Monthly Archives: May 2016

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Jesus spends very little time talking about Lazarus, the hero of this parable. His patience, his suffering, and his blessed end are considered in passing. On the other hand, the nameless rich man’s life, death, and doom are described in detail. Perhaps the reason why Jesus spends so much time talking about the rich man is because so many people follow in the rich man’s footsteps.

Certainly dishonest sinners take the same road as the rich man and find their reward in hell. Yet virtuous men of the world and other noble souls also form the bulk of ungodly mankind who wander the broad way here and fills hell in the life of the world to come. Not only unbelievers should heed the rich man’s fate, but also even Christians should heed the warning in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The warning Jesus teaches today is the warning that the rich man would not heed, even in torment in Hades: Whoever despises the Word condemns himself.

Lazarus, on the one hand, lived up to his name: “God is his help and confidence”. He suffered much, yet his faith and confidence in God was the source of his patience in suffering. On the other hand, the rich man did not hear Moses and the prophets any more than his brothers. He remained in sin. Sin piled up day after day.

Those who despise the Word by either not hearing it or only hearing it without paying heed to it bury and harden themselves in sin. The rich man became corrupted in the service of sin. You also become corrupted in the service of sin when you pay no attention to Moses, to the prophets, and especially to Jesus Christ.

Moses and the prophets show how to love God. You are not able to love God the way the Law and the prophets demand. Saint Paul says in Romans chapter three: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

When you ignore Moses and the prophets or, worse yet, think there is another better way to achieve eternal life, you walk the same path as the rich man. Before you know it, you’re caught up in how you live and how you love.

You may not live how the rich man lives, but you do trust earthly things more than heavenly things. Your pleasure in things of this world when they become more important than eternal life and forgiveness of sins makes you no better than a blasphemer, sorcerer, and liar.

You may show more love to your neighbor than the rich man did to Lazarus. You may never close your heart to anyone in need. Whether you help everyone or let everyone fend for themselves, the minute you place the future of eternity in how you love your neighbor is the moment when you have made your deeds your false god.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not about poor people going to Abraham’s bosom when they die. Rich and poor people receive eternal life or eternal condemnation every day, regardless of how much money they have or don’t have. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is about confidence in God’s promise of eternal life for those who are confident that Jesus Christ has done all things necessary to gift them with forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

You don’t hear much about Lazarus in the parable because Lazarus has the one thing necessary: Jesus Christ. His hope for a way out of his miserable existence is set on the God Who deals only with sinners; the last, lost, least, littlest, and better class of losers. Lazarus is not the example for you to give up all you have, become poor, let dogs lick your sores, and then you’ll live forever. You miss the point of the parable if you follow Lazarus that way. Lazarus has confidence that God’s promise of Messiah, Whose blood and righteousness covers all of Lazarus’ sins, is all he needs.

The rich man has every opportunity to hear the Good News that sin is forgiven and life is his in Christ Jesus. The rich man continues on his merry way, living the good life, and ignoring the beggar at his door. He may have everything he needs right now, but these earthly nostrums can’t be taken into the hereafter. Sitting in Hades in torment is too late for him and for his brothers. His brothers must hear Moses and the prophets. They must hear the Law that shows the sting of sin. They also must hear the Gospel, the happy news that God saves the worst of sinners in the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Moses does what he does until Christ. So do the prophets. Both speak of the hope of the Savior Who hands Himself into the hands of sinners in order to die for sin and be raised for the sinner’s justification. All your hard work to find another way to eternity fails. There is only one successful route to eternal life: the way of Jesus Christ, Who walked the way of death to give you life. The way of Christ is the way of receiving; receiving every good and perfect gift from Him in water, Word, Body, and Blood. Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.

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Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

Two things are hard for sinful human beings: mystery and riddles. We have one of these in Nicodemus’s late night catechism session. Nicodemus might add that both things are here. The one sure thing present in John chapter three is mystery. The mystery Jesus speaks to Nicodemus sounds like a riddle.

