martin Luther to the postmodern west.  God knows, Luther would really need it, were he living.  He would have many things to say, but I can only imagine what he would say at the thought of a lady in preaching tabs trying to salvage his legacy by saying, “In spite of his hatred of Jews, his support of the slaughter of the proletariat during the Peasant’s Revolt, and his backward attitude towards women, he’s still a role model.”  (Yes, that’s what she said.  Use google translate and you’ll get the gist of it. )

Oh, and did I mention this was the lady who resigned as chairperson of the EKD a couple of years ago after she was arrested for driving while falling-down drunk?

Yep.  Margot Kaessmann.  The writer of the article, it appears (with my limited German), is decrying the hypocrisy of the EKD in creating the new office for the woman who recently resigned.  He notes the irony of a priestess who serves at the altar of the gods of modern, tolerant, multicultural europe–and, considering her disgrace, the service of those idols has not been unprofitable for her–now serving as ambassador for the man who said, “Here I stand.  I can do no other.  God help me.  Amen.”–and went on to live the rest of his life under a death sentence.  And what was his crime?  Fidelity to Christ crucified, to the Triune God.  Standing by faith on the Scripture as God’s Word, not taking refuge in the authority of the Pope or the Magisterium or the councils or the Fathers, but clinging to Scripture against his conscience and the devil, against the terror of hell, and against all the power of the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Luther risked his life and his soul to believe and confess and teach that a man is justified by faith alone without works of law (Rom. 3:28). 

The first and chief article is this, That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4,25.  And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1, 29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53, 6.  Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3, 23 f.

Now since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…

Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink into ruin.  For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12…And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practise in opposition to the Pope. the devil, and the whole world.  Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and the devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Yes.  And what has Margot Kaessmann risked for her gospel?  That is to say, her priestly service at the altars of feminism, tolerance, political correctness, and the other regnant gods in the west?

Well, she got hammered and resigned, and has kept busy with gigs teaching theology.  And now she’s Luther’s ambassador at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Now,  God bless Ms. Kaessmann and be merciful to her.  I have no pleasure in her being disgraced in public and struggling with alcohol and the attendant personal pain she’s no doubt has.  If I was anybody famous, it could be me whose name was on the front pages in 2010.  I sin, and even if I’m not getting drunk and driving today, it would not be surprising if I fell into sin.

However, making her the ambassador for the Reformation is ludicrous.

First of all, even people who don’t care about Christianity at all can see the lack of dignity in this.  Apparently this is a trait of German pseudo Lutherans as well as American ones.  The lady suffered public disgrace, and now you make her the spokesman for the Reformation on its 500th anniversary?  Are you kidding?  Christians are supposed to endure disgrace–that’s the theology of the cross.  But the theology of the cross does not invite you to disgrace yourself by sin and then parade it in front of the world and say you’re glorying in the cross.  “If you sin and suffer for it, what credit is that to you?  But if you do good and suffer patiently, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also left you an example, that you might follow in His steps.  He committed no sin, neither was any deceit found in His mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.”  (1 Peter 2)

That’s number 1.  Number 2: Luther’s “Ambassador” is actually obscuring what Luther preached and what the Reformation was about.  The thesenanschlag (I learned a new word today)–what we Americans refer to as the “nailing of the 95 theses”–turned the world upside down.  What was such a big deal about it?  Was it that, since we’re justified by faith alone apart from works, we no longer have to worry about sin?  That was what the papists smeared the Lutherans with at the time of the reformation–that the doctrine of justification taught by Luther would lead to moral laxity and would undermine social order.  There would no longer be clergy and laity, public worship would become anarchic and undignified, etc.

Well, what the Papists smeared Lutherans with, claiming it was their teaching,now actually is the teaching of mainline Lutherans–or rather, those churches that still call themselves Lutheran even though they have given up the Lutheran confession and united with the reformed. Actually now the Lutherans think that the doctrine of justification means, as Bonhoeffer said, “the justification of sin instead of the justification of the sinner.”

Unfortunately, what this means for Luther’s memory, those who want to still believe and confess his doctrine, and the witness of the Reformation is that on the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses being nailed to the Wittenberg door, the world will be receiving a false witness concerning Luther, the Gospel, and the Reformation.

Why did the Reformation happen?  It happened because the Holy Spirit saw fit to restore the Church at that time and place, ultimately; but it didn’t happen to make it safe to sin, nor to undermine the Pope’s political authority.  Those were, perhaps, effects of the Reformation, but not its reason.

The Reformation occurred because the Word of God was proclaimed, which declares not that sin is no big deal, but instead that it is an incredibly big deal, so big that God will not allow the smallest sinful impulse to go unpunished, but in His justice He will reward with His undiluted wrath all ungodliness, and that no amount of human striving can free us from this wrath.  This was the first part of Reformation preaching, which made clear what the Law of God actually says–that no amount of human activity can deliver us from God’s wrath, because God is just.

But the second part changed Luther, and Germany, and Scandinavia, and broke the Pope’s chokehold on France and the low countries and Britain; it made it so that the Americas and Africa were also not locked up in the darkness of a false gospel with no light permitted to enter (at least, not by the church’s hierarchy), as Europe had been.

That was the Gospel–that on account of Christ’s agony and death, God counts as righteous all who believe that they are received into favor for Jesus’ sake.  God has laid the sins of the world and His inescapable wrath on His Son, and through Him declares the full forgiveness of sins–and we receive this grace of Christ not by working and striving, but as a gift, when we believe what the Gospel declares–that He suffered for us and our sins are forgiven on account of His blood.

This good news doesn’t free us to live immoral lives, because no one who believes that their sins have been forgiven at the cost of the suffering of God’s own son, and who believes in the great, passionate love that Christ has for him–no one who believes that wants to go out and purposely trample on Jesus’ blood and crucify Him again.

That’s why Luther, later on in the reformation, fought vigorously against Lutheran preachers who eradicated the law from their preaching, saying that the law should no longer be preached, but only the love of Christ, and that people should be moved to repentance not by God’s threats but by the love of Christ revealed on the cross.

What Luther fought against–antinomianism–is now going to be paraded about in 2017 as Luther’s gospel.  That’s what makes this whole thing a frightening blasphemy, bordering on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Let me close by painting a picture in broad strokes:

What is left of Christianity in the West in 2012?  Rome.

The heirs of revivalists and pietists–but they are floundering, trying to find something more substantial to stand on than emotion and evangelistic zeal and appropriation of American consumer culture.  Sadly, when they start floundering, they usually find Calvin–and through him some connection with the church fathers and with sola gratia and sola fide.  But Calvin is not the pure gospel.  Perhaps he’s an improvement on Arminianism–but it was the flaws of Calvinism that led to the spread of Arminian theology in America anyway.  If your assurance of salvation is located in your sanctification, or your experience of the new birth–no wonder if tormented sinners who have no assurance that they are elect look for comfort in the idea that they can choose to be saved.

