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Seed, Not Soil. Sexagesima 2018. Luke 8:4-15

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sower van gogh.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 4, 2018

Seed, not Soil

 

Iesu Iuva

 

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)

 

Jesus just told His disciples, and us, a mystery of God.  He told us how God’s Kingdom comes.

 

He didn’t tell how earthly kingdoms come.  That’s no mystery.  If Jesus wanted that, and wanted to teach His disciples how to do it, He would not have preached this parable to the crowd.  If Jesus wanted to have an earthly kingdom, He would have told that great crowd that came to Him, “You are all my disciples.  Follow me, and the whole earth will be ours.”

 

That’s not what He did.  He told them a story about seeds and didn’t explain it.  If He had explained it to them, they would have heard that they were not all His disciples.  They would have heard that He was not interested in making them winners in this world, rulers of this world.  They would have heard that God wants to make them despised by this world, offensive to this world, and pleasing to God.

 

God wants to make us His seed, His offspring, begotten by His Word.  He says: You are not soil, you are My seed.  You are not the man of dust, from which I made Adam, cursed by sin, able to produce only thorns and thistles. You are born of the seed of my Word, which bears fruit a hundredfold.

 

That’s what Jesus says: As for that on the path…The ones are the rock…As for what fell among thorns… He doesn’t say, “The path are the ones who…”  He refers to them as the seed that fell on the path, on the rock, among the thorns, in the good soil.  He doesn’t call people soil, but seed.

 

That’s because the Kingdom of God is not about getting a crowd together and exercising power and influence on earth.  That may be a byproduct of the Kingdom of God.  More often it is a counterfeit of God’s Kingdom coming.  There are still plenty of houses of worship that are packed to the gills with large crowds in this world, even many in our country.  But there are very few that fit the description of the Kingdom of God Jesus gives in this parable.

 

The Kingdom of God comes when the sower sows His seed.  What is the seed?  The seed is the Word of God.  Not partly the word of God, and partly the word of men; not seed that produces grain mixed with seed that produces weeds.  The seed is the Word of God.  Not the Word of God mostly, but they just don’t believe that Baptism saves, or the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, or they don’t believe that God created the world in six days, like Genesis says, or they don’t believe you have to believe the same teaching to receive communion at the same altar.  The seed is the Word of God says Jesus, and only the Word of God.  People may be saved when the Word that they hear is corrupted by man’s word.  But God’s kingdom only comes when God’s Word is heard.  If other words are mixed in with God’s, the Kingdom of God comes in spite of those words.

 

God sends out His word with a purpose; the purpose is to save sinners.  His Word saves people who believe it.  When people believe God’s Word, they bear fruit for God.  Without God’s Word they bear no fruit.  Gathering a big crowd around you, even gathering a kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth, bears no fruit for God.  One or two people who hear the word of God and hold it fast in honest and upright hearts bear much fruit.  Without the word of God people are fruitless and barren and dead. With it they bear much fruit, “a hundredfold.”

 

The mystery of the Kingdom of God is: out of the seed of God’s Word, God brings offspring out of the cursed earth, out of human beings who are dust, and who return to dust because of sin.  He grows these offspring not for this present world, but for the world to come, where the curse will be gone, where death will be no more.

 

He does this in a mysterious way.  Seeds are very small, aren’t they?  Very small, and very simple.  Seeds are not billion dollar business empires.  Seeds are not movie stars.  If someone goes to Harvard or starts a billion dollar business, we think that is something.  Nobody thinks it’s something when you start the seed of a tomato plant in a planter in your window in February or March.

 

But seeds are more impressive than we think.  In the little shell is encoded the information and the material to produce the plant that will produce life.  One seed will produce a million more seeds, as well as fruit that can be eaten and flowers that can be smelled.

 

What human life produces a hundredfold, a million fold?  That is what seeds do.

 

The seed God sends into the world is His Word that proclaims His Son, who was incarnate of the Virgin, who died, like a seed sown in the earth, and rose again bringing forth a multitude of seeds, of sons of God who would inherit God’s Kingdom and everlasting life.

 

He sows this seed in a very low-tech way.  He has it preached.  It comes in other ways as well, but this is the primary way.  And whatever way the Word is sown adds nothing to the Word.  All the power is in the seed.  When it is heard and kept by faith, it grows and produces much fruit for God.  Whoever believes this Word has this life growing in him, in the soil of his body and his heart.

