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Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.

 

The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.

 

So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.

 

But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.

 

Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.

 

They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.

 

And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.

 

At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:

 

It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

 

Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.

 

Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.

 

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.

 

Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”

 

Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:

 

To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.

 

The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.

 

The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.

 

And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.

 

But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.

 

The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”

 

But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:

 

Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 

 

People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.

 

But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.

 

It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.

 

It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.

 

For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”

 

And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.

 

We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:

 

It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.

 

However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.

 

Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.

 

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

 

SDG

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He Died For All, That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live For Themselves. Quinquagesima 2017. St. Luke 18:31-43

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

jesus heals blind beggar jericho melanchthon luke 18 quinquagesima.jpgQuinquagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:31-43 (1 Cor. 13)

February 26, 2017

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves”

 

Iesu iuva!

 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  2 Corinthians 5: 14-15

 

For whom do you live your life?  For yourself?  Or for Jesus?

 

There was a grandmother who had a grandson that she loved.  When he was little, his parents would bring him over to her house on Christmas and at his birthday and other important days.  The grandmother had very little money, but she always gave him the best present she could on Christmas and his birthday, because she loved him.  When he was little, he would open his present and say, “Thank you, grandma!” and give her a hug.

 

When he got to be a teenager and started to grow up into a man, he didn’t have much time for his grandma.  She still saved up to give him gifts at his birthday and Christmas, and his parents still brought him over, even though he usually looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.  And when he opened the card with money in it, he still said, “Thanks, grandma,” and gave her a hug.  But except for those occasions when he came over, she never heard from him.

 

Later he went to college and then got a job in another city, far away.  His grandmother still loved him, and still sent him gifts.  And sometimes he would call her on the phone and say “Thanks, grandma” when he got them.  Other times he wouldn’t.

 

Soon she went into a nursing home.  The family had all moved away.  She seldom got visitors.  Her grandson called very little.  He was busy with work and his family.  The grandmother didn’t feel any bitterness toward him.  She loved him.  She never sent him those gifts because she wanted to buy his affection; she just loved him.

 

When she died, and her grandson came to her funeral, he didn’t have any flash of insight where he realized he had been ungrateful.  He went home and went on with his life, never realizing how he had been loved.

 

Has anyone here ever seen this story happen in real life?  I have not only seen it; I have been the grandson—so wrapped up in my own desires and problems that I did not recognize when love was being shown to me.  So I did not receive it.  I did not respond to it.  I appreciated the gifts, but did not receive the love of the person that motivated the gifts.  How tragic.

But not only tragic for me.  Not only tragic for the people in your life who have treated you or others you know in the same way.  Tragic for you as well!  Because the way the grandson responded to his grandmother’s love is the way that you—often, maybe always—respond to the love of God.

Today is Quinquagesima, which means “fiftieth”, because it is roughly 50 days before Easter.  On this Sunday the Gospel reading records how Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and how, near the city of Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd that was going with Jesus travelling through.  He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  We heard how even though the crowd told him to stop making a scene he kept shouting this, and how Jesus stopped, called the man over to Him, and restored his sight.  Then, St. Luke records, “He immediately recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”

 

The formerly blind man immediately begins to follow Jesus. Where is Jesus going, and what will happen to Him there?  The formerly blind man doesn’t ask; he doesn’t care.  He follows Jesus without worrying about what will come from following him.  He loves Jesus and wants to be with Him.  He loves Jesus because he has received not only his sight, but Jesus’ love.

 

You might think, “Of course he followed Jesus after Jesus did such a great miracle for him!”  But it’s not obvious at all that he would do this.  A chapter before this in Luke’s gospel Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy, and only one came back to give thanks to the Lord.

 

No.  Many times Jesus does wonderful things for people, and they are like the grandson in the story I told you.  “Thanks, Jesus,” they say.  “Now I can get back to my life—to my job, my family, my friends, my cell phone.”  In fact, that is how people normally respond to Jesus’ gifts. Even more often, people don’t even acknowledge that Jesus has given them a gift.

 

They go on living for themselves.

 

When it is pointed out to us that this is what we are doing, we frequently get mad.  Look, we say, what do you expect from me?  Don’t you know I have to pay my bills?  Don’t you understand that it is impossible to follow Jesus the way the world is now without being an outcast, without suffering financially?  Don’t you understand people are already doing all they can without you demanding more?  And are we not supposed to have any enjoyment and pleasure in life?  You’re telling me Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy?

