Monthly Archives: February 2016

Third Sunday in Lent – Luke 11:14-28

Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Jesus’ words refocus our priorities. The woman who exclaimed Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed is right in her exclamation. All generations still call Christ’s mother blessed. But there is something greater than Mary’s womb and Mary’s breast that ought to be praised: the Word of God.

Christ is our hope for eternal life. His mercy is our greatest desire. That is why we not only hear the Word, but also keep the Word. The verb keep has many nuances. To keep something can mean to observe it as if the Word is your guide to life. There is a proper understanding of keep in that sense. If you use keep to mean you must not eat pork or shellfish or keep a kosher kitchen, then you miss the point of keeping God’s Word. Keeping God’s Word here means to maintain God’s Word, to perform sentry duty over the Word.

There’s a way even to misunderstand that nuance. Some Christians believe that nuance to mean putting Jesus in a box and keeping Him there, lest we misuse Him or become afraid even to open our mouth about what Jesus has done to rescue us from sin and death. We are so preoccupied with keeping the message of Jesus Christ straight that we don’t actually proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We instead proclaim a caricature of Christianity that centers on how hard we try to keep God’s Word pure.

It’s an easy trap. We are afraid to speak to others about what we believe for fear of “not getting it right”. So we drag our friends and neighbors to the pastor and let him tell them what we believe. Worse yet, we never speak about our faith to anyone, anywhere. That’s a poor nuance of keeping God’s Word. We keep it so much that we hide it.

Notice Jesus says those who maintain God’s Word are blessed. This also has a misplaced nuance of guarding it so much that you won’t let even yourself touch it, let alone hear it. Keeping sentry duty over God’s Word means to be ready to give your life for the sake of what the Word proclaims for you.

Recall your confirmation day. You were asked, “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” That’s a solemn promise to make, and one you don’t lightly make. That’s what is behind maintaining, keeping, the Word of God. You live as God’s redeemed, restored, forgiven child, wet in your baptismal robe of righteousness.

You live eager to hear the Word as well. Those two verbs Jesus says in today’s Gospel, hear and keep go together. To hear the Word means to hear with both ears and heart. The Word does not merely enter the ear and make no impression on your life. The Holy Spirit travels with the Word proclaimed to bring you to repentance and forgiveness. To hear the Word also means not to let anything pull you away from it, no matter how many people slander the Word or are indifferent to what it says.

Keeping the Word, maintaining it, defending it, brings a blessing because you are rescued from Satan’s kingdom. Saint Paul writes in Colossians chapter one: [let us give thanks] to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Your heavenly Father has rescued you from great misery and miserable slavery to sin. You are ready to defend the Word that declares you free from death and hell. You are ready to make diligent use of the Gifts given here that deliver what the Word gives you, namely forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

Keeping the Word means you are preserved from unclean spirits returning to the house of your body, seeking a place of rest. You are ready to fight with Christ, to gather with Christ, and to build the kingdom of God. God’s Word declares you are dead to sin, unable to pull yourself out of your sinful condition. Only Jesus is able to do it. The Word brings you to repentance and declares you forgiven of all sin. In the freedom of Christ you are ready to speak the hope that is in you. You wear the full armor of God to defend yourself from the attacks of the evil one.

When you fall, and you will fall, the Word will be there to show your sin, but also to show your Savior. You rise, put on the whole armor of God again, and, in the blessing of God, hear and defend the Word once again. That’s the baptismal life, yours in Jesus Christ, the Living Word.

“The Father’s hand hath written there/ My title as His child and heir,/ ‘The kingdom’s thine forever.’/ That promise faileth never.” (The Lutheran Hymnal 48:2)

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How Blest Are They Who Hear God’s Word

Here’s a hymn that didn’t make the cut from TLH to LSB, but should have been included. This is TLH Hymn 48. A perfect hymn for the Third Sunday in Lent if you preach the one-year lectionary.

1. How blest are they who hear God’s Word
And keep and heed what they have heard!
They wisdom daily gather;
Their light shines brighter day by day,
And while they tread life’s weary way,
They have the oil of gladness
To soothe their pain and sadness.

