Monthly Archives: December 2012

Our Schoolteachers Would Rather Die Than Teach from Heterodox Books

In Germany in the days of rationalism completely unbelieving agendas, hymnals, catechisms and textbooks were forced upon the people because church and state were mixed. Here it is different. The state does not intervene in our internal affairs at all, but allows us full freedom. But nevertheless the question is whether pure books themselves are needed everywhere in our synods. And where a hymnal or a catechism is used that is not healthy, there is a contradiction against the confession. If we would now hold a survey of how things stand among us, we would not have unity as a synod in one respect, at least not in all schools, namely in relation to the textbooks. This comes from the haughtiness in some teachers. For if we also must give our teachers in general the testimony that they are serious, faithful men, there are also still many who because of that merely take other books, because they do not like the method in ours. And that is very bad. In the Missouri Synod, for example, there used to be a reader in use which, although otherwise deficient, was still Lutheran. Now the shortcomings were no doubt felt, but nevertheless the teachers should have preferred to die before they took heterodox books. But now we have good German books. So it is doubly bad to tolerate or even to introduce false [books].

– Wilhelm Sihler, Theses on Church Fellowship. Translated by DMJ

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First Sunday After Christmas – Luke 2:22-40

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            A trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York restores a person’s sense of wonder. It was my pleasure to visit the Hall this past May with my best friend Matt. Walking through the Hall of Fame brought back a flood of memories from childhood, especially looking at all the Chicago Cubs artifacts, some of which were over one hundred years old.

            Then there was the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. Only 57 cards were produced. Cooperstown has one of the cards. One of the cards in poor condition sold for $262,000 a few years ago. A Honus Wagner card in very good condition sold for more than $1.2 million dollars in April. I’m not a baseball card collector, but I couldn’t believe seeing the genuine article before my eyes.

            The catch is that the Hall of Fame won’t let you touch most of their collection. Artifacts are preserved in special environments. You can take all the pictures you want and have the image saved on a camera or on a cell phone. When I look at the pictures some seven months after the visit, I am transported to that magical overnight visit in upstate New York.

            If artifacts in the Baseball Hall of Fame cause jaw-dropping moments, holding the Son of God in your arms should be the ultimate jaw-dropping, eye-popping, awesome moment. However, you’ve become so used to being in His presence that there is no longer a sense of wonder and amazement in God’s House. The words of the liturgy and hymns become words and sentences that roll off the tongue as if you were reciting your address and telephone number to someone. Sticking out your tongue or your hands to receive the Body of Christ is as regular as brushing your teeth or watching your favorite TV shows.

            Being in the presence of the Almighty God becomes a cozy visit to a familiar friend’s house. You can go without it, if necessary. When you are there, you do the same-old stuff. You talk about the same old topics over and over again. Sure, it’s fun for a while, but then you grow tired and have to go home. You’ll be back another day and do it again. Before you know it, you’ve grown into a cozy routine. You don’t know why you do what you do, but you can’t get through the day without doing it because that’s what you do.

            Consider Simeon and Anna holding and seeing the Son of God in the temple. Neither of them acted as if it wasn’t such a big deal to see and hold Messiah. Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple…took [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel…. Coming up at that very hour [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

            The gospel should instill such amazement in us that we too would exult and proudly assert: I have been baptized in Christ; there is no doubt, that through the Lord Jesus, I become a lord and can overcome death and sin, and heaven and all creation must serve my best interests. If a prince were to give me a gift of a velvet cloak, or an entire village, I would be so very happy and be amazed forevermore. But what is that compared to this? Yes, if I [was President of the United States], it would be nothing compared with my being baptized into an inheritance of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the Day of Judgment he will say to me, even as he already does, You are my dear brother; everything that is mine is yours, you shall live with me in eternity.

            But where do you find those who truly believe this from the heart? We can all repeat the words, but whether we truly believe is soon evident, because there is no joy, no amazement, no change in us. If one wishes to call that faith, surely it is cold, half-dead faith; else, we would not be frightened and sullen, but happy and proud. For a Christian is a happy, confident, redeemed person who is sidetracked neither by the devil nor by any trouble. For he knows that through Christ he is master over all this.

