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True Faith and Its Growth. Trinity 21 2018

October 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 4:46-54
October 21, 2018
True Faith and Its Growth

Iesu Iuva

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

We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law, St. Paul says in Romans chapter 3 (3:28). That is the summary of what makes the Lutheran Church different from the Catholic and other Protestant Churches. We believe that a person becomes righteous before God and is saved not by doing good things or even being good, but only by believing in Jesus who has done God’s will in our place.

Sometimes Lutherans forget how strange this sounds to people who haven’t heard it a lot. It not only goes against what people think who have no religion at all; it also goes against the thinking of most people who think of themselves as Christians. It is firmly rooted in people’s understanding that if God is going to do good to you, you should deserve it. The idea that God would do good to you and love you when you are undeserving—that God would show you grace—goes against the way we think God acts, or the way He should act.

The common misunderstanding of this teaching of justification by faith alone is that we preach that instead of requiring many things of us, God only requires one—that we believe certain facts about Jesus. But this is not what it means when we say that a person is “justified by faith.”

What it means is that, being convicted by God’s law as sinners, as those who don’t do his will, a person believes that for Jesus’ sake God counts him to be righteous. This is not a dead knowledge of certain facts about Jesus. It is trust in Jesus, worked by God in a person who is struck with terror that he is guilty before God. If you are convicted that you have angered God and brought down His anger upon you by breaking His commandments, it is not an easy thing to believe that God counts you righteous and forgives you, because His Son was crucified in your place. A person can talk about it and understand it easily enough, but to trust in Christ alone, to take refuge in Him alone, is not possible unless the Holy Spirit enters our heart.

But where there is a small, faltering faith that trusts Jesus, even alongside of great fear, there is salvation. Because even a small, weak faith takes hold of Jesus Christ and all that He has—His obedience to God’s Law, His death that pays in full our violations of it, His resurrection and unconquerable life. Strong faith and weak faith take hold of the same Jesus.

But Christ is not content to let faith in Him stay weak. It’s not even possible for true faith to remain weak. It has to grow or it has to die. That’s how living things are—even us. The scientists say that no sooner do you reach your early 20s, then you start dying. And the Holy Spirit who creates faith is called “the Lord and giver of life” in the Nicene Creed. The faith He creates doesn’t stay still. It grows and becomes stronger and produces spiritual fruits and flowers—otherwise it’s not the kind of faith that saves—just a human fabrication that is dead and unable to save, because it doesn’t lay hold of Jesus Christ.

Faith also has to grow and become stronger because it has an enemy that is constantly working to destroy it. Paul talked about this in the Epistle reading (from Ephesians ch. 6). The devil is constantly scheming to destroy faith in Christ. If it were not for the fact that true faith holds Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Satan would not have to scheme; He could simply mow us down, because he is “the cosmic power over this present darkness.” He runs this world order, and he is far more powerful and intelligent than us. But he is not able to overcome those who hold on to Jesus Christ by faith, because he is not stronger or wiser than the Son of God. So instead the devil constantly schemes and tests to overthrow the faith of those who believe in Jesus. And he never quits, and never gets tired.

So faith has to get stronger and lay firmer hold of Jesus. And that is why Jesus works to strengthen our faith once it has begun. This is what happens in the Gospel reading today. A nobleman or royal official comes to Jesus because he has a son, sick with a fever, who is about to die. He travels from Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, about 20 miles west to Cana, where Jesus turned the water in to wine. He wants to ask Jesus to come heal his son.

The man had faith in Jesus. He didn’t just have a theoretical understanding about Jesus: “He is able to heal sick people.” He had faith and trust that Jesus could heal and would heal his son. Otherwise he would have turned away as soon as Jesus answered him. Because what did Jesus say in response to the man’s request? He said, Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe. He is rebuking the man for his lack of faith.

But the nobleman doesn’t leave. He still believes Jesus will heal his son. So he says, Lord, come down before my child dies! You wouldn’t speak this way if you disbelieved. See, the nobleman believes Jesus can heal his son. But he can’t see how Jesus can do it unless He comes back 20 miles to Capernaum to be in the same room with his son. He thinks Jesus needs to touch his son to heal him. Or maybe he thinks Jesus’ voice can only carry so far.

Instead, Jesus says, Go, your son lives. And the man goes away trusting what Jesus said, even though he can’t see his son healed; he can’t see how Jesus can do it. He trusts Jesus and what Jesus says.

That is the way true faith in Jesus, created by the Holy Spirit, saving faith—that’s how it works. It doesn’t rest on what it sees and what the person feels and what makes sense to us. It simply holds on to the naked word of God.

When faith grows stronger, it depends on the bare word of God more and more.

