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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

God’s Peace for God’s People. Trinity 10, 2019

jesus weeps over jerusalem.PNGTenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 19:41-48

August 25, 2019

“God’s Peace for God’s People”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Beloved,

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

 

How are we going to survive in this world?

 

More and more, Christians in America are starting to ask this question.  In a certain sense it is a new and strange question to American Christians who, if they are above a certain age, grew up in a time when an America without Christianity was unthinkable.

 

But it is not a new question in the Scripture, or in the experience of God’s people throughout history.  Go back through the Bible and you see that this question is there from the beginning when Cain killed Abel because Abel and his offerings were acceptable to God, and Cain and his were not.  How will we survive in this world? was the question when Abraham was a stranger in the land of promise and he had no offspring.  It was the question of the Israelites in Egypt when they were enslaved and being genocided.  Then it was their question when the Egyptians came after them at the Red Sea.  And then again when Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights.

 

And the right answer to this question of the survival of God’s people was always the same as the one Moses gave the Israelites at the Red Sea: The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Ex. 14:14).  Whenever God’s people did not believe this, they began to stray; and once they turned aside from trusting God—they stopped being His people!  They remained the people who had been called and who had been marked with His promise in circumcision.  But when they worshipped and trusted other gods, they were no longer His people.  Whatever peace they achieved by doing that, they bought at the price of being God’s enemies.

 

That is the story of the Gospel reading.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem.  It is Palm Sunday.  A crowd has come out and hailed Him as the Messiah, but Jesus knows that Jerusalem as a whole, particularly His leadership, does not believe in Him.  And He weeps over Jerusalem.  Would that you, even you had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  (Luke 19: 42)  Our Lord speaks these words through His tears.

 

Jerusalem had a sort of peace.  Historians call the period from about 27 B.C. to 180 A. D. the Pax Romana, the Roman peace.  The Romans imposed peace on the lands around the Mediterranean with overwhelming military force.  Despite their brutality, the peace resulted in growth in trade, culture, and technology.  Even so, most of the Jews didn’t really want this peace enforced by an idol worshipping, sexually immoral nation.  Most of the Jews were looking for the Messiah, the descendant of David who would rule the world and unite the nations in the worship of the true God.  They wanted the Messiah who would bring in God’s reign, God’s Kingdom, and an everlasting peace.

*

But the leaders of Jerusalem, the chief priests, Pharisees, Scribes, the ruling council, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  St. John tells us in his gospel that a few days before this when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from his tomb, that the chief priests and Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do?  For this man performs many signs.  If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  (John 11: 47-48)

 

The leaders of the Jews intended to keep peace with the Romans so that the temple wouldn’t be destroyed and the Jewish people wouldn’t be removed from the land.  And that meant they couldn’t have everyone go after Jesus as the Messiah.  That was the way they intended to answer the question: How are we going to survive in this world?  Their answer was—we are going to keep people from following Jesus.  We are going to maintain the status quo.

 

If you think that this was wicked, you are right.  But it is something that people do all the time.  It is what churches today are doing.  They are saying, “We have to get rid of Jesus, the real Jesus, in order to survive, in order to have peace.”  I will come back to this.

 

But the leaders of Jerusalem were blind, just as most churches are blind today.  We are all blind when we lean on our own understanding and do not trust in the Lord with all our heart (Prov. 3:5).

 

They did not realize the time of their visitation, Jesus says.  The word “visitation” in Greek is the same word from which we get the word “bishop,” which is one of the New Testament titles for a pastor.  Think of a king going in disguise to visit the towns in his kingdom.  He visits to see how things are going.  He goes to see how the people are doing, whether they are happy, what they say to each other about the government of the country.  He especially goes to see how his officials and his lords are doing their work.  Are the courts fair?  Are they providing the people what they need?

 

Jerusalem, the capital city of God’s people, is being visited by God in this way, but they don’t recognize the time.  The leaders of the people are so blind that they consider it in the best interests of the nation to kill the God who made them a nation.  They consider Him the biggest threat to the survival of the Jews.  They think they have to kill God the Son in order to preserve peace for the people of God.

 

But they don’t realize that they are being visited and evaluated, to see whether after all these years of having God’s Word, they have borne any fruit.  And Jesus weeps because the answer is “No.”  Just as He cursed the fig tree on the way into Jerusalem because it bore no fruit, so God is doing to Jerusalem, to the majority of the nation of Israel.  His judgment has already begun.  Jesus says, Now the things that make for peace have been hidden from your eyes (19:42).  They are worried about peace with the Romans.  They think their survival depends on the Romans, on keeping peace with them.  But they are not at peace with their God.  They are enemies of Him.  And His judgment on them has already begun.  Although individuals in Jerusalem will repent, the city as a whole, like the Jewish nation as a whole, will not.  What would give them peace with God has been hidden from them—by God.  Like Isaiah prophesied: Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; let they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.  (Is. 6:10) 

 

Because God has given them over to blindness so that they cannot see what would bring them peace with God destruction follows.  Jerusalem was torn down, people were killed in horrible slaughter about 35 years later.  But the cause of it all was that the people of Israel refused peace with God in order to try to make their own peace with the world.

 

And that is the same thing that is happening in the churches today.  It has been going on for a long time, but now we are starting to see it.  For most of us it is a bridge too far to say “homosexual marriage, or homosexuality period, is not sinful.”  That is good that we recognize that.  But most of the mainstream protestant churches have made peace with homosexuality in order to make peace with our world.  In order to try to be acceptable to an unbelieving world.

 

But even in our churches we struggle with the same thing.  We still call homosexuality sinful, but we fail to discipline other open sins.  We have put the key of binding sins in the closet and think it’s better there.  Though we formally have right teaching, in reality lots of us don’t accept it.  How many people at St. Peter after all the years I’ve been here actually believe that we have the pure word of God, and agree that those who depart from the pure Word or don’t confess it should not be admitted to the table of the Lord until they do?  And when people privately hedge about God’s pure word, they do it to make peace and avoid the offense, the scandal of Christ.

