Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

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.




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: , ,

“Love has its own nail and its own sword”. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397)

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397)


From a commentary on psalm 118 by Saint Ambrose (Sermo 15, 37-40: PL 15, 1497-1498)

As a member of the body of Christ, the Christian shares in the sufferings and death of Christ, and thus contributes to the Church’s growth to full maturity and to its final glorification with Christ

Those who love the decrees of the Lord crucify their lower nature. They know that once their former self has been nailed with Christ to the cross they have overcome the immoderate demands of the flesh. Crucify the impulses of corrupt nature, then, and you will cut off sin at its source.

There is a spiritual nail by which our lower nature can be fastened to the Lord’s cross. This nail is the fear of God and of his , judgments. Drive it home, and you will bring the desires of the flesh into subjection. If your lower nature rejects the nails of

holy fear, God will surely say: My Spirit shall not remain in these men and women, since they are mere flesh. No, the Spirit of God will not remain in us, unless for fear of him we nail our unregenerate selves to the cross.

We are pierced through by these nails when we die with Christ in order to rise with him, when we bear the death of our Lord Jesus Christ in our own body, when we become worthy to hear Jesus saying to us: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy as relentless as the grave.

Fasten this sign of the Crucified upon your breast and your heart, fasten it upon your arm, so that in all your actions you may be dead to sin. Do not be dismayed by the hardness of the nails, it is no more than the severity of love. Do not complain of their unbreakable firmness; love also is strong as death. It is love that puts to death all our sins and failings, love that deals their death blow. In a word, by loving the Lord’s commandments we die to sin and to deeds of shame. God is love; his word is love, that word which is all-powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating to the point where soul is divided from spirit or joints from marrow. Our soul and our flesh must be transfixed by the nails of love, and then we ourselves can say: I am wounded by love. Love has its own nail and its own sword with which to pierce the human soul; happy are they who are wounded by them.

Let us willingly expose ourselves to these wounds; if we succumb to them, we shall not taste everlasting death. Let us take up our Lord’s cross, the cross on which our unregenerate selves must be crucified and sin destroyed. Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me, says the Lord, is not worthy of me. Only those are worthy of Christ who, out of reverence for him, crucify their sinful nature. There is a fear that pierces our flesh, the reverent fear that is followed by love, a love that accompanies Christ to the tomb, unwilling to be parted from him. It keeps him company in death, it is buried with him in the tomb, and it rises with him from the dead.


Exorcising The Christmas Spirit with the Gospel

November 21, 2012 3 comments

At my house, Christmas music begins to play sometime in the middle or early part of November.  If you’ve ever listened to Christmas radio stations, you know that they play the same songs over and over and over and over and over again. 


And then they play them a few more times.


It isn’t yet Thanksgiving, but I’ve already heard Wham!’s “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” at least five times. This is perhaps the only song of Wham’s oeuvre which still emerges from the mists of the early 80’s to remind us of those, by comparison to today, almost Victorian times when George Michael was still into women and when pop stars didn’t come out of the closet.


I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why people who like holiday music like holiday music, just as it’s probably part of the reason why people who have never lived in the country like the formulaic Chevy-truck-ad jingles that comprise most of what’s played on country-music (so-called) radio stations.  People like it, at least in part, because it makes them feel safe.


Christmas begins about the same time in my house that it does in much of the United States—following hard upon Halloween.  Both holidays were once Christian holy days, to whatever degree they may have been reappropriated from pagans.


In America they are pagan holidays again, although I think Samhain (isn’t that what the Wiccans call it?), Yule, and Saturnalia would be more enjoyable.  What offends me about American subversions of Christian holidays—American re-paganization—is the awful aesthetics.  Some of my aversion to “Christmas” in America arises from the way that the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation of God is obscured. 

But mostly it’s just elitism. 


I’ve hated American consumerism since I was a kid.  It blights the mind, soul, and imagination by constantly making available (for a price) whatever is convenient and easily digestible.  In its wake it leaves mind-numbingly ugly and boring places to live.  It destroys all sense of the sacred.  It creates soft minds and shrunken souls. 


