Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

Portrait of a Hardened Sinner. Walther.

August 6, 2015 1 comment

waltherAt the close of our text we read: “And he,” that is, Christ,” taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him.” V. 47. After they had become blind to that which belonged to their peace, after they had lost all fear of God’s judgment, they fell from this sin into another without considering it sin; the most bitter enmity grew from their contempt of Christ, until finally they plotted to murder him, the Innocent, and did not rest until their bloodthirstiness was appeased by seeing Christ on the cross.

In their example you see the condition of a person who is hardened. He has fallen so far that he no longer knows what belongs to his peace. In vain God’s Word is preached to him; he no longer knows what belongs to his peace. His heart is hard as a rock. Though the Gospel with all its strength and comfort is preached to him, though Christ is presented ever so movingly in his love of sinners, and though he is in an ever so friendly and urgent a manner incited and enticed, it does not move the hardened person. And though the Law is preached to him in all its threatening severity, though God is described in his frightening righteousness and holiness, and though he is ever so earnestly admonished and warned, it does not move the hardened person. Though grace or wrath, life or death, blessing or curse, heaven or hell, salvation or damnation is presented to him, it is all the same to the hardened person…

…as little as God’s Word enlightens, awakens, and moves a hardened person to repent, so little do also the events of his life, which God permits him to experience. If all goes well, he does not let his heart become soft; the more love God shows him, the more secure, proud, and impudent he becomes, the more he believes that he is in no trouble. On the other hand, if things do not go well, he absolutely refuses to let himself be humbled. Then he murmurs against the Ruler of his fate, and insolently reviles the Almighty in heaven.

Finally, he comes to the point where he no longer feels any sin. His conscience is branded; it no longer carries out its duty; it no longer accuses him; it has become silent. He does only what he wishes without fearing God’s punishment; he becomes a declared enemy of Christ, his work, his Christians, and finally even persecutes them. The tears of anxious parents, brothers, sisters, former fellow-believers, and friends are in vain; the hardened laughs at those who sympathize with him and thus he hurries to meet the day of the revelation of God’s righteous judgment, hell and damnation.

C. F. W. Walther, “Sermon on the Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity”

Why Preachers Wear Black

March 16, 2013 2 comments

Valentin Andreaes BarettHT:

Thanks to the Rev’d. Ronald Marshall, who I hope won’t mind that I am reposting it.

Wearing Black

By Pastor Marshall

Preachers wear black so they can visually reinforce the message of the church: “Declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The toughest part of that message is convincing the world that it is sunk in darkness. So pastors wear black to help make this point – first to themselves and then to others. For black clothes are a visual reminder of the wickedness that plagues us. Gaily colored Hawaiian clerical shirts, then, are not only silly for pastors to wear, but deleterious to the very message of the church.

Now it is this dark side of the message of the church that especially challenges us. It leaves us wondering why the world is so mired down in “wickedness” and “darkness” (Ephesians 6:12)? Why is it “one big whorehouse, completely submerged in greed” (Luther’s Works 21:180)? The reason is because we, who populate it, are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), who have rebelled against the will of God. And it is because of that rebellion that the world is so bad. If it weren’t for us, the world never would have been cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). For it is our killing, oppressing, lying, stealing, fornicating and running after false gods, that turns the world into such a bad place.

This message is hard to sell because of its severity. Nobody wants to believe it. Remember that they hated Jesus precisely because he told them the same thing (John 7:7). But that doesn’t make it any less true. Therefore we should not throw out this dreary message because it is harsh. We should instead fight for it with the best “arguments” we can muster (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)! We must learn to make the case against ourselves – with our love of money, pleasure and self (2 Timothy 3:2-4). We must learn to debunk the illusion that we are fine, just the way we are – arguing instead that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). And we can do this in at least five ways.

First we must show that this rebellion has corrupted the entire world – being now fully “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It’s not just a corner of the world that sucks. The whole place is evil. So if we befriend the world in any way, we make ourselves enemies of God (James 4:4)! Therefore “love not the world nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

And next we must show that we have been made thoroughly evil by our rebellion and disobedience – “from the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness” in us (Isaiah 1:6), for indeed, “nothing good dwells within” us (Romans 7:18). So we cannot say that some part of us has somehow escaped the ravages of sin. No, there’s nothing left that’s clean (Job 14:4). So when we, for instance, manage to do something godly, good and glorious, we can’t take credit for it, knowing full well that this goodness comes from Christ who “dwells in” us and not from our own natures (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 3:5). So even when we behave well we must still confess: “I can do nothing good” (Luther’s Works 53:117).

