Monthly Archives: February 2013

Robert Farrar Capon on Luke 11:14-28

(Jesus’) parabolic retort (“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, etc.”) seems at first to be saying little more than, “If the devil is behind this , how come he’s fighting against himself?” But what Jesus really seems to be getting at, once again, is the inability of the world to straighten itself up by any kind of reasonable, sensible action, human or angelic. “If you’re going to play that Beelzebul game,” he says in effect, “all you’ll ever succeed in doing is discrediting even the minor cures you yourselves are able to perform. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
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It is by the Holy Spirit, the presiding genius of the Gospel – the one who takes of the left-handed work of Jesus and shows it to us – that Jesus does what he does. And what he does is raise the dead. His power is not from this plausible, perishing world, nor is it from the prince of this hopelessly divided kingdom. It is from himself in the death and resurrection by which alone the true kingdom comes. “The world,” he says in effect (Luke 11:21ff.), “is full of strong-arm, right-handed types; but when the stronger, left-handed arm comes, it takes away all the armor in which the world trusted and divides the spoils of its plausible efforts. He who is not with me, therefore, is against me; and he who does not gather with me [in the field of my death, and there only] scatters.” And then, in a solemn warning , he sums up his case: “When the unclean spirit [which I take to mean the plausible spirit of right-handed action] has gone out of a man, it travels through waterless places looking for a place to rest, but it doesn’t find one.”

Think about that. We have seen, perhaps, the light of the Gospel. We have realized that it is in our lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death – and not in the chewing-gum and baling-wire contraptions of our lives – that we are saved. But that left-handed truth is hard to hold onto, and so by and by, when the unclean spirit returns, it finds us empty, swept, and put in order by the new broom of Jesus’ death. And what does it do? It goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than mere right-handed action: it finds ways of standing the Gospel itself on its head. It takes prayer- prayer that was meant to be a standing in Jesus’ death – and turns it into right-handed spiritual exercises. It takes forgiveness of sins – forgiveness that can come only by death and resurrection -and turns it into a reward for plausible, convincing repentance. It takes, in short, the grace of God that works by raising the dead and converts it into a transaction available only to those with acceptable lives. And so seven – or seven hundred – spirits enter and dwell in us, and our last state is worse than the first.

It is the old, sad story of the errant tendencies of doctrine-producing minds. The saving truth has been gladly found, and then disastrously lost, over and over and over. In spite of it all, though, Jesus’ power does not come through anything here except death. Unless we can be content to sit quietly in that clean, empty room, all the evils of the world will come, tracking their reasonable, hopeless grime back in. Our strength, like the strength of the Stronger One who saved us, is literally to sit still.

– Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 227-229

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Luther for Lent 3 – Luke 11:14-28

We need to know that Christ’s work of driving out the devil never ceases but continues to go on in the Christian world until the Last Day. Wherever Christ’s kingdom is, his wondrous work continues, causing the dumb to speak, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. When Christ came in to the flesh he set this work going, and it continues in Christendom day for day till the world’s end. For this task Christ left us designated instruments: holy baptism, the blessed Sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever else belongs to the preaching office, in order to enable us to destroy the devil’s kingdom, to take from him his captives and cast him out of people. That promise is written in Isaiah 55:11: Verbum meum non redibit vacuum, “The word shall not return to me void.” Just as rain fructifies the dry land, causing it to become green and alive, so God’s Word produces fruit wherever it comes. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, to enlighten, kindle faith, cleanse, and free people from the devil’s power and rule.

Every child that comes into this world is born into the kingdom of the devil, the lord of death, who exercises his sway through sin’s tyranny. But upon Christ’s command we bring a child to holy baptism, speak the words of promise which he commanded, and the child is born anew into God’s kingdom; and the devil must yield and get out. God’s grace, through Christ, is spoken by God to the child, inasmuch as he or she is baptized into Christ’s death. When a person whom the devil has greatly overwhelmed and seared with  many accusations comes to me with heavy heart and troubled conscience seeking comfort and instruction, I have the  mandate, as does every Christian, to comfort my brother and pronounce God’s grace, for Christ’s sake, upon him. The devil must yield, not to me, a poor and wretched sinner, but to the Word which the Lord Christ left us upon earth. When your conscience is weak and terrified, therefore, and you are unable to grasp tightly enough the comfort that God graciously wants you to have, the forgiveness of sins, then know that Christ has given the Lord’s Supper, his true body and blood to eat and to drink, so that you have no reason further to doubt that his body was given for your sins and his blood poured out for your transgressions. Where such faith and trust are present, there it is impossible for the devil to dwell and hold sway.

