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The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification. Trinity 11, 2019

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus pharisee tax collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

September 1, 2019

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

This is the last Sunday I will preach here as your pastor.  That makes it a sad day, because God has bound us together over these years.  He has taught us together.

 

But in our Lord Jesus’ kingdom, sadness never has the final word.  Joy has the final word.  I will not be the called servant of God’s Word at St. Peter anymore, but I will always be your pastor.  It was through you God called me into the office of preaching the Gospel.  And because we are members of one holy communion, I am yours forever.  That is what “the communion of saints” means.  A communion, a fellowship is a sharing.  We share in the one body and blood of Jesus at this altar.  All He has he shares with us.  And we who have a share in Jesus through faith in Him also belong to one another.  One bread, one body.

 

So that is joy in the midst of sadness.  And our Lord has given us other joys, great joys.  You have two new sisters in Christ, newly risen from what St. Paul calls the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), the washing of Baptism.  They stand among us today with the cross of Jesus marked on their brow, made holy, clothed with robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  We have waited and prayed for this.  About a year ago, Amber, you asked to be baptized at VBS.  I told the church council about it because I was excited.  And here you are, together with Breanna—you went through catechetical instruction many years ago.  Now both of you are going home from St. Peter justified, as Jesus said about the tax collector in the Gospel reading from Luke.  And that is joy for every Christian here.

 

And after the sermon, Billy and Breanna will confess that they believe Christ’s teaching that they learned from me, found in the Scripture, witnessed by the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  How can we not be overjoyed to hear that you have been made disciples of Jesus as He commanded—Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you?  Every Christian has to rejoice that you have been taught all of Christ’s Word and now confess that you believe it and intend to live and die by it.

 

Understand though, that there is pain in the Christian life.  You have been marked with the cross.  There is pain at the beginning of the Christian life, at the end of it, and all the way through.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  (Romans 6)  Paul asks that at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  When you are baptized you are joined with Jesus in His death; that is not a one-time thing.  It continues throughout our life on earth.  But pain and sorrow do not have the final word in Christ’s Kingdom.  Joy has the final word, and Christians come to know God’s joy in the very midst of the cross that God sends them.

It was joy that drew me into the ministry.  That was the bait on the hook with which Christ hooked me.  And joy in a specific teaching of the Bible—what we call the doctrine of justification.  It is the part of Christian teaching that Paul said in the reading from Corinthians is of first importance.  Justification is what Jesus came into the world for.  It is what pastors are here for.  It is what Baptism is about.  And when it is taught rightly and believed it brings joy.

 

So it is my joy to preach my last sermon on the doctrine of justification, which our Lord Jesus teaches about in the Gospel reading.  If you have that teaching and believe it and stay with it—you newly baptized and confirmed, and you who were baptized and confirmed a long time ago—and you who have not been baptized or confirmed—if you believe this teaching you will be saved, and you will have joy.

 

Jesus pictures this doctrine in the parable we heard of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 

He tells us about two men who go into the temple to pray.  He tells us what their prayers are like and what kind of people they are.  Then we hear him say: I tell you, this many went down to his house justified, rather than the other (18:14), that is, the tax collector.  But what does Jesus mean by that word “justified”?  He is saying when the tax collector goes home, he goes home with God having declared him righteous.  God judges him to be right and good in his sight.  The other man, the Pharisee, goes home not righteous in God’s sight.  That means, he goes home guilty, not a friend of God but an enemy.

 

Even though “justification” is not a word we use a lot except in church—and in many churches, not even there—you can see why it is important.  We need to be righteous before God, He needs to regard us as righteous, if we are not to be His enemies, if we are to be saved after we die.  But we also need to be righteous in His sight if we are going to live in this world with the confidence that God is with us.

 

But what Jesus teaches about justification before God goes against the way everyone thinks.

 

People of course have all kinds of different religious beliefs—in this country and across the world.  But there is a common idea that unites everyone, and that is that the way to being right with God is being right and doing right.  People have different ideas about what that means.  The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable had his ideas about “being right and doing right” shaped by God’s commandments that were given through Moses to the people of Israel, including the ten commandments.  So when he prays, he comes into the temple and thanks God that he is righteous, at least compared to other people, because he does not cheat people out of their money, commit adultery, and do other unjust things.  In addition he gives ten percent of everything he gets in income to God.  These were things he knew he was supposed to do or not do because God commanded “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”  He also told the people of Israel they were supposed to tithe ten percent of their income to God.

