Posts Tagged ‘The Article of Justification’

Set Your Mind on Things Above. Funeral Sermon, May 3, 2018

ezekiel wheelFuneral Sermon for JoAnn Sallese

Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:12-26; John 11:25-26

May 3, 2018

Set Your Mind on Things Above


Iesu Iuva



Mary, Margie, and Tony,

All of JoAnn’s loved ones and friends, including her sister Genevieve, who was here only a week ago and is prevented from making the journey across the country again:


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


There are over 43 thousand radio stations across the world.  Each day, they broadcast their message into people’s ears as they work, drive, and sleep.  Each year, they produce 290 million hours of programming, and of that programming, 35 million hours are commercials, ads.


Those 35 millions hours of advertisements are designed to persuade listeners to set their minds on obtaining material things so that they will have happier and more fulfilled lives on earth.


But what the advertisers advise us to set our minds on is totally opposite what God’s Word, the Bible advises us.  Set your mind on things above, God exhorted Christians through the apostle Paul.  Set your minds on things above, not things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2). 


Why?  Because however good things are on earth, the things above are better, and the things that God promises us in His Word through faith in Jesus Christ are forever.  But the things on earth are only for a time, both the good things and the bad.


According to Bible scholars, one sixth of the New Testament is focused on the joy of heaven and eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.  It was the hope and the joy that filled Christians throughout the two thousand years since Christ died and rose again.  Because they believed in Him, that He had died for their sins and risen again, they had a hope that extended past the pleasures of this life, and also its pains.


Although we live in this world where death still seems to rule over everything, and we are tempted to snatch pleasure while we can, where we can, God wants something better than that for us.  He wants us to have the certain hope of eternal life, of reunion with Him and with all the people we love who were united with Him on earth by faith in His Son.  He intends for that hope to give us joy in the midst of the worst pains of this life, and to give us a pleasure that is greater than the pleasures that may be found in “setting our minds on things below.”


It’s hard to think about all that right now.  It’s quite possible today that it’s hard to think or set your mind on anything.  Sometimes at funerals people sob and feel like they are about to break apart with grief.  But just as often there is a blank look on people’s faces, a look of lostness, of emptiness, shock.


That is the way people act when their loved ones die.  And also, sometimes, there is more.  Sometimes, guilt—they feel that they did not love or treat their loved one as they ought to have, or appreciate them as they should have.  Sometimes it’s anger—anger at the doctors who may have failed in treating their loved one, or anger at other people in the family for not doing more.  Maybe, even, anger at God for taking someone they loved, or allowing them to be taken away.


Christians grieve like this too.  They have the feeling of loss, of being lost.  Going to church doesn’t take that away when a loved one dies.  Yet I have noticed something in a decade of being a pastor in which I have ministered to many grieving families—usually those who are grieving who have stayed near to Christ, near to His Word when it is preached and taught, near to His altar where He gives us His body and blood—as they weep, they are held up, as though there were an invisible rock underneath them.  They are sustained by a life that is stronger than death.  In the midst of their tears they have an assurance, beneath their own weakness, that does not come from themselves.  They have an assurance that they have a gracious God, who is for them, and who loves them, who forgives their sins and takes them and their loved ones to heaven, and who in the end will raise their bodies from the dead so that they are like the glorious body of Jesus after He rose from the dead.


JoAnn was a beautiful woman in her youth, as anyone can see from her picture, and her husband of 29 years summed her up using that word: she always did things to appreciate beauty and practicality.  Which is a rare combination.  Quite often the poetic personality that notices beautiful things is not the person you count on to mow the lawn or paint the garage.  But JoAnn was the type who did both; who was ready to do anything the American Legion asked her to do, was willing to do the tasks necessary to have an organization that supports and honors veterans.  She opened her home to her step-children and when her mother was old she cooked her dinner and brought it to her every day.  And she did all this even though she had health difficulties and pain that would have made it easy to think of herself only.


Those who received these blessings through JoAnn can rightly give thanks to God for the blessing she was to them.


But what now, as you experience the feeling of loss and separation, the feeling of being torn from her or having her torn from you?  What will end that pain, console that pain, that feeling of loss, today, the next time you are confronted by death?


Maybe alcohol, temporarily, or getting busy with work or a project.  These can help temporarily.


But the only lasting answer is to Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  To be able to say, I have a place in heaven with God, where there will be no more crying, no more death, no more grieving.


But why don’t people do this?  Even Christians don’t do it well.  Why not?  Because we can’t see heaven.  And even worse, who can be certain that if it exists, they will go there?  Who knows if I have done enough to have a place in heaven?


People say this all the time.  “I hope God forgives me, and I go to heaven.”  There aren’t many people who say with confidence, “I am going to heaven, and I know that God forgives my sins.”  And when people do say it, most people think they sound arrogant.  Because we think that such people are bragging about how good they are, or how strong their faith is.


But God tells us to set our minds on things above because He has promised the “things above” as a free giftto the world.  He has promised eternal life because He has already taken away our sins.


This is what Paul kept saying in the reading we heard earlier.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that God has forgiven the sins of all human beings, beginning with the first one, Adam.


Mary told me that she and JoAnn traced JoAnn’s family tree and took pictures of headstones for a genealogy website.  I signed up for that website too, but I didn’t take that many pictures.  But to do it you have to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.  We think of cemeteries as places of the dead.  But the word actually is similar to the word “dormitory”—it refers to a sleeping place.  Christians named them that because of their faith that the dead in Christ would rise again to eternal life.


To rise again and live forever means your sins have been forgiven.  When the first man died and was buried, it was not the way it was supposed to be.  It happened because the first man disobeyed God and bought into the lie that if he took the one thing on earth that God had forbidden, he would be happy.  He would be “like God”.  Instead of becoming a god, he became mortal.  But if you rise from your grave, it means that God has forgiven you, set you free.