 

What I’m saying is that the first commandment of God is this: You shall have no other gods—which means, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  God is always commanding His servants in the Bible to do things that seem impossible to do without risking their happiness, their good name, even their lives.  We heard it in the Old Testament reading.  The Lord said to Samuel…Fill your horn with oil, and go.  I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.  And Samuel said, “How can I go?  If Saul hears it, he will kill me.  And the Lord said…I will show you what you shall do.  And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.  (1 Sam. 16:1-3)  And Samuel goes and does what God commands, because he loves the Lord, and he trusts the Lord even though he doesn’t understand.

Yes, God commands us to love Him, fear Him, trust Him above all things.  Those who don’t love God above all things are sinners.  They provoke Him to anger, real and serious wrath that will burn for eternity.  Those who don’t love and trust God above all things are as wicked in His sight as men who dishonor their bodies with other men, as women who murder their infants in their wombs, as those who defraud and rob and steal.  We do not become good in God’s sight because we refrain from the grave sins others do.  Lack of love for God in your heart means you love someone or something else more than God.  When we devise excuses for this in the Church—and we do it so easily, both me and you—we become just what the world accuses us of being: Pharisees.

 

No, let us admit the painful reality.  Just like the world, we don’t love God above all things.  When we look at the blind man, who out of love jumps up and follows Jesus, not caring where Jesus is going or what will happen if he follows Jesus, we see in the mirror of his example that we are the grandson who doesn’t respond to the love of his grandmother.

 

Jesus has done more for each one of us than He did for that blind man.  He healed not only our eyes but our entire body and soul.  He joined our bodies of dust and ashes to His resurrected, immortal bodies, and renewed our souls when He baptized us.  Yet we often say, “Thanks, Jesus!  See you in heaven when I get done living my life for myself.”

 

When we are challenged on this and asked, “Shouldn’t you follow Jesus?  Shouldn’t you run to hear His Word when it is offered?  Shouldn’t you gladly serve Him in His Church?  Shouldn’t you give Him Your life, and follow Him in giving it up for the people He wants you to serve?  Shouldn’t you give Him the firstfruits of your wealth so that others can hear the joyful news of salvation?  Shouldn’t you use all your strength to see the gospel of Jesus given to other people?”  Then we say, “But Jesus is going to be mocked, treated shamefully, to be spit on, to be flogged and nailed to a cross!”

 

Even if we agree, to our shame, that we should follow Jesus with joy like this man who had been blind, we find that we cannot do so.  We look ahead of Jesus and see the cross and suffering.  The fear overwhelms our joy.

 

And the more we are told that we should follow Jesus, that we should do it out of love and not out of compulsion, the more we find that we can’t.  Those who are annoyed to be told this become more annoyed and resistant.  Those who agree but are afraid become more afraid and less joyful.

 

This is the terrible reality of original sin.  We are born not loving God, and we cannot will ourselves into loving Him.  The love of God must come to us from outside into our hearts, and once it has begun to come in, it must continue, and we cannot make this happen.

 

The grandson who didn’t respond to his grandmother’s love needed not to force himself to act like he loved her.  He needed to receive the love that was already there from his grandma.  That is the way it is with us and God.

 

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be mocked, treated shamefully, spat upon, flogged with whips, crucified.  He told his disciples this not to scare them, but to cause them to see when it happened that this was no accident.  God foretold it centuries before through the prophets. In eternity He planned it, before the world began.  It was His will that Jesus should suffer all these things.  It was Jesus’ will also.  As He pulled His disciples aside and explained it to them again, now for the third time, He saw it coming clearly.  He could have avoided it and said, “We’ll go up to Jerusalem next year.”  He didn’t do it.  He saw it clearly and unmistakeably, and journeyed toward it.

 

Those were Jesus’ actions, motivated by His will, by the engine of His heart.  What powered that engine was this—love.  Love for human beings who do not love Him.  Love for His enemies, love for His disciples, love for you, love for me.  In love He saw us with a clear eye.  He saw that our love of ourselves had to be punished by a just God with shame, mockery, physical suffering, with endless spiritual torment.