The reason everything Jesus says sounds like a riddle is because Nicodemus is thinking of earthly matters. How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? How can these things be? Jesus is speaking about matters that are not so much understood as they are believed.

The nature of faith is believing what you cannot see. Jesus hints at this truth when He compares how things are for people born by the Spirit. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. Smart people spend lots of time and effort studying the wind. For the less curious among us, we are satisfied with believing that there is such a thing as wind. We know the wind came from somewhere and is going somewhere. The wind blows on its own. We can’t control it. We can harness the power of the wind, but we can’t control it.

So it is with the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t control it. You watch the Spirit do what the Spirit does and marvel. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is not beyond our reach for us to try to control what He does and where He goes. Think back to last week and Pentecost. Wouldn’t it be nice to try to bring a new Pentecost in the Christian Church? We can’t. That’s God’s work, and it seems to Him that the first Pentecost is steady as she goes.

If we can’t control the Spirit, in spite of ourselves, then we question the Spirit’s work among us. We ask with Nicodemus how these things can be? Don’t we get to take some of the credit? After all, Mom and Dad brought me to the font. If Mom and Dad didn’t do it, then you yourself made that personal choice to be baptized. No one forced you to be baptized.

Beware the personal pronoun! The only thing you get to do is die a natural death. Everything else in God’s kingdom is His work on you. You shouldn’t be surprised that you want to take credit for some religious actions in your life. Jesus knew Nicodemus would want to do that as well. Jesus tells Nicodemus, If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things.

Sinful human beings do not handle a mystery with aplomb. We’re curious creatures. We ask with Nicodemus, How can these things be? There’s no explanation to being born from above. Our Lord institutes baptism when He puts water with His holy Word and makes a mandate that this should be done in order to bring people through death into eternal life. Faith, a gift from God lest you should boast, clings to that water, Word, and mandate and says what faith is given to say: Amen. Gift received. Yes, indeed, Lord. You said it. No explanation necessary, Lord. It’s Your gift, Lord. I receive Your gift the way you give it to me.

Responding to God’s gifts that way is a freeing thing. No longer do you have to go searching God’s judgments and His inscrutable ways, as Saint Paul puts it in Romans chapter eleven. Paul lays it out nice and plain: For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. This is our heavenly Father’s world. He created it by speaking His Word. The breath of His Word brings all things into being from nothing. He gives His gifts where and when and to whom He gives His gifts. He creates faith the same way. You can’t investigate it with a magnifying glass, calabash pipe, and deerstalker hat like Sherlock Holmes. You believe it because you’ll never get to the bottom of it.

Take the bronze serpent on a pole that Jesus uses as an example of the Lord’s inscrutable ways of dealing with His people. We heard this account three weeks ago for the Old Testament reading. The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land. The people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. Perhaps the Israelites tried to remedy the snake bites their own way. Whatever they tried, if they tried anything, their remedies didn’t work. Death reigned.

There was one way out of death by snake bite. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Go ahead, try and explain that remedy. You might think of a better way to handle the situation. A mass healing by a giant, disembodied hand coming down from the sky would be great. A bronze snake on a pole? All you have to do is look at a bronze snake on a pole and you live after being bitten by snakes? That’s madness!

No, that’s not madness. That’s a gift; a gift that brings life in the midst of death. Fast forward thousands of years later to Golgotha. Jesus Christ becomes a curse for us by having His body hanging on a tree. All who believe what that death accomplishes, all who gaze on Jesus with the eyes of faith, live after being bitten by sin that was brought into the world by a serpent lying to Adam and Eve. The bronze serpent on a pole is a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus Christ. Both are gifts. Both bring life in the midst of death. You can’t explain it. You can’t go chasing after it to ask more questions about it. You believe it. Amen. Gift received. Life.