            This we [pastors] preach, but there are those among us who think they know it already. Would to God, however, we believed this with our whole hearts, firmly holding to this truth, that through Christ we have been made lords over all. On the basis of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, we can rightly conclude that they had an inheritance with Christ and would live with him in eternity. But that I should believe this of myself of you of yourself, that is lacking because we do not see it in ourselves. We do not feel it. We do not experience it. In our thinking, Paul and Peter are lords and sovereigns over heaven and earth. But whether I, too, am a lord and sovereign, that I do not know.

            What does it mean to believe? If I do not believe it of myself, that I have become a lord and sovereign over heaven and earth because of Christ, then certainly I cannot believe the same of Peter and Paul. Again, if I do not believe that through Christ I have gained the heavenly inheritance, then I do not believe that Christ became man for me and that I have been baptized into Christ.

            We should marvel at what we hear of Christ, and be comforted and undaunted. That we are still frightened and have fear is a sign that we do not believe firmly enough that through Christ eternal life and heaven have been gained for us and have been given us as a gift. Accordingly, let him who knows this hold on to it, and he who doesn’t must learn it. There will be some who marvel at and are happy about the unspeakable good which Christ has gained for us and given to us. For them this sermon is an unending feast of which they never tire; as St. Peter says, the angels rejoice as they observe them. But a disgruntled, lazy soul is not at all concerned, but chases after carnal comforts. When he has his god Mammon – wine, bread, food and drink, he thing he has everything he needs.[1]

            Mammon is cast from its false throne when you turn from idolatry to the One who takes on flesh to bear your sin and be your Savior. This place is none other than the House of God. This is the gate of heaven. Christ is truly present in words, in water, in bread and wine that is shown for us to be His true Body and Blood. You don’t stare at a climate-controlled cabinet and marvel at the Savior. You eat and drink His Body and Blood. His forgiveness and life are applied to you up close and personal, with no barriers protecting you from Him and Him from you.

            This is why pastors wear fancy vestments, bow, kneel, and use incense. We’re not showing off. We stand in awe with you at how God becomes man. We can’t help but act and speak as if we are seeing and holding the Christ Child in our arms for the first time. The Divine Service is not so much a reminder of something that happened a long time ago that brings you comfort to get you through another week. The Divine Service is Christ delivering His Gifts to sinners made worthy of seeing and holding Him through His grace. Together we believe Jesus is our salvation, given to both Jew and Gentile.

            Encountering Jesus never grows old. There is always something new every week in those familiar words. There is something new in hearing, eating, and drinking the everlasting God who is robed in majesty, yet humble and meek as a 40-day-old boy in the arms of His earthly parents. If a baseball card brings wide eyes, then resting a while in the Savior’s presence while He feeds us with His grace prepares us to close our eyes and rest in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit


[1] Adapted from Luther’s First House Postil for Christmas 1.

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Regaining A Sense of Wonder

The gospel should instill such amazement in us that we too would exult and proudly assert: I have been baptized in Christ; there is no doubt, that through the Lord Jesus, I become a lord and can overcome death and sin, and heaven and all creation must serve my best interests. If a prince were to give me a gift of a velvet cloak, or an entire village, I would be so very happy and be amazed forevermore. But what is that compared to this? Yes, if I had the Turkish emperor’s crown, it would be nothing compared with my being baptized into an inheritance of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the day of judgment he will say to me, even as he already does, You are my dear brother; everything that is mine is yours, you shall live with me in eternity.

But where do you find those who truly believe this from the heart? We can all repeat the words, but whether we truly believe is soon evident, because there is no joy, no amazement, no change in us. If one wishes to call that faith, surely it is cold, half-dead faith; else, we would not be frightened and sullen, but happy and proud. For a Christian is a happy, confident, redeemed person who is sidetracked neither by the devil nor by any trouble. For he knows that through Christ he is master over all this.

For this reason, no doubt, the Virgin Mary, in her amazement, had a distinctive holy pride which was based not on herself, but on God’s grace and mercy and on the child, Jesus, as Luke beautifully points out with these words: “She marveled.” Not because she was the mother of the child (which certainly also contributed to her joy), but because of what was said of him. Christians, too, do not vaunt themselves by virtue of what they are, but rather exult over that which has been given them by grace.

