Ubi et Quando Visum est Deo

As parents never can warrant the faith of their children, no single generation of the Church can guarantee the faith of the next generation.

It is not faith, but superstition, if I assume that because we have Christian schools, colleges, faculties, parishes, catechism, confessions, a ministry for the administration of the means of grace, the next generation will be Christian.

We must not misinterpret the 5th Article of the Augsburg Confession. “That we may obtain this faith, the Office of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Ghost is given, who worketh faith where and when it pleaseth God….”

This “ubi et quando visum est Deo” must not be overlooked. It does not justify the Calvinistic doctrine on predestination. But it reminds us of the fact that also the Lutheran Church knows of the mystery of Predestination.

Of course we know that the word of God is never preached in vain. But how many or how few may be brought to real, living faith, that is solely in the freedom of God….

Herman Sasse, “Problems of Lutheran Evangelism”

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 10:23-37

What did the disciples see and hear that made their eyes and ears blessed? It was something many prophets and kings desired to see…and did not see it, not to mention what prophets and kings not hearing what they heard. The disciples saw the Good News in action among 72 others sent by Jesus ahead of Him. They saw, as it were, Satan fall like lightning from heaven as demons were subject to them in His name. The Father’s will is revealed to little children, not merely in age but in believing the preaching of the Father’s only-begotten Son.

After all the excitement of healing the sick and demons made subject to the 72, Saint Luke includes an interesting encounter with a lawyer. The man is not a lawyer as we know them, but is a student of Torah, the fullness of the Law of God revealed primarily in the first five books of the Old Testament. The lawyer doesn’t get the fact that the One He challenges is Torah in flesh. The lawyer calls Him, “Teacher”. He does not call Him Lord or even Jesus. “Teacher”. The question the lawyer asks gets to the heart of the matter not only for what happens earlier in Luke chapter ten, but for Luke’s entire Gospel. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?

The answer is love. Satan falls like lightning from heaven because the love of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. Jesus comes to heal the sick from their sin; a full healing by removing the debt owed to the Father and paying that debt in full. Jesus Christ loves His Father by willingly, obediently, suffering death to make the payment for the wages of sin. He dies that we may never die. That is love, a love stronger than death.

The lawyer knows the answer to his own question. Love. Jesus even tells him he knows the answer. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live. That’s not enough for the lawyer. Who is my neighbor? The lawyer perhaps knows the answer to this question. By the end of the parable, though, the lawyer’s answer and Jesus’ answer are two different answers.

If what Jesus tells in the parable of the merciful Samaritan is true, then the lawyer has had his worldview exploded, stomped on, and thrown in the trash. A lawyer studying the Law of God, zealous for the traditions of his fathers, answers that his neighbor is his fellow Jew. As Saint Paul says in Galatians chapter six: as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. The lawyer wants to remove the prepositional phrase to everyone. Yet as a child of God, you are given to show mercy to everyone. Yes, especially to other Christians, but chiefly to everyone, especially your enemy.

That is what stands at the heart of the parable of the merciful Samaritan. So often we hear him called the “good” Samaritan. What he does is good, yes, but what he does chiefly is be merciful. A couple months ago we heard Jesus say be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. But what do we do with the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable? They are the ones who should be the ultimate example of being merciful. Here we have a man half-dead lying by the side of the road. This is their opportunity to do good to one who is of the household of faith.

They keep walking. Not only do they keep walking, they go out of their way not to help by going from one side of the road to another. This dodging of the half-dead man is quite a feat in itself. They are, as it were, going out of their way not to help. God forbid they end up like this man. There may be robbers who will do to him as they did to the man lying in the road. Better to be safe than sorry. Better luck next time. They will take a rain check.

There is no rain check when it comes to doing good to your neighbor. The Law of God says Love. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. No percentages of love. God is looking for whole-hearted love, a wellspring of love that knows no end. There are no enemies when one shows mercy to everyone. In fact, your enemy should be the number one target to whom you should show mercy. Yet the priest and the Levite look out for themselves and won’t help. Their actions do not jibe with Christ’s words to the lawyer: do this, and you will live.

A half-dead man cannot raise himself. Someone must help. A Samaritan, the bitterest enemy of a Jew, is the one who helps in the parable. When he saw him, he had compassion. His guts churned for the man. This is a reaction from one’s guts. It is an instinctive reaction to seeing someone dying. You can’t help but help. At great cost to his life and livelihood, the Samaritan went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”

The Samaritan’s plans are interrupted. He spends at least two days pay and risks his life to show mercy to his neighbor. Perhaps the half-dead man is a Jew; perhaps he isn’t a Jew. It doesn’t matter. He is shown love, a love that goes above and beyond what is necessary. The love shown to him saves his life, at the cost of the Samaritan also falling prey to robbers.

