Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Name:
Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
August 26, 2007
Text: Luke 13:22-30

There are two kinds of people in God’s sight. There are those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ, and there are those who don’t. There are those who trust in the saving work of Jesus on the cross and who claim Jesus’ righteousness as their own, and there are those who reject Jesus and His righteousness, preferring to offer God their own works. There are those from the east and the west, the north and the south, who recline at Table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all of the prophets, feasting on the Lord’s body and blood. And there are those who spit out that holy food in rejection, who refuse to take the medicine of immortality, and by the time they realize what they have missed, it is too late. The doors have been locked and the unfaithful find themselves in the darkness of night where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Now is the Day of Salvation. You cannot be saved by your own works. Don’t even try. You have no righteousness of your own. You have no leg to stand on. If you hope to be saved, you must have the righteousness of Another. And there is only One Whose righteousness fits the bill. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lived the righteous life that we cannot live. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who paid the death penalty that we, by our sins, deserved. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was raised again by God the Father for our justification, forever defeating death and Satan. Faith receives the gifts of our Lord. Faith receives His righteousness and salvation. Without faith, it is impossible to receive these things. Without Jesus, it is impossible to be saved. Without Jesus, it is impossible to be righteous.

So from God’s perspective, there are two kinds of people. There are the righteous, and there are the unrighteous. Now, you have to understand that the difference between these two kinds of people has nothing to do with their own personal sinfulness vs. their good works. Both kinds of people are sinners who deserve nothing but damnation. But the first kind, those who are righteous, have the righteousness of Jesus and make no claims for righteousness on the basis of their own works. The second kind, the unrighteous, are unrighteous because they refuse the righteousness of Christ. The first group lives before God justified, righteous on account of Christ. The second group lives before God as wholly unrighteous and wallowing in sin.

This brings us to the question presented by one of Jesus’ hearers in the Gospel lesson. “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23; ESV). Jesus answers, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (v. 24). Even in this fallen flesh, it is natural for man to seek salvation. Every religion under heaven seeks to answer the question: What will happen to me after I die? How will I face the Judgment seat of God? Many seek to enter the Lord’s Kingdom. But there is only one way, and few find it. We can only enter through the narrow door. All other doors lead to hell. You can only enter the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus means when He talks about the narrow door. You can’t invent your own way into the Kingdom. You can’t get in by your own quick wit, your charm, or your good works. You can only get in through Jesus. That means believing in Him, trusting in Him for salvation and every blessing, knowing that His grace is for you. That kind of faith is a gift from God. It is given to you in the Word and in Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is given to you in no other way than by these Divinely appointed means of grace. And it is sustained by God in these means of grace. That’s why it’s so important that you be in church each Sunday. You need the means of grace like your body needs oxygen, food, and water. You need the means of grace if your faith is to live. The means of grace give you Jesus, and He alone is your righteousness and salvation. "(A)s it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:17).

We’ve talked about how there are only two kinds of people before God. There are also only two kinds of religion. There is Christianity, the religion of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without the works of the Law. And there are all the other religions that tell you that you can only be saved by living a righteous life, fulfilling the Law. All religions but Christianity are religions of works. Christianity alone is a religion of grace. And Christianity is the only religion that gives you Christ, the narrow door. So only Christians can be saved. This is a scandal to the world. Everyone in the world wants to get into the Kingdom of God. But there is only one way: Christ. There is only the narrow door. “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:25-28). This is a hard word from the Lord. But it is a crucial warning. When the Master shuts the door, which is to say, when you die or when the Lord returns, there are no more chances. Outside of the door there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, which is to say, hell. So stop inventing your own ways into the Kingdom. There are no side doors. There is only one door; the narrow door. There is only Jesus. He is the only way. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Believe in Him, trust Him, for He brings you into the narrow door, into His Kingdom, and gives you His righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, and every other blessing.

In other words, He makes you into the first kind of people we considered, those who claim Christ’s righteousness alone, who are justified by faith in Christ, and have peace with God. You are believers in Christ. You have been made believers in Holy Baptism as God claimed you for His own. You have ever since been sustained by His Word and Holy Supper. The Holy Spirit has given you faith in Christ by means of the Word, and He has sustained you in that faith. Even your faith is not a work that gains entrance to heaven. It is a gift. God guides you through the narrow door.