When Jesus rose from the dead, God was publicly announcing that He was forgiven.  Not that Jesus sinned.  But when He died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of the whole human race, from the first man on down.  That’s why Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God was announcing that He had forgiven the sins that Jesus died for.  And if He has forgiven the sins that Jesus died for, it means He has forgiven the whole human race.  And if He has forgiven us, we too will rise from the dead like Jesus and live forever with Him.


But this is not the end of it.  The eternal life that will belong to us when Jesus returns also belongs to those who believe in Him in this life.  When Jesus went to visit his friends Mary and Martha, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.  You heard what He said to Martha: Your brother will rise again.  She said, “Yes, I believe He will rise again on the Last Day, when God will raise up all the dead and judge them, and give eternal life to the righteous and eternal damnation to the wicked.”


But Jesus doesn’t let it rest there.  He says, I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  He is saying, “Whoever believes in Me shares in the life I will have in My resurrection.  On the last day everyone will rise from the dead, but whoever believes in Me shares my resurrection and my life.”


That is how we receive a certain hope in this world of death—that one day we will have life and no more crying and no more death, but that even now that life is ours.  We have it through believing in Jesus—not merely believing the fact that He was crucified and rose from the dead.  But believing that His death and resurrection is, as He promises, for us.  He died and paid for our sins.  He rose again as the certification that God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for our guilt.  That He settled our account with God.


It is not possible to make yourself believe this so strongly that you are confident in the face of death.  It takes divine power for anyone to believe it.  But God works His divine power in the word that I am preaching today, in the words of the Scripture when they are read at home and proclaimed and taught in the Church.  Through the preaching and teaching of this Word He makes us recognize that death comes as a result of sin, and that none of us is free from it, no matter how well we live in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.


And through the preaching of His Word He also gives us eternal life.  He causes us to believe that through Jesus, and through Jesus alone, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God and He to us.


JoAnn heard this word from God when she was young.  When she was six years old or so, she was also baptized, and God took His powerful word and joined it to the water of Baptism, so that she was joined to Jesus by faith.  She entered into His life.  When she was older, after being taught more of His Word, she professed her faith in Jesus and received the bread and wine that are joined with His Word, and she received the body and blood that He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins.


A lot of time has gone by since then.  Those words of Jesus that sustain our faith in Him, that make us believe in Him and share in His life—it has been a long time since she received them last.  That is the favorite trick of the devil and our sinful nature—to separate us from the words of Jesus, because those words communicate to us His divine life as a free gift.  They tell us that heaven is ours when we die, and that God forgives us and gives us eternal life now in the midst of this life.


The devil has a long history of this, of deceiving us into setting our minds not on the things above, where Christ is seated, where He suffered to make a place for us, but on things below.  But Jesus overcame Him for us.  He took away our sins.  He gives us life as a free gift, now and forever, through His death on the cross.  He proclaims this free gift to you now in your grief, and encourages you to come with your grief to His house, where He will give you life and wipe away your tears through His Word, until He does so with His own hand when You see Him on the last day.


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


Soli Deo Gloria



Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”


Iesu Iuva


On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.


The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.


So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.


But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.


Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.


They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.


And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.


At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:


It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.


Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.


Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.


Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.


Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”


Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:


To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.


The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.


The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.


And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.


But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.


The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.


In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”


But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:


Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 


People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.


But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.


It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.


It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.


For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”


And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.


We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:


It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.


However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.


Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.


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



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.




Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 11, 2015–Justified and Exalted.

11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 16, 2015

“Justified and Exalted”

Iesu Iuva

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?

                Who may live on your holy hill?

                He whose walk is blameless

                And who does what is righteous. Psalm 15:1-2


Who will live forever? Who will be honored to sit at the right hand of God? Who will receive God’s praise?

The Bible says: the righteous person. The just person. The one God finds to be righteous is the one He exalts. “Whom He justified, He also glorified,” says Romans 8.

Many people today think that God isn’t concerned about righteousness. God accepts everyone, righteous or not. So goes the thinking of the world. Just about everyone goes to a better place when they die.

But that is not the testimony of the Scriptures. The Bible doesn’t picture a God who is unconcerned about righteousness. The God of the Bible came down in fire on Mount Sinai to speak His ten commandments. There was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled…Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it with fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Exodus 19:16-19 The people were so terrified they were shaking with fear. God has no pleasure in unrighteousness. He wants His commandments kept.

Psalm 11 says:

The Lord examines the righteous,

                But the wicked and those who love violence

                His soul hates.

                On the wicked He will rain

                Fiery coals and burning sulfur;

                A scorching wind will be their lot.

                For the Lord is righteous,

                He loves justice;

                Upright men will see his face. (v. 5-7)


God does not leave us in doubt as to what righteousness is. “So then the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good,” says Romans 7 (:12). Do the commandments of God and you will be doing what is righteous. His commandments begin with our obligation to Him and then tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first three commandments tell us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to use His name in prayer and thanksgiving and not for lying and cursing, and to keep the Sabbath by gladly hearing His Word. First and foremost, a righteous person is a worshipper of God. First He trusts God, hears His Word, and prays, and from this comes love toward his neighbor.

But no one who disregards God’s commandments is righteous.

Since that is true it makes sense that a person would want to be found not only to be a hearer of God’s commandments but also a doer of them. It makes sense that we would want to be those who keep God’s commandments. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable appears to have wanted to be among the righteous who keep God’s commandments. He avoided immoral conduct like greed and adultery. He tithed on everything he had, which meant he gave ten percent of his income and possessions as an offering to God, as His Law in the Old Testament commanded. He also fasted twice a week, which God’s Law did not command. He seemed to live a strict, God-fearing life, even going beyond the commandments of God.

But God was not satisfied with the Pharisee’s works. He did not regard the Pharisee as righteous and therefore worthy of eternal life. He did not justify him.

