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“God for us: Manger, Cross, and Altar”. New Year’s Eve Sermon.

December 31, 2012 3 comments

lorenzo-lotto-nativity with crucifixNew Years’ Eve

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 8:31-39

December 31, 2012

“God is for us…in the manger, on the cross, on the altar”

Jesu juva.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:

It is the end of another year.  2012.  How quickly it has passed!

Wisdom would lead us to ask, as the year ends—how did 2012 go?  Not merely, “How did it go in my eyes”.  Did I make money, did I prosper, although, that would be a good thing to take stock of, too.  How was I blessed this year?

But also, “How did I live?  How was my life in the sight of God?”  To answer that question, we need to ask God to give us His Holy Spirit so that we see our lives correctly.  Then we look into the past year on one hand and into the law of God, the ten commandments, on the other.  “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” we could say to God.  “Please show me, Father in heaven, how you see the way that I lived during 2012.  Show me what I need forgiveness for and what you want to change; what wrongs I’ve done that I should make amends with my neighbor for and not carry with me through another year.”

To ask God for this is a humbling and frightening thing.  No wonder so many people get drunk tonight!  Most of us have plenty to regret.  On top of that, the older we are, the more clear it becomes that we are no better than our forefathers.  We are getting old just like them.  Just like them, our lives are unlikely to make the history books.  And even if they did, what then?  Famous people and successful people die just the same as people whom time causes to be forgotten.

Wisdom would have us not let a day go by where we do not take stock of our thoughts, words, and deeds before the day is out, so that we may not carry one day’s sin and anger into the next, but bring them all to the heavenly Father and leave them with Him.

Very few of us are that wise, however.  We think little of the time we waste when we are young, and when we start to get old enough to realize that life is short and we are not guaranteed tomorrow—by then it is too late to get back what we have thrown away.  The lessons that I should have learned when I was a teenager and which I have still not learned—I must still learn them.  Who knows what good I might have done if I had learned them younger—who knows what blessings that will last for eternity I threw away for the sake of ease on earth that passed so quickly?

When we go home tonight, and tomorrow as the new year begins, it would be a wise thing for us to ask God to help us examine the life we have led in the past, and to guide us into those things that please Him in the year to come.

But all of that is a waste of energy unless we can answer with a yes the question that Paul raises in Romans chapter 8.   He does not phrase it as a question, but it is a question we must be able to answer nonetheless.  What Paul says is, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  The answer to that question is “No one.”  That is a beautiful answer to be able to give.  “No one can be against me.”

But that answer, and the further blessings that Paul lays out at the end of Romans 8, belong only to those who do not say, “If God is for me,” but “God is for me!”

If God is for us…

  1. 1.         Is God for us?
  2. 2.       What hope and blessing do we carry into the New Year if God is for us?

Is God for us?

We just celebrated Christmas.  The baby who was born was called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”  His name is “Jesus.”  Jesus means “the Lord Saves.”   God became man because God is for us.  God is on our side.  That is why Paul says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?”

But if it is so certain that God is for us, why do we still hear threats of His wrath?  Why is there a hell?

God has shown that He is for us in the incarnation of Jesus.  But most people don’t believe that the baby Jesus is God for them.  They look at Christ crucified and don’t see God for them.

They look at their own suffering and don’t believe that God is for them.

That is what Isaiah is talking about in His gloomy words in the Old Testament reading (Is. 30:8-17).  God was for the people of Israel.  But they didn’t believe it.  They didn’t believe that the way that the Lord promised to save them would work.

So they did what they thought had to be done.  If the Lord didn’t seem to help them, they hedged their bets and started worshipping other gods too.  The Lord didn’t seem to be helping them, so they made an alliance with Egypt and counted on the nation that once held them as slaves to defend them against enemies that seemed poise to destroy them.

Then when the prophets came and said in the name of the Lord, “This is not going to work.  Trust in the Lord only.  Find rest in Him only.  Forget about Egypt.  The Lord is much mightier than Egypt.  He is all you need.”  The people of Israel said, “We don’t want to hear that.  Stop preaching the Word of the Holy One of Israel.  Stop confronting us with Him.  Tell us smooth things.”

