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The Right Use of Beauty. Martyrdom of John the Baptist/Altar Guild Service 2019

August 29, 2019 1 comment

john baptists headMartyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29

August 29, 2019

The Right Use of Beauty

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

For the last several years at this service we have observed the festival of John the Baptist’s martyrdom, because it is the closest festival day to the last Thursday in August.  But this year the last Thursday in August actually falls on the day of John’s martyrdom.  And so my robes are red.

 

Red goes with Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It also goes with blood—the blood of the martyrs, who, by the burning faith and love worked by the Spirit, bore witness to our Lord Jesus not only with words but with their red blood.  With their blood they testified to the salvation won by Jesus Christ, and the power of faith in His name.

 

So you see the red of this chasuble.  It is beautiful, but it points to something fewer people think beautiful—the blood of many Christians that poured out from their bodies, who were reflections of their Lord, from whose head and hands and feet and side blood poured and streamed.  His streaming blood, His bloody death purchased salvation from sin and hell.  With their red blood they bore witness, they testified to the certainty of the salvation won by our Lord.

 

Even today blood pours from the bodies of Christians all over the world, in streams wider and fuller than at any time in history.  The time of the martyrs was not 1900 years ago.  It is now.

 

But those suffering and dying are not, in many cases, people whose parents and grandparents and ancestors for generations have been baptized.  They are new Christians, yet these new Christians are called by our Lord to suffer or even die for His name, and they answer His call and join the souls under the altar in heaven.

 

It is different with the Christians around us.  We appear to be living in a unique time, when European culture, what used to be called “Christendom,” is shedding the last vestiges of its Christian identity.  We are having difficulty adjusting to this.  We are having difficulty losing the prestige and the numbers we once had when our countrymen all claimed to be Christians and built beautiful churches to have their children baptized and married in.  We are not being asked to lose our lives.  Christ is calling us to lose our status, to be lowly and despised, to be poor and few in number.  And we are struggling with this.  Many are refusing to give these things up.

 

Parents who still bring their kids to church usually want their kids to experience a full church, a vibrant church, with lots of other kids and lots of activities for kids, even though churches like these are becoming rarer, and those that have these things and also teach the pure doctrine of Christ rarer still.

 

Churches are still hoping against hope that the pews will become full again.  Meanwhile many of them are trying to hang on to what they had when the churches were full, even though they are no longer full.  It is hard to accept that Jesus may be calling us to let these things go.

 

Many Christians think the people and the kids and the money and the feeling of being “vibrant” and so on are necessary.  They run after these things even when doing so means leaving God’s pure word behind.  They can’t imagine church without these things.  They fear that their children will abandon Christianity if it isn’t fun and doesn’t feel like it’s growing and prestigious.

 

Those who remain in the church keep being nagged by the temptation that Moses has been on the mountain too long and now it is time to make gods to lead them out of the desert.  We are tempted to look for anything that will make Christianity appealing to our kids, grandkids, and neighbors, so that they would come back.

 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?  (Rom. 6:3)  That is a call from the apostle to remember what life we were given when we were baptized.   He does not think that the Romans (or you) don’t know.  You do know.  Death is not a special way for the elite Christians, the martyrs.  Death is the way for every Christian.   We were baptized into Jesus’ death on the cross.  We are baptized into His death—unless we turn away.  Our lives are death with Jesus and resurrection with Jesus.  There is no other way to be a Christian, no other way for the Church.  If we want to avoid death with Jesus, we want to avoid being Christians.  If we try to find a way to convince people to be Christians that does not involve dying to their desires to be rich and important and be in a beautiful religious facility with lots of other popular, non-embarrassing people—we are finding a way to be ashamed of Jesus.  Because Jesus said, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will find it. (Mark 8:34-35)  Even if your life does not end with nails through your hands and feet, you have already been crucified with Christ in Baptism, and every day your old nature must be crucified with Christ again.  Your demands to have the love of this world, the honor of this world, the praise of this world—you must die to it and go with Jesus and accept the scorn of this world, the mockery of this world, perhaps the loss of a full church, a youth group, a church with a steeple and stained glass.

 

Christ’s church does not lie to people.  Churches do, but His true church doesn’t.  It doesn’t promise people their best life now.  It doesn’t say “Jesus will never ask you to do something really hard, or suffer.”  It tells people—Jesus calls you to repent, and to repent means to die.

 

She speaks like John the Baptist did.  A king married a woman.  The woman had divorced the king’s brother so she could marry the king.  John told the king, “It is not lawful to marry your brother’s wife.  You are lost unless you repent.”  By repent John did not mean that King Herod should feel bad but stay married to Herodias.  He meant he should send Herodias back to his brother.  He could never be married to her and be right with God.

 

But of course this would offend Herod, wouldn’t it?  Then Herod would never join John’s church.  That’s the way people in churches often talk.  John did not talk this way.  He talked like a man sent by God to turn the sinful to repentance.

 

Pastors have to ask themselves: Is that the way I speak to the unrepentant?

 

Churches have to ask themselves: Is that the message unrepentant sinners in our congregation and outside our congregation get?  If not, are we willing to say that to them, and let the pastor say it to them?  To say, “Repent, you are lost”?  To be in earnest, as if heaven and hell is real, and the unrepentant are headed for hell?