Why not? Because God doesn’t justify the hearers of His Law but the doers of His Law. He does not judge us by comparing us to other people, as the Pharisee judged himself. He regards us as righteous if we have actually fulfilled His will. When a rich ruler comes to Jesus later in this same chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “You know the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” (Luke 18:18-20) The answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” “what must I do to be righteous in God’s sight” is—you must keep the Ten Commandments. The Pharisee never claims to have done that. He thanks God that he is not like the rest of humanity, which is wicked. While he accurately diagnoses human beings—that they are filled with all manner of wickedness—he fails to judge himself rightly because he compares himself to others instead of God’s law. Everyone who transgresses God’s commandments in the smallest point is under God’s curse, because it is written “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything that is written in the book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:20) If a person has a covetous heart, he has transgressed the Law of God as much as any thief; if a person is lustful, he is unrighteous just like any adulterer. “Until heaven and earth disappear,” says Christ, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) The Pharisee comes to God and asks for nothing. He boasts and thanks God that he is not as bad as other sinners. And God finds him guilty, just as surely as God finds you guilty if you consider yourself righteous because you have done better, lived better, than others. Never look at yourself in relation to other people when it comes to your standing before God. Look at yourself in the mirror of the Ten Commandments, and you will have a true sense of what you look like before God, and what kind of prayer you should bring to Him.

That’s how the tax collector in Jesus’ parable evaluates himself. He doesn’t tell us that he read the ten commandments in preparation for coming into the temple (which is, by the way, a good way to prepare for confession and absolution and the receiving of the holy body and blood of Christ—reading the Ten Commandments.) No, Jesus doesn’t tell us that he examined himself in the light of the Ten Commandments. We know it from what he says. He calls himself—not a person who makes bad choices sometimes, not a good person who means well. He calls himself “a sinner.”

Tax collectors had a bad reputation. They were regarded as sinners, whether or not they called themselves that, because commonly tax collectors made themselves rich by charging extra taxes and putting some of that extra in their pockets. When a tax collector went to the temple it was about like a drug dealer or a stripper coming to church. People would look at him as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

And so the tax collector enters the temple. But he comes in the temple with actions and words that speak a different message than that of the Pharisee. They show “a broken and contrite heart” which Psalm 51 says are “the sacrifices of God [which He] will not despise.” (v. 17) Because he doesn’t come into the temple acting like God owed him something, like the Pharisee. He comes but doesn’t look up to heaven when he prays. He stands far off—one would assume far off from God’s presence in the sanctuary, but maybe away from everyone else, too. He beats on his chest, a sign of great mourning. And he says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”


By saying he was a sinner he was saying just the opposite of what the Pharisee said. Not, “thank you that I’m good,” but, “I know that I am bad.” A sinner doesn’t have a claim on anything from God but His anger. In fact, the Law of God doesn’t hold out any hope for those who break it. It proclaims that God is a jealous God and that He punishes those who hate Him, which is what disobedience to His commandments is—hatred of God. The Law doesn’t hold out hope to sinners. In fact it proclaims with certainty that God will punish them. Because God is righteous, and His Law is righteous, and the unrighteous, the wicked, His soul hates, as Psalm 11 said.

Yet this tax collector has hope. He says, “God, be merciful to me.” The word in the original language is “be propitiated toward me.” That means, “God, let Your anger be turned away from me and Your favor come to me.”

Now, how did it enter into the tax collector’s head to pray this. Was it just some kind of shot in the dark, hoping to win the spiritual lottery, that maybe God would cancel His offenses and let His righteous wrath against the tax collector’s sin pass by? That would be a pipe dream, a vain hope. God is righteous and because He is righteous, unrighteousness, lawlessness, sin, and sinners must be punished.

No, the tax collector was basing his prayer on the Gospel, the good news that has been proclaimed by Scripture alongside of God’s holy law since the fall of man into sin. The tax collector prayed and trusted in the same thing that the saints of the Old Testament trusted in for salvation. They didn’t trust in their works, but in the promise of God to remove their sins, to justify them without the Law. Because David believed God would do this, after he stole another man’s wife and murdered him, he prayed: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2) Because David believed that God would justify sinners apart from the Law, apart from their deeds, he prayed, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him, and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)


In the Gospel, another righteousness is revealed than the righteousness of the Law. The righteousness that is by the Law says, “The man who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5) The righteousness revealed in the Gospel is the righteousness God has prepared for those who are under the curse of the Law because they have not kept it.

The righteousness revealed in the Gospel is the righteousness of Christ. He fulfilled all the commandments of God. He had no other gods, never misused God’s name, kept the Sabbath, always gladly hearing and learning God’s Word, always honored His parents, never spoke a word in hate, never harbored bitterness in His heart, never lusted, never stole, never slandered or gossiped, never coveted. He was righteous in thought and deed. Because He was righteous He merited God’s praise; He deserved to be declared righteous and to be exalted by God.

But instead He humbled Himself. He made Himself nothing and took the form of a slave. He humbled Himself to bear responsibility for our sins, for the sins of the world’s tax collectors and the sins of the world’s Pharisees, for Cain’s sins and for Abel’s, and for all the iniquity and wickedness from Adam to the end of the world. “And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) He died a cursed death for everyone who was under the curse of the Law, because it is written “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13) And by His death He redeemed us from the curse of the Law. He did not deserve to die, but He subjected Himself to death as though He was a sinner like us.

Here you can see how the righteousness of the Pharisee and all self-righteousness is directly opposed to the righteousness of Jesus. In our self-righteousness we exalt ourselves and claim we are not like other men. We are not like all the other sons of Adam who deserve death and hell, we claim. We try to raise our heads above the rest of humanity. But in reality we are no better than our brothers. We are transgressors, unrighteous, wicked in thought, word, and deed. But Jesus really was not like the rest of mankind. He was true God, and in Mary’s womb He became a true man. But He was born without the stain of Adam’s guilt and He never disobeyed God’s holy Law. He really was not like us, but He made Himself like us. He suffered with us, was weak like us, was tempted like us. Then He died like one of us, as though He had sinned. And just like we deserve for our sins, He experienced abandonment by God.