 

So He journeyed to Jerusalem to receive it for us—to be treated with contempt.  To be mocked and spit on.  To have His flesh opened with stripes from the whips.  To have His hands and feet pierced and pinned to the cross and be lifted up from the earth as a curse.  To cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  To bring to an end God’s anger against us, His righteous condemnation for the lives we have lived for ourselves, spurning His love.  And then on the third day to rise again, God declaring our sin paid for in full, God announcing that Jesus and we are no longer in bondage to our sins. He no longer counts them.

 

Consider the love behind this gift.  Meditate on it.

 

You are not able to stop living for yourself.  But Jesus has blotted out the life you live in the flesh.  He lived His life on earth in love toward His Father and in love toward you.  For His sake the Father’s anger against your life of self-love has ended.  For His sake, the Father counts you and all who believe in Jesus not only as if they lived their life following Jesus, for Jesus, but as if you lived Jesus’ life.

 

As you receive this love of Jesus, which is given to you when His Gospel is preached, when the Scripture is taught, when you read the Bible at home, when you receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—as you receive His love in these ways, His love is born in you.  The death He died for all becomes active in your life.  Just as the grandson would have loved his grandmother if he had paid attention and received the love that was behind her gifts, so as you hear the word of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus’ gift of His life for you, His love will enter your heart and do what it did in the man He healed of blindness.  It will cause you to forget yourself and follow Jesus, not out of compulsion, but out of love, with joy.

 

On Wednesday the season of Lent begins, with its call to baptized Christians to renew the fight against our flesh, with its constant desire to live for ourselves.  This fight, in which we exercise our will, is necessary.  No one can be a Christian without it.  We have to daily drown in Jesus’ death, in which we died in Baptism, the desires, thoughts, and impulses of our flesh that want us to live the old way—for ourselves, in sin, with our hearts denying Jesus’ love, closed to it.

 

We have to fight.  But our fighting, our willing to no longer live for ourselves doesn’t create love.  Love comes from seeing the love Jesus has in His heart for you—the love revealed in His joyful willingness to go to Jerusalem, to be treated with contempt, to be spit on, whipped, pierced with nails, and forsaken by God.

 

In that love we are secure, now and forever.  That love has destroyed the life you lived for yourself.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Letting Jesus In, Letting Jesus Out. Trinity 22, 2016 Revelation 3:14-22

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

revelation-1Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 3:14-22

October 23, 2016

“Letting Jesus In; Letting Jesus Out—Witnessing”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Lutherans are not known for being fanatical.  No one faints from emotion in our Divine Services like they sometimes do in worship in other churches.  We aren’t known for looking for every opportunity to turn conversations toward spiritual matters or for peppering our speech with “God-talk.”

 

As a result, we may get the impression that as Lutherans we believe in moderation in spiritual matters or religion.  Yes, we believe that Jesus is our Savior.  But everything has its place.  We shouldn’t get too carried away with religion and end up making a spectacle of ourselves.

 

But that conclusion would be a mistake.  Emotional excesses in worship can be bad; it can also be bad to be preachy and act hyper-spiritual in your daily life.  Martin Luther criticized the “fanatics” or “enthusiasts” of his day for these things.  But Divine Service in his church in Wittenberg was not an emotionless formality, even though the congregation was made up entirely of normally stoic Germans.

 

An example of this: toward the end of his life, Luther was distributing the blood of Christ at Holy Communion.  He was old, and his hands shook.  As a result of his trembling, he spilled some of the precious blood on the stone floor near the altar.  The person who wrote down the story said that Luther’s eyes filled with tears at the dishonor he had inadvertently done to the Lord’s blood, and he said, “O Lord Jesus, help!”  Then he got down on his old hands and knees and sucked the consecrated blood of Christ from the stone floor, lest someone step on it.  And the congregation, instead of laughing or being disgusted at Luther’s piety toward the consecrated wine of the Lord’s Supper, toward the blood of Jesus, broke into sobs, seeing the old reformer do this.

 

Quite a bit of emotion, quite a visible display of zeal in practice for something Luther had taught people so zealously—that the Sacrament of the Altar is “the true body and blood of Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

 

Lutherans are, or should be, against making laws about the proper amount of emotion or the proper amount a Christian should display his faith in Christ in public.  A person may have true, living faith in Jesus and yet not talk about it a lot in public or display a lot of emotion at church.  Some of that has to do with a person’s temperament, some of it with the strength of his or her faith.  Some of it has to do with the fact that genuine faith is not a matter of outward display.