 

If not, no matter how much we talk about Jesus, we are not following Him.  We are walking in another way than His, one without the cross.  The world has to repent of its lawless immorality, but we have to repent in the church of our wanting to be Christ’s while refusing to bear His cross.

 

If what I am saying is striking home with you, then you know that you have done just as Herod did.  He was called to go the difficult way of repentance.  He chose to save face and put John to death instead.  Like Pilate also who, forced to choose between Jesus and angering the Jews and Caesar, went against his conscience and crucified the man he knew was from God.  Like Peter who, though he wanted to be faithful to Jesus, at the moment of crisis denied Jesus to save his life.  We have done this, and though it may have given us a temporary reprieve or a short term profit, when we did it we forfeited our souls.

 

Had Herod listened to John and come in unconditional surrender to God, John would have baptized him.  He would have lost Herodias his brother’s wife, but he would also have lost his sins.

 

The baptism that brought us into the church did not only forgive our sins.  It joined us with Jesus who went to death rather than turn aside from God.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?

 

You who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are like Peter.  You want to die rather than deny Jesus.  You believe He is the Son of God.  You want to go with Him even to death because you believe in Him and you love Him.  You want to be a faithful witness.  But you falter.  You have many times.  You were afraid to stand with Jesus.  You sought to preserve your life in this world, even though Jesus said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  You tried to be Christ’s disciples and still please the world and your flesh.

 

Return to your baptism.  There you died with Jesus.  There your sins were washed away.  There, fleeing compromise with the world, you are raised from the dead to walk in newness of life.  Not to follow the Pharisees in a self-chosen holiness from the flesh, but to go with Jesus to the cross, to lose your life in this world, and gain what is life indeed.  Have you faltered?  So did Peter.  Return to Baptism where your faltering flesh is dead and the life of Christ has raised you.

 

Come to this altar; receive the finished salvation of Jesus.  Eat His body.  Drink His blood.  Receive His power that enables you to bear witness to Him in a world that demands you bow your knee to it and its ruler.

 

No!  You are Christ’s.  You will go to Him and conquer the world as He did and as the martyrs did.

 

As long as He continues to give us beautiful churches, robes, paraments, we will use them to bear witness to the shedding of His blood.  You can use them without fear as a Christian because they are not your gods. They are simply gifts.  You have died to this world with Him.

 

But if He allows them to be taken, don’t be afraid.

 

If we are friendless, homeless, poor, because we are His, that is a more beautiful robe than can be made with hands, or washed, or ironed by your hands.  If you are small and forsaken, if you lose people, if you lose paraments, workers, vestments because you are poor, your Lord adorns you with His poverty and lowliness.  It is a royal honor.  “Blessed are the poor.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  Blessed are you when others revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5)

 

May the Lord Jesus teach us to see and rightly use both kinds of beauty—the beauty you work with in the altar guild, and the beauty of the cross.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

God’s Peace for God’s People. Trinity 10, 2019

jesus weeps over jerusalem.PNGTenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 19:41-48

August 25, 2019

“God’s Peace for God’s People”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Beloved,

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

 

How are we going to survive in this world?

 

More and more, Christians in America are starting to ask this question.  In a certain sense it is a new and strange question to American Christians who, if they are above a certain age, grew up in a time when an America without Christianity was unthinkable.

 

But it is not a new question in the Scripture, or in the experience of God’s people throughout history.  Go back through the Bible and you see that this question is there from the beginning when Cain killed Abel because Abel and his offerings were acceptable to God, and Cain and his were not.  How will we survive in this world? was the question when Abraham was a stranger in the land of promise and he had no offspring.  It was the question of the Israelites in Egypt when they were enslaved and being genocided.  Then it was their question when the Egyptians came after them at the Red Sea.  And then again when Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights.

 

And the right answer to this question of the survival of God’s people was always the same as the one Moses gave the Israelites at the Red Sea: The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Ex. 14:14).  Whenever God’s people did not believe this, they began to stray; and once they turned aside from trusting God—they stopped being His people!  They remained the people who had been called and who had been marked with His promise in circumcision.  But when they worshipped and trusted other gods, they were no longer His people.  Whatever peace they achieved by doing that, they bought at the price of being God’s enemies.

 

That is the story of the Gospel reading.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem.  It is Palm Sunday.  A crowd has come out and hailed Him as the Messiah, but Jesus knows that Jerusalem as a whole, particularly His leadership, does not believe in Him.  And He weeps over Jerusalem.  Would that you, even you had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  (Luke 19: 42)  Our Lord speaks these words through His tears.

 

Jerusalem had a sort of peace.  Historians call the period from about 27 B.C. to 180 A. D. the Pax Romana, the Roman peace.  The Romans imposed peace on the lands around the Mediterranean with overwhelming military force.  Despite their brutality, the peace resulted in growth in trade, culture, and technology.  Even so, most of the Jews didn’t really want this peace enforced by an idol worshipping, sexually immoral nation.  Most of the Jews were looking for the Messiah, the descendant of David who would rule the world and unite the nations in the worship of the true God.  They wanted the Messiah who would bring in God’s reign, God’s Kingdom, and an everlasting peace.