The problem wasn’t that they sinned.  God would rebuke them for their sins, and then forgive them when they repented.  It was that they didn’t want to quit.  They didn’t want to give up their idols.  They were afraid not to make an alliance with Egypt.  They didn’t think that the Lord would be good to them. They didn’t think that He was for them.

So they said, “Stop telling us what the Lord says.”

The end result was the same thing it always is.  God is for you.  Because He is for you, He does not let our rebellion against Him go unpunished.

If you have sin that you want to hang on to, God is for you in Christ, but you refuse Him being for you.

Whatever your sin is, let it go.  Whatever you have going on that gives you an uncertain conscience, quit it until you have a sure conscience.

God is for you in Christ.  If it is a choice between Christ and something else…

If God is for us, what then?

Who can be against us?  No one.

Would God hold anything back from you if He didn’t spare His Son?

But I have idols I keep returning to.

Repent and believe that God did not spare His Son because He wants you as His own.  The fact that you recognize it and wish to do so no longer is repentance.  Jesus is for you no matter what, but only sinners come to Him.

Who will accuse you?  God has justified you.

Who will condemn you?  Christ intercedes for you at the right hand of God.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

We can be separated from earthly peace

From our lives and all the things we have in this world

We cannot be separated from the love of Christ.  No one can snatch us from His hand.

That is the confidence in which we enter the new year.  When we look at the law and examine ourselves, we will find sin from which we cannot free ourselves.

Hope is in Jesus only.  In Him God is for us.

God is for you in the manger–not against You.

He is for you on the cross.

He is for you in His body and blood on the altar.

He is for you.  He is certain.  So certain that you know every week when you come back here what He will say: Your sins are forgiven.  My body and blood for you.

His name is the same name that was put on you in Baptism, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The name that swallows your sins.  The God who gave His Son, who became man for you and redeemed You, the God Who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens You with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith.

You cannot sin in such a way that your sins are more powerful than Christ’s love.  When He pledges His love to you in Word and Sacrament, does He lie to you?  Does He lie to you about the forgiveness of Your sins, about His gracious heart toward You?  Does He lie when He says that He is for you?

Then whatever evil things the devil may say about you (and they may all be true)–do not also believe him when he slanders Jesus and says that Jesus will allow you to be snatched from His hand.  “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”  He says He loves You; let Him be true and every man a liar.  If He loves You and is not lying, then He cannot let anything take His love from you, whether suffering, or your sin, or the devil and the principalities and powers that hijack God’s world but soon will be destroyed.  Nothing is strong enough to take Jesus out of the manger or off the cross or away from you in the Gospel and Sacraments where He is for you.  I baptize You, He said.  I forgive you all your sins, He said a few minutes ago.  This is my body, for you, my blood, for you, He has pledged all the years of your life, and will still this year.

No one is strong enough to make Him take back those words.

In Him is our justification and the renewal of our hearts.  In Him we can look at the past year and not flinch, because we see our sins and the law through His wounded body.

Look at the law and the year past, and then look at Jesus in which you see God for you.

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

Soli Deo Gloria.

The Lord’s Salvation is Outside Us. Christmas 1 sermon.

December 30, 2012 5 comments

simeonFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:22-40

December 30, 2012

“The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us”

 

Jesu juva.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

On Christmas Eve the epistle reading from Titus said that “the grace of God” trains us to renounce “ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people… who are zealous for good works.”  (Titus 2:11-14)

 

The proper fruit of receiving God’s grace and salvation is a godly life.  Jesus died for us not so that we could sin without worrying about it, but so that we would be a people who are zealous to do good.

 

It is a great error that is causing incredible destruction in the Church to think that Jesus’ death for our sins means we now no longer should insist on any rules or standards in our homes, in society, and in the Church.  It is true that religious people who are good about following the rules can easily become judgmental and self-righteous, like the Pharisees.  But that does not mean that the rules should be gotten rid of. 

 

You should go to Divine Service and hear God’s Word every Sunday and at other times when it is offered where your calling does not prevent you—that should be expected, while at the same time we do not look down on our brothers who falter in this area, but instead seek their blessing.  You should learn your catechism by heart. You should have regular prayer and meditation on God’s Word in your homes while not despising and alienating brothers who have not yet learned to do this. It isn’t wrong for the church to set standards like this.  In fact it is loving.