 

But God doesn’t call us who have the seed of His Word sprouting in us “the good soil” or “the rocky soil” that contains the seed; He calls us the seed.

 

His will is that this seed that He sowed in your heart grow up to eternal life, and that you become a seed like the one sown in you.  Like Him in producing good fruit; like Him in patient endurance of tribulation because of the Word that is in You; like Him in His death, His resurrection, His glory.

 

That is what God wants, and that is what will happen, as long as the pure seed is sown, and as long as the ground that receives it is good.

 

Not that there are people who are by nature “good soil” for the Word.  In your heart by nature are all the characteristics of the bad soil.  Sometimes your heart is hard like the path, like the broad way of the wicked, that hears the Word but ignores and treats it with contempt and tramples it down.  Then the devil comes and snatches it away.  Sometimes your heart is stony soil; you rejoice to hear the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus, but as soon as temptation comes you fall into sin, as though you had never heard God’s Word.  And of course in your heart by nature there are lots of weeds and thorns, worries about this life, the love of this world’s wealth and pleasure, and these will choke the Word of God.

 

But Jesus doesn’t say that the good soil is those who have no weeds in their heart.  He doesn’t say the good soil is those who are never hardhearted.  He says: As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

 

Our hearts are purified by faith in Christ.  When we hear the Word and believe it, God counts us righteous for Jesus’ sake.  New life begins in us.  Christ’s life takes root in us.  God regards this life born of the seed of His Word as the real you.  And it produces new desires and loves in you.

 

So pull up the weeds, break up the soil of your heart, chase away the birds, the demons, who want to snatch away the seed God has sown in your hearts.  Come to the Holy Supper with your distractions and your idols seeking His grace.  It’s not you making your heart good soil.  You are not the man of dust, you are born of the seed of God’s Word, and He is tending what He has planted.

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

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Not Alone. Susan Landerman Funeral Sermon. Dec. 10, 2017 John 12:23-26

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sue landerman.PNGIn Memoriam + Susan M. Landerman

Dames Funeral Home, Joliet

St. John 12:23-26 (27-33; Rom. 5:1-11; Job 19:21-27)

Dec. 10, 2017

“Not Alone”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Michele, Joe, Julie,

Sue’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

All her family, friends, loved ones,

And members of her church family at St. Peter:

 

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

 

The Word of God for our comfort this afternoon is from St. John’s Gospel: Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:23-26)

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

A few years back I used to read from a book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for devotions at meetings of the church council.  Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany who became famous because he was involved in the resistance against Hitler, and right before Germany surrendered the Nazis hung him in the prison where he had been kept.

 

I vaguely recall that Sue liked what we read from Bonhoeffer.  As a pastor I couldn’t recommend Bonhoeffer to her without qualifications; not everything that he wrote was faithful to God’s Word.  But I thought of how what we did read resonated with her as I read another book of his recently called Spiritual Care, which is composed of lecture notes for a class he taught on pastoral care at an “underground” seminary during the years when the Nazis controlled the protestant church in Germany.  He described how German churches had a tradition of ringing the bells for prayer when a member of the congregation died and wrote: Even in death, the Christian is never alone.

 

Sue lived her life surrounded by other people.  She invested her life in other people.  Hers was certainly a “life together” with others, not lived in seclusion from the sinful world.

 

Another word for “life together” is communion, which we sometimes translate with the word “fellowship.”  Fellowship, life together, communion, is so important to the Christian faith that we confess it in the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the communion of saints.  What the creed means is not just that Christians try to share in one another’s joys and pains in a human way, but that we participate in a shared life together, like members of a body.

 

We believe that God the Son joined Himself to human beings.  He shared all that was ours; He received our sin, death, and misery as His own, and He died for our sins.

God had communion with us, and the saints all have communion with Him. We eat His body and drink His blood.  As we share in His death, we share a common life together.  This is why the new testament is always exhorting Christians to love one another, and to have one mind, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  The apostle isn’t saying to act like we have communion with one another, but to live out the reality that we are joined to one another in Christ.  It’s a reality that has been brought about by Christ, not by us.

 

The sad reality is, though, that this common life is something we believe.  What we see of the communion of saints is very weak and imperfect.

 

But with Sue I felt like I did see the communion of saints, at least glimpses of it—in the way she treated me, the way she treated other members of the church, the way she cared for her family.  And she brought it out of us too.  When she was sick, the members of the church were concerned as we would be for ourselves or members of our own families.