This is more than the lawyer can take. He can’t even answer Jesus’ question at the end of the parable: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? If the lawyer says, “The Samaritan”, he’s in deep trouble with his fellow lawyers. “Samaritan” is akin to saying the dirtiest of all dirty words. The lawyer stays true to form saying only, the one who showed him mercy. Then comes the ultimate gotcha: You go, and do likewise. Hey, lawyer, be a merciful Samaritan. Do the thing you hate to do most of all. Love your neighbor who isn’t in the household of faith. You want to keep the Law? Then keep it all the way.

Whether because you won’t or you can’t keep the Law of loving God and loving your neighbor, Jesus keeps it. He seeks half-dead, actually fully dead people, fully dead to sin, and rescues them because they can’t rescue themselves. The love of God in flesh, bones, muscle, and blood picks you up and carries you from death to life. He satisfies your debt of sin by exposing Himself to the worst punishment possible. He sheds His blood to set you right with the Father. He rises from the grave as the Forerunner for your own resurrection from the grave.

As He shows you mercy, so you, like the lawyer, are given to go, and do likewise. Your success in showing mercy to your neighbor won’t match that of Jesus Christ. You’ll fail. You’ll pull the priest and Levite rain check and find a way around the situation. You’ll ignore what is in front of you to save your skin. Where you fall short in showing mercy to your neighbor, and you will fall short, Jesus never falls short. His mercy, His love for sinners, even His greatest enemies, always hits the mark.

When you see Jesus at work in His Gifts under water, bread, and wine, when you hear Jesus at work in His Gifts of preaching and absolution, you see God’s mercy in Jesus Christ in action for you. Having seen, heard, and tasted that the Lord is good; you go forth to love your neighbor, even your enemies, as you love yourself. When you look for a way out, or when your love for others has failed, Christ is here for you to forgive your sins and give you His life. Blessed are your eyes and ears, for they see and hear Jesus at work for you.

Ceremonial: Real Growth Comes Only By Inches

Concerning ceremony in the service—the sign of the cross, kneeling, censing, and the like—how does one keep these things from calling attention to one’s self rather than to the gospel? When the servants of the liturgy come out into the chancel, they kneel at the prayer desk. With that they are drawing people into what they’re to be there for. If they came out and prostrated themselves in front of the altar, that would say something good and true and honoring God, but the rest of us would have forgotten what we were there for and would say “Well, why on earth is he doing that?” or “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Growth comes by inches. You need to recognize that we are within “the mutual conversation of the brethren” [SA III, IV]. We live within this tradition, and with its treasures we are then equipped for helping one another to recognize what is growing and what is in the way of the gospel. So, when we go into chapel and there are some who recall their baptisms with the sign of the cross as the Small Catechism bids us to, and some don’t, and some sit and pray and some kneel and pray—that’s something to be rejoicing about!

That’s the extraordinary thing about the way the apostle deals with those who are so hip off into tongues. He doesn’t stand at the door and frisk the tongues out of them. He sort of lets them go on having tongues in the liturgy. He doesn’t knock tongues. He just feeds them more Jesus. The more Jesus goes in, the more the tongues get pushed to the fringe. And he indicates that priority by putting tongues at the bottom of the list [1 Cor 12:20]. He doesn’t slice them off, but there is a direction there.

And so, when you come to a congregation whose liturgical life—that is, the way in which they have been given the gifts of our Lord and the means of grace—has been pretty impoverished, you don’t come out and say, “Hey, we got to do something about this liturgy!” You first of all preach a few years of Jesus into them, and then they come to know what they’re there for and that he always has more to be giving them.

The legalism which I spoke of is our greatest danger. It is indicated when people “come on strong” with doing this or that as a great, big liturgical advance. But the gospel works by way of drawing people into the liturgy so that they say, “Wow, isn’t this great! More than I ever suspected!” Real growth comes only by inches.

And so when we go into chapel, and there’s a great hubbub of chatter, I have sometimes felt like arising and saying, “Shut up, you lot! Don’t you know what we’re here for?” We may serve our brethren better if we are at our prayers, and by them, invite and draw and pull others into the quietness coram Deo. That is the appropriate way of being before the Lord and his having his say.

Dr. Norman Nagel, “Whose Liturgy Is It?” Logia, April, 1993

Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Every word from his mouth is true. A Pharisee is not like other men. They interpret and teach the Law and the prophets. Someone has to teach the Jews who they are, Whose they are, and how they live under God. The Pharisees are that someone. They go above and beyond the Law and the prophets in order to make sure they please God.