 

The church is not sinning when it requires you to behave with reverence in church.  It wasn’t a sin a few decades ago when Missouri Synod churches expected people who wanted communion to announce and be examined by the pastor beforehand.  This was not legalism.  It was discipline.  Our fathers in the faith knew well that outward discipline did not save people.  But they also knew well how easily order in the home, state, and church could be destroyed by people claiming the freedom of the Gospel as their license to ignore good works and live in sin.

 

The gospel reading shows us today how the godly people who were waiting for the Messiah lived.  They kept the requirements of the law, like Mary and Joseph, even though the baby in their arms was the Lord of the law who fulfilled the law and who would make the law’s requirements for purification after childbirth unnecessary.  They continued in their lowly callings in Nazareth as carpenter, husband, wife, and mother, even though they were told by the prophets in Jerusalem that their child was the glory of Israel—that is, the Lord God in the flesh.  Simeon spent his life watching and praying for the Lord to send His salvation.  Anna lived as a widow for over 80 years and spent her life in the temple, constantly praying and fasting.  Why did they go to all this trouble?  Not because they were trying to save themselves, but because it was God’s will that they walk in His commandments.  And because they believed God’s grace would come and that God therefore forgave all their sins, they gladly sought to live in the righteousness that He had given them in His Word.

 

This needs to be said because we live in a time where many people think the grace of God is license to sin and live an undisciplined life.  How wicked our old Adam is, that he would try to use the grace of God as license and freedom to sin! 

 

But at the same time we have another temptation.  When we recognize our sin and ungodliness we begin to say to ourselves, “I’ll just try harder.”  Or we see our continual failures in leading a godly life and we begin to despair and think that we are not saved or perhaps were never saved.

 

You should indeed repent of your sins and seek to do them no more.  Wherever you neglect prayer, you should repent and seek to do so no longer.  If you have been negligent in hearing and learning His word, you should turn away from your sin.

 

But fear of God’s wrath and the desire to turn away from sin and live a new life will not save us, nor will it in the long run enable us to change sinful habits—to become diligent and blameless in our callings, to pray and learn God’s Word.  Only faith in the Savior does that.  And that is not something human beings can do.

 

For this reason Simeon’s song is full of comfort for us who have tried to amend our sinful lives but remain sinners.  The Nunc Dimittis, which we sing after communion each week, proclaims

 

            The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us.

 

  1. 1.        Jesus is God in the flesh—the glory of Israel, the light for revelation to the Gentiles—and He alone is the Lord’s salvation.

The glory of Israel—the promised one—and the glory in the cloud and fire

 

A light for revelation—again, Simeon is saying that this baby is God.

 

Simeon is ready to die because he has seen the Lord’s salvation.  He has God’s Word.  This child is the Lord God in the flesh.

  1. 2.       The Lord’s salvation is an accomplished fact given in this little child.

 

He speaks of salvation as something done.

 

He undertakes a great exchange,

Puts on our human frame

And in return gives us His realm

His glory and His name.

 

My flesh is not completely renewed in me.  But in Him it is perfectly renewed.

In Him it is finished.

  1. 3.       Therefore devout Christians pray and watch and look only for Him, and thus participate in His kingdom and do good works.

 

“This is the work of God—that you believe in the one He has sent.”  (John 6)

 

“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will make known to them His covenant.”  (Psalm 25?  91?)

 

Why did Simeon pray and watch for God’s kingdom to come, if God had promised it?

 

When He gives us salvation, God invites us to participate in His kingdom and act as His friends—to pray for Him to fulfill His promise and do His work.

 

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke about his exodus  at the transfiguration.

 

We don’t know all that God has planned, so we can’t see in the things that He brings about in our lives how he means to do us good or accomplish His purposes. 

 

We do know that this child will be a sign that is spoken against, and that a sword will pierce the souls of those who love Him.  He is spoken against because we say to trust Him alone and not our works.

 

When this happens, we pray, knowing His ultimate purposes even if we don’t know what is happening in our lives, what his purpose is there.  Cf.  mary and Joseph, who didn’t really understand how this was all going to work out.  There was no coronation ceremony; they went back to Nazareth.