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But the leaders of Jerusalem, the chief priests, Pharisees, Scribes, the ruling council, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  St. John tells us in his gospel that a few days before this when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from his tomb, that the chief priests and Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do?  For this man performs many signs.  If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  (John 11: 47-48)

 

The leaders of the Jews intended to keep peace with the Romans so that the temple wouldn’t be destroyed and the Jewish people wouldn’t be removed from the land.  And that meant they couldn’t have everyone go after Jesus as the Messiah.  That was the way they intended to answer the question: How are we going to survive in this world?  Their answer was—we are going to keep people from following Jesus.  We are going to maintain the status quo.

 

If you think that this was wicked, you are right.  But it is something that people do all the time.  It is what churches today are doing.  They are saying, “We have to get rid of Jesus, the real Jesus, in order to survive, in order to have peace.”  I will come back to this.

 

But the leaders of Jerusalem were blind, just as most churches are blind today.  We are all blind when we lean on our own understanding and do not trust in the Lord with all our heart (Prov. 3:5).

 

They did not realize the time of their visitation, Jesus says.  The word “visitation” in Greek is the same word from which we get the word “bishop,” which is one of the New Testament titles for a pastor.  Think of a king going in disguise to visit the towns in his kingdom.  He visits to see how things are going.  He goes to see how the people are doing, whether they are happy, what they say to each other about the government of the country.  He especially goes to see how his officials and his lords are doing their work.  Are the courts fair?  Are they providing the people what they need?

 

Jerusalem, the capital city of God’s people, is being visited by God in this way, but they don’t recognize the time.  The leaders of the people are so blind that they consider it in the best interests of the nation to kill the God who made them a nation.  They consider Him the biggest threat to the survival of the Jews.  They think they have to kill God the Son in order to preserve peace for the people of God.

 

But they don’t realize that they are being visited and evaluated, to see whether after all these years of having God’s Word, they have borne any fruit.  And Jesus weeps because the answer is “No.”  Just as He cursed the fig tree on the way into Jerusalem because it bore no fruit, so God is doing to Jerusalem, to the majority of the nation of Israel.  His judgment has already begun.  Jesus says, Now the things that make for peace have been hidden from your eyes (19:42).  They are worried about peace with the Romans.  They think their survival depends on the Romans, on keeping peace with them.  But they are not at peace with their God.  They are enemies of Him.  And His judgment on them has already begun.  Although individuals in Jerusalem will repent, the city as a whole, like the Jewish nation as a whole, will not.  What would give them peace with God has been hidden from them—by God.  Like Isaiah prophesied: Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; let they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.  (Is. 6:10) 

 

Because God has given them over to blindness so that they cannot see what would bring them peace with God destruction follows.  Jerusalem was torn down, people were killed in horrible slaughter about 35 years later.  But the cause of it all was that the people of Israel refused peace with God in order to try to make their own peace with the world.

 

And that is the same thing that is happening in the churches today.  It has been going on for a long time, but now we are starting to see it.  For most of us it is a bridge too far to say “homosexual marriage, or homosexuality period, is not sinful.”  That is good that we recognize that.  But most of the mainstream protestant churches have made peace with homosexuality in order to make peace with our world.  In order to try to be acceptable to an unbelieving world.

 

But even in our churches we struggle with the same thing.  We still call homosexuality sinful, but we fail to discipline other open sins.  We have put the key of binding sins in the closet and think it’s better there.  Though we formally have right teaching, in reality lots of us don’t accept it.  How many people at St. Peter after all the years I’ve been here actually believe that we have the pure word of God, and agree that those who depart from the pure Word or don’t confess it should not be admitted to the table of the Lord until they do?  And when people privately hedge about God’s pure word, they do it to make peace and avoid the offense, the scandal of Christ.

 

We think by avoiding the parts of God’s Word that are most offensive we are making peace.  In reality we are pushing away what makes for peace.  God’s people have peace with God even though the world hates them.  But God’s people not only listen to God’s Word and have it in their midst—God’s people believe His Word.  They look to Him for peace.  They trust Him to preserve His church in this world, and Him alone.

 

But the world, though it has a lot more peace in this world than Christ and His church, has no peace with God.  It has an eternity of pain ahead of it, and God’s wrath even in this life.

 

See what Jesus does.  He knows that He is going to die.  He knows that after He throws those buying and selling out of the temple, in a few days they will be back.  He knows that the perfect temple of God in which the true God alone is worshipped will not be complete until He comes again.

 

But He still goes into the temple.  He throws out those who are making it a den of robbers, who are standing in the way of the people of God finding peace with God.  And in the quiet of the cleansed temple He gives those who come to Him what will give them peace with God—His Word.  He was teaching daily in the temple (19:47).  The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him (19:48) and in time they would succeed in having Him put to death—but not until Jesus finished teaching.  In time God’s wrath would send the Romans to destroy that temple made with hands and not one stone would be left on another—but during these days Jesus would teach His Word unimpeded in that house, and his enemies would have to gnash their teeth.

