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Trinity 3, 2018. Lost in a Different Way.

lost coinThe Third Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 17, 2018

Lost in a Different Way

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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

rich man and lazarus.PNGThe First Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 3, 2018

The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper. Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper (322)

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

 

Be gracious to me, O merciful God.  I am indeed a poor, sinful person and have merited nothing besides wrath.   But even though I have lived however I wanted, I hold on to this: that I know, and will not doubt it, that I am baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and am called as a Christian, and that my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again for me.  His body and blood has been given to me for the nourishment and strengthening of my faith.  Lord Jesus Christ, I am absolved and loosed from my sins in Your name.  Therefore nothing evil can befall me, nor can I be lost; as little as God’s Word can fail or be false.  Because God Himself is to me a refuge and fortress through His Word.  Amen.

Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He Will Convict the World. Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

peter preachingCantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 28, 2018

He Will Convict the World

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Last week Pastor Chehab preached to us, and many of you were excited by his message.  Which is good.  It should be exciting to us to hear how the power of God rescued a man who did not know Jesus Christ from the worship of an idol, from the everlasting darkness that is the only future for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

 

There was another message in Pastor Chehab’s sermon too, though, for those with ears to hear.

 

He told about how in 20 years growing up in Lebanon, which he said was 50 percent Christian then, he had never heard the Gospel.  In his experience the Lebanese Christians had mostly kept Jesus locked up in their families and churches, as though He belonged to them only.

 

What a terrible indictment of the church in Lebanon when he was growing up there, don’t you think?  I think of myself with this: how sorry I would feel in front of my Lord, if someone were to say to Him about me, “I never heard Him talk about you, Jesus.  I never got the sense that Karl wanted to talk to me about You.”  I would grieve if that is the impression people got about Jesus from me: that they never sensed the greatness of His love for them, the joy of His salvation, the freedom He gives through freely giving Himself to pay for our sins.

 

Yet I have no doubt that there are people who would say this about me—that I was content to keep Jesus as though he were only for me and people like me, instead of the one who gave Himself for all people.

 

It would also cause me pain if people were to say about the congregation that I pastor, “They don’t really care about bringing Jesus to others.”  And yet people do say this; I’ve heard them say it.  Many times.
Are they totally wrong?  Aren’t we more scared to tell the gospel to others than we are joyful to do it?  Don’t we expect people to come to us rather than we go to them?  And when they do come, even then don’t we expect them to get on board with what we’re doing rather than going to them and showing them?

 

 

My prayer is that each one of you will take to heart what I am saying, and that I will also take it to heart.  Because Jesus, the Son of God, loves all men.  He loves sinners, even though their hearts are made of stone.  He loved Pastor Chehab and called him out of darkness.  Jesus loves the youth that have disappeared from our church and gone to follow the world and the devil.

 

He loves sinners, and He has the power to save them.

 

He has the power to save them even through the weakness of the people in His Church, even through you and me.

 

And He has sent this power of God that breaks stony hearts, that pierces the darkness of our hearts, to dwell among us.

 

This is what He told the disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday: But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and none among you ask Me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have spoken these things to you, pain has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away.  For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away, I will send Him to you.  (John 16:5-7)

 

Jesus was sitting at the table of the last supper, talking to His disciples after the meal, before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  When He told them He was going away, they were so full of pain they didn’t even think to ask Him where He was going.  But we know where He was going.  He was going to ascend to the right hand of His Father.

 

But you might not know why He was going to ascend.  Paul tells us: He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). 

 

Jesus was not going to the right hand of God to escape from us and the sin and suffering we have here.  It was to fill all things.  Listen to me.  It was to do the work He was doing in Galilee throughout creation.  To preach the gracious, free forgiveness of sins.  But He would do it through His disciples who received the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

All the disciples could see as they sat at the table with Jesus was their own pain that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them anymore.  They could not see that Jesus was going to spread His Kingdom of salvation throughout the whole world, to all people.  That He would bring salvation to many people, all over the earth, and that He would do it through them.