 

Like Simeon, He takes us into His counsel.  Like Moses, sometimes he gives us a glimpse of the promised land.  Like Anna, He uses us to bear witness and encourage and to bring blessing. 

Like Simeon, we take up the Lord’s salvation physically.  He comes to us in His body and blood, according to His Word. 

And then even if we do not see how all the Lord’s plans work together for good for those who love God, we see His salvation–the glory of Israel in our human flesh–our righteousness and holiness, given into death for our sins, given to us Christians to eat and drink under the bread and wine.

Amen.

Jihadis Claim 780 Lives in Nigeria, 2012

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

780 people died this year in attacks by Boko Haram, the jihadist group in Nigeria that claims as justification for its killing the Islamic teaching about jihad, or holy war, according to this article:

Nigerian Catholic church in capital city of Abuja, where the priest and 4 parishioners were shot and killed during Christmas Eve mass. Then the church was set on fire.  On Christmas Eve, 2012, a similar attack happened on an Evangelical church during its Christmas Eve services.  Several parishioners and the pastor were shot and killed, and the church was set on fire.

Nigerian Catholic church in capital city of Abuja, where the priest and 4 parishioners were shot and killed during Christmas Eve mass. Then the church was set on fire. On Christmas Eve, 2012, a similar attack happened on an Evangelical church during its Christmas Eve services. Several parishioners and the pastor were shot and killed, and the church was set on fire.

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/world/afrfifteen-tied-up-and-killed-in-nigeria/story-fnd140321226545187834?sv=98b621943446e2a86643dc4ef3906cfe#.UN8c7sRSVRk.twitter

Please keep the Lutheran Church in Nigeria in your prayers, along with all Christians in Nigeria and the whole nation, particularly those bereaved.  Also pray for Muslims, particularly those who are convinced that it is a holy duty to kill their enemies.

The 12 Nigerian states with Sharia law

The 12 Nigerian states with Sharia law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was at school, there was a pastor from Nigeria named Michael A.  who was getting a Ph. D. in missiology.  Oftentimes when I hear numbers representing people killed in other parts of the world, it’s easy for it not to register.  But when you know someone there, it makes you slow down and think about it.  780 dead in one year.  God help Nigeria and the churches there, and have mercy also on the killers and turn their hearts.

Here are some links to and excerpts from recent news from Nigeria:

Boko Haram killings increase in West Africa

More than 770 people have been killed in a spate of Boko Haram attacks in Western Africa and seem to be growing more violent.
The radical fighters gather around piles of weapons and ammunition and shout praises to God as they shoot into the expanse of the African desert. These extremists depicted in this video are from Boko Haram, a radical sect in Nigeria, that turned to wide-scale violence in 2009 over local grievances and largely focused their assaults in Maiduguri – the city where the sect started.

As Boko Haram seems to be growing more violent with a record number of people killed this year, and slowly internationalising its stance, the group has become a possible danger for the rest of West Africa.

Previous attacks In 2009, rioting by Boko Haram set off a military crackdown that left 700 people dead in Maiduguri. Army tanks destroyed the sect’s Maiduguri mosque and Yusuf was killed in police custody.

Over time Boko Haram has grown far more sophisticated, bombing the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and launching massive, military-style assaults like the one that killed at least 185 people in Kano in January.

Soldiers have been deployed in the streets across north-east Nigeria but Boko Haram has repeatedly used suicide car bombers to attack churches and security posts.

The sect has said it will stop its attacks only if the government strictly implements Shariah law and frees its imprisoned members.

US army general and commander of the US military’s Africa command, Carter Ham said on Monday that while Boko Haram appears focused on local issues it could become a greater worldwide threat if left unchecked. Ham said the group has already received training, money and weaponry from al-Qaeda in Maghreb as part of “a relationship that goes both ways”.

“It is clear to me that Boko Haram’s leadership aspires to broader activities across the region – certainly to Europe,” Ham said at George Washington University.

“As their name implies, anything that is Western is a legitimate target in their eyes. I think it’s in our national interest to help the Nigerians address this problem internally before it gets worse and the organisation has an ability to further expand their efforts.”