The tax collector, on the other hand, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Again, everything the tax collector says is true. The big difference between a Pharisee and a tax collector is that a tax collector’s life is not a life you should emulate. Tax collectors lie, cheat, steal, and have a good time doing it. They are a fraud’s fraud. They take extra not only for Caesar, but also for themselves. You gotta earn a living somehow. Might as well be on the backs of the taxpayers.

If Jesus’ parable stopped there, then everything is right where it should be. Jesus tells a “just so” story. You have a perfect plot featuring the perfect characters. The point of the parable is to be like the Pharisee and not like the tax collector. The Pharisee has no sin to confess. He’s also kind enough to name names of all those dirty sinners out there. The tax collector can confess his sins all day, but you know he’s going out of the temple to sin again.

So who is the liar here? If the parable stops at what happens in the temple, your answer might be “the tax collector, duh!” Then comes the twist.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. It can’t be! The Pharisee, the upright Bible expert, the shining star of faith and life, is unjustified. The tax collector, the lowlife, thieving, conniving, scum of the earth goes home justified. What just happened here?

The twist is about humility and exaltation, yes. What’s also underneath the twist is the condition of the conscience. One man knows who he is and where he stands before God. The other thinks he knows who he is and where he stands before God. One is secure in his “old time religion”. The other is secure in being a man dead to sin before God Almighty, Who loves to raise dead people from the depths of sin to the heights of everlasting life.

You’re not going to get far with God when you go to Him in prayer and, as it were, show him your “I love me wall”. Everyone has an “I love me wall” or a “brag wall”. That’s the place in your home where you hang the things that show just how important or how loved you are. There’s nothing wrong with an “I love me wall” when it comes to showing family and friends how much you love them. There’s nothing wrong with displaying the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon you.

There is something wrong, however, when your “brag wall” becomes your ticket to Paradise. “Jesus and…” is not the way of salvation. Worse yet is to stand before God and tell him who you aren’t, thinking He’ll smile, wink, and say, “I know. It’s all good.” Everything that comes out of your mouth may be true, but those words display a conscience curved in on itself. Your conscience is curved in on itself, too. The words may not be as blatant as the Pharisee’s words, but you’ll still stand before God and show Him the “brag wall”. You don’t need absolution. You want to be justified believing everything is kinda alright between you and Jesus.

Everything is not kinda alright. Take a lesson from the tax collector. Yes, he’ll probably leave the temple and resume his five-finger discounts from taxpayers. Yes, he’ll probably lie about it to everyone. Yes, he’ll be back next week, Lord willing, saying and doing the same thing. The big difference between the tax collector and the Pharisee is that he doesn’t need to bring his “brag wall” into the conversation. He knows it won’t do him any good to lay out all the positives before God. Saying God, be merciful to me, a sinner is to speak the truth. God’s grace only works on those dead enough to receive it. Beggars live with a dead hand exposed to a gracious God Who provides for them. What does a beggar have that God wants? Nothing. God gives to the beggar from His gracious love for the beggar.

Consider Saint Paul in today’s Epistle. What gives Paul the right to be a preacher of the Gospel? The guy was the most zealous Pharisee who ever lived. He persecuted Christians. He was the guy the Pharisees brought in to particular places to smoke out Gospel preachers and get them in trouble, even death. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. God’s grace shouldn’t be in vain to the Pharisee praying in the temple, but the Pharisee refuses grace because he’s got his “I love me wall” in the way. The tax collector, on the other hand, is who he is, and God’s grace is not in vain. He’s dead enough to be raised because God loves to give life to dead people.

The Collect today is spot on. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God gives mores that we either desire or deserve. We are bold to ask: “Pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord.” Week after week you walk in and out of those doors knowing you’ll do the same thing that you did last week, maybe even more than last week. Yet here is Jesus, ready to hear, ready to forgive, ready to give, and ready to raise the dead. Here is Jesus, the Righteous One Who justifies you with His perfect life and perfect shedding of blood for your sake.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Death Is All of the Resurrection We Can Now Know

Let us make an end: as long as you are struggling like the Pharisee [in Luke chapter 18] to be alive in your own eyes – and to the precise degree that your struggles are for what is holy, just, and good – you will resent the apparent indifference to your pains that God shows in making the effortlessness of death the touchstone of your justification. Only when you are finally able, with the publican, to admit that you are dead will you be able to stop balking at grace.

It is, admittedly, a terrifying step. You will cry and kick and scream before you take it, because it means putting yourself out of the only game you know. For your comfort though, I can tell you three things. First, it is only one step. Second, it is not a step out of reality into nothing, but a step from fiction into fact. And third, it will make you laugh out loud at how short the trip home was: it wasn’t a trip at all; you were already there.