 

Still, the communion of saints is hidden in this world.  The perfect communion that exists between members of Christ’s body is not visible.  We still do leave each other often to bear our sorrows and sins, our grief and death, alone.

 

But Jesus never leaves His Christians alone.  He is always with us, even when we die.

 

Life Together, the title of Bonhoeffer’s book, could also be a title for the book of Sue’s life.  She was always “together.”  Not just “together” in the sense that she was hardworking, organized, but “together” with others, always working for other people’s good as though she were working for herself.  She came from a family with a lot of brothers and sisters; she always had grandchildren with her at her house.  In church, after receiving new members’ instruction, she went back again to serve as a sponsor to other new members.  She was the face of St. Peter in places many of us were afraid to go, serving as a tutor to the kids at Evergreen Terrace, and going down to the projects to work in the community garden.  When she did that, she showed Christ’s communion with human beings, His readiness to not leave us alone, but bear our burdens—to have fellowship with us.  To be together with us.

 

Jesus said: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

 

Death is necessary to the fruit of life together.  But it is more than we are willing to give.  Working to help other people is something good people are willing to do, but that is not quite the same as giving your life (though it may feel that way to people who don’t have Sue’s work ethic.)

 

Dying for other people is too much for any of us.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die, St. Paul said in the reading from Romans.  It was true in his day as it is in ours.  It is a rare person who will dare to die for someone else.

 

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).  For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  Such is the love of the God Sue believed in.  A rare human being will die for a good person, but God showed His love by dying for us while we were still sinners, by dying for the ungodly.

 

He did this so we would have life together with Him.  He died so we would not be alone.

 

Sin isolates us.  It separates us and makes us alone—from other people, from God.  It does it in life and finally reaches its conclusion in death.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well in another one of his writings: He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.

 

But God the Son came to live together with us.  He shared our life and our weakness and had fellowship with sinners.  And on the cross He bore the punishment stored up against the sins of the whole world and took it out of the way.

 

As a result He did not remain alone, but…bore much fruit.  A seed that dies produces others like it.  Jesus died that He might be the firstborn of many brothers (Rom. 8).  He became sin for us, so that whoever believes in Him would be justified, counted righteous by God, and become a son of God and an heir together with Him, and inherit the glory that is His.

 

Jesus became the one who was truly alone with our sin.  From the cross He cried out that He was forsaken by God.

 

So Christians are not alone with their sins, not alone when we die, when it appears that we are most alone.  Christ is with us.  And those who mourn are also not alone.  Jesus lives together with those who mourn.  He shares our grief and will replace it with joy.  And because He shares His life with us, all who believe in Him and are baptized into Him live together in Him with the saints who are with Him in heaven.

 

We have life together with Jesus through His death.  But the Lord had more to say about this.  To have this life together in Him we must also share in His death.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

 

This part is the part we struggle with.  We are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. Through Jesus alone we have peace with God.  But faith in Christ makes us follow Him and go where He goes.

 

And where did Jesus go?  To give his life for sinners, enemies, for the ungodly, for us.

 

Christians also must die with Jesus.  To quote Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  We die with Jesus when we are baptized; and we continue to be put to death with Jesus as we are convicted of sin through the law of God, acknowledging that we have earned nothing by our lives but God’s punishment now and forever.

 

Then God’s grace raises us up throughout our lives.  He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of sins to us, out of pure grace, solely for Jesus’ sake, and we are given peace with God as we believe it.  We are raised to a new life lived by faith in Him.

 

Then we go with Jesus to learn to give our lives for others.  Like Sue.  As she cared for her kids, her brothers and sisters, grandkids, people in her church, people in need.

 

This is not easy.  It isn’t paradise.  We follow Jesus carrying a cross, into death.  Sickness.  Troubles at work.  Heartache.  We carry the cross with Jesus until we finally die and are placed in the grave with Him.

 

This happened to Sue when she was baptized into Christ and was given life together with Him.  She was crucified with Christ and raised with Him.  Today her death with Jesus is completed.

 

She is not alone here either.  He has made her grave holy by His own three days in the tomb.  Her soul He has taken to Himself, but this body will be raised as His was raised. I know that My Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my flesh has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26). 

 

By faith in Jesus we follow Him and serve Him—in dying, in laying down our lives for others.  And for us the sting of death is removed.  We are not alone.  We have life together with Christ, even when our following Him is imperfect.  We have perfect communion with God through Him and with the saints—those still on earth, and those who are victorious.

 

When Bonhoeffer was led to the scaffold where his life ended, witnesses said that his last words were these: This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.