 

The day came when the chief priests seemed to be proven right, and they mocked the Lord as He hung on the cross.  They said if He was really God’s Son He would come down.  Those who hold to God’s Word and look to Christ for peace experience this too.  Many have shed their blood looking to Christ alone.  Churches have suffered for clinging to Christ alone.  In Russia the Lutheran churches were almost wiped out.

 

But in reality when they had their way, Jesus accomplished the things that make for peace.  Not with the Romans, not with the world, but with God.  He was torn down so that we would be raised up as His holy people, so that we would be raised to eternal life.  The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him—punishment not only from the hand of men, but also of God.  God’s hand laid on His Son the strokes, the suffering of soul, that we have deserved for seeking peace apart from Him.

 

Let us not seek peace with the world.  Let us cling to Christ alone and have peace with God.  He will see to it that we and His Word have a place in this world in spite of its rage.

 

Let us come now to receive peace through His body and blood, saying, “Lord, I will seek peace nowhere else than in you.  And I want to not run away from the cross you send me, but share it and share the peace with God you won for me by your cross.”

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understandi

The Word of God and the Word of Men. Trinity 8, 2019

jeremiah.PNG8th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Jeremiah 23:16-29

August 11, 2019

The Word of the Lord and the Word of Men

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jeremiah the prophet lived from the middle of the 7th century before Christ into the 6th century before Christ—so from about 650 B. C. or so until maybe 570 B. C.

 

He lived in dark times.   In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple that Solomon had built.  In the years that followed they carried the inhabitants of Judah into captivity in Babylon.

 

Jeremiah was the last prophet before Judah was conquered.  He was sent to warn the people that they were about to be taken captive.  In the days leading up to the Babylonian invasion there were many signs that disaster was approaching, but the people did not take warning.  They went on believing that nothing would happen to them even though they were worshipping other gods and blending the worship of the true God with the practices of the pagan nations that surrounded them.

 

Why didn’t the people turn from their sins and return to their God?  Part of it was that they liked the false religion they had invented.  And part of it was that there were many false prophets who told them that they did not need to repent.  Everything would be all right; everything would return to normal.  The world would go on just as it always had.  There would be no day of reckoning.  The false prophets preached their own message, a word that came merely from man, not the living, creative, powerful Word of the Lord.

 

People liked this message.  It pleased them and made them feel comfortable.  The Word of the living God that Jeremiah and faithful prophets preached did not make people feel comfortable.  It scared them.

 

But the problem with the message of the false prophets was that it had no power.  It made people relax for awhile when they saw signs that their country was about to be destroyed.  But because it was only a human message it could not deliver the people of Judah from their sins and God’s wrath.  Only the Word of God had the power to do that, because His Word has power.  It created the world.  It sustains us.  It causes the crops to grow and the rain to fall on them.  And only the Word of God can turn us from our sins to the living God.

 

But the people were not hearing the Word of God because the message of the false prophets drowned it out.

 

Friends in Christ, doesn’t Jeremiah’s time sound a lot like our own?  You don’t have to be a prophet to feel the tension in the air.  You don’t have to be a prophet to feel that the pillars on which our nation stands and on which the world order stands are shaking underneath our feet.

Yet people are not repenting and turning to the Lord.  In fact, they seem to be renouncing the Lord and His Word and His church in greater numbers than at any time in living memory.

 

And the reasons are the same as they were in Jeremiah’s day.  Of course people do not want to hear God’s Word; they prefer a message from false prophets, a word from men that makes them feel comfortable.

 

But also it has become difficult to hear the Word of God.  Even in what we call “conservative” churches, you almost always find God’s Word mixed with human words and ideas.  The pastors preach a message in which the Word of God is mixed together with the word of man, and the result is that the clear Word of God that is able to save people is hard to hear.

 

That is why it remains so important for Christians to be able to discern the difference between true prophets and false prophets, between the true Word of God and that which is corrupted by the thoughts of men.  The Old Testament reading pictures for us the difference between these two messages—the word of men and the Word of God.

 

First of all we see that false prophets are known by the fact that they do not listen to God.  They listen instead to their own thoughts, or perhaps their own visions and dreams.  They are not clear on the difference between human thoughts and ideas and God’s Word.

 

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord…For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear His word, or who has paid attention to His word and listened?  (Jer. 23: 16, 18)

 

The false prophets do not listen carefully to the Word of God and receive it as God’s Word.  They don’t have a reverence for God’s Word.  Luther famously said that the followers of the Pope treated the Bible like “a wax nose that one can pull this way and that.”  They treated the Bible as though it were something to play with and make into whatever they wanted it to say.  The mark of a false prophet first of all is that he (or she) doesn’t listen to the Word of God and learn from it and let it speak when he teaches.  A false prophet speaks his own thoughts as though they were of equal authority with God’s Word.

 

Secondly, false teachers do not lead people back to the true God.  This follows from the fact that they themselves do not listen to God and do not speak His Word faithfully.  God’s Word leads people back to Him.  It is the only power in the world that can do this.  It is what God Himself wants to do.