The vast majority of the rest of protestantism is looking increasingly like Unitarian Universalism.  There are some confessional Calvinist enclaves.  There are also some confessional Lutheran enclaves, but either we don’t get out much, or we still don’t speak English well.  One way or the other the Lutheran Confession–the pure Gospel, the authentic evangelicalism–is mostly unknown as a living faith and a living church.  To many people it’s just one more religious movement whose dogmas are locked away in old books in libraries that only experts and scholars visits.  To most people it’s simply unknown.

So what happens when, in 1 or 2 or 3, or 5 generations the West’s moral rot finally leads to cultural exhaustion?

We can’t be that far from that now.  Human beings can’t fornicate and sodomize and look for heaven in food and consumer products thforever.  Eventually cultures like ours that believe in nothing don’t have the energy or the heart to fight the barbarians.  They end up convincing themselves that even though the barbarians rape, murder their children, enslave, and plunder, it’s probably bigoted of us to think our values are better than theirs.

But the kids who grow up seeing society fall apart and who lose their birthright have a different outlook.  They have forced upon their consciousness things that their parents really knew but convinced themselves that they didn’t–things like–you can’t just sleep with whoever you want, because without stable families and without ordered relationships between the sexes, society crumbles.  Things like: there is a moral law, and it’s not forever unclear and uncertain.  And the reason there’s a moral law is that there is a God who created the earth and who cares whether or not we live according to the law.

Kids who watch society collapse suddenly have to get honest about these things that we already knew.  And when they do, religion won’t seem foolish to them–unless it’s the kind of religion that lied to them and their parents and never bothered to tell them that God hates sin and punishes it in this world and the next, and that He brings judgment on nations that become sclerotic in their rebellion against Him and His law.

Nope, they won’t listen to lying “Lutheran” preachers, and they probably won’t listen to any Christians who even seem similar.  They’ll probably be so disgusted with the lying preachers who did not sound the alarm and tell the truth that they won’t want anything to do with the real Luther either.

And that will leave…Rome.  Or Islam.

So anyone who wants Jesus but knows that antinomianism is a lie will be all set up for Rome.  And people will have forgotten why the Reformation happened.

That’s why it’s not just ironic or sad that this is what the EKD is doing to celebrate the Reformation.  But it is in reality a fulfillment of the words of St. John’s Revelation quoted above.

The dragon (the devil), the beast (the Roman empire, or its descendants), and the false prophet (the Antichrist) have unclean spirits come out of their mouths, and they go out to deceive the nations and the kings of the earth, and gather everyone together for the battle against Christ.  That is what is happening when the world is deceived into rejecting the Gospel.

Right now we think the worst thing that’s happening is the dechristianization of the west.  It’s true that when the communists in Russia and China killed and imprisoned Christians and made the church go underground, that was the work of antichrist.  And in those countries where Islam beat the church into submission, not allowing them to proclaim the Gospel to their neighbors–that was also the work of the spirit of antichrist.  And now, to have the state churches of Christendom apostasize, and formerly Christian nations willingly living like atheists–that is also a very bad thing.

But there is something worse.  Much worse.  That is what the Reformation was about.

Worst is when you have a whole continent where the Church is everywhere, where images of Christ crucified are everywhere, where the Holy Trinity is confessed and people are baptized and the Scriptures are read and Christ’s body and blood is even eaten and drunk–but the Gospel is hidden; the saving knowledge of Christ is not preached, and if anyone tries to preach it they are killed and branded an enemy of Jesus.

In that case, the devil’s false prophet has taken his seat in the temple of God, in the Holy Place, and has proclaimed himself God, arrogating to himself the right to contradict God’s Word and displace Christ as the head of the Church.

That is what the antichrist does–and Luther knew who the antichrist was.  If the antichrist went into a Jewish temple or simply attacked the church from outside it would be easy to recognize him.  What is so awful about the real antichrist is that he looks like a Christian.

Rome is shaping up to look like the only ones who have managed to hold the fort on the only things unbelievers are able to grasp–that is, morality.  Note how when the ELCA permitted union with the reformed, or tolerated those who denied the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus or the atonement, there was no huge vote and the church didn’t split.  What made the church split?  Homosexuality.  Unbelievers can tolerate idolatry and waffling on Christian doctrine (I’m not saying that all ELCA folk are unbelievers…what I am saying is that the majority of people in most denominations are weak in faith and usually still think according to the wisdom of the flesh, which does not understand why faith in Christ is important but does understand works.)  But even unbelievers know that if there’s one place a line should be drawn in the church, even if we give up all the others, it’s probably homosexuality.  Didn’t God send fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah?

So the Lutherans are the ones who are okay with homosexuality.  But the Catholics?  They publicly have held the line there–and about abortion, contraception.  They end up looking far more Christian than mainline protestants.

But the problem is that the catholic church, which emphasizes holiness and proclaims the mystery of the incarnation and death of the Son of God with more awareness of its depths than the Lutherans–denies Christ by making Him a lawgiver but not our only righteousness, our only mediator.

Detail of: Portrait of Pope Leo X and his cous...

Detail of: Portrait of Pope Leo X and his cousins, cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is why Luther knew the Pope was the antichrist.  Because from the very heart of the church of God and looking like a lamb, the papacy enslaves and murders souls.

In Luther’s day the Pope ruled the whole of western Christendom.  But for the last five hundred years his total control has been broken.  Even though in reformed nations a perverted form of the Gospel was preached, the deception that the pope was the head of the Church by divine right was broken over about half of Europe–and then in the US, and through protestant missionaries a Christian church independent of the antichrist spread throughout the world.

And as a result, many of the things that the antichrist “prophesied” came true.  Popes prophesied that the doctrine of justification and the loss of the papacy would lead to lawlessness.  They were right.  If the pope still dominated the consciences of the west, Hitler would never have happened.  Communism wouldn’t have happened.  The kings might have grappled with the Pope, as they did throughout medieval history…but they couldn’t get free of him, even if they wanted to, because if the pope put the country under the interdict the king could be certain that he would lose his throne.  That’s what happened when people feared the pope’s authority and believed that he had absolute authority over the church (and the authority to command kings and to release their subjects from obedience to them).

If the papacy had remained unchallenged, we wouldn’t have seen the “secularization” of the west either.  Because the pope enforced outward submission to the Church by force.  When that compulsion was broken–just as he predicted–many people now used the freedom as an opportunity to be the godless people they already were in their hearts.

