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God’s Breath. Pentecost 2018

pentecost.PNGThe Feast of Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31, Genesis 11:1-11

May 20, 2018

God’s Breath

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

And make our hearts Your place of rest,

Come with Your grace and heavenly aid,

And fill the hearts which You have made.  Amen.

 

“And suddenly, there came from heaven a roar, like a violent wind, and filled the house where they were sitting.”  Acts 2:2

 

The roar of violent winds is not foreign to us who have lived in the Midwest most of our lives.  They come every year, just about this time.  They break limbs off of trees.  Some years they tear roofs off houses, steeples off of churches, and some years they raze churches, schools, and whole towns to the ground, like one did in Plainfield when I was a kid.

 

But there are also calmer sorts of wind.  One kind of wind we need to live.  That is the wind going in and out of your nose right now.  It goes in and out of you without ceasing, this wind, for 70 or 80 or 90 years, with no rest, because when it stops going in, going out, you die.  When your breath departs, when your spirit departs, your body is dead.

 

And you need that wind for something almost as important as breathing.  You need it to commune with others, to love them.  You need it to talk.  When you were a baby you let out that breath to let your mother know you needed something.  When you got older you learned to let out your breath in the form of words, not just cries and yells.  But without this kind of breathing you would be cut off in the world.

 

On the Day of Pentecost, the promise of Jesus, the promise of the Father, was poured out on the believers, on the Church.  And to make people know it, there were signs; the sound of a roaring wind filling the house or room where the one hundred fifty disciples of Jesus sat, then tongues of fire dividing and resting on each one of them as they spoke in different languages.

 

Without the miraculous signs, people would not have paid attention.  But when the noise of a violent wind from heaven poured into that room, people looked up.  And when they heard the Christians speaking in a multitude of languages, they asked, “What does this mean?”

 

What does it mean?  It means that breath from heaven, God’s breath, had blown into the Church.  And the breath that entered the believers—God’s breath—now came out of them in God’s speech.

 

God’s breath had entered the bodies of the believers, and God’s speech poured out of their lips, doing what God’s speech and God’s Word does—creating, accomplishing what it announces, giving life.  Just as at the beginning of the world, God spoke, and it came to be.  Let there be light.  Let the water teem with living creatures.  Let dry ground appear.  Let us create man in Our image.

 

The breath of God still is in the Church, the believers, and it still comes from our lips, even though there is no noise like a mighty wind, and no tongues as of fire.

 

And even with no noise, no tongues of fire, no miraculous gifts of speech, the greater miracle still continues in the Church, among us.

 

The breath of God is in those who believe in Christ.  The Spirit of God is in us, having been poured out upon us in our own individual Pentecosts, when we were baptized into the body of Christ, the community in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

 

Whoever has God’s Spirit has God’s breath within him.  He has God’s life dwelling in him, the same way that a normal human body has normal human breath in it, ceaselessly going in and out until he dies.  But this life never ends; this breathing is meant to continue forever.

 

You have God’s breath in you.  You breathe it in when you hear the Word of God preached purely, taught purely, or read, and you believe it.  You breathe out His Spirit filled Word when you speak it to God in confession, in prayer, when you speak it to one another and to the people in your life.

 

The mighty, rushing wind, the whirlwind of God’s breath, rushes into us through the Word of God, proclaiming Jesus, God in the flesh, crucified for our sins, raised from the dead for our justification.  And like a person who has been resuscitated, we begin to breathe in God, believing this message.  We go on breathing it in, breathing it out.

 

The roar of a tornado is too much for us.  We can’t stand in its presence; it destroys homes and lives.  But God, who is a consuming fire, who speaks out of the whirlwind, comes to dwell in us with His life and Spirit.  Jesus promised: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love Him, and we will come to Him and make our home with Him.  John 14:23

 

In the time after the flood, the people of the world began to build a great tower out of bricks and asphalt.  They wanted its top to be in the heavens.  Then all kinds of people would be in awe and would rally to that tower in great numbers instead of spreading all over the earth, as God had commanded them to do.

 

Human beings love to do things like that.  To build monuments and towers and business empires; to make a name for themselves that will make themselves and others believe they have accomplished something great, to fight off the awareness of death and emptiness that people have within them.  The gnawing hunger that something is missing, that we need more.

 

But these monuments and towers are futile gestures.  At Babel, God confused their languages.  Other times, wind, weather, and age tear down our monuments.  But even while they stand and people marvel at them, they have no breath in them.  They are dead and lifeless, just like the stone idols that the nations used to worship.  Just like the world itself, which is filled with many evil spirits, but has no place for the Spirit of God or His living breath.

 

God’s works are not like ours.  They are living.  The masterpiece of His first creation was Adam, who was created in God’s image when He breathed His breath into him.  And the master work of His new creation is the Church—all who are baptized and believe in Christ alone as their righteousness and salvation.  In this building God Himself dwells in each brick, in each room, in each human member.

 

He breathes His Spirit into the Church, and makes it a living temple and dwelling place for the Triune God.  Through the preaching of the Gospel He breathes His eternal Spirit into us so that we are alive to God, and then the Spirit breathes out through us as we speak His living words back to Him in prayer, and as we proclaim them to those who are dead—families, friends, neighbors, co-workers.

 

The Holy Spirit also speaks within us.  He tells us that through Jesus alone; through His death for us, and His resurrection from the dead, we have peace with God.  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.

 

When you have been scared to do something, what do people tell you to do?  They say, “Take a deep breath.”

 

We are scared about our future.  We are scared about what will happen to us in the future.  We are scared about breathing out God’s Word to our family and friends that appear to have rejected it or forgotten it.  Knowing ourselves, our weakness, our sinfulness, we have a million reasons to be scared.

 

So, take a deep breath.  Breathe in the Holy Spirit.  Listen to the Holy Spirit preach in Church.  Come and listen to His Word be taught.  Read it.  Meditate on it.  Learn it by heart.  Take a deep breath.

 

Because in it, the Holy Spirit teaches you all things and gives you Jesus’ own peace.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

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Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

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

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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

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

 

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…

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.

 

Christians in Syria

June 19, 2013 1 comment

As our government sends money to fund the revolution in Syria, remember the plight of Syrian Christians.

TheVoiceOfSyria

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Syrian Christians make up 10% of Syria’s population. Since Syria is a secular state, Christians, as a minority were able to live their lives freely without being ridiculed by the overwhelming Muslim population. Christians were able to go to Church, wear whatever they like and live their lives according to their standards and not by the governments. In fact, Christians and Muslims got along perfectly well in Syria before the fake revolution occurred. Unfortunately the world is unaware that these so called “freedom fighters” are the ones committing a massive genocide in Syria.

Aleppo, which has the largest Armenian population, has been hit hard with countless terrorist attacks. Churches have been destroyed, Christians kidnapped, beheaded, raped and tortured. Damascus has a reasonable about of Christians, but Homs is home to the second largest Christian population in Syria, and unfortunately Homs is the first city where the fake revolution occurred. In…

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