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The War in Heaven and the War on Earth. St. Michael and All Angels, 2017

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

st michaelSt. Michael and All Angels

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 12:7-12 (Matthew 18:-10)

September 29, 2017

“The War in Heaven and the War on Earth”

Jesus

The terrifying picture of the devil as the dragon

 

There is a war going on around us that we cannot see.  All three readings tell us about it.  An angel came to speak to Daniel, but he was delayed because “the prince of Persia” held him up until Michael the archangel came to his aid in the battle.  Our Lord Jesus tells his disciples to be careful not to cause children who believe in Him to fall into sin, because “their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven”—which is to say that God has assigned angels to protect and guard little children—implying that the kingdom of darkness desires especially to harm children.

 

And in the reading from Revelation we see Satan depicted as a dragon with an army engaged in battle with Michael and the angels of heaven.  He wants to stay in heaven so that he can continue to accuse Christians before God “day and night.”  But he and his angels are defeated and thrown down to earth.  And St. John hears a voice that says ominously to us, Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!  (Rev. 12:12)

 

We aren’t scared of dragons, because they don’t exist.  But if they did, you would be horrified.  Dragons are huge.  They are smart.  They can usually fly and breathe flames and incinerate whole towns.  It is basically impossible for human beings to kill them.

 

Those kind of mythical beasts don’t exist, but the devil does exist.  And he is a dragon.  He is malevolent and enjoys killing people.  He takes great pleasure in murdering us.  That is what he did in the very beginning when he spoke to the woman in the form of a serpent.  He’s not content just to kill a person here and a person there, the way a human murderer does.  He opposes God’s order in creation that sustains life.  He manipulates women and incites them to murder their children.  He opposes God’s order in creating us male and female so that children are not even born, and when they are, their parents don’t care for them properly.  He causes disorder in the state so that people die through misgovernment, crime, and war.  He causes disorder in the Church so that God’s Word is not preached and inflicts spiritual death.  He wants us all exterminated, and he wants us dead not just in this world but in a death that lasts forever in the lake of fire.  And he has a great number of powerful angels under his command to carry out his war.

 

This dragon, the devil, is at war with God and his kingdom.  That means he is at war with the Holy Christian Church—with us who are baptized and believe in Christ.  Since we don’t see him, we are often asleep as this war rages around us.

 

Can you imagine being in a war with guns and bombs?  How vigilant would you be if you knew that when you let your guard down you might be picked off by a bullet from an enemy hidden somewhere you couldn’t see?  And yet this war, which is far more dangerous, rages around us.  We are never free from it as long as we are in this world.  Yet how many days go by where we are unconscious of it, and unarmed.  Not wearing the body armor of our baptism.  Not armed with our weapons, the Word of God and prayer.

 

In the text from Revelation, we see that this dragon, who is invincible as far as human beings are concerned, once carried out his warfare in heaven.  He no doubt carried out attacks on Christians on earth like he does now—attacking our health, property, good name, as well as our faith in Christ and His Word.  But he had an additional front.  He used to accuse us before God day and night.  In the book of Job, Satan appears before God and accuses Job; he says, the reason why Job loves and trusts you is that you protect him from me.  Take away his protection and let me destroy his property, his children, his health, and he will curse You to Your face.

 

Satan used to be able to accuse us before God.  He would remind God of our violations of His law, how we had not loved and trusted Him above all things, how we had failed to treat His Word as sacred, how we had not honored our parents, how we were angry and vengeful toward our neighbor, how we were unchaste, how we stole, wasted, were greedy and negligent, and harmed our neighbors’s reputation.  He would remind God of how we had earned His anger and punishment.  He would demand that God turn us over to him.

 

But Revelation tells us that Satan is no longer able to wage war against us in this way.  He has been cast down from heaven.  St. Michael and the angelic armies forcibly removed Satan from heaven.  He is not allowed in to proclaim our sins before God.

 

That is because God has been reconciled to us once and for all by the blood of the Lamb.  When Jesus was led like a sheep to be slaughtered, when His veins were opened by Roman whips and nails, and His heart was pierced by the spear in death, out with His blood drained God’s wrath against all of the seemingly bottomless evil that humans have done and that remains in our hearts.  He can no longer be stirred up to wrath against us because He is reconciled to us.  And the devil is no longer permitted to accuse us to God.  Those accusations are no longer permitted in the presence of God, because those sins have been done away by Jesus.  To bring them into God’s presence would be to deny the worth of Jesus’ suffering, and this God will not allow.

 

This is wonderful news!  The bad news, however, is that the devil has been cast down to the earth.  And he is very angry.  He is like a cornered animal.  He knows that it is only a very short time before he is cast forever into the lake of fire.  And since he cannot take his hatred and anger out on God, he vents it on God’s creation, and specifically on us—on human beings, the head of God’s creation, and particularly on the Christian Church, the people God has taken as His own out of the world.

 

The angels who defend us

 

The dragon has come down to the earth, and in a rage, seeks to have us dead, seeks above all to claim those whom God has claimed as His own in Baptism and pull them down with their white robes into the filth, shame them, hook them with his claws and carry them down into the fire forever with him.  And we can see around us the great fury with which the devil has worked to destroy the Christian Church.  We see around us a great falling away.  Worse than the empty pews, however, is the way that so many churches in which the pure word of God was once heard are now the haunts of owls and jackals.  They are ruins.  They are thrones for evil spirits.  And in many other churches the devil has not succeeded in establishing control, but his demons have a voice in the church.  His sulfurous breath competes in the air with the incense of God’s temple.  The holy angels cannot enter these churches unmolested.  They have to come in with their swords drawn.

 

With such a powerful, humanly speaking invincible enemy, we are foolish to be asleep.  But even if we were wide awake, what would we do?  We are not strong enough to kill dragons.

 

But God still sends His angels out into the world, and by their mighty power they uphold and defend God’s creation.  They uphold government so that there is peace and so that life can continue on earth.  They protect children and promote peace in the household.  And they defend the Church against the attacks of Satan so that he is not able to wipe us out like he would like to do.  With their swords drawn they carry out God’s will and deliver our lives from destruction.  They protect our property and good name, which Satan would like to destroy.  And they stay with us and guard us as we live in faith in Christ so that Satan is not allowed to harm us beyond what God allows for our growth in faith and godliness.

 

+God can do this without angels; but He uses them.  So we thank Him for them

 

+We live in our calling in faith and the angels stay with us instead of leaving us.

 

The devil is always defeated when he wars against Christians

+He is ejected from heaven and his ceaseless accusation by the blood of the lamb.  God does not permit us to be accused before Him because we have been justified by the blood of Christ.  If God permitted charges to be leveled against us, it would be to deny that our Lord Christ has “blotted out the handwriting against us” with His blood (Colossians 2).  It would be to deny that Jesus’ death had taken away our sins once and for all.  For God to accept charges against us would be to deny His Son.  This the Father will never do.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  (Rom. 8:1, 33-34) And so, our justification is certain.  Satan is overcome and defeated by Jesus’ blood.  The saints trample him underfoot through faith in the blood of the Lamb.

+We overcome him here by the blood of the lamb, received by faith, and confessed with our  lips.

+The angels serve us here; and at our end they gather us with all the saints to rest in Christ until He returns to raise us up.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

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Jesus Raises Us Up In the Divine Service. Trinity 16, 2017

widow-of-nain_thumb[1].jpgThe Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Ephesians 3:13-21, Luke 7:11-17

October 1, 2017

Jesus Raises us Up: Divine Service and Scripture

 

Jesus

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Those verses are our theme this year for the fall stewardship series as we approach the anniversary of the Reformation.

 

The Gospel has great power, even if that power is not apparent to human eyes.  That is the reason why the devil goes to great lengths to ensure that it is not heard.  Whenever it is proclaimed, God’s power goes forth against Satan’s power, both to save those who do not believe and to strengthen those who do.  If we are to continue to salvation and eternal life, if we are to have joy as we walk the road of the cross to salvation, we need the Gospel.  We need God’s power.  The place God gives the Gospel is in the Divine Service and in Scripture.

 

In the Gospel reading for today, God gives us a living picture of what the Gospel does to a person who first hears it with faith; and in the epistle reading He explains what the Gospel does for those who believe it and continue to receive it.

 

In the reading from Luke Jesus goes in to a town called Nain with His disciples.  As they come near the gate of the city, they meet a funeral procession coming toward them.  It is a funeral procession, and the body being carried out to burial is a young man, the only-begotten son of his mother, who is a widow.  It’s as if Jesus is meeting Himself and His mother.  He is moved with compassion for the grieving mother and says, “Don’t cry.” 

