Monthly Archives: September 2013

Trinity 16 – Ephesians 3:13-21

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

Book learning only gets you so far. Same for a Mensa membership. Same for street smarts as well. The world hems and haws about knowledge and skills. Yet these only do so much before you throw up your arms in disgust. The more you learn, the more you realize you know nothing. Mankind still has not learned to burn water, to cure cancer, or end world hunger. Even when amazing discoveries take place, there is only brief, superficial, earthly gain. The soul cannot delight in it. There’s no comfort in death because of it. No matter how much you learn, these questions remain, “How do I get to God? How am I saved?” Human wisdom still leaves you in a lurch.

Today’s Epistle boasts of an insight that deserves the name “wisdom” even if it is despised by the world. This wisdom surpasses and exceeds all human knowledge because it rests on divine reason. This wisdom brings salvation. The highest, most blessed knowledge is to know the love of Christ.

The love of Christ is making His Father our Father once again in Jesus taking on flesh. He bears our sin in His bitter suffering and death, reuniting heaven and earth, God and man, families in heaven and on earth. We wandering renegades again are called children of God.

Those who are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, in whose hearts Christ dwells, the fullness of the Triune God comes to them and pitches His tent in them. Jesus, the King of heaven, lives in poor mankind’s heart. What love!

Jesus joins together a holy Church from all the faithful on earth. He builds a dwelling place not made by human hands that spread in all directions over the earth. In this dwelling place reside both Jews and Gentiles, all people who confess Jesus as Lord. This dwelling place stands as a monument of the incomprehensible love of Jesus in the world. Jesus is still working on this building. We reside in a work in progress. Christ lives in this magnificent temple with His grace and love. As Saint Peter says in his first epistle: As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The knowledge of the love of Christ is the highest knowledge that far surpasses all human thinking and comprehension. We owe our entire salvation to it. It has purchased and built a holy Church on earth and has brought us to her.

Whoever has this faithful knowledge has entered into a new relationship with God. He has become a new creation that is no longer ruled by the evil spirit of hell, but by the Spirit of God. He knows he is in possession of the greatest happiness not found in this world. He is God’s child. He is an heir of salvation.

The more you grow in this knowledge and delight in it, the more you are filled with the fullness of God. God’s blessings gush over you. Jesus Christ has blessed [you] in Him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. You have comfort in every affliction. You have the certainty of being a child of God in your Baptism. You have His grace, His peace, and the inheritance of eternal life.

Because you know the love of Christ, you are also willing and able to endure all tribulations for the sake of the name of Jesus. You are able willingly to suffer and not to be ashamed of every tribulation, because God uses them to strip you of those things you though needful in order to direct you to the one thing that is needful: the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is why Saint Paul is able to say, I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Paul suffered much, yet His sufferings are hidden in Christ’s sufferings. Paul’s burdens are made light in Jesus.

Knowing the love of Christ also drives you to let your entire life be for the praise of Jesus’ power and grace working in you in receiving the Gifts Jesus gives you in His house every week. As you are fed here in Word and Supper, you are sustained in His forgiveness and life until you finally enter into the triumphant Church who rests in Christ awaiting the Day of Resurrection.

You could be the most brilliant quantum physicist or the richest man in seven counties. These only take you so far this side of eternity. You could also be homeless, penniless, and one major medical mishap away from being bankrupt. Yet if you know and believe the love of God that is in Jesus Christ, you have everything. Your knowledge is perfect and holy. This is not to say you shouldn’t learn anything in this life. Read, study, and learn. Do not place your trust in what you read, study, and learn about earthly life. Your hope against hope is in the Lord, Who shows His love by sending His Son to live the perfect life in your place, suffer and die in your place, and rise from the grave in order that you shall rise from the grave. The saying is trite, but true: No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace. Believe it for His sake.

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

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Trinity 15 – Galatians 5:25-6:10

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

            Who do you think you are? The word Saint Paul uses for people like you is κενόδοξοι, those who desire of vainglory. Vainglory is a word we don’t use all that often. It means “excessive elation or pride over one’s own achievements, abilities, etc., boastful vanity, empty pomp or show”. Vainglory is to strut around and boast about all the wonderful things you say and do. Vainglory is desiring to be liked and doing whatever it takes to be liked by everyone.