 

This is what Jesus is still doing at the right hand of God.  By sending the Holy Spirit on His believers, He spreads the good news of righteousness and a completed salvation.  People believe and are added to His Kingdom of righteousness.  And He will do this whether or not we try to help Him.  He doesn’t tell the disciples, “If you are obedient, the Holy Spirit will convict the world.”  He simply says, “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

 

This solves one of our problems, one of the reasons why we are afraid to speak about Jesus to others.  Many of us are afraid we will offend people and drive them away.  But Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will do the convicting.  We simply open our mouths and deliver Jesus’ Word.

 

It also answers another problem that we have, which comes from a false idea about how Jesus saves people.  Many of us think that people should just come to church because it’s part of what good people do.  The third commandment and the first commandment tell us that we are supposed to worship God and listen to His Word, so people need to just do it.  If they don’t, maybe we need to make worshipping God more appealing to them.  But Jesus doesn’t say people will be saved that way.

 

He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world.   The word means “rebuke, convince someone of guilt, show someone or something for what it is.”  For a person to be saved and be a Christian, they must be convicted. 

 

They must be convicted of sin.  They must be convinced that they are not good in the eyes of God, but sinners on their way to everlasting damnation.  That in God’s eyes they are sinners even when they do what the world calls good.  That if they do not believe in Jesus they are sinful in the sight of God because they despise His beloved Son.

 

A person will not accept this because I say it or you say it.  The Holy Spirit must speak it to them with divine power and authority and drive it home into their hearts.  But Jesus tells us clearly that the Holy Spirit will do this—and He will do this not from heaven, but through the word of the apostles, through the apostles.

 

The apostles were not supermen, were they?  Moments after this supper they went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep while He suffered.  When they woke up they all abandoned Him.  They were not glorious, holy men—not in themselves.  Jesus had to pick them up from their fall.  He had to bear their sins on the cross.  Then He had to convince them they were forgiven, they were righteous, so that they would be able to speak in His name.

 

That is the other thing that the Holy Spirit must do to the world through us.  After He has convinced the world of sin, He must convict the world of righteousness.  Think of how hard it must have been for the disciples to believe that they were righteous in God’s eyes after they denied Jesus.  How hard is it for you and I to believe that God’s verdict on you and me is, “Righteous?”  Today, tomorrow, every day of our lives?  It is very difficult to believe if you are conscious of the sins of your past, and if you look into God’s law and see the sins of your heart today.

 

In fact it’s impossible.  No one believes this by their own free choice.  It is a work of God’s power, a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yet it is a fact; Jesus has reconciled the whole world to God.  He has justified the entire world by His death.  The world does not believe in Jesus and so it pushes righteousness away and remains in its sins.

 

But this is what the Holy Spirit says to you and to everyone who hears the Gospel: You are righteous before God because Jesus, the Son of God, made fully payment for your sins on the cross.  Even your lack of zeal to see your neighbor saved, and your own weak faith.  They are not counted to you because they have been counted to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convicts us that this is true.  That is why the preaching and speaking of God’s Word is the only way people are saved and His Church is built.

 

Pastor Chehab talked about “the dynamite”, the power of God in the Gospel.  It does not always happen that we see explosions.

 

But this power is present with us, no matter how big a bang it seems to make.

 

It convinces us that Satan has been judged and condemned, so that we go forward into the world confident of victory, even when it seems that the world and the darkness will swallow us whole.

 

And it is also what gives us love and zeal to tell the Gospel of Jesus to people around us.  There is no one whose heart is too strong, too hard for the Holy Spirit.  There is no one who has sinned too much, for whom the blood of Jesus will not atone.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us in the word and sacraments and He convinces us that with all our ongoing weakness we are righteous in God’s eyes.  As often as we fall and as deep as the fall has scarred our hearts, the Holy Spirit proclaims the same Gospel, that we are righteous through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Since He does this for us, we cannot lock him in to stay with us only.  What He does for us, what He says to us, He wants to say to everyone around us.  That is why He ascended on high—to give this gift to men.

 

Not just in foreign mission fields, but also very near, where our neighbors and relatives are worshipping idols and are bound for hell.  That’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to you. He wants to use you—us—to speak this gracious, joyful news, and give the gift of righteousness.