You are saved through water and the Word of God. You are fed with bread and wine put together with the Word of God. You hear preaching, the living voice of the Gospel, that declares the Word of God. The preached Word declares you are rescued from sin, death, and hell by God the Father’s only-begotten Son. The Spirit of God directs you to where the Gifts are given that keep you steadfast in forgiveness and eternal life. You can’t explain it. You believe it. God has touched your lips, your ears, and your life. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. Amen. Gift received. To Him be glory forever.

Feast of Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21

The same group of men who weeks before were scratching their heads at what Jesus said to them about His death and resurrection are now enlightened by the Holy Spirit. All doubts vanish. All fears are turned to bravery. They are ready to go into the entire world with the Gospel, beginning in that room in Jerusalem where many heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. Three thousand souls were added to the kingdom of God. Joy.

The joy of Pentecost lingers today as the mighty works of God are still proclaimed. The blessings of Pentecost have come upon us as we hear those mighty works of death and resurrection and receive the benefits of those mighty works of God in preaching and the Sacraments. Where things go wrong for many is wondering why there aren’t the other miraculous signs that went with the descent of the Holy Spirit. It would be nice to see divided tongues of fire resting on our heads, and a mighty wind going through the church building. Where are the healings? Where are the speaking in tongues? How come we’re stuck with the same old, same old, week after week?

How quick we forget that these signs that happened that day were attention getters. The Feast of Pentecost focuses on the proclamation of the mighty works of God first in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the entire world. The Gospel spreads like shockwaves. The circles grow larger. Soon all the world hears what God has done in His Son Jesus Christ.

The entire world hears that the gift of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter Who points the Church back to her Savior and what He does for His bride. Eleven uneducated men are enlightened by the Holy Spirit to preach the everlasting Gospel. What a powerful witness of an almighty God! These men not only begin to preach, but preach in other tongues. Did you notice there are eleven men, but fifteen different languages heard? Everyone heard the same thing in their own language. What they heard was the wonderful works of God: forgiveness and grace.

We sometimes catch ourselves wondering if God will do the same thing now as He did then. After all, the Church seemingly often languishes. The preached Gospel, as Luther described it, is a passing rain shower. The Gospel showers here, but moves elsewhere in time. What if we could have a new Pentecost, an everlasting Pentecost, where the rain shower of the Gospel never stops falling? What if all people could see mighty works of God that haven’t been seen in the Church for many centuries? Maybe there would be more mass conversions! Maybe churches would grow at an exponential rate! Imagine the possibilities in a new Pentecost!

Pentecost never ends. We still live in the time of the Church, hearing the mighty acts of God each week in sermon and song. We receive the benefits of the mighty acts of God in our baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. The preached Gospel is our enlightenment. Each week Pentecost descends upon us in the Gifts, bestowing us with forgiveness and life. Each week we hear anew that we are now free from the threats of the Law that embitter our joy and fill us with fear and horror. You can’t get right with God. God has already gotten right with you in Jesus Christ. No sin is able to cling to you. Sin clings to Christ. Christ pays for your sin, shedding His blood and bestowing His righteousness upon you.

The message of the mighty works of God once was for Jews only. The time would come when Gentiles would receive this message. That time is now. No longer is there one particular race that is more important to God than others. All are important to Him. The Gospel is for all. Redemption is for every sinner, especially the least, the littlest, the lost, and the dead. Where the preaching of Christ crucified resounds, there the people of God are gathered into a community, a communion of saints.

This goes against what some Christians say about one particular group of Christians being the only true visible Church on earth. Contrary to popular belief, especially our little flock of Lutherans in the Missouri Synod, there will be more than Lutherans in the life of the world to come. All who confess Jesus Christ as their only hope for eternal life will receive life everlasting. In spite of false preachers and false teaching, the Lord knows those who are His, even in church bodies that have departed from the truth of Holy Scripture.

It’s easy to get caught up in fervor for a “new Pentecost” because the old one just isn’t working anymore; especially when you hear people talk about “cold” churches and “warm” churches. They are not talking about good heating and air conditioning systems. They are talking about being able to feel whether or not the Holy Spirit is present in the congregation. Many might look at our little flock on this corner of Momence and think the Spirit is long gone. There are only old people here. There’s been strife in the past. People are still angry and won’t ever come back. Surely that’s a sign the Holy Spirit has left the building.