– House Postil, paragraphs 2 and 4

Hermann Sasse on Theological Differences

There is no other theology than orthodoxy. Nothing else warrants the name. Therefore orthodoxy belongs to the essence of the Lutheran Church and its theology. If orthodoxy as such is already to be counted as uncharitable—obviously charity is here being understood differently than in the New Testament—then we confess to the “uncharitableness” of Paul and John.

But we must distinguish between those who find fault with orthodoxy as such, and others who point to the errors and sins to which orthodox theologians are particularly prone. Every occupation has its own temptations, dangers, pet sins. Why should the occupation of theologians be exempt? On the contrary, according to all rules of human psychology and according to everything that we know from Holy Writ about the nature of sin we may well expect that the general sinfulness of theologians will work itself out in some particularly choice occupational sins. For Satan will not miss the glorious opportunity to discredit the preaching of the Gospel by causing the preacher to fall. Luther knew this, and therefore warned his followers constantly against vaunting themselves above the Papal Church in matters of morals. “Vita mala est apud nos sicut apud papistas.” [“Life is just as evil among us as it is among the Papists”] (Tischreden, WA I, 294, 19.) A part of this vita mala, so we are assured by our critics, is how we contend for the truth and against error. The lack of charity that men detect in us becomes manifest not so much in the fact that there is a struggle, as in our manner and attitude.

There now is the picture that we have of ourselves. The orthodox theologian is the man who is right. He is truly right. But can a man always be right without suffering harm in his soul? What is more, the orthodox theologian knows that he is right. He must know it, else he could not speak up. Looking at it from the viewpoint of psychology, what self-assurance must grow out of this knowledge! What miracles must not the Holy Spirit perform in the hearts of such men if they are not to perish because of superbia [pride]! Consider furthermore the relationship to one’s fellowmen, particularly to those who have the misfortune to be in the wrong. To declare to other men that they are errorists, that they do not belong to the Church (sic!), to renounce pulpit and altar fellowship: who is capable of doing that without suffering injury in his soul?

And yet all this must be done. It was necessary in the Church of the New Testament. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” [2 John 10]. Is this really the Apostle of Love who is speaking thus? Indeed, it is. And he speaks with the authority of Him who, if we have erred in such a matter, will say to us in the Last Judgment: “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in” [Matthew 25:43]. That is how it happened—it was during the last great persecution in Alexandria—that Christians of different confessions sat together in the dungeon, and together were led to their execution. But to bid each other God speed, —no, that they did not do.

What miracles, by which the Church is preserved! What yawning chasms by the way! What temptations lurking even there where people of the same Church are disputing with one another about matters of doctrine!

The more serious a Church is in matters of doctrine and in its concern for purity of doctrine, the greater is the danger that it will sin in these points. Even Luther failed again and again in the language of his polemics, which is not to be excused by the greater excesses of his opponents and the fact that his generation was accustomed to such language. During the era of Orthodoxy there was much sinning, in the controversies between the various confessions as well as in theological polemic within the individual churches, particularly also the Lutheran. The swift and thorough collapse of the orthodox theology of all confessions at the end of the 17th century is explained in part by the fact that men were weary of this endless bitter wrangling.

In this connection it dare not be forgotten, however, that this orthodox theology also was acquainted with other methods of discussion. There is, for example, a document that was a real effort at a truly Christian discussion with another church body, namely V. E. Loescher’s Friedfertige Anrede (Conciliatory Address) to the Reformed congregations of Germany (in Part Three of the Historia Motuum of 1724). Among Lutherans of the Awakening there was also an earnest striving for sanctification in this respect. Thus at the beginning of his “Confessions” A. G. Rudelbach admits, “I will not deny that I had to struggle lest I find in myself a fulfillment of that terrible symptom of the Last Days: the love of many shall wax cold.” (C. R. Kaiser: Rudelbach, 1892, p. 20.)
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Those theologians who were snapping up the documents of the Reformation and the works of the orthodox theology had all gone through Pietism, and some came from Schleiermacher’s theology of experience. The Romantic view of man, of history, of society was working in them as in all educated persons of that time. So it was not to be avoided that for the time being they read the Confessions through the spectacles of their previous theology and worldview. It could not be otherwise. It was inevitable that different types of Lutheranism should develop.