 

We think by avoiding the parts of God’s Word that are most offensive we are making peace.  In reality we are pushing away what makes for peace.  God’s people have peace with God even though the world hates them.  But God’s people not only listen to God’s Word and have it in their midst—God’s people believe His Word.  They look to Him for peace.  They trust Him to preserve His church in this world, and Him alone.

 

But the world, though it has a lot more peace in this world than Christ and His church, has no peace with God.  It has an eternity of pain ahead of it, and God’s wrath even in this life.

 

See what Jesus does.  He knows that He is going to die.  He knows that after He throws those buying and selling out of the temple, in a few days they will be back.  He knows that the perfect temple of God in which the true God alone is worshipped will not be complete until He comes again.

 

But He still goes into the temple.  He throws out those who are making it a den of robbers, who are standing in the way of the people of God finding peace with God.  And in the quiet of the cleansed temple He gives those who come to Him what will give them peace with God—His Word.  He was teaching daily in the temple (19:47).  The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him (19:48) and in time they would succeed in having Him put to death—but not until Jesus finished teaching.  In time God’s wrath would send the Romans to destroy that temple made with hands and not one stone would be left on another—but during these days Jesus would teach His Word unimpeded in that house, and his enemies would have to gnash their teeth.

 

The day came when the chief priests seemed to be proven right, and they mocked the Lord as He hung on the cross.  They said if He was really God’s Son He would come down.  Those who hold to God’s Word and look to Christ for peace experience this too.  Many have shed their blood looking to Christ alone.  Churches have suffered for clinging to Christ alone.  In Russia the Lutheran churches were almost wiped out.

 

But in reality when they had their way, Jesus accomplished the things that make for peace.  Not with the Romans, not with the world, but with God.  He was torn down so that we would be raised up as His holy people, so that we would be raised to eternal life.  The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him—punishment not only from the hand of men, but also of God.  God’s hand laid on His Son the strokes, the suffering of soul, that we have deserved for seeking peace apart from Him.

 

Let us not seek peace with the world.  Let us cling to Christ alone and have peace with God.  He will see to it that we and His Word have a place in this world in spite of its rage.

 

Let us come now to receive peace through His body and blood, saying, “Lord, I will seek peace nowhere else than in you.  And I want to not run away from the cross you send me, but share it and share the peace with God you won for me by your cross.”

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understandi

The Word of God and the Word of Men. Trinity 8, 2019

jeremiah.PNG8th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Jeremiah 23:16-29

August 11, 2019

The Word of the Lord and the Word of Men

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jeremiah the prophet lived from the middle of the 7th century before Christ into the 6th century before Christ—so from about 650 B. C. or so until maybe 570 B. C.

 

He lived in dark times.   In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple that Solomon had built.  In the years that followed they carried the inhabitants of Judah into captivity in Babylon.

 

Jeremiah was the last prophet before Judah was conquered.  He was sent to warn the people that they were about to be taken captive.  In the days leading up to the Babylonian invasion there were many signs that disaster was approaching, but the people did not take warning.  They went on believing that nothing would happen to them even though they were worshipping other gods and blending the worship of the true God with the practices of the pagan nations that surrounded them.

 

Why didn’t the people turn from their sins and return to their God?  Part of it was that they liked the false religion they had invented.  And part of it was that there were many false prophets who told them that they did not need to repent.  Everything would be all right; everything would return to normal.  The world would go on just as it always had.  There would be no day of reckoning.  The false prophets preached their own message, a word that came merely from man, not the living, creative, powerful Word of the Lord.

 

People liked this message.  It pleased them and made them feel comfortable.  The Word of the living God that Jeremiah and faithful prophets preached did not make people feel comfortable.  It scared them.

 

But the problem with the message of the false prophets was that it had no power.  It made people relax for awhile when they saw signs that their country was about to be destroyed.  But because it was only a human message it could not deliver the people of Judah from their sins and God’s wrath.  Only the Word of God had the power to do that, because His Word has power.  It created the world.  It sustains us.  It causes the crops to grow and the rain to fall on them.  And only the Word of God can turn us from our sins to the living God.

 

But the people were not hearing the Word of God because the message of the false prophets drowned it out.

 

Friends in Christ, doesn’t Jeremiah’s time sound a lot like our own?  You don’t have to be a prophet to feel the tension in the air.  You don’t have to be a prophet to feel that the pillars on which our nation stands and on which the world order stands are shaking underneath our feet.

Yet people are not repenting and turning to the Lord.  In fact, they seem to be renouncing the Lord and His Word and His church in greater numbers than at any time in living memory.

 

And the reasons are the same as they were in Jeremiah’s day.  Of course people do not want to hear God’s Word; they prefer a message from false prophets, a word from men that makes them feel comfortable.

 

But also it has become difficult to hear the Word of God.  Even in what we call “conservative” churches, you almost always find God’s Word mixed with human words and ideas.  The pastors preach a message in which the Word of God is mixed together with the word of man, and the result is that the clear Word of God that is able to save people is hard to hear.

 

That is why it remains so important for Christians to be able to discern the difference between true prophets and false prophets, between the true Word of God and that which is corrupted by the thoughts of men.  The Old Testament reading pictures for us the difference between these two messages—the word of men and the Word of God.

 

First of all we see that false prophets are known by the fact that they do not listen to God.  They listen instead to their own thoughts, or perhaps their own visions and dreams.  They are not clear on the difference between human thoughts and ideas and God’s Word.

 

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord…For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear His word, or who has paid attention to His word and listened?  (Jer. 23: 16, 18)

 

The false prophets do not listen carefully to the Word of God and receive it as God’s Word.  They don’t have a reverence for God’s Word.  Luther famously said that the followers of the Pope treated the Bible like “a wax nose that one can pull this way and that.”  They treated the Bible as though it were something to play with and make into whatever they wanted it to say.  The mark of a false prophet first of all is that he (or she) doesn’t listen to the Word of God and learn from it and let it speak when he teaches.  A false prophet speaks his own thoughts as though they were of equal authority with God’s Word.