Death…is absolutely all of the resurrection we can know. The rest is faith.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 343-344

Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 19:41-48

The Lord God does not leave Himself without a witness. Every breath and every blink happens under God’s gracious providence. Without God working among His creation, without His goodness among us, no one could earn a living. No wonder Saint Paul quotes the pagan poet Epimenides of Crete in Acts chapter 17 when he says in him we live and move and have our being.

God does all these things in order that people should seek Him, whether or not they would like to feel Him and find Him. Even when someone isn’t on a quest for God, they are looking for something or someone to be a touchstone of sorts in their life. Yet the one true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is known by more than His works of conserving and providing for His creation. That is why God comes to us in a different way in order that we rightly know Him and enjoy Him now and forever.

Holy Scripture calls this different way of God working in creation a “visitation of grace”. Not recognizing God’s visitation of grace, His working among people in the gifts of the Christian Church, is the worst thing that can happen to a person. If it’s a sad occasion for an individual, you see today how sad it is for the people of Jerusalem and indeed many of the Jewish people. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and her inhabitants in today’s Gospel because they did not recognize their time of visitation.

We also do not recognize Christ’s time of visitation among us. We take for granted that the God Who reconciled the entire world in His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, comes among us to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with His gifts, make us holy and keep us steadfast in the Christian Church. He leaves nothing undone when it comes to eternal peace.

If  Joe Maddon, Robin Ventura, or even Pope Francis rang your doorbell, regardless of your favorite baseball team or your church affiliation, you would consider it a great moment in your life. If an angel or an archangel dropped into Divine Service right now, we’d consider it an even greater honor. But right now the King of Kings, the Lord of Hosts Who comes in peace among His people is here. He comes not in anger or in zeal to destroy us as we deserve, but full of love and kindness in order to make us eternally rich. People pay big bucks to attend conventions to see all sorts of famous people. The God Who saves you by His grace is right here, right now, for free, yet His presence among us both in and out of Divine Service is not a big deal.

Recall that this same God Who saves you also pursues sinful dust in heartfelt compassion. His pursuing you is not a one-time thing that happened in some sort of conversion experience. He daily pursues you, for He is merciful and loves His whole creation. That’s exuberant grace. That’s almost impossible to believe outside the testimony of Holy Scripture. Yet it is also true for you have seen Jesus time and again feed you and care for you, using humble earthly things to bring forgiveness and eternal life right before your eyes.

God’s gracious visitation was enjoyed by His chosen race, the Jews. The Dayspring from on high visits His people, as Zechariah sings after his son John the Baptist is born. He walked in their midst for three years, teaching and caring for them. Even in the hours before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion Jesus cries over Jerusalem, wishing she would see the things that make for her peace.

God’s gracious visitation is still among us here in this country. Very few places in the world have seen such blessings as our country. This is not because God loves us more than any country. It is because God’s guiding hand rests over us as it rests over every nation, even those nations where His Name is despised.

God’s gracious visitation is also a personal visitation. From the day of your baptism He has not ceased to pursue you, calling you to repentance and forgiveness every day. He pursues you to keep you close to His visitation in Word, water, bread, and wine. Many see it as God waiting to jump on them and punish them for something that has been done in the past. No, God’s visitation is Him pursuing you to love and care for you. The prophet Isaiah says, Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

There comes a time when this gracious visitation comes to an end. Scripture and the history of the Christian Church show the many times God’s people ignored Christ’s visitation among them. Jerusalem was destroyed. 1.1 million Jews died on that day in 70 A.D. The once flourishing churches in Asia Minor, many of whom visited by Saint Paul and other apostles, are now a thing of the past. The years after the Reformation show how fast Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel was spoiled. You need not look any farther than the Czech Republic and other European countries that have all but turned their backs on the Gospel.

Martin Luther called God’s Word and grace a “passing rain shower that does not return where it has once been.” When the rain of the Gospel stops falling, it is God’s judgment at work. He has tried everything to lead sinners to eternal salvation, but people refuse to recognize it. They think eternal life is some sort of scam. God then comes in wrath, takes the Word of grace from them, knocks over the candlestick of the Gospel that lightens the dark places, and lets spiritual darkness take over. The end of God’s visitation of grace is the beginning of God’s judgment.

Don’t think this is something new in our country. God’s visitation among us has been slipping away for many years. Yet He hasn’t given up on us. Still the call goes out to repent and believe the Gospel. Still the call goes out to receive Christ’s gracious forgiveness won in the shedding of His blood. Still the light shines in a dark place, even when many see that light as the venom of hate. Beloved, the light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. Pick up the harps laid down by Babylon’s water streams. Sing to the Lord the joy of the new song who is Jesus Christ. Welcome Him anew as He stands in our midst to put His peace and joy in your life.

Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:1-13

When was the last time you used the word “shrewd” in a conversation? Chances are you haven’t used the word “shrewd” in a long time, if ever. We have lost the use of the word “shrewd” for other words like “astute”, “crafty”, “ingenious”, or “slick”. Compared to the steward in Jesus’ parable, we Christians look ham-fisted and foolish. Instead of using what is given to us to further the kingdom of God in the world, we instead tightly cling to what we have, afraid that someone might discover the joy of the Gospel. No wonder Lutherans have been given the apocryphal title “The Frozen Chosen” or “The Sleeping Giant”.

When we lose the word “shrewd” from our vocabulary, we lose more than a word. We lose the meaning of the word. The steward is described as “shrewd” because he takes what isn’t his and makes friends among those whom he deals. We could call him “slick”, but that isn’t the point. The point is that he knew what to do after his personal day of reckoning arrived.

The steward was charged with wasting his master’s possessions. Notice there was no investigation. The master heard something about his steward and immediately fired him. The one thing that didn’t happen, however, was that his master’s books weren’t taken from him. When someone is fired in corporate America, they don’t even get the chance to go to their desk. They are walked to Human Resources, terminated, and walked out of the building by security. Personal belongings will be sent to them. Their work computer hard drive is reformatted. All access to where they work is cut off.

The steward isn’t cut off from the books. He knows his limitations. I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. So he goes to work on cutting deals with debtors, hoping they will see his shrewd stewardship and remember him in kind. Even the steward’s boss has to tip his cap for being so shrewd with oil and wheat debt.

Jesus tells His disciples, Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. That doesn’t mean you get to sit on your hands and bite your tongue. If you’re in a tough spot, you get out of that tough spot the best way you can. Yet you do so by being as innocent as a dove. Jesus tells this parable not so you can imitate the shrewd, slick steward. He tells the parable for this reason: make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Do you know what you have as a child of light? You have eternal sonship with God in Jesus Christ. You are declared righteous by the heavenly Father for the sake of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. You are baptized into Christ. You’re a child of Paradise. You eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. You have ready access to the Father’s throne of grace when you pray in Jesus’ name. There’s nothing on earth that compares to these heavenly things. The clincher is that these are yours for free. You weren’t hired to steward them. You didn’t earn them. You don’t deserve them. They are gifts.

No wonder we think it easy to cling to them like precious gems and never let them out of our sight. No wonder we are afraid to speak about the hope we have in Jesus Christ to our neighbor who knows nothing about Christ. We don’t want to spoil the gift. God forbid we give something away for nothing, lest we think our joy is unprincipled and licentious.

Our heavenly Father’s gifts of joy are reckless. He showers us with both earthly and heavenly things in such a way that we can’t keep up. So we hoard His gifts. Or we cloak them as rewards for trying hard, doing good, or being just so. The gifts of everlasting life are only for righteous and holy people, or so we believe. If it was so, then God has no reason to give us His gifts.

So when the stranger to Christ walks through our doors looking for hope, we give the stranger rules and regulations to follow. Only after we see the stranger straighten up and fly right will we offer the gifts, and that reluctantly. After all, what if he gets reckless with them and invites others into our little private party?

Now you see what happens when we lose what it means to be shrewd. Shrewd Christians not only focus on the gifts that give forgiveness and eternal life, but also find the ways and means to put the gifts to work among them. The shrewd steward had a plan that helped him out of his predicament. He cut the costs of his master’s debtors, falsified the promissory notes, and thus made friends of them with unrighteous mammon. He has options after the master cuts him loose.

We Christians pursue an eternal goal. We know the way to the goal: Jesus Christ. We know how we stand before God in time and eternity. We know how we are able to obtain eternal life: believing in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has acquired our salvation and put right the bill we owe our heavenly Father. Christ’s merit is given to us in the Gospel. We take it and put it to use! Woe to those who sit on the Gospel, thinking the Good News to be too good to be true for those sinners out there!

We are given to be economical with the goods given to us. Consider Jesus’ words: One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? You are economical with the gifts Christ gives you when you above all diligently listen and learn what God says to you in His Word. His Word strengthens your faith in order that it doesn’t fail and shrivel in death and judgment.

It’s OK to think about what you’re going to do with your money and possessions when you die. For example, remembering your congregation in your will is a shrewd thing. That’s using unrighteous mammon for righteous purposes. Helping your neighbors, especially your neighbors who surround you in these pews with your time, treasure, and talents, is also a good way to put that unrighteous mammon to work in a positive way. Some day these things give us the escort to God’s throne and will testify to our Father in heaven what we have done for their benefit. We have fed, watered, clothed, and housed them. God, in His benevolent grace, will reward His children in blessed eternity for all their good works, through which they have proved their faith on earth.

