Archive for June, 2018

He Has Visited and Redeemed His People. Nativity of John the Baptist/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 2018

benedictus zechariah.PNG

The Nativity of John the Baptist (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 1:57-80

June 24, 2018

“He has visited and redeemed His people”


Iesu Iuva


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


Have you ever had—or do you have now—a room that you know needs cleaning?  Or maybe a shed that you moved a bunch of things into and shut the door to deal with later?  Then it’s always in the back of your mind: “That shed needs cleaning.”  But the shed that needs cleaning is always vague; the details are shadowy, until you go and open the door and visit it.  When you visit it, you see the mess in person, in detail, that up until now had been a shadowy idea looming in your subconscious.


The same principle applies to people.  When you hear that someone you love is sick, you have a vague idea about what that means.  But it’s a completely different thing when you visit them and see their pale face or labored breathing, their misery and pain.


It’s also one thing to say in general that you are a sinner, and another thing to scope out your sins in person, to visit them in the light of the ten commandments.


In the gospel reading, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  (Luke 1:68)


Zechariah is saying that the Lord, the God of Israel, has come in person to visit His people and see the mess they are in.  And at the same time that He has visited them, He has also “redeemed them.”  To “redeem” means to pay the price to free someone from captivity or slavery.  God has come to see His people in their chains, felt their misery, and bought them out of those chains.


Zechariah’s song is called the “Benedictus.”  It is a canticle, a song that has been sung at Matins or Morning Prayer for over a thousand years.  With good reason, because few hymns have been written that preach as clearly and beautifully the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.


Zechariah was a priest.  He had not been able to speak for the last nine months, because when he was in the temple burning incense, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told him his wife Elizabeth would bear a son in her old age, and Zechariah doubted him.  But now when the baby is born and Zechariah writes his name—“John”—his lips are opened and he begins to speak—or sin—by the Holy Spirit.


And his song tells of God’s promises in the past and how the Lord has fulfilled them.  God made promises to Abraham, made a covenant, a solemn, binding agreement.  He confirmed His promise and covenant with an oath.  The promise was that God would make a great nation from Abraham’s offspring (even though, like Zechariah, Abraham was old and had no children).  He promised that all the nations on earth would be blessed in Abraham’s offspring, and that his offspring would “possess the gates of His enemies.”  He would be victorious over His enemies and those who hated and oppressed Abraham’s descendants would not be able to oppress and enslave them.


Zechariah’s song praises God because He is faithful.  He doesn’t lie.  He doesn’t forget promises He makes.  He always keeps them and always follows through.


And now two thousand years after making this covenant and oath to Abraham, God has fulfilled it.  He has visited His people who are enslaved and oppressed and suffering.  He has seen their anguish, and He has provided redemption—the price for their release.  He ahs done this by raising up a horn of salvation in the house of His servant David—a powerful man who comes from David’s line.


We know that Zechariah is singing about Jesus, who had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was in the womb of His mother Mary.  But no one else knew that when Zechariah was singing.


There was something else that they didn’t understand.  When they heard Zechariah singing about God’s promise to save from our enemies and the hand of all who hate us, they understood this in a very plain way; that the Lord would destroy people like the Romans who conquered and ruled over them.  Many Jews thought that the thing that kept them from serving God without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days was the threats directed at them by foreigners.  The Egyptians had ruled over them and God redeemed them from slavery so that they would serve Him.  Then after the time of David one foreign power after another oppressed and finally conquered the Jews.  They persecuted the Jews for holding to God’s commandments and not joining in the worship of their idols.


So no doubt the Jews longed for God to remember His promise and deliver them from enemies like the Romans, their persecutors and oppressors.


But Zechariah prophesies that John is going to give God’s people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  That is how John will prepare the way of the Lord.  The Lord’s people need deliverance not from earthly persecutors; the enemies that enslave them are not the Romans, but sin and its lord, the devil, and its companion death.


In the Bible the word used for “forgiveness” literally means “to loose”—the way you loose a chain or a rope that holds a captive.


When God forgives someone’s sins, He looses that rope.  He unties sin from binding them for condemnation.  He sets sinners free by forgiving them.  The word “redemption” is a related word.  It refers to “the price paid to loose someone” from their chains.


God has graciously visited us and paid to loose us from captivity to sin and the devil.


This was the major point that the Lutheran princes in Germany were trying to make to Emperor Charles V on June 25th, 1530.  Christianity is based on God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins through Christ alone—and this loosing from the guilt of sin comes not through working to free yourself, but as a free gift from God, received as a free gift—that is, only by believing that God has given it to you in Christ’s death.  By faith alone.


Today, if you listen, people all around us cry out that they are oppressed and enslaved.  They try to find different people to blame for their oppression.  And we do the same thing in the Church.  We try to find the reasons, the culprits, behind the decline in people who come to Church, who are willing to hear the Gospel.


We forget, and we doubt, that our real enemies, who hold us, by nature in complete bondage, are not bad people outside the church, not unfavorable circumstances for churches, but sin and the devil.  The Augsburg Confession puts it like this in its second article: It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin.  That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.  Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.


That’s not who we think our enemy and oppressor is.  But it is—sin, in which we are born, and which holds us in slavery.


But now the good news, proclaimed by Zechariah in the Benedictus, then by John, then by the confessors at Augsburg five hundred years ago—is that we are loosed.  God has paid the price to loose us from the guilt of our sin.


He has visited us by coming into our flesh and blood and taking upon Himself the curse and misery of the sin in which we were born.  He saw the mess and misery of your bondage in first person.