 

And though that can be hard, it is also exciting.  Because the Holy Spirit will not only rescue Pastor Chehab and followers of Islam’s idol, but also those who are in just as deep a darkness in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

It will be so, because the prince of this world has been judged.

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

In A Broad Place. Quasimodogeniti 2018

jesus thomas.PNGQuasimodogeniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

“You Have Set My Feet in a Broad Place”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

A week ago from last night, we observed the vigil of Easter.  It started after darkness had fallen.  Then the new paschal candle that through most of the year stands next to the baptismal font was lit from a fire outside.  Everyone had little candles in their hands, like we do on Christmas Eve, and they were all lit with the fire from the candle that symbolizes the life of Jesus that conquers death.  Then we processed into the totally dark church.

 

Then there were several readings from the Old Testament.  All of them pictured some part of Jesus’ descent into the darkness of death and His resurrection.  One of them was the story of Noah, who went into the dark, cramped box called the ark for a year as the wrath of God descended and wiped out all life from the earth.  After he had gone in with the remnant of animal and human lives that would repopulate the earth, the Scripture says, The Lord shut him in (Gen. 7). 

 

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are also shut in.  Eleven men (ten on the evening of Easter), plus others, probably, are sitting in a living room with the doors shut (or locked).  They don’t go out lest people recognize them as the disciples of Jesus, and the chief priests do with them as they had done with Jesus.  They are alive, but in a prison, fearing that at any time there will be a knock on the door that will mean the end for them.

 

Even worse, they are shut up in the darkness of a bad conscience.  Have you ever been in a narrow place where you couldn’t stand up straight, where you were so packed in that you couldn’t move?  It’s like that when you have a conscience that condemns you as a sinner.  You would like to believe that you are at peace with God, but your sins press in on you, bind you up.  Every time you get your head above water another wave of condemnation hits you.  For the disciples of Jesus there were two waves that kept crashing into them.  The first was the events of the last week, the flogging, mockery, and crucifixion of Jesus, which made it seem that their faith in Him had been misplaced.  The second was the way they had abandoned their Lord when they were put to the test.

 

Some of you, most of you know what it is to have done what the disciples did.  You were faced with some temptation or other and you abandoned Jesus.  Maybe it was long ago.  And when the memory of it returns, you are closed in, shut up, fighting for air.

 

Or it is simply the awareness that every day, no matter how faithfully you have tried to live a new life in Christ, you have never quite accomplished it.  You always fall short of what a Christian life should be.  And so you are always in a dark room, like the disciples, fearing that when the knock comes on the door, you will not be ready to stand before God.

 

And others are closed in by the feeling of despair that your faith in Christ is in vain.  When you see how your life and the life of Christians does not seem to be one of “victory on to victory”, but instead one wave of trouble after another, the darkness closes in on you, and you are tempted to think that it is foolish to put too much confidence in Jesus.

 

When I was a little kid, I watched a movie on TV one Saturday.  You may have heard of it; it was called Star Wars.  There is a scene in that movie where the heroes jump into a garbage compactor to escape a bunch of storm troopers who are shooting at them.  They are knee deep in garbage and nasty water trying to find a way out when they realize there is some kind of giant snake swimming around their legs.  One of them gets pulled under, but then for some reason the snake lets him go.  They quickly discover why.  The walls have begun to close in to crush the trash.  They try desperately to brace the walls with big pieces of metal, but nothing works.  At the last minute their robot friends contact them on an intercom and manage to shut down the garbage compactor by hacking into the computer.  Then one of the robots hears them screaming over the intercom and thinks he is too late.  But they are shouting for joy because they have been saved.

 

That was what happened to the disciples.  In their cramped prison, with the doors shut, Jesus suddenly appears and says, Peace be with you. 

 

Instead of the knock on the door that means the end, Jesus comes in without knocking.

 

He doesn’t show them their sins and let the walls close in on them forever.  Instead, He shows them the marks in His hands where the nails had been and the place where the centurion’s spear entered His side, proving He was really dead.

 

Those marks are all there is left to say about their sins, their abandonment of Jesus.  Those marks are the signs that the walls of judgment have stopped closing in on them forever.

