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What Is To Happen To Your People? St. Michael and All Angels 2019

September 30, 2019 Leave a comment

daniel visitor.PNGSt. Michael and All Angels

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, OR

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 (Rev. 12:7-12)

September 29, 2019

What is To Happen To Your People?

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Dear Ones in Christ,

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

 

I came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.  (Dan. 10:14)

 

Daniel began to fast and pray and mourn because his people—the people called by God’s name—were suffering.  They had been taken away from the land God promised their forefathers because they had been unfaithful for centuries.  Now they were captives in another nation, surrounded by worshippers of other gods.  The future of God’s people looked bleak.  Their continued existence as a people was in grave doubt.

 

This grieved Daniel.  And the chances are, you know something of his grief and anxiety.  You have experienced it here, just as many others of your brothers are experiencing it throughout the country.  They and you wonder “what will happen to my people, the people of God?”  What will happen specifically to my people, my congregation?

 

And there is good news for you if you have been troubled with the troubles of Christ’s Church, with our own sin that, in one way or another, has brought this trouble.  We see that God is greatly concerned with this question by the way He deals with Daniel.  God is even more concerned about the future of His people than we are.

 

See how He sends Daniel a messenger to tell him God’s answer to his grief.  And not just any messenger, but a glorious, mighty angel, with a torso like the brightness of the sky and a face like lightning and a voice that sounds like a multitude.  He sounds almost like Jesus is described in the first chapter of Revelation.  If God were not greatly concerned about the future of His people, and greatly concerned that they know the future He has planned for them, He could have sent someone less impressive.

 

And so with you who are worried about the future of God’s people in this place, Redmond, Oregon.  Who have grieved and agonized, perhaps, who have prayed for a long time.  God is concerned for you, so much so that He does not just send you the account of Daniel’s visitor.  He sends a messenger to you, specifically, your own messenger, who will stay with you and continue to proclaim to you God’s message about the future of His people.

 

That glorious messenger tells Daniel briefly that Michael the angel will arise in the last times, and there will be a time of even greater trouble for God’s people than they were experiencing.  But, he goes on, at that time your people shall be delivered (Dan. 12:1).  The future of Daniel’s people is deliverance, deliverance for everyone whose name is written in the book.  Then those who are sleeping in the dust will arise, and the wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament.  They will be glorious as Daniel’s visitor is glorious.  That is the future for God’s people.

 

This message from God may not impress you.  You have heard it before.  But notice how hard it is for Daniel to get this message.  It takes three weeks to get to him, even though God sent out the messenger the very first day Daniel began to pray.  Why?  Because the messenger is held up by the prince of the kingdom of Persia.  That means the fallen angel in charge of the part of the world in which Daniel is living holds up this powerful messenger with a face like lightning.  Another angel, Michael, has to come help him so he can get to Daniel.  See how powerfully the unclean spirits oppose this message of the final deliverance of God’s people?  We may take it for granted, but the demons do not.

 

That is because God’s Word is infallibly true.  It cannot be broken.  What God says will happen must, unfailingly, come to pass.  When He says that His people will be delivered from the ungodly and from the unclean spirits that dominate the world, they will.  It is doom to Satan when that message is spoken.  And God’s Word not only comes true down the road.  It brings what it proclaims to pass now.  If you or I say, “It will rain tomorrow”—it might.  But we don’t make it rain by saying it—we are expressing our belief that it will rain because it looks like it will or because some meteorologist told us it will.  But if God declares “It will rain tomorrow”—not only will it rain tomorrow, but now, as His Word goes out, the wind on the Pacific Ocean will begin to blow and form clouds, and those clouds will begin to roll over the coast.  When God says His people will be delivered, He begins to deliver people immediately as it is spoken from the devil’s power.

 

When God sends us a messenger proclaiming the future of His people, it is never something we ought to discount because we have heard it before.  Whether it entertains us or not, this message comes with God’s power.  Because it is His message it cannot fail; it must bring about what it announces.  And yet the sin of discounting God’s Word is as common as it is grievous.  We act as if it is not from God, that it does not have the power to kill and condemn, to make alive and declare us righteous.  We behave as if we are its masters who know it rather than those who need it to come from God to us, like the desert needs the water to become green.

 

God knows what we are, that we are flesh.  So in His great mercy He sends us our own messengers to announce to us the future of His people, to console us.

 

The times Daniel’s visitor proclaimed are our times, the time of trouble such as never has been since there was a nation until now (Dan. 12: 1).  That time has begun because our deliverance has begun.  It began when our Lord Jesus was nailed to the wood and lifted up and became sin for us.  He tasted death for us all, and then was the first to awaken from the dust of the earth.  He is the first of God’s people to do this, and the pledge that all who are baptized into Him and remain in Him will also rise from the dust.  And then He ascended to His father to begin His reign.  That’s why in Revelation Michael the archangel drives the devil out of heaven.  At one time he could enter God’s presence to bring charges against us, and he did, St. John tells us.  Day and night without intermission he prosecuted us. That is what Satan means—accuser, prosecutor.  But he is no longer allowed to do that.  He can no longer enter a charge against those who have been cleared from sin.  And now on God’s throne there is a man who is flesh and blood like us, who suffered for our sins.  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 and is interceding for us (Rom. 8).  And God will no longer hear Satan’s charges against you.  If He listened to Satan’s accusations, it would mean that Jesus’ death for you meant nothing, accomplished nothing.

 

God will not hear Satan talk about our sins.  But the devil and the demons know that we will listen to him.  We listen to him when he condemns other people, especially in the church.  And sometimes we listen to him as he accuses us in our own conscience.  Sometimes he makes us doubt our salvation.  He cripples us and weighs us down with the feeling of God’s displeasure, with shame over our failures as Christians.  He makes us doubt God’s verdict on ourselves and on our congregation, that our sins have been blotted out, that we are saints.

 

Satan has been cast out of God’s presence.  The walls are closing in on him, and he knows his time is short.  But a cornered animal is dangerous, especially a dragon.

