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The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

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

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

He That Believes and Is Baptized Shall be Saved. Luther, Ascension Sermon.

luther confess crop betterMark 16:16: He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.

from Luther’s Ascension Sermon in the Church Postil

33. We must examine and rightly understand the words, ”He that believeth,” in order not to pervert or mar them by additions and glosses. With such the papists becloud and nullify this sublime and powerful passage, attaching to it their sermons, and, saying that here must be understood ”good works” with the word ”faith,” so that it must read: He that believeth, and also does good works, shall be saved. These are the highly learned masters that take Christ to school, correct his language and teach him how to speak, babbling in their blindness whatever they please, though they know not what and whereof they speak concerning these sublime things. But we shall do Christ the honor to keep his Word pure und undefiled. He well knew how to express these things and what he would have the disciples speak when he commanded them to preach his message to all the world.

 

34. Christ intentionally made the statement thus plain: ”He that believeth, and is baptized” etc., in order to set right the delusions and pretensions of the Jews and of all the world regarding salvation by man’s own works. On faith and baptism, not on our own but on his works, he bases all. In opposition, the Jews, and the world in general, wish to consider their own pride and glory. They boast of their own holiness, unwilling to be censured and condemned in respect of it. The Jews, because they observe circumcision, the Law and many temple services, these, in their own estimation, sufficient to secure them salvation, will, therefore, not consent that the heathen, who observe none of these, should be considered their equals, be called God’s people and be saved, until they also conform to these practices and become Jews. Just so the false apostles, and many of those who became Christians, with great pretense fought over these things and argued against the teachings of the apostles.

 

35. What have the heathen, who had not the Word of God nor the true knowledge of him, ever done of themselves, yet they would either hear nor accept the Gospel for the very reason that they did not wish to forsake their idolatry. They claimed that they also served the true God with their offerings and religious rites. They would not listen to condemnation of these things.

 

36. All who depend on good works, and teach the people salvation through the same, are alike in error. They cannot endure disregard of their works in the matter of salvation. They cannot endorse such a doctrine as Christ here states to be true: ”He that believeth shall be saved” etc. Although they receive the Gospel and wish to be Christians, as do our papists, they will not accept this doctrine in its purity but must defile the same with their additions and glosses, claiming that it must be understood thus: He that believes, and does also good works, shall be saved. Their interpretation means that one obtains salvation, not by faith alone, but also by good works. just so the false apostles and disciples from among the Jews also made additions to this doctrine, pretending that not faith alone secures salvation, but the law of Moses must be kept also. They said: ”Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15, 1. Thus they confused the true disciples and Christians, and the apostles at Jerusalem had to reject this statement publicly.

God calls what is not as though it were. Trinity 16 2013 Sermon.

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Gideon16th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Kings 17:17-24, St. Luke 7:11-17

September 15, 2013

“Out of Nothing”

Week 1: God calls things that are not as though they were

 

(not exactly what I preached.  I tried to revise it after this but I couldn’t get it to print so I went off of handwritten notes.  But I think it’s probably much the same, except with more in the “gospel” portion and less in the introduction.  I took out the stuff about Abraham, for instance.)

Jesus

 

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

 

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith…

 

Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end [that] the promise might be sure to all the seed…of Abraham, who is the father of us all…before Him whom He believed, even God, who quickens the dead, and calls those things which are not as though they were.

 

Who against hope believed in hope…And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead…nor yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.

 

He did not stagger at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

 

And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.  And therefore it was imputed to him as righteousness.  (Romans 4:13, 16-21)

 

Why did God promise Abraham that he would inherit the earth?  Was it because He foresaw that Abraham would believe Him?  Was there less disobedience and sin in Abraham than in other people?

 

The words from Romans chapter 4 we just heard say a resounding “no.”  It was not through the law that Abraham received the promise.  It was not because Abraham had obeyed God.  It had nothing to do with measuring and calculating.  The promise was free.  God made it unconditionally.