The problem is that the pope’s compulsion was not the Kingdom of Christ.  Because Christ does not make people behave by force.  In His Kingdom people become obedient and live holy lives because they are willing, because they are new creatures, and the Holy Spirit compels them to do good works and to resist sin.

So yes, when the Gospel was preached and it broke the Pope’s chokehold on Christendom, it also freed people to be godless and to reject Christ.  But it was worse under the papacy.  Because then, in the name of Christ, people were forced to give a certain outward allegiance to Christ.  But at the same time they were kept from Christ and Christ was kept from them.  Because the pope condemned to earthly death anyone who preached the good news of Jesus as written in Scripture, and he threatened anyone who departed from his authority with damnation.

Have you ever noticed how so many people who are lifelong catholics–who may barely practice it at all, or who may be disgusted with it, or who may have embraced some form of protestant theology–how hard it is for them to leave Rome?  It’s because just about anything can be permitted in the realm of antichrist–except rejecting the authority of the antichrist and what he calls the “church”.

The lying spirits in protestantism don’t look like fools because they’re all stupid.  The devil makes sport of them.  He enjoys this because he is still angry that the Gospel arose and dealt a mortal wound to the antichrist’s kingdom, so it’s fun for him to make a joke out of those who bear the name of Luther.  But more importantly this mockery and apostasy within protestantism prepares people to be deceived by the antichrist.

May God have mercy on all pastors who have departed from the Gospel; on the EKD and Ms. Kaessmann, and on all those who are presently deceived by lying pastors or a false gospel, or who are imprisoned by the antichrist.  And to spite the devil and for the sake of His mercy, may Christ grant again that His pure Gospel be heard loudly and clearly and unmistakeably throughout the world once more before He comes to judge the living and the dead.

Luther at 34--my age. If only he was alive to tell us what he thinks about a lady in a preaching gown as his ambassador.

“I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”

–Martin Luther, Off the Record With Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks, trans. and ed. Charles Daudert (Kalamazoo, MI: Hansa-Hewlett, 2009), entry no. 2410b, p. 110.


Prayer of a Husband with an Evil Wife

April 27, 2012 2 comments

“Evil” maybe should be “angry,” “nasty,” or “spiteful.”  But still, imagine finding this in your Portals of Prayer or other devotion book!  Probably they aren’t there because now if Christians have an evil wife or husband they don’t spend years and years praying about it, because if you’re in an unhappy marriage even church people expect you to get a divorce and go find your “soul mate.”  But it was not always this way, even though people still had the same problems we do.

And no, the Gebets-Schatz does not hate women.  There are two prayers in it for wives with lousy husbands–one for a wife with an evil husband, and another: “Gebet eine Frau, die einen wuesten und unfreundlichen Mann hat.”  Which means something like, “Prayer of a wife who has a wild and disagreeable husband.”

And finally, in case anyone was wondering, my wife is not boese.  She probably has already prayed a small gebetbuch worth of prayers about her “wild and disagreeable husband.”

156.  Prayer of a husband who has an evil wife (originally from Michael Cubach, Grosses und vollkommnes Gebetbuch [1655])

[Cubach was a bookseller in Lueneberg, Germany, who put together this prayer treasury which was popular in the 1600’s and 1700’s…it was 1400-odd pages long and contained prayers for every conceivable occasion, such as “Prayer when one is tormented at home by ghosts or thieves or such like,” and “Prayer for parents to whom are born twins, one successfully, the other stillborn.  He didn’t write this prayer; he got it from someone else.  His huge Gebets-Schatz can be found here: ]

Evangelische Lutherische Gebets-Schatz, p. 97.


Lord God, heavenly Father, I knew in the past, and I still know that this station in which you have put me is pleasing to you.  All I undertake and all the trouble and suffering I endure in this station to which you have called me are acceptable offerings to you, for the sake of Your beloved Son, my Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ, whom I glorify, love, and confess.   You see now my mourning and the misery in which I am stuck, and how I am caught in such helplessness and distress that no human help is able to rescue me.  I, a poor and afflicted man, sadly, have an unhappy marriage with my wife, because she is stubborn, contemptuous, spiteful, and negligent in managing the house.  The whole thing cuts me deeply, to be this way for so long with my marriage-companion.  I have no hours of happiness, rest, and peace with her, and I fear that through this my whole household will be run into the ground.


I have hit a wall; I cannot find any way out.  I bring my complaint to you, which pours from an anguished heart.  I cry to you, imploring you that you would pay attention to my need.   As a gracious Father be understanding toward me so that, with time, our marriage may turn around.  Lend Your Grace and Spirit to my wife, that her reason and good sense would return to her, and that she would show herself kind, uncomplaining, and gentle toward me.  Grant that I truly hold her in love and esteem and that I may not be stubborn, domineering, and harsh myself, and thus give the wicked, evil foe no reason or opportunity to incite more discord and further drive a wedge between us.  Through this we would be hindered in our prayers and also kept from receiving blessing and prosperity in body and soul.   


Oh Lord!  Teach us to will and to do according to Your good pleasure, and let  Your good Spirit lead us in the right way, that in true marital love we may walk hand in hand.  Let us especially pursue that peace in the home by which marriage is made attractive, each one giving a little and taking a little.  In this way let us live out our lives in blessed peace, thriving and prospering together, until we lay down our married life and come to live eternally with You in Your heavenly kingdom, that we may boast in Your salvation and praise Your wonderful works.  Amen.


Luther–Prayer Concerning True Devotion (Gebets-Schatz)

April 27, 2012 3 comments

Prayers of Preparation (Evangelical Lutheran Prayer-Treasury) (Concordia 1899)

(“translated” by me)

1.  Concerning True Ardor in Prayer (Luther)

 Lord, You want me to pray to You and call me to come to You.  So I will come, bringing plenty to pray about—especially that which most holds me back from praying and drives me away from you–my sin. It hangs around my neck and presses down heavily upon me; take it away and forgive it, according to Christ’s will.  Amen.

When He Suffered He Did Not Threaten–Misericordias Domini Sermon

April 26, 2012 1 comment

Misericordias Domini

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Peter 2:18-25

April 22, 2012

“The World Needs the Royal Priesthood”

Image of the Good Shepherd from Roman Catacombs


Alleluia!  Christ is risen!


  1. 1.       Andrew Sullivan…columnist, believer in Christ’s divinity, homosexual

Essay on the crisis of the American Church in Easter Newsweek.


There are many theological errors in his essay.  The Church must proclaim God’s law clearly, including about people’s sex lives, whether about homosexuality or rampant heterosexual unchastity.   And yet his central criticism of American Christianity and Christians perhaps gives us something to meditate on and with which to examine ourselves. 


We frequently complain about the dechristianization of the United States and about the collapse of what used to be moral commonplaces.