 

And so for Sue we rejoice, knowing that her life has just begun.

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

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

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Good Friday, Chief Service 2017. Why is This Friday Good?

crucifixion grunewaldGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)

April 14, 2017

Why is this Friday “Good”?

 

Iesu Iuva

 

My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’?  It doesn’t seem good.”  We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy.  It indeed does not seem good.  When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good.  The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good.  Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death.  Sin brings God’s anger and punishment.  God will not leave sin unpunished.

 

The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it.  It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”

 

Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word.  Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.”  He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost.  He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”

 

On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.

  1. It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
  2. But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.

 

1.

 

The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news.  There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17).  There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds.  Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.

 

Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news.  The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in.  A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.

 

The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not.  But most people do not.  There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them.  It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them.  Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.

 

That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”.  It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.

 

A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God.  The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law.  This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God.  You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them.  You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul.  The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You.  The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  (v. 4-6)  Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?

 

Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin.  Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.

 

But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us.  Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples.  Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours.  We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians.  We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.

 

In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us.  The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t.  The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.

 

This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it.  Such a person feels forsaken by God.

 

But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news.  A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God.  But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God.  And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.

 

And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this.  Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin.  The result was that He was immortal.  He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.

 

Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die.  We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God.  We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.

 

We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross.  Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light.  He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.”  And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid.  It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross.  It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death.  It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.

 

When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst.  He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful.  But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment.  Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son.  He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us.  It had to be drained to the bottom.

 

2.

 

All that is very bad news.  If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.

 

But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?

 

This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:

 

We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.

 

Our sins must be “put away”.  We must be “released” from them.  Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.

This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today.  He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.

 

When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.

 

When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.

 

He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.

 

Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse.  He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched.  God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us.  He is reconciled to us and at peace.  “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”

 

That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)

 

Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God.  Not as a fiction, a lie.  But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.

 

“It is finished,” says Jesus.  What is finished?  The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins.  It is finished.  Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.

 

Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel.  This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.

 

It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one.  Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst.  That water does not come from nowhere.  It comes from Jesus’ death.

 

 

Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace.  Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution.  Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.

 

Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.

 

This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.

 

So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day.  Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall.  Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.

 

Amen

 

SDG

Consider Your Place In Life. Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent, 2017. Matthew 15:21-28

canaanite_woman jesusReminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 15:21-28

March 12, 2017

“Consider Your Place in Life”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom.  Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…

 

If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65

 

How did it go this week?

 

How did what go?

 

Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world.  Did it go well?

 

Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus.  To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan.  On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.

 

What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom.  You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  You have God’s name on your forehead.  As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh.  You could never hope to win this fight.  But Jesus has already won.  Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble.  That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.

 

So how did the fight go this week?

 

The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world.  We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget.  If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.

 

Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats.  In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession.  “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution?  The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker?  Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy?  Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome?  Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds?  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?  In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you.  The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins.  They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another.  Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them.  For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.

 

To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.

 

But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is.  In fact, you feel overwhelmed.  It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it?  If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help.  We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall.  We pray.  Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.

 

In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman.  She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.

 

But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves.  God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people.  He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents.  He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor.  He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens.  All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions.  They are there to bring God’s blessings to people.  When they falter, people suffer.  So they need prayer too.  When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still.  You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.

 

The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter.  Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.”  The word literally is “she is demonized.”

 

…[outline]

 

People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons.  If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.

 

If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight.  We need to pray.

 

The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

 

She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help.  She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.”  Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners.  You came to save sinners.

 

Don’t doubt this.  Hold firmly to it.  Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor.  / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver.  / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.

 

When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help.  This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.

 

Amen

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Broken Hearts are Good Soil. Sexagesima 2017. Luke 8:4-15

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Sexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Churchvan-gogh-the-sower-e1360145756277.jpg

St. Luke 8:4-15

Feb. 19, 2017

“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

The Word they still shall let remain

Nor any thanks have for it;

He’s by our side upon the plain

With His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life,

Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone,

Our vict’ry has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth.  LSB 656 st 4

 

Surely the people is grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:7-8).  Jesus’ parable this morning reveals the mystery of how the eternal Word of God is given to us, who are otherwise grass that withers and fades.

 

[*(edited

Jesus preaches to the great crowd that has gathered to him from cities all around that the Word of God is spread like seed when a farmer goes out in the spring and sows his fields.