 

Most of what Abraham saw after hearing God’s promise did not help him believe.  He went to the land where God told him to go and lived there as a stranger.  He was not among friends and he did not have his clan there to protect him.  And years stretched into decades, and he had no son.  And without a son he would have no offspring for God to make into a great nation, out of which God would bring salvation to the whole earth.

 

Finally he got to be about a hundred years old.  His wife was ninety.  Her womb was long dead.  His body was a withered tree.  What kind of a fool would go on believing that he had heard God’s voice say that the whole earth would be saved through his offspring?

 

But Abraham believed what God had promised.  So he ignored the fact that it was impossible, as far as he could see, for him to have children now.  He only looked at the promise of the God who quickens the dead and calls those things that are not as though they were.”  (Rom. 4:17)

 

So God counted it to him for righteousness.  As Abraham believed, so it was done for him.

 

God counted to Abraham the righteousness of his descendant, through Whom all the ends of the earth would be saved.

 

And God did what reason and experience said was impossible.  He gave a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman a child according to His Word which raises the dead and calls that which does not exist into existence (Rom. 4:17)…or calls what is not as though it were.  From this child, born by the word of the Lord, came a nation of people.  And from this nation came a virgin who conceived and bore a child by the word of the Lord even though she had never been with a man.  This child was the Word of God in human flesh who gives salvation to all who believe in Him.

 

God raises the dead.  He calls things that are not as though they were.  He creates out of nothing simply by His Word.

 

But where people are still alive His Word does not raise them from the dead.  Where people are something His Word does not call them into being.

 

In Elijah’s time things were very bad.  There was one nation on earth that worshipped the true God.  But it had started to worship the false gods of the nations alongside of the Lord.

 

The one place the people in the world were supposed to be able to look and see the true God and what He was like had set up other gods to worship alongside the Lord—even in His house.

 

So what did they see?  The Lord is just one god among many.  The God of the Israelites is no different than our gods; they have their God, we have ours.

 

The people of Israel were dead, and they didn’t even know it. So God sent His Word through Elijah to make them realize that they were dead, and Elijah said, “As the Lord lives, it won’t rain at all unless I say.”  Then God sent Elijah out into the wilderness.  Ravens brought him food and he drank water from a brook while Elijah hid and waited for God to tell him to turn the rain back on.

 

But the people did not repent.  “The rain will come,” they said.  Then the harvest failed and people started to die of starvation.  “We must not have offered enough sacrifices to the Lord and to Baal,” the people were saying.  “We need to fix this!”  Meanwhile, the brook went dry in the wilderness where Elijah was staying.  The people still hadn’t learned that they were dead and there was no fixing this until the Lord gave the word.

 

God told Elijah, “Go to the pagan city of Zarephath, north of here.  There is a widow there that I have commanded to feed you.”  And when Elijah got there and met the widow, she was getting ready to make a last meal for her and her son, because the surrounding nations were getting no rain either.  But when Elijah told her, “Before you eat, bring me some of your last meal.  Because the Lord says that your flour and oil will not run out.  God will make it last until the rain returns.”  And the pagan woman believed the word of the Lord.  She had nothing; she was as good as dead.  But the word of the Lord called what did not exist as though it did.

 

But now in the text today after saving her and her son’s life it seems that God has only blessed her in order to crush her.  Now her son dies.  She says to Elijah, “You have only come with the word of the Lord to expose my sin and slay my son!”

 

And Elijah prays, “Is this Your way, Lord?  You withhold rain from Your people and slay them because they turn away from you.  Then you send me to a nation of idolaters and a widow receives Your Word and lives, only so that you can even turn around on her and not forgive her sin either?”

 

Yet did she deserve better?  Isn’t it the Lord’s right to punish our sins?  Even if we are sorry?

 

Yet Elijah knew the Lord.  That this is not His way.  “He chastens with forbearing” as the hymn says.  In wrath He remembers mercy.  He longs to be gracious; He raises His arm and strikes down in order to raise up again.  He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner.