But my elitism really is an impediment when it comes to being a pastor. I don’t want to be superior or right; I want to teach Christians how the Church’s preparation for the birth of Jesus ought to be very different from the cheap consolation provided by American “Christmas.” 


Cheap consolation is really the enemy in almost every case when liturgical pastors and pastors wanting to teach the doctrine of Evangelical Lutheran Church run into resistance from popular piety.  American pop Christianity sells because people want to feel good and safe and because it’s easy to understand.  Sometimes people turn to it because they are suffering and they need answers immediately.  Other times people turn to it because it permits them to indulge themselves with the illusion that the solution to the suffering we endure as a result of living in a collapsing world  is to go back to the simple answers about God we really always knew and from which we were never far. 

American “Christmas”and its associated rituals—holiday music beginning in November, flagrant overspending, Christmas carol singing in Advent and parties in school, church, work all through December, overeating and overdrinking–all the Christmasy things that enable us to avoid honest appraisal of our selves, our lives, the way our society is going, and numb ourselves into a syrupy, sentimental glow—is almost exactly like American Christianity.

But here is where pastors and hearers who know something of the value of the pure teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church fail.  American “Christianity” and American “Christmas” is democratic, and we are too often elitists.  American “Christmas” isn’t supercilious toward people who just want to feel safe and good. It embraces them.


 A lot of people believe that if they really like a song by Elvis, nobody can tell them that Bach’s music is simply better.  So if they hear Joel Osteen preach and understand him, they also think that no one can tell them that a sermon by Chrysostom or Luther is simply better either. 

American “Christmas” and American “Christianity” accept this reality in people and cater to it.  But not only do I not cater to it—I despise it and have almost zero patience when people expect me to do the same thing.  Lacking patience and love toward people who don’t immediately respond to real Christianity and real Christmas is not a Christian virtue.  Harboring anger and resentment toward Lutherans who are stubborn in adhering to bad teaching and traditions flowing from that teaching–whether out of snobbery or  out of anger–is grave sin.  With this anger we make the Gospel noxious because we smear it with the scent of our own pride.  Particularly pastors.  When I get mad because I’m trying to teach God’s Word purely and you’re not listening, I’m really mad because you’re not respecting me or listening to me.  And that is to use the ministry of the Gospel which Christ instituted for the salvation of sinners as a means of exalting myself.

Jesus preached and taught to the masses; He didn’t tickle ears, but taught the Word of God in a way that was accessible to normal people–not only the great.  He was patient and continued to teach even when He met with opposition and mistreatment.  Luther preached to and taught the masses.  He sought to elevate them—that’s why the Reformation went hand in hand with a renewal of education.  But he also taught; patiently, bearing with the people, serving them and caring enough to be understood by them.   

I’ve failed consistently in this way.  It’s not that I didn’t teach, but that I became angry and afraid when people didn’t get it or didn’t appear to want to get it.  On the one hand there is fear because you want to be a good pastor, be faithful to Christ, serve the people.  On the other hand there is simply sin and profanation of God’s Name and Word.  There was my desire to be honored that trumped any other desire–whether to love and serve the congregation or to love and serve Christ.  I was unwilling to bear with unjust criticism without snapping at my critics. At other times I’ve reacted to criticism that I thought was unjust with anger or defensiveness, later realizing that I was wrong, that I was failing to properly divide law and gospel, and I needed to be opposed. 


Lutherans also have to be democratic in the sense that we are willing to teach God’s Word—slowly, patiently, consistently—and bear with people.  That is the way that Jesus was democratic.  He loved the people.  So He was willing to teach them–the eternal Son–even when they wouldn’t hear Him and when they dishonored Him.  Love means patiently teaching and listening to criticism and learning slowly, over time, where you are not being understood.  So often people embrace false teaching, or bad traditions, because they are scared or because they feel stupid and the false teaching relieves the feelings of stupidity by addressing people where they are. 