 

In other places and times people haven’t always had the ten commandments.  In our country today people don’t know the ten commandments like they once did.  But people still know that there is a right and wrong, even if they are misguided about what it is.  And people today generally think along the same lines as the Pharisee—God loves me because I basically am good.  I’m certainly better than all the hypocrites over there anyway.

 

Some people say they don’t believe in God, or He doesn’t factor much into their thinking.  But you will never find a person who doesn’t care if they are justified.  Everyone wants to be recognized as worth something, as having meant something.  Everyone looks for this.  Even people who don’t care much what other people think want to be able to say that their life on earth was valuable, not a waste.

 

Everybody cares about justification, and everybody goes about different ways of trying to justify themselves.  But we can’t justify ourselves, because we are not the judge.  God is the judge.

 

And see what happens with the Pharisee.  He was a man who seemed to be very concerned with God. But he went home “not justified.”  God did not justify him because, though he kept away from adultery, though he engaged in spiritual practices like fasting and gave his money to God, it wasn’t enough.  He believed that doing more than other people made him righteous and good in God’s sight.  But it doesn’t.

 

To have God regard you as righteous is not a matter of doing better than other people but a matter of doing what God requires of you.

 

To be good in God’s eyes means to love God and trust Him above everything else—money, your health, your family.  But anyone who says he loves God like that without wavering is in denial.  The Bible says that he who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).  And who loves the people around him perfectly?  Our selfishness, our self-love keeps us from seeing the people around us and caring about them as we should.

 

Why does the tax collector go home justified?  Jesus says, because Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).  Jesus doesn’t mean humiliating yourself wins God’s favor.  He is saying that when you come to God admitting the truth about yourself—that you have broken His commandments, that you are not righteous but a sinner, that you do not deserve His praise but His punishment—that is the beginning of the way to God.  The kind of humbling yourself Jesus is talking about is admitting what the ten commandments reveal about you—that in yourself you keep falling short of what God requires.  This is painful.  And it isn’t just at the beginning of being a Christian that we experience this pain, but all the way through.  We grow as Christians not by becoming more able to stand on our own; we grow as Christians by becoming more dependent on God’s mercy.

 

But there is something else in this tax collector’s prayer.  When he says, “God be merciful to me,” the word “be merciful” actually contains the word for “a sacrifice that atones for sin.”  He’s not just asking for God to be merciful in a general way, but to forgive his sins on account of the sacrificial blood that covers his sin.

 

In the temple in Jerusalem there was an altar.  Every day many animals were sacrificed at that altar.  The one who sinned would lay his hand on the animal’s head and confess his sins that needed to be covered.  Then the animal’s throat would be cut and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, because according to the book of Leviticus, the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood.  And God told the Israelites, I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (or the soul) (Lev. 17:11).  The blood of the animal contained its life, and when the priest sprinkled the blood on God’s holy altar or poured it on the base of the altar or put sprinkled it before God’s presence in the most holy place, the animal’s life or soul was for atonement, or covering.  The penalty of sin is death, but God accepted the animal’s life in place of the sinner.

But this was only temporary, because it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  Just like ordinary water can’t make a person clean from sin, an animal’s life is not sufficient to make us right before God.  But God accepted them temporarily until the sacrifice came that was enough to cleanse us from our sins.

 

That sacrificial victim was the one who taught this parable.  Jesus is human, like us, but He is also God.  When He suffered on the cross, God suffered.  His blood is not merely human; it is the blood of God.  When this blood was shed, this life was offered up, it truly took sins away, not just from one or two men, but all people.

 

The person who comes to God acknowledging that he is the sinner, and clinging to the sacrifice God provided for us, the blood that purifies and atones for our sin—Jesus’ blood—that person goes home justified before God.  Just like that.

 

We call it “justification by faith alone.”  The Pharisee tries to approach God with his own works and is not justified.  The tax collector clings only to the atoning blood to cover his sin and goes home righteous before God.

 

Jesus does not talk in His parable about the joy of justification.  But joy is what flows from this teaching, and without it being taught clearly we cannot know real joy.  Certainly not in the church.