 

Rather His Word reduces us to nothing and kills us so that He may call us what we are not and raise us from the dead.

 

We are in a similar situation to Elijah’s day.

 

He brings us to nothing, like He did Elijah and Israel, and the widow, and Abraham, so that He may call us what we are not.

 

He stops the funeral procession and says what we cannot imagine to happen.  He speaks a new word.

 

He does this not because there is anything worthy of His pity or compassion, but by His pure grace.

 

He had every right to come to the widow at Nain and pass her by.  This is the wages of sin.

 

But He is not here on earth to judge and condemn, but to save.  To raise the dead and call that which is not as though it were.

 

He is the Word of the Father made flesh; in the beginning it was He who created the world and all that is in it; now He is in our flesh saying that we are what we are not without Him and He is what He is not without us.

 

He is not sin but became sin; He became nothing.  He was laid in the depths.  That is because He has become us.

 

We are not righteous and holy children of God but He declares us to be in Baptism.  We have nothing in us that would permit us to be children of God, or to be His church.  His word creates it out of nothing in Jesus’ incarnation death resurrection, ascension.

 

His word declares it to be true of us.

 

His word will continue to sustain His church, even if it is impossible to see how it will survive, and even if it is overrun by idolatry.  God had His church drinking from a brook in the wilderness and being fed by ravens.  And scattered in places where His prophet did not see it were the remnant that God had chosen, including this woman from a pagan country.

 

They were nothing, like us.  The only conclusion was that they were sinners and deserved God’s wrath.

 

But God looks on those who are nothing and calls them something.  Calls them a new creation.

 

It is not because of any human possibility but because of His Word, which enabled Abraham and Sarah to conceive a child when they were dead.

 

Even more, His Word imputed righteousness to them, even though they were dead in sin.

 

His Word sustained Elijah in the wilderness, the widow with the handful of flour.

 

His Word declares God’s compassion to two sinful widows who had no reason to expect compassion.

 

On us who also deserve no compassion he raises us to life through His holy Baptism and through the preaching of the Gospel, where He declares us forgiven of our sins through Christ alone.

 

He declares that we will march triumphant over our sins and the devil in righteousness through the cross into eternal life, and that we will live in this world by His power and then forever at His right hand.

 

That is why we have hope even though we are sinners and even though the Church is weak and a mess and no small part of it is our fault.

 

We come and say, “there is no reason why you should not destroy me and the church.  That is what I deserve.”  But He speaks another word.  “Do not weep.  You are alive, righteous, heirs of my kingdom.”

 

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

 

SDG

Eating Garbage…and the Holy Ghost’s Tail-Feathers

April 20, 2013 9 comments

garbage eatersSwallowing the Holy Ghost, Feathers and All…or, “How I Almost Became a Garbage-Eater” (part 1)

For freedom Christ has made you free.  Therefore, stand firm and do not again become subject to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.  Luther, The Sermon on the Mount.  Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 21, pp. 252-253.

When I left home, I was 17.  I moved as far as I could away from the Chicago suburbs.  Then I came back and went to the University of Illinois for a year.  Halfway through the second semester I decided that the reason I was so miserable was because I lived in Champaign, Illinois.*

*for further information on this you can begin your research here:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uVDoYdYS8w

So after no small amount of mental and emotional anguish for both me and my family, I dropped out of U of I and ended up back in Seattle.

Strangely enough, I did not end up happier in Seattle.  In fact I was more depressed and miserable.  I would get into why, but that would take a long time.  The point of this story is not to tell you about how bad I used to be (or still am) but about the way the devil can destroy a person who has become convicted of sin.  That is, if the gospel is not preached to the convicted person immediately.

The Lutheran Confessions talk about this.  But it takes experience to understand what the Confessions are talking about.  And even if you’ve experienced it, it takes the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to you so that you don’t hammer and crush people who are already convicted of their sins.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (On Justification, parts 36f.):

Lastly, it was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love 37] a wrathful, judging, and punishing God [poor, weak nature must lose heart and courage, and must tremble before such great wrath, which so fearfully terrifies and punishes, and can never feel a spark of love before God Himself comforts].