 

Secondly, false teachers do not lead people back to the true God.  This follows from the fact that they themselves do not listen to God and do not speak His Word faithfully.  God’s Word leads people back to Him.  It is the only power in the world that can do this.  It is what God Himself wants to do.

 

False prophets, on the other hand, tend to tell people what they want to hear, what is acceptable to men.  They continually say to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you,” and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you.”  (Jer. 23: 17) 

 

How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal (Jer 23:26-27) 

The false prophets falsified God’s law.  They told people that God wasn’t displeased with them even though they had idols besides the true God.  In our day, false prophets tell us that it is possible to be saved while rejecting God’s law.  Some say you can still be saved even though you are a practicing homosexual who does not repent.  Some say you can still be saved even though you are a practicing fornicator, one who has sex outside of marriage, without repentance.  False prophets tell us we can depart from God’s Word whenever God’s Word goes against what we think, or what our society accepts.  So we have women in the pulpit, we let anyone go to communion.  This is what false prophets do.

 

But it’s not simply that false prophets falsify God’s law.  They make people forget God.  Because when false prophets shave off the parts of God’s Word that show us our sin, they shut the door on the true God who alone takes away our sin.  The people of Israel forgot the true God who made them a promise to be their God and forgive their sins and send them a Savior.  And so false prophets make people today forget the true God who promised to be our God and forgive our sins when He baptized us and consecrated us by His name to be His holy people.

 

Since false prophets do not listen to God and therefore teach people to forget Him, they also leave people under God’s anger.  Jeremiah says that if the prophets had listened to the Lord, they would have warned them about the anger that was about to fall on them.

 

Many times we turn away from God’s Word or fail to speak it because we want to soften it.  His judgment in the Law is too hard for us to bear.  It scares us, and we can’t imagine that anyone will ever love God if they hear His judgment.  But God proclaims His wrath and His judgment in the Law to bring us to repentance.  If the people of Judah had heard clearly what was coming from the Babylonians, perhaps many more would have turned in sorrow and trembling to God.  The same thing is true today.  There is no sin that escapes God’s anger and judgment, no matter how small.  All of it provokes His anger.  If we cling to any sin we remain under His wrath.  That is true preaching of His law.

 

We are scared of God’s true Word because it is powerful and because it summons us before Him and judges us.  Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29)?  So our nature is to change God’s Word so that it is tame, so that we can keep it under control.  So that it can’t kill us and put us to death.  So that it isn’t a fire that burns and a hammer that smashes.

 

But when the true Word of God comes like a hammer and a fire and burns and shatters our stony hearts, it also comes to save us from God’s wrath.  It comes to make us know the living and true God and turn us back to Him.

 

The God whose true Word is found in the Bible is the only God, the true God.  He is holy and an enemy of all sin, and He will judge the living and the dead.  But He is also the gracious God who truly forgives sin, who gives life to the dead, who causes His anger to pass away from us forever.

 

There is no power on earth that can save the people we love or our nation or our world from destruction—no power in us, no power in human beings.  But the Word of God, unmixed with human thoughts, goes forth with His divine power like a fire and hammer and brings sinners to repentance.

 

And then it does what is even more marvelous.  It proclaims to these broken sinners that God has become a man and perished in the fire of God’s anger for us; that He was crushed for our iniquities and bruised for our transgressions.  That the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.

 

And it causes sinners to believe that this is not just talk, not just a cute sentimental message.  But it is the very word of the living God.  That He has forgiven our sins for the sake of His Son who suffered for us.  That His anger has turned away.

 

Even if only a few people believe this message, we should recognize it for what it is—the Word of God, not the word of men.  And because it is God’s Word, it will do what it says.  It will preserve us in God’s grace even if we suffer in this world, and bring us to see His face, which will not be angry toward us, but looks upon us as His beloved children for Jesus’ sake.

 

Thanks be to our God and Father for this Word that has made us know Him, the God who forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Turn in the Account of Your Management. Trinity 9, 2019

jesus parable of unjust steward.PNG9th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-9

August 18, 2019

“Turn in the Account of Your Management”

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

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

 

The first time I ever entered this church was in 2004, 15 years ago.  I am pretty sure it was the weekend of the 4th of July and I came here on a Saturday night.  That’s how I remember it.  I sat on the pulpit side in the back.  I was going to start as a vicar at St. Peter a little while later under Pastor Jany.  That was one of the few times I sat facing this direction [i.e. toward the pulpit instead of out of the pulpit] in this church.

 

I faced that way yesterday too when I came in here to pray about this call one more time.  Is this really what God is calling me to do, what His will is for me and for you?

 

And I reviewed my time here again.  I examined my conduct of my office as the called servant of the Word at St. Peter.

 

And there was a lot of good that came to me and that we experienced together during my ministry here.

 

It was through you that I was given the gift of the ministry, because it was through you that God called me to preach the Word.

 

I remember at the close of my vicarage one of the older members of the church approached me and said, “We think we should call you after you finish seminary to be pastor here.”

 

I felt so honored.  I was a little proud, too.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, “I must be good at this.”

 

That was a wonderful time because at the same time among you I met Angela, and we were in love.  So God blessed me with so many gifts by His grace.

 

But I almost didn’t come to St. Peter.  I don’t know how many people are aware of that.  If I had done what I intended to do I would have stayed at seminary.  I was frankly afraid to enter the ministry; I was afraid I wasn’t ready.  I had it in my mind to stay another year and work on a master’s in theology.  But then the scholarship I had hoped to get went to someone else, and I was counselled by people I trusted to trust God and enter the ministry anyway, leaving to Him to work through me and help me.

 

So that’s what I did.  And when I became the sole pastor here, you had to bear with me as I learned.  St. Peter had a lot on its plate and I learned how quickly I came to the end of my strength and ability.

 

There was a lot of conflict at St. Peter in those years—about money, about the school.  There were personality conflicts.  Then there were new conflicts provoked by me.  Some were because I spoke God’s Word and people didn’t like it, and that’s all there was to it.  But some happened because I let people down or spoke harshly or didn’t think about other people’s feelings.