Then He alone paid the price to make you free from it.  He bore the condemnation of God against sinners, against your specific birth in sin, the sins you personally have committed, in His own flesh and soul on the cross.


And, in doing so, He took possession of the gates of His enemies, who are also our enemies and oppressors.  He stormed hell, broke down its doors, and emerged as the master of sin, death, and the devil, leading them forth as prisoners.


All this was done by the person who had not even been born yet when Zechariah first sang the Benedictus—the baby in Mary’s womb.


God has visited and loosed you from your enemies’ power.


The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious.”  That means—“He shows undeserved kindness.  He is forgiving.”


He has visited us and seen our miserable condition.  He has visited us and seen our slavery.  And He has paid for you to be loosed—paid with the suffering and death of His own body and the anguish of His soul.  So that you may be free to serve Him without fear.


We remember the birth of John the Baptist because He was the one who went before the Lord to prepare His ways and teach who the real enemies of God’s people are.  And then to point to the One who redeems and releases us from those oppressors.


This is what the preaching office Jesus instituted still does.  It gives knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins. 


The God who is gracious is still causing His dawn from on high to rise on us who are in darkness and the shadow of death; still proclaiming to us our release from sin through the blood of Jesus; still sealing this covenant with us by giving us the body to eat and the blood to drink that paid, once and for all, for our release.


God has visited us and paid for our release from sin and the devil.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 3, 2018. Lost in a Different Way.

lost coinThe Third Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 17, 2018

Lost in a Different Way


Iesu Iuva


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


Psalm 26: I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.  I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked (Ps. 26:4-5).


Psalm 139: Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.  (Ps. 139: 21-22)


The Pharisees, as usual, were partly right.  You can’t be friends with sin and friends with God.  And if you are close with sinners, friendly with sinners, are you actually being friendly with God’s enemies?  Isn’t that treachery toward God?


How would you feel if you saw your friend having coffee and laughing with a person who was in the process of cheating you out of your business or life’s savings, your enemy?  You’d feel betrayed.


This is how Pharisees thought Jesus should deal with the tax collectors and sinners, if He was truly from God.  If He didn’t kill them, He should at least have nothing to do with them—shun them.  And they were right, as far as the Law of God goes.  God’s Law does not make excuses for sinners.  It tells us that God is a jealous God, and will punish sinners in this life, then with physical death, then with everlasting punishment in hell.


But what is a sinner?  Who is a sinner?  That needs to be clarified, doesn’t it?  Who today calls anyone a sinner and means it seriously?


The Pharisees had in mind people whose sinful life was obvious.  Tax collectors, who collected taxes for the government, and then collected more for themselves.  Then also people whose life was disreputable, so decent people didn’t associate with them.  Prostitutes and adulterers and people who had sex outside of marriage.  People who openly worshipped idols.  Thieves and criminals.  If there were open homosexuals in Roman Judea, they would have definitely been among those called sinners.


On the other hand, God defines “sinner” more strictly.  A sinner is a person who breaks the law of God in thought, word, or deed.  Sin is lawlessness, says John (1 Jn. 3:4).  Anyone who has desires contrary to God’s law, who accidentally speaks words contrary to God’s law is a sinner, according to God.  The one who does [the laws of God] shall live by them (Gal. 3:12); but everyone who fails to do them, or breaks them at any point, is under God’s curse: Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to do them (Dt. 27:26). 


This is a problem for the Pharisees.  It was a problem for monks like Martin Luther, who managed to live lives that were outwardly righteous, and avoid adultery, theft, and so on.  It isn’t to say that we should make no distinction between people who commit sins out in the open and live in them without repentance and those who don’t.  We should and we must.  Civil authority must punish murderers even though everyone who is angry with his brother is a murderer.  The church must discipline those who openly despise God’s Word even though all Christians sin against the third commandment in their hearts.  Moses had to discipline the Israelites who openly worshipped idols even though he himself did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.


But the problem is that keeping clear of open, public, obvious sin does not make you righteous.  If your sin only remains in your heart or on your tongue, you are still a sinner, subject to all of God’s threats in the Law on those who break His commandments.  In fact, you may even be in worse danger, because you, like the Pharisees and scribes, think that by keeping clean before men, you are actually righteous before God and need no repentance.


Those who live outwardly righteous lives and those who don’t have this in common—they are, as Jesus says, lost.  They are lost from God and cannot find their way back to Him again.  They are like a coin that has fallen out of a purse into the dustballs underneath the fridge, or like a sheep separated from the flock that can no longer hear the voice of its shepherd.  Sinners are lost to God.  They are no longer under His protection.  They are no longer His.  They are under the power of the devil, and share the devil’s fate of destruction, torment, despair.  And they cannot bring themselves back.


But Jesus teaches us and the Pharisees something that we can only know from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.  He teaches the Gospel—the good news of God—that God looks at sinners of every sort as lost in a different way.  Not just lost—doomed to destruction; but as lost possessions that God wants to reclaim and find again.


Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, St. Paul tells us in the epistle (1 Tim. 1: 15), of whom I am the foremost.  None of Paul’s Pharisee friends would have called him a sinner.  Outwardly, he lived a dedicated, zealous life.  He was zealous for God’s Law and the traditions handed down by the rabbis and teachers that had come before him.  But Paul says not only “I was a sinner then”, but “I am the foremost sinner.”  His zeal to serve God and keep His Law didn’t change the fact that he was a sinner in the slightest.  He wanted to serve God and uphold His law, but Paul didn’t know God, despite having read the Scriptures and studied the rabbis!  Why didn’t Paul know God?