But maybe our country is not wrong to criticize us for hypocrisy and lack of compassion.  That in our zeal to testify clearly that God’s Law has not changed, we have not at the same time made clear that we are not angry at our neighbors, nor do we think that we are better than them.


So often, though we may continually preach the free forgiveness of sins on account of Jesus’ passion, received by faith alone, our actions say that the Gospel has very little bearing on real life.  We are not gracious to one another in the Church…and our words and actions often betray that we have little confidence that God’s grace in Christ is the power that enables the Church to fulfill its calling to make disciples of Jesus.


Tells story of Thomas Jefferson cutting up the bible.  Jefferson did this to boil down Christianity to what he thought was its essence—the moral teaching of Jesus.  Sullivan says, whether you agree with Jefferson or not that Jesus is true God and that He rose from the dead, you should pay attention to what Jefferson was saying because—


“What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?


All of which is to say something so obvious it is almost taboo: Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert.


The Church in America’s decline is due to Church’s attempts to influence/control culture by means of politics rather than the Gospel—the mercy of God in Christ.  And when that has been preached the Church’s witness in terms of merciful, gracious love toward the fallen has been weak.  Too often the church has been a society for moral, middle class folks longing for a return to traditional morality.  Too often the salvation Christ gives freely to those who do not meet our standards has not been heard or borne out by our actions.  It has not been apparent that the church is not the place for people of exceptional morality or for traditionalists, but a place where the dead are raised—whether “moral” or “immoral.”


  1. 2.      What is missing…

How Peter says to treat unfair masters.  Serve them with all your heart–not because they treat you well, but in spite of the fact that they don’t.


What is missing is love of enemies–mercy toward the merciless–love toward those who have not earned love–including those who continue to cause you pain, abuse you.

That is unworldly.  It is from another planet.  It is the church living as disciples of Jesus–living the life of Christ that has been given in Baptism.  (John 12: Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also.)


  1. 4.      What we do instead and why.

We are like Peter…do not want the cross.  Unbelief.


When we revile and threaten, injure in response to injury, we become evildoers ourselves.


Scatters the church.  Hirelings instead of good shepherd—we do not care about the sinners for whom Christ died, but seek to preserve ourselves.  The Church lives as though it is not Christ’s church, not the community of those who love their enemies, not servants and brothers of Jesus who bore the wrath of God for them.


Deceit found in our mouths, because we deny our sin and accuse others and justify ourselves.


  1. 5.       The example of the good shepherd…no deceit, did not revile or threaten—entrusted Himself to the just judge—God.
  2. 6.      Where the power to love enemies comes from—


Grace that is more powerful than sin and evil.

First of all, we receive this grace from Christ, who blots out the entirety of our sin with His blood.


The shame of Jesus death removes our shame before God.

His truthful mouth speaks the forgiveness of our sins.


This is who we are.  This is what we were baptized for—to do good and bear suffering without reproach, like Jesus.


Not that we can accomplish this; but we have already died in Baptism into Christ.  And thus we no longer are the self-seekers, revenge-getters that we were born in Adam.  We are in Christ—new creatures who overcome the evil of our enemies by showing love and mercy to them, and enduring the suffering that is inflicted on us.


Be comforted if you have suffered—you were called to this.  It was no accident.  God has not abandoned you.  This is the life we were given in Baptism.  Its end is everlasting joy.


If you suffer unjustly—joy because you are like Christ.


If you don’t have the power to love and forgive your enemies or those who wrong you, fear not. 


You have learned the truth about yourself—that you are unable to do this.

That is what Peter himself learned.

Loving enemies and forgiving them comes as we learn to believe that we are loved and forgiven by God in Christ despite our many sins.  As we continually return to Jesus for forgiveness and He shows us His wounds and pronounces absolution and gives us His body and blood, then, healed by His grace which overcomes sin, we begin to bear the sins of others and love them.


Grieveing—death and shame not the end of everything but rather participation in Jesus.


Jesus does not speak against us.  He does not curse or revile; He continually speaks well of us.  He speaks to the Father on our behalf.  And when we come to Him for forgiveness, He says, “You are righteous, innocent.”  “Your sins are forgiven.”


Peter: “You have returned”—not in that we do not struggle with sin; not in that we do not fall into sin.

            Believing in the forgiveness of your sins on account of Christ, you have returned.

            Baptized into Christ and believing that you are no longer what you were born in the flesh, but a little Christ.

            Thus you have returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.

“That you might die to sins and live for righteousness”: you have and you will.

  1. 7.       Vital importance of priesthood

This is not a world where there is mercy—where those we fail or sin against are willing to die in our place.


But mercy enters the world in Jesus Christ, who dies for His enemies; for the whole world.


And His mercy flows through the royal priesthood—His body, the church.


He who died for His enemies has made us free from death and hell;


Free, redeemed, and saved, we are able to suffer the loss of the pleasures and treasures of this world because we have treasure that endures in heaven;


So Christ’s mercy is shown in a merciless world through us, His body.


God grant it among us.  Amen.



The Voice of Thy Brother’s Blood Crieth Unto Me

April 17, 2012 2 comments
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anger is always an attack on the brother’s life, for it refuses to let him live and aims at his destruction.  Jesus will not accept the common distinction between righteous indignation and unjustifiable anger.  The disciple must be entirely innocent of anger, because anger is an offence against both God and his neighbour.  Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbour, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his.  The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.  A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him.  With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence.  We are passing judgement on him, and that is murder.  And the murderer will himself be judged.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of DiscipleshipMacmillan: New York, 1963.  pp.143-144.

Bad News for Brooding Pastors from Sirach

April 14, 2012 1 comment

The heart of a man changes his countenance, either for good or for evil.

The sign of a good heart is a cheerful countenance: withdrawn and perplexed is the laborious schemer.

Happy the man whose mouth brings him no grief, who is not stung by remorse for sin.

Happy the man whose conscience does not reproach him, who has not lost hope.

Sirach 13:24-25, 14:1-2

I hate fake happiness, especially among Christians.  There’s a reason why people laugh at Ned Flanders on the Simpsons.


Christians are called to carry the cross…but not constantly moan under the cross.  I speak as one who has done more than his share of moaning.

The two are supposed to go together–joy and the cross.  Not fake joy that pretends like everything is okay.  But Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  His yoke, of course, being the cross, following in the way of the cross.

Following Jesus to death; crucifying the flesh, suffering.  This is Baptism.  Confessionalist Lutherans have done well to emphasize, “You are baptized!  Make the sign of the cross and invoke the name of the Trinity and remember you are baptized!  Christ is for you!  Your sins are forgiven!”  But some of us have done a poor job with the crucifixion and burial part of Baptism.