 

Supposedly, the rule for a Jewish teacher like Jesus was that, if they met a funeral procession, they were obliged to join it and share the grief of the bereaved.  But Jesus instead touches the coffin, and the procession stops.  Instead of mourning death with the funeral, He simply ends it.  He speaks a short command: Young man, I say to you, rise!  The man sits up in his coffin and begins to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.  See the power of Jesus’ word!  He doesn’t do any magic, any elaborate ritual.  With the same simplicity with which He commanded sickness and demons and storms on the sea, He speaks to death and it releases the dead.

 

When Paul says, The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, you can picture this funeral, where Jesus simply speaks a word and the dead man sits up in his coffin.  That’s how the Gospel works; it releases those who are spiritually dead so that, all at once, they become alive to God.

As soon as a person believes that his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who made atonement for them by His suffering and death, his sins are forgiven.  God is perfectly pleased with him.  He imputes or accounts to that person Jesus’ righteousness.  He is an heir of eternal life.  All that happens the very moment a person believes.

 

Yet we still have not taken possession of all that is His.  His kingdom is ours.  The joys of heaven are ours.  The full measure of His love is ours, and so is His glory and holiness.  But we still have to press on to take possession of these things, so that Jesus’ love, power, wisdom, and goodness become manifest in us, and so that the old sinful nature dies off.  Paul describes this in his prayer for the Ephesians: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:13, 16-19). 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

We forget where we are.  We deceive ourselves and let ourselves be deceived most of our lives.  We come to church and think we are taking a couple of hours away from our lives.  No!  When you come to the service of God you are taking an hour or two away from death. Death doesn’t visit you in your final hours.  Death attends your whole life.  We are all flying towards death.  Death sits at the foot of your bed with an hourglass in your final years, but he was there when you were young, too, laughing as with the sins of youth you forged the chains that would ensnare you in middle age.  He held the hourglass in his hand all the time, and the sands were always running out.

 

But that is just the death of the body.  But from the very moment you were conceived you were not just dying.  You were already dead in the real sense of the word.  Unable to hear God, unable to know Him or to have the joy of life that is truly life.  You were dead in trespasses and sins.

 

Then, one way or the other, you were brought in your lifelessness through the doors of the

Church, and you ran into Jesus with His disciples.  And Jesus had compassion.  He poured water on your head and preached the Gospel to you.  He said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  He proclaimed to you how He paid for all your sins, giving Himself up to be crucified, to die, to be placed in the tomb, and to be raised for your justification.  And you sat up in your body of death and began to speak your first words of life in God, confessing your faith in Jesus to others and your sins to God, calling upon Him.  And the Lord gave you to your spiritual mother, the holy Christian Church, so that she would continue to care for you, and you would serve her as the widow’s son did his mother.

 

But what happened after that?

 

You found that being a Christian wasn’t easy.  You were still tempted by all kinds of evil.  And even when you wanted to do what was good and pleasing to God, you found that you fell short.  You found that you struggled to honor your parents.  Maybe you made your teachers and other authorities over you angry again and again, even when you tried to do better.  In confirmation perhaps you weren’t diligent and zealous to learn the catechism.  You were constantly tempted to impress your friends, even when that meant turning away from what pleased your Lord.  You struggled with pride, or with forgiving and loving your enemies.  You neglected prayer or were inattentive in worship.

 

It never gets any easier.  As long as we are in this world, we have the flesh, what Paul calls this body of death (Romans 7), that fights against the new man in us.  This body of death is always working to drag us back down into death, to keep us from reaching the fullness of life that God has promised us in Christ.

 

So even today when we came here today, even believers in Christ, came here with death at work in us.

 

But Jesus came here today to meet you and raise you up so that you may receive His Spirit and have strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (Eph. 3:19)  Jesus has come to put death into remission in us with a word.

 

So He absolved you and loosed you of your sins from the past week and all the ones before.  Now He preaches the Gospel to you.  And in a moment He will strengthen the inner man, the man in His image, with His flesh and purify You within with His atoning blood.

 

The same compassion He had for the widow and her son motivates Him to come here and do this.  In the Small Catechism’s questions in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, Luther asks Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?  And the answer is: That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor. 

 

Jesus comes to the Divine Service to raise you up, to put to kill the body of death that is so strong in us, to make you comprehend the height and depth of His love, to dwell in your heart through faith and manifest His power and love in you until you are fully raised to the right hand of God.

 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

If we grasped this, how eager we would be to meet Jesus in the Divine Service!  When we have such a fight against our old nature and faith is cold and weak and temptation is so strong, this place where Christ meets us is where we find divine help in the gospel and sacraments.

 

But so often we don’t feel this help.  I am sure that someone here is thinking, “I’ve been going to church for decades, but I’ve never experienced any miraculous transformation from the Divine Service.”

 

I have experienced the same thing.  Often it is because I come to the Divine Service but neglect the Scripture during the week.  Then I am often cold and distracted during the Divine Service.  This happens because I mistakenly think that life is found in all the other things I do during the week—whether work or play—and that the Scripture and the Divine Service are interruptions of life.  They are not.  They are interruptions of the death that is at work in my body.

 

That’s how it is with me, and I am forced to go to church and read Scripture because of my calling, even if I am lazy.  But it has become common for so many of our members to come to the Divine Service once or twice a month.  To have strength to comprehend the love of Christ, to know the love of Christ in its fullness—can that happen if you are exposed to it only a few times a month?  Or even once a week?  As long as we have death at work in us, we need the power of God, the Gospel preached and read, and the Sacraments, to raise us up.  We come to know the love of Christ as we come to know Him through meditation on His Word.  This is not a chore, a job you have to do.  It is heaven—to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. 
And so if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, and increasingly display His power among us, it will happen as we gladly hear His Word and grow in the knowledge of it.  Then we will also grow in our knowledge of His love.

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the GospelEven today He raises you up.  He pronounces you righteous, sinless, and an heir of eternal life.  He invites you to come with your body of death to His table and learn to know His love that surpasses knowledge, that moved Him to die for your sin.  He doesn’t hold against you the ways you have neglected His Word in the past.  He invites you to know and experience His love by reading your bible every day, by confessing your sins and being absolved, by letting the called minister of His word teach you it.

 

I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.  Jesus’ Gospel is God’s might that gives us faith in Him and makes us alive, and it is His mighty power that strengthens us in the inner man, so that we grow to know His great love for us and reflect it in this world.

 

Oh Lord, grant us to know Your love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Made Clean. 14th Sunday after Trinity, 2017.

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

cleansing 10 lepers.jpgFourteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 17:11-19 (Gal. 5:16-24)

September 17, 2017

“Made Clean”

Jesus

If someone asks you, “What is the Lutheran Church?  What makes it different from other churches?”—and you had to give a quick answer—the answer would be this: the doctrine of justification.  We say that a sinner is declared righteous by God for Jesus’ sake, solely through faith in Him, without any works.

 

But the Bible has other ways of describing what God has done for us in sending His Son into the flesh.  One is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading today—He purifies the ten lepers, or makes them clean.

 

Jesus is headed down to Jerusalem.  As He goes through a town, a group of men with leprosy stand at a distance from Him and shout, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  They are a long way off from Jesus because God’s Law commanded that they be.  It condemned people with leprosy as unclean or impure.

 

God is not only righteous and just; He is also pure and clean.  So He commanded that the impure were not allowed among the people with whom He dwelt.  The unclean were not allowed into His house.  Lepers had to live outside the camp with their clothes torn, in mourning.  Whenever an Israelite came by who didn’t have leprosy, they had to shout “Unclean, unclean!” to warn them.

 

Uncleanness and impurity separated lepers from God and His holy community.  They stood far away from Jesus, yet from far off they cried to Him: Have mercy on us! 

 

They must have heard about Jesus—how He had healed many others who were paralyzed, who had fevers, who were blind, how He cast out demons.  They believed that Jesus, who had overcome the devil’s power over other people, could and would take away their impurity.

 

And Jesus didn’t disappoint them in their trust.  He heard their cry and told them, Go, show yourselves to the priests. 

 

The Law commanded that if a leper was healed, he had to go to the priests at the temple and be examined by them.  If the priests found that the leper had been cleansed, they would perform two rites: one to purify him, and the other to reinstate him as a member of the holy people.