2. God’s Word a treasure is to me,
Through sorrow’s night my sun shall be,
The shield of faith in battle.
The Father’s hand hath written there
My title as His child and heir,
“The kingdom’s thine forever.”
That promise faileth never.

3. Today I was my Savior’s guest,
My soul was here so richly blest,
The Bread of Life receiving.
Oh, may thereby my faith prevail,
So that its fruits shall never fail
Till my account is given
Before the throne in heaven!

Author: Johan N. Brun, 1786
Translated by: Oluf H. Smeby, 1913

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Second Sunday in Lent – Matthew 15:21-28

Revised and abridged from 2009

All of us know a thing or two about persistent cries. Take a hungry child to the grocery store and watch what happens in the cereal aisle or the checkout aisle. The child cries out for a certain brand of cereal. The child cries out for a candy bar or a pack of chewing gum. We ignore their cries of asking and begging. We pretend we are deaf and look the other way. Still, the child cries out so long and so loud that eventually we will give in and buy the box of cereal or the piece of candy or gum. It’s better to give the child what he or she wants than chance a public temper tantrum.

Jesus pretends to be deaf, or at least pretends to have selective hearing. He hears the Canaanite woman begging for mercy on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. But [Jesus] answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

We’ve been in the Canaanite woman’s shoes. We pray to our heavenly Father repeatedly, asking for earthly blessings of good health for us and for our loved ones. What does He bring us? He brings good health for us and for our loved ones when and where He wills. It seems the good things we pray for happen when we expect it. So we tend not to ask for much when things go well. The times when God seems to let us down is when we need His help. We know exactly Whom to ask when in the hour of deepest need. But all is quiet. Not a sound. We expect the angels to whisper to our heavenly Father: “Send him or her away, for he or she cries out after you.”

Soon our prayers turn to short exclamations like the Canaanite woman’s exclamation of Lord, help me! When the heavenly silence continues, our prayers turn to silence too. We don’t ask God for anything anymore. He isn’t listening. He doesn’t care. He has more important people to hear and more pressing matters to attend.

Perhaps that is how most of us think the Canaanite woman’s account should end. She is not a Jew. Jesus has no need to give her the time of day, let alone heal her daughter. Jesus even gives her the ultimate shove-off when He tells her it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. There seems to be no help for her and her daughter. There is no place for her among the children of the heavenly Father.

Our persistence in prayer is met sometimes with the sound of silence. Heavenly silence is enough to make even the staunchest Christian wave the white flag of surrender. We perhaps wonder if there’s a place for us with the children of the heavenly Father. What did we do that made God so mad at us that He won’t hear our prayer?

How about sin for starters? Sin brings separation from the Almighty God Who demands nothing short of holiness and perfection from His children. The Jews are not the poster children of holiness and perfection, but they are the ones whom God chose to build a great nation. His promise of eternal life and salvation rests first with them. What we sometimes forget, and many Jews also forget, is that God’s promise of eternal life and salvation rest with the spiritual Israel; all those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, whether or not they are a Jew or a Gentile. That is what the Canaanite woman believes in spite of her bloodline.

Of all the people that could have approached Jesus with a problem, the Canaanite woman showed persistence in prayer and spoke volumes about the kingdom of heaven with one sentence. Where we see a door closed and locked tight, the Canaanite woman saw an opening to confess her faith. It is as if Jesus was the comedic straight man setting up the punch line: yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

Everything the Canaanite woman says to Jesus flows from the solid rock of faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. She calls Jesus son of David. That should have been a clue to the disciples that Jesus is not dealing with an ordinary Canaanite. She later calls Him Lord. Again, that word should be enough to tip them off that Jesus might be teaching them something life changing. Yet they want Jesus to shoo her away. Jesus throws her a hanging curve ball, and she hits a tape measure grand slam.

Jesus allows Himself to be caught in a word trap to teach us that persistence in prayer pays off. He also teaches us that though we are Gentile sinners and not the promised children of the inheritance, we have a stake in the kingdom of heaven with the Jews because of God’s gift of faith in His only-begotten Son.