 

Then, as if that was not enough, He sends them out of their prison.  Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And having said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you bind them, they are bound.”  (John 20: 21-23)

 

Jesus has the authority to open up the doors and unlock the chains of darkness, sin, death, and a bad conscience, and the authority to lock people in.  He has this authority because He was bound in that prison for us.  That is how He got the marks of the nails and the spear.  He also burst those chains and broke out of that prison for us.  That is how He stood before them alive after those mortal wounds being inflicted on Him.

 

Since He conquered sin and death, He owns them and is able to release from them.

 

And He not only released the disciples from their sins; He gave them His authority to release others.  He authorized them to forgive sins and to bind, to release and lock up.

 

That is how Jesus comes into the midst of us in the prison of sin and a bad conscience and stops the walls from closing in on us.

 

He comes and proclaims release by sending out first the apostles and then ministers to preach His death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins.  He entrusts to His believers the power to forgive and retain sins.

 

The message that He proclaims to us is not, “If you do this and that, you will be forgiven.”  He proclaims that sinners are bound and condemned to eternal death.  But to those who feel their chains, He proclaims unconditional release.  You are released, He says, because I have been released.  I bore your sins.  See the marks in my hands and my side.  I was closed in by death and judgment.  But now I am risen.

 

And if you still find yourself to be a sinner and wonder if you are still set free, see these marks.  They are the answer to any accusation made against you.

 

Jesus wears those marks before God His Father.  They always stand before Him.  He cannot see or hear about your sins without seeing the nails that went into His Son’s hands, and the spear that went into His side when He died for those sins.

 

Those marks always stand before God and speak louder than our sins.  They say, “It is finished.”

 

But Jesus still comes into our midst to proclaim peace to us, to release us from our chains and darkness and our old life.  It is His voice that speaks when the minister, called to exercise the public office of the Keys, says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all you sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

And Was Buried. Holy Saturday Tenebrae 2018

jesus burial.PNGHoly Saturday Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 27:57-66

March 31, 2018

..And Was Buried

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are two parts of the Creed that almost never get preached.  “And was buried.  He descended into hell.”  How often are these preached?  Almost never.

 

That’s why we are observing Holy Saturday today.  Because, surely, of all years, this one for us at St. Peter is one where we would benefit from hearing Christ’s burial preached.  And you who are here today are mostly members of the altar guild.  This year two of the altar guild’s saints died and were buried.  Others who we loved and who were pillars of this congregation also died and were buried this year.

 

How do we deal with this?  Apart from Christ, we just do it.  Death is part of life, and you have to go on as best you can, soldier through it.

 

You women on the altar guild have a lot in common with those women who were the only ones left with Jesus when He died on the cross.  The disciples fled.  Only John was left.  But none of them had the authority to bury Jesus.  You could not take someone off the cross and bury them unless Pontius Pilate gave permission, because part of the penalty of crucifixion often was that the person crucified was not buried.  His body was left to become food for the birds and to serve as a warning and an example.

 

So the women watched as two members of the Sanhedrin buried Jesus, wrapping His body in a linen cloth.  But they went home that evening and prepared spices and ointments to anoint His body on Sunday.  They would have to wait, because they still believed that it was against God’s Law for them to give Jesus the common honors of burial on the Sabbath day.

 

But you are like them.  Because it falls to you to make sure the house of Jesus is adorned, treated with honor, treated with dignity.

 

There are no doubt many people who say or think, “What is the point of all the work the altar guild does?  The point is that God’s Word is preached, that we receive Holy Communion.  What does it matter how the linens are arranged, whether there are lilies on Easter, whether there are flowers and candles?  These are all just decorations.”

 

That is what some people said when a woman broke open an alabaster jar of expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus at the beginning of the week of His death.  “This is a waste.  We could have sold that and given the money to the poor.”

 

And today people say, “What difference does it make whether you bury me after I’m gone?  You can just throw my body in a ditch.  Or just cremate me.  It’s much cheaper.  What’s the point of the ceremony of a funeral?”

 

Perhaps people who say these things would be right if there was no resurrection of the body.  But Jesus rebuked the people who criticized the woman who anointed Him.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did this to prepare me for burial.”  So Jesus commends her for preparing His body for burial.  It may seem like a waste to us.  After all you don’t need to be perfumed and embalmed to be buried, since your body is going to return to dust regardless.