Vainglory takes many forms. Vainglorious people can be pompous, even arrogant to the point of being a snob’s snob. Vainglory also can take the form of false humility. You try so hard to be humble that your humility becomes pride. It’s reverse snobbery of a sort. You know it when you see it, and you often see it in yourself.

Another word for vainglory is “conceited”. My mother says my father was the most conceited man she ever met when they dated. Almost 62 years later, they are still together…and dad can still turn on the conceit when necessary. So can you. I can too. Saint Paul says that sort of spirit is provoking one another, envying one another. This is neither living by the Spirit nor walking by the Spirit.

Last week we heard what it means to live by the Spirit. This week, Saint Paul takes up walking by the Spirit when he says bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Walking outside the Spirit by boasting in self is conceit, vainglory. You may not see it, but your neighbor sees it. Your neighbor cannot stand it when the only burden you want to bear is your own burden, and you hope that your neighbor will bear it instead of you. Perhaps that’s why people so easily talk about all their aches and pains. Maybe you’ll feel sorry for them and bear their burden.

You don’t think much about it, but step back for a moment and think about it. Does anyone really want to hear all your complaining about aches, pains, and life in general? Sure, it makes for good conversation around coffee. But if you’re always talking about your problems and hoping someone else will take care of them, maybe it’s time you listened to someone else’s problems for once and help them bear their burdens. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Back to the question again: Who do you think you are? You are nothing in the grand scheme of life. You are a hand full of sand. You are sound and fury signifying nothing. You are unable to save yourself from everlasting death, let alone able to fulfill the law of Christ. You are dead in trespasses and sins. You grow weary of doing good because no one seems to appreciate the good you do. Your vainglory, your conceit, is not good. Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter five: Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. It starts with repentance, turning away from vainglory, and returning to a gracious and merciful God Who is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love. That’s how walking in the Spirit begins…repentance. From repentance flows faith in Jesus Christ, Who alone fulfills the Law, even His own law that you are given to fulfill.

But that doesn’t make sense. If only Jesus can fulfill the law of Christ, why does Saint Paul say to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ? It makes perfect sense. Faith in Jesus Christ as fulfiller of the Law of God means that Jesus is everything for you. What Christ does in His death, He does for you. You cannot pay your own ransom for sin. Only Jesus does that with His blood and with His innocent suffering and death. But what He does, He does not do merely for Himself. He does it for you, in your place.

What Christ does in the Spirit, He does in you. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, and the Holy Spirit always go together. The Word is not an amorphous blob hanging out there in hammerspace, waiting to be grabbed and used when needed. The Word and the Spirit are concrete, tangible things. They are put in preaching, in baptism, in the Supper, and in Absolution. These Gifts are put inside you. Christ is in you, and you are in Christ. When you bear your neighbor’s burdens, whether or not your neighbor is of the household of faith, you fulfill the law of Christ. It is not you who fulfills the law of Christ, but Christ Himself dwelling in you Who fulfills it.

There is no need for vainglory, for Christ in you, the hope of glory, is the One Who bears your neighbor’s burdens. Who do you think you are? You are a person for whom Christ died. You are washed, sanctified by water and the Spirit. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are free from sin and death because of Jesus. You live not for your own self, but for your neighbor, that he might see Christ in you as well. Let us not grow weary of doing good. Jesus never grows weary of showing Himself through you in all you say and do. You live by the Spirit, because the Spirit lives in you.

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

Capon: The Ticking Time Bomb of the Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans has sat around in the church since the first century like a bomb ticking away the death of religion; and every time it’s been picked up, the ear-splitting freedom in it has gone off with a roar.

The only sad thing is that the church as an institution has spent most of its time playing bomb squad and trying to defuse it. For your comfort, though, it can’t be done. Your freedom remains as close to your life as Jesus and as available to your understanding as the nearest copy. Like Augustine, therefore, tolle lege, take and read: tolle the one, lege the other – and then hold onto your hat. Compared to that explosion, the clap of doom sounds like a cap pistol.