Sometimes we feel like Jacob in Genesis chapter 32; wrestling God to a time limit draw. Our knees get sore in prayer. There are not many words left to speak to God in prayer that we haven’t spoken before. Still we wrestle. Still we persevere. We say with Jacob, [Lord], I will not let you go unless You bless me. We know not to let go of the Lord because He promises never to let us go. He may test our faith to see where we will look in time of need, but He promises never to let go of us. God loves to answer prayer. When we pray for spiritual blessings, God has to give us what we ask. When we pray for earthly blessings, we always pray “Your will be done”, believing that His good and gracious will is always done among us. It may not be our will, but His answer is best.

The Canaanite woman does her best impression of Jacob. She digs, claws, and hangs on to Jesus until He relents and answers her prayer. Though it looks like child’s play to our eyes, Jesus loves it when we persist and dig in our heels. That is why we return to the Master’s Table week after week to receive the crumbs that fall from pulpit, font, and altar, into our ears and mouths. These crumbs of forgiveness and life matter more to us than the fanciest dinner feast. Rather than filling our empty stomachs, they fill our empty lives with peace and joy from a loving and merciful God.

Though we may blush at a child’s persistent cry for something from the grocery store, Jesus Christ is never embarrassed when we wrap our body and soul around Him. He knows we will not let go until He blesses us as He did Jacob and the Canaanite woman. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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First Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

It is not child’s play when we pray lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Temptation and evil will haunt us until the day we die. Luther’s Small Catechism says God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

Concerning our deliverance from evil, the Catechism says we pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

When we hear Matthew’s account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness we often wish that we could have the strength and ability to overcome temptation and evil as Jesus did. We believe that because Jesus overcomes temptation in our place, we too should overcome temptation. We know that we will succumb to temptation and the evil that follows. We want to do better. When that next temptation comes, we think we will do better. We will not do better. We will fail. We will not overcome temptation by doing exactly as Jesus does. We can’t do exactly as Jesus does because we have something Jesus does not have: a sinful nature.

Our sinful nature wants to live by bread alone instead of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Living by bread alone means we put worldly things above the God Who made the world and everything in it. We trust in mortal princes to save our country. We trust new spiritual fads we hear from our neighbor. Maybe a spirituality that champions the self over any God will give us the answers we need rather than receiving every good thing that comes from the hand of a merciful and gracious God.

The first four words of the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer are God does not tempt. There are many times when we believe beyond any doubt that God is the one bringing temptation or evil into our lives. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature will always accuse and attack us. What separates Christians from children of the world is that with the help of the Lord we may finally overcome [temptation] and win the victory.

Satan tempted Jesus with the kingdoms of the world: All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me. All these things belonged to Him, yet Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His is a heavenly kingdom. Yet we live as if we have eternal roots here rather than above. We live as if this world will never end and the life of the world to come will never happen.

Satan attacks us at our weakest moment with temptations that go after where we are weak. Unlike our outcome, Jesus’ outcome was much different. Yet this different outcome is not about Jesus being stronger or better than us. The different outcome between Jesus and Satan is about the Valiant One Whom God Himself elected holding the field forever.

Satan tempts Jesus with lies. Jesus can make stones become bread. We don’t need to live on earthly bread when we have the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. This Living Bread always satisfies, especially in the Divine Service. Here we are fed with Living Bread in preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and the Supper.

Jesus could throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple and live, but that miracle would do nothing to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. It would be a self-serving miracle rather than an act of selfless love for sinners. Jesus is no show-off. He comes to set prisoners of sin free from their sin.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He reigns over His holy Church, but He is not a theocratic ruler of a visible earthly kingdom. His kingdom is seen when the Good News of His victorious death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead is proclaimed. His kingdom comes to us every Lord’s Day and will come in its fullness when Jesus returns visibly to judge the living and the dead.

Though the first Adam fell to temptation and sin, the Second Adam does not fall to temptation. Jesus takes on our sin and gives us His redemption, restoration, and forgiveness. Jesus sets a beautiful example before us when He rebuffs Satan. Yet this is more than an example. Jesus conquers Satan’s temptations and ultimately conquers death to give us life. Though Satan may take everything, he has nothing. Our victory has been won. The Kingdom of God is ours for Jesus’ sake.

abridged and revised from 2009

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Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent

A sermon abridged and revised from a sermon written by Dr. Norman Nagel.