Then a guy like me comes in, teaches for awhile, receives flak, and very quickly begins responding in anger to the people.  And is it any surprise if people then run to preachers (or to religious practices) that make them feel safe, that feel familiar?  Is it surprising if people go to a pastor who is nice and acts like he loves them [even though he is a wolf], instead of to the one who comes to change everything and says, “You are doing it wrong”, and reacts with harshness and arrogance when they don’t immediately listen?  In trying to roll back American Christmas in Lutheran churches so that we can once again observe Advent, there will be the inevitable conflict.  People will say it’s “too catholic.”  Probably one of the best ways we can observe Advent is to try to fast and repent of  haughty and angry defensiveness, and show kindness, patience, and love to people who haven’t yet experienced the blessing of preparing for the mystery of Christ’s birth through Advent.  Really, it’s not something to get angry about, but to have pity about, that lots of people would prefer to sing Christmas Carols for a month and haven’t developed a taste for the rich gospel we have in so many Lutheran Advent hymns.


I’m grateful for my beautiful wife and son and for the opportunity they give me to practice not being a jerk about American Christmas in Advent.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn to  lead our family, graciously, into the gift of observing Advent with its call to repentance, faith, and willing obedience to Christ. 


In long gone times there were outward, physical disciplines associated with repentance, faith, and renewal.  Self-examination and confession and fasting went with repentance.  Attending Advent services midweek meant giving one’s attention to Christ’s Word, which works in contrite hearts the faith that our sins, from which we cannot free ourselves, have been blotted out by the suffering and death of the baby of Mary.  And where this faith is, there is joyful giving from a new and glad and confident heart.  So Christians practiced almsgiving.  Instead of buying family huge, extravagant gifts, they gave to the poor.  This is the way I want to learn to spend Advent with my family.  But that is a lot harder than simply trashing American consumerist “Christmas” and its associated rites, such as having to listen to “Feliz Navidad” for a month and a half.  As annoying as that is.  It takes doing it myself, and then walking with them into it.  Not just giving orders.

I wrote an article for the church newsletter trying to explain the importance of Advent and why we don’t immediately start singing Christmas hymns in church in December.  And I also tried to point out why it would be better if during Advent the Church behaved differently from the world, and instead of the church calendar filling up in December with Christmas parties (during Advent), we should consciously reject the way the world tries to greet the miracle of Jesus’ birth not by “making straight the way of the Lord” but by bombarding ourselves with things designed to arouse “the proper Christmas spirit”.  I don’t know whether the article will succeed as a gracious attempt to teach the gifts of Advent or whether it will be one more instance of making people feel dumb and then wondering why they reject what you say.  I’ll post it on here shortly.

Our society really need this witness from the Church in Advent.  But it will never happen if those who understand the gift of Advent don’t love people enough to teach patiently and bear with people when they don’t get it or reject it.  So I hope that God will teach me and sinners like me to love and serve our brothers and show the value of pure doctrine and the church’s liturgy by demonstrating the love and patience that come from the Gospel.  Then maybe they could hear that we are truly safe in Him—not in the false comfort that comes from avoiding penitence, but in the true comfort given by Him who was placed in a manger to deliver us from our sins.



Taking up your cross is harder than taking home some chicken.

August 3, 2012 12 comments


Chick-fil-A remains at the center of a culture war with marriage equality supporters planning to converge onto the fast-food restaurants Friday and kiss fellow demonstrators.

The event comes two days after supporters of the chain’s president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay marriage attracted thousands, many of them conservative Christians, to restaurants, resulting in record-setting sales. former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, issued the call to action at the company’s more than 1,600 locations.

We no longer discuss or debate in our society.  We stage media events.

The  church fathers wrote books and essays like “The City of God” and “Exhortation to the Heathen.”  During the Reformation, theologians made arguments defending or explaining the faith to the public, learned and unlearned, like Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” or “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.”

Today there is no public debate depending on reasoned arguments.  We can’t make them, or don’t believe in them.  We don’t enter into public discussion with ideological opponents.  There is no discussion about whether homosexual “marriages” will benefit society, whether they make sense.  Everyone knows that no one cares about reason and argument.  What matters is how people feel about homosexuality.  And what matters is how effectively you are able to command the terrain of the battle, which is the media and how you look in it.

Homosexual marriage is an absurdity.  An examination of history will show you that there has never been any such thing.  That’s because marriage is not primarily about love, or about being turned on, or about your affection for your relative who’s gay nor about your nostalgia for the good old days of deistic civil religion.  Marriage, at least as far as the state is concerned, is about babies.