Third, our rebellion even makes the good things we do turn sour. So we learn that before the Lord, “all our righteous deeds are but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). This is so even when these good deeds benefit others. For as far as we are concerned, those same deeds cannot benefit us – making us more valuable and worthy. This is because we ruin them with the pride we take in them – rather than giving all the glory to God for them (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Fourth we must show how our rebellion has roots outside of ourselves — going down into the very nature of the human race – for “one man’s trespass led to the condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). So we cannot break ourselves loose from the darkness that engulfs us – O “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Our sin is just too deep-seated for that to happen. It comes from Adam and Eve, when they fell from grace and goodness through their disobedience in the Garden of Eden long ago (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This makes our problem truly intractable. As a result, we are in fact slaves to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20-21).

And fifth we must show that our darkness is very costly – condemning us to the eternal punishments of hell, where the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), Indeed, the torments of the condemned “go up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11).

Now very few people believe all of this. Many even make fun of it. So we need all the help we can get to present this message in a compelling way. Because of that fact alone, it is a good idea for pastors to wear black. By so doing, the leaders of the church are leading the charge. And when they do, and when you encourage them to do so, you will know that it is because of the dark message of the church that it matters so much for pastors to wear black.

(Reprinted and revised from The Messenger, September 1999)

Categories: Sin

The Father is Well Pleased with the Cross of Jesus. Transfiguration/ Life Sunday Sermon

January 20, 2013 1 comment

P1000266Transfiguration Sunday [Life Sunday]

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 17:1-9

January 20, 2013

“The Father is well-pleased with Jesus’ cross”




[The Father is well-pleased with Jesus’ cross.

  1. 1.        We are pleased with our work and think it brings life.
  2. 2.       The Father is well-pleased with Jesus’ cross because it does bring life to you.]


“I was single, living with some friends, had a good job, and was having a good time. Having a baby just wasn’t in the cards. I told the father, and he said he had no intention of marrying me. He made his intentions quite clear right from the get-go. I had no desire to marry him either. I didn’t think a child was the right reason to get married. He said he’d pay for an abortion. Adoption was, quite truthfully, not an option I ever considered…At the time I thought that I could never give a child up, but now I look back and wonder how I could have done what I did. Giving it up would have been so much better. I didn’t really think of this as being a little person. It was a purely selfish decision. All I thought was, “What am I going to do now? This is a problem, and I have to take care of it.” I went to the doctor, and he suggested a clinic. It all happened so quickly. Looking back, I didn’t agonize. I had to make a decision; something had to be done.”


Those words come from a collection of stories told by women who have had an abortion, and you can find them at the top of the bulletin.  Further on the same woman explains how she has tried to deal with the regret and guilt that came to her later as she looked at the children God gave her in her marriage, wondering whether the child she aborted would have been a boy or a girl, whether the child is in heaven.  “I just don’t think about things that trouble me.  I push them down.” 


She goes on to describe what she thinks about God’s forgiveness: “I hear the pastor saying that it doesn’t matter how great our sins are, that God forgives us.  But I think, ‘But mine are really bad.’  I guess I believe that my sins are forgiven, but a lot of times I have a lot of trouble feeling that they are forgiven.”


There will be people hearing this sermon who have had an abortion or paid for a woman to have one.  Others have been involved in other sins against God’s gift of life.  They should hear at the outset of the sermon, now: God put away your sin on the cross of Jesus.  Don’t despair.  Listen to God’s beloved Son who says “Do not be afraid.”


Others know someone who has had an abortion.  And there are those who do not.  Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of legal abortion in the United States, but it has been done in this country for much longer than that. 


Regardless, the confession of this woman is not only her confession, and not only the confession of people who have had an abortion.  St. Peter could relate with it.  Like her, he also followed the wisdom of his flesh, called God’s work “bad” and tried to replace it with his own work.  Like her he also tried to gain life for himself in his own way, apart from God’s word.  He also fell into grave sin and would have despaired if Jesus had not restored him with His absolution.



What was true of Peter is true of all of us.  Apart from the Holy Spirit

  1. 1.        We are pleased with our work and think it brings life, but
  2. 2.       the Father is well-pleased with Jesus’ cross because it truly brings life to you.

Read more…

My Lucky Day

November 5, 2012 1 comment

Today my blog got the most views it’s ever gotten. Over two hundred.