 

When you see your sins before God like the tax collector did that hurts, but to hear God announce your sins forgiven is a joy greater than the pain.

 

And there is another joy—the joy of someone else being set free from their sins.  The joy of seeing tears run down someone’s face as they are released from the burden of their sins that they carried alone.

 

Pastors experience this joy, but it is not just for them.  It is meant for all the Christians in the church.

 

My friends, you are uniquely situated to experience this joy.  You have been given this pure teaching of justification, where our works are strictly separated from God’s work in shedding His blood for our justification.

 

You have preserved in your midst the means of grace that God uses to confer the forgiveness of sins won by Christ’s blood.  You have baptism, not just as water that symbolizes something we have chosen, but God’s baptism, where the water is joined with His Word and we are washed and presented before God spotless in Christ’s blood.

 

You have the absolution Jesus gave to his church, the authority to forgive sins: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  (John 20)

 

You have the sacrament of the altar where we receive not just bread and wine and say “This symbolizes Christ’s body and his atoning blood.”  No, you receive His body and the blood that atones for your sins.

 

You have these gifts of God preserved among you.  Jesus wants to bring tax collectors in here and send them home justified.  He is doing it today.

 

You will know His joy in justifying tax collectors as you grow in Him, as you grow in the painful realization that you are tax collectors.  As you come to see your sins as great, not small, many, not few, you will experience the joy tax collectors and sinners experienced when they met Jesus and God justified them through Him.  It is not a joy for the beginning of our lives as Christians but for the middle and the end as well.

 

And how will this happen, that you will grow and learn to see your sins as great?  Luther told you that in the catechism a long time ago when you were being prepared to be confirmed, in the questions he wrote for you to use to examine yourself before you go to the Lord’s table.

 

What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?  We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

Why should we remember and proclaim His death?  So that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins…that we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and regard them as very serious…Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

 

So come then with your great sins and receive the blood that cleanses them, and keep coming, and let His justifying word be your all.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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

Lent 5 Midweek 2019. Tenth Commandment and Close of the Commandments.

Lent 5 Midweek (Wed after Judica)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

10th commandment and Close of Commandments

April 10, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the tenth commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not entice, estrange, or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

 

What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

What does this mean?  God threatens to punish all who break these commandments.  Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.  But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments.  Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The tenth commandment is a second commandment against coveting.  The word we usually use for coveting is “jealousy.”  Coveting is a desire for what someone else has.  In the 9th commandment God forbade us to desire our neighbor’s house—his possessions, his inheritance.  In then tenth He forbids us to be jealous of our neighbor’s wife, his manservant, maidservant, ox, or donkey.  He tells us we are not to desire the people in our neighbor’s life.

 

I always thought this commandment was funny when I was a kid, because I didn’t know anyone who had an ox or a donkey, and it was funny to think of coveting them.  Sometimes it still seems that way to me when we recite the commandments with the children.  But God goes into detail about what things we are not to be jealous of.  You must not desire your neighbor’s wife or husband, his male or female servants—not even his ox, or his donkey that works in his field.  What belongs to your neighbor God has given to your neighbor.  What He has given to you He has given to you, down to your animals, and your pets.  God wants you to recognize these things as coming from Him and to be content with what He has given you.

 

Coveting and jealousy over other people’s relationships are actually widespread in our time, perhaps because good relationships are rarer these days than they might have been once.  People are jealous that they don’t have a husband or wife, a boyfriend or girlfriend.  We are tempted to think God has wronged us because we are alone.  Others have a spouse, but they are jealous of the husband or wife of their neighbor, because this person’s husband is so much more kind or attentive, this person’s wife so much more affectionate.  People who don’t have children are jealous and feel cheated.  So are those who lose their husbands or wives or children, sometimes.

 

Why are we jealous in this way?  Because we think God doesn’t give us enough and doesn’t give us what we need in terms of relationships, in terms of love and respect.  We do not trust God to provide us with what we need.  We do not love Him so that, even if we lack a husband or children, we are happy anyway.

 

God commands us that we not feel this kind of desire.  As Luther points out in the catechism, this kind of jealous often leads people to scheme how they may alienate their neighbor’s spouse or workers and get them for themselves.  But even when covetousness and jealousy doesn’t break forth like this, the desire itself is sinful.