 

But Jesus doesn’t explain this to the crowd.  He just tells them a story about a sower casting seed into the field.  Most of the seed lands somewhere where it doesn’t grow up into a crop.  Then Jesus calls out, He who has hears, let him hear!

 

Only to His disciples does Jesus explain the meaning of his story.  To you it has been given to know [or understand] the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for others it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’  Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who tells how he saw God in the temple and the seraphim flying around His throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!”  Then, says Isaiah:

 

I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand; keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e]     and their ears heavy,     and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes,     and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts,     and turn and be healed.”

 

Wait!  God told Isaiah to preach His Word so that they would not understand it?  So they would not turn to God and be saved?

 

That’s what it says; and Jesus says that’s why He preached a parable to the crowd—so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand. 

 

That’s not very loving, is it?  What it is is a terrifying warning about the consequences of “not having ears to hear.”  The consequences of taking lightly the Word of God, of ignoring it, of valuing it less than other things, of treating it as if it is only the word of men.  God may cause those who hear His Word but do not listen to it to no longer be able to listen to it, understand it, and be saved by it.]

 

Then Jesus goes on to explain His parable to His disciples.  The seed, He says, is the Word of God. 

 

Why does Jesus tell a parable about proclaiming and preaching God’s Word?  It isn’t as if God’s Word was never preached before Jesus came.  It’s not new.  God sent prophets to proclaim His Word since the beginning of the world.

 

But there is something new here.  God sent the prophets to proclaim His promise that salvation would come for the world in the future.  The seed of a woman would crush the head of the ancient serpent; the offspring or seed of Abraham would bring blessing, salvation to all the nations of the earth to replace the curse that all human beings were under.  The descendant of Abraham, born of a woman, would bring God’s Kingdom to the earth.  Satan would no longer control us.  In place of sin ruling in human hearts there would be righteousness; instead of death there would be eternal life.  Instead of God being absent from us and angry with us, God would dwell in the midst of us and have pleasure in us.

 

That is what God told His people through the prophets would happen in the future.  But Jesus proclaimed and preached: that day is now.  Now forgiveness of sins is happening.  Satan is being cast down. Death is being overcome.  Sinners are declared righteous.  God is present with and pleased with all who believe this good news.

 

That was and is the Word of God that Jesus preached and still preaches, which endures forever.  But there is something else amazing and mysterious about this Word of God.

 

You know the story of creation.  When God wanted to create the world, He didn’t get out a plumb line, a saw, a hammer and some nails.  He spoke.  And nothing disobeyed His Word.  The light didn’t say, “No, I won’t shine.”  The waters didn’t say, “I don’t want to be gathered together and let the dry land appear.”  When God spoke, creation obeyed.  God’s Word is omnipotent, almighty.  What God speaks happens.

 

But when God speaks to human beings, it’s different.  God allows His almighty Word to be resisted and rejected by human beings, who were made out of dirt.  He says, “You are forgiven and saved,” yet many people say, “No.”  Or more likely they say nothing, because they aren’t listening.  Or laugh and say, “Listen to that fanatic, that crazy fool,” or “This has been going on for 17 and a half minutes already.”

 

And so it happens that God’s almighty, eternal Word that gives pardon from sin, brings God into our hearts, saves us from being damned forever on the day of judgment gets sidelined, thrown into a closet in the Church, rejected.

 

Jesus says God’s Word is a seed.  When it is sown, when it is thrown onto ears and hearts through preaching, it lands in many ears and hearts where it is not permitted to do what it is meant to do.  It is meant to fall into the ear canal and find its way into the heart.  There it will grow up like a plant into eternal life and joy and with it bring fruit to the praise of God—much fruit, a hundredfold.

 

The Word is the Word of Jesus; it brings Him and His full atonement for our sins, accomplished in His death in our place on the cross, where God’s anger against not listening to His Word and believing it was poured out in full on Him.  In those who hear and believe is planted the death and forgiveness of their sins.  Where this is planted in the heart, the Holy Spirit who is present in the seed of the Word causes a new life to grow in our hearts that were formed from dirt.  In the midst of these bodies of dust and ash which rebel against God, love self more than our neighbor, the life of Jesus grows.  We begin to love God, desire His Word, find comfort and pleasure in it; we trust Him and call on Him with confidence that He will hear and help, and we begin to seek our neighbor’s good—his well-being here on earth and in spiritual things.