 

So when Jesus says, Go, show yourselves to the priests, He is telling them to believe that He has granted what they called out for even though they don’t see it.  Even though you don’t see it yet, I have granted your prayer.  I have mercy on you.  You are cleansed.  Go to the priests and let them acknowledge it.

 

And as they went, says the Holy Spirit through St. Luke, they were cleansed.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin and brings us before God’s face.

 

Leprosy has mostly been rooted out of the modern world.  But our sense of impurity hasn’t gone away.  Look at how people carry around little bottles of hand sanitizer to kill any germs they may get from contact with other people!  Look at how obsessed our society is with bodily perfection and health, and how increasingly we eliminate babies with physical defects, aborting them so that they never see the sun!  We don’t do these things from religious impulses.  But the fact that we are so preoccupied with them shows how people continue to recognize intuitively the need for purity and wholeness, at least in regard to the body.

 

That feeling that we need to be pure, to be clean, is correct.  Uncleanness, sickness, deformity is a manifestation of the corruption and death at work in our bodies.  And the reason why corruption and death are at work in our bodies is because of the impurity of our souls, even our whole natures.  Original sin, in which we are conceived, passed down to us from Adam and Eve, makes us impure and unclean before God even before we think or do anything sinful.  And just like skin diseases break out in boils, scabs, or running sores, so original sin breaks out in impure thoughts, words, and actions against God.

 

We were all born with this leprosy.  It is not something we have any power to cure.  It corrupts everything we think, everything we do.  And it separates us from God.  We cannot come into His presence when we are unclean with sin; we can’t be numbered among His holy people.  Behold, (A)the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,  or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;2 (B)but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Is. 59:1-2)It isn’t just our evil words and evil deeds that separate us from God, but the evil nature with which we are conceived, so that all that by nature provokes the wrath of God.

 

Yet we sit here this morning not defiled, but clean.  Not alienated from God, but reconciled to Him, and brought near to Him.

 

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, (BC)doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled (BD)in his body of flesh by his death, (BE)in order to present you holy and blameless and (BF)above reproach before him (Col. 1:21-22), says St. Paul in Colossians 1.  We were brought near to God and cleansed of our sins when Jesus was cast out as the one who bore the impurity of our deeds and thoughts and even of our nature.  As He bore that impurity on the cross and the sun was darkened, He cried out that God had forsaken Him.

 

That was the purification of our uncleanness.  It says in Hebrews 10: 1But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he (Q)sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time (R)until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering (S)he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  By a single sacrifice He perfected sinners; by that one sacrifice He purified us of sin.

 

Jesus was going down to Jerusalem to do this very thing when the lepers cried out to Him.  When our parents brought us to the church as little ones, seemingly innocent yet already impure and alienated from God in our minds, through the pastor Jesus received us and cleansed us in the washing with water through the Word (Eph. 5).  He baptized us, putting us to death with Him and raising us up with Him.  We died to the old life of Adam.  We rose in Christ to a new life as children of God, free from condemnation and sin.  Our sins were covered.  We were brought into the communion of saints, the holy people of God.  We were purified from the uncleanness of sin, and God came to dwell, not in a tent near us, but in our bodies.

 

It is true that we still feel the old nature working in us, making our conscience dirty again, making us think evil thoughts and provoking us to do evil deeds.  But the thrashing around of the old Adam is not counted to us, as long as we are led by the Spirit, as long as daily we resist and crucify the flesh and return to our Baptism to die in repentance and rise through faith in Jesus alone.

 

So as often as we feel the old nature and its impurity, Jesus comes to us through the pastor in holy absolution.  We confess our sins, and Jesus testifies that our sins are forgiven—which means that they are loosed from us, they are not counted to us, and we are not cast out as unclean, but we are pure and clean and brought to our Father in heaven.

 

This is what the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when it says: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts (AA)sprinkled clean (AB)from an evil conscience and our bodies (AC)washed with pure water.  (Heb. 10:22)  Jesus sent the lepers to the temple.  They did not yet see that they were clean, but they went in faith.  We draw near to God in faith that Jesus has made us clean, trusting His cross, where He provided purification for sins, trusting His promise in Baptism, where He applies that purification to us.   We see that impurity is still at work within us.  It seems, sometimes, overwhelming.  But we don’t believe in it.  We consider Jesus’ promise greater than what we see with our eyes, and His work more powerful than the works of our flesh.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin, and brings us to stand with confidence before the face of God.

 

But in the reading, something awful happened.  Jesus cleansed ten lepers.  Nine of them were Jews, who were descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises.  One was a Samaritan—a foreigner.  Yet out of the ten men for whom Jesus did this amazing miracle of cleansing and restoration, only the Samaritan came back to thank Him!

 

Was it because the others thought they should thank God in the temple and not at the feet of Jesus?  Was it because the priests at the temple convinced them Jesus was a false prophet?  We aren’t told.  We only hear Jesus faulting them for not thanking God at His feet.

 

How awful it is to face the reality that the same thing happens among us!  Jesus has cleansed many people of something worse than leprosy in this place.  When He baptized them, He washed away the uncleanness of original sin that separates people from God forever.

 

Yet most do not come back to give thanks here where Jesus is present in flesh and blood.  So many baptized babies we never see again after their parents bring them to be baptized.  They bring them to Jesus to be baptized, but not to hear His Word or receive His body and blood.

 

But some are brought back long enough to be confirmed and admitted to the sacrament of the altar.  Then, after their confirmation day, a few months or years later, they too are gone.

 

And others keep coming.  Yet though they thank Jesus with their lips, it is just lip service.  They do not cast themselves facedown at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him for making them clean.  They come as those performing a religious duty, not with the joy of those who have been made clean and pure by Jesus’ blood, but as those who think they have kept themselves pure.

 

How do we know that we are not one of the nine who were cleansed and then fell back into spiritual death?

 

Because we trust in this only: that Jesus has purified us from the leprosy of sin and brought us into the presence of God.  When we see the thanklessness and unbelief in our hearts, we turn our eyes and our ears to His promise.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).  Jesus made purification for our sins on the cross.  It is done.  He bestowed that purification on us in Baptism.  That too is done.  That is what we cling to in faith.  And as we continue to put to death our impure flesh, we come to Jesus for help.  We draw near to God through Him, who alone can help us.

 

And He helps us.  He spreads before us the blessed feast of thanksgiving, the Sacrament of His body and blood.

 

When the leprosy of your old nature seems to have broken out again, and you fear that you have relapsed into death and alienation from God, come to the table the Lord spreads.  Pay attention only to His words: “for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  He is telling you that it is done.  You are purified.

 

As you eat and drink, believing these words, you also lay your body and soul at His feet, that your life from then on may be for the praise of His glory.  Then you go out from here, believing you are pure in God’s sight, and eager to glorify Him for this great mercy.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Each Called Out To His God. Day of Supplication and Prayer. Jonah 1:3-5

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

jonahsprayer.jpgDay of Supplication and Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Jonah 1:4-6

September 20, 2017

“Each Called Out to His God”

Jesus

 

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”  Jonah 1:4-6

 

The pagan captain is astounded at Jonah.  Even the sailors are scared for their lives at this storm, but the prophet is sleeping.  And even pagans know that when you are about to die, you call on your god.  They don’t know whether their gods will hear them—and indeed they won’t, because they are no gods at all.  Yet Jonah the prophet of the true God is sleeping through this storm like he is dead.

 

Why is Jonah sleeping when his life is in danger?  Because he’s trying to get away from the Lord.  The Lord sent him to preach repentance to Nineveh, that great city.  And Jonah refused and went on a ship the other way, to Tarshish.  He knows the Lord won’t let him do that so easily.  So he sleeps and tries to forget it all.  And he knows that if he does get up and call on his God, the Lord will send him back to Nineveh, where he doesn’t want to go.

 

Occasionally people ask why I keep doing Evening Prayer every week, even though only one person comes.  I think I understand why they ask this question.  You have so many things to do, Pastor, and you have limited time with your family.  Why have another service when no one comes?

 

This is why: because I’m like the captain of the ship Jonah was on.  There is a storm on the sea.  It seems to me that the ship is going to sink—the ship of this church.  The ship of our nation.  The ship of my own life, many times.  And I don’t know what to do.

 

And the sad thing is, with all these boats taking on water, I still will not make time to call on my God many times.  I need the help of the church, of the other believers in Christ—even if it’s one other person.