 

What this commandment reveals is that sin is not just something you do.  Sin is like a creature that you don’t know is there until it wakes up.  It is as if the serpent that tempted Eve lived hidden inside of us instead of in the tree in the garden.  You don’t know it is there until it wakes up.  And sin living within us is often asleep, or we are not aware of it.  The thing that stirs it up is the Law of God.

 

Paul said this in Romans 7: What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.  (Rom. 7:7-8)

 

That’s the way the sin that lives in us works.  It uses God’s commandments as opportunities to do evil.  God says, “Do not commit adultery.  Do not even covet your neighbor’s wife.”  Sin produces in us all kinds of lust and jealousy.  Our nature rebels against God as soon as God commands us to do what is right.

 

And so God’s Law can’t be simply guidelines for us to follow.  God’s Law is a touchstone that reveals whether we are righteous and have right hearts.  And the Law shows us our hearts are warped.

 

When we get to the place that we no longer recognize our own sin and take it for what it is, that is when Christians become all the things people say we are—self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, deceiving ourselves.

 

That is why God also gives us the close of the commandments, where He tells us what kind of a God He is.  He is a jealous God.  Our flesh is jealous and covetous.  It is resentful of other people having good things and asks, “Why has that not been given to me?  I deserve that more!”

 

God also is jealous.  The difference is that our jealousy is sinful.  God’s jealousy is righteous.  He is jealous and wants us to love Him with all our hearts, love Him above all things.  He is jealous of His glory and wants to be obeyed and honored.  He is not selfish and petty in His jealousy.  He is right, because He deserves all honor, praise, obedience and love.  He is God, our maker.

 

So He tells us that because He is a jealous God He will punish the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.  This means He will wipe out the name and the remembrance of those who hate Him and rebel against Him.  On the other hand He will bless a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

If you want to see what God’s jealousy looks like, you can look away from the commandments to the passion reading.

 

Tonight we saw Jesus carry out His cross to the place of a skull.  It was the third hour, and there they crucified Him.  The brutality of crucifixion is a physical reflection of the spiritual suffering Jesus endured on the cross.  Long nails were driven through His hands and feet and then they lifted Him up into the air to hang by those wounds.  He was naked and all He could do was gasp for breath.  As He hung there He was mocked by every group of people around Him, but He could not move away.  Above all this agony, He had an even greater one:  He cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Try to imagine what it would be like to die in such pain, and have God turn away from you, close His ears to you.  Shut you out in His wrath.  This is what Jesus endured.

 

And why?  Because God is jealous.  Because He will not tolerate those who hate Him and refuse to keep His commandments—not even those who do it in weakness.  Sin must be punished.  None can be in God’s presence.

 

And so Jesus dies forsaken by God.

 

But for those who are baptized into Jesus and take refuge in Him by faith, the commandments do not speak a curse.  They speak a blessing.  I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

For those who take refuge in Christ, the law pronounces a blessing.  The law says God will show love to us and a thousand generations of those who love God and keep His commandments.  Because, it says in Romans chapter 10: Christ is the end of the Law, that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.  He fulfilled the Law’s demands when He died for our transgressions on the cross.  That is why He cried out “It is finished!”

 

For us who believe the Law is fulfilled by Christ, God promises blessing.  We have kept the law, because Jesus’ keeping of the law is ours.  And now when, believing in Jesus, we seek to keep these commandments, God counts these works as good.  He looks on us as righteous ones, as His sons.

 

Now instead of being jealous against us, He is jealous for us, because we are presented before Him pure and spotless, as His bride.

 

May we then use our Lord’s fulfillment of the law not as an excuse to serve the sinful flesh, but as those who have been set free from the law’s curse by Him who became a curse for us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Lent Midweek 4 2019. 8th and 9th commandments

Wednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

3rd Wed in Lent 2019. 6th and 7th Commandments

Wednesday after Oculi (3rd Lent Midweek)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

6th and 7th Commandments

March 27, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is the 6th commandment?  You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 

What is the 7th commandment?  You shall not steal.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbors money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

 

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For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore You, O children of Israel, are not consumed, God says through the prophet Malachi (3:6).  God does not change; this is one of His attributes, called “immutability.”  You can count on Him to be the same tomorrow as He is today.