The Romance of the Word

Capon on Not Doing It Right

If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. It has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that it has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our pieces, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music but to avoid some flub that will get us in trouble. The church, having put itself in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), has been so afraid we will lose sight of the need to do it right that it has made us care more about how we look than about who Jesus is. It has made us act more like subjects of a police state than fellow citizens of the saints.

The Foolishness of Preaching

More Capon Lovin’ from Mockingbird

In many ways, the Mockingbird blog is a sort of continuation from a new generation of the writing of the late Robert Farrar Capon.  Here is their memoriam to Fr. Capon.

+ Robert Farrar Capon +

It has come to my attention that Fr. Robert Farrar Capon fell asleep in our Lord Jesus Christ today. His writings have transformed my preaching, challenged my thinking, and refreshed my soul. And his writing on cooking was quite good as well. Requiescat in pace, Fr. Capon. See you on the Day of Resurrection.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.””Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13 ESV)

RFC

“It’s the old, old story of modern life: if a corporation isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, the one thing you must never do is kill it off, or even wonder about whether you should have created it in the first place. You may change its logo or find it new widgets to market; but you must never – even after it has gone through three redefinitions and a dozen new products hand-running – question its right to go on existing. Only two things can destroy a corporate persona: revolution from the inside or catastrophe from the outside. You can’t reform an angel; violence is the only solution.”

– + Robert Farrar Capon +, The Astonished Heart

RFC 2

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

― + Robert Farrar Capon +, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

“I am and I am not a universalist. I am one if you are talking about what God in Christ has done to save the world. The Lamb of God has not taken away the sins of some — of only the good, or the cooperative, or the select few who can manage to get their act together and die as perfect peaches. He has taken away the sins of the world — of every last being in it — and he has dropped them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. On the cross, he has shut up forever on the subject of guilt: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation. . . .’ All human beings, at all times and places, are home free whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.

“But I am not a universalist if you are talking about what people may do about accepting that happy-go-lucky gift of God’s grace. I take with utter seriousness everything that Jesus had to say about hell, including the eternal torment that such a foolish non-acceptance of his already-given acceptance must entail. All theologians who hold Scripture to be the Word of God must inevitably include in their work a tractate on hell. But I will not — because Jesus did not — locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgment. No one is ever kicked out at the end of those parables who wasn’t included in at the beginning.

– + Robert Farrar Capon +

So You Want to Be A Faithful Pastor?

In short, let everyone “test,” that is, be diligently concerned that his ministry be faithful; for this above all is required in ministers of the Word (1 Cor. 4:2). It is as though [Paul] were saying: “Let everyone strive to achieve this, that he preach the Word purely and faithfully; and let him consider nothing except the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Then his work will be good in a faithful and solid way, and in his conscience he will have his boast, the sort of boast that can say with confidence: ‘This doctrine and my ministry are pleasing to God.’ That is truly a great and excellent boast.”

Luther’s Works, Volume 27, Page 119. Emphasis mine.

Martin Luther on Vainglorious Pastors

It is characteristic of those who are infected with κενοδοξία (vainglory) that they do not care at all whether their “work,” that is, their ministry, is pure or not; all they are interested in is acquiring the applause of the crowd. Thus when the false apostles saw that Paul had preached the Gospel to the Galatians purely and that they could not do any better, they began to slander what he had set forth so correctly and faithfully, and to elevate their doctrine above Paul’s doctrine. In this way they curried the favor of the Galatians and made Paul repugnant to them. Thus those who are κενόδοξοι (vainglorious) combine these three faults: first, they are exceedingly vainglorious; secondly, they are amazingly skillful at slandering the good things that others have said and done and thus at gaining the applause of the people for themselves; thirdly, when they have become celebrated among the people, albeit by the labor and risk of someone else, they become so brave and courageous that there is nothing they will not dare. Therefore they are destructive men, worthy of being completely accursed; and I hate them more than I do a dog or a snake. “They look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21).