Because He didn’t know the Gospel, even though the Scriptures taught it clearly in passages like the one from the prophet Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). 


If God’s Law were the only teaching in the Bible, Jesus would have never told this parable.  Nor would He have sat at the table with sinners. God’s Law says: Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, to do them.  End of story.  If you are a tax collector and a sinner, or if you are a zealous Pharisee, the Law says, if you do not abide in everything written in the Law of God, you are cursed to everlasting death.  That is the reward for being God’s enemy, even if you were born into it.


But the Gospel says something more.  It says that God passes over transgression; He casts our sins into the depths of the sea; He forgives our lawless deeds, covers our sins and does not count them against us (Rom. 4:7-8).  This is what we confess in the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”


That’s why God and the angels see sinners—all sinners—as lost in a different way.  Not simply lost to eternal fire, like when you drop a coin down a storm drain and it’s gone forever.  But lost like a lamb that has gone astray.  Lost like that orange fish in the movie “Finding Nemo”, where the clownfish dad goes on an impossible journey to find his son because he loved him too much to give up on him.  Lost like a rare coin that you drop down the drain, so you shut off the water and take the pipes apart in the sink and do whatever it takes to get that coin back.


The Gospel declares that God has found you who were lost in sin.  He has pardoned you and the whole human race through His Son.


The Gospel declares that God does not excuse our sins; He does away with them.  God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because His Son rescued us from the Law’s judgment that we are lost.  All our sins were charged to Jesus.  He became lost and condemned with them.  God has counted and imputed our sin to Him and condemned Him; He imputes His Son’s keeping the Law to us.


Why did He do this?  Because He is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love, just as Moses and the Prophets continually declared.


Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came to find those who are lost.  Rather than try to convince ourselves that we are not sinners, or at least not as bad as others, we should confess ourselves to be what we are and not try to escape it.  Jesus came to find sinners.  He came to move the fridge and sweep out the dustballs and find you.  He came over a thousand hills and into the dark valley to snatch you from the jaws of the wolf.  If you could do it, if you weren’t really lost and dead, He wouldn’t have needed to come into the dark valley, to sweat in the garden and cry out under God’s curse on the cross.  He wouldn’t have needed to move the heavy stone of death away from the door of the tomb if you could move it yourself.


Let yourself be the sinner you are, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save lost sinners. 


This is why we can and should be certain that we are found, even though in ourselves we are lost—because Jesus has another word besides that of the Law to speak to us.  He says we are lost like a sheep, or a coin, or a son, that He wants to find.  And He has found us.


This is why we should never despair over the sinners we see around us, or become cynical that they cannot be brought to repentance—that God cannot find them.  He has already found them in His Son.  Though few may believe it, we cannot stop preaching it, for the sake of those who are lost—because our Lord does not stop seeking them, and rejoicing with the angels of God when one sinner repents.

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


Soli Deo Gloria


Invited to the Banquet of the Just. Trinity 2, 2018

jesus banquet parable.PNGSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 10, 2018

Invited to the Banquet of the Just


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


“What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance were obscured to the point of disappearing.  Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business, possessed of great wealth, to which all the citizens had a right to share…Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility.”


A famous scholar of Greek and Latin literature wrote this in the 1950’s.  The writer of the article I took it from[1] shows the similarity between the thinking of the citizens of the Greek democracy of Athens before its end and the thinking of the citizens of our republic now.  What people want, above all else, is a comfortable life, without the burden of responsibility and obligations to others.  The writer’s chief example of this is the collapse of the American family, of marriage, before expectations of “happiness,” “personal fulfillment,” and “what you deserve.”


It’s no sin to want to be comfortable, but even in earthly things there are things more important than being comfortable.  Didn’t you teach your kids that, and isn’t that what your parents taught you?  That it’s more important to do the right thing than to fit in?  That it’s more important to tell the truth than to lie to make things more comfortable for yourself?


But when people want to a comfortable life before everything else, they cannot be Christians.  When people want a comfortable life before anything else, they cannot be saved.


Not because there is no comfort in Christianity.  The Gospel is pure comfort.  God comforts us with the forgiveness of all our sins through His Son’s suffering and death in the Gospel.  But those who believe the Gospel will not have a comfortable life.  The life of a Christian isn’t comfortable because a Christian has a sinful nature that has to die every day.


The Gospel of Christ is an invitation.  He calls us to come to the feast of the righteous, the feast of the kingdom of God. He invites us freely, just as we are.


But to accept an invitation does mean you have to cancel your other plans.  If you decide to go to Bob’s birthday party at 6, you can’t go to Linda’s sweet 16 at the same time.   Or as Paul puts it, You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Cor. 10:21).  If you believe the Gospel of Jesus and are baptized into Jesus, you are joined with Jesus in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).  That means you are refusing the invitation to go to the banquet of the world and do what it does and value what it values, so that you can go to the banquet of God.


It’s not a question of being good enough, it’s a question of which banquet you’re going to attend.  To go with Jesus to the banquet of the righteous means that every day you have to turn away from the crowd going to the banquet of Beelzebub, and crucify your own flesh that wants to go too.  We don’t do this on our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the life of doing this is called “sanctification”—being made holy—where we daily return to our Baptism in which we were given a new life in Jesus, with whom we died and in whom we rise to live a new life.


But for this new life to grow, it must first begin.  In the Gospel reading Jesus was dealing with some people who had not come to the new life of holiness, though they spent their lives being religious—the Pharisees.  One of them said, in a way that sounds so pious and devout, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!  (Luke 14:15)  He believed that when God raised the dead it would begin with a big feast, and he was expressing his desire to be there at that feast.