About 180 of those views all came in the space of an hour or so, and they all went to one post; a post of self-examination questions on the 4th commandment.

Now that seems like a strange post to suddenly become more popular than anything I ever put on here before, including the one or two things I wrote that got published on Brothers of John the Steadfast.

So it turns out that if you type “hess 2012” into Yahoo’s search engine and then go to image search, way down on about the 7th page you will find the picture above.

That is a picture of my grandfather, Lyndon Roth Hess, making a ridiculous face when he was about 10 years old.  In between him and the old man (who incidentally looks a lot like my grandpa did when he got older—when I knew him) is I guess his brother.  Probably Lawrence, my great uncle who I never met because he died while a medical missionary in China with Hudson Taylor’s mission outfit.

The old man is my grandpa’s maternal grandpa, Sebastian Roth.  They all lived in Buffalo, NY.

My grandpa, in his own telling of the story, was not a particularly pious kid.  His mother was a Plymouth Brethren convert and combined fundamentalism and piety with emotional instability.  This is what my dad told me.  My grandpa wouldn’t have agreed with that, I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, you have here a picture of my grandfather behaving either rambunctiously or angrily.  This kind of behavior reminds me of my childhood.  One time my grandpa took me into his office when I was a teenager sort of getting into trouble and told me how when he was in high school he had to get rid of most of his friends because they were getting him into trouble.  Apparently he had a habit of skipping school to play handball.  Way back in 1919 or so.

Somehow my grandpa become pious and disciplined and managed to weave the threads of Plymouth Brethren piety into the tapestry of his self-understanding and the destiny that came out of it.  Later on in life he went to Wheaton College, where he was a cross country and mile runner of some success.  Family lore says that the Plymouth Brethren missionary board sent him to Africa at just such a time that it made it impossible for him to run in the Olympics, which he otherwise would have been able to do.  But that may be a story invented by family members with an ax to grind against the Assemblies (as they call themselves), because my grandpa denied that he would have gone to the Olympics.

After that he spent decades in Zambia where he built and ran a school for missionary children, as well as a small infrastructure for it, and did some missionary work with the Lunda people.

What would have happened if my grandfather had woven the threads given to him a little differently?  Say the thread of religion and piety given to him by his mother had been accommodated by embracing theology on his father’s side of the family, which was (I think) German Reformed, and if not nominal perhaps less colored by the emotional injury that seems to have come from his mother’s side of the family?

Who knows?  It seems from my perspective—which is probably wholly inaccurate—that my grandpa screwed the lid down on the sickness that may have come down through his mother from his grandfather (pictured here), and set out ambitiously to accomplish something for God.  His abilities accomplished some remarkable things, Lord Jim style, out a million miles from where anyone would ever notice it.  He did this in the name of God.  My dad’s life seems to have been a rejection of his father’s, during which demons repressed in my grandfather came out and wreaked fury on the universe through my dad.  But then my dad, later in life, came to terms with God, still not able to free himself completely from his father’s influence and the religion of his childhood.  He came to terms with God but I don’t think he ever came to terms with his father.  When I was around 20 I asked my dad if he loved his dad.  He said something like, “I’m not angry at him,” or “I respect him.”

And now, unpleasantly, I consider—how much of my life is a replay of the narrative of my grandpa’s life?  My life is also built on or around the religion of my mother.  I also turned to a strict theology to find God and some kind of help with the demons that threatened to eat me alive.

All of which in a way could be a novel, and it is also a meditation on the 4th commandment.  “Honor your father and your mother.”  I have the impression that my grandpa rejected his father.  My dad rejected his dad.  Much of my life has been a reaction against my father.  What does that do to your life?  You have to honor your father, even if he bequeathed his sin to you, and even if he scarred you and failed you by neglect or abuse.  Otherwise you will spend your life railing against authority and then railing against those who are committed to your care because of the way they dishonor you.

But basically the 180 people who went and looked at this post didn’t even care about the 4th commandment or this whole story.  If even 5 people do, that would be something.  Around 200 of them just happened to stumble on the picture and probably thought it was funny, which it is.


If one were to consider this—both the real meaning of the picture (for me), the even more important 4th commandment of God, and the fact that I got more views on my website by total accident when people were concerned about neither the 4th commandment, nor my grandpa, nor my blog—one might be moved to laugh at the complete absurdity of the way we take ourselves and our thoughts and our histories seriously.  One might laugh at the absurdity of fame.  Or of search engines and their awesome power over people’s lives.  But who has time to consider things, unless that leads to you getting something you want?