 

You’ve seen how dangerous he can be.  He destroys pastor’s ministries.  He wounds people in the church, embitters them so that they are not able to hear God declaring the glorious future that has been accomplished for us by Christ.

 

And it is for this reason that God sends congregations another kind of angel, another kind of messenger.  I am standing in front of you.  I realize that my face does not shine like lightning and my voice does not sound like a multitude.  I am, like Luther called himself, a “poor sack of maggots,” a man who is going to die and decay because I was born in sin.

 

And yet through me the one who sits at the right hand of God wants to work and be effective.  You will see and hear me, with all my weaknesses and imperfections.  But the Lord Jesus Christ will be the one teaching you, admonishing you, forgiving your sins, giving you His body to eat and His blood to drink.  He will be the one consoling you when you are sick, when you are grieving—so long as my preaching and pastoral care is faithful to His pure Word.

 

And what He wants to do among us is make us certain in the midst of this time of great trouble—certain that our names are written in the book of life, certain that we are among God’s people, certain in your conscience that you are pleasing to God.

 

My prayer from the heart as I begin this ministry among you is that my Lord Jesus Christ would help me to do this faithfully.  That He would work through me with power to turn many to righteousness, and to give you great confidence that your future is that of the people of God who will shine like the brightness of the firmament.

 

I ask that at the very beginning you would join your prayers with mine, and that you would receive me from the very beginning as the messenger God has sent you.  Allow me to bring you His message not only when it pleases you but also when it does not.  Allow me to teach you and admonish you and absolve you with God’s Word, so that you may be strengthened in confidence that God’s people have a certain future that cannot fail, and that your name is written in the book with God’s people.  This is why God sent me to you.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification. Trinity 11, 2019

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus pharisee tax collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

September 1, 2019

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

This is the last Sunday I will preach here as your pastor.  That makes it a sad day, because God has bound us together over these years.  He has taught us together.

 

But in our Lord Jesus’ kingdom, sadness never has the final word.  Joy has the final word.  I will not be the called servant of God’s Word at St. Peter anymore, but I will always be your pastor.  It was through you God called me into the office of preaching the Gospel.  And because we are members of one holy communion, I am yours forever.  That is what “the communion of saints” means.  A communion, a fellowship is a sharing.  We share in the one body and blood of Jesus at this altar.  All He has he shares with us.  And we who have a share in Jesus through faith in Him also belong to one another.  One bread, one body.

 

So that is joy in the midst of sadness.  And our Lord has given us other joys, great joys.  You have two new sisters in Christ, newly risen from what St. Paul calls the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), the washing of Baptism.  They stand among us today with the cross of Jesus marked on their brow, made holy, clothed with robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  We have waited and prayed for this.  About a year ago, Amber, you asked to be baptized at VBS.  I told the church council about it because I was excited.  And here you are, together with Breanna—you went through catechetical instruction many years ago.  Now both of you are going home from St. Peter justified, as Jesus said about the tax collector in the Gospel reading from Luke.  And that is joy for every Christian here.

 

And after the sermon, Billy and Breanna will confess that they believe Christ’s teaching that they learned from me, found in the Scripture, witnessed by the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  How can we not be overjoyed to hear that you have been made disciples of Jesus as He commanded—Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you?  Every Christian has to rejoice that you have been taught all of Christ’s Word and now confess that you believe it and intend to live and die by it.

 

Understand though, that there is pain in the Christian life.  You have been marked with the cross.  There is pain at the beginning of the Christian life, at the end of it, and all the way through.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  (Romans 6)  Paul asks that at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  When you are baptized you are joined with Jesus in His death; that is not a one-time thing.  It continues throughout our life on earth.  But pain and sorrow do not have the final word in Christ’s Kingdom.  Joy has the final word, and Christians come to know God’s joy in the very midst of the cross that God sends them.

It was joy that drew me into the ministry.  That was the bait on the hook with which Christ hooked me.  And joy in a specific teaching of the Bible—what we call the doctrine of justification.  It is the part of Christian teaching that Paul said in the reading from Corinthians is of first importance.  Justification is what Jesus came into the world for.  It is what pastors are here for.  It is what Baptism is about.  And when it is taught rightly and believed it brings joy.

 

So it is my joy to preach my last sermon on the doctrine of justification, which our Lord Jesus teaches about in the Gospel reading.  If you have that teaching and believe it and stay with it—you newly baptized and confirmed, and you who were baptized and confirmed a long time ago—and you who have not been baptized or confirmed—if you believe this teaching you will be saved, and you will have joy.

 

Jesus pictures this doctrine in the parable we heard of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 

He tells us about two men who go into the temple to pray.  He tells us what their prayers are like and what kind of people they are.  Then we hear him say: I tell you, this many went down to his house justified, rather than the other (18:14), that is, the tax collector.  But what does Jesus mean by that word “justified”?  He is saying when the tax collector goes home, he goes home with God having declared him righteous.  God judges him to be right and good in his sight.  The other man, the Pharisee, goes home not righteous in God’s sight.  That means, he goes home guilty, not a friend of God but an enemy.

 

Even though “justification” is not a word we use a lot except in church—and in many churches, not even there—you can see why it is important.  We need to be righteous before God, He needs to regard us as righteous, if we are not to be His enemies, if we are to be saved after we die.  But we also need to be righteous in His sight if we are going to live in this world with the confidence that God is with us.

 

But what Jesus teaches about justification before God goes against the way everyone thinks.

 

People of course have all kinds of different religious beliefs—in this country and across the world.  But there is a common idea that unites everyone, and that is that the way to being right with God is being right and doing right.  People have different ideas about what that means.  The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable had his ideas about “being right and doing right” shaped by God’s commandments that were given through Moses to the people of Israel, including the ten commandments.  So when he prays, he comes into the temple and thanks God that he is righteous, at least compared to other people, because he does not cheat people out of their money, commit adultery, and do other unjust things.  In addition he gives ten percent of everything he gets in income to God.  These were things he knew he was supposed to do or not do because God commanded “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”  He also told the people of Israel they were supposed to tithe ten percent of their income to God.