By nature this is not how anyone operates, not even the disciples of Jesus. Remember how they were when Jesus was sleeping in the boat with them and there was a huge storm? They were terrified for their lives. They went by what they saw and felt, and their feelings and eyes told them they were doomed.

But we should trust Christ and His Word more that what we see and feel. The world and everything in it that our lives seem to depend on were created and formed by the Word of God. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host, said the memory verse from “Watch and Pray” a few weeks back—Psalm 33 verse 6. Whatever Jesus says is more solid and reliable than the things we see and the things we feel.

Jesus speaks directly to us this same omnipotent word. Today He spoke to Jesse in the hearing of everyone here: I baptize you. Admittedly it was my voice you all heard; yet the Word is the word of Jesus. He is the one who commissioned His apostles: Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who instituted this washing with water done in the name of the Holy Trinity. So from now on, whatever happens in Jesse’s life, Jesus will be using everything to drive him to take hold more firmly of the promise spoken to him on this day. To learn to say what Martin Luther said he was trying to learn to say with confidence: I am baptized. And if I am baptized then I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in body and soul.

Jesus speaks to us in other ways. He told the nobleman from Capernaum: Go, your son lives. The man had to go, trusting what he could not see. He either had to become stronger in faith, where he would now believe that Jesus could help and heal with His Word anywhere in the world, regardless of whether He was physically present with the one to be healed. Or else his faith would have shipwrecked.

To us Jesus says, This is my body, for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

And, faced with the trials that beset us individually, as a church, He is teaching us to put our trust in Him and His words to us—in Baptism, in the Supper, in absolution—and not what we can see, or feel, or what makes sense to us.

To believe that He is for us—body, blood—all He is. All His life and righteousness. To save us from our sins, from everlasting death. And if He gives His own flesh and blood to us to eat and drink, He must be for us and not against us. He must make everything turn out well for us. He must be united to us, whatever the storms or darkness we find ourselves in.

When we die, this is how it will be. We will be letting go of everything we can see and feel, but must believe in the face of this loss that all is well for us. That we are not losing but gaining.

Everything we feel and see will tell us otherwise. How will we be able to hold fast to Jesus, and believe that death is not destroying us, but giving us God’s glory and eternal life.

We will not be able to believe this in ourselves. But the Lord strengthens the faith that He has begun in us here so that we will be able to cling to His Word in the face of all that we feel and see. As the Lord sends us trials now, and we cling in the midst of those trials, to Jesus’ promises, we are being strengthened for when we face our greatest trials at the end of our lives.

This is why you must not sleep, but be near His Word and learn to cling to it now, so that when the night comes, His word will be your light. So you will have learned to cling to it when it goes against what you see and feel.

And learning to do this is also the only thing that will give new life and joy to us as a congregation.

May the Lord who added Jesse to His family today cause him and all of us who are baptized to cling to His word to us there, and to increase in our trust in that bare word. Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

From Every Man Whose Heart Moves Him–Exodus 24-25

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

contributions tabernacle ex 25.PNGOctober 16, 2018

Exodus 24-25

 

From Every Man Whose Heart Moves Him

 

From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.  Exodus 25:2

 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matt. 5:8)

 

Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel on Mount Sinai.  But they were not pure in heart.  Not the elders of Israel, who, a few chapters later, were presumably among the people of Israel who demanded that Aaron give them a golden calf.  Not Aaron, since he blessed the people’s sinful plan.  Not even Moses was pure in heart.  He forgot to circumcise his son and caused him to break God’s covenant.  And yet these seventy-two men who were not pure in heart “saw the God of Israel.  There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And He [God] did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”  (Ex. 24:10-11)

 

This was something that had been denied human beings since Adam was thrown out of Paradise.  With a few rare exceptions, no one had seen God since human beings fell into sin.  But now the elders of Israel do.  They eat and drink in God’s presence; they sit down at God’s table.

 

Something even more amazing follows.  Moses goes into the cloud of the glory of God to receive further instructions from Him.  And the first thing He tells Moses is to take up a collection: “And let them build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”  (Ex. 25:9)  God not only shows the elders of Israel His face, but will dwell in the midst of them.  He will not only show them His face this once, but always be in their midst, in a place where they can find Him.  And not only with them, but with their children and their descendants forever.  What was lost at the garden of Eden—the presence of God—is now being restored for this one people, chosen out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.

 

What happened to Moses and Israel was only foreshadowing what God would do at the end of time.  The sanctuary they built was an earthly one, made with human hands, and it was only a temporary structure.  Now God has built an eternal dwelling place, not made with human hands, in which He dwells with His people forever.  That dwelling place is the human nature, the body of Jesus, which was conceived in the womb of Mary.  And by the same Spirit the Holy Trinity makes the bodies of His saints into the eternal dwelling place of God, into the members of Jesus’ body—so that we not only have God dwelling among us in a tent or a temple of stone—but we are the tent, we are the stones.  We are the dwelling place of God.