If you consider the Christian faith a moral renovation program, you might think of sins as individual items you can keep on a checklist and add up the score each day. The winning score is like playing Hearts or Spades: the lowest score wins. Yet sins are not individual items as if to think that you might have committed one particular sin earlier this morning, but haven’t done that particular sin since, you have fewer points than you would have had if you would have committed that sin again.

Particular sins, individual sins, are symptoms of a disease. We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin. A corrupt tree bears corrupt fruit. The problem isn’t because it is a tree. The problem is that the tree is corrupt. Same with us. We are human beings, but we are corrupt human beings, we are sinners.

Even if you think you are better now than you were six hours ago, you still have a sin problem. God shatters sinful human beings with His Law. Have you kept commandments four through eight all day today? How about nine and ten? How about the first three? Looking into the mirror of the Law shows God’s wrath on all ungodliness. Sin is ungodliness. Sin says no to God and yes to self. Sin makes us think we are in charge. Sin makes us think there is no god but self, and even then I am not sure about myself.

Sin leaves us broken. Christ came to put the pieces together. They can’t stick together until they have been washed. Forgiveness washes clean and puts together, just as sin divides, separates, and shatters. You are separated from God. You are separated from others. Then you fall to pieces…you literally separate yourself from yourself. Consider how God deals with Adam, Cain, and Abel. Adam separates from God. Cain kills Abel. Cain is torn with guilt and fear. God spares Cain.

Where separation begins, it must first be healed like a fray in a sock. But that’s what we are not willing to face. In place of the living God we put ideas and project our thinking. We have our pride and our dignity. Yet God, the living God, loved us in such a way that He sent His Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that are under the Law that we might be adopted as His sons and daughters. God bought us back not with gold or silver, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ and with His innocent suffering and death that we may be His children. Christ’s death on Calvary is the cost.

Sin breaks with God. Sin brings death, real death, a separation from God death. Another takes that death of ours on Himself and is forsaken by God. He takes our hell. When we stand at the cross, as it goes with Jesus, so it goes with us. When He breaks, when He goes under, so do we. He is there for us. Out of the depths Jesus cries with a loud, triumphant voice: It is finished. He has done it. Then He goes on to make the way for us also through the little death of the grace.

My sin is answered for. It can no longer claim, condemn, or enslave me. Sin’s dominion is overthrown. I am forgiven. Full atonement has been made. Full and free forgiveness is ours. All gift. What put us wrong with God, what separated us, is gone. God forgives and sees us in Christ, righteous, justified.

Yet what faith believes, the senses have a difficult time dealing with as long as we are right here, right now. Satan, the accuser, the tempter, the deceiver, throws every sin you commit back in your face. Satan tells you there is no way God forgives any of those sins. Before you know it, here comes that separation again. We are literally picked to pieces by the devil. Pride gets in the way. Perverse and foolish oft we stray. We think there is one sin, maybe even a handful of sins for which we must make recompense. There’s no way that the blood and righteousness of Jesus can do anything about that sin or those sins.

There is nothing of you that God left out of His atonement for you. His forgiveness is complete, total, and all-encompassing. Recall what Jesus said on the cross for you: It is finished. You are forgiven. You are righteous with Christ’s bestowed, gifted righteousness. He counts for you. You are justified. The pieces are made whole again.

Sin indeed carries its damage along with it. We may not see the healing from the damage, but sin is forgiven and its dominion broken. Sin can no longer destroy us than it can destroy Jesus. He has answered for every last sin. You are free. So as we walk with Jesus this Lententide, and in every Church season, don’t hide some special sin in your hip pocket or your handbag. Your sin is not this or that thing. Your sin is you alienated from God. The God-Man on the cross at the center of it all is there for you. All of you. All your sin.