Eric Clapton was right in that song from “The Color of Money”: “It’s in the way that you use it.” You can sit on it, afraid of what might happen next, or you can put it to use to love and serve your neighbor. Being shrewd is not sinful when being shrewd is being clever with what God gives you. You have eternal life, a gift from a gracious God. You are forgiven. You are baptized. Open your lips and tell the good news about Jesus. He will give you the words to speak. Do not be afraid. Be shrewd, for Your Father in heaven is shrewd in giving you Jesus, Who gave His life that you may live in Him.

Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 7:15-23

When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he preaches God’s Word back to Jesus. Satan thinks it fair game to pay Christ back with Scripture since Jesus responds to Satan with Scripture. Satan hates Scripture. Even his use of Scripture judges and chastises him as he preaches it, albeit falsely. This is not a new tactic. Satan used it in the Garden of Eden against Adam and Eve. Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”? For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Even today Satan has not given up this use of the Word. As it was then, so it is now. Satan uses false teachers to preach false teaching to Christians using Scripture. False teaching is an extremely dangerous subtlety of the devil. We know how subtle it is because we hear it come from our lips, although we may not realize it. For example:

  • “Aw, come on, Pastor! Why are you so critical! At least he mentioned God when he said that everyone is going to heaven whether or not they believe in Jesus!”
  • “It’s so nice to see all those pastors from all those different churches and even different religions (!) pray together. See, we all believe the same thing!”
  • “It doesn’t matter what anyone believes as long as you love God.”
  • “That pastor is such a fuddy-duddy. He won’t let us sing that nice country song about people dying and becoming angels. Everyone likes that song. Why does he have to be so stubborn?”
  • “I make a motion that we no longer talk about sin or death or hell in this church. Mentioning those words will scare prospective members away.”
  • “All Christians believe the same thing and I don’t care if I’m wrong because, in my heart, I know I’m right.”

The wolves are already at your door, but you don’t know it. You’re too busy wanting everyone to get along. What the Bible says is irrelevant, unless it’s about the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. A wolf is after the life of a person or an animal. They don’t care what you look like. They do care what you believe. The same goes for the wolves, by the way. We’re not concerned with their appearance. We’re concerned with what comes out of their mouths, hearts, and lives.

The pure spiritual milk of the Word brings eternal life. Poisoning the spiritual milk brings the death of the soul in both time and eternity. Wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing poison spiritual milk. They cloak themselves this way to look like honest, upright sheep that care about your soul. They quote Bible passages perhaps better than any doctor of theology. They pray more fervently than anyone. They will remind you of their good intentions. They will lead a more than upright life, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power as Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy.

False prophets are like thorns and thistles. When you pick raspberries or roses, you have to deal with getting pricked. When you want good pasture for cows, you have to take care of thistles, usually with weed killer. If you let thorns and thistles grow up alongside good fruit, it’s only a matter of time before the straggly weeds get the upper hand and make everything unusable.

The same can be said about false teaching. Letting the lie stand next to the truth and letting everyone figure out what is right and wrong only causes damage and accelerates the destruction of good pasture. Consider the fact that churches who have already given up caring about preaching Christ crucified continue to grow, while congregations that stick to preaching Christ crucified continue to shrink.

Jesus refers to good and bad trees, and good and bad fruit. A rotten tree is only destructive. The land on which is stands becomes bad. The tree infects other things with its rottenness. Its fruit is not good to eat. Jesus uses this image to show how the truth and the lie cannot stand to be together. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. False teaching displaces and destroys the truth. It damages the soul that enjoys it, even if the soul thinks it good for them.

“But pastor, at least the false teacher says ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’.” Our Lord answers in kind. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

So how will you know what is truth and what is a lie, especially when there are so many truth tellers and liars standing side-by-side in the Christian faith? Martin Luther had a simple dictum: Was Christum treibet? “What promotes Christ?” True doctrine drawn from Sacred Scripture preaches Christ, the whole Christ, the living Christ, the loving Christ, the forgiving Christ, perhaps even the offensive Christ, especially if the truth offends you. There will be those who consider the truth as an individual’s personal opinion, especially these days when your personal truth is the only truth that is true, if you even believe there is objective truth.

Consider that before Jesus warns about false prophets He preaches perhaps the greatest sermon ever heard. The heart and soul of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus Christ comes among us in the flesh, in the fullness of time, to fulfill the Law and the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets proclaim our sinfulness, our inability to be good and worthy enough for God. We have no personal power to change this relationship. Only Jesus saves by God’s unmerited grace, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

There is no other Gospel. Saint Paul warns the Galatian Christians, and we in turn, if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Test every word that comes from this pulpit against Holy Scripture. If a preacher consistently flatters your inner goodness and worthiness, sets human deeds in place of faith in Jesus Christ, or lays emphasis on human institutions instead of Jesus Christ, you’re hearing a false teacher.