This we preach daily, but there are those among us who think they know it already. Would to God, however, we believed this with our whole hearts, firmly holding to this truth, that through Christ we have been made lords over all. On the basis of the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, we can rightly conclude that they had an inheritance with Christ and would live with him in eternity. But that I should believe this of myself of you of yourself, that is lacking because we do not see it in ourselves. We do not feel it. We do not experience it. In our thinking, St. Paul and St. Peter are lords and sovereigns over heaven and earth. But whether I, too, am a lord and sovereign, that I do not know. But what does it mean to believe? If I do not believe it of myself, that I have become a lord and sovereign over heaven and earth because of Christ, then certainly I cannot believe the same of Peter and Paul. Again, if I do not believe that through Christ I have gained the heavenly inheritance, then I do not believe that Christ became man for me and that I have been baptized into Christ.

That is why the Evangelist Luke spoke so highly of the faith of the father and mother. For where there is righteous faith the fruit follows, that we marvel at and are happy about the great grace and blessing which is ours through this little child. But where this fruit is not present and the  heart does not marvel nor is joyous, there either is no faith, or the faith is not as firm as it ought to be. For if such faith is present, which trusts with certainty that we poor sinners have been translated into eternal life and righteousness, a person ought to feel at least a small spark that lifts up one’s heart with joy and affords courage against despair, trouble, and persecution. One will then be defiant and say to both the devil and the world, Why should I be dismayed, however much sin, death, devil, world, pope, or emperor rage against and vex me? If the pope or emperor take my life, theirs is a far greater loss than mind. They may take the husk and peeling, but the kernel and treasure remains, that I have been made free from sin through Christ and have been rescued from eternal death and God’s wrath. This they cannot take from me. If only this little child remains, the rest may go. For a Christian does not focus on this temporal and transient life as does the world, but rather on the future eternal life.

Consequently, we should marvel at what we hear of Christ, and be comforted and undaunted. That we are still frightened and have fear is a sign that we do not believe firmly enough that through Christ eternal life and heaven have been gained for us and have been given us as a gift. Accordingly, let him who knows this hold on to it, and he who doesn’t must  learn it. There will be some who marvel at and are  happy about the unspeakable good which Christ has gained for us and given to us. For them this sermon is an unending feast of which they never tire; as St. Peter says, the angels rejoice as they observe them. But a disgruntled, lazy soul is not at all concerned, but chases after carnal comforts. When he has his god Mammon – wine, bread, food and drink, he thing he has everything he needs.

– Blessed Martin Luther, First House Postil for Christmas 1 (Luke 2:33-40)

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            John the Baptist’s conversation with the priests and Levites sent by the Jews almost sounds like those American Express commercials of yesteryear. “Do you know me? You think you know me, but you really don’t know me. I am not the Christ. I am not [Elijah]. No, [I am not the Prophet]. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Somehow, I don’t think there’s a pocket in his camel skin garment to put a wallet where John could keep his American Express card.

At any rate, the priests and Levites get three guesses and come up 0 for 3, all strikeouts. John the Baptist is a different kind of messenger, one never seen before. He comes to make straight the way of the Lord. If John were the Christ, or Elijah, or another prophet, then the Christ has not yet come. Observant Jews still wait for Messiah to make His appearance. How could they miss the fact that John is the one prophesied by Isaiah as we heard in last week’s Old Testament reading and as we hear John himself confess today?

The Jews were looking for someone different than the one sent by God. They had it all figured out. Messiah would come and hit the reboot switch on their behalf. Out goes Rome and all their trappings. In comes Messiah, Who would set up a theocracy not seen in many years. He will sit on a throne in the temple and run the show. Finally, finally, the Jews would show everyone they were God’s top dog.

There was one obstacle in the way…those pesky Gentiles. What to do about the outsiders? Scripture has the clear answer. The Gentiles, together with the Jews, are children of God. The Jews are God’s children by blood. The Gentiles are God’s children by faith in the promise of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. As the Jews see it, this Jesus is not Messiah. Perhaps it’s convenient to ignore them. Perhaps it’s convenient to ignore this Jesus, called Christ.