 

During these conflicts I got angry, frustrated.  Lots of times I was depressed.  Most of what I hoped would happen when I came here did not happen.  I hoped the declining attendance would improve.  It didn’t.  I hoped St. Peter school would stay open, that the declining enrollment would be reversed.  That didn’t happen.  I hoped we would be able to do what most Lutheran Churches in the city aren’t able to do—begin to draw in people from the community near the church.  For the most part, that hasn’t happened.

 

But something has happened in my time here that I didn’t understand or even know how to look for.  I became your pastor.  You became my family in Christ.  We passed through floods and fire together, and we didn’t notice it at the time, that we were passing through them because we were scared of the floods and the fire was hot.  But Isaiah’s words proved true for us: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name.  You are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, the flame shall not consume you. (Is. 43:1-2)

 

As we were passing through the rivers and the fire with the Lord, He bound us together.  I learned many things from you at St. Peter.  I was frequently frustrated when it seemed like some of you were resistant to changes I thought were necessary.  Sometimes I was frustrated because I felt like my exhortations to you to put God’s Word first, to grow in it, weren’t heeded.  Yet I learned from you without realizing it right away.  I saw how many, particularly of the older members, were faithful and hardworking and dutiful in a way that put me to shame.  I saw how you cared for your friends when they were sick and dying.  How so many of you never complain even though you are weighed down by heavy crosses.  I saw how many of you believed in not wasting what God gives you, how conscientious you were about not being prodigal with what God give you.

 

And from many of you I saw the work of God; I saw shining examples of people who prayed, hungered for God’s Word, who served His church and loved His church here because they loved Him.

 

 

God touched some of you through me too.  To all of you He gave His gifts of grace, but some of you in the past weeks have talked to me and told me you wished I would stay, that you were blessed through my ministry here.

 

I thought about all this while I prayed yesterday.

 

But as I considered the record of my work here not everything was like this.  I saw many things where I had not done well.  That record I didn’t want to look at too closely.

 

In the Gospel reading the manager has to turn in the account of his stewardship.  He has been wasting his master’s possessions, so it isn’t going to go well for him.

 

One day I will have to turn in the record of my ministry here not to myself or you or the district president, but to God.  And not just the record of my ministry, but of my calling to be a father, a husband, a son.  God has entrusted me with many things to manage, just as He has all of you.

 

By man’s judgment you and I may have been faithful in our callings.  But before God, it’s another matter.  We have wasted time that God gave us.  We sought our own comfort and glory in these callings God gave us to serve our neighbor and glorify Him.  Before God we are all prodigals and have misused what He entrusted to us—our time, the moments of our lives.

 

And when the time comes to turn in that record to God, when He demands an account of how we have managed, what then?  How will we stand?

 

When our Lord told this parable of the unjust manager, He had just finished talking about a kid who had squandered everything—the prodigal son.  In that parable the son who had wasted everything goes back to his father and faces up to his shame because he believes that his father will let him live on his estate as a slave.  At least that way he will have something to eat.

 

Instead his dad runs out to him, kisses him, slaughters the fattened calf and has a party.  “My son was dead and is alive again,” the father says.  That the son wasted his dad’s inheritance, threw it all away—is forgotten and forgiven in an instant.

 

That is justification.  That is the Gospel.  All your wasting of your life, all your unfaithfulness, all your sin—God has removed from you and from me as far as the east is from the west.

 

He has placed it on Jesus, the Righteous One.

 

When at death or the end of your work you make an account of yourself to God, Jesus hands in His account to the Father, and takes yours.  And His account reads that our debts, derelictions, the things that won’t let us sleep at night, our hypocrisies—are paid in full.  They were inscribed on Jesus’ body.  His throat cried out in pain as God forsook Him for them.  Then He died and was buried for our unpaid debts, as pastor, as church, as mothers, as fathers, as spouses.  Those of you who are parents know how when you sin and are negligent when you have great trust and authority given you—that is the worst guilt of all.

 

But before God, amazingly, your account is settled.  The Lord was sealed up in the vault of the tomb for our sins.  But when He was raised, sin did not return with Him.  And now He lives to constantly keep our account settled and to give us His record.

 

That is what this Supper is.  That is what the absolution is.  That is how we live as Christians and in the holy callings of pastor and hearer, mother or father or child, worker or master.

 

We live by Him declaring us clean.

 

One thing that I have a good conscience about—that what I just preached to you has always been what I taught you and kept at the center of my teaching.  I constantly taught you about the vital importance of us being sure that we have not part of God’s Word, or mostly God’s Word in this church, or that we have the main things—but that we say, “We have God’s Word pure and unmixed.”  And the reason I kept saying this was not so that we could brag about having Christ’s pure Word, as though this was because of something good in us.  I insisted on it because when we start being lax about God’s Word, we start to lose this most important, central teaching of God’s Word—that we are justified before Him solely by the blood and death of His Son, not by our works, and that this righteousness accomplished for us by Christ comes simply by believing the message that He has done it.

 

So that is how we are able to turn in our account to God and not be damned.  And you know this.

 

But in this Gospel Jesus talks about justification in another way.  He says, Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, that when you fail they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (16:9) 

 

Before God we are justified solely through Jesus’ works.  But human beings can’t see whether we have faith in Jesus.  People can see what we do.

 

I can talk all day about what Jesus did for me and how I’m saved, but if I am unwise about how I live, people, especially non-Christians, will say: “What’s the point of being a Christian?  This guy says, ‘Jesus died for me,’ but then he’s self-centered and only thinks about himself.’”

 

But a wise Christian wants to not only be justified before God, but to live in a way where other people say, “I believe Christianity must mean something by the way this person lives.  He is generous and gracious and helps people.  He lives as if he is not looking for happiness in this world but is confident of heaven.”  If we could live that way, it would give us comfort in those times when we are faced with our debts to God and the months and years when we were wasting the time and opportunity and the life He gave us.

 

But if we lived that way also we would have great joy on the day of His return.  Because then we will not only have the joy of God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  We will also have the joy of seeing those whom we helped and served who are our friends for eternity.

 

The wonderful thins it that this has already been happening among you here.

 

I know something about St. Peter’s sins and the problems it has.  I know something about mine too.