 

I’m not the only one affected by these storms.  You are too.  So are the people not here tonight.  And it’s not just us.  So many of our brothers have fallen overboard and are alone on the sea.  Others have sunk beneath the waves.  If this ship goes down, we can swim to another.  But what about them?  And what about the many who like the pagan sailors don’t know the true God and can’t call on Him?  Who prays for them?

 

Rise, my soul, to watch and pray, says the old Lutheran hymn.  From your sleep awaken!  Be not by the evil day Unawares o’ertaken.  For the foe, well we know, is a harvest reaping, While the saints are sleeping.  That is true even when there are no obvious dangers facing Christians.  But that is not the case today.  If you smell the air, you can sense the chaos rising in the nation.  And as the churches are growing weaker, as we are losing a whole generation of young people, the heat is being turned up on the church.  Watch against the devil’s snares, Lest asleep he find you; For indeed no pains he spares, To deceive and blind you.  Satan’s prey, oft are they, who secure are sleeping, and no watch are keeping.

 

That’s why Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline are in the hymnbook.  We can, of course, pray at home, and we should.  But we often are lax.  And even when we do pray, oftentimes we don’t know what to pray for.  You, especially you here tonight, are very good at working together.  You are not lazy.

 

But how much stronger a congregation we might be if we also prayed together!  Then the constant difficulty we have finding people willing to work might be solved or made better.

 

We surely have enough reasons to pray.  We have our own concern about our future; we need a reinvigoration of our life as a congregation. Everyone says that.  And the trouble we have is the trouble of our whole synod.  They need our prayers as well.  As far as I can tell, no one really knows the answer to the difficulties we face.  Then there is the well-being of our country, and the fact that so many of our countrymen have forgotten the true God.

 

We do not have a false god like the pagan sailors.  We know the true God.  He has placed His name on us in His Holy Baptism.  He has put us to death with His Son and raised us from the dead.  He has promised to hear us as He hears His own Son.  Jesus has invited us to call Him “Father”—as though we also had always been obedient children.  He promises us, “The Father will give you whatever you ask in My Name,” and encourages us, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  In our Lord, our prayers are not “maybe” but “Yes” and “Amen.”

 

If we have been running away from where the Lord would send us, it is not over for us.  He will raise us with Christ and bring us where He intended us to go.  And if we have not been running, the Lord who rules the waves will put His power to work in us and through us to go through our storms.  If we sink to the depths, even from there He will raise us up.

 

Dear brothers, let us call upon our God together in these days leading up to this glorious festival of the Reformation, where we rejoice in the gift of His pure Gospel, which is the power of God to save those who believe.

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria”

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 12, 2017. The Glory of the Ministry of the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017 Leave a comment

holy-apostles-icon12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017

“The Glory of the New Testament Ministry”

Jesus

 

In the vestry behind me there is a desk with a glass cover.  When I began here there was a cartoon cut out of a magazine or a newspaper between the glass and the desktop.  In the cartoon an old bald preacher is staring out from the pulpit over the rims of his spectacles.  In the pews there is a skeleton in crumpled dress clothes, with cobwebs growing on it.  And in the caption on the bottom the preacher was saying something like: “Did I preach too long?”

 

One might think that killing your hearers with your preaching is something a preacher would want to avoid.  But according to the Epistle, a preacher who leaves skeletons in the pews has done the work of God.  That is the proper work of preaching the Law of God, what Paul refers to as the letter: The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).  A preacher who stares out of the pulpit over his spectacles and sees skeletons, or at least dead people, could say to himself, “I have done God’s work.”  But if he wants to be a minister of the New Testament, he would also have to say to himself, “I have not preached long enough yet.”  Because though it is the work of God to work death through the preaching of the Law, the work of God in the ministry of the New Testament is to give the Holy Spirit who gives life to the dead.

 

This week a preacher made the news.  This preacher is probably the most popular, the most famous preacher in the United States.  His church used to be a sports arena.  It seats 16,800.  Every Sunday he fills this cavernous building.  Untold thousands more watch his sermons on television.  And judging from the sermons he has on the internet, he seems to preach just around 27 minutes each Sunday.  I noted this with interest.  You may be surprised to learn that every once in a very great while someone voices to me the complaint that my sermons are too long.

 

You don’t look surprised!  Well, because of this occasional criticism I am very conscious of how long I am preaching, at least until about 7 minutes in.  Then, when I become conscious of the time again, I usually think, “Well, I can’t leave off here, otherwise the dead will not be raised.”  And then, when I do quit, I always make a note of the time I stopped.  And for a long time now, it is almost always 25 to 28 minutes.

 

So that’s my response to those very rare complaints I get about the length of my sermons.  Joel Osteen fills a stadium every week preaching 27 minutes, so it can’t be the length of the sermons alone that’s the problem.

 

But Mr. Osteen took flak in the media this week because, they say, he did not fill his former stadium up this week with those who had been driven from their homes by the terrible floods in Texas.  I don’t know what to say about that.  I didn’t have time to read carefully to find out what his explanation was for why the church wasn’t opened and look into whether his explanation made sense.

 

What I do know and can say confidently is this: if the people of Houston understood what Joel Osteen was doing to his hearers in his 27 minutes in the pulpit each week, they would thank God anytime they heard that he kept the church’s doors shut, and pray that he would do it more often.  Or do it once more and never open them again.

 

Mr. Osteen’s ministry is certainly not a ministry of the New Testament, because he seldom, if ever, has anything to say about Christ crucified for sinners.  Nor is it a ministry of the Old Testament, because though he does preach God’s commandments, at least sometimes, his message can be summarized like this: If you trust God, if you obey God, God will bless you and give you prosperity in this world.  That is a complete falsification of God’s Law.  God didn’t give His Law as a guide to earning His blessing, certainly not in this world.  His Law, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, has this purpose—to kill and to condemn.  Paul refers to it as the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.

 

In this world, Joel Osteen has as much glory as a preacher could ever hope for.  He has made millions and millions in selling books.  Thousands upon thousands listen to his preaching.  He lives in a multi-million dollar mansion.

 

But he has no glory from God.  In his ministry he does not minister in God’s name.  God’s power does not attend his preaching and teaching, no matter how many people listen to him—except perhaps insofar as he speaks the words of Scripture that he contradicts.

 

On the other hand, the genuine preaching of the Law does come with God’s glory.  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments with His finger, his face shone so that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory (2 Cor. 3:7).  Looking at Moses’ face was like looking into the sun.  You couldn’t stare directly at it, not for very long.  God was showing that the Law Moses brought down came from Him.

 

That may be perplexing to us when we consider that Paul says that the ministry of the Law, the correct preaching and teaching of God’s Law, brings death.  It kills.  Moses didn’t come up with this.  God did.  God gave him a law and told him and those who came after to preach it, knowing that when it was preached it would kill those who hear it.  That was what He wanted.

 

The Law brings death because it awakens and uncovers sin.  Paul writes in the 7th chapter of Romans: Apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died (Rom. 7:8-9)  People are born in sin and are totally corrupted by it, but they do not know it until they hear the commandments of God proclaimed.  Then we begin to realize that we are not basically good, like Osteen and others imply when they say that all we need to do is know what God wants from us and then try our best and He will bless us.  The Law reveals that God is angry not only with our conscious rebellion against His commandments, but with the natural impurity of our hearts.  The world sees us not murdering people and approves.  God sees the anger, the desire for revenge, the grudges that linger in our hearts even when we try to make them go away, and judges us murderers.  Joel Osteen says that God is pleased when we put our faith in Him as best we can, but God says You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me (Ex. 20: 4-5).  You shall not worship anything else as God by fearing or loving or trusting them more than Me, God says—by bowing down to them, by offering them sacrifices, or by simply clinging them in Your heart more than Me, for I am jealous.  I do not tolerate any trust in anything in heaven and earth above Me—not your money, your parents, your senses, your mind.  To trust anything else more than Me, ever, is idolatry.  Partial worship of Me does not earn my blessing but My wrath.

 

When we hear the Law explained this way, it doesn’t make us better.  It makes us worse.  It stirs up sin in us.  We find that we immediately begin to rebel against God.  “Why does He threaten us with hell when He knows we can’t keep these commandments?”  We desire the very things He forbids.  This is why the Law of God is the ministry of death.  It reveals the sin that lives in us.  It stirs it up.  And the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

 

Yet God’s glory comes with this preaching that stirs up sin and puts us to death.  That is because He preaches the Law whenever it is preached and taught rightly.  He kills us.