 

Because He does not change, He told the people of Israel, they were not “consumed”—burnt up.  He didn’t destroy them because He had a purpose for them that He had planned before the world began. Their continual turning away from Him, as wrong as it was, would not change it.  His purpose for Israel was to bring Jesus Christ into the world, God with us in flesh and blood.

 

Since God does not change we can be certain that He will be the same today as He was in the past; He remains God with us.

 

And since God does not change, we can be certain that His will for us does not change.  God does not stop being God or become a different God when our tastes change.  His commandments are a reflection of who He is.  God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:5-6).  There is no change and no darkness in God; He commands us to walk in the light, as He is in the light—to walk in the light of His face with no stain of the darkness of sin (1 John 1:7).

 

So when God says, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, we can be sure that these commandments do not mean something else now than He meant when He first revealed them three thousand five hundred years ago.

 

You shall not commit adultery means not only that God forbids us to sleep with someone other than our spouse and break our wedding vows; it means that He commands us also to be pure in thought, word, and deed.  He forbids all sexual gratification apart from one’s spouse, forbids all breaking of the bond of marriage except in cases of adultery and abandonment, and commands that we love and honor our spouse and His gift of marriage.

 

Because we have a tendency to limit the scope of this commandment, Jesus makes it very clear what the 6th commandment entails in the Sermon on the Mount:  You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:27-29).

 

Even lustful thoughts are enough to condemn you to hell, and we must fight against them.  If lustful thoughts and desires will send you to hell, it’s clear enough that fornication—sex before marriage will too.  That shows that a person isn’t even fighting lust anymore—sin has simply won.  That is true of pornography, homosexuality, and all the other transgressions against the 6th commandment that are now considered normal.  God has not relaxed His commandments just because we have stopped paying attention to them, even many in the church.  In the epistle reading this past Sunday, Paul told us bluntly what we are to think about those who live in sexual immorality without repentance: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.

 

Maybe the seventh commandment seems a little less frightening.  After all, few of us are shoplifters or thugs who rob people.  It’s not because we’re so good, but because after all, the risks of that kind of stealing are so great it hardly seems worth doing to most of us.  But there are a lot of ways to steal that will never end up putting you in jail.  Being lazy and giving half effort at work is a way of stealing—not only because you get paid for work that you’re not doing, but because God commands you in the 7th commandment to love your neighbor and not only think about getting what you need, but also help your neighbor to improve his possessions and income.

 

It used to be considered stealing and a great evil to be greedy, and charge exorbitant interest, or to ratchet up your prices because you know people have nowhere else to buy what they need.  That’s now considered fair play, but God calls it being a thief.

 

It’s also a form of stealing when you waste things, or when you don’t take care of what God gives you.  You’re supposed to use your property and talents not only to benefit yourself, but others.  Think of how often this form of stealing happens.

 

And finally, it’s stealing whenever we refuse to use our money and goods to help our neighbor who truly needs it.  There are of course many people who beg because they refuse to work—but God says, “He who will not work, neither shall he eat.”  (2 Thess. 3:10)  But if someone is truly in need, and we have power to help him, but think that we can do what we want with our money—we sin against God and cast the 7th commandment aside.

 

The fourth through tenth commandments tell us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, treat him as we want to be treated.  That is who God is.  God is love.  His commandment is that we be as He is, with our property, with our sexuality, and so on.

 

But we have to fight with our sinful nature, with the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are going to keep God’s commandments.  Even when we are engaged in this fight as Christians we are not without sinful desires.

 

The very fact that we have to fight with ourselves shows us what Paul says about our nature in Romans 8: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law.  Indeed, it cannot. (Rom. 8:8)

 

And so the 6th and 7th commandments not only show us how God wants us to walk; they also show us our need for someone who can walk in them and enable us to do so as well.  They show us our need for someone to stand in between us and God—a person who is holy and chaste, who is not greedy or selfish—and who can turn away God’s anger against us.

 

I the Lord do not change, so you, O Children of Israel, are not consumed.  God had a purpose for Israel, so He didn’t destroy them.  His purpose was to send His Son to become man among the people of Israel; His purpose was to send His Son into the world to fulfill His commandments, to complete the law for all people, so that we would be counted as having done it.

 

That is who Jesus is.  He comes into the world and is chaste, without the least spot of sexual impurity.  He does not steal, but loves his neighbor and seeks his well-being with all His heart.  He comes and does these commands not for Himself, but for us, so that we would be considered righteous, those who have fulfilled God’s Law.