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God’s Uses of His Law

It is God who accuses, condemns, and instructs in good works when, where, and as He chooses through the proclamation and teaching of the Law. It may be that one hearer is accused, but not condemned (living under grace through faith), another is condemned (and finally brought to despair of his own righteousness) and another, at any given moment, learns something new about the fruit of faithfulness that was not understood before. These things that God would accomplish through His Law are not to become a program for the preacher to organize his sermon. He is just to preach the Law at full strength and then the pure. sweet Gospel. Period! There is not to be a third part of the sermon after the Gospel for a programmatic and independent instruction in the Law to inform and press the Christian to do good works after he has heard his forgiveness in Christ. The accusatory and instructional uses of the Law are to be distinguished as we teach about how God uses His Law, but this distinction is not to be made into separate programmatic installments, as if the servant of the Word is supposed to orchestrate the accusation of the Law before the Gospel, but then instruct in good works afterward. Instructing and exhorting the believer about works after hearing the life-giving freedom of the Gospel can have the effect of erasing its impact. It is as we pointed out before: the Law always accuses. The Gospel predominates in the Church’s ministry when it is heard as God’s final Word and thus most appropriately followed by an A-men and then silence. Do we not all understand the final word has been heard, when silence follows?

Servants of the Word are simply to proclaim pure Law at full strength as preparation for the ministry of the Gospel. If on such an occasion God wants to condemn right to the depths of Hell Mr. Schmidt sitting in the second pew that is God’s business. If He wants to expose the fleshly living of Mrs. Miller in the back row and accuse her of using her family ties in an idolatrous manner, again that is God’s business. If God uses our preaching to curb and discipline teenager Billy’s gross rebellious behavior with the threats of Hell (notice, I have even brought in the civil use of the Law!), again that is God’s business. And, if God uses the pastor’s fine proclamation to teach Mr. Yamamoto that the fruits of faith include even the ordinary duties around the house as a husband and father that is God’s business. Even if Mrs. Smith sleeps through it all and Mr. Jones is simply provoked to greater levels of sinful rebellion – well again, that is God’s business. He works His curbing, accusing unto repentance, and/or instruction when, where, and as He chooses.

The servant of the Word is simply to rightly divide Law and Gospel in all its strength and purity, and then leave the uses (in Luther’s twofold sense, or Melanchthon’s threefold sense) up to God. The same point can be made about the ministry of the Gospel. The Gospel is not to be proclaimed for conversion at one point, then to strengthen faith at another, at another to energize works of love, etc. The Gospel is just to be proclaimed in all its comfort and consolation as the power of God unto all aspects of His salvationing sinners (Romans 1:16)! How God will use the ministry of Law and Gospel in the lives of the people is His business – when, where, and as He chooses.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?”, pages 142-144

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Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

“Get your shoes on, boy. Let’s go.”

That’s how my brother Jim would let me know it was time to go with him somewhere when I was a child. It might be running errands. It might be a drive through the country. No matter where we went, it was fun to tag along with my big brother.

Jesus tells His disciples in Luke chapter 18 that it’s time to go to Jerusalem. Unlike my trips with Jim, the disciples knew where they were going and why they were going. They heard it, but they didn’t understand it.

Perhaps you have forgotten why Jesus goes to Jerusalem. You’ve heard it all your life but for one reason or another it doesn’t sink in why Jesus will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. It doesn’t make sense why the Church spends time pondering why He will be scourged and killed only to rise from the dead.

The disciples forget why these things must happen to Jesus. He says to them, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. Saint Luke adds [The disciples] understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. When Jesus tells His disciples about His upcoming Passion, it’s a mark of confidence He has in them. Nevertheless, their thoughts are still earthly minded. It’s as if our Lord spoke one language and the disciples another. No habla Espanol. Jeg ved det ikke. What did He say?

No one can say that about the blind man. He has excellent lungs. He sits by the road and hears a multitude passing by. He wonders what is going on. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. What happens next puts the disciples, you, and me to shame. He cries out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! The blind man doesn’t call Him “Jesus of Nazareth” but Jesus, Son of David. That’s a cry of faith. The blind man knows Who Jesus is and why He is among us. The blind man believes without seeing. Just in case you didn’t hear it the first time, he yells our Lord’s name again.

Jesus stands still. The cry for the Son of David stops Him in His tracks. He goes no farther until He helps the one making that racket about the Son of David. Jesus came to the blind man and healed him. If Jesus restores sight to the blind, what sickness of yours might He heal?