 

But Paul says that he has another ministry, the ministry of the New Testament that God made with human beings through His Son.  He calls this ministry the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It’s called that because this ministry gives the Holy Spirit, who is, as we confess in the Creed “The Lord and giver of life.”  The Creed is right to call Him that.  He was hovering over the waters of creation when God’s Word came and brought light out of darkness, dry land out of the waters, living creatures out of the dust of the ground, and made man in the image of God.  And in the Baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Him visibly to show that He was offering Himself as a sacrifice to God for our sins not by human wisdom but by the wisdom and in the power of God.  Then when Jesus had offered Himself for our sins and was buried, the Holy Spirit gave life to Him, quickened Him, so that He arose, descended victoriously into hell, and emerged from the tomb to proclaim victory over death for us.

 

When Jesus is preached to those who have been killed by the Law, He comes and gives life to the dead.  He rebirths us.  He raises us from the dead with Jesus.  He makes us a new creation, not subject to death.  He makes us innocent before God, applying Jesus’ innocence to us and purifying us from sin with the blood that He shed to atone for it.  And then we have God’s favor and blessing, because we are regarded as having fulfilled God’s Law.

 

 

This is why Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  Through their ministry—their preaching His word and deeds, their baptizing according to His command, their celebration of the supper of His body and blood, their absolution—the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, would come and give life to those who heard with faith.  Just as the Law of God stirs up sin and reveals it, so that we are convinced that we are God’s enemies, under His judgment, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the Gospel comforts the heart stirred up by the Law, and reveals our righteousness and life.  Our life is not from us and our works.  It is in Jesus, who cancelled our sins and our death in His death, who delivered us from them and made us free by suffering death on the cross for them and rising again to life, leaving them buried.

 

And the Holy Spirit raises up a new man in us in the image of Jesus.  He makes us a new creation that is innocent and without sin, that is not condemned by the Law because it gladly wills, thinks, and does what God commands.  We still have the old man fighting against the Law of God, but Christians also are a new man.  We rejoice in God, love and trust Him.  We are open to God’s Word, able to hear it, rejoicing to hear it instead of hiding from it as Adam did after his sin, as the deaf man Jesus healed must have rejoiced when his ears were open and he heard, for the first time, the voices of God’s creation that were created to sing His praise.  The Holy Spirit creates new life in us, restores God’s image to us, so that we begin to crucify our old nature, and in the joy of His gift of salvation we begin to gladly and spontaneously live according to His commandments, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward our neighbor.

 

Paul uses another set of terms for the ministry of the Old Testament and the ministry of the new.  He calls the first the ministry of condemnation, the second the ministry of righteousness.  They both have God’s glory; both come from God.  When they are carried out God is doing His work.

 

The ministry of the Law not only kills by stirring up sin.  It condemns.  It damns.  When you come to church and hear the Law of God preached rightly, you hear His sentence of condemnation to death and hell.  If you hear that from a preacher, you are not hearing the devil but God.  The devil’s trick is to only preach condemnation—to remind you of the Law’s condemnation, but to keep you from hearing about God’s righteousness given to sinners.  But a person must be condemned before he is justified.  Without the preaching of condemnation of sinners, fallen human beings believe that they are already righteous, or that it is within their grasp.  But in the ministry of the Law, the ministry of condemnation, God declares His verdict on you.  Your slackness in prayer makes you a blasphemer; your laxness in hearing and learning His Word makes you a Sabbath-breaker, a despiser of His Word; your lust makes you an adulterer, your hard work for your own wealth or honor instead of His makes you a thief, your failure to defend your neighbor and your gossip makes you a false witness.  Your sentence is His displeasure in this life, to be followed by death and hell, and there is no appeal, no way to change or reduce your sentence.

 

But Paul boasts of his ministry, the ministry of the New Testament, which He calls the ministry of righteousness.  The ministry of condemnation came with glory, he says, but the ministry of righteousness will have much more.  It is a glory that will overflow and that will endure forever.

 

When Paul or faithful ministers who follow him preach Christ crucified for you, they administer the righteousness of God to you.  All who believe it, with nothing but condemnation in themselves, are justified before God.  He counts them righteous.  The perfect satisfaction for our sins is given in the Gospel.  Our sentence of condemnation, which Jesus paid, is fulfilled.  The Law has no further say over us because we who believe the Gospel have fulfilled it through faith in Jesus, given to us by the Spirit in the Gospel.  We are not condemned, but declared righteous. This is what is given to you by God through the ministers He sends when they baptize you, when they give you the bread and wine with Jesus’ Word.  Through them God buries you with Jesus and raises you to live before Him forever with no condemnation.  Through them God gives you His Son’s body to eat and His blood to drink; He gives you a part in Jesus’ death that wipes out the sins of the world.  Through them God absolves you; He declares you free from guilt and condemnation, saying, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the glory of the ministry of the New Testament.  The glory of false preachers is that they can pack a house.  They may have many followers.  They may look and be regarded as successful by the world.

But the glory of the ministry of the New Testament is that God works through their ministry.  He puts sinners to death and condemns them through the Law.  But through the Gospel He makes those skeletons in the pews live.  He gives them His life-giving Spirit and the righteousness that stands before Him.

 

Paul boasted about having this ministry.  So should we.  It may not have the glory of the world, but it has the glory of God.  And not only the ministry has it—but all who receive this ministry  have it now and forever.  That is, all who, condemned and frightened by God’s Law, believe and find comfort in the free forgiveness of sins that God announces for Jesus’ sake in the Gospel.  You who believe, even in great weakness, longing for assurance, participate in the glory of the eternal God, who has worked death and resurrection in You through His Word and Sacrament.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Be Shrewd: Invest in Your Neighbor. Trinity 9, 2017. St. Luke 16:1-9

unjust stewardThe Ninth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-9

August 13, 2017

“Be Shrewd; Invest in your Neighbor”

 

Iesu iuva

 

It’s strange that Jesus would turn and tell this story to His disciples that has to do with the proper way to handle money.  They left their property behind to follow Jesus.  Are these men who love money? Or does he have in mind the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to hear Him that we read about in the previous chapter of Luke’s gospel?

 

We don’t know.  What we do know is, whether He is talking to poor or rich disciples, He has this advice, this command for them: Be shrewd with the money you have.  Be wise, be shrewd, with your money, says Jesus.  Be shrewd with money—invest in your neighbor.

 

The seventh commandment is You shall not steal.  And the Catechism asks: What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

 

In the seventh commandment God puts Himself in between our property and the person who wants to steal it.  He makes it clear that our property is given to us by Him.  Some people are rich and others are poor, and this is arranged by God, who distributes wealth and possessions according to His will.  No one has the right to take what He has given to me unless I freely give it, whether by force or threats, or by snatching it when I am not watching it, or by deceiving me or tricking me.

 

And when someone does steal from me, they don’t merely violate me.  They violate God.  They are not only under the obligation of paying me back what they stole.  A thief of any sort has to pay back God the honor and worship and obedience he owed God and which he denied God by breaking His commandment.  And that is a far higher price.  God is worthy of eternal honor, worship, and obedience, and offenses against His commandments require a punishment equal to the greatness of His honor.  Thieves of any sort are subject to pay God back for the offense they commit against His glory.  And even after they have been imprisoned in the deepest darkness for a thousand years they will have not have come any closer to repaying Him.

 

But stealing takes many forms.  There are those who simply take by force what belongs to someone else; there are those who wait until the owner’s guard is down and make off with his property.  And then there are those whose stealing is concealed.  Sometimes people regard it as not even stealing at all, but shrewd business.  They steal by refusing to work or being slack in it, by overcharging or underpaying, by selling bad merchandise.  And a person who longs for what God gave someone else is also stealing.  Whatever we may call them, in God’s eyes all such people are thieves, unfaithful stewards.

 

But this isn’t the end of God’s definition of stealing.  We heard some of what He forbids us to do in the seventh commandment: stealing, robbing, defrauding, coveting.  But He also commands us to actively do some things.  We should fear and love God so that we help our neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income or property and business.

 

God not only commands that we not take from our neighbor, but that we give.  God commands us to help him improve his possessions and income. To return what we borrow; to help him do better financially instead of letting him take care of himself.  To help him get his property back when it is stolen or when he is cheated.  To pay our debts.  To return property we borrow.  To make amends for what we have stolen.  To sell at fair prices, to pay good wages, to work hard so that our boss or company makes money.  And to work hard and manage our money so that we have enough to give to the work of the church and to those who are really in need.  We are not supposed to give to those who won’t work or who waste their possessions, and help them sin.  But when our neighbor is in need because of true oppression or because disaster happens, we steal when we have the means to help and don’t, when we won’t sacrifice to help him.