None of us will be rid of wolves in sheep’s clothing until Christ’s return. Like Vito Corleone, though, we keep our friends close and our enemies closer. Yet we don’t get so close that the siren calls of false teaching sway us to fall asleep in paying attention to what is taught from the pulpit. The prophet Jeremiah says, Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. Eat the words that declare you free from sin, a new creation, and blessed by God in Jesus Christ, and you have joy, for your heart’s delight dwells among you.

“Lord, grant while worlds endure, we keep its [God’s Word’s] teachings pure throughout all generations.”

Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Mark 8:1-9

Repetition is not only the mother of studying, it’s also important in Scripture. They happen over and over and over again. Again is a word we ought to associate with these miraculous feedings. In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat… We heard a similar situation during Lent with Jesus feeding five thousand men. Again we go to Jesus providing not merely spiritual food, but also bodily food for a great crowd of people.

Jesus sees the crowd, and He announces that He wants to feed them, and then what do we hear from the disciples? How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place? Once already they have seen Jesus provide a meal for a multitude. Yet the disciples haven’t gotten it yet. They wonder. They question. They may have worried.

Seeing isn’t necessary believing for the Jewish mind. Remember that the religious authorities needed two or three witnesses to arrest and convict Jesus of blasphemy. You might think the disciples are dimwits because they keep seeing the same things happening yet none of what they see stays in their long term memory.

Scripture is full of people falling into the same traps multiple times, over and over again.  Abraham twice passes off Sarah as his sister and not his wife.  The Israelites grumble about water twice…in fact the second time upsets Moses so much that he smacks the rock instead of just speaking to it like God had said. Men end up having multiple wives again and again, and it always goes poorly. The book of Judges – over and over the people forget God and get themselves into trouble. The prophets lament Israel and Judah falling into idol worship and worse.  Over and over, people falling into the same sins, over and over again.

The Bible is a brutally honest book. It shows people how they are, warts and all, instead of how they should be. Sin naturally is repetitive. Sin is pervasive. Sin is habitual. Habits are hard to break, especially bad habits, and bad habits don’t like staying broken. Consider that every day of your life is a broken record of the “re-res”: remorse and regret. You leave something undone and regret it. You think evil thoughts against your spouse or your neighbor and later have remorse for what you did. Every day the same broken record plays in your conscience: the same weaknesses, the same faults, and the same sins.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.  And some of them have come from far away.” Jesus has compassion on the great crowd. They are with Him. Jesus’ guts churn at seeing them go hungry…again.

This is the reality of what it means when we confess that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man. This is what the incarnation of Jesus at Christmas means. Jesus has compassion – Jesus came down from heaven, took on a body like yours, like mine. He experienced life in this world. All the sorts of things that impact us – whether it is hunger and being faint or being mocked, or hurting, or mourning, being forsaken by friends. He experienced all those things. He has compassion.

The beautiful difference between you and me and Jesus is that Jesus has perfect love, perfect compassion. You and me, well, we will use our anger and frustration to justify ourselves. Jesus has every right to yell, stomp, cuss, and throw what my mom would call a “conniption fit” at both the disciples and the great crowd. Jesus could, as it were, take His ball and go home, leaving everyone to figure out what to do without Him.

Jesus has compassion. Jesus does what needs to be done to show compassion. He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied.  And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. No conniption fit. Just another miraculous feeding. Take, eat, and be satisfied.

Sounds like what happens every time we’re gathered in this space, doesn’t it? Jesus has compassion on us. He forgives sins. He feeds you with His Word of reconciliation and joy. He puts His Body and Blood in your mouth, giving you forgiveness up close and personal. All this He does through a flawed disciple, a pastor who has doubt, anxiety, stress, and even lacks compassion now and then. Jesus never fails to give you His mercy, His compassion won for you in the shedding of His blood for your sins.

See yourself in the crowd. You’re there. You were joined to Christ in your Baptism; just as little Bethany Dolores Juhl was this past Thursday. She’s there, too, even as a newborn baby. When Jesus says, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me three days, He’s talking about you being united with Him in a death and resurrection like His. He knows your limitations. Jesus knows the war that sin wages upon you. He knows how sin plays upon you and messes with you.