 

False prophets, on the other hand, tend to tell people what they want to hear, what is acceptable to men.  They continually say to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you,” and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you.”  (Jer. 23: 17) 

 

How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal (Jer 23:26-27) 

The false prophets falsified God’s law.  They told people that God wasn’t displeased with them even though they had idols besides the true God.  In our day, false prophets tell us that it is possible to be saved while rejecting God’s law.  Some say you can still be saved even though you are a practicing homosexual who does not repent.  Some say you can still be saved even though you are a practicing fornicator, one who has sex outside of marriage, without repentance.  False prophets tell us we can depart from God’s Word whenever God’s Word goes against what we think, or what our society accepts.  So we have women in the pulpit, we let anyone go to communion.  This is what false prophets do.

 

But it’s not simply that false prophets falsify God’s law.  They make people forget God.  Because when false prophets shave off the parts of God’s Word that show us our sin, they shut the door on the true God who alone takes away our sin.  The people of Israel forgot the true God who made them a promise to be their God and forgive their sins and send them a Savior.  And so false prophets make people today forget the true God who promised to be our God and forgive our sins when He baptized us and consecrated us by His name to be His holy people.

 

Since false prophets do not listen to God and therefore teach people to forget Him, they also leave people under God’s anger.  Jeremiah says that if the prophets had listened to the Lord, they would have warned them about the anger that was about to fall on them.

 

Many times we turn away from God’s Word or fail to speak it because we want to soften it.  His judgment in the Law is too hard for us to bear.  It scares us, and we can’t imagine that anyone will ever love God if they hear His judgment.  But God proclaims His wrath and His judgment in the Law to bring us to repentance.  If the people of Judah had heard clearly what was coming from the Babylonians, perhaps many more would have turned in sorrow and trembling to God.  The same thing is true today.  There is no sin that escapes God’s anger and judgment, no matter how small.  All of it provokes His anger.  If we cling to any sin we remain under His wrath.  That is true preaching of His law.

 

We are scared of God’s true Word because it is powerful and because it summons us before Him and judges us.  Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29)?  So our nature is to change God’s Word so that it is tame, so that we can keep it under control.  So that it can’t kill us and put us to death.  So that it isn’t a fire that burns and a hammer that smashes.

 

But when the true Word of God comes like a hammer and a fire and burns and shatters our stony hearts, it also comes to save us from God’s wrath.  It comes to make us know the living and true God and turn us back to Him.

 

The God whose true Word is found in the Bible is the only God, the true God.  He is holy and an enemy of all sin, and He will judge the living and the dead.  But He is also the gracious God who truly forgives sin, who gives life to the dead, who causes His anger to pass away from us forever.

 

There is no power on earth that can save the people we love or our nation or our world from destruction—no power in us, no power in human beings.  But the Word of God, unmixed with human thoughts, goes forth with His divine power like a fire and hammer and brings sinners to repentance.

 

And then it does what is even more marvelous.  It proclaims to these broken sinners that God has become a man and perished in the fire of God’s anger for us; that He was crushed for our iniquities and bruised for our transgressions.  That the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.

 

And it causes sinners to believe that this is not just talk, not just a cute sentimental message.  But it is the very word of the living God.  That He has forgiven our sins for the sake of His Son who suffered for us.  That His anger has turned away.

 

Even if only a few people believe this message, we should recognize it for what it is—the Word of God, not the word of men.  And because it is God’s Word, it will do what it says.  It will preserve us in God’s grace even if we suffer in this world, and bring us to see His face, which will not be angry toward us, but looks upon us as His beloved children for Jesus’ sake.

 

Thanks be to our God and Father for this Word that has made us know Him, the God who forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Turn in the Account of Your Management. Trinity 9, 2019

jesus parable of unjust steward.PNG9th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-9

August 18, 2019

“Turn in the Account of Your Management”

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

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

 

The first time I ever entered this church was in 2004, 15 years ago.  I am pretty sure it was the weekend of the 4th of July and I came here on a Saturday night.  That’s how I remember it.  I sat on the pulpit side in the back.  I was going to start as a vicar at St. Peter a little while later under Pastor Jany.  That was one of the few times I sat facing this direction [i.e. toward the pulpit instead of out of the pulpit] in this church.

 

I faced that way yesterday too when I came in here to pray about this call one more time.  Is this really what God is calling me to do, what His will is for me and for you?

 

And I reviewed my time here again.  I examined my conduct of my office as the called servant of the Word at St. Peter.

 

And there was a lot of good that came to me and that we experienced together during my ministry here.

 

It was through you that I was given the gift of the ministry, because it was through you that God called me to preach the Word.

 

I remember at the close of my vicarage one of the older members of the church approached me and said, “We think we should call you after you finish seminary to be pastor here.”

 

I felt so honored.  I was a little proud, too.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, “I must be good at this.”

 

That was a wonderful time because at the same time among you I met Angela, and we were in love.  So God blessed me with so many gifts by His grace.

 

But I almost didn’t come to St. Peter.  I don’t know how many people are aware of that.  If I had done what I intended to do I would have stayed at seminary.  I was frankly afraid to enter the ministry; I was afraid I wasn’t ready.  I had it in my mind to stay another year and work on a master’s in theology.  But then the scholarship I had hoped to get went to someone else, and I was counselled by people I trusted to trust God and enter the ministry anyway, leaving to Him to work through me and help me.

