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

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sower van gogh.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 4, 2018

Seed, not Soil

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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To You A Savior Has Been Born. Christmas Midnight 2017

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

baby_jesus_touches_lamb_The Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2017

To You The Savior and Lord Is Born

 

Jesus

 

It had been a long time since there had been any kings in David’s house.

 

King David lived a thousand years before Joseph.  Joseph didn’t even have any family left in the ancestral hometown of Bethlehem.  When he went to be registered, he had to stay at an inn, like a tourist.  And there wasn’t even room in the inn for him and his pregnant, not-yet-wife Mary.

 

So when Joseph’s son—or to be precise, when his step-son—was born in a cave, or a stable, a place probably filled with the smell of animals, in which there was the manger where Jesus slept His first night on earth, no one imagined that this baby was a king.

 

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth didn’t arouse confidence that this child was a king or a Savior.  Do you think Mary and Joseph were upset when she had to give birth to her firstborn son among goats or sheep or cows or donkeys, where they not only “were feeding” but also relieving themselves, neighing and grunting?  Did Mary cry to have to go into labor here for the first time?

 

Even if a firstborn son was just a normal child, you would be sorry if he came into the world among animals instead of people.  But a Savior and a King being born like this?  And not just any king, but the promised One of God, who is not merely anointed a King and Savior but is Himself “the Lord”, as the angel said?  Who would kneel before a king whose life begins like this?  How could a king like this save others?  How will he rule others?  A child without even a hotel roof over his head, pushed out to be born with animals.  He looks to us like He needs to be saved, not like He will save us.  He looks like the kind of child we collect coats and mittens for in the winter.  What kind of king will He be, who is helpless, meek, with no place to lay His head even when He comes into the world?

 

The kind of King who is crowned with thorns, whom the crowds acclaim by shouting “Crucify!”

 

That has always been the objection to Jesus the Christ, the stumbling block to the world.  There have always been those who mocked Jesus openly as weak and foolish.  There have also been those who dishonor Him more quietly, who claim Him as Lord, and yet practically do not believe Jesus will or can do much.

 

But Christians are also offended at Jesus’ apparent weakness.  His own disciples simply cannot believe that if He is the Christ and the Son of God that He will be mocked and killed by those who hate Him.  When it happens they abandon Him.

 

And Jesus’ disciples today, the baptized, even those who are baptized and truly believe that He is their King, their Savior, their Lord—still stumble at how Jesus’ Kingdom appears to our eyes weak or non-existent.  We stumble at the apparent weakness of the things He uses to extend the borders of His Kingdom.  He does not conquer with swords or guns, with powerful speech, with skillful manipulation of emotions or appealing to what the world thinks it needs.  His Kingdom advances through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21).  He comes and conquers through preaching, robs the devil of men’s souls with humble water joined to His Word, and preserves what He has taken with bread and wine joined with His Word.  That is the Lord Jesus’ way; those means are the means He chose to have His reign spread and to save souls.

 

It has been a long time since the days of the apostles, when they went out with only those things of the Lord, and faith in Christ spread across the entire Roman world until the pagan emperor’s knee bowed at the name of Jesus.

 

It has been a long time, 500 years, since the Reformation, when Martin Luther did nothing else that proclaim the good news of a Savior born to us, and the kingdom of the antichrist was torn open.  It was a long time ago.  Times have changed.  I wish you could have heard people say this to you as many times as all sorts of different people have said it to me.

 

The foolishness of preaching Christ might have been enough in Paul’s time (although Paul says it was regarded as foolishness by people then).  It might have been enough in Luther’s time (although Luther complained that people did not listen to the Word in his day either.)  But today everything is different.  Our kids need more than just the preaching of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus, the body and blood of Jesus; just Jesus isn’t enough to save my kids and make them holy, so that they love God and listen to His Word.  And the empty pews, and the vacant Sunday School seems to say, “Amen.”

 

I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people; for to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  So preached the angel on the first Christmas Eve.  But today almost every mouth says, “Maybe that good news is enough to save your soul by itself, but it isn’t enough to save our churches.”  The baby in the manger is weak, despised—in Bethlehem, in this stable or cave here, in the manger in which He lies today—the pulpit, the altar.  Who will worship Him and believe He is a Savior and a King when He lies in the manger of preaching and sacraments, surrounded by the dishonorable aroma of weak and sinful people and the braying of boring preachers instead of the ornaments by which we recognize kings and winners?  Who will worship a king who insists on being found in a stable?

 

According to the Gospel we heard tonight, the army of heaven will.  The angels will worship the Lord in a stable, and a little number of people on whom God’s favor rests.  They will come like the shepherds to the manger in which Christ lies among His people who believe in Him.  They will not be turned away by the fact that He lies in “mean estate where ox and ass are feeding,” by the small number who come to see Him, while most of Bethlehem sleeps by their fires in the inn or their homes.  They will come to the Church, to the manger in which the Lord, the promised King, the Savior, lies.