 

But Jesus says this doesn’t happen in most people to whom God’s Word comes.  Many people have hearts like the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, made rock-hard by the weight of many feet.  They hear the Word of God, but it never enters their heart.  It just lies there on the top of the hard crust of their hearts.  They don’t understand it, and even if they do, they don’t put their trust in the message it proclaims.  Then the demons swoop in and take the Word of God away.  If our eyes were open to this, we would see how every Sunday morning demons descend on so many hearers of God’s Word like crows and grackles to take away God’s Word from their hearts.

 

Others receive God’s Word and believe with joy for a time.  They hear that salvation is accomplished, finished by Jesus, and they rejoice.  But beneath the soil at the surface of their hearts is rock that prevents the Word of God from taking deep root.  God’s Word is planted, but it gets no moisture.  The seed is not watered; they do not continue to hear and learn the Word of God.  They may keep hearing it, but it doesn’t get in; they don’t acknowledge their need for ongoing daily repentance and renewal.  So when it gets hot and they are tested by suffering or persecution, the new life of faith dies.

 

And then there are those among whom God’s Word takes root and grows, but alongside it also grow the weeds of worry about this life, the desire for wealth and pleasure here on earth.  These weeds are not pulled out.  They are there in the heart with God’s Word—worry, love of wealth and pleasure.  And the Word of God is not able to grow with these things.  It grows stunted, sickly, fruitless.  The Word of God in their hearts becomes knowledge that produces no fruit—in essence, another weed.

 

There is only one kind of soil, one kind of heart, that receives God’s Word to salvation—the good soil, the noble and good heart.  Hearts that are not packed down and hardened against God’s Word; hearts that are not rocky and unwilling to continue in daily repentance for sin and renewal by God’s Word; hearts that are not divided by obsession with the worries and pleasures of this life.

 

In this parable Jesus is comforting future preachers, who will experience how few people seem to receive the Word of God, continue with it, and bear fruit.  But He is also calling us to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves, How do I receive God’s Word?  Do I bring forth fruit that testifies that my faith in Jesus is living and genuine?

 

It is a question that requires serious attention from us and honest self-examination.  It is a question that Jesus brings before us not to kill us, but to save us.  And this self-examination will have this effect on nearly everyone who honestly does it, as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus each week—we will be disturbed.  At how often we fall into the same sins—perhaps at how we live in those sins without repentance, bearing fruit for the devil.  And at how little of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, thankfulness and praise to God we bear.  How little we endure suffering without complaining, trusting in God; how little we can endure mistreatment from other people and still love them.

 

This kind of disturbance is good, if it is excited by the Holy Spirit and not by our own efforts to feel the right way.  We are not born good soil to receive God’s Word.  We can’t make ourselves good soil either.  It is God’s work.

 

But what makes a heart “noble and good” is conviction of sin that makes us hunger and thirst for forgiveness and the freedom to bear fruit for God.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, said Jesus.  The poor sinner who is terrified of his sins, who runs to Jesus continually for forgiveness and help, and believes that He will help, He says has “a noble and good heart.”  Such a sinner is glad to receive Jesus’ help, glad to confess his sins and be absolved, comes to Jesus wherever Jesus is planting and watering.  This is why a long time ago I tried to teach about the benefit of private confession and absolution.  I was speaking from my experience, and echoing another teacher who also knew what it was to be terrified at his lack of fruitfulness.  He wrote:

 

Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need.  If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the Pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it…If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles to confession, not under compulsion, but rather coming and compelling us to offer it…Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian.  If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession.  For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already.  They snatch at the bread, just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

 

That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.

 

But God is so gracious that both the seed of His Word and the flowing streams that water it and make it grow in our heart don’t come to us in only one way.  He plants the Word in our heart in Baptism and in teaching His Word; He waters it through preaching, teaching, and His Holy Supper.

 

In all these things, He tells us the joyful news—your sins have been taken away by my blood.  You are liberated from death and Satan.  It has happened as surely as I died, was buried, and rose again.  All who receive this eternal Word with noble and good hearts that hunger and thirst for forgiveness and desire to bear fruit to God will find that this Word will not return to God empty or in vain—in this world or on the day of judgment.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Come And See. St. Bartholomew (Altar Guild Service) 2016. John 1:43-51

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Jacobs-Ladder.jpgSt. Bartholomew, Apostle (transferred)/ Altar Guild Opening Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:43-51

August 25, 2016

“Come and See”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  John 1:45

 

“Wait a minute.  Cut!  I’d like to interject…”  Philip and Nathanael (his mother calls him Bartholomew) swivel their black-bearded faces in the direction of the voice, which belongs to a gray-haired man walking toward them, dressed in a jacked with leather elbows and a bow tie.  He speaks with a slight east coast accent, and as he talks he gestures with a pipe.