That is what the tax collector and we deserve—to beat our chest and weep and gnash our teeth forever because we are abandoned by God for our sins. But instead God has heard the crazy, seemingly impossible plea of the tax collector—“Be propitiated toward me, the sinner!” He has heard our pleas for mercy, too. He blotted out our transgressions in the suffering of His only-begotten Son. And because His judgment fell on His Son, it is no longer directed toward us who believe in Jesus. It is quenched and His favor is turned toward us. He has justified us—declared us to be righteous—through faith in Jesus Christ.

Who may dwell in God’s tabernacle and on His holy hill? The righteous. And the righteous man is the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). The righteous man is justified, declared to be righteous, apart from the Law, through faith in Christ alone. That’s why the tax collector went home justified. We don’t hear that he quit being a tax collector or started to restore what he stole.   That’s not because he wouldn’t have begun to turn away from his sin and do good works. He would have; that’s the necessary fruit of repentance and faith in Jesus. But it doesn’t tell us that in Jesus’ parable because the tax collector was justified before he began to change his life. God regarded him as righteous the moment he was sorry for his sins and trusted in the propitiation God was going to provide in Jesus’ death.

That’s how we receive the comfort the hymn of the day had us sing of, when we sang

And to this our soul’s salvation

                Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord,

                In Your Sacraments and Word.

                There He sends true consolation

                Giving us the gift of faith

                That we fear not hell nor death.

In the Word and Sacraments, in preaching, and Baptism, and Absolution and the Holy Supper, Jesus invites us to believe that in spite of our many sins we are regarded as righteous by God.

As Christians we continue to see and experience our sinfulness. We see our unbelief, our lack of fear of God, our other sins, and sometimes we say, “I hope I’m really a Christian. I hope I go home justified today. I hope I have heaven to look forward to when I die.” In the Sacraments and the Word Jesus, who has been exalted to heaven, justifies and exalts us. In His resurrection He left all the sin He had died for behind forever. On the cross sin and God’s wrath met in Him. Blood poured from His body and grief and anguish from His soul. But in His resurrection sin is as far from Him as heaven from earth. It is removed and destroyed. And in Baptism He pledges that we are united with Him in His exaltation. In the Holy Supper He gives us His crucified flesh and blood that blotted out our sins. There and in the Word He gives us the gift of faith so that we believe that His propitiation applies to us. Jesus has been justified, declared free of sin and exalted to the Father’s right hand. From there He gives the forgiveness of sins in the Word and Sacraments and assures us that we are justified in the midst of our ongoing struggle with sin.

And if you are justified, you are also exalted. Who does God exalt? With whom is He well-pleased? Who will dwell on His holy hill and in His tabernacle? The righteous person. Not the one who appears to be better than others in His own eyes. The one who God declares just. And that person is the one who without works believes in Jesus Christ. That person goes home to his house regarded by God as having fulfilled the whole law. And if God regards us that way, who will say otherwise? If God justifies, who is to condemn? And if God justifies us, He also exalts us. We have His favor in this life and we can boast before Satan and the world that we are pleasing to God. And we have in front of us a glorious hope-not merely that we go home to our house justified, but that God will welcome us into the heavenly mansions as His righteous ones, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. That’s what Jesus invites us to in His Word and Sacrament.

Your great love for this has striven

                That we may from sin made free

                Live with You eternally.

                Your dear Son Himself has given

                And extends His gracious call

                To His supper leads us all.


Soli Deo Gloria

The Bright Morning Star. Epiphany Sermon.

January 7, 2013 1 comment

jesus-the-morning-starThe Epiphany of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 2:1-11

January 6, 2013

“The Bright Morning Star”


Jesu juva.


In the Name of Jesus.


I, Jesus…am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.  Revelation 22: 14


The Aztecs were careful observers of the stars.  They saw that the wandering star we know as Venus would appear in the morning just before dawn; then it would disappear for awhile and appear as the evening star.  It seemed to come down onto the earth and then rise back into the sky again according to a regular pattern.  It is said that the Aztecs believed that it was one of their gods becoming human and visiting earth before the dawn of a new age.


Many nations looked intently at the stars, and many had stories, like the Aztecs, which told of a coming golden age preceded by a ruler who would be like the morning star—the small light before the dawn.  It sounds like the Gentile nations believed the story we are taught here—the story of the Gospel, the coming of God’s Son. 


But our ancestors were in darkness.  They searched the heavenly for knowledge of God and knowledge of the future.  But long before they had turned away from the God Who is the maker of the stars, who says:  Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?  He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.  (Isaiah 40: 26)


Our ancestors may have believed some things that sounded like the story you are taught here—the Gospel.  But so do the pagans, the unbelievers, who live today.  And there is a world of difference between a pagan funeral, where people say that their loved one is in a better place, and a Christian funeral, where we hear the minister say: I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  (John 11:25)


What is the great difference?  That in the pagan funeral people comfort themselves with a hope that God has not given.  The Christian funeral has a hope that the one and only God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has given.  He has given a word that gives us the right to hope and makes our hope certain. 


God first gave the promise of the morning star to Adam and Eve, that an offspring of the woman would crush the head of the devil.  But Cain despised and rejected that promise.  Later, so did all the people on earth except for Noah.  After the flood, the same thing happened again.  Despising God’s promise, which is certain, people turned away and invented their own stories.  When they despised God’s promise they were despising Christ.  The majority of the world lost the knowledge of God and became lost in thick darkness.


But God called Abraham and promised him again that one of His offspring would bring blessing and salvation to the whole earth.  He pointed Abraham to the heavens and told him that his descendants would be as many and as brilliant as the gleaming stars in the desert night.  Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  Abraham would have many descendants, but there would be one greater than them all—the Morning Star, whose appearing signaled the breaking of daylight upon the darkness.


In the Bible, angels and kings are often called “stars.”  God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and the messengers He sends to speak His Word, and the rulers He sends to govern as His representatives are like little lights—stars.  God promised to send a star—a human king—from the offspring of Jacob, who would rule the whole earth and bring the knowledge of God to the Gentiles.  Later He revealed that this last king would come from the house of David.


Jesus is the morning star that marks the end of the darkness. 


[1.  The great glory of this morning star.]