I’m speaking of myself here.  A lot of long faces, complaining, frowns, and terrible, godless seriousness.

It’s as if the whole carrying the cross thing is a surprise.  Oh dear God, what a self-important martyr I am.  I hope there aren’t any others in the ministry.  Seriously.

So I repent.

I am baptized which means, to be certain, that I have to die daily.  I am baptized, and this also means that I

am raised with Jesus.  Everything is new for me.  All the troubles that I have have been overcome by my Lord.  They’re like a bike tire with a hole in it, leaking air.

I’m like a billionaire’s son whose had his dad pay his way through life.  Yeah, there is pain and sin and ugliness in my life, and yet–I will never taste the second death on account of my Lord.  The worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched, the weeping and gnashing of teeth that I so richly deserve–I’ll never drink any of that cup–only little baby sips from the chalice of suffering, and only for a few more decades–maybe.  Instead, my Lord was crushed and damned and condemned and thrown out.

I have not had a happy face under the cross because I disbelieve the things my Lord tells me.  Or I don’t pay attention.

Oh Jesus, teach me to rejoice, to bear your yoke which is easy and light instead of the heavy yoke I make for myself; help me to consider my present sufferings not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed when you appear, to believe that my light and momentary affliction is working for me a weight of glory beyond all comparison, to look not to the things that are seen, but those that are unseen, to set my heart on You and not on things on the earth.  Amen.

Imagine No Religion

April 13, 2012 7 comments

John Lennon’s imagination wasn’t all that impressive.  Imagining “no religion” in his lifetime was kind of like Jesus predicting that Herod’s temple would be destroyed…It didn’t take a prophet.  The Jews and the classical pagan world were bound to reach a tipping point sooner or later.  In the same way, John Lennon imagining an irreligious Occident wasn’t such a stretch. Institutionally Christianity was still big.  Inwardly, it was rotten to the extent that within a generation any fear of its authority or sense of obligation to the church for historical reasons would be gone.

That’s how it is with any great empire before it falls.  It continues to look monumental and impregnable.  But in reality its hold on the people, its power to inspire or motivate vigorous action has dissolved.  In the US we had the family friendly fifties where churches boomed.  My own congregation can hardly breathe under the weight of the memories of the 40s through the 70s, when the parish was bursting at the seams with children and when it was difficult to get a seat at the three packed services each Sunday.

When Rome fell, people were aware that it wasn’t what it used to be.  But it was also still the most powerful and cultured political entity on earth.  Its culture never really died but instead begat those that followed.  But when the Empire dissolved, it shouldn’t have really been a surprise.  The Barbarians had been squatting in Roman land lying fallow because the patricians were too busy partying to take care of fields; they weren’t driven to procreate and raise strong sons that would manage estates, sit in the Senate, or command legions; so they enjoyed their privileges and foreigners filled the army and greasy barbarians poured in to enjoy the pleasures of the superior Roman way of life.

Then–it was gone.

That’s how it is with the church in America.  My grandparent’s generation were all Christian–at least formally–and would have identified themselves as members of one Christian denomination or another.  My parents’ generation packed the churches as their parents tried to raise them as good, God-fearing citizens and give them the happy childhood which was denied them during the depression and the 2nd World War.

Then came the 60s and 70s.  The avant garde made tatters of the cultural-Protestant expectation that young people would find a vocation, marry, raise a family, and contribute to society.  Expectations declined, and Midwestern Lutheran parents were happy if their kids didn’t get on TV smoking a joint, attending an orgy, or marching against the war.

By the 90’s, an entire generation was entering adolescence or adulthood which had not been initiated into the customs, rituals and taboos of American Everyman and Everywoman.  Most of us had a very tenuous relationship–or no familiarity at all–with American Judaeo-Christianity.  Most of us had imbibed, in large measure, the skepticism about American life that characterized our parents’ generation.  We were taught unequivocally that our history was riddled with injustice.  The racial prejudice that was part of the fabric of American life for our grandparents was an unqualified evil that made American history suspect.  Patriotism was inculcated, but as one grew older the skepticism about our history complicated any uncritical pride in our nation and flag.  It was simply an unquestionable moral truth, constantly drilled, that women and men alike should find their identity within themselves rather than in their duties to mother, father, husband, wife, children, and that both should be equally to pursue self-fulfillment with (in principle) no interference from traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, or the work proper to either sex.  Love, sex, children were components of the quest for self-discovery which was the ultimate end of all of our lives, male or female.  The idea that our lives were not our own to mold as we thought best but rather given to us, along with our vocations, so that we might love and serve our neighbor, our nation, and glorify God–anathema!

So it didn’t take much imagination to foresee a religionless UK or USA.  The pie chart above shows the breakdown of religion in the United Kingdom.  Half of the country self-identifies as having “no religion.”  20 percent of the country identifies with the established Church over which her majesty is head.

In our country, 15 percent of the country identifies as “no religion.”  This is not a shock, is it?  If you consistently prune a tree in a certain direction, how is it a shock when the tree starts to grow that way “naturally”?

For 50 or 60 years my grandparents’ generation’s values haven been being undermined in public schools and in the media.  It should no more be a surprise that a formerly protestant country is now becoming a country of no religion than it should be a surprise that more women go to college than men, or that marriage is falling into obsolescence, or that younger Americans lack the uncritical patriotism of our grandparents.  Or that we dress like proletarians not when we go to work at the factory, but when we go to a restaurant, court, church, or the White House.  Or that male and female clothing is becoming less and less distinguishable; or that families seldom eat meals together at the dinner table with the TV turned off.

For American Christians, maybe it seems like bad news.  But it’s not.  At least it’s not uniformly bad news.

First of all, though my generation was indoctrinated with feminsim and multiculturalism from childhood, and opposing ideas were suppressed–it is also true that my grandparents’ generation permitted or embraced many sins that we might not want to repeat.

Most Americans, I still think, need to do a little more interrogating of the few moral certainties we still share.  Americans still believe that freedom and equality are good.  And they are.  But they are not the only goods.  And they are not good in every circumstance, all the time, always.  For instance, Americans almost universally believe that men and women should be treated equally, and get angry if anyone starts to question what appears to be an obvious moral truth.  But this certainty has prevented us from raising questions that really should have been asked a long time ago.  If our primary concern in discussing “women’s rights” (note the framing of the debate) is the autonomy or equality of women, haven’t we created a situation in which those people who most need to cooperate are made competitors?  Might it be better to think of the relationship between the sexes another way?  Is it in the interests of children or of society as a whole to have the people who bring life into the world (together) focused on protecting their “rights” over against one another instead of working together to conceive and rear children who are a benefit to the rest of the country instead of raising kids who sneer at the notion of being part of a community and having an obligation to it–whether that community is the family, the PTA, or the nation?