The stupid stories we make up about the things that happen in our lives—is there any value to our doing that?  But we have to do it in order to live, don’t we?

It reminds me of a sentence from Lord Jim—“a man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea.”  And then, says the character in the book who is philosophizing about this, the young man must keep the dream but not submerge himself in it.  The dream, like the ocean, can propel him up into reality and keep him alive.  Or it can drown him.

The verses I read from the Bible in meditation today were from the end of Romans 11.  “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unfathomable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or been His counselor?”

I don’t know how God would tell the story of my grandfather, my father, and me, and my son if we were in the Bible, like in the book of kings.  I don’t understand God’s telling of the story of my congregation or my pastorate.

I have learned that I must believe God when He promises to cause all the events of my life to work out for good and for blessing, even if I sin and fail miserably.

He repeated His promise to Abraham to Jacob, even though Jacob didn’t really believe Him the first time at Bethel, and didn’t appear to believe Him when He was coming back to see Esau.  But Jacob did wrestle with God and say, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

The narratives I have in my head about my life are mostly delusional.  I’m a liar like Jacob was.  Then I deceive myself and forget that God is just and that I deserve the sorrows that I have.  I deserve worse, much worse.

But even though my stories of what God is doing are usually self-serving, He still has promised to do me good.  Good often means that my delusional stories are nailed to the cross, and I slowly realize that God has been righteous and kind, and repaid my lies and arrogance with patience.  Remember how God showed up to Jacob at Bethel and promised to bless him?  The first thing Jacob does is jump up and say, “God, if you will be with me and bless me, I will serve you”?

Wait a second, why are you making deals when He just promised to bless you unilaterally, even though you stole the blessing from your brother?  Why are you trying to take credit for God blessing you, as though you initiated this?


That’s what I’ve been like with God.  I always have tried to snatch good things out of the world because I didn’t trust that God would be gracious and give them to me.  But like Jacob I was delusional.  God has shown me favor even though I made things worse with every attempt to be worthy or to take a blessing.  I thought I was accomplishing things when He was allowing me to take them.

When we wrestle with God and demand a blessing, He lets us win.  When the tenants of the vineyard killed the son so that they could have the vineyard, that was only because God willed that they should take his life and have what was his.  He willed for us to dress up like Jesus and receive His blessing, like Jacob dressed up like Esau.

The Lord my life arranges; who can His work destroy?

In His good time He changes all sorrow into joy.

So let me then be still.  My body, soul, and spirit

His tender care inherit according to His will.


Prayer About the Hardness of my Heart

July 27, 2012 4 comments

Georg Zeaemann, 1580-1638

282.  Lament of a Poor Sinner over his Heart’s Impenitence

I come to You, my heavenly Father, a miserable, terrified sinner, bringing nothing but sin and vanity.  Because of my sins I may not lift up my eyes to Your high and holy majesty, but instead be ashamed that I have so often provoked Your wrath and disobeyed Your voice. 

Oh God!  There is nothing good in me; I was conceived and born in sin; my nature is completely corrupt and turned aside, so that I have no desire or love for godliness or Your heavenly gifts.  Instead I feel within me affection only for earthly glory, sensuality, and all manner of wickedness.  I have lived in sin since my childhood, and I still live in sin, and I will live in sin so long as I wear this sinful flesh of Adam.

But I comfort myself, dear Lord, with Your immeasurable, unmerited, unending, and unspeakable grace and mercy which You have promised to all repentant sinners in Your Word, and which You have confirmed with a holy oath [Hebrews (7?)].  I comfort myself with the costly service of Your only-begotten Son, Who was handed over on account of my sins, and raised for my justification [Romans 4.23-25]. 

O heavenly Father, hide Your face from my sins [Psalm 51], and look on the face of Your Son [Psalm 84:9], Who Himself never committed sin—still more, Who knew no sin—but Who through His all-holy obedience, blood, and death has made satisfaction for my sins and the sins of the whole world.  For the sake of this Savior, receive me again in Your grace, O Father and let His bitter suffering and death, and the precious and complete redemption-price which He has paid for my sins, not be lost on me, a poor sinner, but instead work powerfully.  For this I will give You glory and praise, here temporally and there eternally. 


Georg Zeämann, Superintendant (Bishop) of Stralsund (1580-1638)

Stralsund is in NE Pomerania…near where my mother’s people came from.


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