When this king appeared, it would mean joy for the people of Israel.  They were a small nation, constantly threatened by the power of great empires of violent people.  Their only protection was the promise of God to save them from their enemies, so long as they were faithful to Him.  But whenever pressure and temptation from the nations around them came, the Israelites were unfaithful.  They worshipped other gods, thinking the Lord was not enough.  Or they tried to depend on alliances with Gentile nations, which caused them to be influenced by the evil practices of the godless nations and which dishonored the Lord who had promised to save them.


So the Israelites received God’s chastisement.  They were constantly suffering invasions and oppression by other nations.  At last they were taken into captivity again in Babylon, as though they had never been the Lord’s people whom He set free from slavery in Egypt.  Instead of honor, God’s presence among the people of Israel resulted in shame for them, as their unbelief resulted in punishment. 


But in the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah tells how when the morning star, the Messiah comes, things will change for the Israelites. 


Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,  and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)


The Gospel reading shows that the day had come. The morning star was born, the Messiah who signaled the end of the darkness.  Foreign nations were appearing to worship the newborn king of the Jews.


But behold! Says Matthew.  This is a shocking thing!  The glory of the Lord has appeared on the physical descendants of Abraham.  The long awaited promise has come!  The day when glory and rejoicing instead of shame comes to the Israelites is here!  But the Israelites are not arising, not rejoicing.  At least, there are very few who are, hardly more than there are Gentiles, who are ignorant of the promise.  A few shepherds in Bethlehem, a few ancient godly people in Jerusalem.  But the leaders of the people don’t see the morning star rising—they know where the Messiah will come, but aren’t looking for Him and don’t know He’s there.  Only a few Magi—wise men from a foreign religion, people raised in idolatry, people who perhaps have practiced fortune telling and astrology and other forms of witchcraft which God condemns.


How can this be?  What does this mean?


Human beings are utterly in the dark, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  They do not know God and are not able to come to God, whether they have been raised with His Word or not.  This is what we are taught in the Small Catechism under the third article of the creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”


God alone is able to give light to our unbelieving, rebellious, blind and dark hearts.  Otherwise we are like the chief priests, who knew exactly where the morning star, the king of the Jews, was to be born, but were as much in the dark as the pagan nations.  Or we are like Herod, who finds out about the King of the Jews only to try to get rid of him and keep his throne.


The glory of God has risen on the human race.  It has come upon human beings.  The dawn of everlasting life is about to break.  Forgiveness of sins and the end of the devil’s reign has come.  All this has happened because Mary’s baby, a true human being, one of us, is also the Son from heaven, very God of very God.  He is David’s offspring but the root and creator of David, the bright morning star.


From Him the light of the eternal glory of God shines into the darkness of this creation and overshadows human beings.  It has come upon us, because God is one of us; He shares our nature.


But God’s glory is not visible to human eyes.  It is hidden.  People do not see or feel that the baby sitting on the lap of Mary his mother is the glorious God, or that His birth means their salvation and deliverance from hell and from all that could harm them.  If it was not proclaimed to us we would never know it.


But that is the glory of this child that is for us.  We are in darkness and cannot approach God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  We are not worthy to approach Him; we do not and cannot do His will.


But now He has become one of us.  He freely gives us His glory.  He gives us access to it and shares it with us.  He has come to fulfill the will of God for human beings.  He has come to fulfill all righteousness.  He has come to keep God’s law.  He has come to receive the penalty for sin. 


He is the light of God’s face shining upon us, the certain guarantee from God of salvation for sinners. 

He is the bright morning star.  His coming means the darkness of hell and sin and death is as good as dead.  Just as the morning star appears and tells those who understand that day is about to break, this bright morning star to which the Magi are led is the sign that light has broken upon us.  The glory of God is already yours, even though darkness and gloom still surrounds you, even lives in your heart.  It is yours in Jesus.


The wise men came and opened splendid treasures fit for a king—the perfume and rare medicine of myrrh that is used to embalm the dead and heal wounds.  The frankincense that was used to make sweet smoke in the worship of the temple.  The gold which adorns the houses of kings.


But Jesus opens still greater treasures to us. These treasures are not visible to the eye, because they are spiritual treasures that come from the treasure house of God.


He gives the healing balm of righteousness to our nature that takes away death and destroys the illness of sin living in our flesh.


He gives us the incense of pure prayer to God.  Through Him we come to God with prayers that are fully acceptable, sweet and pleasing.  Through faith in Him we are a sweet savor to God.


He gives us the gold of His kingship; He makes us share in His reign.


[2.  How the light of this morning star is seen]


The magi were led by a miraculous star.  But the star led them to the Word.


The physical, heard word leads us to the invisible light and glory of Christ.


Not an inner light but an external word pointing to a visible being—a child, and later a man, crucified, dead, buried.


Now the word leads us to Him, to the invisible glory that is ours in Him, as it comes in the water of baptism and the body and blood in the bread and wine.


That’s why we kneel at the altar.  It is not a symbol that comes to us, but the morning star, who makes the glory of God ours now; and soon the day will break upon us forever.  Amen


The peace of God…



“Christ is the real reality of humanity before God”

December 28, 2012 1 comment

st pat crucifix color closeup 3This is from an old post from Dr. Jack Kilcrease’s blog.  I like the way that he puts it so much I feel like there is a hymn or a poem about to emerge from it.