 

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the...

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the Missouri Synod. There are four known photos of him in existence. This one was not previously on Wikimedia Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C.F.W. Walther, the “founding father” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, quotes Luther to this effect in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:

 

“The doctrine of the Law, then, was given for this purpose, that a person be given a sweat-bath of anguish and sorrow under the teaching of the Law. Otherwise men become sated and surfeited and lose all relish of the Gospel. If you meet with such people, pass them by; we are not preaching to them. This preaching is for the thirsty; to them the message is brought: ‘Let them come to Me; I will give them to drink and refresh them.’ ”

 

“The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves. The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and pronounces this sentence upon him: Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of the Law. Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this. Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear. If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation. Therefore St. Paul says: By the law is only the knowledge of sin. Again: ‘The Law worketh nothing but wrath.’ The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to seek us famished and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil.”

 

After almost becoming a garbage-eater and swallowing the Holy Ghost, feathers and all, together with food out of a dumpster, I read Walther’s book, and that was what made sense of things for me and brought me back to the Lutheran Church.  You can imagine my surprise and dismay upon going to seminary and hearing Walther ridiculed on a regular basis.  But that’s another story.

No one is able to learn theology without experience, i.e. suffering.  So it’s no surprise if aspiring theologians at seminary, having not been through enough of a sweat-bath yet, do not appreciate the importance of the distinction between law and gospel.  That’s why I’ve managed to portray Jesus as a terror to already repentant sinners—even after having experienced the misery of seeing Christ as a “new Moses.”

Anyway, back to the garbage eaters.

Suffice it to say that during this period I was far from God and entangled in a lot of delusions and lies.  And I was suffering.  Towards the end of this I started to think that I was going to lose my mind permanently.

Somewhere in this time period—it would have been in the spring—March, April, early May, 1998, I was walking down Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  This is where I was attending Seattle Central Community College.  I went there for a year so that I could get residency in Washington state and begin the following year at the University of Washington without having to pay out of state tuition.

That’s when I ran into this really nice guy who had a long beard and a bicycle.  He started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Now I was not particularly interested in talking about God or Jesus, and I let him know.

In fact, I was pretty annoyed that everywhere I went, it seemed like people always started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Or they would act like I was a Christian.  I remember I was in some class where we had to write a paper describing some painting of our choice in the Seattle Art Museum.  For some reason, I decided to do mine on a painting of the flagellation of Christ.  I was talking about it with some girl from the class, and she said something like, “You’re kind of obsessed with Jesus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I mean, that’s just you.”

That really bugged me.

I didn’t want to talk about Jesus or God because, very simply, Jesus got in the way of me doing and being what I wanted.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if Jesus had been just one god among many, or offered one more cool form of spirituality as an option among the many that were on sale in Seattle.

Seattle was not an atheist, secularist place.  Hippies and dreadlocked rastafarians were everywhere.  They were all “spiritual.”  Neo-paganism and Wicca and shamanism were everywhere.  Hare Krishnas were regularly on the sidewalk handing out literature.  Scientologists stood and offered to give free personality tests.  (I took one.  They said I was too screwed up to be a scientologist.)  Buddhist temples were not hard to find in Seattle (although the real Buddhists didn’t advertise as much.)

Then you had nearly every church on every corner with a rainbow flag out in front and a sign that said “Open and Affirming,” letting you know that the Christian churches by and large were just presenting themselves as one more option in the religious smorgasbord.  They were cool with alternative sexualities and didn’t want to be associated with the patriarchal, exclusivist Christianity of the past.

Even Muslims had their niche.  At the one place I went to get gyros all the time, they always had signs up decrying the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israelis and advertising invitation to Islam classes.  And even though Islam really is exclusive, it too was acceptable in Seattle, because it had the cache of being foreign.  Or not being Christian.

But Jesus was not acceptable in Seattle, unless He was an icon or an image associated with another time and place.