But it should have been avoided that these theological tendencies be consolidated into set types of churches. Things would not have come to this pass had men spoken differently with each other, if each had made the effort to understand the particular slant (die Brille) of the other man as well as his own, if each had realized that he himself as well as the others were still but on the way of discovery as far as Lutheran doctrine was concerned. Then it would have been possible to arrive at a better mode of discussion.
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In all these unhappy debates two types of Lutheranism, two types of Lutheran Awakening stood opposed to each other: a Lutheranism that was among other factors substantially influenced by Lutheran Pietism, and a Lutheranism influenced substantially by a return to the orthodoxy of the late 16th and the 17th century. Perhaps the Awakening of the Lutheran Church from the fatal stupor of Rationalism had to be, to begin with, an Awakening in the direction of the Lutheranism of Spener or that of Quenstedt. But these two types of the Lutheranism of the Awakening could and can only be transitional stages toward an Awakening of the Lutheran Church in the sense of the Lutheran Confessions, which, as the Formula of Concord states explicitly, are to be interpreted according to the doctrine of Luther “as the leading teacher of the Augsburg Confession, ”—and not according to Quenstedt or Spener.

Will God grant us another such continuation of the Awakening? If it shall come, it can come only by this that all bow before the Word of God as the sole “judge, rule, and standard” of all doctrine of the Church, but which fulfills its function of judging, ruling, and directing only then when all who read, hear, and interpret it will let this same Word call them to repentance. Scripture helps us to recognize the Eternal Truth only to such an extent as in its judgment of doctrine we at the same time hear a judgment concerning ourselves and our lives, the judgment of Him who condemns the sinner and justifies the believer—the Judge and the Savior of the World.

But to the Word that is preached faithfully, be it before many or few, is given the great promise that it shall not return void. The Holy Spirit is always at work, not only when it is Pentecost. And there are generations that work for a harvest that others will reap. One thing we know. If God will still give another Awakening to the Lutheran Church and to Christendom in general, then it will, like the Awakening of the 19th century and like every New Day in the history of the Church, begin with repentance. But this call to repentance we are already able and eager to hear, even today.

– Letters to Lutheran Pastors #15, “The Results of the Lutheran Awakening of the 19th Century”

Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

I am indebted to Rev. W.M. Cwirla for some thoughts on this text. Soli Deo Gloria!

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

            Most dangerous things have a fail-safe device. A fail-safe device responds in a way that will cause no harm, or at least a minimum of harm, to other devices or danger to people. Contrary to popular belief, a fail-safe device does not mean that failure is impossible. If a fail-safe device fails, it is “safe” or at least no less safe than when it is correctly operating.

Christians have a fail-safe device that never fails. There is zero probability of harm when you use this fail-safe device called God’s Word. The Word never fails, especially when Satan comes with temptations meant to point you away from salvation in Jesus Christ alone and toward the devil’s false security.

Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He is vulnerable, empty, weak, isolated in a way that Adam and Eve weren’t. This temptation is uniquely His. The devil waits for the opportune moment. Not at the beginning of Jesus’ fast, but at the end, at His weakest, His stomach screaming for a crumb of bread. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. He is the Son of God, the Word through whom all things, including the stones, were made and in whom they have their existence. What’s the big deal? Who would miss a few stones in the desert? Who would even know or care?

This is the temptation of the flesh and the appetites. We will do most anything for bread, if we are hungry enough. Human history teaches that quite well. We will sacrifice our freedom to one who promises bread for our tables. We will sacrifice even our unborn children for the sake of bread. But to live this way is not to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater. To have bread without the Word is to have a bread-god, an idol. Jesus, the Bread of Life, resists the temptation of the flesh in our flesh.

When Jesus needs bread in the wilderness, He multiplies it; He does not “transubstantiate” stones. That would be most un-Creatorlike, to destroy one thing to make another. He does not use His divine power to serve Himself and His needs, for He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.