With this, therefore, we observe the basic ontic flaw in the logic of those who
rejection of objective justification.  Objective justification assumes that
Christ is the real reality of humanity before God.  Our justification is not
therefore a legal fiction because righteousness is not a predicate of our being,
but something that exists outside of ourselves already actualized in Christ.
This is true irrespective of our faith.  What those reject objective
justification assume is that being righteous means possessing a certain quality
in our being.  The predicate “righteousness” cannot be recognized coram Deo unless faith
is first present.  If faith is present, God can now predicate the quality of
righteousness present in Christ to person who has now accepted and received this
predicate into their being- though of course in this case by imputation  rather
than by renewal (as in RC theology).  … In this theology, I am an individual, centered
entity, existing on my own.  Likewise, so is Christ.  The only thing that
connects the various qualities present in our beings is faith which prompts
God’s imputation.
… The point is rather that the subjective justification brought
about by faith is not a legal fiction or the convergence of two centered
entities by an arbitrary judgment of God.  Rather, since Christ is the being of
my being, having faith means to cease to be self-alienated from my true self
which is to be found in the person of Christ.  The essence of sin is the be (as
Augustine says) curved in on one’s self.  One’s true being is external to one’s
self in God’s address.  Adam was “very good” because God continuously gave him
the good by his sustaining Word and he passively received it.  We now passively
receive the good every moment of every day and yet we are not good because he do
not praise God and therefore reject his grace in creation.  In the same way, the
person of my person is Christ and yet if I remain unbelieving, I am alienated
from my true reality before God in Christ.  I am rejecting God’s grace in
creation and redemption, and consequently I will be judged.  Faith therefore
simply means coming to my true self as God has actualized in a new narrative of
creation in Christ.

Related Links

Beggars Don’t Make Deals. Trinity 14 Sermon.

September 9, 2012 7 comments


Fun at last years’ church picnic

I had to edit this sermon on the fly because it was too long.  I’ve been trying to write them out again so I can get back to preaching around 10 minutes or 15 minutes.  But it’s not working because now I just write longer sermons.  The first version was about 500 words longer. 

A 24 year old man visiting the church told me, “I felt like you were talking directly to me.  And I like how you connect the preaching to real life.”  I put this down not to brag but because I’ve had so many other people tell me something like, “You have to stop preaching like you’re in the 16th century.  The young people aren’t interested in that.”  In fact  I just heard that from some people who transferred to another church a few weeks ago. 

I got all upset about that.  I don’t take the compliments to heart as much as the criticism.  But really preachers shouldn’t take either to heart.  If someone feels like I was speaking to them, and it was the Lord’s message, thanks be to God that He was able to hear Jesus who loves His lost sheep, and thanks be to God that I got to deliver the message from my Lord. 

14th Sunday after Trinity (Church Picnic)

St. Peter Lutheran Church/ Hamel Woods

St. Luke 17:11-17

September 9, 2012

“Beggars Don’t Make Deals”


Dear Christians:


You’re in trouble, and you’re desperate to get out of it.  Have you ever been there?  You’re in trouble.  It was a test you didn’t study for, or you’re getting pulled over, or the teacher caught you and you’re sweating through the rest of the day wondering whether she’s going to tell your parents.  Or your spouse caught you again.  Or you’re late again.  Or your child or your mother is in danger. Or it’s you; you might die.


Now you start praying frantically, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, please don’t let it happen.”  But the normal praying to God doesn’t seem to be enough this time, because sometimes God says no.  So you start trying to make a deal with God.  “Oh God, please help me out of this, and I promise I’ll go back to church.”  “Oh God save me and I’ll start living right.”  “Oh God, just let this not happen and I’ll never ask You for another thing.”  “Oh God, make this go away and you can have my whole life.  Take everything!  Just save me from this.”


Have you ever prayed a prayer like that?  Once, twice, a hundred times?  But then how many times after the danger had passed did you forget what you promised, or did you say to yourself, “Ah, I got all excited about nothing”? 


God is full of mercy, and He graciously turns danger away from us many times when we pray like that, even many times when He knows that we won’t keep our promises.  But the danger that we won’t keep our promises is less of an issue than the fact that we think, somewhere deep down in our hearts, that God needs to be bribed into giving a gracious hearing to our prayers.  Or that we have bargaining chips that we can use on God. 


God wants us to ask Him for help, for good things.  He commands us to ask Him.  It is a good thing when in times of great distress we humble ourselves before God.  Fasting and mourning during tragedies and  seeking God in prayer is something that people do in the Bible frequently.  Lutherans used to observe “Days of Humiliation and Prayer,” particularly when some great trouble was facing the church or the community or nation.  But although God does not despise a broken and contrite heart, we don’t force His hand.  We are beggars, and beggars don’t make deals.  We ask God to show us mercy.


 The life of faith is lived out in prayer.  It begins with the beggar’s cry for mercy, it fights unbelief and keeps its confidence that Christ will give what He has promised, and it perseveres until, having received what is promised, it gives thanks to God.

God doesn’t need to be bribed.  He wants to be gracious to us and answer our prayers for the sake of Jesus.  The thing is that we just don’t ask Him very much.  We don’t ask very much because we don’t like coming to Him as beggars who depend completely upon mercy.  We ask with our lips, but our hearts are not in it,  not with the sincerity and urgency of beggars. 


When I lived in Seattle, there was a man who used to sit on the sidewalk asking for spare change.  Yet he wore Oakley sunglasses and a designer puffy coat.  He didn’t even try to hide that he wasn’t really in need.  And when he asked for help he said, “Spare change?” in such a half-hearted way it made me kind of angry.  A person who really needed help would probably look the part, but he certainly wouldn’t ask for help as though he could take it or leave it!


Yet that is very often how we pray.  Not like people who really need it.  Not like beggars.  We still have a lot of pride, and we often think we can make a deal with God.  That kind of prayer is more likely to test God’s patience than to get a favorable hearing.


2. Have mercy. 

For instance, each week in the Divine Service or Matins we sing “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  The greek words for this are Kyrie Eleison, “Lord, have mercy”, and so that part of the service is called the Kyrie.  Yet so often while singing those words, and then later in the week as we work, and deal with our families and with one another at church, we act like we need mercy about as much as the guy with designer sunglasses in Seattle.  Our hearts are not crying out for mercy from Jesus, even though our lips may say it.


Contrast that with the ten lepers in the Gospel appointed for today.  Leprosy meant a disgusting skin disease.  It could have meant fingers and toes and noses and lips that had fallen off—horrible disfigurement.  It meant being cut off from the people of Israel and cut off from the presence of God in the temple.