 

The seventh commandment, like all the others, boils down to one word—love.  God commands us to love our neighbor with our money and possessions.  We should not cheat or steal from him, but help him keep his property and prosper; and we should work hard so that others don’t have to provide for us, and so that we can have something to give.

 

We are not the owners of our possessions, as I said before.  God gives us our money and property, as well as our lives and talents and skills that enable us to make money.  No one has the right to steal from us because God has given them to us.  But He is really the master, the owner.  This is all His—this whole world, every person in it, and all its wealth.  And He is going to require an account from each one of us as to how we managed what He put under our authority.

 

When?  Jesus says, When you fail.  That means, “When you die.”  He is speaking to His disciples.  Yet He makes it clear that they, and all of us who have been baptized and call Him Lord, are the unjust steward.  We have mismanaged what is God’s.  We are like the unjust steward who has been told that he can be steward no longer, that he needs to go look at the books and come back and give an account of his stewardship to his lord.

 

When I was around ten or so, my mother had me with her at Osco.  I wanted her to buy me a plastic machine gun, to which she said, “No.”  Then Satan entered into me, or at least the wicked old Adam rose up within me and put fingers in his ears to the Holy Spirit.  And I stuck the plastic gun under my shirt.  And somehow I got home in my mother’s car and into the house without a guilty conscience or her finding out.  The next day, I took the gun and went outside to play.  My mother saw me coming down the stairs, and said, “What are you doing with that?”  And I dared to say, “Don’t you remember?  You bought it for me.”

 

Maybe that is a funny story in a certain way.  But that was a little judgment day.  I had to give an account of my “stewardship”.  And my mother was like God in this respect—she did not accept my lies or my excuses.  She drove me to Osco and made me give an account to the manager of the store.  Words can’t describe my terror.  He was around eight feet tall and had a mustache, and I remember how wet my face was; my eyes and nose running like a faucet.  I couldn’t think of anything I could say other than, “I stole this.”  And the manager didn’t smile, that I remember.  He didn’t try to make me feel better.  I remember him talking about the police.

 

Soon we will go before God to give an account of our stewardship, and there will be far more shame and fear to stand before God’s glory and give an account of not one obvious theft but a lifetime.  And before God we will have to account not only for the times when we have actually physically taken what did not belong to us, but all the money we didn’t make because we were lazy, all the money we threw away because we were wasteful, all the people we defrauded because we were seeking our own interest, all the property we damaged, all the people we didn’t help.

 

That is why now is the time to consider, like the unjust steward did, what we are going to do when we are put out of our stewardship.

 

A pastor in modern-day Lyons, France, named Irenaeus, wrote in about 170 A. D., “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”

 

Many modern Christians would not agree.  So much of modern preaching is geared to having a good life in this world, or toward knowing how to live in this world; and many even preach “prosperity,” how to obey God so that he will make you wealthy in this world.

 

But what Irenaeus wrote fits far better with what Jesus said in His story for His disciples: I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (Luke 16:9)

 

Jesus is saying, Be shrewd, like the unjust steward.  He used the time before he had to give an account for his wastefulness to make himself friends who would give him food and lodging after he had been fired.

 

Of course, if God is your enemy, it doesn’t matter who your friends are.  If you have to give an accounting to God for the way you have managed the wealth he put under your stewardship, and the books don’t add up, there are no friends who are going to be able to help you.

 

The Lord’s parting advice in this parable—Make for yourselves friends by means of unrighteous mammon—is not advice given to people who have an unsettled account with God.  He says it to those whose books are already clean.

 

So Jesus’ parable is first and foremost a call to us to reckon up our books as people who are soon going to have to give an account.  We should look closely at the record of our stewardship before the day of our accounting comes.  Like Irenaeus wrote, we should daily be engaged in the business of preparing for death.  And this means looking each day at the record of our stewardship.  How have we used what God has entrusted to us?  And this includes—how are we using the money and property He has given us?  Not, how are we using it according to our own standards, according to human standards; how are we using it in light of God’s commandment?

 

If we are serious about doing this, we will quickly discover that according to God’s law we will have no answer, no excuse, to bring to God.  Even the most conscientious of us are guilty of waste, of longing for what belongs to others, of being short of the love God requires of us toward our neighbor.  Our drawer comes up short, and we have no means to make the total come out right.

 

So what accounting of our stewardship will we bring to God when we are removed from the stewardship of our bodies and our possessions in this world?  We have no answer and no excuses.  But we have one who answers for us.  But if anyone does sin, says St. John in his first epistle, we have an advocate with the Father—one who speaks to the Father on our behalf—Jesus Christ, the righteous.  He is the propitiation—the atoning sacrifice—for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:1-2) We have confidence for the day of judgment that we will present to God a record of perfect faithfulness in our stewardship.  That record is not our life of obedience to the 7th commandment, our life of love.  It is the life of Jesus Christ, and His blood, which has settled our account with God.  His life of faithful stewardship, His life of love, His righteousness and justice is the ledger we present to God—a life of perfect faithfulness; and His blood is the payment that covers our thefts and offenses against our neighbor and God.

 

Like when my mother caught me going outside to play with the toy I had stolen and I told her, “Don’t you remember?  You bought it for me.”  That was insolence on my part.  But on judgment day—and even now—we are not insolent when we tell God, “Don’t you remember?  You paid for my wastefulness and my thefts.”  It is the truth.  He swears this to us when He has us kneel at this altar to eat the bread and drink the wine.  “This is My Body, which is given for you; drink from it, all of you.  This cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is Jesus saying, “I have bought you a clean account before God.  I have paid for all that you have wasted and stolen.”  We would do wrong if we refused to believe what He pledges to us so clearly.

 

That is part of the way we prepare for death.  We look at our books.  There are two books for Christians.  One is the record of our conscience, the record of our deeds in light of God’s law.  The second is the record of Jesus’ life and death as our redemption.  We prepare for death by examining both of these books.

 

The other part is that we strive to live as the good stewards that God says we are in Christ, to use our wealth in love toward our neighbors.  This comes not from our own strength of will and discipline, but through continually looking to the love of Jesus, who out of love toward us paid our debts with His own body and blood.  When Jesus talks in other passages about the day of judgment, we find that He never talks about looking into a person’s heart to see if they believe in Him.  In the passages that talk about the final judgment Jesus always describes judging people according to their works.  There is a reason for this. Faith in Jesus makes itself known not only by what we say but by what we do.  Faith in Jesus breaks out of the heart and shows itself in works of love toward our neighbor.  It can’t be otherwise. Jesus, who was a good steward, lived His entire life in love toward us.  He served us with His every breath; He shed His blood in love for us.  He gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10).  A person who is justified by faith in Jesus also makes himself known by love—not merely by feelings and talk but by works that display the love of Christ that dwells in his heart.  A person who is justified by faith in Jesus puts himself and all he has to work in loving his neighbor—including his wealth.

 

That is what Jesus is saying when He says, Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon.  He is saying: Take pains to live a life of love toward your neighbor.  Exercise yourself in keeping the seventh commandment, now that you are justified, not only by not stealing, but by helping your neighbor improve and protect his property and income.

 

As you dedicate yourself to growing into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, you gain two priceless treasures.  One is that you gain a good conscience; your conscience testifies that your faith in Christ is not just talk or self-deception, but that you are being led by the Holy Spirit(Rom. 8:12-16).

 

The second is that other people who are not Christians will see Your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  Outside of the Church, people are not as impressed by what we preach and what we say, but by what we do.  Even if people are prejudiced against Christians, their consciences will testify against them when it is clear that we are not motivated by self-love and self-interest, but that we desire their success in this life and the next.  It’s hard to hate a church—even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear—if they are always showing that they love you and want you to prosper.

 

This, Jesus says, is being shrewd with your money.  It is investing in eternity.  When we do this, when this is what we strive for, it will not earn our way into heaven, but it will commend the Gospel that we confess and preach to those around us.

 

And on judgment day, when we have to give an account, Jesus tells us that something incredibly wonderful will happen.

 

On judgment day He says He will say to Christians who have lived this way: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you  gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, Lord, when did [we do these things for you]?  And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:34-37, 40)

 

That will be a wonderful last judgment.  Jesus won’t say anything about our mismanagement of His Father’s gifts.  He won’t say anything about our stealing or selfishness.  The only thing that will come before the court of heaven will be the love we showed our neighbor in feeding, clothing, welcoming, and visiting him.  And then He will say, “You thought you were showing love to your neighbor; in fact you were feeding Me, clothing Me, giving Me a drink, You were welcoming Me, visiting Me.”