So Jesus tells a parable, a story, in which he tells the man that he is lying.  He actually doesn’t want to go to that feast at all!  He pretends like he loves God, but really he loves being comfortable in this world—fields, farm equipment, a wife.


Pretending like you are godly when you really don’t love God is called hypocrisy—being an actor.  That’s what Jesus told the Pharisees that they were.  Their acting convinced the majority of the people, but God saw through it.  It was religious whitewash over the same heart that does not love God that all people have.


Jesus told him, You are being invited to the feast of the kingdom of God, but you refuse to come.  As a result, God will send out His messengers to gather in the people in Israel who are low class, who aren’t as schooled in the Bible and theologians as you.  And then He will send them out even further to the pagan Gentiles, who worship ancestors and fertility gods and know nothing of Him.  They will come in and eat the feast of God, but you won’t even taste it, because you excuse yourself from coming.


The point of the parable is that God has invited you to the banquet of the righteous.  To His feast.  There is no cost to get in.  In fact, whatever goodness you might think you have is actually an impediment, because the only way you get into His banquet of eternal life is through His free gift.


But just like the people in Jesus’ story, most of the people who hear the Gospel don’t come to the feast.  They don’t accept God’s invitation, because they have other banquets to go to.  Some people reject the Gospel because it proclaims that their sins are forgiven through the death of Jesus, and they don’t want to acknowledge that they need to be freed and forgiven for their sins.  Lots of young people don’t want to give up fornicating—having sex outside of marriage.  They can’t come to the feast of eternal life because they don’t want to be forgiven.  If you want to be forgiven for something, that means you also want to stop doing it.


Others want to be excused for never hearing God’s Word or participating in the life of Christ’s body, the church.  I can’t, because I have to do something else, every Sunday, for the rest of my life.  They aren’t saying they are sick, or that they just keep struggling with their sinful nature even though they want to go.  They’re saying, “I don’t want to hear God’s Word, or show love to the other believers, but excuse me anyway.”  But really they’re excusing themselves from the banquet of eternal life.  Because eternal life is not just that we go to heaven when we die.  It’s that we will be like Christ, live like Christ, and see God face to face.  If you want to be excused from hearing God or being around His people here, heaven wouldn’t feel like paradise to you.  You want to be excused from that too.


But with most of us who are here today it is more subtle, this refusing God’s invitation.  Christians, of course, don’t refuse it.  We have a sinful flesh that wants to follow the world’s crowd to find our pleasure and comfort in this world and the things it can offer, and that wants to run away, far away, from Jesus Christ.  But Christians crucify their flesh daily and do not let it reign in them.


But the call of the flesh and the world is the same to us as to the world.  It says, “The most important thing for you is to be comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  If you have that, then you have God.”


What a damnable lie, no matter how many stadiums you can fill if you attach God’s name to it!  If that were the Gospel, then Jesus is a false prophet who deserved to be crucified!


Jesus was not comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  He was a man of sorrows, familiar with grief, because He loved God and He loved sinful men and did battle with sin and the devil for us.  As a result He was bereft of comfort, He was forsaken by God on the cross to save us!  Yet He not only had God—He was and is God.


You were baptized into this Jesus.  You were made a partaker in His death and also in His new life, resurrected from the dead, to serve God in freedom.  So you were not given a life where you behave decently and seek your own good, your material comfort; you were given a life in which your comfort is Jesus Himself, who died for you, a life in which you receive the honor of following Him, in carrying the cross that you might sit at His table as a Son of God with Him, as a conqueror with Him.


Our congregation isn’t here that it may be comfortable for us.  It’s here to proclaim Christ’s Word and give out His Sacraments, and to seek to extend the preaching of that word here and to the ends of the earth.


Our flesh desires to talk about how great salvation and God’s grace is while refusing His invitation.  The end result of this play acting is that we do not get to taste His feast of eternal life.


But our God is rich in grace.  He spreads a rich table.  On it are forgiveness of sins, rescue from eternal death, union with Christ, knowledge of God.  He gives us His Spirit so that we may begin to know all the treasures of His love, knowledge, power, grace, which are open to us, because He gives them to us along with His Son’s death for our transgressions.


And there is a lot of room at this table.  For thousands of years He has been gathering in the wretched from the ends of the earth, from the deepest paganism and worship of idols, from the most shameful immorality.  He has them sit down at the feast of eternal life.  He says, Here is my son, who suffered for you and is your righteousness.


So now he urges you to come in by His Spirit.  Do not be intimidated by the greatness of the one who spread the banquet or the great things that He offers you—the body and blood of the Holy One in exchange for your life spent serving yourself.


He invites you to come.  He urges you to come to the banquet of the righteous.  To renounce your love of yourself and this world, to renounce your pursuit of your own comfort, and to believe that His blood cleanses you of all your self seeking.


To come to His altar and eat His body and drink His blood that He gave for you.  He will not only forgive you through His body and blood.  He will strengthen you to live as He lived—in love toward God instead of your own comfort, and in love toward the people around you.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Christopher DeGroot, “Duty to Others in an Age of Individuals,”, June 8, 2018.

Funeral Sermon: Acquainted with Grief. June 4, 2018

jesus man of sorrows durer.PNGIn Memoriam Kim J. Kinzler

Fred C. Dames Funeral Home

Isaiah 53:1-6; St. Matthew 11:25-30; 1 Cor. 15:20-26

June 4, 2018

“Acquainted with Grief”


Iesu Iuva


In the name of Jesus.