 

We make those allowances, yet we should never make the mistake of thinking that moderation in Christianity is good or even possible for a genuine Christian.  A Christian cannot be “lukewarm”, as the Lord tells the church in Laodicea that they are.  A Christian cannot be “neither cold nor hot.”  And a church that has become “neither cold nor hot” is one in which the cold and dead members have mixed to such a degree with the living, believing members that the entire church has become nauseating to the risen Lord Jesus.  “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit (or vomit) you out of my mouth.”  (Rev. 3:16)

 

Why does lack of zeal, “moderate Christianity”, “reasonable Christianity”, lukewarmness make Jesus sick?  We forget that Jesus Himself was not “moderate.”  He was (and is), we might say, a zealot, a radical.  Yes, He is amazingly gentle and patient with the weak, the sinful, and the fallen, so that He didn’t speak a harsh word to those crushed and overwhelmed by their sins, cast off by their society as “deplorable” and “irredeemable.”  Yet His graciousness toward sinners was never grace toward sin itself.  He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  He was so committed, so passionate in His hatred of sin that He gave His life not only to forgive and cover sin but also to remove and destroy it.  He was so passionate in His opposition to false and hypocritical worship that He went into the temple and threw down the tables of the money changers.  He was so zealous in opposing the false teaching of the Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests that He continued to preach and teach the Gospel of grace in opposition to them, and to denounce them, until they connived to have Him crucified.  Jesus was and is not cool and moderate.  He is fiery.  His feet gleam like gold coming out of a fire.  His face shines like the sun.  His eyes are like flames.  He is hot and burning with love for His Father and for you.

 

Because He burns with charity He is infinitely gentle with the weak, but He is nauseated by lukewarmness.  When people and churches claim to be Christian but are moderate and reasonable in their love for God, His good news of grace, and for other sinners, when they are lukewarm, self-satisfied, content, and unwilling to do anything that might risk their comfort, it makes our Lord ill.  He can’t stand it.  He will spit such Christianity, such so-called “Christians”, such churches out of His mouth.  That, says the Lord of the Church to the congregation is Laodicea, is the kind of church you are.

 

How did the church in Laodicea become this way—lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, disgusting to its Lord?    He tells them: You say, I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing…(Rev. 3:17)  The church in Laodicea had become wealthy and prosperous in earthly goods.  But this wasn’t the cause of their lukewarmness.  They were lukewarm because they were not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).  They foolishly believed that since they had earthly wealth they “lacked nothing.”  We can draw this conclusion as well—their wealth indicated that the church in Laodicea had not had to endure the persecution we saw in the other churches.  Persecuted Christians are typically denied the opportunities available to the rest of society.  High positions are often denied them.

 

It may also be that the church in Laodicea had made a practice of compromising with the pagan world around them.  Back a few generations ago lots of people belonged to secret societies like the Freemasons or the other lodges, but it was forbidden in the Missouri Synod, because the members of those societies took part in religious rites and confessions of faith that were contrary to the confession of faith they made as members of the Lutheran Church.  Today people are often offended by the practice of “closed communion” which is the practice and teaching of the Missouri Synod.  By practicing “closed communion” we are saying that communing at a church is tied to confessing faith in that church’s teaching.  As a result those who believe another doctrine, or who are in fellowship with those who teach another doctrine, should not commune at LCMS altars, nor should those who confess our doctrine commune at a church with another doctrine.  That teaching offends people today; but for a century and a few decades, the LCMS’ teaching about lodge membership was an offensive teaching to many (even inside the LCMS).

People typically belonged to lodges or to the Masons—at least, this is what most people said—for the sake of business.  Lodge members helped each other out and sent business one another’s way.  Not being a member of a lodge could hurt people financially.  It was this way for people in the early church too.  If you wouldn’t step foot in the temple of an idol or burn incense to Caesar, it could hurt your business opportunities.  Yet the church in Laodicea was prosperous.  It’s quite possible they had become this way by compromising their witness to Christ by engaging in the worship of idols, or giving the appearance of this being possible for a faithful Christian.