But I’ve said all this before.  And there are plenty of Christians who have recognized the flaws in the moral education we received.  The Christian right would be the sort of mass-market insurrection against the mainstreaming of 60s countercultural values that was taking place in the 80s and 90s.

The problem is that this reaction, which went on when I was a kid and an adolescent, was simply an attempt to turn back the clock to a time when Christianity was still ascendant in Western Culture, at least as institutional religion.  But in 1950s America, the Christianity that continued to enjoy the benefits of being the religion of most people’s childhood and of being woven into the fabric of Western civilization–was tottering.  It wasn’t weak enough to overthrow yet.

The article above, and others I’ve read like it, says that the present willingness to embrace “no religion” as one’s religion stems from disaffection with the religious right’s efforts to fight politically against the decline of traditional morality and the rise of the morality of activists in the 60s.

We shouldn’t view this as a rejection of Christianity.  Christianity had already been rejected by many, if not the majority, in our grandparents’ day.  If you look back at the last 300 years or so of European and American history, it is apparent that Christian orthodoxy had its power broken in Europe awhile ago.  During the French Revolution the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was turned into a temple to Reason, and priests who continued to be loyal to the Pope were killed or imprisoned.  In the 1700s and 1800s in Germany many protestant pastors and seminaries were teaching a Christianity that denied that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atonement for our sins; Christianity was presented as the best form of natural human religion which could be found in every creed, which had in common that there was one God who was loving and just and required us to live morally, but did not require any sacrifice to take away sins.  In the United States, this rationalistic Christianity reared its head everywhere.  Even though revival movements continually swept through the country which  continued to proclaim the death of Jesus on the cross as the propitiation for our sins, even these tended to be conspicuous in drawing attention away from the death of Jesus to the inner experience of salvation within the penitent, and, consequently, the moral life that was supposed to result from such an experience.  Alongside of the more orthodox revival movements in America, the bastard theological offspring of English dissenters continued to develop American revisions of the Christian faith, which blended American worship of freedom, prosperity, and self-creation with certain aspects of Christianity or church life.  Thus we see the long and storied tradition of respectable, Christless self-improvement Christianity exemplified by men like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen.

We shouldn’t want to go back to that, either!

If Americans are rejecting their grandparents’ values, in which one was patriotic, generally protestant, moral but legalistic, hard-working but in denial about original sin, the bondage of the will, and the fact that the Kingdom of God does not look like a prosperous plantation or a new house in the suburbs, we should agree with them.

Not that we simply capitulate, in a dishonest way, to the hippie indoctrination that drives this rejection.  But just as it is an error to think that Christianity can be made to fit the modern American revision of morals, it’s an error to simply react against this revision.

People under forty or fifty don’t reject the religious right purely out of hatred of everything good.  They reject the religious right out of a sense of moral indignation.

It’s true that their moral compass is misguided.  But for the most part–why do teenagers tend, generally, to get riled when Christians say that homosexuality is a sin?  It’s because they believe that 1.  the most important moral duty is that you embrace who you are, not who people say you’re supposed to be and 2.  Christians are discriminating against homosexuals for being who they are.

Having incited the ire of many people about this particular topic, I have come to appreciate why this is viewed as hypocrisy.  If you are saying that someone is a sinner and condemned to hell because they are, possibly, born a certain way and choose not to suppress it, you are saying that they should suppress what they feel or desire at the deepest level of their awareness.  The question might be put this way–Who are you to tell me to turn away from the very thing that I desire and believe will make me happy?

Martin Luther would read that question this way–“Who are you to tell me that my god is an idol?”  His answer would be, “I am nobody to tell you that.  God says it in the first commandment, and requires me to love you enough to tell you the truth even if it means you hate me.”

And all that is well and good.  But if we’re going to call our society out about homosexuality, we also have to preach against our own idols.  Otherwise we are creating a righteousness of our own, drawing a line in the sand between “Church” and “World”–a line of our own making.

Surely a culture’s stance on sexual morality or its recognition of the importance of marriage, procreation, and the stability of the family unit–all these things that Christians have been crusading about politically and which this generation has found repugnant–surely these are not sufficient as markers of Christianity.  Something like traditional Christian morality held in Europe and America for a long time after Christian orthodoxy started to go on the retreat in the culture.  But these were by no means Christian societies.  That was Kierkegaard’s cry in the wilderness of 19th c. “Christian” Denmark.  Bourgeouis, world-loving businessman and clergymen filled the churches.  It was part of being a respectable person.  But Kierkegaard pointed out the joke of “Christian” Denmark in the 1800s.  There were a whole lot of respectable Christians who would never think of selling what they had and giving it to the poor and following Jesus; the whole point of being a Christian Dane was to be a successful, prosperous, well-thought-of member of society, whereas Jesus’ call was to follow Him outside the camp, to take one’s place among the cast out and damned, carrying one’s own death, rejection, and utter humiliation upon one’s back.

That can hardly be done by making fortifications at this or that moral law and saying to the culture, “Here we stand!  This law, at least, has to be upheld in our society!”

What, so we can get back to the golden days of Kierkegaard’s Denmark?  Or the high water mark of morality in Christendom, which would have been–when?  The middle ages, when popes and priests had concubines?  The Reformation, when Luther tells us the peasants were drunken swine and the lords were murderous thieves?

Maybe the Christians were moral in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd centuries.  But then they had no say in politics.  They didn’t mobilize voting blocs and political fundraisers to get Caesar to put a stop to infanticide.

I’m not saying that Christians should not be politically involved.  Probably, being politically engaged is part of being a faithful Christian.

But we have a better opportunity put in front of us by our society that would rather affiliate with “no religion” than with Christianity seen as militants seeking to uphold the moral norms of the America of the recent past.

Our opportunity is to stop drawing lines between the “Church” and the “World,” and stop fortifying ourselves for a war, and become guilty of the sins of the world.  Allow ourselves to be killed rather than try to protect ourselves.  That was the main political action of Christians before Constantine, wasn’t it?  To live quietly until required to make sacrifice to Caesar or Roman gods.  And then to lovingly bear witness to Jesus Christ and refuse to worship Caesar.  And then to allow their blood to be spilled rather than seek vengeance.

If our society no longer thinks that homosexuality is wrong, what blame do we bear in that?  Don’t we bear some blame because we didn’t diligently teach our own children the ten commandments?  Because we didn’t love our neighbors enough to put aside self-seeking and seek their salvation?  Because we retreated when it was time for judgment to begin in the house of God, and we tolerated divorce outside the situations in which Scripture permits it?