 

So that’s what I did.  And when I became the sole pastor here, you had to bear with me as I learned.  St. Peter had a lot on its plate and I learned how quickly I came to the end of my strength and ability.

 

There was a lot of conflict at St. Peter in those years—about money, about the school.  There were personality conflicts.  Then there were new conflicts provoked by me.  Some were because I spoke God’s Word and people didn’t like it, and that’s all there was to it.  But some happened because I let people down or spoke harshly or didn’t think about other people’s feelings.

 

During these conflicts I got angry, frustrated.  Lots of times I was depressed.  Most of what I hoped would happen when I came here did not happen.  I hoped the declining attendance would improve.  It didn’t.  I hoped St. Peter school would stay open, that the declining enrollment would be reversed.  That didn’t happen.  I hoped we would be able to do what most Lutheran Churches in the city aren’t able to do—begin to draw in people from the community near the church.  For the most part, that hasn’t happened.

 

But something has happened in my time here that I didn’t understand or even know how to look for.  I became your pastor.  You became my family in Christ.  We passed through floods and fire together, and we didn’t notice it at the time, that we were passing through them because we were scared of the floods and the fire was hot.  But Isaiah’s words proved true for us: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name.  You are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, the flame shall not consume you. (Is. 43:1-2)

 

As we were passing through the rivers and the fire with the Lord, He bound us together.  I learned many things from you at St. Peter.  I was frequently frustrated when it seemed like some of you were resistant to changes I thought were necessary.  Sometimes I was frustrated because I felt like my exhortations to you to put God’s Word first, to grow in it, weren’t heeded.  Yet I learned from you without realizing it right away.  I saw how many, particularly of the older members, were faithful and hardworking and dutiful in a way that put me to shame.  I saw how you cared for your friends when they were sick and dying.  How so many of you never complain even though you are weighed down by heavy crosses.  I saw how many of you believed in not wasting what God gives you, how conscientious you were about not being prodigal with what God give you.

 

And from many of you I saw the work of God; I saw shining examples of people who prayed, hungered for God’s Word, who served His church and loved His church here because they loved Him.

 

 

God touched some of you through me too.  To all of you He gave His gifts of grace, but some of you in the past weeks have talked to me and told me you wished I would stay, that you were blessed through my ministry here.

 

I thought about all this while I prayed yesterday.

 

But as I considered the record of my work here not everything was like this.  I saw many things where I had not done well.  That record I didn’t want to look at too closely.

 

In the Gospel reading the manager has to turn in the account of his stewardship.  He has been wasting his master’s possessions, so it isn’t going to go well for him.

 

One day I will have to turn in the record of my ministry here not to myself or you or the district president, but to God.  And not just the record of my ministry, but of my calling to be a father, a husband, a son.  God has entrusted me with many things to manage, just as He has all of you.

 

By man’s judgment you and I may have been faithful in our callings.  But before God, it’s another matter.  We have wasted time that God gave us.  We sought our own comfort and glory in these callings God gave us to serve our neighbor and glorify Him.  Before God we are all prodigals and have misused what He entrusted to us—our time, the moments of our lives.

 

And when the time comes to turn in that record to God, when He demands an account of how we have managed, what then?  How will we stand?

 

When our Lord told this parable of the unjust manager, He had just finished talking about a kid who had squandered everything—the prodigal son.  In that parable the son who had wasted everything goes back to his father and faces up to his shame because he believes that his father will let him live on his estate as a slave.  At least that way he will have something to eat.

 

Instead his dad runs out to him, kisses him, slaughters the fattened calf and has a party.  “My son was dead and is alive again,” the father says.  That the son wasted his dad’s inheritance, threw it all away—is forgotten and forgiven in an instant.

 

That is justification.  That is the Gospel.  All your wasting of your life, all your unfaithfulness, all your sin—God has removed from you and from me as far as the east is from the west.

 

He has placed it on Jesus, the Righteous One.

 

When at death or the end of your work you make an account of yourself to God, Jesus hands in His account to the Father, and takes yours.  And His account reads that our debts, derelictions, the things that won’t let us sleep at night, our hypocrisies—are paid in full.  They were inscribed on Jesus’ body.  His throat cried out in pain as God forsook Him for them.  Then He died and was buried for our unpaid debts, as pastor, as church, as mothers, as fathers, as spouses.  Those of you who are parents know how when you sin and are negligent when you have great trust and authority given you—that is the worst guilt of all.

 

But before God, amazingly, your account is settled.  The Lord was sealed up in the vault of the tomb for our sins.  But when He was raised, sin did not return with Him.  And now He lives to constantly keep our account settled and to give us His record.

 

That is what this Supper is.  That is what the absolution is.  That is how we live as Christians and in the holy callings of pastor and hearer, mother or father or child, worker or master.

 

We live by Him declaring us clean.

 

One thing that I have a good conscience about—that what I just preached to you has always been what I taught you and kept at the center of my teaching.  I constantly taught you about the vital importance of us being sure that we have not part of God’s Word, or mostly God’s Word in this church, or that we have the main things—but that we say, “We have God’s Word pure and unmixed.”  And the reason I kept saying this was not so that we could brag about having Christ’s pure Word, as though this was because of something good in us.  I insisted on it because when we start being lax about God’s Word, we start to lose this most important, central teaching of God’s Word—that we are justified before Him solely by the blood and death of His Son, not by our works, and that this righteousness accomplished for us by Christ comes simply by believing the message that He has done it.