If He was proclaimed as He is, someone who speaks to us today and makes claims upon us, He was laughed at at best.  If you gave away that you actually believed in Him, you became a strange creature.  Lots of people would hate you.  Others would look at you with pity or disdain or strange fascination.  This was in about 1997, 1998.  At least among the people with whom I hung out.

But Seattle’s issues with Jesus were one thing.  The issue was—I was hostile to Him.  I wanted to be left alone.  Jesus made claims on me.  That was the real issue.  I knew Jesus would not permit me to act as if He was one God among many.  He could not be a deep religious thinker whom I, as an intellectual and a poet, chose to follow as someone whose teaching suited my taste.

It wasn’t just moral restrictions that were the issue. Primarily it was that Jesus claimed exclusive access to God.  Salvation came only through Him.  And that meant it wasn’t that I just wouldn’t be able to do this or do that if I was a Christian.  If I was a Christian, everything would belong to Jesus.  I would depend on Him completely and belong to Him; I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t believe in Him when He would have been an embarassment.  If people hated Him, I would have to be hated.  And that was most of the people I hung around with.

If people I didn’t like were Christians, I would have to love them and be associated with them.  (And there were hardly any Christians I liked.)

It wasn’t any one particular thing that I didn’t want to give up.  It was that I would have to give up everything; whatever Jesus wanted me to keep I would keep, whatever He wanted me to lose I would lose.

I didn’t want this and couldn’t tolerate it, and yet it still bothered my conscience somewhere that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

So, as I was saying, this hippie-looking guy with a long beard and a bike, wearing what appeared to be an apron, was talking to me about Jesus.  Somehow I gathered that he had left all of his possessions behind with a group of other people in order to follow Christ.

Now this, I thought, was cool and worthy of respect.  At least if the guy was going to be a Christian, he wasn’t going to be a bourgeois, fat, materialistic, Republican “Christian.”

I told him something to the effect of, “Well, when I was a kid I was raised to believe in Jesus.  But I don’t want to follow Christ. “  Maybe I said something like, “Maybe one day I’ll want to.”  And then the man, who, I emphasize at this time seemed extremely genial and kind, said something like, “Well, there’s a lot of heartache found in pursuing the world.”

That stuck with me.  I was living that.  Consciously, it seemed like nothing was more unlikely than that I would ever be a Christian.  .

Fast forward to the summer.

During the summer quarter I started taking classes at the University of Washington.  During this same period I had undergone a radical change in direction that might be described as a “conversion experience.”  [Not that a “conversion experience” is necessarily the same as actual conversion to Christ.]  What this amounted to for me was that I quickly and drastically changed direction.  I started reading the bible and praying zealously.  I quit hanging around with my old friends, started going to church, and trying to engage with what I was studying and writing as a Christian.

It was a period of high anxiety.  I was by no means stable and I had doubts about how this was going to turn out.

Key to all of this was the conviction that the reason I had been so depressed, so close to nervous collapse, and had such difficulty functioning, because I had been running my own life instead of doing God’s will.

How did I come to that conclusion?  Because I was desperate.

I figured that the reason Christianity had not “worked” before was because I had not been fully committed.  Now I tried on a daily basis to have a will completely committed and surrendered to Christ.

I still remembered—and believed—the doctrine I was taught as a kid—at least that part that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works.

However, I reasoned that if I had wandered from Christ so far as to deny Him, that proved that the faith in Him that I thought I had as a child was not saving faith at all.  Works don’t save, but they prove that faith is living.  I also remembered and believed that from my childhood religious training.

Because I had experienced and lived the outright hostility toward Christians that was common among people I hung around, I thought about martyrdom.  I wondered whether I would be able to be faithful to Christ even if I faced death for it.  My constant question to myself was, “Am I ready to forsake everything for Christ?”  If I could answer “yes,” to the question, then I could be assured that I had true faith in Christ.  If there was hesitation, then it was to be feared that my faith was not real, saving faith.