 

The church in Laodicea put its trust in its earthly wealth and in the freedom from persecution it had experienced.  Since it had those things, it didn’t think it needed anything else.  It became a church where Jesus was left outside in the cold, knocking on the door to be let in.  But the Laodiceans wouldn’t let Jesus in.  Jesus was sure to take away their prosperity and their seeming peace and security.  He would bring with Him white robes to put on—His innocence and righteousness before God.  But He would also rub eye salve on their eyes and make them see that they were really wretched, pitiful, impoverished, and naked before God.  And He would bring gold refined in the fire—that is, faith in Him instead of in earthly prosperity and security, and the fire of persecution, of suffering and trial that purifies our faith in Christ.  That true gold from Jesus very probably would mean the loss of the perishable gold that they had come to trust in and see as a sign that God was pleased with them.

 

The churches in the nations that have had Christianity for centuries have a lot in common with the church in Laodicea.  Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe for almost 2000 years in the south, and by about 1000 A.D. it had travelled to the northernmost reaches of Europe.  From there it spread to every continent that Europeans colonized or settled.  And for most of that time the churches did not experience persecution in an overt way.  There was persecution of faithful Christians, but it was always by others who also claimed to be Christians; in Europe and America no one persecuted the church with the open admission that it was Christianity they were attacking.  Only in the French Revolution in 1789 did we see the first explicit persecution of Christians by non-Christians.  It happened again in Russia and other places where communism took hold.  But in America the church has never experienced that.  On the contrary, up until recently the churches experienced peace.  They were large and prosperous, and its members became wealthy.

 

And as a result many people came to expect earthly peace and prosperity.  They saw full pews not with suspicion, as a sign perhaps that the church had compromised with the world, but as a sign of the church’s success, perhaps even of its godliness.  They became content.

 

And now that the pews are emptying in many churches, and the heat is being turned on by forces that oppose Christianity’s formerly dominant position in our country, we see many churches and Christians scrambling to find ways to fill the pews up again, to regain our former position of cultural dominance.

 

Why?  Because the churches have come to trust in earthly peace, freedom from persecution, and earthly prosperity.  They think that when they have those things “they need nothing,” but if those things are gone, they have lost everything.

 

But a church that trusts in earthly peace and prosperity is a church that leaves Jesus outside in the cold, knocking to be let in.  A church like this can’t witness to Jesus.  Their witness will not be faithful and true (Rev. 3:14); they may preach and talk about Jesus, who was crucified.  But if their trust is in the earthly peace and security that comes from large numbers and cultural dominance, when the fire and heat of persecution comes to purify them, they will cast Jesus aside.  Witness to Jesus means faithfully teaching His Word, but it also includes the witness of suffering for that Word.  That is the way the devil is conquered, just as Jesus conquered Satan not by gaining the whole world but giving His life on the cursed, shameful cross.

 

During this fall series we have heard with our ears “what the Spirit says to the churches.”  I pray that God also gives us ears to hear with repentance and faith.  What does the Spirit say to this church, St. Peter, in the letter to the church in Laodicea?

 

It is a hard question to face willingly.  Are we also “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold”, about to be spit out of the mouth of our Lord?  And if so, what should we do?

 

If I say “Yes,” how easy it will be simply to get angry at me, and reject my answer as my opinion, not Christ’s.  How easy it will be also, if you accept the judgment, to simply put your head down like a beaten dog and say, “It’s impossible to please God.”

 

But that isn’t why Jesus speaks this way to the church in Laodicea.  He didn’t write them off as hopeless.  He came as a petitioner, knocking on the door, calling to them to let them in to His house.  He does the same with all churches that have become lukewarm, just as He once called out to Adam when he was hiding in the garden, running away from his Lord because he had sinned and was afraid of the punishment.

 

–similarity:

Idolizing the earthly prominence we once enjoyed

 

That prominence was not evil, but we have something better than that—Jesus, who was crucified for us, Jesus, the risen Lord of the church and of the world

 

That idolizing has kept us from witnessing to Him in a community where we have great opportunity.

 

Jesus not only knocks on the door to come into the Church, but He wants to go out in us to extend His kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel which He has given to us.

 

+Let Jesus in

 

-recognize our sin in clinging to earthly security, peace, prosperity

-desire to bear “faithful and true witness” to Him in our families, to our friends and neighbors, as a church in our community.

 

–believe the Gospel: His zeal covers our natural lukewarmness; His love our lovelessness; His willingness to suffer for others our self-seeking

–your lukewarmness which you will struggle with till the day you die is covered, cleansed, forgiven

 

–this repentance and faith is the work of the Holy Spirit alone

–but it has begun where there is the desire to change and be forgiven.