 

How sad it is on this Christmas Eve to think how many of us—not just the world outside—let ourselves be turned away from the infant Lord who wants to be found among us!  Many of us do not come to the place where He is found.  We stay away from His Church and do not come to see the Lord who has been born for us.

 

And others of us do come.  But we ourselves doubt that what is here in church is the Lord the angels worship.  The stable is not full. The handful here are lowly shepherds. He must not be much of a King.  Really He needs a Savior, we say, if He wants His Kingdom to grow in our day.  He needs salvation from church consultants and extra-talented pastors and church workers.

 

He does not need their help, beloved.  The baby we heard about, wrapped in swaddling clothes, comforted by His mother’s lullabies, causes the armies of angels to kneel and the demons to beg.  The angels see Jesus among the smelly animals and they suddenly erupt in praise, in joy.  And this Lord is with us.  He had become flesh, and in humility He lies in the manger of the words preached here, the straw of this bread that we eat, so that we may take Him as our own.

 

The world does not flock to His manger because it is a world in great darkness.  It is a world in which people do not have good will toward God.  Unless His favor rests on us we can’t see His light.

 

But listen to the angel speak to you: Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.

 

To you has the Savior been born.  He has not been born for us to save Him; He has been born to save us.  To save us, who decline to come where He is adore Him.  To save us, who do come, but doubt the power, wisdom, and majesty of this baby who comes to us at this altar.

 

To you this Savior was born.  For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  While He lies in the manger, all things in the world exist through Him, hold together in Him, exist for Him.  This baby who needs to be swaddled by His mother speaks and the sea is still and the howling storm is quiet.  Creation obeys Him as it did at the beginning.

 

He reigns in His Church.  The burden of the government of the Kingdom of God is on His shoulder.  He dispenses justice.  He bears on His shoulder the burden of punishing the guilty and justifying the righteous.  The burden of His government is the cross laid on His shoulder.  You were born in deep darkness, not knowing the Lord who made you.   But He justifies you of this crime; He pronounces you righteousness.  To do this He joins you in wretchedness and helplessness; He is born among the animals and later carries the heavy beam of God’s curse away from the city called by God’s name.  He is pierced and affixed to it and from it He bestows righteousness.  He reigns in our midst by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to us who are unable to free ourselves from it.  He gives His blood to us to drink and His flesh to be our food; He gives Himself to be our life.

 

To you is born a Savior who is not only King, but Lord—I AM, the God of Israel.

 

It is not that He is weak.  He is mighty beyond our comprehension.  If He showed this we would run away.  He comes as a baby with no majesty so that sinners will not be afraid.  So that no one who is poor, or born in low estate, or made low through whatever sin, will think he is too lowly to come to this Lord.

 

His almighty power is hidden but is for us.  In His weak appearance, He takes on what we are far too weak to even struggle against—the power of sin and death.  If you have struggled against sin and lost, that is why the Lord of the world is swaddled and lying in the manger.  Born without sin, He becomes like us who sin and death wraps up.  And He will go on to bring sin and death to an end by His death on the cross.  The omnipotent power of the eternal Word is hidden under the appearance of weakness like ours so that He might keep the promise of God to Eve at the beginning of the world and crush the head of the serpent.

 

The days of the apostles was long ago.  So was the reformation.  But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The mighty Lord who shared the weakness of our infancy is the same Lord who comes in the foolishness of human preaching and saves you individually and His whole Church.  His mighty word brings His holy birth and victory over sin to you and makes it your own.  It releases you from the devil’s power by forgiving your sins.  Through Him who is preached we, His Church, bruise the serpent’s head.  We conquer with Him; we will reign with Him.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.

 

And through the humility of the Lord Jesus, who put Himself lower than us, we are coaxed to come near to the Almighty, to fear not, and receive the free gift of this child who has been born to us.  Our Lord and God, our Savior, and our own flesh and blood.

 

Hither come, ye poor and wretched,

Know His will/ Is to fill

Every hand outstretched.

Here are riches without measure;

Here forget/ all regret

Fill your hearts with treasure.  WH 20, st. 11

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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

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

St. Peter Lutheran Church

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

October 1, 2017

Jesus Raises us Up: Divine Service and Scripture

 

Jesus

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

But what happened after that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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

wormy fruitEighth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 6, 2017

“Testing Fruit”

Iesu iuva

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You must examine the fruits of those who preach.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Sexagesima

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

St. Luke 8:4-15

Feb. 19, 2017

“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

The Word they still shall let remain

Nor any thanks have for it;

He’s by our side upon the plain

With His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life,

Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone,

Our vict’ry has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth.  LSB 656 st 4

 

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

 

[*(edited

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.

 

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

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Preachers Should Be Like Naughty Kids–R. Capon

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment

walther pointing to bible

 

 

Preachers Should Be Like Naughty Kids–R. Capon

I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough  to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and  flush them all down the drain…  But preachers  can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the  God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus.