 

In other places and times people haven’t always had the ten commandments.  In our country today people don’t know the ten commandments like they once did.  But people still know that there is a right and wrong, even if they are misguided about what it is.  And people today generally think along the same lines as the Pharisee—God loves me because I basically am good.  I’m certainly better than all the hypocrites over there anyway.

 

Some people say they don’t believe in God, or He doesn’t factor much into their thinking.  But you will never find a person who doesn’t care if they are justified.  Everyone wants to be recognized as worth something, as having meant something.  Everyone looks for this.  Even people who don’t care much what other people think want to be able to say that their life on earth was valuable, not a waste.

 

Everybody cares about justification, and everybody goes about different ways of trying to justify themselves.  But we can’t justify ourselves, because we are not the judge.  God is the judge.

 

And see what happens with the Pharisee.  He was a man who seemed to be very concerned with God. But he went home “not justified.”  God did not justify him because, though he kept away from adultery, though he engaged in spiritual practices like fasting and gave his money to God, it wasn’t enough.  He believed that doing more than other people made him righteous and good in God’s sight.  But it doesn’t.

 

To have God regard you as righteous is not a matter of doing better than other people but a matter of doing what God requires of you.

 

To be good in God’s eyes means to love God and trust Him above everything else—money, your health, your family.  But anyone who says he loves God like that without wavering is in denial.  The Bible says that he who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).  And who loves the people around him perfectly?  Our selfishness, our self-love keeps us from seeing the people around us and caring about them as we should.

 

Why does the tax collector go home justified?  Jesus says, because Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).  Jesus doesn’t mean humiliating yourself wins God’s favor.  He is saying that when you come to God admitting the truth about yourself—that you have broken His commandments, that you are not righteous but a sinner, that you do not deserve His praise but His punishment—that is the beginning of the way to God.  The kind of humbling yourself Jesus is talking about is admitting what the ten commandments reveal about you—that in yourself you keep falling short of what God requires.  This is painful.  And it isn’t just at the beginning of being a Christian that we experience this pain, but all the way through.  We grow as Christians not by becoming more able to stand on our own; we grow as Christians by becoming more dependent on God’s mercy.

 

But there is something else in this tax collector’s prayer.  When he says, “God be merciful to me,” the word “be merciful” actually contains the word for “a sacrifice that atones for sin.”  He’s not just asking for God to be merciful in a general way, but to forgive his sins on account of the sacrificial blood that covers his sin.

 

In the temple in Jerusalem there was an altar.  Every day many animals were sacrificed at that altar.  The one who sinned would lay his hand on the animal’s head and confess his sins that needed to be covered.  Then the animal’s throat would be cut and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, because according to the book of Leviticus, the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood.  And God told the Israelites, I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (or the soul) (Lev. 17:11).  The blood of the animal contained its life, and when the priest sprinkled the blood on God’s holy altar or poured it on the base of the altar or put sprinkled it before God’s presence in the most holy place, the animal’s life or soul was for atonement, or covering.  The penalty of sin is death, but God accepted the animal’s life in place of the sinner.

But this was only temporary, because it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  Just like ordinary water can’t make a person clean from sin, an animal’s life is not sufficient to make us right before God.  But God accepted them temporarily until the sacrifice came that was enough to cleanse us from our sins.

 

That sacrificial victim was the one who taught this parable.  Jesus is human, like us, but He is also God.  When He suffered on the cross, God suffered.  His blood is not merely human; it is the blood of God.  When this blood was shed, this life was offered up, it truly took sins away, not just from one or two men, but all people.

 

The person who comes to God acknowledging that he is the sinner, and clinging to the sacrifice God provided for us, the blood that purifies and atones for our sin—Jesus’ blood—that person goes home justified before God.  Just like that.

 

We call it “justification by faith alone.”  The Pharisee tries to approach God with his own works and is not justified.  The tax collector clings only to the atoning blood to cover his sin and goes home righteous before God.

 

Jesus does not talk in His parable about the joy of justification.  But joy is what flows from this teaching, and without it being taught clearly we cannot know real joy.  Certainly not in the church.

 

When you see your sins before God like the tax collector did that hurts, but to hear God announce your sins forgiven is a joy greater than the pain.

 

And there is another joy—the joy of someone else being set free from their sins.  The joy of seeing tears run down someone’s face as they are released from the burden of their sins that they carried alone.

 

Pastors experience this joy, but it is not just for them.  It is meant for all the Christians in the church.

 

My friends, you are uniquely situated to experience this joy.  You have been given this pure teaching of justification, where our works are strictly separated from God’s work in shedding His blood for our justification.

 

You have preserved in your midst the means of grace that God uses to confer the forgiveness of sins won by Christ’s blood.  You have baptism, not just as water that symbolizes something we have chosen, but God’s baptism, where the water is joined with His Word and we are washed and presented before God spotless in Christ’s blood.

 

You have the absolution Jesus gave to his church, the authority to forgive sins: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  (John 20)

 

You have the sacrament of the altar where we receive not just bread and wine and say “This symbolizes Christ’s body and his atoning blood.”  No, you receive His body and the blood that atones for your sins.

 

You have these gifts of God preserved among you.  Jesus wants to bring tax collectors in here and send them home justified.  He is doing it today.

 

You will know His joy in justifying tax collectors as you grow in Him, as you grow in the painful realization that you are tax collectors.  As you come to see your sins as great, not small, many, not few, you will experience the joy tax collectors and sinners experienced when they met Jesus and God justified them through Him.  It is not a joy for the beginning of our lives as Christians but for the middle and the end as well.

 

And how will this happen, that you will grow and learn to see your sins as great?  Luther told you that in the catechism a long time ago when you were being prepared to be confirmed, in the questions he wrote for you to use to examine yourself before you go to the Lord’s table.

 

What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?  We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

Why should we remember and proclaim His death?  So that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins…that we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and regard them as very serious…Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

 

So come then with your great sins and receive the blood that cleanses them, and keep coming, and let His justifying word be your all.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Right Use of Beauty. Martyrdom of John the Baptist/Altar Guild Service 2019

August 29, 2019 1 comment

john baptists headMartyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29

August 29, 2019

The Right Use of Beauty

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

For the last several years at this service we have observed the festival of John the Baptist’s martyrdom, because it is the closest festival day to the last Thursday in August.  But this year the last Thursday in August actually falls on the day of John’s martyrdom.  And so my robes are red.