So now, what happens to you when you die? As a Christian, one who trusts in Christ for salvation, your Lord says to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Your soul enters the heavenly mansions to live with Jesus, while your body peacefully sleeps in the grave awaiting its resurrection and reunion with your soul. How can you face the Judgment seat of God? You can face it with confidence, knowing that when God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Jesus. He sees robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. He does not see sin. He sees only the perfection of His Son. You stand as those baptized into Christ. You stand as dearly loved children of God. So God declares you innocent in the Judgment, because of Christ. That is why you believe in Him. That’s the narrow door.

By the way, you’ve already entered the narrow door. Just don’t go out of it again, back into the night. You entered the narrow door when you came to faith in Jesus. Eternal life starts the moment you come to faith. For most of us, this happens when we are baptized as infants, but it isn’t too late if you are an adult. It is only too late when you die, or when our Lord returns. That is when the door is shut to you. But right now it is open. And you have been brought through it by faith. You have been brought into the Kingdom by God. You even now enjoy the status of the redeemed Kings and Queens of the universe. The world doesn’t recognize that now, but that’s okay. They will. They will when our Lord returns and Himself bears testimony to the truth of your royalty.

In the mean time, it is enough that He’s knows you, and loves you, and bids you feast at His Table. There, feasting with you, are Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. There are all the prophets and apostles and martyrs. There is St. Paul and Martin Luther and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is Ruth and her grandson, King David. There are the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, including your loved ones who have died in Christ. And there is the Holy Church throughout the world, spanning all of space and time, made up of holy believers in Christ. Behold the host arrayed in white, who have entered the narrow door, and feast with us this morning on the Lord’s body and blood. Thanks be to God. It is by His grace that we are here this morning. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Already-Not Yet

Some good words from Dr. Scaer...

"While asserting that the Christian from his perspective faces death and resurrection as future non-accomplished realities, we cannot overlook Paul's viewing the matter from the divine perspective and observing something entirely different. From God's point of view the Christian has already endured death and triumphed in the resurrection. Baptism and faith are the divine given certainties that the Christian has already gone through the grave with Christ and is already now reigning with Him. It would not be amiss to state that Martin Luther revels in viewing crucifixion and resurrection as accomplished for the Christian. Salvation is not a possibility, but with God it is reality through Baptism and faith. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are the crucifixion and resurrection of humanity in totality."

From David Scaer, Crucifixion and Resurrection in the New Testament (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, n.d.) p. 8.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
August 19, 2007
Text: Luke 12:49-56

Jesus and His Word are above all human relationships in terms of loyalty and priority. So when we encounter a conflict between Jesus and someone or something else, Jesus should come out on top every time. Likewise, when there is a clear word from Jesus that conflicts with the word of the world or of a false teacher or even of a beloved family member or friend, the Word of Jesus should come out on top every time. This all sounds good to our pious ears in principle. But in practice, it is terrifying. It is terrifying because it calls upon us to speak Jesus’ Word and confess His Name, even if this means the division of father from son, mother from daughter, and mother-in-law from daughter-in-law. It calls upon us to be faithful even if it means the death of us. It calls upon us to daily take up our crosses and follow our crucified God.

You see, the real Jesus is a scandal. The fallen world has no problem with a Jesus who is meek and mild and brings some sort of ideal of peace on earth. That’s the stuff of sentimental Christmas cards, but it isn’t the real Jesus. The real Jesus says things like, “I came to cast fire on the earth… Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:49, 51; ESV). Or as Jesus says elsewhere, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Needless to say, the world does not like this Jesus. He demands too much sacrifice. He does not fit so well into the nicely wrapped box we have created to confine Him, much less does He fit the bill for a Christmas card.

It is hard to remain faithful to the real Jesus and His difficult Word. We much prefer a Jesus of our own making. So does the world. It is hard to remain faithful to Jesus and His Word when it offends our neighbors and divides us from those we love. Just ask any parent who has had to preach God’s Law to a child living with a member of the opposite sex out of wedlock. Just ask the faithful Christians in the ELCA who confess the truth about the sin of homosexuality, despite the latest tyranny of their church-body (an issue which I’m sure has divided ELCA families and certainly congregations). Just ask the Lutheran pastors in Sweden who have had to face jail time for opposing the ordination of women on the basis of God’s clear Word. Sometimes we have to speak hard words to those we love. We have to speak them because they are Jesus’ words, and real love demands that we give our loved ones the real Jesus. That’s why we practice closed communion. It’s not that we don’t want to be nice. Our practice is motivated by love for our neighbors, who, according to Jesus’ Word, could take the Sacrament to their souls’ harm, and even the detriment of their bodies, if they fail to recognize the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27-30). It’s a hard practice. It’s a hard word for a pastor to have to speak, telling someone they shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Supper. But nowhere in the Bible does it say Jesus’ Word has to be easy. Rather, God declares through the prophet Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29). Love demands that we give our neighbors the real Jesus… that we speak His real Word, even when it is hard. Parents must chastise and discipline their children. Christians must admonish one another on the basis of God’s Word. And all followers of Christ should confess Him to the world, even when the world is offended.