 

Yet as I preach I see many of you who love me because Christ ministered to you through me.  I know it is true, and I also know how often I have behaved sinfully and badly in this calling I was given.  Yet Christ used me and worked through me and made us friends.  You will welcome me, when I stand before our God, into the eternal dwellings.

 

Likewise you have made friends.  There are people outside the church who criticize St. Peter.  Sometimes their criticism is valid.  But you have made friends too.  There are people who say, “Because I went to St. Peter school I believe in Jesus and am headed to heaven.”  In Russia there are believers who thank God that in the midst of your troubles, you are helping them with some of your offerings.  And these good works God has done here even though you are still weak and much burdened by your sinful nature.

 

Through the years I have been here there has been difficulty and struggle and pain, and we have all done some complaining and worrying about the falling away we see around us.  But through all of it Christ has been with us to ensure that the record we have to turn in to God is clean and perfect.  In the hardship He was at work to make us cling to that good news even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea.  He was at work to knit us together in Him as one body.

 

Now He is sending me somewhere else, but just as He used you to form me as a pastor He has also been working in you to ground you in His Word.  And because you have His Word you are strong in Him.  He knows what He has in store for you.  Only be wise and use the wealth and time you have to make friends who will welcome you for eternity.

 

And keep on looking to Jesus and the record He presents to His Father for you.  Look into that record as you come to the altar, listen to it.  This is what God says about us and our whole lives.  “The true blood of Christ, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”  This God…has made my way blameless.  He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights (2 Sam. 22: 33-34)

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Again. Trinity 7 2019

jesus feeding 4000Seventh Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 8:1-9

August 4, 2019

“Again”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…Mark 8:1

 

“Again” means this wasn’t the first time; it had happened before.  There are a lot of things that happen in the Bible again and again, in one generation and the next.  God feeding people with bread in the wilderness is one of those things that happens again and again.  Time would fail if I mentioned all the times the Lord does this in the Scripture.

 

It happened more than once to the disciples of Jesus, too, which is why Mark says, “When again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…”  This wasn’t the first time.  The first time was when Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish.

 

Since something very much like this miracle had happened once before, probably not very long before, we expect that the disciples of the Lord would have seen what was coming.  This miracle seems a little strange to us.  Jesus already fed 5,000 people.  Why does He now do the same thing with 4,000?

 

But as you can see, the disciples seem to have forgotten that Jesus did this.  Jesus tells them He has compassion on the crowd; they have been with Him three days and have had nothing to eat, and if they go home with no food they are likely to faint in the road.  His disciples say, “Well, where can anyone get bread to satisfy all these people in this wilderness?”

 

But you would not expect that they would so quickly have forgotten how Jesus gave thanks for the five loaves, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to give to the five thousand men sitting on the grass.  How they went after and picked up all the broken pieces of bread and collected them in baskets and there were 12 baskets full.

 

You would think that they would remember that Jesus had taken care of them and the great crowd.  Everyone ate and was satisfied.  You would think that after seeing this miracle they would be at peace and comfort and not be afraid when they were running low on bread and when things seemed too much for them to manage.

 

But that is not how the disciples reacted.  They appear to have forgotten all about what Jesus did.  And you can hear in their words—what?  Anxiety.  You can hear that note that creeps into our voices when we talk about our troubles.  “It’s impossible,” that’s what they sound like.

 

But how could they have forgotten what Jesus did?

 

Well, let me ask you.  Have you had any difficulties in your life that caused you to worry recently?  Maybe even some this week, or earlier today?

 

And let me ask you further—have you not had other problems in the more distant past—whether in your personal life, your home, your work, at church?  And what happened with those problems in the past?  Didn’t you come through them?  You came through them and you always had food.  You survived.  You maybe even saw some almost miraculous resolution to those problems in the past.  But even if not, you were taken care of.  God was gracious to you because He is a gracious God.  He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the righteous.  He hates nothing He has made.  He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and He provides for us all, whether we believe in Christ and are saved or whether we do not believe and are His enemies.  He is kind to every person on earth and gives what we need for this life because His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.  An old Lutheran hymn says:

 

Did not His love and truth and pow’r

Guard ev’ry childhood day?

And did He not in threat’ning hour

Turn dreaded ills away?  (LSB 737 st. 4)

 

Think of how many times God has done that for you; guarded you, turned ill away, provided for you.

 

Yet, despite God faithfully providing us with food, clothing, protection, and working so many things out for us in the past, when the next trial and difficulty comes, how do you react?  Don’t you worry, fret, and fear, as though God were not taking care of you at all, as though He did not love you?

 

This is what the disciples did.  They forgot what Jesus had done before when He fed the five thousand.  They did not believe, or they believed with a weak and wavering faith, that Jesus was the God of their fathers with them in the flesh, the God who fed their fathers with bread from heaven in the desert.

 

If they had believed this firmly they would have behaved differently.  When they heard Jesus expressing His compassion for the crowd, they would have said, “Lord, we have these seven loaves, and they are not nearly enough to feed all these people.  But you can take our loaves and make them enough for this crowd.”

 

But they had not learned to say this yet.  And so they had to have the lesson again.

 

And this is how the Lord Jesus deals with us, His Church.  He teaches us this lesson again.

 

It is often a painful lesson to learn—to trust in the Lord to provide for us, His church.  It is painful because to learn it we have to experience being in want, being in need.

 

That is not new.  We have forgotten this because we have lived in a time and place where Christianity was legal and even had some social respectability, even though that respectability was superficial.  But we have become used to that and relied on it.  Now we are pretty far into a time where much of that social respectability is gone.  And with that gone, so have many people, so has money from offering plates.

 

Now we are experiencing what Christians have always really had to experience, even though we didn’t always recognize it.  We are experiencing that Christ’s Church always survives in this world only by Him providing for it.

 

We survive spiritually and have faith in Jesus through His Word and Sacraments alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.

 

But we survive physically in this world because Jesus provides for those who cling to His Word.  We do not know how His church will continue.  Christians often don’t know where the bread or the money they need to continue will come from.  What we see throughout the Scripture is that the Lord provides for His people, even if He has to send bread from heaven, or if He has to take 7 loaves and make them feed four thousand people in the desert.