 

Red goes with Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It also goes with blood—the blood of the martyrs, who, by the burning faith and love worked by the Spirit, bore witness to our Lord Jesus not only with words but with their red blood.  With their blood they testified to the salvation won by Jesus Christ, and the power of faith in His name.

 

So you see the red of this chasuble.  It is beautiful, but it points to something fewer people think beautiful—the blood of many Christians that poured out from their bodies, who were reflections of their Lord, from whose head and hands and feet and side blood poured and streamed.  His streaming blood, His bloody death purchased salvation from sin and hell.  With their red blood they bore witness, they testified to the certainty of the salvation won by our Lord.

 

Even today blood pours from the bodies of Christians all over the world, in streams wider and fuller than at any time in history.  The time of the martyrs was not 1900 years ago.  It is now.

 

But those suffering and dying are not, in many cases, people whose parents and grandparents and ancestors for generations have been baptized.  They are new Christians, yet these new Christians are called by our Lord to suffer or even die for His name, and they answer His call and join the souls under the altar in heaven.

 

It is different with the Christians around us.  We appear to be living in a unique time, when European culture, what used to be called “Christendom,” is shedding the last vestiges of its Christian identity.  We are having difficulty adjusting to this.  We are having difficulty losing the prestige and the numbers we once had when our countrymen all claimed to be Christians and built beautiful churches to have their children baptized and married in.  We are not being asked to lose our lives.  Christ is calling us to lose our status, to be lowly and despised, to be poor and few in number.  And we are struggling with this.  Many are refusing to give these things up.

 

Parents who still bring their kids to church usually want their kids to experience a full church, a vibrant church, with lots of other kids and lots of activities for kids, even though churches like these are becoming rarer, and those that have these things and also teach the pure doctrine of Christ rarer still.

 

Churches are still hoping against hope that the pews will become full again.  Meanwhile many of them are trying to hang on to what they had when the churches were full, even though they are no longer full.  It is hard to accept that Jesus may be calling us to let these things go.

 

Many Christians think the people and the kids and the money and the feeling of being “vibrant” and so on are necessary.  They run after these things even when doing so means leaving God’s pure word behind.  They can’t imagine church without these things.  They fear that their children will abandon Christianity if it isn’t fun and doesn’t feel like it’s growing and prestigious.

 

Those who remain in the church keep being nagged by the temptation that Moses has been on the mountain too long and now it is time to make gods to lead them out of the desert.  We are tempted to look for anything that will make Christianity appealing to our kids, grandkids, and neighbors, so that they would come back.

 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?  (Rom. 6:3)  That is a call from the apostle to remember what life we were given when we were baptized.   He does not think that the Romans (or you) don’t know.  You do know.  Death is not a special way for the elite Christians, the martyrs.  Death is the way for every Christian.   We were baptized into Jesus’ death on the cross.  We are baptized into His death—unless we turn away.  Our lives are death with Jesus and resurrection with Jesus.  There is no other way to be a Christian, no other way for the Church.  If we want to avoid death with Jesus, we want to avoid being Christians.  If we try to find a way to convince people to be Christians that does not involve dying to their desires to be rich and important and be in a beautiful religious facility with lots of other popular, non-embarrassing people—we are finding a way to be ashamed of Jesus.  Because Jesus said, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will find it. (Mark 8:34-35)  Even if your life does not end with nails through your hands and feet, you have already been crucified with Christ in Baptism, and every day your old nature must be crucified with Christ again.  Your demands to have the love of this world, the honor of this world, the praise of this world—you must die to it and go with Jesus and accept the scorn of this world, the mockery of this world, perhaps the loss of a full church, a youth group, a church with a steeple and stained glass.

 

Christ’s church does not lie to people.  Churches do, but His true church doesn’t.  It doesn’t promise people their best life now.  It doesn’t say “Jesus will never ask you to do something really hard, or suffer.”  It tells people—Jesus calls you to repent, and to repent means to die.

 

She speaks like John the Baptist did.  A king married a woman.  The woman had divorced the king’s brother so she could marry the king.  John told the king, “It is not lawful to marry your brother’s wife.  You are lost unless you repent.”  By repent John did not mean that King Herod should feel bad but stay married to Herodias.  He meant he should send Herodias back to his brother.  He could never be married to her and be right with God.

 

But of course this would offend Herod, wouldn’t it?  Then Herod would never join John’s church.  That’s the way people in churches often talk.  John did not talk this way.  He talked like a man sent by God to turn the sinful to repentance.

 

Pastors have to ask themselves: Is that the way I speak to the unrepentant?

 

Churches have to ask themselves: Is that the message unrepentant sinners in our congregation and outside our congregation get?  If not, are we willing to say that to them, and let the pastor say it to them?  To say, “Repent, you are lost”?  To be in earnest, as if heaven and hell is real, and the unrepentant are headed for hell?

 

If not, no matter how much we talk about Jesus, we are not following Him.  We are walking in another way than His, one without the cross.  The world has to repent of its lawless immorality, but we have to repent in the church of our wanting to be Christ’s while refusing to bear His cross.

 

If what I am saying is striking home with you, then you know that you have done just as Herod did.  He was called to go the difficult way of repentance.  He chose to save face and put John to death instead.  Like Pilate also who, forced to choose between Jesus and angering the Jews and Caesar, went against his conscience and crucified the man he knew was from God.  Like Peter who, though he wanted to be faithful to Jesus, at the moment of crisis denied Jesus to save his life.  We have done this, and though it may have given us a temporary reprieve or a short term profit, when we did it we forfeited our souls.

 

Had Herod listened to John and come in unconditional surrender to God, John would have baptized him.  He would have lost Herodias his brother’s wife, but he would also have lost his sins.

 

The baptism that brought us into the church did not only forgive our sins.  It joined us with Jesus who went to death rather than turn aside from God.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?