You can’t ignore Him. John tells the Jews, Among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of Whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. Messiah is among them, yet the Jews have not eyes to see Him or ears to hear Him. You kind of have to sympathize with the Jews. They’ve suffered through four hundred years of silence on God’s behalf. God said nothing to His people after Malachi’s words. Even Malachi wasn’t really heard by the Jews. When John starts preaching repentance and baptizing in the Jordan river, you see how the Jews start asking questions about this bold preacher of repentance who claims to prepare the way of the Lord, the Anointed One sent from His Father.

The priests and Levites do all the heavy lifting for you in the waning hours of Advent. They ask all the right questions, even though they may not want to hear the answers John gives. Listen again to the answers John gives. What he says to them, and to you, is the best last-minute preparations for the birth of the Savior according to the flesh.

John is not the Christ. John and Jesus do share the same preaching: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! This is where comparisons end. John himself later says, He must increase, I must decrease. Though John later fades into the background, his preaching remains vital today as it was then. The word “repent” literally means “change of mind”. No longer are you to think one way, about yourself, your needs and wants, and what you want Jesus to be. Repentance brings a change of mind. The Law kills the Old Adam in his tracks. The Law shows you your sin and your lost condition. You either remain in sin, reject repentance, and continue on your merry way to eternal death, or you let the Law kill you stone dead, in order that you are raised to new life in Jesus Christ.

John is not Elijah. John has some similarities to Elijah, especially when it comes to preaching repentance. The authorities also rejected both men’s messages. All similarities end at the fact that Elijah never baptized anyone. John comes with a baptism of repentance. Baptism brings new life, a life of daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus.

Consider your baptism for a moment. Consider that no one is baptized into a vacuum. Your baptism unites you with Jesus Christ and all He has accomplished for your salvation. Baptism is not a mere reception of a free pass to hell in order for you to live as if there is no God. Baptism does not mean that you don’t have to practice the Christian faith because you are baptized. The way of Baptism is the way of a Christian. The Law puts sin to death. The precious water bath of repentance and forgiveness puts you into fellowship with Jesus. You are a new creation, ready to receive more of the Lord’s precious Gifts, especially hearing preaching and the Word, as well as receiving Christ’s True Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

John is not the Prophet. He is more than a prophet, but less than the Prophet. John is unworthy of loosening the sandal strap of the One Who comes after him. This One, this Jesus, will do greater works than John could imagine. Jesus will work salvation in His innocent suffering and death. Those who put their trust in John the Baptist put their trust in a man born in sin. John’s blood covers nothing. Christ’s blood covers your sin. Jesus is the perfect offering for sin in your place. His perfect, innocent life is lived in place of your guilty life of sin.

Today’s Gospel calls John’s words a confession. John the Baptist is confessing what he believes by telling the priests and Levites who he is not. John is not the Christ. You are not the Christ, either. You, like John, are in need of the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. He is among you, just as He promised, in His Gifts of forgiveness and salvation. Though not seen with the naked eye, Jesus is here. No wonder Saint Paul exhorts us to rejoice. As today’s Gradual from Psalm 145 says, The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. The Lord is near to lift your sins with His grace and mercy. Receive Him in joy, for He is your Emmanuel, your God-with-us.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

We Lutheran Christians Will Not Attempt to Make the State Schools Christian

We [Missourians] are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.

But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists [Evangelical Synod] are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.

How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.

First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.

However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.

We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.

However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.

We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.

They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.

As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.

In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!

– Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of “Lehre und Wehre”. Credit is given to Mr. Ken Howes for his assistance in helping me smooth out the rough places in this translation.