 

And in the passion reading we saw Jesus being tried and condemned for our unrighteousness.  He was specifically condemned for blasphemy—breaking the 2nd commandment.  But when Jesus was punished with whips, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails to the cross and lifted up, He was being punished for our adultery, fornication, lust.  For your laziness, theft, wastefulness, selfishness.

 

He was consumed by God’s wrath against us, and we were counted righteous.

 

Jesus warned that it was better to tear out your eye than to lust and go to hell with both of them.  But last week we heard the chief priest say that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.  And that is what Jesus is doing; His body is cast into the fire of God’s wrath for our impurity, and we are set free.

 

And in Jesus’ suffering is where we also get power to begin to fulfill His commandments here on earth.

Look at Peter.  After he denied Jesus, he broke down and wept bitterly.  He wasn’t even there when Jesus died, he was so full of guilt.  He meant to stand with Jesus and die with him, but he found out what kind of sinner he really was.

 

But later he overcame his weakness and became like his Master.  He also died on a cross, crucified for his witness to Christ.

 

How did Peter overcome this sinful desire to save himself at Jesus’ expense?  He got it from first learning his own powerlessness to fulfill God’s commands.  Through the recognition of his sin he was prepared to recognize the great love of Jesus.  He came to know that Jesus had foreseen Peter’s denial, his selfish heart, and gone to pay for all Peter’s sins anyway.  Through Christ’s cross, Peter became a new creation.

 

Don’t run when the commandments of God show you how deep your sin is.  God does not change.  The love that caused Jesus to take all your sins to the cross does not change either.  God’s verdict that your sins are forgiven does not change, nor does His good news: in Christ you are pure, in Christ you are righteous.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

4th Wednesday in Lent 2019. 8th and 9th Commandments

jesus pilate.PNGWednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

jesus pilate.PNG

Fourth and Fifth Commandments. 2nd Lent Midweek, 2019

Wednesday after Reminiscere

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Fourth and Fifth Commandments

March 20, 2019

 

Iesu iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is the fourth commandment?  Honor your father and mother.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

 

What is the fifth commandment?  You shall not murder.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 

Yesterday was my father’s birthday.  If he was still alive today, he would have been 82.  This year I am turning 41, which is the age he was when I was born.

 

Since we all have a father and a mother, and most of us know our father and mother, this commandment is very personal.  Some of us had mothers and fathers we loved and respected.  Some of us had fathers or mothers who left us or abused us.  Some people’s father and mother are in between.  Whatever kind of person your father or mother was or is, God says to honor them.  He makes no distinction.  Good parent, bad parent.  Sinner, saint.  Honor them.

 

And this commandment includes other authorities whose authority stems from the office of parent—teachers, rulers, president, employers or bosses.  Pastors are also fathers, spiritually.  To all these parents God gives authority.  When we disobey parents (unless they command us to sin against God)—we disobey God.  We are commanded by Scripture to submit to rulers except when they command us to disobey God.  Both parents and rulers have authority to inflict pain on us when we disobey, because they stand in the place of God.  Pastors also have authority not to inflict punishments on earth, but to pronounce God’s forgiveness on the repentant and God’s judgment and wrath on sinners who do not repent.

 

“Honor” means more than “love.”  We are commanded to love everyone, but our parents we are to honor.  To honor means you regard them as higher than you.  It means you do not speak to them in an arrogant way.  You don’t talk back when you honor someone—even when they are out of line.  You are humble before them.

 

If Jesus walked into church today, I would not talk to him the same way I talk to everyone else.  I hope I would act as if someone very important, much more important than me, were here.  I would be glad to take his coat, to get him a drink.  I would call him “Lord.”  I would ask Him how I could serve Him.  That is what honor is like.

 

This commandment is barely known anymore.  Young people think that they don’t have to obey their parents, and certainly not other authorities—unless father, mother, teacher, pastor, police earn the respect of the young people.  This means that most young people today have learned to dishonor God.  Because God puts this commandment first after the ones that have to do with Him.  Submitting to the authorities He gives up is the most important commandment after gladly learning His Word and using His name rightly.  Do people know this today?  No.  So our kids grow up without respect for authority, not willing to have anyone rebuke them.  And it is the fault, sadly, of the adults, who have not taught them correctly.  This is why our country is a huge mess.  And it is, of course, harming the church, too.  Because when parents don’t do what God has called them to do, teach, instruct, discipline their children, the children grow up without fear of God and with great pride.