 

He will not mention any of our selfishness or stealing because these really and truly—even now, for those who believe in Him—do not exist any longer.  They were paid for when our Lord made them His own and suffered for them on the cross.  But on judgment day, it will be made clear that those sins are not ours.  They will not even be mentioned.  The record we read in the ledger of our conscience, and the judgments that others may make about our lives, will not be the judgment of that highest court.

 

Instead, all that will be said by Jesus about our lives is that we were righteous.  He will declare our righteous deeds.  He will say, before the angels, the devil, before the whole creation: You fed Me, You gave Me a drink, You clothed Me, You tended My wounds, You welcomed Me.

 

Be shrewd!  Be wise with your money!  Don’t invest it in things that will perish with this world!  Care for your neighbor with it.  Provide what you need so that others don’t have to support you.  Provide for your family and dependents.  Work hard so that you have extra to give—to the church, to missions, to those truly in need.  Because you know that nothing on earth will be equal to the joy of hearing Jesus say on that day, when you are brought into the heavenly court, “You did it to Me.”

 

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

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Testing Fruit. 8th Sunday after Trinity, 2017. Matthew 7:15-23 (Romans 8:12-17)

wormy fruitEighth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 6, 2017

“Testing Fruit”

Iesu iuva

 

A guy was sitting on the couch watching television.  His wife came in and said, “I’m going to make a fruit salad.  Do you want some?”  The husband looked up at her and said, “Sure!  Thanks.”  So she went back into the kitchen.

 

A little while later she returned with two bowls.  She handed one to him and then sat down with her bowl, eating.  The man’s eyes were glued to the tv.  He reached into the bowl and put pieces of fruit into his mouth without looking down at the bowl.  After a couple of bites he gagged and spit out the fruit onto the carpet.  Looking down into the bowl, he saw something that did look like a salad made out of fruit.  There were pieces of orange, lemon, and lime.  There were apples, strawberries and pears.  There were crabapples from the tree in the yard and some berries that looked like they belonged on a shrub or a hedge.  It even looked like his wife had cut a monkey brain fruit into pieces and thrown that in.  Then there were mushy brown bananas, half dried grapes with bugs on them, wrinkled, moldy blueberries, pieces of melon that let off a strange odor.

 

The husband looked at his wife.  She had the spoon halfway to her mouth and had stopped it there when her husband spat out the bite of fruit salad.  He said to her, “What is this?  Why did you put crabapples and moldy fruit in this salad?”

 

His wife said, “I couldn’t find enough normal fruit to put in there.  Then I figured, it’s close enough.  Fruit is fruit, right?”

 

Have you ever met a person like that, who figures all fruit is basically the same and you can just eat it all without worrying about it since it’s all going to the same place, whether it’s sweet, sour, or rotten?

 

Probably not.  Getting a fruit salad like that would be a sign you were dealing with a crazy person.

 

When I was a little kid and had to go grocery shopping with my mom, I remember her showing me how when she bought eggs she opened the carton up and examined each egg to make sure she didn’t accidentally get a bad egg or one with a crack in it.

 

We take such care to make sure that the food we put on our tables is wholesome!  Animals do this too.  When your nose smells rotten meat or vegetables, your body reflexively seizes up, pulls away; your face tightens.  We are wired biologically to run away from bad food; our nervous system knows before our brains do that bad meat, bad eggs, bad fruit have the power to kill us.

 

I think it was this week that I was walking into a nursing home to give someone the Lord’s body and blood, and I had a conversation that reminded me of this. I think it was this week, but it could have been almost any week, because this kind of thing happens to me so often.  A bunch of folks were sitting in wheelchairs outside by the door.  A lady said, “Hi, father!”  I said, “Hi!”  She said, “I noticed the Roman collar,” pointing to my neck.  I said, “I always thought it was an Anglican collar.”  She said, “You’re a Catholic priest, right?”  “No, a Lutheran pastor.”

 

“Oh,” she said.  “That’s really close.”

 

Someone says this to me almost every week, if not every day.  People from other churches say it; people from St. Peter say it.  As if the reasons the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church or the other protestant churches are minor and obsolete.  I often just smile in response.  If I start to disagree, people quickly get a faraway look in their eyes that I know very well—the look that is probably saying, “It’s close enough.  After all, fruit is fruit.”

 

The Lord and teacher of Christians is not silent about this, though.  Don’t worry too much about false prophets; you can’t tell them by their fruit, because it’s all basically the same.  You might think that’s what Jesus taught from the way those who claim His name talk and behave today.  But actually the shepherd’s voice calls to His sheep: Beware of false prophets.  They are coming to you dressed in sheep’s clothing, when inside they are savage wolves.  You will know them by their fruit.

 

If you are like me, you might not see at first how this applies to most of the preachers you see, since most of them don’t claim to be prophets.  When we hear “prophet,” we think of a man who can see the future, who can probably work miracles, who knows things hidden from normal people.  A biblical prophet is different from a pastor in that God speaks and reveals things to him directly.  He doesn’t only learn his message from studying the Scriptures and having it passed on to him by others, like pastors today.  Often God will reveal to him something that is going to happen in the future.  But prophets and pastors have the same calling in the sense that they are called not to proclaim their own thoughts and dreams but only the Word of the Lord, so that they are like mouthpieces of God, if they are faithful.  And pastors, like prophets, also proclaim things that are hidden, that people cannot discover unless it is revealed by God.

 

When we learn the basic parts of the Christian faith and come to the second article of the Creed, one of the things we learn about Jesus is that He is called “Christ” because He was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit as our priest, as our king, and as our prophet.  Jesus is the great prophet who proclaimed and revealed in His own life what people could not discover on their own.  He revealed that God is triune—one God, yet three distinct persons. He proclaimed the true way to salvation—not a set of practices or a form of meditation that promised to unite you with God, like the Buddhists—He taught that human beings are so corrupted by sin that there is nothing good left in us.  We have no desire to come to God or know Him, and no ability to do so, and no righteousness with which to stand in His holy presence and plead our case.  And Jesus, the true prophet, revealed how we are saved, which human beings could not know unless He revealed it.  He taught that we are saved by God’s grace alone, who provides the righteousness that covers our sin.  And He revealed that righteousness in Himself—in the way He lived, with perfect love toward God and our neighbor, and in the way He died as a curse for our sins, covering our guilt and removing from us God’s just condemnation.

 

Jesus is the true prophet; all other true prophets are reflections of Him.

 

And the wonderful teaching tucked away in the questions and answers our synod adds to the Small Catechism of Luther is that Jesus continues to be our prophet.  He continues to proclaim the Word of God to us today from heaven, so that we might know the truth, and the truth might make us free.  You and I have never seen Jesus’ face, but you have heard His voice, because Jesus continues His prophetic office from heaven by sending ministers who proclaim not their own words, but His.  When a minister absolves you of your sins, it is not him loosing you from them—it is Jesus your prophet; and when a minister faithfully proclaims the Word of Jesus recorded in Scripture, it is not him you hear, but the same Jesus who taught in the synagogues, the temple, in the wilderness among great crowds.  When the pastor baptized you, Jesus called, “Come, follow me,” just as He said to Peter and Andrew as they mended their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

 

Jesus speaks through the ones He sends who are faithful to His call, whether they are apostles, prophets, evangelists or simply pastors, teachers.  Apostles were called directly by Jesus, and prophets receive a direct revelation from God.  Pastors are called to their ministry indirectly; God calls them through people.  Yet all are called by God.

 

But there are preachers and prophets whom Jesus calls false.  They may be called by God, or they may pretend to be, claiming a vision and deceiving people.  Either way false prophets and false teachers come with a word that is not God’s.  And Jesus warns to beware of them, be on guard against them, because they are like greedy wolves, although they look like they are sheep of Christ’s flock.