I have failed so often as a pastor and as a Christian because I wanted to maintain my claims to righteousness in the flesh–well, I’m not as chaste as I should be (that is, completely chaste), but at least I’m not shacking up with my girlfriend…I’m an imperfect pastor in many ways, but at least I don’t teach contrary to my ordination vows. etc.

How sad it is that we come to our brothers this way.  Our society now openly admits what before it hid–that it isn’t Christian.  Instead of pity and patience with ignorance and weakness, I usually react with anger and force.  Which still means, I’m in the right here.

I imagine that when Peter or Paul came with the Gospel, it must have struck people that they came preaching the crucified Christ whom at one time they denied or persecuted.  They were not irritated with the Gentiles for worshipping idols or practicing sexual immorality.  “How could you be so stupid!  You mean to honestly tell me that you didn’t think it was wrong to participate in fornication with prostitutes in order to honor a stone statue that looks like a bull?”  But that’s what Christians sometimes are like; or they’re trying to get everyone to vote to make it so that people who don’t know God can’t do the things that they like doing.

And when Jesus came preaching the gospel?  He had a reason to get angry with sinners, especially when they talked back or mocked him or threatened His life.  But instead He made His innocence ours and our sin His.

That was why the Gentiles who worshipped idols suddenly changed–because Christ bore our sins, and because the message was not concerning a better law or simply a better religion.  It was in some sense the end of religion and certainly the end of the law.  “Christ is the end of the Law that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”  “Through the Law I died to the Law that I might live to God.”  “Therefore my brothers, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit to God.”

Somewhere Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about “religionless Christianity.”  In some ways the growth of “no religion” in the US is a positive development; perhaps the cross meets less resistance among religionless people than religious.  After all, when the Church began, it probably was difficult to think of something less “religious” than the cross.  Maybe that is the reason that the cross and its theology continues to find it hard to live in the Church–both in churches where “religion” is not a dirty word, and still more in churches that claim to have “no religion.”

Father, Forgive them, For They Know Not

April 7, 2012 1 comment

Good Friday—Tenebrae vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

The seven last words of Jesus

April 6, 2012


The first.  “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”


To bear witness to the truth is to suffer.  To serve as a priest is to make the sins of others your own and to go on their behalf before God who is displeased.


Jesus, our God, holy and mighty, is being killed by us.  And as He allows us our rage, our “righteous wrath”, as He allows us to inflict injury on Him, our God, He prays for us.  He pleads.  “They don’t know what they’re doing.  Forgive them.  They don’t know.”


If you could get a mother who harmed her child to speak honestly with you and bare her pain, she would say, “Oh God, I didn’t know what I was doing.”  I didn’t see how my behavior changed because of my addiction and how I hurt them.  I didn’t realize what I was doing to my baby; all I knew was that I was scared.


If we become aware that we have sinned against God’s church, it is the same.  “I didn’t know!” 


On judgment day many we will realize how all of our actions were actions toward Jesus.  When our brothers in the Church are in need and we say, “I don’t have time, I don’t have energy, I don’t want to take the risk,” it is Jesus we are saying that about…Jesus who is being crucified.  We didn’t know, the Roman soldiers will say, that we were nailing God to the cross.


I didn’t know that all my harsh words, all the cruel things I said and thought that I felt justified about because of the injuries against me—I didn’t know that I was doing violence to Jesus.


But we are.  If Jesus had not put Himself in the position for us to harm Him God would have crushed us for all our “justified” sins.


So let us no longer say, “I didn’t know,” but look at what you have been doing.  And then you will see that Jesus is not angry with you for what you have done.  He has been praying for your forgiveness.


See Jesus, Your God, suffering Your wrath and praying for you.  Seeing this makes you a priest who understands what it is to be a sinner, and a witness to such sinners of God’s salvation.  Seeing His priesthood—His praying for you while you attack Him?  It changes everything. 

It makes you no longer God, no longer Caesar, no longer Pilate, condemned to flog and crucify Jesus to save his own marginal life.  No longer a soldier killing and robbing under the cloak of the law.  No longer Peter, who says he wants to die with Jesus, but is ashamed of him and deserts him to die alone.  To hear Jesus pray for you while you hammer the nails into his hands, to realize that all along you have been after His life–and He is not demanding vengeance but pleading that you would live–

It makes you a priest like Him, who offers Himself up and saves those who hate Him. It makes you a king as He is a King, whose majesty is not outward trappings and an army, but that He wins the hearts of His enemies.

Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.  Colossians 3: 12-15

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Or were you too busy having a beer with Caiaphas and making snotty jokes about Galilean piety?

April 7, 2012 4 comments

The "Bad Thief" crucified on a tree ...

This post just got me thinking about what Jesus would have had to say if He had dropped in on any number of conversations I’ve participated in or led or instigated with other ultra-orthodox confessional Lutheran pastors who make our collars wide and our shirts and pants blacker than darkness in Old Adam’s heart.

For instance, how many times have you heard a confessional Lutheran guerilla point out that “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” is a crummy hymn because the answer to the question is, “No,” and instead of trying to get back and be there when they crucified my Lord we should go to the sacrament of the altar where Jesus gives us the body and blood that was offered for us on the cross?

I’m chief of sinners here.  I like the sense of purpose that comes from being part of a movement or an insurgency.  I’ve gone on the crusades, and I’ve repeated the latest arguments and slogans and found comfort in wearing a uniform and marching in formation.  But all too often confessional Lutherans (in the LCMS anyway) embrace slogans or frequently repeated shibboleths as if they were real theology.  Slogans and shibboleths are useful for simplifying things in order to rally the troops against an enemy.  But if that’s all our theology is–one slogan after another seeking to draw unmistakeable battle lines so that we know which side we’re supposed to fight for at all times–I fear that the devil is leading us around by the nose in order to discredit the very thing we want to fight for.

The example of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” illustrates this.  Now the confessional Lutherans have a point.  It’s imperative that we look for Jesus in the right place.  Luther is the one who came up with this in the first place.  We don’t try to go back to the cross.  We go to the sacrament of the altar.  Besides, even if you were standing on Golgotha right next to St. John, the death of Jesus happening in front of your eyes would be no benefit to you without the word of the Gospel that offers Jesus’ suffering to you as for you.

But at the same time, were the slaves who created this hymn so stupid that they actually thought that they lived in 30 AD?  Or is it that we are liable to be adolescent, arrogant, uncharitable, and so pedantic that we cannot tolerate any poetry in Christianity and are deaf and blind to the work of the Holy Spirit in those who do not have formal education, or who lack refinement?

No, we were not there.  But the slaves who sang this song were not talking about teleporting to 1st century Judea.  They were talking about meditation on Christ’s passion.