John, Michael,

Kim’s sisters, family, friends, loved ones:


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


It says Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”  (Is. 53:3)


It’s hard to think this way about God: “acquainted with grief.”  The defining characteristic of God is that He is all powerful.  If you are all-powerful, you shouldn’t suffer.


I think just about all of us here went to catechism or CCD or Sunday school.


If you learned anything there, you learned that Jesus is God.  So how can God be “acquainted with grief”?  As though He sat down with grief, got to know grief personally?


This is why most of the people who saw Jesus and heard Him did not believe He was God.  God should not be broke and hungry.  He should not be beaten when He did nothing wrong, or die a death of shame and great agony, suddenly ripped away from life, His mother, His friends.


And we think: if God is with you, if He loves you, these things shouldn’t happen to you either.


Yet here we are this morning.  Kim, a man loved by many people, who showed love to many people, a man who confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, suddenly gone.  Grief gone over our heads.  Where there is grief, guilt is never far away.  Anger is never far away.


When a man dies there are things that feel unfinished.  There is regret, not only for him at the things he wishes he would have done better in his life, but also for those who loved him.  There is anger or regret simply at the opportunities that were never there—maybe at God, maybe at the people who never gave those opportunities and could have.


Death holds up before our faces all that is wrong with us, with those close to us, and with the world itself.  There is so much in the world that is good and beautiful.  It seems as though things could turn out differently, happily.  You can see it in the pictures of Kim’s life over there.  You can see glimpses of it in your happy memories of him.  The picture of Kim with his two young sons over there.  The pictures of him with Lora, whom he loved.  Yet there are so few things in this world that have a clean ending, that end “happily ever after.”


So we try to make things right.  We try to make the pieces fit, to solve things.  To assign reasons for our grief.  We make judgments and assign guilt.  But it doesn’t work.


The Lord God, who has all power, speaks to us in the midst of grief, guilt, and death.  But who believes what He says? Isaiah asks.  Who recognizes the arm of the Lord, God the Father’s strong arm working a solution to our grief?  Working rescue, salvation?


My dad, John and Mike, was different from your dad.  My mom was the one who did just about everything for me, yet it seems like I have never gotten over my dad, and he died more than ten years ago.  But when I was young, I always wanted my dad to come out with a strong hand and make everything right.


God the Father has done that—He has made bare His strong arm to deliver us from all that is broken and can’t be made right.  But no one has recognized it.


Because He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.   He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Is. 53:1-3


Nobody thought anything of what God the Father did to rescue us, because what He did was give His Son to become one of us, and live in our confusion and grief.  He looked like one of us and made Himself one of us.


How is that going to help us?  Two thousand years later, we still don’t see it, even though it has been preached to us and our fathers before us for centuries.


It helps us because He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  We all like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Is. 53:4-6


The sin and failures of our first father, Adam—laid on Jesus.  The sin and failures of Kim, from his birth until death—laid on Jesus.  Your sins and failures—God the Father placed them on this man, who was well-acquainted with grief—with the grief we have suffered because others have done us wrong, with the grief that comes to us or waits for us because of the wrongs we have done.  All of this guilt, this grief, the Father laid on His Son, and He was crushed, He was punished with stripes, He was crucified, He died in our guilt and our grief.


This brings us peace.  It is a peace we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  It is peace with God—that our sins have been paid for, forgiven, and removed, no matter what grief falls on us in this world.  With God Jesus has made peace for us with His blood.


And so Jesus says, Come to Me, all who are laboring and straining and pressed down by burdens—and I will give you rest.  (Matt. 11)  He will give you rest from the burden of grief because He has already carried it and made an end of it in His wounds.


He does not just give relief in this life, but He gives you a life that swallows up the grief, guilt, and confusion of this one.  Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  (1 Cor 15:22)  When you were baptized, when Kim was baptized, the new life in which Jesus broke forth from the tomb on Easter morning was put into you and into him.  We walk away from it, but Jesus invites us back to it.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  He means—trust in Him for your salvation; trust in Him to heal your wounds and carry your guilt and your grief.  Learn from Him.  Hear His Word, receive His body and blood that give you forgiveness and life.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

First Sunday after Trinity 2018: The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

rich man and lazarus.PNGThe First Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 3, 2018

The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


This year, during Holy Week, an interview with the Pope came out in an Italian newspaper.  In it, the interviewer claimed that Francis had said that souls which die in sin do not suffer eternal torment in hell.  “There is no hell; there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”  The Vatican put out a statement in response in which they pointed out that the interviewer was not quoting Pope Francis, but “reconstructing” what he had said from memory, and so “No quotation of the…article should be considered…a faithful transcription of the words of the holy father.”  Nevertheless, the interview was very disturbing to many Catholics, as it appeared just a few days before Easter.  Many Christians throughout the world wondered why the Pope did not respond with a clear and forceful repudiation of the teaching attributed to him.


On the other hand, mainline protestant churches have tolerated the denial of the reality of eternal damnation for a long time among their theologians and pastors.  And even when they affirm it, they are usually very unclear about who will actually be damned.


But in the Holy Gospel we have our Lord Jesus’ words about eternal damnation—its pain, its cause, and its cure.  People are damned because they seek their “good things”, their treasures, apart from God, but Jesus gives you repentance so that the Triune God is your “good thing.”


Jesus tells the story of the rich man who dressed in purple and linen and made merry every day, and the poor man, covered in sores, lying by his gate.  When the poor man dies, angels come and carry away his soul to be clasped to the chest of Abraham, the father of righteous people, to be embraced and consoled.  But when the rich man dies, no holy angels come.  His body is buried, and the next we hear about his soul, it is in Hades, which is the Greek word for the place of the dead.  It is a holding tank for the souls of those who have died in their sins.