 

+Let Jesus out

–witnessing to Jesus: two parts.  Proclaiming His Word faithfully, and standing fast under the hardship and even persecution that comes because of His Word.

 

–proclaiming the Word—both law and gospel

Sin and righteousness

 

–home/family/neighbors

–as a church: planning, going into the community and inviting them in.  Welcoming those who come.

 

–Suffering and persecution:

This comes by itself

Enduring it, and continuing to be faithful and true witnesses to Christ, is witnessing embodied, not simply in talk

There we give a picture in our lives of the Christ who suffered to save sinners.

 

+Jesus comes in to us

This is “dining with Jesus” having fellowship and communion with Him

By faith we cling to Him, are joined with Him.  We share His grace and His suffering.

 

Sharing with Him in suffering is followed by sharing with Him in glory.

 

May we go out with Him, even if these are the final years of our congregation’s life, so that we may rejoice forever in our fellowship with Him.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

How Christians Should Love and Serve Sinners. Luther

luther cranach3You have often heard that it is our duty, for love’s sake, to serve our neighbor in all things. If he is poor, we are to serve him with our goods; if he is in disgrace, we are to cover him with the mantle of our honor; if he is a sinner, we are to adorn him with our righteousness and piety. That is what Christ did for us. Phil. 2. He who was so exceedingly rich did, for our sake, empty himself and become poor. He served us with his goods, that we in our poverty might become rich. He was made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Now, the outward works of love are very great, as when we place our goods in the service of another. But the greatest is this, that I surrender my own righteousness and make it serve for the sins of my neighbor…This means that I must love the sinner and be his friend, must be hostile to his vices and earnestly rebuke them, yet that I must love him with all my heart so as to cover his sins with my righteousness…

In short, such and enemy of my neighbor am I to be that I cannot let him suffer. So dearly must I love him that I shall even run after him, and shall become like the shepherd that seeks the lost sheep, like the woman that seeks the lost piece of silver…

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own. We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely to love him. If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned…

Moses acted thus when the Israelites worshipped the molten calf. He mingled freely with the people in their sins. Yet he punished them severely, and caused three thousand men to be slain from gate to gate. Ex. 32. After that he went up and bowed down before God, and prayed that he would forgive the people their sin, or blot him out of the Book of Life. Behold, here we have a man who knew that God loved him and had written his name in the book of the blessed; and yet he says: “Lord, I would rather that thou shouldest damn me and save the people.”

Paul, too, acted thus. At times he rebuked the Jews severely, calling them dogs and other names. Yet he knelt down and said: “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake.” Rom. 9:3. It is as if he had said: “I would willingly be anathema, if only the mass of the people might be helped…”

Such should be your bearing toward sinners; inwardly the heart in service, outwardly the tongue in earnest.

Martin Luther, “Third Sunday after Trinity” in Lenker Vol. 2, pp. 57-66.

Categories: Love, Luther Tags: , ,

Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Die Under Blasphemy Law

PakistanChurchAttacked

A Pakistani Christian was recently sentenced to death for blasphemy against Muhammad.

Pakistani Christians routinely have their property confiscated or destroyed, are imprisoned or sentenced to death on the basis of Pakistan’s blasphemy law which makes it a crime to say anything negative about Muhammad or the Quran.

I’m grateful for the freedom of speech in the United States we still have, where I am allowed to publicly say and preach that Muhammad is a false prophet and that the Quran comes from the devil.

However, Pakistani Christians cannot say such things without the very real risk of death or imprisonment.

And even if they don’t say them, it is easy for them to be prosecuted under the law on the basis of false witness.  This can happen when people want to take their land or property, or it can happen simply because people resent the presence of Christians in Pakistan.  No doubt in a country where Christians are a despised minority, their presence in the country itself is a walking affront to people who think that Pakistanis should be Muslim.

We are seeing this kind of resentment against Christians just beginning in the United States, although here we are not an affront to Muslims but to “tolerance”; the fact that there are still Christians who haven’t been shamed into agreeing that homosexuality is okay or at least being silent in public provokes more and more people.   When pressure is ratcheted up and you don’t deny the faith, it just makes some folks madder, even if you say nothing, because even if you say nothing, the fact that you haven’t given in is a testimony to their condemnation.  The fact that you suffer and don’t give in makes them feel even more threatened that maybe what you confess about God’s wrath and judgment is true.  That’s what the New Testament is talking about in verses like these:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-30)

 

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10)

 

At any rate, even though we can see the seeds of this resentment starting to sprout in the US, we still have lots of legal protection.   In Pakistan the Christians  have few advocates and almost no defense.  If they’re hated just for existing, or someone covets their property, all they have to do is get a couple of people together to say that they heard this or that Christian say Muhammad is a fake prophet.