Have you been unfaithful to Jesus and His Word? Have you preferred your father or son, mother or daughter, mother-in-law or daughter-in-law to Jesus and His Word? Have you made your family members and friends into idols? Of course you have. Repent. For Jesus has never been unfaithful to you. He is here even now to forgive you all your sins. He is here to reclaim you. He has been baptized into the wrath of God for you, that you might be baptized into Him as His own. He has bought you with His own blood and death. He has engraved you on the palms of His hands. Though His Word is hard, take His yoke upon you, and learn from Him, for He is gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matt. 11:29-30). He recreates you so that you can be faithful. He gives you His own strength. He bears you up. He carries you. He puts His good, albeit sometimes hard, Word into your mind and heart and mouth. And He promises, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Jesus’ Word and works that cause so many divisions are signs of the Kingdom. Jesus says as much in the Gospel lesson. He calls those “hypocrites” who can predict the weather on the basis of the signs in the sky, but cannot see the clear signs of the Kingdom of God. The Word and works of Jesus clearly show that the Kingdom of God has come in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. This is what the coming of the Kingdom means: Jesus is King! He has come to bring forgiveness and life to a lost and dying world. But He has also come to claim all men and women exclusively for Himself. He has come to claim the allegiance and faith of all people for the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there is no room for other gods in the hearts of those Jesus claims. Your God is either the Triune God, or your god is something else, but it cannot be both. You cannot serve two masters. And this is what is so offensive to the world. You cannot serve both God and Allah. You cannot serve the true God and the god of the Jews or the gods of the Hindus and Buddhists. You cannot serve both God and mother earth. You cannot serve both God and money, or possessions, or father/son, mother/daughter, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law. You cannot serve both God and the self. And this presents a problem for our selfish, pleasure driven culture. It also presents a problem for everyone one of us who has set up these things as idols. That includes you and me.

So we need to know two things. First, Jesus died to win forgiveness for our unfaithfulness and idolatry. Our sins were taken by Jesus all the way to the cross. We have been set free from our sin. Second, the world continues to be offended by Jesus and His Word. So you can expect persecution from the world for your God-given faithfulness to Jesus. Jesus even said, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:16-17). But take heart. Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus gives you the strength and ability to confess Him faithfully even in a world that despises Him and His followers, and even among loved ones who cannot believe in the God you serve. What Jesus is calling us to do is bear the cross, even in the face of ridicule and hatred.

But here’s the good news. Jesus did, in fact, come to bring peace. It’s just not the peace that the world expects, or the peace that we find on sentimental Christmas cards. In the midst of division and the cross, Jesus brings peace to sinners. He brings peace to you. Jesus did not come to bring “peace on earth” in the John Lennon “Give Peace a Chance” manner of speaking. He came to bring peace with God to sinners in need of Divine reconciliation. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Jesus mends the relationship broken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He mends the relationship broken by you in your own sin. He absolves you with the words, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). He delivers this peace in Word and water and bread and wine, which are His true body and blood, again, the signs of the Kingdom.