Again, the devil comes to Him and takes Him to the holy city and the top of the temple. How this happened, we do not know, and it is none of our business. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. And here the pious devil quotes a bit of Scripture, a snippet of a psalm – For He will command His angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. This is the temptation of faith. Does the Word in the flesh trust the Word of His Father? Or will He put it to the test?

Did God really say? Is God’s Word really true? Can it be that this Baptism is the water of rebirth and renewal? Can it be that this word is the Word of forgiveness? Can it be that this bread is the Body of Christ and this wine His blood? The psalm promises the protection of the angels to the one who trusts God. Surely Jesus had the angels on His side, didn’t He, if He was the Son of God? Angels would come and minister to Him, but not now and not here. He did not come to be lifted up on the temple, but on the cross, and there would be no angels to catch Him. He goes to death with nothing but trust in His Father, and He does it for us all.

How sneaky the devil is, to quote a psalm to Jesus. The devil is the chief distorter of the Scripture. The psalm goes on to say, You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. The devil left that part out. That’s about him. He knows what Jesus is there for, to crush his head with a cross-bruised heel. Jesus matches Scripture for Scripture faithfully – You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. To test the Word is to tempt God.

Again, the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. How this happened, we are not told, for it is none of our business. That it happened is what matters to us. The prince of this world versus the King of kings. All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me. He tempted Jesus in His flesh and in His faith. Now the temptation is to His fidelity. Will He remain faithful and true to His Father?

This is a temptation unique to Jesus, and yet it is the temptation of every Christian and of the Church as well. To have a kingdom without a cross. The devil proposes a shortcut – a simple act of homage, bow down and worship, in exchange for all the glory of the kingdoms of this world. We exchange our worship for considerably less. For Jesus it was a way around Calvary, a way around the torment of crucifixion, an easy way to an end. But the end does not justify the means. You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.

The temptation of Christ was greater than the temptation of Adam. Where Adam fell, Christ stood. Where Adam yielded, Christ conquered. Where Adam hearkened to the Lie, Christ remained faithful to the truth. Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true. In Adam, all became sinners and all die; in Christ, all are justified and all are raised to life.

Jesus conquered every human temptation with nothing but the Word and promise of God. And because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, we are able to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We will be tempted in the weakness of the flesh, in our faith, in our fidelity to the Word and the worship of God in Spirit and Truth. But know this, as baptized believers in Christ: Christ has conquered every temptation in the flesh, and in Him you conquer and He conquers the same in you. There will be times when we will be driven into the wilderness, left with nothing but the Word and promise of God. We will have come to the end of our prayers, our pieties, and our religion. We will hear nothing but silence from God. No miracles, no displays of power, no religious ecstasies. Only the devil whispering, “Are you a child of God? You are, aren’t you?” He failed with Jesus, but he’ll try it with you, like a roaring lion, looking from someone to swallow.

Resist him; stand firm in the faith. Shake your fist at him. Throw an inkbottle at him, if you’re so inclined, as Luther once did. Say, “I am baptized. I am a child of God, an heir of life, embraced by the death of Jesus my Lord and covered by the blood of Him who has you firmly under His foot. Christ defeated you in the wilderness and on the cross. You have nothing to say to me. As Christ my Lord said to you, so I say, Be gone, Satan! I belong to Christ and you cannot harm me. His Word is more than fail-safe. His Word never fails.”

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

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

The indicators of decline and weakness, I believe, are already beginning to appear, though as so often happens to those who see themselves as still in the flush of success, these indicators seem not to be there. I can now only attempt to illustrate my judgment in one particular area, that of the new ways of “doing church,” though my concern here is obviously selective. What I shall argue is that in this area, the lure of success is the very means by which success is actually disappearing and, in the next generation, we will see the bitter fruit appearing more evidently than we can see it now. And the irony which today is almost completely lost on evangelicals is that in this new quest, this new way of “doing church,” those who once stood aloof from the older liberalism are not unwittingly producing a close cousin to it. By the time this becomes so evident that it will be incontrovertible, it will be too late.