 

But there is also a promise that goes with this commandment.  Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.  Experience teaches this to be true.  Whenever you find a household that is well managed, a business that is well-managed, a prosperous country, a church that is functioning well, you will almost always find people who  know how to show honor, who know how to take orders as well as give them.  On the other hand, when we disobey this commandment, God punishes us even in this world.  When we don’t honor our parents, we are repaid with workers, students, children who do not honor us.

 

You might think we would like the fifth commandment a little better.  After all, who here tonight has murdered anyone?  But Luther in His sermon on the fifth commandment from the Large Catechism puts that misunderstanding to bed very quickly.  He explains that in the fifth commandment God not only forbids killing but every kind of vengeance, including the emotion of anger itself.  The only people who are permitted to be angry are parents, rulers, pastors, and others who stand in God’s place.  “It is proper for God and everyone who is in a divine estate to be angry, to rebuke, and to punish because of those very persons who transgress this and the other commandments.”  God has the right to get angry and to punish sin.  When God makes you a parent, a judge, a ruler, a pastor, and you stand in his place, you have the job of rebuking sin in those under your authority, and even punishing it.  But this kind of anger is not the kind where you are getting even for yourself.  If you are a parent and you are angry because your child has dishonored God by disobeying you, that is righteous anger.  But all other kind of anger, where we desire revenge because someone has injured us, God forbids in the fifth commandment.

 

In this world people do wrong and hurt each other all the time.  But it is for God to judge and to avenge.  God never sins.  He does what is right.  When we get angry and judge we don’t do it for God’s glory—we do it in our own interests.  In the fifth commandment God says, “Don’t take revenge.  Don’t even get angry and start down the road of revenge.  That is forbidden to you.  Your job is to love your neighbor.  It is my job to punish wrongdoing, whether on judgment day, or in this world through the authorities I have set up.”

 

In the fifth commandment God forbids harming your neighbor, killing him, even being angry with him.  Instead, He commands you to love and forgive him, and do everything in your power to promote his physical well-being.  Whatever he needs and you have power to help him with, you are required by the fifth commandment to give him, whether it is money, clothes, help, or counsel.  Oftentimes what our neighbor needs is truth spoken kindly and lovingly, but we often withhold it because we are afraid of what his reaction will be.  That can be breaking the fifth commandment, if by our refusal to speak we allow our neighbor to injure himself.

 

Now if you take these commandments seriously, two things appear.  One is that we break these commandments every day, and we are in great need of God’s grace.  The other is that God has given us so much work to do that we have no need to go to a foreign mission trip somewhere.  You don’t need to go volunteer at a soup kitchen in Cabrini Green or take care of lepers in India with Mother Teresa to do good works that please God.  If you simply set out to “help and support your neighbor in every physical need” and to not anger your parents and other authorities, but honor them, love and cherish them, God will give you a million good works to do every day, and if you did them all, you would be a greater saint than Martin Luther or the apostles.

 

For the first thing, how often we disobey God’s commandments, Jesus underwent His passion.  When He told His father “Your will, not mine, be done,” even as His sweat became like great drops of blood, He set Himself to drink the cup of God’s wrath that was for you and me.  When He did not take revenge and strike the high priest’s servants with a sword—but submitted to the authority of the high priests, even though they were doing wrong—He was taking your place under God’s wrath.  So that none of your transgressions would be yours anymore.  Your anger and revenge and hatred, the times you hit people, the times you dishonored your parents and other representatives of God.  None of that is yours.  It is all Christ’s.  He goes in chains to be condemned as a criminal and bear the shame and He does not defend Himself.  He goes in chains and you go free.

 

For the second part, there is no end.  When you believe in Christ you go free, not to be condemned by the fourth and fifth commandments—nor to ignore them—but to live according to them.  You live according to them, but not in order to be saved.  You live in them because that is your new life, now that you have been released from guilt.  And as you go, forgiven, to honor your father and mother and to defend your neighbor in every physical need, Jesus lives in you and works through you.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

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