“Did jihad stop? No, a thousand no’s,” Shekau said, according to a translation by the Search for International Terrorist Entities Intelligence Group. “Jihad doesn’t stop until Allah wills it to be stopped, and with the glory of Allah the almighty, oh disbelievers, oh apostates, oh hypocrites, die from your frustration.”

Nigeria gunmen kill six at Christmas mass, burn church

  • From:         AAP
  • December 25, 201210:58PM

Read more…

“Christ is the real reality of humanity before God”

December 28, 2012 1 comment

st pat crucifix color closeup 3This is from an old post from Dr. Jack Kilcrease’s blog.  I like the way that he puts it so much I feel like there is a hymn or a poem about to emerge from it.

http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-basic-ontic-flaw-in-rejection-of.html

With this, therefore, we observe the basic ontic flaw in the logic of those who
rejection of objective justification.  Objective justification assumes that
Christ is the real reality of humanity before God.  Our justification is not
therefore a legal fiction because righteousness is not a predicate of our being,
but something that exists outside of ourselves already actualized in Christ.
This is true irrespective of our faith.  What those reject objective
justification assume is that being righteous means possessing a certain quality
in our being.  The predicate “righteousness” cannot be recognized coram Deo unless faith
is first present.  If faith is present, God can now predicate the quality of
righteousness present in Christ to person who has now accepted and received this
predicate into their being- though of course in this case by imputation  rather
than by renewal (as in RC theology).  … In this theology, I am an individual, centered
entity, existing on my own.  Likewise, so is Christ.  The only thing that
connects the various qualities present in our beings is faith which prompts
God’s imputation.
… The point is rather that the subjective justification brought
about by faith is not a legal fiction or the convergence of two centered
entities by an arbitrary judgment of God.  Rather, since Christ is the being of
my being, having faith means to cease to be self-alienated from my true self
which is to be found in the person of Christ.  The essence of sin is the be (as
Augustine says) curved in on one’s self.  One’s true being is external to one’s
self in God’s address.  Adam was “very good” because God continuously gave him
the good by his sustaining Word and he passively received it.  We now passively
receive the good every moment of every day and yet we are not good because he do
not praise God and therefore reject his grace in creation.  In the same way, the
person of my person is Christ and yet if I remain unbelieving, I am alienated
from my true reality before God in Christ.  I am rejecting God’s grace in
creation and redemption, and consequently I will be judged.  Faith therefore
simply means coming to my true self as God has actualized in a new narrative of
creation in Christ.

Related Links

http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com

Luther On Spirits and Communication with the Dead: Epiphany Sermon

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

luther cranach248. But what does this Gospel teach? In the first place, these wise men did not inquire after the chief priests and do not ask: Where is Annas or Caiaphas, or how did this or that man live? But they ask: Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Yes, Christ permits them, as a warning to us, to go astray and to seek him in Jerusalem in the holy city among the priests, the learned and the royalty. He is not found in the holy place nor in the holy customs. Nor did they receive as an answer any human opinions, but only what the Scriptures say about Christ, which alone are to be sought among the holy people and in holy places.

49. Sufficient examples are here given to show us that disregarding all human works, teachings, comments and life we should be mindful only of the clear Scriptures, and as to the life and teachings of the saints preserve the right not to rake or snatch up everything that they teach or live, but rather to sit in judgment on these things and accept with discretion only that which is compatible with the Scriptures. But what is their own, without Scripture proof, we should consider as human inventions and avoid, as St. Paul teaches: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thess. 5, 21. Moses has also indicated this, Levit. 11, 3, Deut. 14, 6, where he describes clean and unclean beasts, that all animals which are not cloven footed and ruminant are unclean. These are the men who are not cloven footed, who spend their lives carelessly, rake up whatever comes before them and follow it. But the clean animals are those men who by the spirit act with discretion in all external things and doctrines. Whatever they see harmonizing with the Scriptures they keep, but whatever is without Scriptural foundation and mere human inventions they dismiss, no matter how great and famous the saints who taught it may be. For no saint has been so perfect as to be free from flesh and blood, or the continued struggle with flesh and blood, so that it is scarcely possible that all their teachings and works were spiritually perfect and are to be accepted as examples. Human nature and reason often concurred in their work, and these are not to be trusted at all. Hence Moses commands us to be cloven footed and Paul to discern the spirits and not to accept all the works and doings of men.