Yet over and over again He comes to you here in this place and says to you that you are no longer, in fact, a slave to sin, but you are bound to Him. You are a slave to righteousness. You are forgiven. Your baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, bound to Christ, slave to righteousness, sanctified and given eternal life – these are the realities that Christ sees and remembers at all times. When you’re worn and weak and weary, He will make these realities present again. He will preach them again. He will place forgiveness upon your lips by giving you His own Body and Blood again, and again, and again.

Thanks to my friend and brother-in-office, Rev. Eric J. Brown of Trinity Lutheran Church, Herscher, IL, for much of what is written. To God alone the glory!

Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 5:17-26

Jesus Christ is often called by well-meaning Christians a “new Moses” Who gives the New Testament Church “Gospel advice”. It is thought that if you observe Jesus’ “Gospel advice”, you will earn the kingdom of heaven in an even better way than keeping the Ten Commandments. You could be more perfect than merely keeping the Law of Moses. No wonder certain Christians look at the Sermon on the Mount and consider it a new Law that improves what Moses gave the Israelites in Exodus chapter 20.

Jesus here does not dispute the Law of God given by Moses. He instead disputes the minds corrupted by Pharisees and scribes with their darkening of the Law. The Pharisees and scribes taught an external keeping of the Law. Don’t go through with the actions of breaking the commandments and you have kept the Law. Maybe you could take it a step further and keep the Law even better by following their statutes and commands that could bring you extra holiness. At any rate, Jesus says today, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus comes to fulfill the Law and the prophets. He not only renders all demands of the Law to the fullest, so that His fulfillment of the Law is attributed to us, but also the full, spiritual understanding of the Law that Moses and the prophets gave. He sets before our eyes the fullest way to keep the Law in order that we learn our sinful misery and seek in Jesus alone the fulfilling of the Law. Jesus uses the Fifth Commandment today as a lesson about the Law.

You shall not murder. You may have never touched a weapon of any sort, but you have murdered…at least according to the proper understanding of the Fifth Commandment. The Pharisees and scribes taught a false understanding of murder. They took the commandments and added to them. That is why Jesus quotes them when they say you shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. They only looked at external murder, for example, and not at any hurting or harming our neighbor, be it with a six shooter or a fountain pen or even the tongue.

Jesus gives the right explanation of what is murder. I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Notice here Jesus says not merely hell, but the hell of fire. How does your external righteousness match with our Lord’s words? Remember, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Even Pharisees and scribes are debtors to the Law, rank murderers, and cannot be saved.

So not merely the deed itself is condemned, but also the evil disposition of your heart. Anger toward your neighbor is murder. Giving your neighbor the “half a peace sign” when he does something that makes you mad is murder. Calling him a moron, the Greek word used here that means you fool, is murder.

What is expected is heartfelt love for the neighbor. We learned in the Catechism that we are to help and support our neighbor in every physical need. Help and support in every physical need is love for the neighbor. This is righteousness, a perfect agreement of all people with God’s Law. If you want to be perfect before God’s eyes, give righteousness to every neighbor in need. You can’t miss even one person. Everyone is your neighbor. Your righteousness shown to your neighbor is to be done quickly.

Jesus says to leave your gift there before the altar and go. Notice He says that you are the one who remembers that your brother has something against you. Drop the offering and run to your brother. You want your brother to receive the same righteousness you have because you believe that righteousness, the righteousness that avails before God, is a foreign righteousness imputed on you by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t wait until you go to court. Don’t wait for the judge to decide who is right or wrong. You will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Jesus Christ paid the last penny for you. He dropped everything, as it were, and became man in order to keep the Law for you the way God intended for you to keep the Law. If you think you can keep the Law and show righteousness to your neighbor on your own, you are already condemned. Jesus Christ, the mouth of eternal Truth, interprets the Law the way our heavenly Father wants us to hear the Law.

You can’t do it. Your righteousness is as filthy rags. When you come to understand your sinful condition, despair sets in. Who then can be saved if no one is able to be righteous in the way God demands righteousness? No one can be saved outside of Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness from the Father. Only Jesus’ merit saves you. Only Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law on your behalf saves you. The Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance the saving work of Christ for you in the Word proclaimed in sermon, baptism, Communion, and song. The holy things given to the holy ones deliver the righteousness that declares you innocent before our Father in heaven for Christ’s sake.

Jesus Christ is not the “new Moses”. Jesus Christ is the Savior promised by the Law and the prophets. Jesus Christ does not become flesh to give you “Gospel advice” about your holiness. He is your holiness. He appropriates His holiness in His gifts for you; gifts of forgiveness and life. Your murder of your neighbor is covered in Christ’s blood and righteousness. You are free to help and support, love and care for your neighbor’s every physical need. You are free to show your neighbor the righteousness that covers you. Jesus Christ paid the last penny for you.

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