 

But how can this be?  And how can we be certain that this “we” includes us?  How can we be God’s holy place, His sanctuary, when we appear to be unclean and unholy, just like the elders of Israel when they ate and drank in the sight of the glory of God?  We are God’s dwelling place for the same reason they could stand in His presence: the blood of the covenant.

 

They were sealed into a covenant with God by the blood that Moses threw on them after first throwing part of it on God’s altar.  We are made holy by the blood of the Lamb of God, His spotless, well-pleasing Son, who was slain in our place, for our sanctification and cleansing.  His blood is poured out on us in our Baptism into Him, sprinkled on us when we are absolved and when His cross is proclaimed to us.  It is given us to drink in the supper that is His testament.  His blood cleanses us on the outside and within.  The stain of our sin is washed away in His blood in Baptism.  The ongoing power of sin within our sinful flesh is covered and put into remission as we eat His body and drink His blood which He shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

And then something else comes out of us instead of sin.  Praise and thanksgiving pass our lips instead of cursing and lies.  And instead of our hands being used to steal and tear down, we begin to build up the sanctuary of God, contributing not only to maintain the houses in which we hear Jesus, in which He gives us His Spirit, but to support the preachers through which His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments are administered, so that the holy place of God may be built up in our own congregation and in those farther away.  Christians give for the same reason the Israelites did in Exodus chapter 25—because their hearts moved them, after the God who saved them from bondage by a mighty hand made a covenant to dwell with them.

 

Those who believe in Christ will have hearts that are moved to give to the Lord’s house.  They believe that they will one day see God’s face for the sake of Jesus, and they rejoice in hope.  But they also believe that the fullness of God’s glory dwells with them—and in them—now.

 

Yet she on earth has union

With God the Three in One,

And mystic, sweet communion

With those whose rest is won.

O blessed heav’nly chorus!

Lord, save us by your grace,

That we, like saints before us

May see You face to face.

Trinity 20, 2018. Matthew 22:1-14. Witnessing.

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 22:1-14 (Is. 55:1-9)

October 14, 2018

 

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Isaiah foretold the day when God’s people would build up, raise up, repair the ruined cities and the desolations of many generations.

 

Happy words when you see destruction and decay around you.  And we do.

 

But Isaiah did not say that the people of God would summon the will and the energy and go out to build up what had been ruined, what was falling down.  Isaiah said the Spirit of the Lord would be poured out on the servant God would send, and He would come and preach good news to the poor and the opening of the prison to those in darkness, in prison.  And being set free from prison, the people of God would go out and repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.

 

All of this is good news.  Isn’t it?  What would you like to see rebuilt, raised up, that now is destroyed, falling down?  Is it your church?  Is it this town of Joliet, or other places like it?  Is it your country?  Is it your family?

 

And you probably have at least some idea what it would look like for your family, your church, your town, your country, if it were raised up and repaired.  Probably, hopefully, your ideas about what “rebuilding” would look like involve greater conformity to the law of God.

 

We think that America would be a better place if people worked harder and thought about other people and not just themselves.  If they worked hard to provide for themselves and their families.  If they got married before they started making families, and once married, they stayed together; and if we taught our kids that men should only women and vice versa.  And that if people make a baby they don’t want, they should let it live.

 

This is the way most of us think, and we are right to think this way, because God commands all these things. And that is the heart of it all.  We think that things would be better if people believed in our God, and worshipped Him.  If this was a nation that went to church like it was once.

 

But here’s something we forget.  It’s important for us to remember this today.

 

The people on the other side of these issues also want to see a better world.  A better world, a better country, probably a better Joliet.  They may want it even more passionately than you do.  They may work harder than you do to make the better world come.

 

“Yeah, but God agrees with us about how the world should be.”

Yes.  And no.

 

God stands behind the ten commandments, that is true.  But fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, when people didn’t live together unmarried, and abortion was illegal, and churches were fuller than they are now, people still didn’t obey the ten commandments.  There was what Martin Luther called “civil righteousness”—an outward adherence to God’s commandments.  And this had some value.  But people still hated each other.  People still cheated each other, coveted one another’s property and spouse; they still went to war, and people hungered and died of disease.  People honored God with their lips while their hearts were far from Him.  There were benefits to this outward righteousness.  But it was still a world subject to decay, corruption, and death, because sin was still alive in the world fifty years ago.

 

You can work to get back the world of fifty years ago or a hundred years ago, but that is not the world that God is aiming at and that He promises that His people will have the joy of building together with Him.

 

That world does not come by political action or revolution.  Or by voting.  Or by volunteer work.  Or even by spreading God’s Law.

 

It is a work of God.  We say in the Creed that we believe in the life of the world to come.  We believe in everlasting life, but also “the world to come” will have life.  The Bible talks about it as “the new heavens and the new earth.”