 

Read more…

Clergy have highest job satisfaction in UK

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/21/vicars-greatest-job-satisfaction-publicans-least-happy

FILE: Tax Increase On Tobacco & Alcohol Announced In Government's 2012 Budget

Vicars report greatest job satisfaction while publicans are least happy

Overall job satisfaction has little to do with salary, figures drawn from Office for National Statistics data show

Although publicans earn almost £5,000 a year more than vicars on average they are the least happy in their work. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Want to be happy in your work? Go to theological college and avoid a career pulling pints. That would seem to be one conclusion to draw from a new study into wellbeing and public policy, which found that employees reporting greatest job satisfaction were vicars, while publicans – who on average earn almost £5,000 a year more – were the least happy in their work.

Overall job satisfaction, in fact, has little to do with salary, according to the figures drawn from Office for National Statistics data. While company chief executives, earning £117,700 a year on average, were found to be the second happiest employees (mean clergy income by contrast is a mere £20,568), company secretaries, fitness instructors and school secretaries, all earning less than £19,000 a year, emerged among the top 20 most satisfying careers.

Slumped with pub landlords at the bottom of the list of 274 occupations were construction workers, debt collectors, telephone sales workers and care workers, all earning significantly below the national average salary of £26,500. But chemical scientists, earning almost £10,000 more, only scraped into the top 200, while quantity surveyors, on £38,855, could do no better than 234th place.

The data has been used to help inform a report, published on Friday by the Legatum Institute, an independent thinktank that examines wellbeing as a core part of national prosperity, alongside wealth.

“Not only does GDP fail to reflect the distribution of income, it omits intangibles, or feelings, that are not easily reducible to monetary values,” note its authors, who were chaired by Lord O’Donnell, formerly the head of the civil service. “There is a growing recognition that the measures of a country’s progress need to include the wellbeing of its citizens.”

The government has taken some steps towards measuring and incorporating the nation’s happiness into policymaking – the ONS was asked to include four questions in its annual population study relating to life satisfaction, while David Cameron has said: “If you know … that prosperity alone can’t deliver a better life, then you’ve got to take practical steps to make sure government is properly focused on our quality of life as well as economic growth.”

The director of communications at the Legatum Institute, Shazia Ejaz, said: “A lot of careers advisers will tell you, ‘If you become a doctor you will earn this much, as a teacher you’ll earn this much. But perhaps people should also know what different careers can do in terms of their life satisfaction.”

 

 

Top 10

1. Clergy

2. Chief executives and senior officials

3. Managers and proprietors in agriculture and horticulture

4. Company secretaries

5. Quality assurance and regulatory professionals

6. Healthcare practice managers

7. Medical practitioners

8. Farmers

9. Hotel and accommodation managers and proprietors

10. Skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades supervisors

 