It is such men that Paul is attacking here. It is as though he were saying: “Such vainglorious spirits do their work, that is, preach the Gospel, with the purpose of gaining praise and applause among men; they want to be hailed by them as extraordinary and outstanding theologians, with whom Paul and others cannot even be compared. When they have obtained this reputation, they begin to slander the works, sayings, and deeds of others, and to praise their own grandly. In this cunning way they drive the crowd out of their minds. Because they have ‘itching ears’ (2 Tim. 4:8), the crowd not only takes pleasure in new doctrines; but, being sated and sick of the Word, they even enjoy watching their former teachers overshadowed and crowded out by new and supposedly glorious teachers.” “This,” he continues, “should not happen. Everyone should be faithful in his ministry, not looking out for his own glory or trusting in the fickle applause of the multitude but being concerned only that he do his job properly, that is, that he preach the Gospel purely. For if his work is done properly, he should know that he will not be lacking in glory before God and eventually also before other believers. When meanwhile he fails to gain any praise from the unthankful world, this should not bother him; for he knows that the purpose of his ministry is that Christ, not he, be glorified for it. Therefore armed ‘with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left’ (2 Cor. 6:7), let him say with a steady mind: ‘I did not begin preaching the Gospel to make the world honor me. Therefore I shall not quit either on account of the dishonor with which it treats me.’ Such a person teaches the Word and performs his ministry without any regard for persons, without any concern for praise, glory, fortitude, or wisdom. He does not depend on the praise of others but has it in himself.”

Thus one who carries out his office correctly and faithfully does not care what the world says about him; he does not care whether it praises him or blames him. He has his boast within himself, which is the testimony of his conscience and a boasting in God. Therefore he can say with Paul (2 Cor. 1:12): “Our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.” Such a boast is pure and constant. For it does not depend on the judgment of others; it depends on one’s own conscience. This is what gives us testimony that we have taught correctly, have administered the sacraments, and have done everything else correctly. Therefore it cannot be corrupted or abolished.

The other kind of boasting, which is what the κενοιδοξοι have, is unsure and extremely hazardous; for they do not have it within themselves, but it depends on what the crowd thinks and says. Hence they cannot have the testimony of their own conscience that they have done everything with a simple and sincere mind solely to illumine the glory of God and to promote the salvation of souls. All they aim for is that on the basis of the work or labor of their preaching they themselves may become famous and glorious among men. Therefore they do indeed have a boast, a confidence, and a testimony—but only before men, not before themselves or before God. Believers do not want to have this kind of boast. If Paul had had praise and glory before men, not before himself, he would have been forced to despair when he saw many states, regions, and all Asia defecting from him (2 Tim. 1:15), and when he saw so many scandals and sects following upon his preaching. When Christ was alone, that is, when He was not only being hounded to death by the Jews but forsaken by His own disciples, He still was not alone; for the Father was with Him. Thus if our confidence and boasting today were dependent on the judgment and the favor of men, we would soon be forced to perish with sorrow of heart. For the papists, the fanatical spirits, and the entire world do not regard us as worthy of any praise or glory; in fact, they hate and persecute us ruthlessly, and they slander and strive to subvert our ministry and our teaching. Thus all we have before men is shame. But our joy and our boasting are in the Lord. Hence we are confident and happy as with the utmost faith and diligence we carry out the office into which God has placed us and which we know is pleasing to Him. When we do this, we do not care at all whether our work pleases or displeases the devil, or whether the world likes or dislikes us. For when we know that our work has been done properly, and when we have a good conscience in the sight of God, we go right ahead “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute” (2 Cor. 6:8). This is what Paul calls having one’s boast within oneself.

Luther’s Works, Volume 27, pages 116-118

Luther: The Gospel Is Not for Our Own Glory

For the Gospel was not given that we might seek our own praise and glory through it or that the common people might acclaim us, its ministers, on account of it. But it was given that through it the blessing and glory of Christ might be illumined, that the Father might be glorified in His mercy, which He has shown us in Christ, His Son, whom He gave up for us and with whom He has given us all things (Rom. 8:32). Therefore the Gospel is the sort of teaching in which the last thing to look for is our own glory. It sets forth heavenly and eternal things which do not belong to us, which we have neither made nor earned, but which it offers to us in our unworthiness purely by the kindness of God. Then why should we lay claim to any glory on account of them? Therefore he who seeks his own glory in the Gospel speaks on his own authority. But he who speaks on his own authority is a liar, and there is unrighteousness in him; but He who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him tells the truth, and there is no unrighteousness in Him (John 7:18).

Luther’s Works, Volume 27, pages 100-101