Were they half hearted about gathering together and calling to Jesus for help?  No.  St. Luke tells us they lifted up their voices and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  They gathered together in a group in all their wretchedness.  They didn’t try to hide their shame or desperation.


Leprosy, despite the fact that its results are horrible to look at, is not a painful disease.  The skin disease that we usually call leprosy causes numbness.  People lose fingers and toes because they no longer feel pain in those parts of the body.  So their bodies get mangled, and their extremities fall off, but they don’t feel it.


We have a disease just like that.  However, we don’t feel it, even though it disfigures us, cuts us off from God, isolates us from other people, and impoverishes us.  It is a disease of spiritual deadness called original sin.  It’s easy to ignore this disease because we don’t feel it.  These lepers were disfigured and ugly by their disease, and they could see and feel their outcast status.  But we don’t feel or see the effects of original sin at work within us.  We don’t, by nature, feel how we are cut off from God.


Usually it’s some other kind of desperation that begins to bring us to God.  Only then do we begin to hear the Word of the Lord in His law that exposes the gruesome damage original sin has done to our soul.  We recognize through the Law that we constantly transgress God’s will in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Only then do we begin to recognize our spiritual leprosy and how it makes us repulsive in God’s sight, brings His wrath upon us.  Then we begin to recognize how bad our situation is and how desperately we need God’s help.


3.  Prayer and faith

But true prayer doesn’t come simply from beginning to recognize our desperation.  That is more likely to drive you away from praying.  The lepers weren’t supposed to come very near to Jesus.  The law of God demanded that they stay away from people who were clean.  Yet they drew near to Jesus and raised their voices to Him.  They did this because in spite of their sickness, and in spite of God’s law which made them outcasts, they believed in Jesus.  They had confidence in Him.  They had heard about Him—that He healed the sick, and that He had compassion on those who came to Him for help.  They came knowing the depth of their sickness, but faith in the Word about Jesus made them able to come near and ask for His help.


That’s the way it is with our prayers.  True faith in Christ gives birth to prayer.  True faith dwells in the hearts of sinners who recognize their unworthiness to speak to Jesus.  But they come with confidence that Jesus will hear them because they have learned from the Gospel that Jesus is not only able to help sinners, but loves them and wants to save them and help them. 


When you have a good conscience like that, you can pray.  You are sure that Jesus will hear you graciously and will grant you your request, or, if not that, then something better.  But without knowledge of sin there is no prayer, because there is no recognition of who we are and who God is.  Only beggars can properly pray and ask for mercy. 


With a bad conscience, there is no courage or motivation to pray.  Just think of how we have prayed in times of crisis!  Think of how many times you’ve prayed in trouble and doubted that God would listen to you because of your sins.  Think of how often you’ve become sluggish about praying at all, especially when you get depressed or the devil and the flesh remind you of the greatness of your sins.  It’s easy to talk about the greatness of our faith, but so often when trouble comes what we really want to be able to find something in ourselves that will give us assurance that God will hear us.

But true faith recognizes that there is nothing in us like that.  It trusts only in Jesus and His mercy and promises.  It says, “I am a beggar, I am aware that I deserve nothing but punishment.  But Jesus is able to help me with my spiritual leprosy as well as my earthly suffering.  And He wants to help me, because He came to earth to ransom those who are nothing but beggars, just like me.  He came to save sinners, so He will receive me and hear my prayer, because I am a sinner.  Even though I am unworthy to come near Him, He will not cast me away.


That is how true faith is.  It is not lazy and just vaguely hopes everything will turn out.  It is confidence about God’s mercy toward us in Christ—that God is gracious to us for Christ’s sake.  And so true faith boldly comes to God with its requests, with confidence that God will receive our prayer.  Lord have mercy.   I have no bargaining chips, only sin.  Yet He will not cast me out, because He is merciful and has come to take away my sins.


4.  Most fall away

Here is where the really sad part of the story comes in.  Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests.  That was what lepers did when they thought that they were healed of leprosy.  Then the priest would certify before God that they were truly cleansed, and they would be received back into fellowship with the people of Israel. 


When Jesus told them to go to the priests, He was telling them to behave as if they were already cleansed. 

However, He did not give them a promise that they would be cleansed.  He just told them to go.  Now at this point the lepers could have become angry and said, “He let us down!  We heard that He cleansed and healed people who came to Him!  Now he’s sending us to the priests!  The priests already know that we have leprosy.”


But the lepers didn’t do that.  They trusted Jesus.  This is how faith works.  It trusts Jesus to be gracious to us even when it isn’t obvious that He is being gracious.  Unbelief would see this command of Jesus as incomprehensible and would begin to doubt His goodness.  But the lepers went believing that they would be healed, or if they weren’t healed, that Jesus would be giving them something even better.

There is no need for us to make deals with God, even if we could.  We are beggars asking for His mercy.  But we are assured of His mercy, that He will give us far above and beyond what we would even think to ask.  Because of this the peace of God reigns in our hearts and we are not enslaved by worry.  When we are anxious, it is due to our unbelief that God hears us and will always do good for us.  But don’t doubt that!  He has promised you His grace in Christ.


But something strange happened to the lepers.  Either on the road or in Jerusalem, 9 of them, despite the faith that brought them to Jesus and which led them to follow His instructions and go to the priests as if they were already cleansed—9 of them fell away. 


It’s hard to say with certainty why.  One explanation is that when they got to Jerusalem the chief priests convinced them that it was actually God working through the priesthood that healed the lepers.  The priests were not fans of Jesus.  His teaching and authority and popularity threatened their power.  But the priests had their authority from the Scripture.  In the Old Testament God appointed the sons of Aaron as priests who would enter into His presence on behalf of the Israelites.  Maybe the lepers were convinced by the priests that Jesus was a false prophet, and so they lost their faith in Him.  Their condemnation of Jesus would have had great weight, because it would have meant that if these lepers continued to confess Jesus as the one who healed them, they would have remained excommunicated from the people of Israel and the temple.  The priests could have also had them killed if they accused the lepers of blasphemy.