Right around this time I was walking through Red Square on the UW campus.  It was a bright sunny day.  Suddenly I looked and saw the same bearded guy who had talked to me a few months earlier.  Surely that was providential!  I went over to him and said, “Hey, do you remember me?  I became a Christian since we talked last.”

Then he stared at me and said with a completely different demeanor than he seemed to have had the first time we met:  “Have you gotten involved with the worldly church?”

Just as Luther describes in the quote up at the top—those words cut me “like a razor.”  I felt cold fear, like he had just uncovered the truth about me.

More later…

“The Peace of Jerusalem” Luke 19.41-48 Trinity 10 sermon

August 12, 2012 6 comments

10th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 19:41-48 (Jer. 8:4-12)

August 12, 2012

“The Peace of Jerusalem”

 

Dear Congregation, called together by Jesus Christ to be God’s dwelling place forever:

 

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

 

Let us pray:

Almighty, Eternal God!  You have revealed and made known Your Word to us through Your Holy Spirit, concerning Your Son, Christ Jesus.  We pray, awaken our hearts, that we receive Your Word with seriousness and not beat the air or listen casually or indifferently, as did Your people, the unbelieving Jews.  Grant us, in true fear and faith towards You, to live in Your grace and to daily increase in it, and finally to come to eternal blessedness, through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen. Johannes Eichorn (1511-1564)

 

  1. 1.         Intro: Letting wayward children have their way.

 

I can remember my grandfather taking me into his office and having a talk with me when I was a teenager.  I’m pretty sure my mother asked him to do it.  I was probably about 14 or 16. 

 

It was strange because I couldn’t remember my grandpa ever talking to me about anything personal.  He was strict.  He had spent his whole life as the headmaster of a primary school for the children of missionaries out in central Africa.  He came from an exceedingly strict church—not just strict in doctrine but in life, in the pursuit of holiness.  So my grandpa would talk with my dad or mom about theology or politics or Africa in a very intellectual way, but also a very—seemingly—unemotional way.

 

So he took me into his office, sat me down, and started talking to me man to man, and it was very unusual.  He said something like, “I understand you’ve been getting into some trouble with the friends you’ve been hanging around with.”  Then he asked me about where my interests in school were and what kind of plans I had for what I would do with my life.  And he told me about his teenage years, before he felt that God was calling him into the mission field, how he was getting into trouble for skipping school to play handball and I’m not sure what else.  And then he said, essentially, “If your friends are causing you to stumble, keeping you from doing God’s will, you just have to let them go.” 

 

Did I listen?  I heard him, but I didn’t obey.  It wasn’t really about my friends then, though.  It was really about the way my mind was set.  I did not at all have a heart that was fixed on Christ and wanted to do His will.  What 14 or 16 year old does, many ask.  Wise 14 or 16 year olds.  Blessed ones.  In fact, what 34 year old has a heart fixed on Christ that wants to do His will?  Only those whom the Holy Spirit has given repentance and faith in Jesus alone.

 

But my grandpa was trying to turn me from the error of my way.  He knew that to set up your own life apart from the Word of God is to choose pain and destruction and grief.  And if one won’t listen to God’s Word, eventually eternal punishment is the result.  When God’s Word is persistently rejected, when the Holy Spirit is resisted again and again, the time comes—we don’t know when—when God allows the rebellious person, or nation, or congregation, or denomination—to have its way.

 

Sometimes parents have this experience.  They fight with their kids and do not allow their kids to do what everyone else is doing.  The fashion now is to let kids decide everything for themselves.  But when your kid is in your house and under your authority, it is your responsibility to set rules for them—to make sure they hear God’s Word and learn it, to discipline them when they do wrong but also to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to them—because it is the Gospel that changes sinners so that they begin to do God’s will gladly and willingly instead of to avoid punishment.  Still, parents can’t refuse to punish their children, unless they want their children to learn that forgiveness is just a license to do evil.