 

So that is how we are able to turn in our account to God and not be damned.  And you know this.

 

But in this Gospel Jesus talks about justification in another way.  He says, Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, that when you fail they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (16:9) 

 

Before God we are justified solely through Jesus’ works.  But human beings can’t see whether we have faith in Jesus.  People can see what we do.

 

I can talk all day about what Jesus did for me and how I’m saved, but if I am unwise about how I live, people, especially non-Christians, will say: “What’s the point of being a Christian?  This guy says, ‘Jesus died for me,’ but then he’s self-centered and only thinks about himself.’”

 

But a wise Christian wants to not only be justified before God, but to live in a way where other people say, “I believe Christianity must mean something by the way this person lives.  He is generous and gracious and helps people.  He lives as if he is not looking for happiness in this world but is confident of heaven.”  If we could live that way, it would give us comfort in those times when we are faced with our debts to God and the months and years when we were wasting the time and opportunity and the life He gave us.

 

But if we lived that way also we would have great joy on the day of His return.  Because then we will not only have the joy of God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  We will also have the joy of seeing those whom we helped and served who are our friends for eternity.

 

The wonderful thins it that this has already been happening among you here.

 

I know something about St. Peter’s sins and the problems it has.  I know something about mine too.

 

Yet as I preach I see many of you who love me because Christ ministered to you through me.  I know it is true, and I also know how often I have behaved sinfully and badly in this calling I was given.  Yet Christ used me and worked through me and made us friends.  You will welcome me, when I stand before our God, into the eternal dwellings.

 

Likewise you have made friends.  There are people outside the church who criticize St. Peter.  Sometimes their criticism is valid.  But you have made friends too.  There are people who say, “Because I went to St. Peter school I believe in Jesus and am headed to heaven.”  In Russia there are believers who thank God that in the midst of your troubles, you are helping them with some of your offerings.  And these good works God has done here even though you are still weak and much burdened by your sinful nature.

 

Through the years I have been here there has been difficulty and struggle and pain, and we have all done some complaining and worrying about the falling away we see around us.  But through all of it Christ has been with us to ensure that the record we have to turn in to God is clean and perfect.  In the hardship He was at work to make us cling to that good news even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea.  He was at work to knit us together in Him as one body.

 

Now He is sending me somewhere else, but just as He used you to form me as a pastor He has also been working in you to ground you in His Word.  And because you have His Word you are strong in Him.  He knows what He has in store for you.  Only be wise and use the wealth and time you have to make friends who will welcome you for eternity.

 

And keep on looking to Jesus and the record He presents to His Father for you.  Look into that record as you come to the altar, listen to it.  This is what God says about us and our whole lives.  “The true blood of Christ, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”  This God…has made my way blameless.  He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights (2 Sam. 22: 33-34)

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Again. Trinity 7 2019

jesus feeding 4000Seventh Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 8:1-9

August 4, 2019

“Again”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…Mark 8:1

 

“Again” means this wasn’t the first time; it had happened before.  There are a lot of things that happen in the Bible again and again, in one generation and the next.  God feeding people with bread in the wilderness is one of those things that happens again and again.  Time would fail if I mentioned all the times the Lord does this in the Scripture.

 

It happened more than once to the disciples of Jesus, too, which is why Mark says, “When again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…”  This wasn’t the first time.  The first time was when Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish.

 

Since something very much like this miracle had happened once before, probably not very long before, we expect that the disciples of the Lord would have seen what was coming.  This miracle seems a little strange to us.  Jesus already fed 5,000 people.  Why does He now do the same thing with 4,000?

 

But as you can see, the disciples seem to have forgotten that Jesus did this.  Jesus tells them He has compassion on the crowd; they have been with Him three days and have had nothing to eat, and if they go home with no food they are likely to faint in the road.  His disciples say, “Well, where can anyone get bread to satisfy all these people in this wilderness?”

 

But you would not expect that they would so quickly have forgotten how Jesus gave thanks for the five loaves, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to give to the five thousand men sitting on the grass.  How they went after and picked up all the broken pieces of bread and collected them in baskets and there were 12 baskets full.

 

You would think that they would remember that Jesus had taken care of them and the great crowd.  Everyone ate and was satisfied.  You would think that after seeing this miracle they would be at peace and comfort and not be afraid when they were running low on bread and when things seemed too much for them to manage.

 

But that is not how the disciples reacted.  They appear to have forgotten all about what Jesus did.  And you can hear in their words—what?  Anxiety.  You can hear that note that creeps into our voices when we talk about our troubles.  “It’s impossible,” that’s what they sound like.

 

But how could they have forgotten what Jesus did?

 

Well, let me ask you.  Have you had any difficulties in your life that caused you to worry recently?  Maybe even some this week, or earlier today?