Babies continue to come into existence only one way–through the union of a human male and a human female.  Because of this, it has always been in the interest of nations both to encourage procreation of children in such a way that the next generation was taught and nurtured toward responsible citizenship, and discourage the procreation of children who would grow up inadequately nurtured and taught.  So governments wanted to discourage sexual unions that produced children with absent fathers, and also to discourage sexual activity which would not result in children at all.

A ways back we got the idea that low birth rates were beneficial–or at least not harmful–to the health of a nation.

The evidence that these old ideas were right are punching our society repeatedly in the eye, but we still don’t hear any voices in the media saying this unequivocally.  This argument doesn’t get heard.

The idea that marriage is not simply a cultural idiosyncrasy of the West, but merely an acknowledgment of the laws of nature, is shouted down.  Along with the entire intellectual tradition upon which our present civilization depends.

We can’t have the discussion.  We don’t discuss whether or not Nazi race ideology has any merits, because it is considered obscene to even discuss it.  I agree–racism and genocide is ugly and evil.  Unfortunately, that is getting to be the way every issue in our culture is staged.  Those who oppose homosexuality are simply evil people, just like Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

But I find myself wondering, again, if we’re fighting the wrong way;  if organizing a rally around Chik-fil-a is really the way to fight this battle.  The owner of Chik-fil-a was well aware of what it would cost him to say that public endorsement of homosexuality invites God’s judgment.

Gay activists picketing and boycotting everyone who dares to say that homosexuality is a moral evil akin to racism–the appropriate way to fight that is to tell Christians and nostalgic Americans to go buy a bunch of fast food?  In the interests of getting on the evening news?  Isnt’ that just feeding into the problem?

Far better to speak the truth in love and then endure the attacks that will follow.  Buying fried chicken is not going to stop the public approval of homosexuality.  Maybe you could argue that Christians have to act politically to fight unjust laws, such as gay marriage laws.  You have to also recognize that this is probably a losing battle.  But participating in stupid media stunts?  Is that really how we operate?  I seem to remember Paul saying that we do not fight with the weapons of the world, and that we have renounced hidden ways, but we commend ourselves to men’s consciences by speaking in the open.  I remember Jesus saying, “For this purpose I have come: to bear witness to the truth.”  (John 18? 19?)  Not to manipulate crowds, not to win public opinion.

What works in favor of Christian opposition to homosexual marriage is first of all that it is simply true that homosexual marriage and sex is wrong.  And people know that.

In a sense you could look at the gay outrage and loudness as the cries of desperate consciences.  Deep down people know that it is wrong.  But what people don’t know is the gospel.  They don’t know what to do when they are sinners and can’t stop sinning.  And the problem is that the Christians in America, by and large, have neglected to tell people, clearly and unmistakably, that human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins, enemies of God who are unable to turn to Him and unable to do anything good in His sight.

Since Americans don’t know that, they don’t understand or know that the only answer to the sin that lives in us is the crucifixion of the Son of God.  Because Jesus was brutally killed and bore God’s wrath against my rebellion, my sins are no longer counted to me when I believe God’s promise to blot out my sins for Jesus’ sake.

You can simply tell people the truth–it is a perversion of human sexuality for people of the same sex to pleasure themselves with one another, since their sexual organs are self-evidently for the purpose of creating human life.  Eventually the truth will out.

But why do people not listen to this truth?  Because they know that the sex drive–lust–is powerful.  And they know that many gay people find themselves attracted to the same sex at a young age without consciously choosing it.  And they feel that it is not possible for something to be wrong or evil and worthy of condemnation if it is not something you choose.

It is a misguided compassion.

You don’t overcome false compassion by fighting–by fighting back in the media and by buying fast food.

Take a lesson from Jesus, or Gandhi, at least.  You tell the truth, and you suffer injustice without perpetrating injustice in return.  Eventually it’s going to be hard to portray Christians as compassionless, self-righteous haters if it’s the gay rights groups that are constantly boycotting and screaming and dragging us into court.