 

And the Lord makes us learn this again and again because we don’t learn it quickly.

 

We should take to heart how evil this is—not to believe the Lord.  We don’t take it that seriously because we can’t help it.  But think what it means when you don’t trust Jesus to provide for you.  It means you are saying He is not good.  He is not compassionate.  We call into question His love.  We call into question His faithfulness.

 

Just think what this looks like to people we want to witness to when we are full of fear and anxiety when the Lord Jesus lets us be in need.  Our actions tell them that He is not so wonderful a Lord and we aren’t sure if He really cares about us.

 

But you see from this reading that Jesus really does care about us.  I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, He says.  The word refers to a deep compassion that comes from the guts, the kind of compassion a parent has when he has to see his child in pain.  Jesus felt this way about this crowd, just because they were hungry.  It is true that Jesus is concerned about more than just our bodies.  But He cares about our bodies too—whether we have food and drink and clothes, family and friends.  He knows what we need because He has flesh and blood just like we do.

 

And He not only cares about our physical need.  He cares even more that we learn to know His compassion and we learn to bring our needs to Him and rely on Him to provide what we lack.  When we think we have things pretty well under control, which most times we do, we never really experience the love and compassion of our God.  We think we are handling things ourselves.  But when we experience our own helplessness, when we are made to know it, then we taste how sweet the mercy of our Lord is when He helps us in our need.

 

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart,

And all is darkened in this vale of tears;

Then you will better know His love, His heart,

Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.

Be still my soul; your Jesus can repay

From His own fullness all He takes away.  (LSB 752 st. 3)

 

So when you experience need and trouble, or when you are looking at someone else’s need and trouble and you don’t have what you need to take it away from them, what is Jesus teaching you?  He is teaching you what He taught the disciples when He brought a great crowd—again—and they had no food.

 

This is like the other lesson He has to teach us again and again—that our standing before God as His people and as heirs of eternal life—is solely and completely His gift.  You would think that we already know this.  And probably if you have been here awhile you do know it intellectually.  Yet again and again He is teaching us that we have no righteousness except the righteousness He accomplished for us by His death.  And to teach us that He keeps bringing us to this meal where He gives thanks for the bread and the wine and blesses it saying, This is my body, for you.  This is my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

 

He keeps teaching us that He is good and full of compassion and that we can trust Him to the uttermost, not only with our helplessness and our need for bread.  But with our sinfulness, with our flesh that does not believe and that longs for things that are not good and does not satisfy.  Why does He continue to bring us to this meal so often, except that we learn to run to Him with our sin and unbelief and be nourished with the bread of life that makes us holy in God’s sight, His own flesh, given up for the life of the world?

 

The one who spreads this table before us will not hold back from us any good thing.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Anger and its Purification. Trinity 6, 2019

cain and abel.PNGSixth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 5:20-26

July 28, 2019

Anger and its Purification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

My dad never liked baseball or football or basketball because he was born in another country and didn’t grow up with those sports.  He liked tennis.  So did my older brother.  So when everybody else was watching the Cubs or the Sox we’d be watching Wimbledon.

 

When I was very young and just starting to learn to play tennis myself there was an American player named John McEnroe who had a very bad temper.  He screamed and swore at the umpires.  He smashed rackets.  The British press called him a brat—and he kind of was.

 

In 1980 he played a famous match against a long-haired Swede named Bjorn Borg.  Borg was the exact opposite of McEnroe in temperament.  He showed no emotion at all on the court.  But apparently when Borg started playing as a teenager in Sweden, he had been exactly like McEnroe—unable to control his temper.  But the Swedes at the tennis club would not put up with him throwing his racket and so forth and he was suspended from the club for six months.  Borg seems to have learned to channel his anger and frustration into his play.  Perhaps anger—which is unavoidable in sports as in everything else in life, especially if you care about it—ended up being a benefit to Borg because of the way he handled it.

 

Martin Luther recognized that anger can be helpful in doing the work God calls us to do.  He is quoted as saying:

I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor.  For when I wish to compose, write, pray, and preach well, I must be angry.  It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts fade away.

 

There is a godly anger that goes with the office of father and mother, with the office of pastor, of ruler, even of citizen, that is not sinful but actually helpful.  Parents probably all have experienced a time when they became very angry with their children and the children as a result listened very closely to what mom or dad had to say when they had not been listening up until that point.

 

But that is not the way anger works most of the time.  Most of the time we get mad because nobody knows how to drive, or because people think they are better than us, or because they are lazy, unreliable, and don’t keep their word.  We’re not angry because God has called us to discipline or judge in words and actions; we’re angry because people offend and irritate us.

 

This is just human nature, this propensity to get annoyed, irritated, to say harsh words and hold a grudge.  It would be nice if you could find a lot of people who always have a smile on their face, who don’t snub people, but are friendly, welcoming, kind to everyone, even to those who are rude and selfish.  But you really can’t find anyone like that.  Even those few who seem to be will tell you they get irritated and have harsh thoughts even if those thoughts don’t spill out into words or actions.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches today that this attitude of our hearts—this irritability and anger is sin.  It is not merely a mistake.  It is evidence that we are corrupt and cannot please God in the flesh.  See, it is not God’s nature—thanks be to God!—to be quick to anger.  It is not the nature of the true God to keep a record of wrongs.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13) we sing during Lent.  Imagine if God kept a record of our faults!  Every day He would have nothing good to say about us, just constant condemnation.

 

But our nature is different than God’s, even though God created us in His image.  This is what Jesus is trying to make clear in His sermon.  I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:20).   The scribes and Pharisees were the best, most devout Jews, the ones who knew Scripture the best and who were considered the most serious about keeping God’s commandments.  Jesus is telling us: You will never get into heaven unless you are far more righteous than the people you think are the most strict, the most holy.

 

Jesus is saying, You must be perfect.  And to illustrate what He means, He uses the fifth commandment: You shall not murder.  In the old days everybody learned it as: Thou shalt not kill. 