 

But the people of God hoped for the resurrection of their dead loved ones.  By their actions they said, “These bodies matter, because God will raise them from the dead.”

 

And Christians did a new thing that the Old Testament saints did not.  The Jews typically had tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea—family burial places.  That is what we see throughout the Old Testament.  The kings from David’s house were buried together, but not with everyone else.

 

But from the earliest days of the Church, Christians buried their dead together.  Christians were buried together in cemeteries—which means “sleeping places.”  That’s what the catacombs under Rome were.  Imagine the danger involved in having a Christian burial place when your religion is illegal, and if you are caught practicing it you could quite likely be tortured and finally sent into the arena to be torn apart by lions or bears.  And yet the Christians did it anyway.  And when Christianity became legal, they began to bury the dead Christians in the church yard—around the church.  Even our church has its cemetery, even though it is full and it is a distance from the church.  The old church books call it Gottesacker—“God’s Acre.”

 

Why did the Christians for so long think that God needed an acre in which to put the bodies of dead Christians together?

 

Because, as St. Paul says, 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

If we were not Christians, we would die alone and to ourselves, just as we also live for ourselves alone.

 

But we live and we die in Christ, who lived and died for us, in us, so to speak.  In our life, in our humanity.  He entered into our sin and wretchedness and died in it.  That is why the women had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross.

 

And He also entered into the grave.  He entered the grave that human beings began digging and placing their dead in.  And human beings began doing this—Adam and Eve did it with Abel, no doubt, and Seth did it with Adam and Eve—because they believed God’s promise, given long ago, that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.

 

A son of a woman would destroy Satan’s power, would destroy sin.  And having destroyed sin He would also destroy death and conquer the grave.

 

So Jesus is placed in the tomb to conquer it.  Later tonight, with the smell of lilies in our nostrils, the church will light up and alleluias will sound from our throats, the bells will peal.  The ancient darkness, we will sing, has been forever banished.

 

When we bury our dead, we do not bury them as those who have died alone.  We bury them in Christ.  They go into God’s acre because their dead bodies are the Lord’s. They are His planting for the resurrection, and He will raise them from their graves in the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

 

They have died not to themselves but to the Lord.  They are not their own.  They are the Lord’s.  He bought them with His blood.  He placed His seal of ownership on them when they were baptized, His Name, and He sanctified their bodies.  Their bodies, though still sick and corrupted by sin, are nevertheless holy.

 

When they are buried, their graves are not unholy places of decay and death.  They are sanctified and holy because Jesus’ body rested there first and then rose in life.

 

He purchased them to be His own and to be united to Him as members of His body.  So, with Him we die and are buried.  And with Him we will rise.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

 

We are not waiting for God to fulfill His promise.  His promise has been fulfilled.  The resurrection of the dead has come, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

That is why Christians buried their dead together.  They are not so many separate people who have died alone with their separate graves.  They are members of one body—the mystical body of Jesus, who died and rose again.  They are members of the same body that we are, who come together to eat His body and drink His blood; so they were buried together, preferably near where we who still live gather as the body of Christ.

 

Today, unfortunately, it is not so.  We do not have this picture before our eyes when we bury our dead.  Increasingly funerals are no longer in church, but private family affairs.  That is too bad.  It is sad, because have seen more than one person who stopped coming to church because a pious loved one died, and the pain of remembering them in church was too much to bear.  Or they didn’t have a loved one’s funeral in the church because they were afraid that if they did, they would break down every time they came.  They could not put the death of their loved one together with the church and with Jesus Christ.

 

That is unutterably sad to me.  On Holy Saturday we see that Jesus has entered fully into our death.  He has been placed in our tomb.  When we die, our tombs will be Jesus’ tombs.  For we are the members of His body.

 

The women who followed Jesus spent the Sabbath in pain, longing to go to Jesus’ grave and anoint His body.  But when they went they did not find Jesus’ body there.  He was placed in our tomb, but He conquered it, and left it empty.  Death was swallowed up in life.

 

So it will be for those who rest in the tomb with Jesus, who are baptized into Him.

 

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?  (TLH 206 st. 2)

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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