 

52. They then meddled even with the work of the devil and followed the example of the souls or spirits appearing and praying for help and believed everything that these spirits said without fear or hesitation. Thus the mass, i. e. the Lord’s Supper, has been so abused by saying mass for souls in purgatory and by the selling of indulgences, that the whole world by shedding tears of blood day and night could not bewail it sufficiently. Thus the devil has permitted himself to be conjured and constrained to reveal the truth and has turned our faith and sacrament into play and mockery to his own liking. All this is the result and reward of our overcuriousness, which has not been satisfied with the Scriptures of God and has made our true and faithful God and Father a fool and clown, who pretends to teach us by his Word and yet does not care to teach us that which we ought and necessarily need to know. For this reason he serves us right in permitting us to become the devil’s pupils, inasmuch as we despised his school.

 

53. But you say: Should we then deny that wandering spirits go astray and seek for help? Answer: Let wander who will, you listen to what God commands. If you hold all these spirits in suspicion, you are not sinning; but if you hold some of them to be genuine and honest, you are already in danger of erring. And why? Because God does not want you to seek and learn the truth from the dead. He himself wants to be your living and all sufficient teacher. To his Word you should cling. He knows best what to tell you about the living and the dead, for he knows all things. But whatever he does not want to tell you, you should not desire to know, and give him the honor to believe that he knows what is not necessary, profitable nor good for you to know.

 

54. Therefore you should freely and unhesitatingly cast all such ghostly apparitions to the winds and not be afraid of them; they will then leave you in peace. And should it seem, that perhaps in your house you hear a hobgoblin or rumbling spirit, then make no ado about it, but be assured that it can not be a good spirit come from God. Make the sign of the cross and firmly hold to your faith. Has he been sent by God to chastise you, like Job, then be ready to endure it willingly, but should it be the spirit’s own sport, then defy him by strong faith and joyfully depend on God’s Word. Depend upon it he will not attack that. However, I hold that none of these hobgoblins are ordained of God to molest us, but it is their own mischief to terrify the people, because they have no longer any power to harm. If they had any power to harm, they would surely not engage in much racketing, but do their evil work before you could be aware who had done it. But if a good spirit were to visit you, it would not occur with such noise and frivolity. Do this and manifest strong faith and you will find that such a spirit is not of God, and will cease its work. If you have not such faith, then he will have easy work, for then God’s Word which alone he fears is not with you.

 

55. The words of the Scriptures upon which you should boldly rely are Luke 16, 29, where Abraham said to Dives in hell, who desired the departed Lazarus to be sent to his brothers living on earth, but Abraham refusing to do this, said: ”They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” From these words it is plain that God will not have us taught by the dead, but have us abide in his Word. Therefore, no matter how and where a spirit comes to you, do not ask whether he be good or evil, but bravely, quickly and defiantly cast into his teeth the words: ”they have Moses and the prophets,” and he will soon understand what you mean. Is it a good spirit, he will only love you the more for adhering so gladly and firmly to the Word of your God. Is it an evil spirit, as are all those that are noisy, he will soon bid you adieu. Again, another word of God is spoken by Moses in Deut. 18, 11: ”When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through fire, one that useth divination, one that practiceth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” Here, you are told that it is an abomination in the sight of God to consult the dead or the spirits, and it is strictly forbidden. To this word of Moses Abraham looked when he did not permit Lazarus to come back to the earth. You can also use this passage against these spirits, saying: ”Thou shalt not consult the dead, saith the Lord.”

 

56. God has insisted on this so firmly, that there is no example recorded in the Scriptures, where the saints have ever consulted the dead about anything. And this is the third argument that you can use against these spirits: No one ever heard or read of an example in the Scriptures as to such spirits and their work, hence the whole must be condemned and avoided as of the devil.