And the rich man, who looked so blessed when he was alive, is now in torments, which means “being tortured.”  The word reminds us of the way the law used to deal with criminals up until the past few centuries.  The Romans tormented Jesus with flogging and with crucifixion; later they tormented the Christians by burning them and by sending them into the arena to be torn apart by the teeth of wild animals.  Even in more recent times, Europeans tortured criminals; they burned heretics at the stake, they broke criminals on the wheel, they drew and quartered them.


And the rich man’s soul is being tortured.  He mentions fire, but this can’t be a physical fire.  What kind of fire burns the soul?  People experience some of this in this life—when they are tormented by guilt or grief that they can’t get rid of.  But the Lord doesn’t tell us the nature of all the torments he endures, only that he is in so much pain that when he looks up and sees Lazarus, whom he used to see lying at his gate, he asks Abraham to have Lazarus wet the end of his finger and touch his tongue to cool it off.

But Abraham says, “No.”  For the damned, there is no relief, and there is no escape.  The damned can never cross over into paradise, and there is no relief, no easing of their pain.  Their pain has no end.  Hades is a holding tank for the souls of the unrighteous, but when judgment day comes and the final sentence is pronounced, Jesus will say to them, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  (Matthew 25:41).  In the lake of fire, the never-ending fire, the unrighteous will suffer in both soul and body with no relief and no end.


Why does this horrible end—or rather, this horrible fate that never ends—come to the unrighteous?  Remember, child, that in your life you received your good things.  The unrighteous have their good things here and now.  Their treasure is not God and His praise.  That’s not what they want.  They want treasure here and now, whether that is money, or nice clothes and a nice house, or for people to speak well of them, or to be famous.


And if those things are a person’s treasure, that person is an idol worshipper—a servant of a false god.  No one really thinks of this as being a sin.  We think it’s evil to use foul language, or to murder, or to oppress people.  But the worst sin is to reject the true God—to not love Him and thank Him for our lives and the good things we have in this world, but to turn away from Him and give His thanks and praise to something or someone that is no god at all.


Luther says this in such a clear way in the Large Catechism: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress….That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.


But what do people set their hearts on?  What do they trust?  There are so few people who live their lives setting their heart on the true God and on the eternal life He promises; everyone is worried about this life.  It is no different today than in the time Jesus preached this parable.  When Jesus preached: You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13) the Pharisees sneered at him and ridiculed him.  People found it just as difficult then to believe that you can still have God when you are, like Lazarus, stripped of health, prosperity, and the good things of this life.  The reason people find that impossible to believe is that people do not believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is not their God; their god is a happy family, success at work, a nice house—their own comfort, pleasure, and happiness.


And are you any different?  No, even we who are baptized struggle with this and are tempted by this.  We constantly struggle with thinking that when we have “good things” here, we have God.


Will God really damn you for this?  He will, because when you seek your good things here in this world instead of your treasure being God and His praise of you in eternal life, you exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship created things instead of the Creator (Romans 1).


But there is a way of escape from eternal damnation. The rich man knew what it was, even in hell; even though it was too late for him, he hoped his brothers could be convinced to take this way of escape.  The way of escape is called repentance.


All members of St. Peter know about repentance without me telling you again, or you should, because it is the way of life for all who are baptized.  An unrepentant person has thrown aside his baptism and what God gives in baptism.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. 


To repent literally means “to change your mind.”  It means on the one hand that instead of liking your sin, you hate it and want to be free of it.  We understand this when it comes to sins like drunkenness, or stealing.  But we seldom think of it when it comes to the first commandment.  We seldom see our need to repent of having our treasures here in this life, to repent of forgetting or despising God, and not rejoicing that He is ours even when we have the cross in this life, and that eternal comfort and glory awaits us.


But Jesus gives you repentance so that God becomes your good thing, your treasure.


Father Abraham tells us how.  They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  Moses and the Prophets is shorthand for the books of the Old Testament.  Repentance is worked by God the Holy Spirit through the Word of God—through the reading of Scripture, through it being preached and taught faithfully.  But repentance comes in no other way.  If a person doesn’t listen to the Scriptures, which move us to repent of having false gods, nothing will help them—not even if someone comes back from the dead.


Listening to the Scriptures is the means God uses to work repentance.  “Listening” means, on one hand, listening.  It means you actually have to come to Church and hear the Word.  You have to read it in your home.  If a person won’t listen in that way, they won’t repent of their false gods.


But even more it means that if you are listening to God’s Word, He will cause you to repent.  He will do what you, by yourself, have no power to do.  He will cause you to repent not only that you said a swear word or got angry or did this or that bad thing, but that you have served false gods.  That you love earthly treasures, by nature, more than you love God.  He will give you repentance through His Word, and He will keep bringing you to repentance.


And even more, through His Word, Jesus will give you the second part of repentance—not merely that you are sorry for seeking other treasures instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that you believe that He is your treasure. 


The Old Testament reading told us how Abraham became righteous and the father of all believers.  Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him for righteousness.  Abraham believed that God would bring the savior of the world out of his offspring, and God counted Him righteous.  He told Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.  Abraham had no offspring at that point.  Even though he had wealth, he lived as an alien with no home.


But God was His reward because He promised, out of grace, that He would be Abraham’s God, and that He would send the Savior through Abraham’s line. He did not say, “I will be your God if you have a clean heart, or at least if you refrain from great sins.”  He promised Abraham out of grace, without works, without merit.  And Abraham believed God—and God counted Him righteous.