Thoughts on a Six-Year Old Sermon

January 18, 2013 5 comments

2013-01-17 St. Peter neighborhood Jan 2013 010I was thinking of a story I wanted to use in a sermon maybe, and I wanted to see when the last time was that I told it, because I was pretty sure I had told it before.  Lo!  Apparently the last time was in August, 2007!  That was when I had been a pastor a whole year.  That was a lifetime ago.

The sermon was not bad.  Actually, technically it could well be better than my sermons now.  It was certainly shorter.  On the other hand it seems to stick closely to the pattern of sermon I heard preached at seminary.  That may be why it is better technically, but it also seems derivative.

Yet I can see that I was trying to (even then) communicate with the congregation, not preach over everyone’s head.  I’m not sure how successful that’s been over the years.

Anyway, I look at this and think that I haven’t changed much technically or theologically.  If anything I’ve gotten worse technically.  On the other hand I feel when reading it that it was a different man who wrote and preached it.  I hadn’t yet experienced very much tentatio or suffering.  The theology is orthodox, but the preacher had not yet suffered much of anything in the ministry.  I thought I had though.  It will be interesting to see what I think in another decade if the Lord sees fit to have me preaching then still.

I know what it is that strikes me as off about this sermon.  Even though it is probably better technically than my sermons now, the difference is that I can tell that when I wrote it I still was naive and thought that all I would have to do is preach it a couple of times and then people would get it.  You can also see me banging the drum about “Lutheranism”; that was back when I thought that I could convince people that they should care about being a Lutheran.  You can also see me subtly (or not so subtly) rag on the congregation for thinking they know everything and being unwilling to learn, a theme that I have undoubtedly returned to again and again.  And it has seemingly had little effect beyond making many people angry.

I post it mainly for myself.  But any other pastor who reads this and still feels like he just left seminary but really has been at it over five years may be inspired to go look at a really old sermon.

When you come out of seminary you don’t know that it costs you to preach.  I mean, the cost we pay is really nothing if we look at it correctly and don’t whine, considering the exceedingly great glory of the Word that we are allowed to speak.

But I think I didn’t really understand that it was God’s Word then, so I thought my performance in writing or speaking would do something.  That was a very painful lesson that I don’t know if I’m done learning–the lesson of running into a ten feet thick titanium wall for years–that it is God’s Word, and He has it work in spite of me (thanks be to God), and not how I want it to work.  I knew this theological concept but it was a painful lesson to learn, or begin to learn, in experience.

I didn’t understand that cost associated with preaching the Word of God.  And I also didn’t understand a different kind of cost– that it was necessary to experience pain and weakness and failure and utter inability to see anything, to know whether you were doing it right or wrong.  Of course I knew, theologically, that if the sermon was Scriptural and the law and gospel rightly divided then you were doing it right.  I hadn’t felt what it was like to have the Word rejected and agonize about your failures, to blame your lack of preparation and so forth, and to see your clumsiness in handling God’s Word.  I knew theologically that preaching and suffering went together, but I hadn’t experienced it yet.  And I am sure that that remains true.  Dr. Kleinig said something to us at the Ft. Wayne class about Exodus.  He asked whether we had suffered as a result of preaching, whether we had had major conflicts and faced opposition.  Then he said, We assume that as we get older, we’ll have fewer problems like that because we’ll gain experience.  But, he said, the hardest trials come as you have been in the ministry a long time, and as you approach the end of your years of service.

2012-11-26 plainfield november 2012 013 - CopySo, I haven’t experienced anything yet!  Quit whining!  is the moral of the story.

I wish that I could help someone else escape the pain that comes from preaching God’s Word and having to learn the hard way that it is not your Word, and therefore you can’t make it do anything, and it’s necessary for you to be afflicted by the devil so that you do not “become too elated at the surpassing greatness” of the Lord who is pleased to raise the dead through your lips.  But I suspect that I cannot help anyone escape it, except maybe to comfort someone else who is in the middle of it and let them know that it is the Lord’s work when you fail.

The beautiful thing is that it is really the Lord’s Word, even if it is despised and seems to bear no fruit.  Even if you have no talent as a preacher or a pastor or an administrator, and you appear to ruin more than you build up, it is Jesus Christ’s word that you have to preach.  And He preaches it to us as well as to the congregation.

One of the most shocking things about preaching is when, after years of everyone esentially telling you your sermons are “all right” and everyone else saying they are garbage behind your back, and when even your wife doesn’t like your sermons, somebody in the congregation was edified–maybe even comforted–and it was a person who doesn’t like you.

So it is really the Lord’s Word, and He has to keep us aware of the fact that the treasure is from Him and not from us, and therefore it is driven home again and again that we are jars of clay.  In my case more like a potsherd or a broken vessel.

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