We Should Give Preachers Their Bread

The preaching office constitutes a call of life for certain people who exercise it as long as they do what God tells them. One can never know in advance how long one should stay in a congregation, so one has to leave it up to God, Who makes it manifest through subsequent relevant circumstances how long it should be. It is merely a formal distinction when those who are temporarily called remains pastor even longer after the expiration of his time and wants to take over another congregation, or later breaks stones. But that an entire synod has the power to call a preacher reveals the fact that an individual congregation has the right to take on a catechist, an afternoon preacher, or a so-called graveyard preacher; then, if all congregations assemble into one corporate body, the whole has the same power to call a person as the individual part, therefore they can also take on one man for some work. Such a person then works as one called by the entire synod. So it is right when one takes on vicars for sick pastors in the Bavarian church. If such person has no authority because no event of illness has occurred, then he will still be supported because stands at the service of the entire Church, and this involves the obligation to give to him his bread. No preacher should pursue something else in order to obtain his bread. If a congregation does not give their preacher his livelihood, if they still could do it, then they commit an ungodly act, for which God will severely punish them. Christ wants that His preachers have their bread in Office, in order that they do not fall into temptation through cares of this life, to neglect their Office and perhaps to become a doctor or horse-dealer. This is an abomination. The good Lord indeed could also directly give His preachers their bread, as the ravens once had to bring bread to Elijah; but He will not do it, but we should give preachers their bread. For whoever preaches the gospel should also nourish themselves by the Gospel.

– Wilhelm Sihler, “Theses on Church Fellowship”, translated by DMJ

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? John the Baptist is more than a prophet. He is God’s messenger who prepares the way of the Lord. Nevertheless, the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John].

How can this be? How can the ultimate prophet, more than a prophet, also be a nobody? This is because John is an extraordinary prophet preparing the way for an extraordinary Savior, Jesus Christ. Even Elijah, in all his greatness, cannot hold a candle to John. But by the time Jesus begins His earthly ministry, John is in prison. The greatest, yet the least, is holed up in a cell. John no longer proclaims repentance toward the forgiveness of sins. No longer does John baptize in the Jordan River. He is a common criminal, soon to be beheaded for preaching repentance to someone who didn’t want to hear about repentance and forgiveness.

It doesn’t matter whether or not John doubted Jesus was the one who is to come. All of us are doubters, just like John. The ways and means to connect the dots of all the miracles Jesus performs to Him being Messiah are not working. Perhaps we don’t want it to work. We’ve been in the wilderness watching John do his thing. Now along comes another fellow saying and doing strange things. Mind you, God has been silent these four hundred years prior to John. No wonder John sent word by his disciples to Jesus asking Him, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Looking for another Messiah is a convenient cop-out during not only Advent, but also any time of the year. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Yeah, right. Tell me another one, Jesus. We’ve seen just about everything, and now you tell us that you are Messiah, the Anointed One from God? With the right confederates, anyone can do the things you do. And this business about the poor having good news preached to them, how can there be any good news amid the terrible things heard every day?

Where is the good news when 26 children and adults are dead in a school in Connecticut? Where is the good news as our country stands on the crumbling fiscal cliff while politicians point fingers at each other instead of finding a solution? Where is the good news when so many jobless families are not able to provide a decent Christmas for their children? Where is the good news less than two weeks away from the worst holiday for those who suffer from mental illness?

The good news isn’t wrapped in a big box under a Christmas tree. The good news isn’t decorated in tinsel, holly, mistletoe, and evergreen boughs. The good news isn’t headline news on cable television. The good news is in the preaching of John. The good news is in the miracles of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ is offensive. Their preaching is scandalous. No one thinks about getting their spiritual house in order while the rest of the world is sleepwalking in fake joy and anticipation for the inevitable perfect Christmas that won’t happen. No one wants to hear the cry of Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand when ’tis the season to be jolly. The preaching of repentance toward the forgiveness of sins will always be offensive.

You don’t want to deal with sin. You don’t want to deal to repentance. You don’t mind dealing with forgiveness of sins, but only on your own terms. When everything is all about you, then you need the preaching of John the Baptist more than ever: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. The greatest of all prophets has prepared the royal highway for the King of Kings. Your house must be ready to welcome the Savior once again. Your house is ready through putting away all anger, greed, cruelty, hateful and hurtful thoughts, words, and deeds. Repent and welcome the Savior Who comes to you in low and humble means.