 

You who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are like Peter.  You want to die rather than deny Jesus.  You believe He is the Son of God.  You want to go with Him even to death because you believe in Him and you love Him.  You want to be a faithful witness.  But you falter.  You have many times.  You were afraid to stand with Jesus.  You sought to preserve your life in this world, even though Jesus said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  You tried to be Christ’s disciples and still please the world and your flesh.

 

Return to your baptism.  There you died with Jesus.  There your sins were washed away.  There, fleeing compromise with the world, you are raised from the dead to walk in newness of life.  Not to follow the Pharisees in a self-chosen holiness from the flesh, but to go with Jesus to the cross, to lose your life in this world, and gain what is life indeed.  Have you faltered?  So did Peter.  Return to Baptism where your faltering flesh is dead and the life of Christ has raised you.

 

Come to this altar; receive the finished salvation of Jesus.  Eat His body.  Drink His blood.  Receive His power that enables you to bear witness to Him in a world that demands you bow your knee to it and its ruler.

 

No!  You are Christ’s.  You will go to Him and conquer the world as He did and as the martyrs did.

 

As long as He continues to give us beautiful churches, robes, paraments, we will use them to bear witness to the shedding of His blood.  You can use them without fear as a Christian because they are not your gods. They are simply gifts.  You have died to this world with Him.

 

But if He allows them to be taken, don’t be afraid.

 

If we are friendless, homeless, poor, because we are His, that is a more beautiful robe than can be made with hands, or washed, or ironed by your hands.  If you are small and forsaken, if you lose people, if you lose paraments, workers, vestments because you are poor, your Lord adorns you with His poverty and lowliness.  It is a royal honor.  “Blessed are the poor.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  Blessed are you when others revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5)

 

May the Lord Jesus teach us to see and rightly use both kinds of beauty—the beauty you work with in the altar guild, and the beauty of the cross.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Giving Thanks is the Fruit of Receiving Christ by Faith. Thanksgiving Day 2018, Philippians 4:6-20

November 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Philippians 4:6-20

November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks is the Fruit of Receiving Christ By Faith

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

When we were children our parents taught us to say “thank you” whenever anyone did something for us or gave us a gift.  As children we didn’t know yet that no one owes us anything and that, in this world, people will seldom give us anything for free that they want for themselves.  Our parents knew that few things are more obnoxious than people who, when given gifts, don’t appreciate them.

 

But that is exactly the way human beings act, and the way they are in their hearts, toward God.  Think of your catechism.  What does it mean in the creed when we say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”  We learned: I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.”  That’s only the first sentence of the explanation to the First Article, and it lists 7 or 8 gifts from God.

 

Let’s pick just one.  I can’t think of the last time I thanked God for my ears.  Can you?  But without my ears I would not have been able to hear the music of Bach that came from the piano in the balcony a few weeks ago.  I wouldn’t have been able to hear the organ this morning, and your voices singing the music of the Divine Service in which we proclaimed, with the Christmas angels, the glory of God that has come to us in Jesus.  Without my ears I would not have been able to hear the words of Scripture through which God gives the Holy Spirit and eternal life.  My ears are just one member of my body, along with my eyes, lips, tongue, hands, feet, fingers.  And these ears are more complex and wonderful than the most intricate and expensive human inventions that are being dreamed up in Silicon Valley, but God has given these more wonderful inventions to me and you and not just Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and other rulers of the world.

 

And God has given me every other member of my body—and the food, clothes, house, loved ones I need for my life to be sustained.  Now, what would a thankful person do, who had received so many and such incredibly rich gifts, when he had nothing?  Again, our catechism: For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

 

But of course, that is not what I have done.  It is not what you have done.  We have not thanked, praised, served, obeyed God.  We have, instead, served and obeyed our flesh and its craving, its lusts for pride or possessions.  We haven’t recognized how much God gives us already, so we are always anxious about whatever it is that we don’t have right now.  If we took to heart the stupendous gifts God the Father has given us just in our bodies, we would be drawn to Him to seek higher gifts from Him.  Because a God who would bring us into existence and lavish on the lowest-born human being the miraculous gifts of the eye, the brain, the tongue, the soul, obviously is a kind and generous Father, who would not hesitate to give us more—even Himself.

 

Yet this is not how people see God.  They don’t recognize His gifts or Him.  We see only the things that we don’t have that we think we need.  We think we need more material things and don’t seek the Maker and Giver of the world.  And of course, if a god like that is in charge of the universe, how can you avoid being anxious?  Who knows whether anyone will take care of us?

 

But being a Christian changes this.  True thankfulness and the true giving of thanks can really come only through Jesus Christ, by believers in Jesus Christ.

 

Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make you anxious and tightfisted.  Idolatry does that.  Faith in Jesus makes you thankful and generous.

 

You can hear this in the Epistle, in the way that Paul writes, in the way the church in Philippi behaved.  I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you revived your concern for me (Phil. 4:10).  Paul wrote the letter in response to a gift that he received from the church in Philippi, a town in northern Greece or Macedonia that was the first church planted on the European continent.  The church in Philippi sent Paul supplies and probably money that he needed because he was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul was actually in prison in Philippi too when he first came there and preached the Gospel among them, so this was not the first time.  Christians were a tiny group in the Roman empire, and many of their neighbors regarded them with suspicion, thinking that they were undermining Roman values and customs.  So prison and violence followed Paul the apostle, and it could never have been too far away from the Philippians either.

 

Yet you don’t hear fear and bitterness in Paul’s letter, or anxiety and complaining.  You hear—what did you hear?  You probably heard joy.  Paul says, “Thanks for what you sent.  I don’t want you to think that I was in need and suffering though, because I have learned to be content whether I am laid low or whether I am wealthy.  I’m not looking for you to give me material things, although I appreciate your expression of concern and love.  But what I really desire is for you to be enriched spiritually.”  To quote Paul exactly: Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit (v. 17).  So, imprisoned in Rome, his life on the line, the Christian church small in number and threatened both by pagan persecutors and false teachers, Paul is not worried.  He is seeking to increase the spiritual harvest and wealth of the believers in Philippi in eternity.  He is seeking fruit for them, that they bear Christ’s fruit.