 

But then Jesus really says nothing about picking up a weapon and killing someone.  He says, Not just the killer is liable to judgment, but also everyone who is angry with his brother.  And whoever insults his brother, Jesus says, will not just have to stand before a regular court but before the Jewish supreme court (that Jesus Himself stood before the night before He was crucified).  And whoever calls his brother a fool will be liable to hellfire.

 

I know I have told this story in a sermon before, but I doubt anyone will remember it.  When I was about 12 I remember hearing this in Bible Class and suddenly becoming very scared because I knew I called kids worse than “fool” practically every day at school.  And rightly so, because Jesus is not kidding.

 

Then when Joseph was little we were driving near the mall, and I had taught him this passage of scripture.  Then some guy cut me off and I yelled out that he was a fool and Joseph gasped, “Dad!” with fear in his eyes.

 

And rightly so, because I had broken the fifth commandment.  I didn’t take a gun and shoot him.  But in my heart toward that person was the seed that was in Cain’s heart that grew up and produced the fruit of his brother’s blood.  It seems far fetched maybe.  Most of the time we are content with a partial righteousness.  If we don’t do anything that gets us in trouble or makes us look really bad a lot of us are content with that.

 

But that is not righteousness in the eyes of God.  Righteousness is that you love your neighbor as yourself and God with all your heart.  Righteousness in God’s eyes is that you and I see the well-being of our neighbor in this life and in the life to come as of equal importance to our own well-being.  `

 

I can tell you, friends, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, and I know you will believe me—I really want for myself to go to heaven.  I fear hell and God’s wrath.  I also want to see God’s face and be free from sin and death forever.

 

Yet often I do not love my neighbor.  I get irritated with him or her.  Sometimes I even grumble about them or call them names.  But Jesus says you and I must have a righteousness far beyond this if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We must have a new nature, a new heart that sincerely loves our neighbor.

 

When I think about our synod’s declining attendance, I often think of all the things that draw people away from Christ and His church that didn’t used to be there.  But just as often I wonder whether it isn’t the case that we have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4) as Jesus told the church in Ephesus in the opening chapters of Revelation.  I see this in myself and in other pastors as well as in laypeople.  We are so concerned with ourselves and our own problems, and not very concerned with the salvation of our neighbors, even as a whole generation is growing up not going to church at all, not hearing the bible read.

 

That is why Jesus preaches this sermon.  It is to show his hearers, many or most of whom were decent, church-going people, that this did not pass before God.  When you are angry you are a murderer.  You need a new nature if you are going to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And if you will not forgive or be reconciled to those who sin against you, how do you expect to be reconciled to God?

 

Jesus continues this sermon for two more chapters.  It is not a sermon rich with good news.  It is a Law sermon.  God’s Law is good, but it is not good news.  Not for us.  A hymn says it well:

 

The Law of God is good and wise

And sets His will before our eyes,

Shows us the way of righteousness,

And dooms to death when we transgress.  (LSB 579 st. 1)

 

The good news is the One who preaches this sermon, Jesus.  The Law of God [was] in [His] heart, as the psalm says (Ps. 40), and He came to fulfill the Father’s will and His commands.  He has come and completed, with a pure heart, all of God’s holy commandments, including the fifth commandment.  There were only a few times when Jesus got angry, despite all the wickedness He saw on earth.  He never got angry when people mistreated Him personally, but only in service to God’s word.

 

Instead, Jesus helped people in their physical need.  Remember how Luther explains the commandment:  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.  And Jesus did this.  He preached God’s Word and cared for people’s souls, but he also provided bread and fish to the crowd, wine to the wedding at Cana, and healing to all manner of sick and suffering people.  Jesus loved His neighbor—both those who did Him good and those who did Him ill.  He still does.

 

And what is even more wonderful is that He offers His obedience to us, He promises it to us, so that you and I have the righteousness that is superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, the righteousness that enables us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

He says to those of us who struggle with unrighteous anger, who are tempted by it, “Come, and I will cover your wrath, your murder, with my wounds and death.”

 

And to those who seem mostly to have it under control, “Come, and I will give you a better righteousness, a heart like mine, so that you not only contain your anger but that you overflow with love toward those that anger you.”

 

That is what He holds out to you in the Gospel.  He holds out to you His perfect righteousness, His perfect obedience to the Law, and His death that perfectly atones for your transgressions.  And along with this forgiveness comes His Spirit, who changes your heart so that it produces love, gentleness, and mercy.

 

This is the reason that in these last days He spreads this table before it, where the bread and wine will become His true body and blood—so that we may receive the righteousness that gives us entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

He Has Done All Things Well. Trinity 12, 2018

jesus heals deaf mute.PNGTwelfth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 7:31-37

August 19, 2018

He Has Done All Things Well

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  Mark 7:37

 

This is what the crowds said about Jesus in Galilee two thousand years ago.  “You have to see this Jesus of Nazareth.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  He has done all things well.”

 

They did not realize what they were saying because, like most people today, they thought Jesus a holy man, but nothing more.  But the words they used to describe Jesus are the words God uses to describe His work in creating the world.  And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.  Gen. 1:31

 

God did all things well when He made the world and all that is in it.  Even people who know nothing of God recognize the goodness of His work, even in this fallen world, because His work is life.  Every day we are confronted with the goodness of God’s work despite the pain and evil that is in the world.  We see it in the faces of our children and grandchildren.  We see it in the mountains and the sea and the sunrise and the stars and moon.  We breathe it in with the air.  We taste and eat the goodness of God’s work at the table.  We put it on in the morning when we get dressed.

 

And even when we see the things that human beings have done well, these are still God’s works.  Humans make symphonies only because God made the laws of sound.  We build towers, but God made stone and steel, and He made the mind of man creative like Himself.