 

But there comes a time when there is no more you can do for your children.  Sometimes—frequently—people have their hearts set on foolishness and evil.  The worst case of this is not when a person wants to break the law or choose a career path that won’t result in a good job.  The worst case is when your child refuses to listen to God’s Word and rejects repentance and faith in Christ.  Sometimes kids do this right out in the open: “I just really don’t believe what the church teaches anymore.  Christianity has been the source of so much oppression—of women, of non-european people…” Other times kids still profess to believe in Jesus, but they have no desire for His Word and Sacraments.  Or they still attend church, but their lives testify to rebellion against God’s Word.

 

Sometimes you have spoken the word to your children, warned them, prayed for them, spoken gently to them—done everything you know how to do—but they won’t listen.  And sometimes then you are faced with the painful reality that your kids are going to reject God’s Word and there is nothing you can do besides pray for them.  That is a painful experience.

 

God also meets with rejection from His children.  And though God is able to force us to do His will He does not do so.  It is a mystery we cannot comprehend, but when a person trusts Christ alone it is the work of the Holy Spirit, not their own. 

 

Yet unbelief is our own rebelliousness.  It comes from rejecting the word.  God permits himself to be rejected.

 

Today we see Jesus’ reaction to the rejection of the children that the Lord had carried so long.  He weeps.  Then he begins to show his anger and the way he will drive out of His house those who  will not hear His word and who wish to set up their own worship in His house. 

 

2.  The people of Israel, false Christians, and our sinful flesh insist on a false peace and security based on some goodness or deserving in us, and so reject Christ when He comes (and finally will be cut off).

 

                 Jeremiah: “They have rejected the word of the Lord.”

 

God’s presence would destroy us if it was naked; so He veils it.  He hid His glory behind the curtain in the temple.

 

Because God’s holy presence leaves us “undone” (Isaiah), we cover it up and invent  our own ways to enter His presence;

The house of God was not a house of prayer, but became a religious spectacle where you paid your fee, did your religious work and went home.

                Like the Hajj to Mecca for Muslims.

                 Like the indulgence, mass, and relic trade in the Catholicism of Luther’s day (and also today in a less crass form.)

 

Instead God wanted that people enter His presence—which is dangerous and deadly to sinners—with a good conscience through faith in the sacrifice which God would provide and which were pointed to by the temple sacrifices.

They were to come with nothing of their own but trust in God alone to be propitious—to be satisfied with them on account of the sacrifice which He would provide.

But when the Messiah came whom God had long promised to this rebellious house of Israel—the one whom prophets like Jeremiah proclaimed when the people would be crushed after their rebellion had brought punishment on themselves—they rejected Him.

              Even at this point many people would listen to Jesus.  Jesus was impressive;  like the Old Testament prophets, He dared boldly to rebuke the leaders, tell them they were wicked, demand repentance, clean the temple out, predict the destruction and desolation of the temple because of the rebellion of the people.  People were willing to listen because it was impressive, and to see His miracles.  But the majority of the crowds did not believe that He was the promised one who would take away the sins of the world.  They didn’t believe in their need for such a Savior; they believed in their own goodness coupled with their obedience to the rules propounded by their leaders.  They did not repent and believe.

Through most of the last 2000 years most of our ancestors were like the crowds…they heard from Jesus a lot, and everyone said they loved Him.    But most did not really believe in Him.  Now the crowds have turned against Jesus, but that doesn’t mean the church is any worse off than it was before.

 

 What was God to do with this rebellious house?  He weeps over their destruction.

                When we refuse Christ when He comes to us in His Word, when He visits us in His Word, we put ourselves in danger of also being cast  off,  hardened, so that God will no longer wrestle with us.

                Don’t put off following Christ until tomorrow. 

 

We, like the Jews, would like to have a more comfortable way into the presence of God that can be achieved by the exercise of our will.

We forget to fear the Lord who is present with us in His House in Word and Sacrament. 

We forget that Jerusalem was razed  with “her children within her.”  That we have deserved the same.