Admittedly the hymn is not teaching doctrine.  What it is asking us to do is meditate–imagine–Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  No.  But shouldn’t I hear the passion story and recognize myself?  Doesn’t the passion narrative interpret us in this way?  Is this ancient history that really has nothing to do with me?  Or when I hear about Peter warming himself by the fire while Jesus is being tried–doesn’t the Word of God put me into the story?  I may as well have been Peter.  How many times have I gotten comfortable and tried to blend in with those who hate Jesus?  And it leads me to ask–where is Jesus being accused right now?  How is He hidden here and I, like the people in the passion story–don’t recognize him?

We hear about Pilate–as pastors–and we see his difficulty.  If he does what is right, what he knows to be right (even though he pretends like his hands are tied and it’s somebody else’s fault), he’s going to have trouble.  So he tries all kinds of ways to avoid killing Jesus–everything he can think of to avoid putting him to death without facing a potential riot, ruining his career, perhaps putting his own safety in jeopardy if angering the chief priests got him on Caesar’s bad side.  But nothing works.  So he either has to get his name in the creed as the one who condemns the Son of God to die as a rebel…or suffer.  And what pastor has never experienced this in his congregation?  So when have I put Jesus to death, or denied him?  Or worse yet, when have I been Caiaphas and decided that Jesus was worthy of contempt because of his naive, fanatical rejection of all concessions to the way things really work in this world and his continual attacks on my fabricated righteousness where I insist on certain laws of God and make up rules and interpretations so that the laws that are too hard to keep or that I don’t want to keep don’t apply to me?

Jesus Led from Caiaphas to Pilate

Jesus Led from Caiaphas to Pilate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All this is is meditation on Christ’s passion.  This is how instead of hearing the passion narrative as the story of some guy who died a long time ago I hear it as a story that reveals who and what I am.  Luther has a famous sermon about meditation on Christ’s passion in the Church postil that tells us–in a more comprehensive way–to do what “Were You there” is trying to move us to do.  And Lutheran hymns continually exhort us to meditate on Christ’s passion too… Read more…

Good Friday, Hauptgottesdienst: To Bear Witness to the Truth

Good Friday—Chief Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

John 18-19, Is. 53

“To Bear Witness to the Truth”

April 6, 2012


Dear brothers and sisters for Whom Jesus was willing to die upon the cross;

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

Text: For this reason I was born and for this reason I came into this world: to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.  Pilate said: What is truth?


Intro: Pilate’s question is the question of human beings; it is the question of those who have lies as their native language…after Satan.  Not simply those we regard as evil, but also those we regard as moral and upstanding people, people who try their best.


What is truth?  Pilate asks Jesus this question.  But he is not looking for an answer.  He doesn’t want to know.  He is speaking to the Truth.  When we ask this question, we are also addressing Jesus.  Whoever asks this question questions Jesus.  It is the question of the flesh that wants to excuse disobedience to God.  “Did God really say?”


This question is raised in the Church all the time.  We want to be free to have our own interpretations of Scripture and to say that Scripture is not clear about this matter and that.


“there is no one righteous, not even one…they all have turned aside, their lips speak lies, the poison of asps is under their lips…” says Paul in Romans.  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth in their wickedness.”


Do you see how everyone seems to understand that Jesus really is the King of the Jews?  Pilate does but seeks to put the blame for killing Jesus on the Jews.  The priests are not questioning so much whether Jesus is the Messiah but whether they will be able to keep their position, land, temple.


We know.  The world knows…there is a God who made us, but we have preferred our own ways.


We do not want to come into the light, into the truth, says Jesus “because our deeds are evil and we do not want them to be exposed.”  But Jesus calls: “If you keep my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”


Jesus witnesses to the truth  about (1) and (2)


  1. 1.       About us in sin and death.
    1. The ugliness of sin
    2. The awful darkness of death that we try to hide from.  If Christ is not raised….
      1.                                                               i.      The reason for the disciples despair and ours in the face of death
    3. Our bondage:
      1.                                                               i.      I did my best!
      2.                                                             ii.      Peter’s best—denial.  Joseph of Arimathea’s best.
      3.                                                           iii.      Paul’s best—persecuting the church.
      4.                                                            iv.      Our best puts Christ to death.
  2. 2.       Of life and salvation for us in Christ.
    1.  I am He—
      1.                                                               i.      The Lord, YHWH, is who allows Himself to be arrested and condemned for us.
      2.                                                             ii.      I am—from Whom all that exists and is real comes…and in my suffering I bear your lies and your disintegration and death.
    2.  Behold the man
      1.                                                               i.      Behold the new Adam
      2.                                                             ii.      Adam sinned, and we sinned in him, but God covered Adam’s shame, and did not give him death or judgment but mercy
      3.                                                           iii.      Jesus, the sinless second Adam, is exposed to the crowd, to shame, to hatred, suffering, cries for his condemnation…he is the substitute for Adam and his children
      4.                                                            iv.      And makes us “a new creation”, as the Epistle said.  The old has gone, the new has come.
    3. He has to die because he made himself the son of God
      1.                                                               i.      Jesus is the true Son of God.  That is the crime for which He dies.
      2.                                                             ii.      He dies for the truth saying that He is God’s Son.
      3.                                                           iii.      Ever since Cain fallen people have presumed to be sons of God by their own effort…
      4.                                                            iv.      This false holiness is murderous…because when we believe we are righteous then we are right to judge.
      5.                                                              v.      The True Son of God is the opposite—He is judged and sacrificed for those who sin against Him.
    4. This is Jesus, the King of the Jews
      1.                                                               i.      The holy people called to be God’s own reject their king and kill Him lest He strip them of their confidence in their status as Jews.
      2.                                                             ii.      But this is what it always meant to be the King of the Jews—
      3.                                                           iii.      It meant to be the one who saves, who crushes the serpent’s head and whose heel is bruised.
      4.                                                            iv.      “Did not the Christ have to suffer and then enter His glory?”  So says all of the Law and the Prophets.
      5.                                                              v.      The King of the Jews was always going to be the one whose face was marred beyond human semblance, who was going to be despised and rejected as one stricken by God, one who would not be esteemed or pleasing to His own people (or to the Gentiles, for the most part)—because His suffering and weakness is not attractive or beautiful to the flesh.
      6.                                                            vi.      The King of the Jews was always going to be the one whom “it pleased God to crush” and to put to grief; he was always going to be the one whose soul was made an offering for sin in order to justify many
    5. The glory of righteousness and truth
      1.                                                               i.      He was despised and rejected
      2.                                                             ii.      The world rewards liars and the wicked, so those who are true get cross and cast out.
    6.  The true way sin and death and God’s wrath is taken away—Jesus’ suffering, alone
    7. The truth of our salvation’s completion.  It is finished



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