The worst sickness you have is sin. You daily suffer from the ravages of sin. It is Jesus’ heart and will to suffer as well. He will cry out too. He will cry out in agony as He suffers torture and death for you. The grave will cry out in defeat when Jesus rises triumphant from the dead.

Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection go together. You can’t see the one without the other. The disciples are clueless about why they must walk with Jesus to Jerusalem. When they see everything that happens on that great and holy week, they can’t help but speak God’s mercy over His children through Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and destruction of death is why they journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. The healing of the blind man is only the beginning.

Consider the first stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s familiar Passion hymn:

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer,
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
“All this I gladly suffer.”

            Did you catch that last verse? “All this I gladly suffer.” Perhaps it would be nice if Jesus stands still another forty days. He won’t have to go to Jerusalem. He won’t have to suffer. He won’t have to die. He’ll stay put to comfort, console, and love.

Jesus cannot stand still any longer. Neither can you. Remember, He said, We are going to Jerusalem; first person plural. You’re in it for the long haul. It’s your sins, and mine, that nail Him to the cross. If we were to view Christ’s external suffering and agony, we would be greatly saddened and sympathetic. Maybe that’s why the Passion narrative is so painful to hear each Lent. It’s my fault, but I don’t want to hear it.

Look past the pain and hear again the Lord Jesus say, “All this I gladly suffer”. His suffering and death is for you. The brightness of our Lord’s death shines on through dark, dreary days when pain and suffering shatters our souls. Jesus stands still today long enough to forgive your sins and invite you to walk with Him to Jerusalem.

“Get your shoes on, beloved. Let’s go.”

(from 2007 and 2010)

Sinners, Sins, Christ, and Grace

Part of what it means to be in the community of faith is to be bearers of the sins, vices, sufferings and shames of God’s people. Pastorally, how do we restore a wayward sinner without condoning their sins? Some suggest an absolutely honest approach, that is, being vociferous about their failures all at once or disclosing more than that which they could bear, with the result that sheer despair or bitterness are the outcome. Such an approach is frequently brutal, resulting in self-righteous condemnation of the wrongdoer. Others tend toward an approach of absolute mercy, that is, for fear of offending the wrongdoer they withhold from them much of the truth regarding their faults or lie about them, as a result of which spiritual decay or loathing are the outcome. Such an approach is frequently turned into a loose condoning of sin, and may be guilty of loving what others hate and hating what others love. Some have proposed a middle road, steering between absolute honesty and absolute mercy, but leaning towards the latter. This may be practically helpful, since an effective pastor does not see all the bad and deny the good. Nor do they see all the good and deny the bad. They see both, but aim at the good, and what good may come out of bad as God wishes it to be. This is what a true theologian does, that is, to see evil for what it really is, without excusing it or condoning it, while simultaneously acknowledging the good as good.

For effective pastoral care, a pastor thus observes a fundamental difference between failure and hypocrisy, the former referring to those who truly try to live the Christian life but fail, the latter referring to those who pretend to be other than what they really are. To those who fail, we hold out the sweet voice of the gospel, in which consolation may be found. The central Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone is to be asserted not as the goal of life but as its presupposition. In line with this, those who fail should look not at their own deeds or lacks, but outside themselves at God’s promises found in Christ:

The Gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator…. And this is the reason why our theology [i.e., God’s unconditional gift of salvation] is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive. (Luther’s Works Volume 26, page 387)

To the self-righteous hypocrite, we hold out the stern voice of the law, in which all acts of self-justification and self-pretense are exposed, and condemned. The law shows forth God’s wrath, accuses, judges, and condemns all that is not in Christ (Romans 4:15). This, too, is the work, the alien work, of the same loving God, who brings down the hypocrite in order to raise them up into God’s boundless mercy as his proper work. The pastor’s duty is not to assist their parishioners in the exercise of discover of sin through self-introspection, which might lead them away from God. Rather, the pastor is to lead them to the place of discerning the signs of God’s immeasurable grace, in the wake of which they come to a deeper apprehension of the evil within themselves. Yet this cannot be accomplished without God’s revelation. Thus Luther insists in his Meditation on Christ’s Passion on contemplation of “the earnest mirror, Christ” who exposes the sins of the wayward in order that he might bear them and carry them away by his cross and resurrection. The cross forces the self-righteous to ask the question, “Am I a sinner?,” while simultaneously fostering hope in the one who answers in the affirmative. The cross peels the mask off the evil that often poses as banality in modern culture. On the cross, just as sin is named for what it actually is, so it is conquered as it really is. This is what a true theologian does – to name sin as it really is, and name the cure for sin, which is Christ himself. An effective preacher holds out Christ not only as the revealer of sins but also as the remedy for them.

Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser”, pages 70-72

Dennis Ngien

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Christ and The Church Suffer and Die with Us

When we feel pain, when we suffer, when we die, let us turn to this, firmly believing and certain that it is not we alone, but Christ and the church who are in pain and are suffering and dying with us. Christ does not want us to be alone on the road of death, from which all men shrink. Indeed, we set out upon the road of suffering and death accompanied by the entire church. Actually, the church bears it more bravely than we do. Thus we can truthfully apply to ourselves the words Elisha spoke to his fearful servants, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more numerous than those with them. And Elisha prayed and said, ‘Lord, open the eyes of the young man that he may see.’ And the Lord opened his eyes and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha” [2 Kings 6:16–17].

All that remains for us now is to pray that our eyes, that is, the eyes of our faith, may be opened that we may see the church around us. Then there will be nothing for us to fear, as is also said in Psalm 125:2, “As mountains are round about it, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and forever.” Amen.

Martin Luther, “Fourteen Consolations”, Luther’s Works, Volume 42, page 163

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Let A Man Examine Himself

But if you say: What, then, shall I do if I cannot feel such distress or experience hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? Answer: For those who are so minded that they do not realize their condition I know no better counsel than that they put their hand into their bosom to ascertain whether they also have flesh and blood. And if you find that to be the case, then go, for your good, to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, and hear what sort of a fruit your flesh is: Now the works of the flesh (he says in Galatians 5:19-21) are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

Therefore, if you cannot feel it, at least believe the Scriptures; they will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself. Yea, St. Paul further concludes in Rom. 7:18: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” If St. Paul may speak thus of his flesh, we do not propose to be better nor more holy. But that we do not feel it is so much the worse; for it is a sign that there is a leprous flesh which feels nothing, and yet the leprosy rages and keeps spreading. Yet, as we have said, if you are quite dead to all sensibility, still believe the Scriptures, which pronounce sentence upon you. And, in short, the less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason have you to go to the Sacrament to seek help and a remedy.

In the second place, look about you and see whether you are also in the world, or if you do not know it, ask your neighbors about it. If you are in the world, do not think that there will be lack of sins and misery. For only begin to act as though you would be godly and adhere to the Gospel, and see whether no one will become your enemy, and, moreover, do you harm, wrong, and violence, and likewise give you cause for sin and vice. If you have not experienced it, then let the Scriptures tell you, which everywhere give this praise and testimony to the world.

Besides this, you will also have the devil about you, whom you will not entirely tread under foot, because our Lord Christ Himself could not entirely avoid him. Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him, a liar and murderer. A liar, to lead the heart astray from the Word of God, and to blind it, that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. A murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk so securely and heedlessly, except that we neither think nor believe that we are in the flesh, and in this wicked world or in the kingdom of the devil.

Therefore, try this and practice it well, and do but examine yourself, or look about you a little, and only keep to the Scriptures. If even then you still feel nothing, you have so much the more misery to lament both to God and to your brother. Then take advice and have others pray for you, and do not desist until the stone be removed from your heart. Then, indeed, the distress will not fail to become manifest, and you will find that you have sunk twice as deep as any other poor sinner, and are much more in need of the Sacrament against the misery which unfortunately you do not see, so that, with the grace of God, you may feel it more and become the more hungry for the Sacrament, especially since the devil plies his force against you, and lies in wait for you without ceasing to seize and destroy you, soul and body, so that you are not safe from him one hour. How soon can he have brought you suddenly into misery and distress when you least expect it!

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, Part 5, paragraphs 75-84

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