That is repentance.  We believe in Jesus as our righteousness, which God has promised us that He is.  God promises us, “Your sins are forgiven, despite the fact you are an idolater, because my Son suffered the torments of your idolatry, when He burned in the fire of my wrath for you on the cross—when He thirsted and received vinegar for His thirst.”


Your sins are forgiven because I have baptized you into His death and His resurrection.


I am with you as your God.  I will keep you and help you in this life, and I will send the angels when you die to carry your soul to be comforted forever with the righteous, and to see my glory.


Jesus gives us repentance so that God becomes our “good thing.”  Through His Word He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we believe that He is our God, that He has redeemed us from eternal punishment, and made a place for us in paradise with the righteous.  Through His Word in the water of Baptism he began this repentance for most of us; through His Word preached and read, through His absolution and His body and blood, He keeps us in repentance, so that we believe that He is our God and our great reward, and know that even when the good things of this life are taken from us, we have the great treasure, the Triune God, as our own.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

The Festival of the Holy Trinity 2018. The Depths of God

trinity rublev.PNGThe Festival of the Holy Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 11:33-36

May 27, 2018

“The Depths of God”

Iesu Iuva


In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!


The ocean, on average, is 12,000 feet deep.  A little over two miles deep.  At its deepest point, in the Mariana trench, the ocean is about 36000 feet deep—almost seven miles.  If Mount Everest was cast into the depths of the sea, into that trench, its top would be covered by almost a mile of water.  Human beings can swim a couple of hundred feet down.  How much of the depths of the ocean had human beings ever seen or looked into before they invented submarines and video cameras?  We hadn’t seen the deep places of the ocean at all.


But God beholds the depths.  He sees what, until recently, was hidden from our eyes at the bottom of the ocean.  He sees the depths like we see the earth.  And He sees much deeper places than the bottom of the ocean—into things so deep that we only know about them if we believe what He tells us.


He sees into the depths of human hearts and tells us that there is, by nature, nothing good in them.  They are like the deepest depths of the ocean, where no light penetrates.


He sees into the depths of time, and beholds the beginning and the end as though they were now.  Both the beginning and the end are hidden from us—we only can know how the universe began if we believe what God tells us about it.  And the future, and the end of time—we are blind to that as well.


God sees into the depths of eternity.  He knows the eternal destiny of each one of us here today, listening, perhaps by chance, on the radio.


God looks into the depths.  And we can only know anything about those depths into which He sees one way—if He tells us about them, and we trust what He says.


God Himself is a depth we cannot fathom in His very being.  He is one God, not three, He tells us repeatedly.  And yet the one God is three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each person is equal to the other, but distinct.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit.  They are three distinct persons.  Yet they are not three different beings, three different Gods.  God’s very being is a depth we cannot penetrate.  This is why people have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity since the Gospel began to be proclaimed.  We cannot conceive of it on our own.  Nor does it make sense to human reason when it is told to us.  We believe it only because God has revealed it to us, and given us grace and favor to believe it.


  1. We continually move out of God’s sight in the depths


God not only can see into the depths, He also wants to look into the depths.  He wants to look upon the lowly and the things that are nothing instead of the things that are exalted.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  Is. 66:2 


But we do not like to be in the depths, to be low.  Martin Luther wrote: See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty!  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as [if] we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God’s sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.


In the eleventh chapter of Romans Paul was discussing a problem that probably bothered many of the first Christians, who were Jewish by nationality.  The problem was, “Has God abandoned His people Israel, since none of them believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God?”


It is a familiar question or complaint.  People have voiced it at St. Peter for a long time.  Has God rejected His people?  (Rom. 11:1)  Has He rejected us?  We have no young people anymore.


Paul answers his own question: By no means!  For I myself am an Israelite…God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:1-2).  Even if no other Jews believed the Gospel, Paul did, and this was proof that God did not reject the Jews.  And Paul reminds them how Elijah the prophet complained to God that he was the only Israelite left who still believed in the Lord.  But God had preserved a remnant of the people of Israel who had not abandoned the Lord for idols.  And Paul says: So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.  (Rom. 11:5-6)


So, has God rejected His people?  In this congregation?  In your family?  In our synod?  Our nation?  God forbid!  By no means.


It’s not true that there are no young people at St. Peter.  To many of you I still count as young, so there is one.  But there is one over there.  There are some others back there.


Has God rejected your family?  He has not.  After all, if no one else believes in Jesus and wears the name of the Holy Trinity, you do.


“Yeah, but that’s hardly enough people to sustain our congregation, or to preserve our family as a Christian family.”


And this is the sin.  When all of Israel worshipped Baal, and only Elijah and seven thousand others did not, it was a remnant, chosen by grace. 


That means that God did not preserve them because they didn’t worship Baal.  They didn’t worship Baal because God preserved them.  He showed them grace so that they remained faithful and believed in Him and not idols.


The remnant of young people at St. Peter who believe in Christ and hold to His pure Word without the admixture of the teaching of men and demons remain because of God’s grace.  The reason there are any of us is because God shows us favor, preserves us in the faith.  Otherwise there would be none.  We would all turn away from Christ and His Word and be lost.


The seven thousand and Elijah did not remain believing in the true God because there was anything human or earthly to encourage them to do that.  No, their very lives were in jeopardy.  Yet God preserved them, this little remnant.


So it is with our congregation, with our synod, with the Christians in our nation and the Christians in your family.  They are not preserved by their own efforts or works.  They are preserved by grace alone.  It happens because God shows favor to individuals and grants them to believe in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel.


We don’t like this, because it puts us in a position of utter dependency, helplessness.  “In the depths.”