 

“I understand what you’re trying to do with this scene,” he says to Philip.  “You want to tell a compelling story.  I get it.  But if it’s going to speak to people two thousand years from now, you’re going to have to revise the script.  You sacrifice accuracy for the sake of rhetorical power and you’re going to lose your audience.”

 

Philip stares at the man, who goes on: “The thing about Moses.  ‘Moses wrote about Him in the Law.’  Reputable scholarship stopped believing Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy in the 19th century.  Until relatively recently everyone agreed that these books were cut-and-pasted together from different sources by editors a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived.  Everybody that’s educated knows this today, even the partially educated.  So let’s try it again without Moses this time.”  The bow tied man sits in a canvas chair and puts on sunglasses.

 

Philip keeps staring at him and finally utters, “Who are you?”

 

“I’m chair of New Testament at a top-tier divinity school in New England.” Then, in response to Philip’s blank stare, he says, “A scribe, of sorts.  Okay, take two.”

 

Philip turns back to Nathanael.  “So, like I was saying, ‘we have found the man who has been written about in the Law and the Prophets’—whoever wrote them—Jesus of Nazareth…”

 

“Cut!” the professor yells again.  “Another thing: you really can’t say that Jesus is the one written about in the Law and the Prophets.  The early New Testament community interpreted the Law and the Prophets as foretelling Jesus.  Then they wrote the Gospels to show Jesus as the fulfillment of those passages.  But to say the Law and the Prophets spoke about Jesus is a stretch, at best.  Leaves us open to the charge of anti-semitism, too.  Try it again.  Take three.”

 

Philip stands there for a minute trying to figure out what to say.  Then he looks at Nathanael and says, slowly, “We have found the man who isn’t really written about in the Law and the Prophets, probably.  But there is a community of people who think that the Law and the Prophets wrote about Him.  Or at least they want us to think that.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

“Cut!” the professor cries again.  “You can’t say it like that!  When you say it that way it sounds like a scam!”

 

What’s amazing is that so many people let themselves be scammed for so long.  The professor in the story isn’t based on a real person, but he is doing what leading bible scholars have done for at least a hundred years.  They have taught and written that the Bible is a literary construction made by men to advance certain beliefs, and then creatively interpreted by men to advance certain beliefs.  But as far as being historically reliable and telling us about things that actually happened?  The Bible doesn’t do that, they say.  That’s not its point.

 

Did this conversation between Jesus, Nathanael, and Philip actually happen?  We really can’t know, they say.  The idea that the Bible is verbally inspirited by God, and therefore not only the final authority for truth about religious matters, but also true when it speaks about geography, history, or anything else—that has been regarded as “fundamentalism” by scholars for a long time—despite the fact that the authority and clarity of the Scriptures was foundational for the protestant reformation.  And these scholars taught the ministers in mainline protestant churches—the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, some Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—since before I was born.  This skeptical approach to the Bible has become normal in the Catholic Church too.

 

But laypeople in these churches don’t look at the Bible this way, right?  The pastors don’t preach this way, do they?  I don’t think they do, generally.  It doesn’t work very well for preaching to have the professor bursting in every few verses to correct the Bible.  But if this is the way you have been taught to view the Scripture during your training for the pastoral office, it is going to affect how you carry out the work of that office.  If the Bible isn’t to be taken literally when it says Moses wrote the Penteteuch, or when it says that Jesus had a conversation with Nathanael, why should it be taken literally when Jesus forbids divorce in it, or when it says it’s immoral to have sex when you’re not married?  So is it a surprise that the mainline protestant churches have approved homosexual “marriage” as pleasing to God?  If the Bible was put together by human beings to teach what they wanted to teach, why can’t we just put a new spin on it to teach what we think is right now?

 

And this affects more than simply Christian morality.  It attacks the Gospel itself.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1); the healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9).  The result of treating the Scriptures as human productions is often revision of the Law of God; but the end result of revising God’s law is that pastors begin to preach to people that they, after all, are not sinners in need of saving.  Perhaps we are in a general way—none of us love people as we should.  But never in such a way that the specific forms our lovelessness takes are condemned; never in such a way that the sins that our time and place seeks to excuse are made to stand before the unchangeable judgment of the unchanging God.  And so the churches, instead of proclaiming the Son of God incarnate and crucified to reconcile sinners to God, by degrees remove the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11) and nullify the grace of God (Galatians 2:21).  God’s grace in freely remitting sins for the sake of the bloody death of His Son on a cross is only necessary for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins and cannot raise themselves.  It’s not necessary for those who have committed no grievous sins because there are no longer any grievous sins to commit.