The real Jesus and His Word and cross are a scandal to the world, but life and salvation to you who believe. So do not be discouraged. Do not be disheartened. Your Lord is with you. Your Lord is in you. And you are in your Lord. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:2-3). Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and know that He always has His eyes fixed on you. In fact, you are the apple of His eye, hidden under the shadow of His wings. And He will not leave you helpless. He is coming again. He is coming for you. On that day, all sad divisions will cease, for all will be made perfect in the Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Righteous God

More from Luther on Psalm 51:1:

"Now we must consider whether it is appropriate for him to say, 'Have mercy on me.' If you look at the persons dealing with each other here, God and the sinner David, their great dissimilarity and an insoluble contradiction will appear. Is it not the feeling of all nature and a judgment of all men that God hates sin? As the blind man says (John 9:31), 'We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him.' In the Decalog it says (Ex. 20:5), 'I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.' Yes, throughout Moses there is almost nothing but sheer threats against the wicked and disobedient, and the feeling of nature agrees with the Law of Moses, a feeling we cannot eradicate in any way. All men judge this way: 'You are a sinner, but God is righteous. Therefore He hates you, therefore He inflicts punishments upon you, therefore He does not hear you.' Nothing in our nature can deny this conclusion. Hence almost all the holy fathers who wrote about the psalms expounded 'the righteousness of God' to mean that He righteously avenges and punishes, not that He justifies. So it happened to me when I was a young man that I hated this name for God, and from this deep habit I still shudder today when I hear someone say, 'the righteous God.' So great is the power of wicked teaching if the mind is imbued with it from childhood. Yet almost all the early theologians expound it this way. But if God is righteous in such a way that He righteously punishes according to deserts, who can stand before this righteous God? For we are all sinners and bring before God a righteous reason for Him to inflict punishment. Out of here with such a righteousness and such a righteous God! He will devour us all like a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). Because God sent Christ as Savior, He certainly does not want to be righteous in punishing according to deserts. He wants to be righteous and to be called righteous in justifying and having mercy on those who acknowledge their sins."

Luther's Works, 55 vols., Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955) 12:313-14.

The Absolute God vs. The God Who Promises

From Luther's comments on Psalm 51:1 ("Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love; according to Thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions").

"David mentions God and makes no reference to Christ. Here at the very beginning you should be reminded of something so that you do not think that David is talking about God like a Mohammedan or like some other Gentile. David is talking with the God of his fathers, with the God who promised. The people of Israel did not have a God who was viewed 'absolutely,' to use the expression, the way the inexperienced monks rise into heaven with their speculations and think about God as He is in Himself. From this absolute God everyone should flee who does not want to perish, because human nature and the absolute God - for the sake of teaching we use this familiar term - are the bitterest of enemies. Human weakness cannot help being crushed by such majesty, as Scripture reminds us over and over. Let no one, therefore, interpret David as speaking with the absolute God. He is speaking with God as He is dressed and clothed in His Word and promises, so that from the name 'God' we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs. We must take hold of this God, not naked but clothed and revealed in His Word; otherwise certain despair will crush us."

Cited in Luther's Works, 55 vols., Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955) 12:312.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Important Resource

The Rev. Ernie Lassman, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA (and who also, incidentally, just happens to have been my bishop on vicarage), is the Synod's (unofficial) foremost authority on Adult Information Classes. What makes his Adult Information Class (AIC) so special? First, he runs a very effective direct mailing campaign to several zip codes in Seattle. I say "effective" because it is not uncommon for him to have a class of 30+ students. Second, he offers the class as a free, no-obligation, no-pressure opportunity to learn about the Christian faith, particularly, Lutheranism. The class can lead to membership, but it does not have to. Third, what really makes his AIC so special is... well, you just need to see it for yourself. And now you can!

Pr. Lassman and the members of Messiah have made the AIC available on an 8 DVDs for $20 ($25 if you can't pick them up in person). You can order the DVDs by writing to Messiah Lutheran Church, 7050 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115. But you can also watch all the AIC lessons for free online! Check it out at Messiah's website: <http://www.messiahseattle.org/education/aic/videos/index.htm>. It is also available on YouTube.

Why are these videos such an important resource? 1. If your congregation doesn't have an AIC of some sort, you should start one. Messiah is a growing confessional, liturgical, conservative, unapologetically Lutheran congregation in liberal Seattle, all because they put on a good old-fashioned Adult Information Class. 2. If your congregation does have an AIC, you can view Pr. Lassman's video as part of your preparation for class (whether as student or teacher). 3. Whether you have an AIC or not, the videos make a great addition to your personal or congregational video library. 4. In a pinch, you can use Pr. Lassman's videos for Bible class and catechesis. My home congregation is currently vacant. My mother bought a copy of the videos for use in Bible class in the absence of a pastor.