Bottom 10

265. Plastics process operatives

266. Bar staff

267. Care escorts

268. Sports and leisure assistants

269. Telephone salespersons

270. Floorers and wall tilers

271. Industrial cleaning process occupations

272. Debt, rent and other cash collectors

273. Elementary construction occupations

274. Publicans and managers of licensed premises

Shot coming out of Sunday School in Egypt

August 9, 2013 1 comment
egyptian-coptic-christianshttp://www.jihadwatch.org/2013/08/interfaith-outreach-in-egypt-muslims-open-fire-on-church-murdering-10-year-old-girl-leaving-sunday-s.html
“Church Pastor’s Niece, 10, Gunned Down Leaving Sunday School Class, Dozens Injured as Attacks Against Egypt’s Christians Continue,” from MidEast Christian News, August 7 (thanks to Filip):
An horrific attack has taken place against Egypt’s Christian Coptic community, after several unidentified individuals indiscriminately opened fire in front of the Evangelical church in Ain Shams, a suburb of Cairo, killing Jessi Paulis Issa, 10, and injuring dozens of Copts.
According to reports, Issa was the niece of the church’s pastor. After the killing, Issa’s young body was transferred to the Cairo forensics team as the Copt community were left to mourn the latest horrendous attack against them.
“Bearded men belonging to Morsi’s supporters opened fire on the citizens as they were exiting from the church,” one witness described. “They fled the scene in a pick-up truck.”
Pastor Nasrallah Zakaria told Mideast Christian News that the funeral prayers for his niece, Jessi Paulis, would be held this week in the church, after her autopsy is performed. He has described that his niece, Jessi, was leaving her Sunday school class at the church when she was gunned down.
The pastor said he does not know why Copts are being targeted throughout Egypt and called on the government to urgently help to bring a halt to the violence against Christians and the daily threats against them.
He added that the Copts are being used as a winning card to achieve political gains.”

The new year of Sunday School is about to start at our congregation.  That makes this story more poignant.  What would things be like if one of our little children was shot after leaving Sunday School–specifically because people were going around town trying to kill and terrorize Christians?

It’s really sad that so little of this is covered in the media, so it’s hard to tell what stories of persecution you hear from the middle east are reliable.  There are so many accounts of it though that even if you shouldn’t believe every one you read just because you read it, we need to be aware that it’s going on and make elected leaders hear our voices consistently about this. Those in our government who want to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt need to be reminded of the Christians who are being brutalized and killed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

More and more these days I find myself wondering and praying about Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, and pray for those who despitefully use you.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Don’t even the Gentiles do that?…”  (Matthew 5…the quote is not exact.  It’s from memory)

When people hate my guts, talk about me behind my back, or seem to be plotting my demise in secret, I pray for them.  When I get angry I say to myself, “I don’t want their damnation, but their salvation,” and then I pray for help not to retaliate with my words or actions.  But the truth is I don’t actively want to love those people.  I don’t want to do them harm, but I don’t want to go out of my way to do kindness to them so they can hurt me some more.  I was thinking about that last night and asking for forgiveness and help.

But that’s only words.  How do you actively love people who are literally trying to kill you?

The more you love them, the more you make yourself available for them to kill you.

It’s one thing not to be afraid of suffering.  That’s why the devout Muslims are able to wield so much influence in their societies, even though you have to believe that most people in the Middle East would rather have freedom of speech, freedom to drink alcohol, freedom to not have their women entirely covered up.  I know Christianity is not a fun religion in the eyes of most people who live in Christian countries, but Christianity has almost never resulted in a true theocracy.  There have been nations that were officially Christian, but Christianity has never preached that the entire world should be conquered with the sword and have Christianity imposed on each nation by force.

Yet Islam keeps exercising influence.  Why?  Because its true believers aren’t afraid to die–and they direct that fearlessness to die toward inflicting pain and death on those who oppose the advance of Islamic rule.  They do this in Muslim societies not only by preaching but through violence.  And they do the same in non-Muslim countries.

People are impressed by the fearlessness they display, and they are also terrified–because most people don’t want to suffer or die.  Pious Muslims are willing to suffer and die.

But when they do that, they inflict injury on the enemies of their god.

But Christians are supposed to not be afraid to suffer and die in the cause of loving those who kill their children.

 

I believe that Christ teaches His church to love their enemies through suffering.  But I have to say that I do not want to be zealous and active in the love of those who hate me.

It’s not just the pain.  The worst thing is the injustice.  Someone hates you and tries to harm you.  The worst thing is you cry out about it–to them, maybe to others–and they refuse to hear you.  They have already  cast you out as evil and condemned you.  That to me is the hard part.

But if my little child was shot coming out of Sunday School, it would break me to love the people who did it.  Yet that is what we are called to–to be active and zealous in the love of our enemies.

 

Thanks be to God that our salvation is secure not in our love of our enemies, but in Christ’s zealous love of us while we were still His enemies.  He not only was silenced and falsely condemned to death by men, but also bore the most awful pain of being condemned before the judgment of God for His enemies’ sins.

May God teach us to believe this and bear the fruit of this faith–faint reflections of Jesus’ love in our love toward those who hate us.  That fruit is pleasing to God, and He will give us justice in the end.  He has already justified us by grace, and He will not allow us to be destroyed by our suffering, nor to be snatched out of His hand.

And may God give us His Spirit so that we remember and pray for our brothers who are persecuted, and gladly give what we have for their relief.

 

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