David Wells, “Above All Earthly Powers“, p. 264-265

Luther on How One Serves God

Serving God means to do what God has commanded in His Word. If you are a child, then you must honor your father and mother; if you are a domestic, you should be obedient and faithful; if you are a master or mistress, do not provoke your servants by either word or deed; do what your calling requires of you and walk in the fear of God. This means that we are to serve God and His Word and not our own person. For we have His Word and commands on this. Let the world call serving masters and mistresses, father or mother, neighbors or children, whatever it wants, it is still true worship of God. For God has written it into His Word relative to my neighbor. You shall love your neighbor as yourself…. The fact is that you cannot serve God unless you have His Word and command. If His Word and command are not there, you are not serving God but your own will. Our Lord God’s response to this is, “Then let the one whom you serve reward you, for what devil has commanded you to do this? I command you to serve father and mother, your superiors and your neighbor. But this you disdain and, in the meantime, do what I have not commanded. Am I to tolerate such disobedience? No, it is out of the question.

– House Postil for Lent 1 (Matthew 4:1-11)

Lutheran Synod as Open Marriage

Our synod functions at present similar to an open marriage. When things go well in the marriage we are content, we are home in time for dinner, we sleep in the same bed every night. When the marriage is going poorly we either wander off to find another partner (who understands us, our needs, and who excite us) or we stand at the window, watching, wringing our hands, hoping our spouse will show up before dinner goes cold.

Also, when things go well for the marriage, there is no talk of fidelity, no worrisome nights alone wondering where he’s gone off to, or who she’s gone home with this time. When the marriage goes poorly the conversation is dominated by talk of contracts, and infidelity, and unconditional absolutes: “You always…” “I never…” And so on.

In short, an open marriage is no marriage at all, no matter what we say to persuade ourselves otherwise. It’s two people white-knuckling it day by day, hoping for something or someone to come along to save the marriage, but who both know it’s not going to ever happen.

(Courtesy of Rev. Donavon Riley, Webster, Minnesota)

The Thunderbolt and Hammer of God

This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes in a heap both manifest sinners and false saints, and suffers no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer, as Jeremiah 23:29 says: Is not My Word like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? This is not activa contritio or manufactured repentance, but passiva contritio, true sorrow of heart, suffering and sensation of death. This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: “You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is godly, etc.”But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise….

But whenever the Law alone, without the Gospel being added exercises this its office there is death and hell, and man must despair, like Saul and Judas; as St. Paul, Rom. 7:10, says: Through sin the Law killeth. On the other hand, the Gospel brings consolation and remission not only in one way, but through the word and Sacraments, and the like, as we shall hear afterward in order that there is with the Lord plenteous redemption, as Ps. 130:7 says against the dreadful captivity of sin.

– Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 3, paragraphs 2-4, 7-8

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Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

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

            Two weeks ago, we considered God’s grace at work in the parable of the vineyard. Last week we considered God’s Word at work in the Seed sown into the soil by the sower. Today we consider how we receive and appropriate God’s grace and God’s Word. Today we consider faith. Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves from sin, death, and hell. However, faith is a tricky thing for sinful Christians to comprehend because we want to help God along with our salvation. Jesus makes it clear in today’s Holy Gospel that we cannot help Him with our salvation. We are the blind man on the road to Jericho crying out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

You might think that by our crying out for mercy to Jesus we are participating in saving ourselves. Not so. The blind man needed to be told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The crowd’s acknowledgment of Jesus and the blind man’s cry for mercy show the difference between how the world and how believers in Christ see Jesus for Who He is. The crowd refers to Jesus as a man from Nazareth. This would be like referring to someone as “Dave from Momence” or “Maude from Grant Park”. There are people with those first names all over the world. However, there are only a few Daves and Maudes who live in Momence and Grant Park. Jesus of Nazareth is the son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. He’s the carpenter’s son who says and does marvelous things.

What the crowd perhaps may not recognize is that Jesus is not merely a carpenter’s son from Nazareth who says and does marvelous things. He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God begotten from His Father from eternity. All of this is bound up in the cry for mercy: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! What’s in a name? Plenty! Son of David is a Messianic title. This Jesus is more than Mary and Joseph’s son from up north in Nazareth. Jesus has the ability to have mercy on the blind man, cleansing him from sin and restoring his vision.