 

And let me ask you further—have you not had other problems in the more distant past—whether in your personal life, your home, your work, at church?  And what happened with those problems in the past?  Didn’t you come through them?  You came through them and you always had food.  You survived.  You maybe even saw some almost miraculous resolution to those problems in the past.  But even if not, you were taken care of.  God was gracious to you because He is a gracious God.  He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the righteous.  He hates nothing He has made.  He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and He provides for us all, whether we believe in Christ and are saved or whether we do not believe and are His enemies.  He is kind to every person on earth and gives what we need for this life because His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.  An old Lutheran hymn says:

 

Did not His love and truth and pow’r

Guard ev’ry childhood day?

And did He not in threat’ning hour

Turn dreaded ills away?  (LSB 737 st. 4)

 

Think of how many times God has done that for you; guarded you, turned ill away, provided for you.

 

Yet, despite God faithfully providing us with food, clothing, protection, and working so many things out for us in the past, when the next trial and difficulty comes, how do you react?  Don’t you worry, fret, and fear, as though God were not taking care of you at all, as though He did not love you?

 

This is what the disciples did.  They forgot what Jesus had done before when He fed the five thousand.  They did not believe, or they believed with a weak and wavering faith, that Jesus was the God of their fathers with them in the flesh, the God who fed their fathers with bread from heaven in the desert.

 

If they had believed this firmly they would have behaved differently.  When they heard Jesus expressing His compassion for the crowd, they would have said, “Lord, we have these seven loaves, and they are not nearly enough to feed all these people.  But you can take our loaves and make them enough for this crowd.”

 

But they had not learned to say this yet.  And so they had to have the lesson again.

 

And this is how the Lord Jesus deals with us, His Church.  He teaches us this lesson again.

 

It is often a painful lesson to learn—to trust in the Lord to provide for us, His church.  It is painful because to learn it we have to experience being in want, being in need.

 

That is not new.  We have forgotten this because we have lived in a time and place where Christianity was legal and even had some social respectability, even though that respectability was superficial.  But we have become used to that and relied on it.  Now we are pretty far into a time where much of that social respectability is gone.  And with that gone, so have many people, so has money from offering plates.

 

Now we are experiencing what Christians have always really had to experience, even though we didn’t always recognize it.  We are experiencing that Christ’s Church always survives in this world only by Him providing for it.

 

We survive spiritually and have faith in Jesus through His Word and Sacraments alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.

 

But we survive physically in this world because Jesus provides for those who cling to His Word.  We do not know how His church will continue.  Christians often don’t know where the bread or the money they need to continue will come from.  What we see throughout the Scripture is that the Lord provides for His people, even if He has to send bread from heaven, or if He has to take 7 loaves and make them feed four thousand people in the desert.

 

And the Lord makes us learn this again and again because we don’t learn it quickly.

 

We should take to heart how evil this is—not to believe the Lord.  We don’t take it that seriously because we can’t help it.  But think what it means when you don’t trust Jesus to provide for you.  It means you are saying He is not good.  He is not compassionate.  We call into question His love.  We call into question His faithfulness.

 

Just think what this looks like to people we want to witness to when we are full of fear and anxiety when the Lord Jesus lets us be in need.  Our actions tell them that He is not so wonderful a Lord and we aren’t sure if He really cares about us.

 

But you see from this reading that Jesus really does care about us.  I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, He says.  The word refers to a deep compassion that comes from the guts, the kind of compassion a parent has when he has to see his child in pain.  Jesus felt this way about this crowd, just because they were hungry.  It is true that Jesus is concerned about more than just our bodies.  But He cares about our bodies too—whether we have food and drink and clothes, family and friends.  He knows what we need because He has flesh and blood just like we do.

 

And He not only cares about our physical need.  He cares even more that we learn to know His compassion and we learn to bring our needs to Him and rely on Him to provide what we lack.  When we think we have things pretty well under control, which most times we do, we never really experience the love and compassion of our God.  We think we are handling things ourselves.  But when we experience our own helplessness, when we are made to know it, then we taste how sweet the mercy of our Lord is when He helps us in our need.

 

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart,

And all is darkened in this vale of tears;

Then you will better know His love, His heart,

Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.

Be still my soul; your Jesus can repay

From His own fullness all He takes away.  (LSB 752 st. 3)

 

So when you experience need and trouble, or when you are looking at someone else’s need and trouble and you don’t have what you need to take it away from them, what is Jesus teaching you?  He is teaching you what He taught the disciples when He brought a great crowd—again—and they had no food.

 

This is like the other lesson He has to teach us again and again—that our standing before God as His people and as heirs of eternal life—is solely and completely His gift.  You would think that we already know this.  And probably if you have been here awhile you do know it intellectually.  Yet again and again He is teaching us that we have no righteousness except the righteousness He accomplished for us by His death.  And to teach us that He keeps bringing us to this meal where He gives thanks for the bread and the wine and blesses it saying, This is my body, for you.  This is my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

 

He keeps teaching us that He is good and full of compassion and that we can trust Him to the uttermost, not only with our helplessness and our need for bread.  But with our sinfulness, with our flesh that does not believe and that longs for things that are not good and does not satisfy.  Why does He continue to bring us to this meal so often, except that we learn to run to Him with our sin and unbelief and be nourished with the bread of life that makes us holy in God’s sight, His own flesh, given up for the life of the world?

 

The one who spreads this table before us will not hold back from us any good thing.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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