But the temptation they faced is one that we face too.  Oftentimes through one suffering or another people come to Jesus and they are truly broken and empty beggars.  They come to Jesus for healing and deliverance from a bad conscience or poverty or some other tribulation.  But when they get what they asked for from Jesus, they forget about Him.  Why?


Because we don’t want to be beggars.  We want to stand on our own two feet.  And Jesus takes away our ability to brag that we stand on our own two feet.  To be a Christian is to depend on Jesus only.  We have nothing but Jesus.  No matter how long we are Christians, no matter how many good works we have done, our righteousness and our trust is always only Jesus.


So when the priests said, “Jesus didn’t actually heal you.  It was the God of Israel in this temple, working through us—“ that was a powerful temptation.  It was a temptation that said, “Now you can be like everyone else.  Now you no longer have to be an outcast.” 


These lepers still had something in themselves that they could hang on to.  They were Israelites.  They had the DNA of God’s chosen people.  If they stuck with Jesus they would lose all that.


Because Jesus was an outcast.  The leaders of God’s people rejected Him.  He was cast out as one who was unclean.  Later He was put to death on a cross—the death of a man cursed by God.  Just like a leper—since leprosy was usually viewed as a divine curse and punishment.  The 9 Jewish lepers didn’t want to go back to being an outcast.  That meant they stayed at the temple and didn’t go back to Jesus.


One leper did go back.  Only one fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.  He gave thanks to God not at the splendid temple in Jerusalem, but at the lowly feet of Jesus, at the temple of Jesus’ human flesh, which would soon be pierced, nailed to the cross as a castaway, as one cursed by God.


This man was a Samaritan.  Samaritans were as hated by the Jews as Christians would later hate heretics.  This heretic was the only one who did not fall away, who stayed with Jesus not only for physical healing, but returned to give thanks to Him, and thus received not just bodily blessings but the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.


Some people teach that Christians, once they become Christians, can never fall away.  That is not true.  People often begin with faith in Jesus but are later turned aside from Him.  Like a dog that returns to its vomit, oftentimes we are laid low and come to Christ, but later we get on our feet again and no longer want to stick with Him through shame, and rejection, and persecution.


The one who persevered did not have the gifts that the others had.  He was not a Jew by birth.  They had been taught the word of God since they were little.  The Jews had God’s presence in the temple.  The Samaritans did not. They were not God’s chosen people.  Yet the leaders of the people of God, and all the lepers were all rejected by God.  They fell away.  Only this Samaritan knew where God’s grace was truly to be found—in the lowly temple of Jesus’ flesh. 


Jesus’ mother sang a song when He was born called the magnificat.  In that song she sang these words: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty.”


Our flesh hates being a beggar.  But beggars are the only  ones who receive Christ’s mercy and stay in it—poor, wretched sinners who have nothing to rely on except Christ and His pure mercy, which moved Him to die for sinners.


5.  We should give thanks to You…

The life of faith perseveres until it receives what is promised and gives thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is the completion of the life of faith.  When we come to our rest at the right hand of God it will be endless thanksgiving.  It will be the thanksgiving of beggars who have received salvation.

But thanksgiving begins now.  Faith in Christ does not only result in earthly blessings; faith in Christ takes hold of something much greater than that.  It claims cleansing and forgiveness of sins.  It claims Jesus Christ as its own.  Jesus Christ, dead for our sins on the cross, risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Ours.  Now.

“It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord…” 


Why should we give thanks to God in every circumstance, whether it is pleasant or not—whether we have earthly blessings or suffering? 


Because Jesus gives us His body and blood.  And having that, we have everything.  If we have Jesus’ body and blood given for us, we are saved and nothing can hurt us—no suffering can rob us of everlasting life.


We have the victory no matter what.


Christian faith does not merely seek and receive blessing from Christ.  It also continues and bears the fruit of thanksgiving.  Faith perseveres and proves itself by giving thanks to Jesus.  And that means not merely with our lips, but also with our bodies and lives.  Faith in Christ results in thanksgiving, where we offer ourselves and all we have and are back to Christ in joy and gratitude, since He has saved us.


That is our holy work, our holy sacrifice, as Christ’s royal priesthood.  Paul says in Romans 12: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.  This is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


The 9 lepers who fell away were conformed to the world.  They went back to relying on themselves.


But the Samaritan was transformed.  Not only was he healed physically, but He began to see where the healing from the uncleanness of original sin is found.


It is found in the body of Jesus.


In Jesus’ body is where our cleansing from sin has been completed.  He was without sin, yet He died as an unclean thing under the wrath of God. 


We come to Him by faith.  We believe that His body and blood were given and shed for us.  We eat and drink His body at the altar and by faith receive assurance that our sins are forgiven, destroyed, and that we have life, even though we still see the uncleanness of original sin, spiritual leprosy, at work in us.


Yes, your sins are destroyed in jesus’ death, and life and purification and holiness are yours in His resurrection.  You share in all of this because He has said it is yours in Your baptism.


And so by faith we fall at His feet and give our whole selves to Him, because nothing can harm us if we have purification from this spiritual leprosy.


We can’t see Jesus today, so how can we fall at His feet and thank Him?


First of all, come receive His body and blood, and hold fast to His promise that your sins are forgiven and cleansed by it.


Secondly, give thanks to Him and call on Him in every trouble.


Third, offer your body up to Him.  Let Him have your money, time, heart.  Serve His body, the church, particularly on sinful Christians.  Show mercy to the poor, give yourself in service to those Christ would have you serve in your calling.  If you want to give all of yourself to Christ in thanksgiving for Him giving all to you that is where He sends you.


Be comforted O Christians by Jesus’ body and blood which is the cure for your spiritual leprosy!  Then you will bear the fruit of thanksgiving and love.  This is the work that Christ is building His church among us to do.  He gives You His gifts so that we may not go back and stand on our own two feet, but stay with Him who was made an outcast for us.  And with Him we become servants of the outcasts and unclean.



%d bloggers like this: