Monthly Archives: September 2015

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

Hypocrisy is perhaps the most hideous and most repulsive sin both to God and to your fellow man. The hypocrite is at his most dangerous and most damaging in the church. The hypocrite often turns out to be the destroyer of every good thing in a fellowship. The biggest problem with hypocrisy is that it is hard to cure. It’s easier to cure a wicked man who doesn’t know better than it is to cure a hypocrite who knows the truth, but finds the truth inconvenient to his agenda.

The Pharisees are the prime example of hypocrites in the New Testament. They are externally friendly toward Jesus. They are nice enough to invite him to a banquet in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. Yet while Jesus is there, they were watching him carefully. They weren’t watching Him to learn something. They were watching Him to catch Him in some point of doctrine in order to build a case against Him.

The Pharisees are very eager in external worship. We saw this a few weeks ago when Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays in the temple, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. He makes a big show of his piety. Yet the Pharisee’s heart is faithless and loveless. Jesus deals with the Pharisees and Scribes in His woes in Matthew chapter 23. For example, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Everything the Pharisee says and does is external humility. In their heart of hearts lies pride and contempt of the neighbor. Just by doing and saying the right thing, the Pharisee believes that is enough to be saved. The condition of your heart doesn’t matter. His theology becomes an athletic shoe slogan: Just do it. The mere performance of the deed is what matters. The condition of your soul is irrelevant.

That was one of the major battles of the Reformation as well. Roman Catholic theology at that time taught that the mere performance of a particular liturgical rite worked forgiveness and salvation for those who witnessed it. The priest went through the motions. You watched him do it. As you watched, whatever the work that was being worked thus worked. Who cares what you thought about it or if you were even paying attention. That’s why there were bells. Hey! Pay attention now! Something is happening that’s good for you.

Hypocrisy is still around today. There’s a church full of hypocrites right now, including the one preaching this sermon. Smart aleck people who think they want to be Christian sometimes complain that they would actually practice the faith if it wasn’t for all the hypocrites in a Christian congregation. I am happy to report that Christian congregations this side of eternity are 100-percent non-hypocrite free places! Hypocrites are always welcomed here.

Hypocrites are all over the pages of Holy Scripture. Cain was a hypocrite. So was Joab with Abner and Amasa. Judas Iscariot is perhaps the most infamous hypocrite of all because he pretended to care for the poor and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. You might add the so-called “Sunday morning” or “Saturday night” Christian to this list. These are the folks who attend worship with zeal, yet never practice anything they hear in church the rest of the week. They love God and neighbor, but only when it is to their advantage.

Worse yet are hypocrites who say they love God’s Word, yet have no love toward God or neighbor outside of the time they spend in His house. They major in minors. They quarrel over every little thing. They demand to get their way at every opportunity. They never speak about anyone in the kindest way. They even go as far as to deny someone is a Christian unless they believe exactly the same way they believe, especially if what they believe has no ground in Scripture.

But wait, it gets worse. The Pharisaical kind of hypocrisy is also seen in Christian congregations. These people want justice, but not the kind of justice God deals out in Christ. They love to confess their sins and receive absolution, then turn around and lay hands on their neighbor in order to harm them. They speak words of praise in God’s house, and speak words of condemnation to everyone else in almost the same breath. These people think that by showing up, paying their dues, and being seen is good enough for God. Anything else that is done doesn’t matter.

It matters. Sin matters. The condition of your soul matters. You are in one of these states of hypocrisy at one time or another. All men are hypocrites by nature because all men are sinners by nature. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. The Psalmist writes, I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.” Isaiah writes, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. God’s Word breaks your exaltation into pieces. His killing Law shows you just how nasty you are toward God and your fellow man. It shows you, O man, what should be your manner of life. Yet your manner of life doesn’t even begin to measure up to the mark God sets for His children.

There is one righteous Man on earth Who does good and never sins. His name is Jesus Christ. He comes today with healing for you. He breaks the hypocrite to pieces with His words, and heals the broken-hearted in body and soul. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? That’s what the Sabbath is about, isn’t it? Healing. Your healing. Your rest in Jesus Christ, Who rested in the tomb to fulfill the Sabbath in your place. Your redemption, your consolation of forgiveness, rests on Christ the Sabbath Keeper.

Keeping the Sabbath does not mean you must not shop or you must not do any work. Keeping the Sabbath means gladly to hear and to learn preaching and God’s Word. Hypocrisy dies and is buried in the tomb with Jesus. It is confessed, forgiven, and forgotten right here. You leave this house today put right again with God and your neighbor.

You’ll be a hypocrite again this week. You will fall short of the standard God expects from you. God willing, you’ll be back again next week to confess, be forgiven, and receive the gifts of healing as you wait for ultimate healing in the resurrection. Hypocrisy’s end is death. Death’s end is Christ’s life for you. Believe it for His sake.


Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

Saint Paul says the wages of sin is death. Sin is one long parade of unending misery. Sin is snake venom. Sin not only brings sickness, it also brings death. Every funeral procession is a proclamation of the final result of sin. We carry a dead person to the cemetery, lay them in his bed six feet under, and after time the body will turn to dust. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes chapter twelve: the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata number 106 is his so-called “funeral cantata”. Woven throughout the cantata are Bible verses dealing with death. In him we live and move and have our being…as long as God wills. Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover. Even the Apocrypha makes an appearance: The decree from of old is, “You will surely die!”

In the midst of these verses come the familiar words of the Nunc Dimittis in Luke chapter two that we sing after receiving the Lord’s Supper. The antidote to sin and death is Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Nevertheless, we must not treat death as child’s play, like Agag does in First Samuel chapter 15 when he says Surely the bitterness of death is past as Samuel approaches him. Samuel has no mercy on Agag and hacks him to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal after he deals with a disobedient King Saul.

Even with the comfort of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, will you spend the rest of your life afraid of death? There is help and rescue in Jesus Christ. There is sure, Gospel comfort against temporal death.

Death is not destruction for a Christian. Death is deliverance. Death is making way for something greater that will come. Consider this stanza from the hymn “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”:

Death cannot destroy forever;
From our fears, Cares, and tears
It will us deliver.
It will close life’s mournful story,
Make a way That we may
Enter heavenly glory.

These words are not welcome in a world that both glamorizes death, as well as tries to ignore death. We Christians, however, pray for a blessed death. Granted we would like that death to happen at a ripe age, but death comes when God so wills.

The raising of the only son of the widow of Nain is a look ahead to the glorious Day of Resurrection when all the dead in Christ shall rise and be changed into immortal beings. The resurrection of the dead still wouldn’t be a comforting then unless we believe also that they, and we, shall always be with the Lord. Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Resurrection is that simple for Jesus. He says the word and dead live. He is, after all, the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of the new creation sent by the Father into this world to die for sin and rise for our justification.

Our sinful flesh can’t quite reconcile resurrection with death. You know that at the end of the road is an end. You are marching to that end right now. For some the end comes after a long journey. For others the end comes quickly and unexpected, with no chance to say goodbye. For the Christian under God’s grace given in Jesus Christ, the end, whether expected or unexpected, is not the end. It’s a beginning of something that is yours now, but not yet. The fancy fifty-dollar phrase is “inaugurated eschatology”. The easy way to explain it is to say “Now, but not yet.”

Eternal life is yours now because of Jesus Christ. You hold fast to Him in life and in death. Jesus is your only hope for eternity with the heavenly Father. This is reality: a reality won for you with a full-bodied cross and an empty-bodied tomb. This reality, however, is not yet yours. The emphasis is on the word “yet”. “Yet”, in this case, means “coming soon”. When a new business opens there is anticipation for something that is going to happen, but not right now. So it is with eternal life. You live in ready anticipation for Jesus’ arrival to judge the living and the dead. This event will happen. It’s only a matter of time; God’s time.

While waiting for the fullness of time, you practice the art of dying. You live in your baptism, rejoicing in heavenly citizenship through Jesus Christ. You live by faith in the Son of God Who gives you His Good News of forgiveness of sins and new life in Him. You eat His Body, drink His blood, receive His forgiveness in Absolution, and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. You meditate on His words penned by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You chew on those words, savoring every morsel of what they say about your future. The Church has a future because Christ has a future. Your future, Christ’s future, is eternity in the presence of God Almighty.

The art of living well is good. The art of dying well is even better, for dying means living to a Christian. As one of the stanzas of the hymn, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense” says: “Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave/And at death no longer tremble.” Now isn’t that something! We laugh at the grave. That’s the last thing anyone should do at a cemetery. But that’s what we get to do in Christ. The grave is a bed. Test my words to you today against the witness of Jesus and the widow’s son at Nain. He lives. Everyone rejoices. You live.

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

Saint Paul says in Philippians chapter four, The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. The first five words from Saint Paul’s pen color the entire passage: The Lord is at hand. The Introit from Psalm 86 says, You are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You do I cry all the day.

Why, then, are you anxious about your life? That’s the crucial question in this section from the Sermon on the Mount. Again Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. We live by faith in the Son of God. That does not mean we have no need to plan for the future. It’s wise to put away some money now and then for the future. Savings accounts are a wonderful thing. The problem is what happens when everything in your life is about what you will eat or what you will drink, about your body, what you will put on.

We are obsessed with the word “enough”. “Enough” is a law word. Consider a Lutheran congregation. Here are two axioms that are true in a congregation: “There will never be enough money.” And the second one is much like the first: “There will always be enough money.” A congregation saves what she can for local needs, as well as passing on to district and synod what she can to proclaim the Gospel outside her community. When a pressing need arises, we worry about where the money will come from to pay for it. Yet the money is always there. Somehow, someway, there is enough for today, and even tomorrow.

Elijah saw this firsthand with the widow and her son at Zarephath. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. The Lord made a promise that the three of them would not starve. He kept the promise, as He keeps every promise He makes to His children.

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? What we have is an idolatry problem. You shall have no other gods. What is forgotten with the First Commandment is the words that come before it: I am the Lord your God. That’s Gospel. Yet when we hear those words we hate them. We despise the fact that the Lord is God and He promises to provide. We collect idols just in case God’s promises fail. We worry that He will not keep a promise to us to prove a point, or perhaps to see us sweat it out a bit.

How about sweating this one out: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Which one is your master? Which one do you sweat out more: God or mammon? It’s mammon, isn’t it? Yes, it is. If god so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Jesus today sends us to school, so to speak, and has us considerable the irrational ways of birds and lilies. They don’t worry. They are fed and clothed. They receive from a giving God what is given them to receive. Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? One might add a single dollar to his bank account to this question. Again, living by faith does not mean that you abandon all planning for the future and have blind faith that God is going to take care of you. Yet living by faith does mean to trust that the Lord provides against all obstacles you throw up in His way.

Cast aside every care for a moment and consider what God has given you that is outside of food, clothing, and the like. At the top of the list is sonship with God in your baptism. Dripping wet in the robe of righteousness, you have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Eternity is yours in Jesus Christ. Up there also is the gift of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord provides a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet here as you eat and drink the true Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Next in line is the various callings in life that He puts you in to love and serve your neighbor. These vocations are not burdens, though they may seem like it. Living by faith in Jesus Christ is also waiting to put His talents that He gives you to work for your neighbor. You don’t keep a list of them hoping to impress God with all your hard work. You help your neighbor, even in what seems the most menial tasks. The Lord provides ample opportunities even without your help.

Living by faith, living without anxiety for today or especially tomorrow, is what it means to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Remember His first promise for you: I am the Lord your God. He provides your salvation. He gives you all that other stuff you need for the world as well. You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious; turn to me and be gracious to me; give Your strength to Your servant, and save the son of Your maidservant.


Hermann Sasse on Distinguishing Law and Gospel

Some quotes from the essay “Law and Gospel” in Letters to Lutheran Pastors: Volume 3

For the modern Christian, as for the world outside of the church, preaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are distasteful to the point of being offensive. The modern Christian knows no more what the church’s real responsibilities are than what they really mean. The world makes fun of the church because its only task is preaching. To this we answer that the world does not know the power of the divine Word. It does not recognize that behind the feeble words of human beings is the almighty Word of the Almighty God, which “is like a fire,” the “living and active” Word, which “is sharper than any two– edged sword,” which “pierces through to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is the judge of thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4: 12). How could the world have known, how can it know, that God created and still maintains the world through this Word? Quite literally all mankind lives because of this Word!
In the face of all the misunderstandings on the part of the world and all the errors which have arisen within Christendom, let us make this point absolutely clear: the task of the church in the world consists uniquely and alone in the preaching of the Word of God and in administering the Sacrament. All other functions which the church as a living organism develops and uses serve only to fulfill this task. All activities which the church can legitimately exercise in the world are by– products of preaching and the Sacraments. Christ had no other purpose in sending His church into the world than preaching and distributing the Sacraments. Only in accomplishing this task is the church recognizable as the church. In addressing this issue of identifying the basic church functions, the Reformation claimed that the marks of the church were the Word and the Sacraments. In these signs the church could be recognized. To be sure brotherly love, providing for the poor and the sick, moral discipline, prayer and worship will be present wherever the church is, but a fellowship (congregation) with only these marks is clearly unrecognizable as the church. Brotherly love can be found in the synagogue. The poor and the sick are provided for by modern secular governments. Moral discipline is a part of Buddhist monasteries. Prayer and worship are features of all religions in the world. The Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper can be found only in the church. They are the indelible marks of the church (notae ecclesiae).
The moral sensitivities of the natural man are in no way satisfied by the Bible. It contains no system of ethics. No ethical ideal is held up as a standard. All the Bible’s moral injunctions can be found in other religions and philosophies [Weltanschauungen]. In fact, the moral sensitivity of the natural man finds the Bible offensive, because its central theme is that God accepts sinners and only sinners as righteous.
For if Christendom itself is so under the influence of modern culture and its anthropology so lacking in understanding that it no longer comprehends the depth of human sin, then it is high time that it earnestly puts this question to the church of the past, especially the church of the Reformation: “Have you ever considered, have you ever pondered, the enormity of sin?”
Only the person who has fearfully and earnestly taken up the question of sin and forgiveness can really understand what the church’s message is all about. Whoever has not come to this point– and this is especially true of the modern man since the Enlightenment with very few exceptions– must think the church’s message insane or must twist it around to make some kind of sense out of it.
God is not gracious to us because we have improved our lives or because we have made moral progress. In fact, we keep only a small part of His Commandments. He is gracious only and solely because Christ died for us and because His righteousness has become our righteousness. On the Last Day, salvation will not be given to those who have fulfilled the Law, but to those who fed and gave drink and sheltered Christ in the least of their brothers (Matthew 25). They have no knowledge of what they have done (vv. 38– 39). Everywhere in the preaching of Jesus it is clear that “the reward in heaven” is a completely unearned reward. At this point the Law and the Gospel come to a parting of the ways. This distinction does not mean that one has nothing to do with the other. They are both God’s Word. Both belong to the Old as well as to the New Testament. The Gospel as the promise of the coming Redeemer is already present in the Old Testament. Similarly, the Law does not cease to exist in the New Testament, though Christ is the end of the Law, that is, He is the end of the Law as a way of salvation. To be sure, Jesus preached the Law alongside of the Gospel, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the announcements of divine wrath and the Day of Judgment. So the Law and the Gospel together both belong to the Word of God. Without the preaching of the Law there is no preaching of the Gospel. There is no authentic preaching of the Law in the sermon unless there is something of the Gospel there. For example, Luther sees Gospel in the introduction to the First Commandment. He understands the words “I am the Lord Your God” as Gospel. On that account the reformer can correctly say: “Within Christendom two sermons must be preached: the first is the teaching of the Law or the Ten Commandments and the other is about the grace of Christ (Gospel). Because where either Law or Gospel is incorrectly preached, the other is ruined. Where one goes down, the other goes under with it. On the other hand, where one remains in place and is properly set forth, it brings the other along with it.”
Since the eighteenth century Enlightenment, modern man has seen Jesus Christ only as a religious teacher with a moral agenda. The essence of the Gospel as the teaching of Jesus is its proclamation that the quintessence of religious truths is the truth that God is our Father and that we human beings are one another’s brothers. Similarly, the quintessence of ethical commandments is the double command of loving God and the neighbor and what is known as the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Whether or not it was done deliberately, the uniqueness of the Gospel was taken out of it. Even the synagogue confesses God as our Father. Stoicism teaches that we men are brothers. The double command to love God and our neighbor is taken directly from the Old Testament, and the Golden Rule is a rational truth which every pagan recognizes or can recognize on his own. But in no way can these abstract religious truths produce the doctrine of the incarnation.
Between the Scylla of legalism and the Charybdis of antinomianism defines a narrow and dangerous path which the church must follow in her ethical thought. Whether she finds the way depends on the purity of her proclamation, and on this depends her existence. It is my wish that the World Conference of Churches meeting at Oxford [1937] would be so endowed that churches of Christendom would serve in some way as a lighthouse on this way. Each of the churches must find its own way. They can only find their ways by turning away from the world’s tempting siren calls and in this benighted century to listen to the voice of Him who speaks to Christendom the same message which He spoke to the apostles and the reformers and which they believed: “I am the way” [John 14: 6].

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Distinguishing Between True and Hypocritical Righteousness or Holiness

I am saying this [about Galatians 5:19] in order that you may avoid the wicked errors of the sophists about the holiness of life. Our minds were so obsessed by these errors that we were unable to get rid of them without great effort. Therefore be very careful to distinguish properly between true and hypocritical righteousness or holiness. Then you will be able to look at the kingdom of Christ with eyes other than those that reason uses, that is, with spiritual eyes; and you will be able to assert with certainty that a saint is one who has been baptized and who believes in Christ. Such a saint will also abstain from the desires of the flesh by means of the faith through which he is justified and through which his sins, past and present, are forgiven; but he is not completely cleansed of them. For the desires of the flesh are still against the Spirit. This uncleanness remains in him to keep him humble, so that in his humility the grace and blessing of Christ taste sweet to him. Thus such uncleanness and such remnants of sin are not a hindrance but a great advantage to the godly. For the more aware they are of their weakness and sin, the more they take refuge in Christ, the mercy seat (Romans 3:25). They plead for His assistance, that He may adorn them with His righteousness and make their faith increase by providing the Spirit, by whose guidance they will overcome the desires of the flesh and make them servants rather than masters. Thus a Christian struggles with sin continually, and yet in his struggle he does not surrender but obtains the victory. I have said this to make you understand, not on the basis of human imaginations but of the Word of God, who the genuine saints are. We see that Christian teaching is of the greatest possible help in encouraging consciences, and that it is the sort of teaching that does not deal with cowls, tonsures, rosaries, and similar useless matters but with the most difficult and most important issues, namely, how we are to overcome the flesh, sin, death, and the devil. Because this teaching is unknown to the self-righteous, it is impossible for them either to instruct one erring conscience or to bring comfort and peace to one conscience that is in the throes of terror and despair.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, Luther’s Works, Volume 27, pages 86-87

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