 

But even though the goodness of God’s Work remains in the world, we also wake up every day to a world that cannot be said to be good.  We turn on the television and death appears to greet us, and fires, and poverty, and suffering.  And if we don’t turn on the television, we see the evil in the world every day anyway.  We see it in the faces of our children too, even when we try to hide our faces from it.  We see it in the natural world when it is spoiled to satisfy man’s greed for profit.  We eat and drink it when we eat and drink more than we need and we forget about it until the doctor tells us we’re sick.  We put on our clothes in the morning to hide from ourselves the evil that is in the world, that takes its toll on us, day by day, as we grow older and approach the time when we will no longer see the sun and the good works of God in the land of the living.

 

God’s good work gave us life in the beginning, and He continues to do this work today.  He has done all things well.  He is still doing all things well.  He sustains the world and the life He created the same way He made it—by His powerful Word.  The life of the world is His Work.  It is not the work of random chance, as the popular myths of our wise men run.  Nor is life and prosperity and human achievement our work, as people believe, even Christians.  Life and everything good in this world is the work of God by means of His Word.  He is the Lord of life.  This world and the goodness in it continues because He continues His Work of creating, of giving life.

 

What is not good in creation is our work.  Everything from the wrinkles on our skin, to deafness and muteness, to war and disease, is our work.  We can take the credit and the glory for those things, because God did not do them.  We did when we turned away from God’s Word by which He gives life.  That is the cause of them all, and the most serious result is that we, by nature, no longer know or recognize or thank the God who gave life.

 

Today many, many people in the developed world (as we call it) no longer believe in God.  Or they vaguely believe that there is some supreme being, but they make no effort to seek or know Him.  Other than that they seem to be decent people, many of them—they don’t steal, are fairly honest and compassionate by our present standards.  Yet God calls this the chief of all sins—to not know Him and trust, fear, and love Him above all things.  It is the root of all sin, to not love God above all things and look to Him for everything good.  To look to yourself, or to false gods or human philosophies to give you life and what you need to keep living.

 

But now we have Jesus.  Even sinful men recognize He has done all things well, even giving life to the deaf and mute, opening the ears of the deaf, loosing their tongues.  He does the works of God because, unbeknownst even to the crowds spreading His praise throughout Galilee, He is God.  He is the Creator incarnate, having become one of His creatures who have fallen away from Him and no longer worship or know Him.

 

And down among us He continues to do all things well.  He continues to give life, to create out of nothing.  Out of deaf ears He creates the ability to hear.  Out of speechless tongues He gives the ability to talk plainly.  He makes human beings whole and alive where their lives are impaired and they are dying.

 

Why does He do this?  He is showing that He intends to repair our evil works.  Our closing our ears to God’s Word, beginning with Adam, brought us death.  Most of you here this morning and listening on the radio know death.  Most of you are not young, and death is now much more real to us than it was to us when we were children and when we were just beginning our lives as adults.  Our world tries to philosophize death away.  “It’s a part of life,” we say.  It is a part of life now, but in the beginning it was not so, God says.  He created a world in which there was life and no death.  It is our work that we now have to accept our lives passing away, our beauty, our strength, our minds fading, loved ones torn away from us.

 

Jesus has come to repair what we have brought on ourselves.  That is what He shows by healing this deaf man.  Though we brought death on ourselves, He does not want to leave us in death.  He does not want us to remain bound by death, crippled, sick, bent over, deaf, mute, blind.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, says Jesus (John 10: 10).  The Creator becomes one of us to undo our evil works and give us abundant life.  What kind of grace is this?

 

Is this not good news?  Do you not want what the Creator has come to give?  Do you not want life?

 

Then how do we receive life, new life, from Him?  The same way we did in the beginning.  God spoke, and it came to be.  He calls that which is not as though it were; He calls into being that which does not exist (Rom. 4:17).

 

Through His Word Jesus restores life to us in body and soul.  Indeed He does more than restore life—He gives new life, a better life than at the first Creation, when there was no death.  He gives us His own life as sons and heirs of God.  And He gives it by recreating us, making us good, making us a new creation through faith in His Word that shows Him crucified and dead for our sins and resurrected for our righteousness.

 

He takes us aside and makes us see our works. Death was our work when we turned aside from the God who created us.  Not just that.  He makes you see that death is your work, not just ours.  It is the work you did by sinning.  You were born in sin, and when you learned God’s commandments you repeated the sins of Adam and disobeyed God.  You did not love God with your whole heart. You have ignored His Word.  Even you, the Christian.  You did not call upon God’s name with your whole heart and look to Him alone for everything good.  And from that comes all your other bad works—gossip, vengeance, anger, cursing, lies, lust, coveting, disobedience to parents, mistreatment of your spouse, pride, complacency.

 

He opens your ears so that you hear God say these awful words in His Law and pronounce His judgment on you.

 

And then He speaks another word that looses your soul just as the mute man’s tongue was loosed.  He says, Your sins are forgiven you, a word just as strange as Ephphatha to us who by nature deny we have real sins or that they need to be forgiven.  By this word He opens you to God.

 

When Jesus was baptized He saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending on Him like a dove.  God the Father was not only declaring Jesus His well-beloved Son but showing that He was opening up heaven to human beings through Jesus.  Pouring out life, eternal life, restoration through Jesus.

 

In Holy Baptism God opened you up to this life because He placed you in Jesus, into His death and destruction of your sin, of the old corrupt world and humanity, and into His resurrection, into His new life to God, the firstborn of a new human race.

 

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone; behold, the new has come.  (2 Cor. 5:17) 

 

The Creator has become a man to do all things well, to create you anew.  Not merely to cure wrinkles, to give us the body of a twenty year old, to make the deaf hear and the mute speak, like a divine elective surgeon.  He has come to make us open to God, to give us a world where there is nothing but God’s good works and none of our bad ones and where neither He nor we will ever die again (Rom. 6).  To make us free from our bad works and the death they bring.  This comes through His mighty Word, that created you in the beginning, that has recreated you as God’s son and heir in Holy Baptism, pouring out His holy name on you in the water.  The same word opens your ears to see the merciful Creator take your sins away with the body that was pierced for your transgressions and the blood poured out to reconcile you to God.  It invites you to take and eat, take and drink the body and blood of the Creator, given for your sins so that you may share His eternal life.

 

He who has done all things well in His death and Resurrection comes to make you well.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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