 

57. From this we may easily learn, that the coming up of Samuel was an apparition, 1 Sam. 28, 13, inasmuch as it is altogether contrary to this commandment of God. It is therefore not to be assumed that the real prophet Samuel came up by the power of the witch of En-dor. But that the Scriptures are silent on this point, not telling us whether it was the real or false Samuel, is because they demand of everybody to remember well that through Moses God forbade to consult the dead. And he never revokes his Word, as Job says and Balaam also, Num. 23, 19. How can the witch have any power over the saints, who are resting in God’s hands?

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Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Prayer to the Dead, and Pastoral Care

December 27, 2012 2 comments

Spirits of the Departed, Ghosts, Prayer to the Deadancestor worship2

I’ve noticed a strange thing in the time I’ve been in the ministry that I didn’t notice before.  Maybe you’ve noticed it too. 

Kids believe in ghosts and spirits much more than they did when I was a kid.  People pretended to believe in ghosts when I was a kid, but I don’t think that many people really believed in them.  Certainly not that you could communicate with them.  We believed in demons—at least, Christian kids did—but it was kind of an esoteric thing.  I played with a Ouija board once, but I was just messing around.  And there was also this superstition that if you went into a dark room and looked at a mirror and said, “Bloody Mary” a certain number of times you would see a demon or a spirit.

 

Times have changed.  I’ve met a lot of kids who not only believe in ghosts but claim to have seen them, or communicated with them.

 

And demons are much less esoteric.  A few months ago a bunch of pastors were up in Wisconsin listening to Dr. John Kleinig talk about the ministry of deliverance from demons, about the increase in overt demonic oppression encountered by pastors in Australia (and the United States). 

 

But what seems to me the strangest of all is the prayer to the dead engaged in by lifelong American Lutherans who are sixty or seventy or eighty years old. 

 

The reason this is so strange is because, typically, Lutherans who are above age 50 or so hate everything that smacks of Catholicism.  Yet I frequently hear parishioners speak of dead loved ones as if they continue to communicate with each other.  The loved one is spoken to in prayer, and sometimes speaks back by phenomena in the physical world—lights flickering, changes in the weather.

 

This less rationalistic take on the souls of the dead is I think quite different from what pastors a generation ago encountered.  In his Church Postil sermon for Epiphany, Luther has an eye-opening digression where he talks about the souls of the dead and what to make of spirits claiming to be the souls of dead loved ones, as well as spirits that haunt houses or cause strange noises.  This would probably have been a section of the postil where in previous generations we would have simply assumed that Luther lived in a more superstitious age, and these things just don’t apply to us.  But if you have experienced your parishioners praying to dead relatives or communicating, supposedly, with ghosts, then this section of the sermon will be enlightening.

 

This openness toward communication with the dead has some positive implications.  It means that the rationalism that controlled so much of our thinking is mostly dead.  People are able to conceptualize the ongoing existence of souls whose body has died.  They are able to think of invisible spirits continuing to exist without being utterly divorced from us.  This is positive.  It means that when we speak of the communion of saints we will not meet the same wall of resistance.  If people think dead loved ones can be spoken to, it means that they are not closed to the idea that the angels and the holy, departed souls are present with us together with Jesus.  And it also means that the Calvinist notion that Jesus and the saints are somehow locked away in another plane of existence called heaven no longer has a death grip on people.

 

But unfortunately the superstition about the dead that I keep encountering has a lot of negative ramifications as well.

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December 26, 2012 1 comment

Taking Sense Away

PLOT #1: THE iPAD PLOT.

Details of Plot Sent in by:
A. Terrorist

Dear TSA,

As-salamu alaykum. I don’t believe any further introduction is necessary, but just in case you’re not in razor-sharp airport security form today:

I am, quite frankly, a terrorist. Just one of the many terrorists that you so courageously and effectively deter in your day-to-day advanced counter terrorist mission at the airport.

Today I write to you in order to tell you that you shall never be forgiven for your latest upset of our plans. Allow me to give you some background, which you probably do not need, given your superlative intelligence gathering capabilities, but still.

The iPad plot that my brothers and I had so meticulously crafted over the past year and attempted, several times, to put into motion,  was multi-tiered, very complex; so ingenious as never to be anticipated. So crazy…that it might have…

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Categories: Piles in my office
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