We have no power to save ourselves, to believe in Jesus, to keep on believing.  Everything depends on God’s grace.  For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.  It is not from us that we are saved.  It is not from us that other people are saved.  From Him are all things.  Everything depends on God’s grace.


But we do not trust God very much, do we?  Why doesn’t He make us grow?  Why doesn’t He put more young people in the congregation?  Why does He let so many of the things that once went on at St. Peter decline or die?


Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?  (Rom. 11:33-34)


From this you can see not only the depth of our ignorance and weakness, but the depth of our helplessness in sin.  You cannot see it all the way to the bottom, but you can see it more deeply than you would without God’s Word.


Do you know the mind of the Lord?  Do you think God should take advice from you?


And the answer is, the answer of your flesh is: yes.


Because according to the flesh you do not believe in the Triune God.  You do not believe, according to your flesh, that He is gracious and kind, that He wants to save you and do good to you, your congregation, your family.


You don’t believe that He wants to save the lost more than you do.


You do not believe in His power, that He alone saves sinners, and preserves the community of sinners who believe in Jesus.  According to the flesh, you think that that community is ours to build and to preserve.  You don’t believe that God is able to preserve it when everything human and earthly is against its existence.


You prefer to believe, in your flesh, that we save.  That we cast the deciding vote in our own salvation.  That it depends on us to save others, that God doesn’t just work through us but actually needs us to help us make His gospel appealing to sinners.  That it depends on us to save the His community of saints.


Why does our flesh believe this?  Because then we are not helpless.  Then we can do something to save ourselves, to save those we love, to save what we call “our church.”


We don’t want to leave it all in God’s hands because, in the flesh, we do not trust Him or love Him.  We do not think the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is trustworthy.  In the flesh we are idol-worshippers.  We do not want Him as our God, just like the rest of mankind.


  1. God beholds the depths.


That is something of the depths that is in your heart.  It is a deep, impenetrable darkness, dead set against knowing the true God and trusting Him.


But the Triune God looks into the depths.  He beholds what is in the darkness, what is lowly, what is humanly impossible.


He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17).  As at the beginning of creation, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep, and the word of God came forth and made the light, the sky, the dry land, the sun, the animals, and man.


He looked into the depths when you were a little baby, born not only physically and mentally helpless, but also spiritually dead, born in the guilt of Adam, and under the control of the devil and the reprobate mind of your flesh.


And in those depths where you were, where salvation was completely out of your reach, and where there was nothing in you that could please Him, He looked with His favor on you.  His Spirit came upon you, His Word poured over you in the water of your baptism.  The Father adopted you as His child and covered your sin.  The name of the Trinity was placed upon you.  The Holy Spirit entered you to live in you, to give you a new life, to preserve you so that your old nature, your flesh, would not cause you to turn away from the Triune God.  So that you would believe the Gospel, that Jesus descended into the depths of your sin and paid for it all with His blood, so that it is no longer counted to you.


This is what the true God does.  This is what only the Holy Trinity does.  No other so-called gods behave this way.  Human beings construct idols that they can win over, that they can give something to in order that the idol will do what we want in return.


The Triune God gives to those who have nothing to give Him, who are in the depths.  He shows grace; and He can only be known by His kindness, His unearned favor, His grace.  Look at the Old Testament reading:  Isaiah, the priest, suddenly sees God and realizes what he is, despite the fact that he is a priest.  He is a man of unclean lips and should be destroyed now that he is in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.   But the Lord sends forth an angel to take away his sin.  And Jesus tells us that the Father has sent Him not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.  No one forced the Father to do this.  No one asked the Father to do this.  He did this before the world even thought of it.  He gave His only-begotten Son in exchange for us, that whoever receives the free gift of His Son would have eternal life.


The Triune God looks into the depths.  But now Paul invites us to consider the depths of God, even though we cannot look into them on our own.


Oh the depth of the wisdom of God!  The Triune God is wiser than we are.  He planned our salvation through the death of His Son.  This is a wisdom that the world simply does not understand.  We would never have thought of it.  It made no sense to the disciples when Jesus was crucified.  But from the cross of Jesus came forth resurrection from the dead, forgiveness of sins, eternal life.  How much deeper is the wisdom of God than we can comprehend? So we should trust that His great wisdom is planning all things for good, for our salvation, for our glory.


Oh the depth of the knowledge of God!  God knows the end and the beginning.  He already knows how everything will turn out for you, for our congregation, our nation, for every soul.  He also knows what is best for you, our congregation.  He knows the hairs on your head.  He knew you before you were born.


Oh the depth of the riches of God!  God’s riches are deeper than the deepest parts of the sea.


He is inexhaustibly rich in grace.  You cannot have sinned so much that you make God’s grace toward you run out.  He does not deal with us according to our works, but according to His grace in Christ Jesus, by which He forgave our sins and put them on Jesus, and His righteousness on us.


And His grace leads us to the riches of His glory.  Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.  He did not predestine His chosen ones to earthly wealth or prestige or even comfort.  He predestined us to bear the image of His Son, risen from the dead, shining with the glory and honor of God.  And what He chose us for He is doing, He is working, with all wisdom and knowledge.  Not with our help: Who has given to the Lord, that He should repay him? 


No, He is working out your preservation and your glorification.  And He will do it.  He will not fail.


Instead of your limited knowledge and wisdom, the one with all wisdom and all knowledge, an inexhaustible depth of wisdom and knowledge, is working to save you and His elect.


To be in the depths where He looks in the unfathomable riches of His grace is the best place to be.


Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!


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

Soli Deo Gloria

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