A link to the Adult Information Class will be available from this blog as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (C)
The Baptism of Wyatt James Harmsen
August 12, 2007
Text: Luke 12:22-40

Anxiety is epidemic in this fallen world. We are an anxious people. We are anxious and worried over many things. What causes your anxiety? Perhaps it is a health problem. Perhaps it is a conflict with a loved one. Perhaps it is your job or your marriage or your children. Perhaps it is money or possessions. We are all anxious. Many of us suffer with chronic anxiety and depression. Some even suffer from panic attacks. It seems that wherever we look for relief, we are disappointed. Even when we are in good health, we still worry over our bodies. The more faith we put in our human relationships, the more others let us down and cause even more conflict. The more money and possessions we hold, the more anxiety these things cause, because we have to keep up with them, and it is never enough. We always “need” more, we think. And this is cause for great anxiety.

What we need, in truth, is really quite simple. We need a healing word from Jesus. And He speaks that healing word to us this morning. “Do not be anxious.” Jesus “said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:22-23; ESV). Food and clothing are good gifts of God. And that’s just it: they are gifts. From God. They are given freely by our heavenly Father who already knows that we need these things. We belong to the Father. He who gives food to the sparrow and dresses the lilies of the field, how will He not also feed and clothe us, who have been purchased by the blood of His beloved Son, Jesus?

Yes, how will our good and gracious Father not also feed and clothe you, o you of little faith (v. 28)? Here’s the thing: anxiety is sin. Anxiety is sin in that it is lack of faith. It is lack of faith in our giving God. It is lack of faith in His providence and love. It is lack of faith in His promise to give us hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). It is lack of faith in the One who did not spare His own Son, but gladly gave Him up for us all. But all the evidence points to the fact that God is ever faithful. He will not let you down. He has never yet failed to make good on His promises. So Jesus says to you what He said to His first band of anxious disciples: Do not be anxious. “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31).

“Fear not, little flock,” for you are baptized. And “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). All things are yours in Christ, the whole Kingdom. You are kings and queens of creation on account of Christ. So what can harm you? Why be anxious? You are baptized. God has made you His own child in Holy Baptism, just as you saw Him make Wyatt James His own child this morning. You are baptized into Christ. Your sins have been washed away. You have received His righteousness. His death and resurrection have become your own. Satan can no longer accuse. Sin cannot harm you. Even death cannot take away your gladness. You are baptized into the One who can calm stormy seas with a word. Surely He can calm your troubled breast with the same word: “quiet, be still, do not be anxious.” You lack nothing in Christ Jesus. The Father’s good pleasure is to freely give the whole Kingdom to those who are in Christ by virtue of Baptism. Therefore you have no reason to fear.

In fact, you are released from your bondage to fear. You are released from your bondage to anxiety. Your lack of faith, your worry, your inability to place yourself under God’s total care, have been forgiven and wiped away. They have been nailed to Jesus’ cross. He has paid the price for them. So now you are free. You are free to live confidently and boldly in Christ as a baptized Christian. Now you can give freely, as God has freely given to you. That’s what Jesus is indicating when He says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vv. 33-34). You have been given all things. You know that you will always have what you need. God has promised that it is so. In fact, you have so much more than you need. So now you have the joy of giving it away. You have the joy of providing for the needs of your neighbor, for having mercy. Do you have more than you know what to do with? Give it away. Give it to one who has need. Or do you still doubt that God will provide? If so, repent. And remember the promise. Your heavenly Father knows that you need food and drink and shelter and clothing. Seek His Kingdom, and the rest will be added to you. Do not doubt, but believe.

Abraham serves as a perfect example from the Old Testament. Abraham was an anxious man. We read about this in our Old Testament lesson this morning (Gen. 15:1-6). He was anxious because he had no heir. His wife, Sarah, was barren. A servant would receive all his possessions. But God came to Abraham with a healing word: “Fear not” (v. 1). Abraham’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God promised. And Abraham believed. “(H)e believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (v. 6). Abraham was justified by faith. The cure for anxiety is trust in the promises of God.

God made good on His promise to Abraham, and He makes good on His promises to you. In fact, all who believe are counted as Abraham’s descendants, for “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Like Abraham, you believe God, and it is counted to you as righteousness. It is not some righteousness that you come up with on your own. It is the righteousness that belongs to Christ, earned by Him, and given to you freely. You are justified by grace through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Eph. 2:8). You believe the promises of God. You trust in Him for salvation and every blessing. That’s what it means to have faith. “So then,” says Paul, “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:9).