But the goal is not to be perceived as compassionate, but actually to be compassionate.  To speak against homosexuality because we love homosexuals, and the media, and because our Lord loves homosexuals, and the media.  We should not speak against homosexuality, much less buy fried chicken against homosexuality, because we love ourselves.

God loves sinners!  Lots of people think that Christians teach that God loves Pharisees!  God does love Pharisees too, along with other sinners.

First of all, God loves sinners–real, ungodly, wicked, going to hell sinners.

Secondly, God loves sinners.  He earnestly, passionately loves the ones who hate and oppose Him and would kill Him if they could.  He so passionately loves evil sinners that He allowed them to kill Him.  He has given Himself into our hands.  And how often has it been the Church that has blasphemed and killed Him in response to His love in putting Himself into our hands?  Far more often than it has been the gay rights groups.

Because we are often the ones who have done the worst to Christ–we have gotten His word wrong or portrayed Him wrong or denied Him–and worse, hardened ourselves against Him when He rebuked us–we should know something about what Jesus’ love for those who vehemently hate and curse Him is like.

I’m not trying to criticize Mike Huckabee or anyone who jumped on the Chik-fil-a bandwagon.  I’ve struggled with this in my own mind.  It is important to speak the truth and to stand with those who speak it.  I know how painful it is to be attacked and then have your supposed allies say nothing, or say it’s your own fault because you didn’t say things the right way.

But we have to learn to evaluate victory differently.  Many homosexuals and supporters of gay marriage hate Christians because they think that Christians hate them.  And frequently they are right.  They need to see something of the reality that God loves those who hate Him.  They need to see Christians love them not only by Christians telling them the truth about their sin, but also by humbly bearing with abuse out of love.  And if we wish to do that, it means we need to ask the Holy Spirit to cause us to see, like Paul, how we have persecuted Christ and done the unforgivable, yet Jesus “loved us and gave himself for us.”  (Galatians 2:21)  He passionately loved us while we were still His persecutors, enemies, and murderers.

“There Must Always Be Rebuking.”

First Sunday After Trinity.  1 John 4 [:16-21] June 7, 1545

…If [a preacher] does rebuke sins, they undertake to have him removed…When you are scolded as a usurer, adulterer, or whatever kind of swine you are, or [it is said] that a peasant, a townsman, or a nobleman is godless, no one will suffer that… Are you really righteous because I [do not] rebuke your vices?  Then let the devil be [your] preacher…

…Whoever is timid and despairing should not be a preacher, because he must take his stand against the devil and the world, [saying,] “You are wicked, etc.” and thus take everyone’s hatred and enmity upon me…

…That I reprove the Papists comes from pure love.  I have received nothing from such reproof but enmity, hatred, and persecution by the devil and men…

…I am not a preacher so that I may be your blockheaded fool and slackjawed ape and not chastise your knavery.  “But he is a pious lord, prince, judge.”  Yes?  Then let him go to the devil along with you…It is better for you to have one or two subjects who pray and give thanks for your love than to have all the others praise you for your laxity, etc.  If you do not want to rebuke, do not become a husband.  And yet you should show your love by rebuking…

….Thus there must always be rebuking; indeed, not a single daily sin should be accepted by way of compromise.

AE 58:

Mercy with no ulterior motive

June 16, 2012 1 comment

I really like two things about this article by a pastor who works in Philadelphia (I think?) with the homeless–that he says

1.  We don’t show mercy–i.e. feed the hungry, help people find work, etc.–in order to get something in return–ie converts to fill our struggling churches.  We ought to do it because Christ has loved us and given us all things–we do it because it is our joy.

2.  We don’t expect immediate success.  We should recognize that people who are homeless, who struggle with mental illness, or what have you, often are not going to break freeright away of the sinful habits that contribute to their need for help or the years of injury resulting from sin done to them.  They need patience.  Christians begin to overcome sin when they believe that Christ has already overcome all their sins freely, and that they should not wait until they show moral improvement to believe that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  As long as I did not believe that I was justified until I first showed signs of sanctification, I remained constantly in doubt.  When I grew to believe that Christ had justified me and would not turn me away no matter how many times I came to him like the prodigal son, then I began to overcome sin, to forget about myself and love others. Sinners who are not in need of a meal or a roof over their heads require Christ’s unlimited patience.  Why should it be any different with those whose sins lead them to physical suffering?