He comes to offend, but His offending is no longer off-putting for you. His offense is the scandal of the cross. This Savior long promised by prophets and patriarchs comes according to the flesh to die for your sin and rise for your justification. The cruelty you deserve goes on Jesus. He pays all your sin in full. You who are born twice, the first birth being your natural birth, the second birth being your baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, die once. You live with Him for all eternity.

That’s the good news in the midst of death and life. The same Jesus Who delivers sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, cleanses lepers, and makes the deaf hear, also raises the dead. He raises not only dead bodies to life, but also raises your body out of the pit of corruption and places you with the saints in light. What Jesus does is a scandal and offense to the world. What Jesus does for those who are being saved is comfort and joy. As the prophet Isaiah says in today’s Old Testament reading: the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

In the midst of life there is death. In the midst of death there is life, for God is familiar with death in His Son Jesus. His death is an end to your death. His life is the beginning of eternal life for you. Rejoice in the thrilling voice of John, for the Savior draws near for you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Luther: Where There Is No Love, There Doctrine Cannot Remain Pure

It is inevitable that one member occasionally jostles the other, just as a foot or a toe of our body bumps the others, or as a person injures himself. Such bumps and trials do not fail to come, especially because we are sojourning here in the realm of the devil, who tempts us uninterruptedly, and also because the flesh is still weak and full of flaws. This explains why even dear and faithful friends fall out or become irritable with one another. At times the devil injects poison and suspicion into a heart because of a single word or glance and thereby stirs up mutual animosity. He is a master in this art and devotes himself to it most diligently. He employs his craftiness before one is really aware of it. As we read in Acts 15:2, this is what he did in the case of St. Paul and Barnabas, who had a sharp dissension and parted company. Or take the two men Jerome and Rufinus, who had been the best of friends and like brothers. They quarreled over a preface and were unable to re-establish their former friendship. The same thing would have happened between St. Augustine and Jerome if Augustine had not been so shrewd. Trifles can lead to such quarreling and enmity that great harm results to many. The blood soon begins to boil; then the devil shoots his venomous darts into the heart by means of evil tongues, and finally no one says or thinks anything good about the other person. The devil keeps on fanning the flames and is eager to set people against one another, to spread misery, and to incite them to murder….

Therefore it behooves us Christians to be on our guard against the devil’s craft and cunning, to exercise prudence, and to beware of letting such poison develop in our hearts. We must repel any suspicion and antipathy that may be stirred up in us and remind ourselves not to let love depart and die out for this reason but to hold to it with a strong hand. And if aversion and discord have arisen anywhere, we must restore and improve the love and friendship.

It does not require such great skill to begin to love; but, as Christ says here, remaining in love takes real skill and virtue. In matrimony many people are initially filled with such ardent affection and passion that they would fairly eat each other; later they become bitter foes. The same thing happens among Christian brethren. A trivial cause may dispel love and separate those who should really be bound with the firmest ties; it turns them into the worst and bitterest enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the days of the apostles, when the devil raised up his schismatic spirits and heretics, so that bishops and pastors became inflamed with hatred against one another and then also divided the people into many kinds of sects and schisms from which Christendom suffered terrible harm. That is the devil’s joy and delight. He strives for nothing else than to destroy love among Christians and to create utter hatred and envy. For he knows very well that Christendom is built and preserved by love. In Col. 3:14 Paul speaks of love as “binding everything together in perfect harmony.” And in 1 Cor. 13:13 he calls love the greatest virtue, which accomplishes and achieves most in the Christian realm. For in the absence of love doctrine cannot remain pure; nor can hearts be held together in unity.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Jn 15:9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

There are more Christians, also Lutherans, than you might think who are obsessed with the idea that the true church must consist of nothing but perfect Christians, that no Christian can have a shortcoming which is offensive to others, that there cannot be anything sinful in him. And that is simply impossible. So long as the church lives in the flesh, so long sin will manifest itself in its members. That is why God’s Word says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

There is no escaping the fact that, if you want to be a Christian, you must bear the burden which your brother imposes on you whenever you have contact with him. There will be many things about him that you do not like. Sometimes he will do something that hurts and offends you. You must always remember, however, that you do the same to him. He, too, must bear your burden. And therefore it is a true characteristic of any group of Christians that each one bears the other’s burden. It is not that the others bear only his rudeness and that they, the others themselves, must be angels.