You might also think the blind man recovers his sight because Jesus told him to recover his sight. It is as if the blind man had the ability to recover his sight at any time. He just needed a nudge from Jesus. He needed to believe in himself. Not so. How can someone blind, deaf, and dead to sin make himself see, hear, and come back to life?

Here we recall what faith is. Faith is trust of the heart. Faith is belief in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and all that we need. Faith is reliance or dependence upon God. Faith is what receives and clings to God’s gifts of grace and mercy.

This is all good and well, but how do you receive faith? Saint Paul has the answer in Romans chapter ten: Faith thus comes from preaching, the preaching from the Word of God. The ear receives preaching. Receiving preaching happens when you hear the Word proclaimed in the context of the Divine Service. So you see why the Christian Church makes a big deal out of attending corporate worship. You are here to have faith nourished by preaching in the Word of God through sermon, Supper, Absolution, and song.

How did the blind man know Jesus is the Son of David? He heard the preaching of Christ. The Word worked faith in the blind man. He relied and depended upon God for every need of body and soul. Again, easier said than done for most of us. Sinful human nature wants to believe faith as a two-way street, a contract of sorts. I do my part, or perhaps God does His part first, then I follow up with my part. Both of us do our thing and I am saved.

Not so. When God first speaks, before things happen, you don’t comprehend them. But once things happen, then you recall what happened and understand it after the fact. Faith is the natural, divine correlative of the Word of God. For God’s Word speaks of, indeed cannot but speak, things which human reason cannot understand or conceive by itself. You should believe it, and that it is so, you will in due time find out that it is indeed true and that you rightly understand it.

God’s Word teaches concerning the resurrection from the dead, something human reason doesn’t understand. Accordingly, you see that children of the world mock and hold Christians to be fools for believing that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a life after this life. That God should become man and be born into this world of a virgin, human reason cannot admit, saying “No” to it. Therefore, it must be believed, until you come to where you both see and say, “Now I understand and see that it is true, what before I believed.”

That a person should have the forgiveness of sins, God’s grace and mercy, without having earned it, through the water of baptism and through absolution, seems like an utter falsehood to human reason. It argues, “Christians who believe that are off-the-wall; if God is to be reconciled, there must be something higher and better, namely, good works, which demand pain and sweat.”

It does not even occur to human reason to believe that by baptism and faith in Christ alone, everything necessary for salvation is done. Reason holds that to be a falsehood. For it does not know what faith is, deeming faith in Christ a trifling thing. In the same way, the Word is seen as a paltry thing and the one who preaches it as a poor, miserable, and sinful creature. That one should trust and wager body and life for eternity upon faith and the Word, both such insignificant things, is ridiculous to reason. That’s the reason why, even though God’s Word is plainly spoken to people, human reason does not comprehend, does not believe, declares it to be untrue; and the precious Gospel, meanwhile, is labeled as false doctrine and a teaching of the devil by which people are misled, teaching them not to do good works. Human reason knows no other verdict.

For that reason you should learn to believe with ingenuous faith and say, “If it is God’s Word, I cannot doubt it in any way; and, even though I cannot see, touch, or feel that it is true, nonetheless, I listen because God is speaking. He is so great and mighty that He can make it true, so that in His good time, or in the life to come, I will be able to comprehend and understand it, yes, see and grasp it, even though I don’t understand it now.”

Human reason has a hard time with living by faith alone. You aren’t in control. But that’s the blessing of living by faith alone. Jesus Christ has taken care of your redemption in His innocent suffering and death. You no longer need to help. Believe His Word. Stake your life on it. He does as He says. You are forgiven. That’s what these three weeks of pre-Lent preparation are all about. If salvation were left up to you, then there is no hope for forgiveness and eternal life. When salvation is left up to God’s only-begotten Son keeping the Law in your place, suffering and dying an innocent death, and rising from the dead for your justification, then you have all you need for eternal life. You may not understand it now, but in believing that Jesus is your Savior, you will understand it all perfectly in the life of the world to come.