Do not be anxious. You don’t have to be. You are free of all anxiety and worry. Do not be anxious, but be prepared. The Master is returning. He will not leave you alone. His coming will be a time of great joy for you if you remain in His Word and faith. So keep hearing the Word. Keep living in your Baptism. Keep receiving the gifts He gives in His Holy Supper. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (Luke 12:35-37). A remarkable thing happens when the master finds His servants awake when He comes. It is against all reason. It is even an offense to those outside the faith. When the Master, Jesus, comes to His servants, He has them recline at table and He serves them (v. 37). And we don’t have to wait until the Last Day for that reward. He will do it again here this morning in the Sacrament.

You come to the Table this morning in faith, as Abraham did. You come as those baptized into Christ, as Wyatt James was this morning. You come and leave your anxieties at Jesus’ feet. He takes care of them. He forgives your sin and doubt. He gives you His righteousness. He gives you faith to believe. And the gifts He gives will never be taken away from you. Blessed are you, for the Father’s good pleasure is to give you the Kingdom. He gives it to you this morning in the body and blood of Jesus, His dear Son. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Midnight's Another Day

In a previous life, before theology and the love of my life and our as-yet-unborn child took over, music consumed most of my time. I still love music, though today's music scene, at least on a popular-music level, has left much to be desired. But one man continues to make incredible music. It is pop-music, I suppose, but it is much more than that. I'm speaking of Brian Wilson. I'm not talking about the surfing and car songs he did with the Beach Boys. I'm talking about Pet Sounds and SMiLE, and now his most recent work, That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative). (Incidentally, this is not an endorsement of Brian Wilson's personal theology, though there is much to be learned theologically from his music, as we will see below).

Do yourself a favor and navigate your way over to Brian's website, <http://www.brianwilson.com/>, and listen to the new sample track from That Lucky Old Sun, "Midnight's Another Day." It is heartbreaking and tragic and cathartic and healing all at the same time. It is honest. It isn't fake, like so much of pop music is today. It is the theology of the cross tempered with eschatological hope. There is hope in the new day. It dawns when we least expect it... in the darkness of midnight, in the midst of the cross and suffering. Midnight's another day.

North Prairie Pastor

My dear friend, The Rev. Timothy Winterstein, has a new blog for sermons, pastoral letters, and other such miscellanea <http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/>. Check it out. I especially recommend his post on "Why Private Confession and Absolution?" The Lord has blessed the Church with another faithful Seelsorger. Praise be to God.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
August 5, 2007
Text: Luke 12:13-21/ Eccl. 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). It is the making of gods out of material possessions. This is why our Lord is so pointed in His admonition to avoid covetousness. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; ESV). To covet means “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.”[1] Theologically, it means to selfishly desire what God has not seen fit to give you. When Jesus tells us to guard against all covetousness, He is preaching the 9th and 10th Commandments. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”[2] The 9th Commandment prohibits coveting our neighbor’s inanimate possessions and urges us to aid him in protecting and keeping them. The 10th Commandment is like unto it: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.” The 10th Commandment prohibits coveting the living things that belong to our neighbor and urges us to promote their loyalty to him.

Coveting is stealing in your heart. And every one of us is guilty. We always want a little more. We always want what someone else has or what we can’t have. We always think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. This is covetousness. It is also, as I said, idolatry. It is idolatry because it makes possessions and physical things into gods. It also makes us into our own gods, because it is ultimately our pleasure and comfort that we seek, without regard to God’s will or the good of others. And it is a failure on our part to recognize the Father as the Giver of all good gifts, to believe in His providence, that He gives us all that we need for the support of this body and life and the good of our souls. It is a failure on our part to be content with what He has given us and to receive it with thanksgiving.

A sainted professor of mine, who is now in heaven with Jesus, Kurt Marquart, always said that the secret of happiness is contentment. He gained that beautiful insight from the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul writes, “there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). He writes elsewhere, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).

We could all be happy if we only learned to be content. But we make the mistake of seeking contentment in our possessions, rather than in God. We should be happy in God, not in our possessions. Our fallen flesh, however, always believes the lie of the devil that a little more money, another man or woman, a faster car, a little more food at the potluck, is what will finally bring us happiness. This is the mistake the rich man made in our Lord’s parable. He had been greatly blessed by God. His fields had produced plentifully. He was set. He had more than he could possibly use. Now, the Christian and God-pleasing thing to do would have been to use his abundance to help others, to have mercy, and so to be rich toward God. But that thought never entered the man’s mind, or at least if it did, he quickly shoved it away. No, rather, he said to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). The rich man had stored up his treasure for this life, desiring to enjoy the pleasures this life has to offer without any thought of the life to come. This was the rich man’s fatal mistake. “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (vv. 20-21).

Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, understood this. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity… I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2; 2:18-19). It was quite clear to Solomon that the treasures we store up for this life are worthless vanities. We can’t take it with us when we go. Everything we achieve in this life will go to someone else when we die. Earthly pleasure is fleeting. Our lives are but a breath. So you see the pointlessness of coveting. If only for this life we work and toil for our own pleasure, we are to be pitied above all men.

The question is, really, where is your treasure? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money” (v. 24).

So how do you lay up treasure in heaven? First, you must recognize that you cannot earn your way to heaven. Salvation is a free gift of God in Christ. Christ died for you and forgives you all your sins. That includes your sins of covetousness, your lack of contentment, and your ungratefulness for all God has so graciously given you. You do not go to heaven because of your works, but because of Christ’s work on your behalf and the forgiveness He has won for you. Furthermore, He gives you His righteousness. For when you coveted, He did not covet. When you were not content, He was content, even as a Lamb being led to the slaughter. When you were ungrateful, He was singing praise and thanksgiving to God. A remarkable thing happens to you and to Jesus in Baptism. Everything that belongs to Jesus is given to you. And everything that belongs to you is given to Jesus. So when God looks at you, He sees one who has never coveted, who has always been content with what has been given, and always received God’s provision of daily bread with thanksgiving. But when God looked at Jesus on the cross, He saw all the covetousness and ungratefulness of the whole world, and unleashed His holy wrath. So Jesus dies your death, the sinner’s death, and you go free to continue enjoying the gifts of our God. It is by no means fair. But it is wholly righteous and unselfish on Jesus’ part. Far from coveting, He had not His own pleasure in mind, but our redemption. His treasure was not on earth. He was saving up for Himself treasure in heaven. And you are that treasure. God rewarded Jesus by raising Him from the dead. And we, too, because we are baptized into Christ, are rewarded in Him with new life now and our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.

Jesus is our priceless treasure. That treasure comes by grace alone without works. But God does speak of other treasures as well in heaven. What these are, we do not know. But we receive them by being rich toward God. St. Paul writes, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). How are we rich toward God? When we are merciful toward our neighbor… when we, who have received the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He continues to pour out on us generously in Word and Sacrament, likewise are merciful to our neighbor in Jesus’ Name, not coveting our neighbor’s possessions, but always helping him to protect and preserve them, and always keeping our neighbor’s benefit in mind. That is work that is by no means vanity, but will last on into eternity. That is saving up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.

Still, we don’t do our good works in order to gain treasure, not even of the heavenly type. We do them because that is now who we are in Holy Baptism. That is our new life in Christ. That is faith active in love. And we do these good works in thanksgiving and praise for all that God has so freely done for us in Christ. Christ is our ultimate treasure. He is our happiness and contentment. And He is given without charge. We have no need to make gods out of our possessions. No greater god is conceivable, than the one true God who is revealed in Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Covet,” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1992) p. 314.

[2] All Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Church Growth Movement and the Doctrine of Election

A question concerning election for all the church growthers out there... Will any of the elect be lost in the end? Will any of the elect find themselves in hell because of our negligence when it comes to evangelism?

This question was posed to me by my good friend and mentor, Rev. Eric Lange, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Gresham, Oregon. He contends that the battle over doctrine/practice that currently plagues our Synod is just the election controversy all over again. He's right.

Here's the thing... All the elect will be saved. Without exception. We can't do anything to change that. So enough with the Synodical guilt trips about all the people going to hell because of my unfaithfulness. When I am unfaithful, woe to me! I must repent! But the elect will be saved in spite of me. They are saved by Christ alone, not by me.

I'm not saying we shouldn't do mission. Anyone who knows me knows I'm all for evangelism and missions. It is a primary task of the Church. But there are two truths of Scripture at play here, as Pr. Lange points out. 1. The Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20)... our Lord commands us to do mission. He even tells us how. Baptize and teach. 2. The elect will be saved through the work of the Holy Spirit. The question is whether we will be privileged to be the Holy Spirit's instrument, as He would have us be.