 

And what have the laypeople done in response to this perversion of God’s Word in the mainline churches?  Did they walk out when their pastors and teachers revised the ten commandments?  Some did.  Most didn’t care.  They’d gotten used to re-interpreting the Bible when it said things they didn’t agree with a long time ago.  When it forbade women from being ordained.  When it forbade divorce.  When it forbade intercommunion between those who were not united in the one faith and doctrine of Christ.  When it forbade Christians to participate in the religious rites of secret societies.  And so on, all the way back to the time of the Reformation, when people found the teaching that Christ’s true body and blood in the bread are present in and with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper an offense to reason.

 

But what does all this have to do with the altar guild?  In the reading, Nathaniel (who is probably, but not certainly, Bartholomew the apostle, whose feast day was yesterday) expresses skepticism at what he hears from Philip—that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Moses and the Prophets.  He considers it unlikely that anything good could come from Nazareth.  But Philip says, “Come and see.”  Pretty confident, Philip is.  He doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael about whether or not Nazareth is a dump.  He invites him to come and see for himself whether Jesus is the one Moses and the Prophets talked about.

 

When we talk about Jesus to people who don’t believe in Him, say He is the Savior of the World, and our Savior, they will very likely be skeptical.  What do we do then?  Sure, you can debate with them if you’re equipped to do so.  That has its place.  But in the end, answering their objections won’t bring them to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must bring them.  And that happens when they “come and see” Jesus.

 

But where do you go if you want to “come and see” Jesus?  He is at the right hand of the Father, where we see Him no longer (John 16).  Yet He promised that as His Church goes into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything He commanded: and lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:20)  If anyone wants to come and see Jesus, we direct them to follow us to the place where His Word is being taught and His sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper are being administered.  We say, “Come to church with me and see.”

 

And what will they see there?  We hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, they will see Jesus, true God from eternity, who became human to live among us and fulfill the Law of God that we are unable to keep.  Who became sin for us, bearing our offenses on the cross, and was raised from the dead for our justification.  We hope that, being made to see Jesus by faith, they will also learn to see His presence with His Church in the Word and Sacraments, and learn to see the little congregation of sinners gathered around them as the community that has been declared righteous by God and adopted as His heirs.

 

But none of that is what they will see right away.  What they will see is an altar with a cross above it.  They will see a pulpit and a lectern and candles.  They will see some stuff under a sheet in the middle of the altar.  They will see pews, bulletins, hymnals, some men dressed in suits handing them pieces of paper and passing a plate.  They will see a guy up front in a white robe with a piece of colored cloth around his neck.  And the more years go by, the less familiar and comprehensible these sights will be.

 

And this is where you come in.  Can you make people see Jesus by putting oil in the candles, arranging the fair linen just so, ironing the alb?  No.  Neither can I.  A person sees Jesus, believes that He is the Son of God and our Savior, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

 

But by care and diligence in your work you can give a witness to what we confess.  In fact you will give a witness one way or the other.  By adorning the altar and chancel with care and beauty and precision you can testify to your faith and the faith of the church that “God Himself is present” in this place.  By being careful, diligent, and scrupulous in your cleaning of the sacred vessels you can testify to our own members to the reality that Jesus has truly given us His sacred body and his redeeming blood in the wafers and wine.  And as members of the altar guild you can be leaven in the congregation, instructing your brothers and sisters how in the Divine Service Christ Himself is present in flesh and blood, opening heaven to us each week, letting down Jacob’s ladder into this Nazareth called Joliet, where people wonder if there is anything good.  You can say, Yes, Jesus visits Joliet; He visits us at 8 am and 10:45 each week.  He speaks to us His good news that raises us up from sin and despair; He renews our souls with His crucified flesh and blood, and as He does so He brings with Him the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

 

And by that witness the church will be edified and perhaps visitors will come and say, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.  Or at least if He isn’t, I am convinced that the people who care for the altar believe that He is.”

 

May God bless you and strengthen you, then, in your holy work this year, as you continue to make the sanctuary a place where we are proud to invite people to “come and see” our Lord Jesus.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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