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)

 

That better world is God’s Work alone.  You can beat on the Supreme Court doors forever, but the Supreme Court can’t give it to you.

 

And if the Supreme Court makes abortion illegal—and God grant that it does!—but even if it does, the world won’t be made whole.  I’m not preaching that we should not vote and be active in politics to uphold the ten commandments in our country’s laws.  But I’m saying that if we give all our attention to that, we are overestimating human ability and underestimating sin contrary to the law of God.  The Law of God is good, righteous, and holy, but people are not by nature, nor are they made righteous and holy by the Law of God, much less by the civil law.

 

The life of the world to come is God’s work alone.  Since He does it, entrance into it does not come by beating on the doors of the Supreme Court and getting it to make laws that allow homosexuals to marry or forbidding them to marry.  Entrance into the life of the world to come, the paradise of God restored, is by invitation only. 

 

And the message of the Gospel reading is that God sends out the invitation to this new world, to this wedding and its attendant feast, in a perfectly non-discriminatory way.

 

Which is amazing, because that isn’t how anything works.  People always invite their friends and family to their weddings.  They don’t give their money and their inheritance to strangers; they give it to their children.

 

And at the very least, justice demands that you give good things to the deserving.  People still understand this today.  Bad people should not be treated the same as good people.  Even people who don’t believe in God say that.  (We just don’t agree on what makes a person bad or good.)

 

But the Gospel reading cuts through all of this.  The King calls the guests who have been invited to his son’s wedding feast, but they won’t come.  So then he sends his servants to bring in whoever they find on the street.  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  (Matt. 22: 10)  The king sends his servants out into the public roads to invite whoever they find, bad and good, rich and poor, dirty and clean.  And nobody gets kicked out who comes to the feast, except for the guy who won’t wear the appropriate clothes, who tries to come to the feast without wearing the wedding garment that is provided.

 

This is how the new and better world, the Kingdom of God, is given.

 

God prepares it for us by judging and condemning the old world and the old man, the old Adam.  He allows Jesus, His incarnate Son, to be wedded to humanity.  Conceived in the womb of the virgin and so true man.  Baptized in the Jordan River, and so numbered with the transgressors, making intercession for the transgressors.  Finally, crucified, and bearing God’s wrath and anger against all our transgressions of His Law, whether outward rejection of Him and His Law or failures to keep it in heart, word, and deed.  Jesus, His Son, becomes sin for us, and is judged by God who does not acquit the guilty.

 

And then rises from the dead, loosed from our sins, the wrath of God satisfied, justice fulfilled, the Law fulfilled.  And when He rises He commissions His disciples to go bear witness to what has happened.  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scirptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations…You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24: 46-48)

 

So God witnesses to you.  Everything is ready.  I am making all things new…It is done.  Which is the same as saying, “Your sins are forgiven.”  If your sins are forgiven, then you have a place in the new heavens and earth and the life of the world to come.

 

And Jesus knows you have trouble believing this, so He sends out preachers to witness to it in more than one way.

 

They give you the wedding garment of Jesus righteousness in your baptism, and they remind you to put it on by faith, to believe what God has done and said in your baptism—that you are righteous and holy and pure as Jesus your Lord when He rose from the dead.

 

He sends me to speak His Words and spread the feast of the life of the world, the wedding feast of Jesus, where He gives you his body and his blood that were given and shed for you to loose you from sin’s prison, to release you from your state of destitution where you have no righteousness before God.  Take, eat, Jesus says to you.  He doesn’t say, take, eat, and work.  Take eat, take drink, it is finished. It is done.  The life of the world to come is yours.  It is yours now and it will be yours on the last day.

 

That is the last of the 6 things of stewardship series.  Witnessing.  My job is to bear witness to Jesus and invite.  I am a preacher of the Gospel.  But I am called to do in the church, publicly, what all Christians are called, authorized, and privileged to do when they go out of the church.  They are called to bear witness to Jesus and the new world He has set free by His death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead.

 

This witness to Jesus has the power to free people from their bonds to sin, death, and the devil.  It is the only thing in the world that can do this.

 

It is the witness to Jesus and from Jesus that saves us from our sins.  When your pastor baptized you and your parents taught you the word of God, through that God preached good news to you when you were poor and unlocked your bonds when you were chained up in the dungeon, bound for eternal death.  And the promise was that, having been freed, you would build up, raise up, repair the world.  And this is really the way we do that—our witness as Christians, as the Church.  When we serve and give to those in need we live in a way consistent with our witness.  But the witness itself is the proclamation that God has loosed us from our sins in Jesus.  That witness in the world is the power of God that looses people from sin and death and places them in God’s Kingdom when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they believe this testimony.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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