 

What is the fruit of faith in Christ?  First of all they are virtues, the transformation of our character and our hearts.  We believe in Jesus, that He has covered our sins even though we are still sinners.  But then we begin to be transformed into His image.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)…And from those fruits that are within us come actions and deeds, what we often call “good works.”  From thankfulness, for instance, comes thanksgiving, the giving of thanks, when we praise God with our lips, when we come to church and sing and say the thankfulness that is in our hearts.  And thanksgiving includes not only saying thanks but showing thanks.  Just as, when you are thankful to your parents for raising you, you not only buy them a card on Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day—you also show them you are thankful by helping them when they need help and by spending time with them.

 

The Philippians are bearing this fruit.  They are thankful to Paul for preaching the Gospel to them, so they care for him when he is in prison.  They are thankful to God for the Gospel.  So they give thanks not only in the Divine Service with their lips, but also with their wallets.  They sent Epaphroditus, a member of their congregation, with support for Paul as he sat in prison in Rome.  We know that this was not easy for the church in Philippi, because in another letter Paul tells the church in Corinth that the churches of Macedonia had extreme poverty (2 Cor 8:1-2).  But they also had an abundance of joy and thankfulness.

 

Joy and thankfulness are not something you can make happen in yourself.  They are fruits.  Fruits grow when you have the kind of plant that grows them.  Joy and thankfulness are the fruits that grow from the plant called “faith in Jesus Christ.”

 

This plant of faith in Jesus Christ grew in Philippi because it had been planted there.  Paul preached Jesus Christ there.  He showed how God owed the Philippians nothing, because He had given them their lives, bodies, souls, eyes, ears, and they had not thanked Him, not served Him, not even known Him.  But God, being rich in mercy and love, sent His Son to become a man and serve them, and give Himself up as an offering and sacrifice to atone for their ingratitude and reconcile God to them.  And the Philippians believed this good news.  And so the good news of Jesus Christ bore fruit there.  They became thankful people.  They were confident that God, who was at peace with them through Jesus, would give them whatever they needed and more, and they rejoiced at the opportunity to show their thankfulness by helping Paul.

 

Of course they were not different than us in being tempted with anxiety.  Humanly speaking they had more reason to be anxious than us.  They were a tiny minority in a hostile pagan world.  On top of it they were not blessed materially like we are.

 

So Paul exhorted them to hold fast to Jesus Christ in faith and to put away anxiety.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Phil. 4:6-7)

 

He tells them to put all their requests before God and, at the same time, to give thanks—because they know that God will answer them.  They know this because God has given them His Son, and the riches of His glory in Jesus.  And if He has given the Philippians this on top of their eyes, ears, and all their members, He will not deny them anything good.  If He doesn’t grant their requests in prayer, they know He will give them what is better than what they can ask.  How can it be otherwise if He didn’t spare His Son?  So after putting their requests before God, they should give thanks, knowing that all things will turn out well.

 

The same plant called “faith in Jesus” is growing among us at St. Peter, and it bears its fruit here.  We know this is true because the same seed is sown as the apostle sowed in Philippi—Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, crucified for us and raised again.  Faith in Him—confidence that our sins are forgiven and that the God of the universe is our God and Father—takes hold of God Himself.  And so His life, His fruits grow here, and among them is true thankfulness to God.

 

Alongside of those fruits is the old nature that does not trust God and isn’t thankful.  We are tempted to be afraid and to act out of fear as we see ourselves more and more to be in the minority in our society—no longer visibly strong, but visibly weak.  Not rich, but poor—at least much poorer than we used to be.

 

Let us not give in to that temptation.  We have a God who is rich.  He has given us rich gifts.  He is rich in grace and generosity.  He invites us to put our requests before Him with confidence because, in addition to all the material gifts we have, we have also been given His Son.  Even today, He gives us His Son’s body and blood, which ransom us from sin and death and give us forgiveness and life.

 

Who can not be thankful when they think of this?  So let us give thanks and remember His goodness.  And as He gives Himself to us, body and blood, let us offer our bodies and all we have to Him, and be eager to show our thankfulness with our lips, our hands, our wealth.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Desolations of Many Generations. Day of Supplication and Prayer. Sept 19 2018

September 19, 2018 Leave a comment

church.PNGDay of Supplication and Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4

September 19, 2018

Desolations of Many Generations

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

One thing preachers never say anymore that they did say centuries ago: preachers never tell people when disaster strikes them that God is punishing them for their sins.  That’s just not done.  It is the prevailing opinion today that disaster and destruction falling on a person has nothing to do with whether they are good or bad.

 

Yet despite this, people take disaster and death very personally.  When it comes many people feel very keenly that it came from God and it was personal.  Even though God isn’t supposed to work this way people still feel like He does.  Like He is judging them, singling them out when disaster strikes.

 

It’s not true that the hurricane hit North Carolina and those people died because they were worse sinners than everyone else in the country.  And which people have suffered because of the hurricane as a punishment from God’s wrath, and which people were being corrected by God their loving Father—it’s not possible to judge.  But one thing is certain—it happened because of sin.  There would be no hurricanes, no destruction, no war, no plagues, if their were no sin.

 

For the people of Israel, it was even more obvious that destruction, devastation, and desolation came from God as retribution or correction for sin.  The covenant that God had made with them was that if they strictly obeyed His laws and observed His commandments, they would be miraculously blessed.  God told them in Deuteronomy 15: There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.”  (Deut. 15:4-5)  And God gave them a million promises of blessings like these if they were faithful to His covenant and kept His laws.  He reminded them, for example, how the whole forty years they wandered in the desert, their clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell, as day by day they woke up and ate the manna, the bread God sent from heaven to sustain them in the desert.

 

So if the Israelites were being defeated and oppressed by enemies, or if they were suffering poverty, or plague, or drought, it wasn’t because “these things just happen.”  It was God’s hand punishing or chastising them for disobeying His laws and being unfaithful to His covenant with them.