You see, the devil’s great craftiness is that if he cannot plunge a church group into false doctrine, nor destroy their unity in confession, he then tries [to destroy it] through their lives. He creates divisions among the members. One person offends another, perhaps without wishing to do so. The second person then becomes angry and imputes malice to him. And if the offense was great enough, perhaps even intentional. then true brotherly fellowship has been destroyed, and the result is that there is no longer any real joy of standing in confessional fellowship with the offender. And that is precisely what the devil wants!

Especially when those at the top do something that makes another person feel hurt and angry, then it is easy for Satan to suggest the thought to a member of Synod: “Who know whether he is even doctrinally sound? If you could uncover a bit of false doctrine, then you would be thoroughly avenged!” That is why our Confessions state beautifully that in the church we should by all means have patience with one another.

– C.F.W. Walther, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod”

Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Mom and Dad were right to warn you not to hang around with “that crowd.” “That crowd” lived on the edge. They were arrogant and evildoers. Their hearts were weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and cares of this life. Martin Luther calls them “ill-bred masses.” You know who they are. They only care for themselves. They have no room for authority in their lives.

“That crowd” doesn’t notice the signs in the sun and moon and stars. They take no care to the distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. When the end of days draws near, they will be fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. Why? The powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

It’s easy to hang with “that crowd.” They are the intellectuals who can’t bring themselves to surrender to a higher authority than self. They are the literate ones who are paid to make others look like fools while they get hip to the crowds. They live in nice houses. They break the rules. They appear on TV and newspapers. Why watch for Christ’s second coming when you have a reputation and income to protect?

Trouble isn’t far away when you are caught up with “that crowd. You forget to keep one eye open for Jesus’ return. Who wants to be caught staring at fig trees with green leaves? Who wants to be staring at the sky? Nevertheless, the Word through the prophet Malachi remains true. For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze…so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

We live in the midst of the chaos of the end times. We are so caught up in what’s happening now that we forget to watch for Judgment Day. Watching for Judgment Day brings strange looks from “that crowd.” Who wouldn’t give a person the skunk eye for staring at fig leaves turning green on a fig tree? Only a fool walks around staring at the sky unless an eclipse happens. Nevertheless, every eclipse, every tsunami, every earthquake, every tornado, and every other natural disaster should prick our ears and focus our eyes on what is coming.

Jesus says, Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “That crowd” wants the end on their terms, not Jesus’ terms. The Word who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it will bring Judgment to creation only on His terms. Being ready for Judgment Day doesn’t make sense to “that crowd” or any crowd. Yet Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Natural disasters give us hints of the hope of the End Times. It seems that only someone with mental difficulties would welcome a tornado or earthquake as the birth pangs of the end. Nevertheless, this is clear-headed thinking on the part of a Christian. There will be an end to the sinful world in which we live. There is hope because Jesus will end it all, just as He brought an end to sin and death in His death and resurrection.

Out of the flaming death of this world come a new heaven and a new earth. There we shall always be with the Lord, even as the Lord is always with us now. Christ is with us now in His Gifts given by His ministers to His children. Christ will be with us again in the flesh to resurrect our bodies, change them into perfect bodies, and destroy all we see and know about this world, and make all things new. That is the hope into which you are baptized. You will see the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.

Judgment Day for the Christian is a victory dance. It’s a triumphal procession of comfort and joy amid the chaos of destruction. “That crowd” will have a one-way ticket to the burning lake of fire. They were too busy to care about keeping an eye out for the coming of the Savior. Baptized into the hope of Christ’s resurrection, you who are found waiting for the coming of Jesus will trade your maggot sack of a body for a perfect body. Wearing the garment of incorruption bestowed on you in your baptism, fortified with the Body and Blood of Christ, shriven from all sins, you will enter Paradise blameless and innocent.

This day is coming, sooner than you think. Keep an eye out for it. Stay awake. Don’t fall in with “that crowd,” lest you miss the Lord causing His majestic voice to be heard. When He speaks, you shall have gladness of heart. Believe it for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the+ Son and of the Holy Spirit