Steadfast in the City– “Mercy or Ulterior Motives”

June 14th, 2012 Post by Pastor Joshua Gale

My friend and brother in the ministry, Matt Lorfeld, recently wrote a short, marvelous post on his church’s blog about the nature of mercy work and its possible “ulterior motives.”

As a pastor who spends most of his time with what is generally called mission and evangelism work with the homeless and very poor, I know the difficulty in speaking on the topic of mercy. Mercy is not the Gospel. Mercy, though it attends to physical needs, does not save anyone. Mercy to the poor is the church in action in one of its forms, but to think that showing mercy equals evangelism is a common error.

Mercy is not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Gospel. The Gospel is not a some kind of message of a restored economy. It is not an encouragement to environmentalism, or an argument for universal healthcare and labor unions. The Gospel is not a sandwich. The Gospel is the message of the person and work of Christ, his death and resurrection, and the promise of eternal life on account of Christ alone. A sandwich doesn’t preach this–words do. Without the preached Gospel, we are not really evangelizing anyone.

Mercy is the privilege of the church in this world, since we are charged by Our Lord to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. We do, after all, work in this world. But the forgiveness of sins must be preached. This is Pastor Lorfeld’s first point to serve as an important introduction, which brings him to the main point of the post: We have received freely in the Gospel, so freely we give in acts of mercy. We do this without threat of punishment. We show mercy without cost because God has shown mercy to us without payment. We love because God first loved us.

So why do we, Pastor Lorfeld asks, only show mercy if we can reach some quantifiable goal we ourselves have set? It’s like we’re still counting out “critical events” instead of just doing what we are privileged to do. Or, as Pastor Lorfeld points out, we feel like failures if we don’t increase the attendance in the Divine Service through mercy work. I can tell you that the poor (especially the homeless) sense this desperation in us, and have come to resent the church for this. They can see that church groups will swing in from the suburbs, pass out food, and give the impression that the whole thing is a transaction–either the poor are expected to come to their church in exchange for aid, or the people coming in are feeding the poor to salve their own consciences. Either way, we are expecting to be compensated for mercy.

So why should we show mercy? Pastor Lorfeld states: “Simply two reasons: because of the undeserved love has shown us in Jesus Christ and because our neighbor needs us…no strings attached.”

I want to expand on his observation. Not only do we love without cost, we love without appreciation, without expectation, and without the “strings.”

We aren’t always appreciated. I explain to my volunteers that you don’t know what is happening in the life of the homeless person you meet. You don’t know what kind of trauma he has experienced, or what kind of mental illness he might have, or how much he may be under the influence of drugs. For any number of reasons, he might not appreciate you–so don’t take it personally. But even at a deeper level, we don’t often show appreciation for the mercy Our Lord has shown us, but he gives again, heals again, and shows us mercy again. For us to arrogantly expect copious praise and appreciation from those to whom we show mercy smacks of bright neon-lit hypocrisy.

We also don’t show mercy expecting immediate reformation. I have one homeless man who used to live in one of the camps I served before it was demolished by the city. He lacked the things basic to a healthy life. So I supplied everything he needed to help him get back on his feet, and he saved enough money to help him get an apartment–then he spends it on a Kindle. I could be angry and refuse him any more mercy. But we have to realize, for many of the homeless, they have suffered major trauma and many have lived under years of systematic abuse; some are middle-aged but have the maturity of a teenager as a result. I am the closest thing to a parent my Kindle-owning homeless man has ever had, so I now have a new duty to help raise someone decades my senior. The birthday cake I got him for his birthday was the first he had in his entire life. I did this because it’s what a father would do. I make allowance for his mistakes for the same reason. He now has permanent housing, and though he has a lot of healing still needed, he is off the street. Mercy isn’t some kind of reciprocal transaction.

In short, we love without strings attached. Mercy is not the Gospel. Mercy is mercy and the Gospel is the Gospel. To choose one and neglect the other is inconsistent and hypocritical. Let us, rather, be known for both.

Categories: Love, Martyria, Mercy
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