 

But if in spite of all this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins…I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate….And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”  (Lev. 26:27, 31-33)

 

This is where Martin Luther got what he wrote in the Small Catechism about the close of the ten commandments: What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”  What does this mean?  God threatens to punish all who break these commandments.   Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.  This is not a joke.  It is deadly serious.  Sin angers God and brings His wrath and punishment after it—every sin, every time, to the least of the commandments.

 

So when Isaiah tells us in the 61st chapter about the One who has the Spirit of the Lord upon Him to preach liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to those who are bound, who will go out and build up, raise up, and renew a devastated land and wasted cities, Isaiah is foretelling a day when Israel will be cast away by God because it has turned away from god.  The reason the land is full of ruins and desolations, and the people are poor, chained up, brokenhearted, in prison, is because they sinned against God and brought down His anger on them.  Their sins made God cast them off.

 

That is what makes the picture painted by the 61st chapter of Isaiah so beautiful—this darkness.  It is not a cherry on top of the sundae, what God promises Israel here.  A whole nation has come to see what they really are.  They are not righteous, good people.  That’s not the reason they were chose by God.  They couldn’t be, because God had already promised amazing blessings if they did what He commanded, and shown them ahead of time the consequences if they turned away from Him.  And they did it anyway.  Israel wasn’t just insufficiently righteous.  It was spectacular in its helplessness, its utter impotence regarding the righteousness God requires.  Do you remember in the story of Jesus’ passion, how the Lord asks Peter, James, and John to stay awake with Him, and they kept falling asleep?  And how when He woke them the second or third time, “they did not know what to say to Him?”  Have you experienced that—where you no longer had an answer to give for yourself to God, or any confidence that you can bring and tell God “I promise I won’t do it again?”

 

That is how the people of God are when the person described in Isaiah 61 comes, anointed by God to proclaim good news to the poor and wretched.

 

That is where we are, too, when the good news comes to us.  If we are to be God’s people who build up, raise up, and repair, we must first be the poor, desperate for good news, the broken hearted, needing to be bound up, the captive slaves needing to be ransomed and set free.

 

Yet we very seldom think it’s that bad with us.  It sounds a little overdramatic, even if you’ve spent your life hearing it as a Lutheran.  It’s probably especially difficult if you’re here tonight, one of the few pious people willing to come during the week, confess your sins, and ask God to renew and strengthen you and the whole congregation on this day of supplication.

 

After all, yes, there are some desolate places, some ruins, in our families.  Yes, in our church also, and, truth be told, also in our souls.  Some buildings fallen down, desolate, not repaired.  But who doesn’t have a few ruins in their lives?  And after all, ruins are all a matter of perspective.  One man’s ruin is another man’s palace.

 

But the situation is really far more dire.  These ruins in our homes, church, neighborhoods, lives, are witnesses to the utter ruin and desolation that our sin brings with it.  We have provoked God’s anger and punishment by our sins.  He is truly angry with our sins, and with us, unless we are covered with the robe of righteousness that He provides.

 

Luther tries to teach us this in the questions he prepared for a Christian to ask himself or herself in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood.  “What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?”  Answer: “First, both the command and promise of Christ the Lord.  Second, his own pressing need…”  And the very next question is: “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and feel no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?”  That is the problem.  No hunger and thirst, or not very much.  For the good news.  For the Scripture.  For absolution, for private absolution, without which Luther said the devil would have choked the Reformation out of him.

 

We are not all that hungry for the Lord’s Supper, or preaching, or the teaching of God’s Word in Bible Class, or for the reading of it in our homes, because we don’t realize our need.

 

We recognize it some.  But not fully, and not very often.  And so we are also not aware of how good the good news is, and how good the good Lord is who sends it; how comforting is the one who comes to bind up our hearts; how terrible the chains and the prison of sin are.  How wonderful the sound of those chains being taken off, the sound of the words of absolution in response to the sins we have confessed.

 

And that’s the reason that our church is bereaved of its children and is becoming more and more desolate—at least as far as people who attend and listen go.  We are lacking in hunger for Christ and His good news.  But our world has no hunger at all for Christ or His glad tidings.  And unlike days gone by, few people see the value of pretending like they do.

 

Jesus says an amazing thing, an amazingly comforting and hopeful thing in this chapter.  He says that He has been anointed and commissioned by God to proclaim good news to us who are bankrupt and lacking in righteousness.  His good news to us who only have the ability in ourselves to further provoke God’s wrath—His glad tidings to us is that our sins are forgiven.  At no cost, with no contribution from us.  We are free.

 

And not only so.  As we come out of the prison, the Lord clothes us with joy, anoints us with the oil of joy.  Takes away the ashes of our sin and failure and clothes us with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  And He sends us out to build up, raise up, and renew the desolate places, the ruined cities.  Not only the ruins caused by our sins, but the desolations of “generations of generations”—that have been there so long no one remembers how they got there.  God brings us out of prison and makes us rebuild what is ruined and desolate in our churches, family, world.

 

But first we must be in prison, brokenhearted, poor, with no way to get ourselves out.  We already are but do not feel it.  So let us begin by confessing our hearts unable to sense our need, receive His word that looses us from this sin along with all our other sins; let us come out of the prison and call upon Him to rebuild us, so that we eagerly run to Jesus who comes with good news.

 

Amen.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Soli Deo Gloria8888

Spiritual Violence. Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Altar Guild Service) 2018.

john baptists head.PNGThe Martyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29, Revelation 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-4

August 30, 2018

Spiritual Violence

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

An altar is furniture for an older type of worship that has mostly gone extinct.  It is necessary equipment for worship that is a matter of life and death.  In this older type of worship one did not worship by talking, singing, feeling, or thinking.  Worship was killing.  It was holy violence.  Whether you worshipped idols or the true God, the worshippers understood that a death was necessary to approach the holy.

 

God did not reject this kind of worship.  He mandated it.  He told His people to build an altar and prescribed the types of animals to be killed, the times when they should be killed, what parts of the animals should be burned, what parts should be eaten by the priests, what parts by the other worshippers, and where the victim’s blood should be poured—usually on the corners of the altar and on its base.