 

This year as we commemorate the 500th year of the Reformation, we cannot avoid the painful reality of what the Reformation represents.  The Roman Church at that time regarded Luther as a false prophet who led entire nations away from the true Church, and away from Christ and the possibility of salvation.  On the other hand, we regard Luther as the reformer of the Christian Church, raised up by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are justified and saved not by works, but solely by God’s grace, solely through faith in Christ, who alone atoned for our sins.  But if we are right, it means that for centuries the true Gospel of Jesus was buried under false teaching.  It might have been taught here and there by laypeople or priests who told troubled dying people to look to Christ crucified and trust Him alone for salvation.  But the official teaching that the Church proclaimed, taught the priests, and that the priests taught the people, was that Jesus did not do enough to save us.  We must contribute our obedience and good deeds if we want to please God.  If what we believe is true, then for hundreds of years even in the visible Church most people were damned and lost, because false prophets had suppressed the truth.

 

If that is true—and it is—we cannot afford to fall asleep, or let the clergy worry about doctrine.  We must watch out for false teaching and false prophets.  You must watch and be certain that what I or any other pastor preaches to you is not his word but God’s in every part.

 

You must examine the fruits of those who preach.

 

You can’t tell a wolf if it looks like a sheep until it eats you.  But you can tell what kind of a tree you have by the fruit it bears.  Nobody gets clusters of grapes out of a thicket of thorns and briars, Jesus says.

 

You can’t tell whether a preacher is faithful by his life, unless he is an obvious unrepentant sinner.  But if he is imperfect, that is no different than every Christian.  You have to examine his fruit.  The fruit of a preacher is his teaching.

 

I am always amazed at how some people can go into a grocery store and pick up a plum or a mango or an avocado and determine by touch and maybe by smell whether it is too ripe, too underrripe, or just right.  To me, you know a fruit is good when you bite into it.  The problem with this method is obvious.  And the same thing is true with testing the fruit of preachers.  You don’t want to eat the fruit of a false prophet—to hear it, take it into you, believe it, live according to it.  Sometimes people say that they listen to preachers who teach false doctrine, like just about every preacher on the radio and television, and discern the good from the bad.  It may be a useful way to practice discernment occasionally.  But would you eat an apple that is full of worms and try to eat around the worms?  Jesus doesn’t say, “Listen to every preacher and take the true and throw out the bad.”  He says a prophet or preacher is either false or true, good or bad.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Good fruit is not when a pastor preaches some of God’s Word purely with only a little error.  Teaching is either God’s Word or it isn’t.  If I tell you everything in the Bible is true except for the part where it says God created the world in 6 days, I am telling you the Bible is not true.  A false prophet bears bad fruit even when some of what he preaches is true and seemingly just a little is false, just like a beautiful, sweet apple with just a few little worms in it is no longer a good apple.

 

But just like you can’t tell a false prophet by how they seem or how they make you feel, you can’t tell their fruit by how they make you feel either.  In the grocery store, people test fruit with their nose or their fingertips, but a preacher’s fruit is tested by God’s Word.

 

This is why we learn the catechism, and why we need to keep it in front of us.  The catechism is a summary of the Bible.  But the catechism is not the Bible; its authority comes from being faithful to Scripture.  In order to be able to recognize the bad fruit of false prophets, we need to know the summary of the teaching of Scripture in the Catechism, but we also need to constantly hear and read the Scriptures.  A preacher is not only false when he teaches against the main doctrines of the Bible, but when he contradicts it at any point, because when a preacher does this he contradicts God.  He is no longer acting as God’s mouthpiece and saying the Words of God, but adding his own words.  Similarly, a preacher is not true and faithful if he holds back part of the teaching of God’s Word and never talks about certain doctrines.

 

Even though a true preacher must faithfully teach all of the doctrine in God’s Word just as God gives it—and that means you must know that doctrine and grow in the knowledge of the Scripture if you are to guard against false teachers—all good fruit, all faithful teaching shares certain things in common, and so does all bad fruit and false teaching.

 

To see this, consider with me please the preaching we have recorded in Scripture of the man Jesus called the greatest of all the prophets who came before Him.  That is John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.  I refer to him because a few chapters before the Gospel reading in the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we hear John use the exact same words Jesus uses in this reading when He says: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (v. 19)

 

In chapter 3, Matthew records that John appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching.  His message was, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

 

Matthew tells us that John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (3:4)  John does not have the pleasing appearance many people probably expect from a preacher.  His way of life is a little frightening, off-putting.  If a man wearing a camel hair garment in the desert, eating only grasshoppers and wild honey came and preached to you, besides thinking that he was crazy, you probably would also be afraid that he might call you to live a similar kind of life, where you have to give up all kinds of comforts.

 

Nevertheless, we are told Jerusalem and all Judea…were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

 

Then we hear that the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were the normal religious leaders in Israel that people normally listened to, also came out to John’s Baptism.  John does not smile and feel flattered about this, or try to thank them for coming, or even welcome them.  He says You generation of vipers?  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (3:7-10)

 

Finally, John’s sermon ends with another proclamation different than his strict call to repentance that we have heard up until now.  He says, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  (3:11)

 

John is a true prophet.  He bears good fruit, even though one can hardly imagine him smiling a lot, even though his message is strict, even harsh.  He is not polite and nice like we expect preachers to be, welcoming and sweet.  He is strict in his preaching and strict with himself in his mode of life.  He doesn’t fit in in society.  These are not necessarily qualities a true preacher must have—but they show that common expectations of preachers among us are not proofs that a prophet is true or false.  If John is any indication, a preacher can be what we would call “mean”, “harsh”, and yet be a true and faithful prophet.

 

But John’s fruit is his teaching.  What do we hear him teach?  What is the pattern of his preaching?

 

First, he calls people to repentance, to a change of mind.  He preaches that people are by nature children of the devil, even the people that seem most religious and good.  Faithful preaching does not build up people’s trust and confidence in their own goodness; it doesn’t make them feel good about themselves and tell them that the way to have a blessed life is to follow a few rules from the Bible.  Instead, faithful preaching confronts us with God’s judgment that is upon us and destroys our sense of ease and comfort with the way we are.  It tells us, Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Faithful preaching calls us to repentance, which means not merely that we recognize that nobody is perfect; it means that we hear from faithful preaching that we must become good in God’s sight, that we must do not only outward good things, but that these must come from a clean heart that loves God in reality and truth.  Faithful preaching makes it clear that this repentance, this fear of God’s wrath, this wholehearted turning away from our love and trust in ourselves, is not just a matter of the mind and understanding.  Faithful preaching tells us our whole selves must change from pride to fear of God, from self-will to fear of God, from self-love to love of God and our neighbors, and this cannot just be a matter of talk, but must show itself in our lives.

 

But John also preaches something else as well.  He baptizes those who are trembling over their sins with the promise that they are cleansed and forgiven.  And he proclaims one coming after him who “is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  He points them to the one whose power and glory will come to help them.  He preaches Jesus, who gives us not only outward cleansing, but the Holy Spirit, who imparts true righteousness, holiness, who renews us, and as Paul says, does not make us slaves of fear but makes us confident that we are children and heirs of God.

 

False prophets, on the other hand, teach people, one way or the other, that there is good in them, and that they must contribute something besides Jesus to their salvation.  This is why on that day, the day of judgment, many will say to Jesus, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons, and do many miracles?  And Jesus says, I will say to them, I never knew you.  Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!  False prophets on the day of judgment will try to tell Jesus how much they have done for him, because they do not know him, nor He them.  We know Jesus when we know ourselves, when we see that his suffering and agony was the price to redeem us from sin; and then we know Jesus, not as the one who we do things for, but as the one who has done everything for us.

 

Our time is full of doctrinal indifferentism.  That means people think it doesn’t matter much what doctrine you hold.

 

But our Lord is not indifferent.  He is full of zeal for our salvation.  In reality and truth He bled and died for our sins.  In reality and truth He feeds us with His own body and blood.  He does not trade in lies or appearances, but realities and truths.  He feeds you the body and blood that cancels your sins and in reality and truth pours out His Spirit on you, the Spirit who cries out, “Abba, Father” not out of sentiment, but because He has made it so.   And because He is not indifferent to our well-being He tells us the truth and tells us to avoid the lies false prophets tell in His name.  He tells us the truth of our helplessness in sin, and He tells us the wonderful truth, sweet and blessed, that we are sons and heirs of God through His pain and agony alone.

 

Just as Jesus wants you to be certain of your salvation, He also wills that you be certain that you have the truth of His Word, and that the one who preaches to you speaks not the words of men but only the words of Jesus.  He doesn’t want you to eat rotten fruit, pick it from a rotten tree, or treat the savage wolves who come from Satan to destroy you as though they’re no different from His faithful servants.  May God work in us this certainty during this year of the reformation, and give us zeal to know the truth that makes us confident that we are not lawless but righteous and heirs of His kingdom.

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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