Faith is so crazy that it just might work. Check that, faith is so crazy that it is the only solution to the problem of salvation from eternal death. You are the blind man on the road to Jericho crying for mercy from the Son of David. You believe Jesus is the Son of David through the Word preached to you that creates faith. Faith is what receives God’s grace in the Gifts Christ gives His Church. Grace, Word, Faith, and the Gifts are our sustenance as we hear the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Receiving sight from Jesus Christ, we get up and follow Him to the cross and the tomb, glorifying God for His work in us to be brought to completion in the Day of Jesus Christ. He Who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

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

            For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Those who despise God’s Word, those who do not even hear it, are lost. There are those, however, who hear God’s Word that are lost. Why is this so? Why are many of those who hear the Word of God lost?

They are lost because many indeed hear the Word of God, but by their own fault do not come to faith. Jesus refers to this in the parable of the soils into which the Seed of the Word is sown. Many indeed hear the Word. The Word is preached to them as strongly as to others. The sower has only one kind of seed, the Seed of the Word of God. It’s not the seed’s fault that many hear the Word but do not come to faith. It’s not the sower’s fault, for he only sows the seed.

It is the hearer’s fault that the seed does not take root and bear fruit. Jesus says The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The hearer hinders the Word through their reluctance of allowing the Word to enter and work on their flesh. They give room to the world and to the devil and allow God’s work to be frustrated among them. They sit in pews much like these, pay attention to the Word preached and read, yet leave God’s house as if nothing happened. The Gospel may be for some, but it’s not for them. The Word is heard only for judgment and greater condemnation. This is why Jesus speaks in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

Many of those who hear the Word of God are lost because they come to faith through hearing the Word, but by their own fault do not persevere in the Word. Again, the seed is good, the Word is living, powerful, and active. Nevertheless, the seed never receives proper nourishment. Christian congregations have many seeds that lay on the rock. These are the ones who once sat in these pews, hearing and gladly hearkening to the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. But Pastor so-and-so left, or Pastor so-and-so said or did something they did not like. Someone two pews over offended them. Or they just got tired of the church thing. There’s too much politics in the church. People are always asking you to do things. Can’t a person just sit and not be bothered to give money or to attend Bible Study or serve as an officer of the congregation?

Perhaps the one who once sat over there had some bad things happen in their life. Tribulation and temptation came to them and they gave way to the flesh and just quit coming to Divine Service. The modern convenience of Caller ID and email make it easy to ignore a phone call or email asking them why they haven’t been to church. Door-to-door visits fall under the same trap. You don’t have to answer the door. Maybe the people from church will just go away and leave me alone so I can deal with my “god” on my own.

One way you deal with “god” on your own is when you come to Divine Service each weekend to live for God’s kingdom, but also live beside and under the world. Your heart fills up with earthly cares and treasures. Perhaps there was a time when you had no interest in earthly matters. You always had time to help at church. After a while, life gets in the way and, well, church will have to wait until I have time or until I can get over my troubles. Then I can jump in with both feet wet and get back in the groove.

Rare are the times when that actually happens. We rejoice when those who have stayed away from God’s house returns. The Gifts are waiting for them, and they won’t be disappointed. We also are sad when excuses are made by those who, by their actions, simply do not care to partake of the Gifts with fellow sinners, unless that partaking happens on their terms. Spiritual life atrophies when terms are dictated to God. The ultimate result is death. As for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

So where’s the Gospel amid the 75-percent of soil that will not accept the Seed of the Word of God. Seems like a tragic parable with little hope of joy for anyone, let alone faithful Christians. There is joy, but that joy is in only a few. Tragic, yes. But that’s the way it is with the Seed of the Word of God. Jesus says shortly after today’s Holy Gospel: Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.

The watchword of our Savior is “hear”. Three chapters later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. God’s Word is meant to be heard more then read. The ancient Church did not have the convenience of a Bible in every home. Christians then came to Divine Service to hear the Word read aloud and applied to their lives in preaching. Where the Word is heard and gladly kept, nourished in baptismal water and the Lord’s Supper, there the Word bears abundant fruit.

The Lord sows. The Lord waters. The Lord provides growth. The Lord does not make the seed fail. You and I cause that sad event to happen when we allow the devil and the world to stop the seed from taking root and bearing fruit. The way to end the tragedy of dead seeds and no fruit is to hear the Word, to hearken to what it says and gladly appropriate it through faith in the sinless Son of God Who sows the Seed, waters the soil of your heart, and provides abundant fruit.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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