 

Being on the altar guild in those days was much dirtier work.

 

Why was killing and violence not only part of worship, but the center of it, even in the Old Testament?  Because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)  The wages of sin is death, and worse than death.  For the God of justice to forgive sins and dwell with His people there must be blood.  There must be a death, an atonement for the sinful.  There must be a sacrificial victim.

 

Only then can singing and praise and prayer ascend before God as a pleasing aroma—only together with the smoke of the flesh of the victim being burned on the altar.

 

It is no accident that front and center in the church is not a pulpit, not a stage, but an altar.  It reminds us that killing, violence was necessary to bring us near to God.  When you go about the altar and put white linen on it, and lights, and colors, you are dressing a monument and a reminder of the spiritual violence without which we cannot have a relationship with God.

 

The reading from Revelation pictures for us another altar, this one in heaven.  It is startling.  Surely in heaven there is no need for an altar, a place for ritual killing, because in heaven all sin has been removed.  There is no more need for a sacrifice to take away sin.  But what is true in heaven is also true here in the church on earth.  There are no more sacrifices being made to take away sins.  That has already been done, once for all, not on an altar but on the cross that stood outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

 

Yet Revelation 6 pictures an altar in heaven.  Underneath it are those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne (Rev. 6: 9). 

 

In the ancient church there was a tradition of burying the bones of those who had been killed for their witness to Christ—the martyrs—under the altar.  Many superstitions arose about this, but the picture was that the martyrs had shared in the death of Jesus.  Each Sunday as the Church remembered the death of Christ by receiving the Lord’s body crucified for them and His blood shed for them once on the tree, they knew that they were participating in the sacrifice of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world; they knew that that sacrifice covered them and their sins, and it also covered the martyrs who had died confessing Jesus.  They knew that they were joined with God the Father, with His Son, and with all the saints in heaven as they ate and drank the body and blood of the victim that had removed sins once and for all.  They knew that the same sacrifice of Jesus that had enabled the martyrs to win the victory and be faithful unto death would work in them to share the sufferings of Jesus and His glory.

 

The altar in our church, just as the one in heaven, is no longer one at which victims are slain physically and physically burnt up as offerings.  It is the place in which we participate in the final sacrifice that takes away sins forever.  And when we participate in it in faith we also engage in real sacrifice.  Not a physical shedding of blood, but a spiritual offering of our bodies to God.  We offer our bodies together with our money, our voices, our time, and our hands.

 

God’s name cannot be honored and glorified by mere talk and mere feelings.  This is why a person who says he worships God out in nature or on the golf course doesn’t know what he’s saying—unless he worships God at the altar on Sundays.  God is honored and worshipped by those who receive the sacrifice He prepared—the sacrifice of His Son.  Only then can we thanks and praise Him acceptably at all times and in all places.

 

For the example of this, see John the Baptist.  John honored God’s name by preaching repentance, which means a death, an acknowledgement that we are God’s enemies, and a desire to forsake all our sin and service to the devil.  He preached it to the common people.  He preached it to the priests.  He preached it to the king.  He preached general repentance and He preached the particular sins particular sinners had to repent of.  He told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife.”  He told Herod that he could not sleep with whoever Herod was in love with.  And now that he had quote unquote married her, he couldn’t say, “What’s done is done,” and move on.  He had to repent or be damned, put Herodias away or die in his sin.

 

This is spiritual violence.  It was not violence against Herod and Herod’s wife, but violence against himself.  John was offering Himself to God—head, hands, and inner parts.  Body and soul.  A whole burnt offering.

 

It would of course be painful to Herod and Herodias to part and be baptized, but not nearly as painful as the refusal to listen to God who spoke through John.

 

We live in a world of Herods and Herodiases who are raising their children to be like Herodias’ daughter.  Not that the world is different now than it has ever been.  People have been slaves of sin and enemies of God since the beginning when Cain murdered his brother for offering true worship to God, worship that arises from faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

 

No one is rescued from being an enemy of God by sensible worship that fits in with their lifestyles.  If Herod is going to be saved, it will only be through spiritual violence, through bloodshed.  If our Herods are going to be saved, it will only be through the blood of the Lamb, witnessed to them through His faithful martyrs who are willing to faithfully witness to Christ and suffer for it.

 

John was a witness to Herod.  A few years later, another witness came to Jerusalem and stood before Herod, another martyr who offered Himself to God, proclaiming unconditional repentance and the unconditional forgiveness of sins.  And they slaughtered this martyr too by nailing Him to a cross.’

 

By this violent worship, by the shedding of this victim’s blood, the world’s sins were taken away, and by no other.

 

The altar you care for is a memorial to this one sacrifice.  It is the place where we participate in the one sacrifice that took away sin forever.  You are testifying that there is no other way for a world of Herods and Herodiases and their children to be saved from the wrath of God than through Jesus’ violent attack upon our sins.  He did not wish them away or talk them away.  He took them and died for them.

 

When we were baptized, we took part in His death.  We took our leave of a life in which we do what we want and follow the course of this world.  We died with Jesus to this world.  We were baptized into Him for the remission of sins.

 

Now it is our life not to encourage Herodias and Herod in their fornication, or to praise Herodias’ daughter as she grows up to be like her mother.  It’s not our life to seek their approval and to make things easy on our flesh.

 

Our life is a life of spiritual violence, because our life is in Christ.  We partake of the death of God’s Son from this altar and we offer up our bodies as we do so.  We put to death our flesh that wants to banquet and boast like Herod and marry illegitimately like Herodias and to silence whoever criticizes us.  We put to death our flesh that wants to soften God’s law and thereby take away the forgiveness of sins from those who listen to us.  We offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices because we are covered by the altar of Jesus who was slain to redeem us.  We return to our baptism in which we were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We are carried away to a tomb, like John, so we may rise with Jesus and His faithful witnesses in victory.

 

And then we come down to the altar and take our place with the martyrs who are resting, in their white robes, beneath the altar of Jesus Christ.

 

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

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