Perhaps what our beloved Synod needs now more than ever is some good preaching and teaching on the doctrine of election. Go do mission, and as you do so, be faithful to the Holy Spirit's doctrine, recognizing that He will always accomplish what He wills. Part of being Lutheran is confessing that: the Holy Spirit "works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel" (AC V [Tappert, p. 31]).

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Importance of Church Attendance

Pastor’s Window on August, 2007

The Importance of Church Attendance

We often think of our membership in the Christian Church as just one part of our lives. Perhaps it is even the most important part of our lives, but it is still just one part among many. Our lives are defined by other things, as well; for example, our family, our job, or our hobbies. But for the earliest Christians, their entire lives were defined by their identity as Christians. If someone asked one of these early Christians, “Who are you? Tell us about yourself,” that Christian would likely answer right off the bat, “I am a Christian.” This is not to say that early Christians didn’t have other interests. They also had families and jobs and hobbies. But these things did not define who they were. Their identity came from God’s Word. God gave them their identity in Holy Baptism. When asked about their identity, they would respond, “I am a Christian.”[1]

The truth is, as a baptized Christian, no matter how you think of your identity, you are also defined entirely by your connection to Christ. Who are you? You are a Christian. You are baptized into Christ. You are a member of His Body. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. He has washed you clean and given you the robe of His righteousness. He has given you a new Name, the Christian family Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You are now a child of the heavenly Father. So being a Christian is not just a part of your life, not even the most important part. It is your life. Everything else, including family, job, hobbies, etc., is part of who you are as a Christian.

Since this is true, since your whole life is defined by your identity as a Christian, attending the Divine Service is not just a part of your life, either. At least it shouldn’t be. Instead, it should be your first priority. I know it’s easy not to come. It’s easy to sleep in. It’s easy to skip it and go golfing or fishing instead. It’s easy to decide you’re not feeling quite up to it on a Sunday morning. But something subtle happens when you start to give in to these excuses. Without even noticing it, you start to fall out of the habit of coming to church. Not only that, something even subtler and really quite sinister starts to happen. Without even noticing it, your faith starts to weaken and corrode. The devil slowly takes a little bit firmer hold on you. It happens so slowly that you aren’t even aware of it, until one day you look back at where you were and where you are now, and you wonder how you got there.

You need to be in church. Your faith needs to be nourished by Word and Sacrament. Sunday morning on the lake is not the same as Sunday morning with Jesus Christ and His holy people, hearing His Word and eating and drinking His body and blood. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Heb. 10:25; NIV). Rather, let us be like the Christians in the early Church, who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42; ESV). In other words, come to the Divine Service and receive the gifts God so freely gives His Christians. “(G)row in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons for missing the Sunday morning Divine Service, for example, illness. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Some people also have to work on Sunday mornings and can’t help it. If you can’t come on Sunday, come to our Wednesday service, which will begin again on September 5. Just come. Make sure you’re in church. When you’re on vacation, visit another of our LCMS congregations. I would be glad to find you one to visit. Remember that we never take a vacation from being a Christian. It is who we are.

It is also who we are collectively. Your fellow Christians need you. You are one with them in the Communion of Saints. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (v. 26). If one member is absent, we all miss that member. If your pinky finger is severed in a tragic accident, your whole body is affected. Likewise the Holy Christian Church. Every member is important. When you attend the Divine Service faithfully, you not only receive nourishment for yourself, you also serve your fellow Christians. Not to mention, you owe it to your family to get them to church so that they can receive the gifts of Christ, too.

Don’t neglect the gifts our Lord offers in the Divine Service. Receive them faithfully. Your Lord Jesus Christ died for your sin and unfaithfulness, and gives you new resurrection life in Baptism. He gives you His righteousness and faithfulness. Now you are a Christian in the same way that you are a human being. Word and Sacrament sustain your Christian life in the same way that food and water sustain your physical life. You can’t live without it. When you neglect it, your health deteriorates, and eventually, you die. But your Lord has promised to sustain your life. He gives the gifts freely. Faith receives the gifts. You know where the gifts are. They are here among God’s people in this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church. See you Sunday.

Pastor Krenz

[1] See the article, “I Am a Christian,” by the Rev. James G. Busher, For the Life of the World, Jan. 2007, Vol. 11, No. 1