 

God’s wrath on those who will not have His word is severe.

 

When we insist that we are “good Christians,” His wrath terrifies us with the word of John the Baptist: “Repent, brood of vipers!”  “Good Christians” can put in religious duties and then feel  like they’ve done well.

 

Real Christians come into God’s presence knowing they ought to die; yet they boldly come before Him through the blood of His Son alone.

 

 

 

3.  Jesus visits us to be our peace and builds us on Him alone, through faith, as God’s eternal house or dwelling or temple.

 

Peace with God—shalom—well-being, blessing, is a pure gift of God to sinners.

 

He gives us peace through His blood.

 

We do not need to invent cute ways of making it possible for us to enter His presence; to enter His presence is death, and yet we do not receive death.  It’s not because we pretend that God’s presence does not destroy the sinful; but because we trust the blood of the lamb shed for us.

 

                The temple worshippers were not to pay attention to their work, or to the big crowds, or the impressive temple, or the “temple-approved” sacrifices they were buying with their “temple grounds” money. 

 

                They were to pay attention only to the promise of the sacrifice that God would provide that would come and be a fulfillment of all the sacrifices the temple offered.

 

Jesus’ blood and righteousness—Jesus alone, God and man, and His suffering and death—He is the cornerstone on which God would build His eternal temple—the church, the assembly of believers in Christ.

 

A Christian looks in himself and sees nothing worthy of anything except God’s wrath; he looks at Jesus suffering on the cross and sees the absolute assurance of the forgiveness of sins and the ability for a damnable sinner to enter the presence of the Holy One.

 

He looks to the name of God in Baptism which was given to him—a covenant swearing that God receives us as His own sons, apart from works, through Christ.

 

                Jesus visits us today just as He did Jerusalem. 

He visits us to bring us peace.  He did not desire the destruction of Jerusalem, but its salvation.   Their rejection brought damnation.

 

Jesus comes to give us peace; His body under the bread and His blood under the wine—they are our peace with God.  They were given and shed to make peace for us, and He gives them to us now so that, eating them with faith in the promise, we would be assured of peace with God.

 

                Jesus will run out of His church every device of man, every sin in our flesh, every work of the   spirit of Antichrist that now oppresses the church and keeps people from the true and living God.

 

The Jews because of their rejection of the Word were keeping people from God.  The big animal market and spectacle made the temple worship an exaltation of human works and religiosity instead of a house of prayer—that is, communion with God through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.

 

Jesus was filled with anger and drove all of them out.

 

Then by the shedding of His blood He inaugurated the true and lasting house of God—the church.

 

Even now He visits and casts out of His church those traditions of men that obscure the law of God and the Gospel of God; the law which hits blind and lying sinners like a hammer, saying, “Repent or be damned;”

 

The gospel which speaks to those crushed by the law, and does not instruct about works or ceremonies, but simply proclaims; “The Son of God suffered for your wickedness on the cross. You are washed in His blood; You are forgiven.”

 

That word attacks Satan’s lies and traditions even now;

In Luther’s day it greatly undermined the Antichrist’s kingdom of false worship; even today there are a great number of Christians who no longer fear the lying pope who claims to be the Lord of Christendom on earth and claims to have the final word on the doctrine and discipline of Christ’s Church.

 

Today the word attacks also the foolish lie that God has no wrath and we need not fear Him, but instead can make church safe and fun and appealing to the world, with latte stands and snack bars—thus turning the house of God into a mall instead of a house of prayer.

 

                                But on the last day the Word will finally drive out all oppressors from God’s church—whether false teachers, or the evil that still lives within the flesh of Christians—

 

The church will appear in the splendor of Christ which He gave to us in Baptism;

 

He will already have cast out the wickedness of our flesh;

 

And no false teachers or devils will ever again set up their trade within God’s holy dwelling;

That holy dwelling is you, Christ’s holy bride.

4.  Conclusion: Though you have a rebellious nature still, Jesus still visits you today and builds you together as His eternal dwelling through His death for you.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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