Pay no attention to numbers or feelings. Pay attention to what is preached and what is given here. The mighty works of God, His plan of rescue by His grace, is still proclaimed. The mighty works of God, baptism, Supper, absolution, preaching, still draw His people to His house to be fed, washed, and forgiven. The Holy Spirit still uses God’s Word to show you your sin, bring you to repentance, and bestow forgiveness from Christ that covers you. You are called. You are gathered. You are enlightened. You are strengthened to love and serve your neighbor.

Pentecost still happens every week at the corner of Second and Pine. Sins are forgiven. Sinners eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospel goes forth from this chancel. The Spirit points you to Jesus, your hope for salvation. All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. The mighty works of God remain.

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Preaching Is God’s Audible Address to Sinners

The uniqueness of Luther’s theology of preaching lies in that preaching is not mere human speech about God; rather it is God’s own speech to people, which corresponds to God’s own action. God’s word acts and thus accomplishes his will, but through the agency of human speech. Preaching then is not the preacher’s discursive reflection about God and life, an exercise distinctive of the custom of the university, but is God’s audible address to sinners in need so that he might confer good on them, and clothe them with Christ’s righteousness. The preacher speaks and, in his speaking, the justifying action of God is accomplished. God creates through his opposite (i.e., the preacher) the object of his love – a people no longer under divine wrath. Preaching is not a rehashing of the old stories, nor is it a memorial speech about God’s deeds. [Gustaf] Wingren’s words elucidate Luther’s view:

[P]reaching, in so far as it is Biblical preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made, gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent.

Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser”, pages 157-158. Wingren quote from “The Living Word”, page 19.

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Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Revised from 2009.

“Leave us not without consolation but send us the Spirit of Truth.” These words from the Collect ring in our ears as we bask in the glow of the Ascension of our Lord while waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It seems strange that we would celebrate our Lord’s departure from our midst as a festival day. Going away parties among us are festive but with a note of sadness. Chances are we may never see that person again this side of heaven.

We will see the Lord Jesus again this side of heaven. Until He comes we see Him in a different way. We see Him in His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments, delivering forgiveness and salvation. If not for the Helper helping us to see Jesus in Word and Sacraments, we would be left without consolation. We would be alone in a world full of discontent and strife.

Even though the Helper testifies of Jesus, we think we are alone. Christ’s Ascension makes us feel forsaken. If God loves us as much as He says He does, we would ascend with Jesus and live with Him in heaven right now rather than marching through the muck of life.

Jesus tells His disciples just how tough their march will be. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. It is as if the Twelve will no longer exist. They will be accused of preaching another god. They will be hounded every step of their ministry. The Acts of the Apostles follows Saint Paul on his missionary journeys. Everywhere Paul and his companions went; there was a crowd that followed Paul that stirred up the people to despise the preaching of the Gospel. It would be as if a group of dedicated people follows a certain pastor everywhere he goes so they can refute everything he says. The more they shout him down, the more they believe they are worshiping God even to the point of his death! No wonder Paul’s epistles are full of encouragement to the churches and individuals he writes. When they thought they were the only ones suffering, Paul reminds them that Christians over the known world suffer in the same way.

When Christians suffer, they never suffer alone. Countless Christians the world over suffer much worse than we suffer. Consider the noble army of martyrs who gave their lives willingly rather than confess a false god or deny the one true God. Some martyrs died singing hymns. Others went to their death with joy. When we think of giving our life for the Gospel, we would probably cringe even though martyrs before us thought nothing of dying.

The word “martyr” means “witness”. A martyr’s death means a witness to the living God Who remembers them when they come into His kingdom. We don’t think of dying as witnessing but it is. Think of a person who suffered a prolonged illness that left them helpless. Their suffering is united with Christ’s suffering. A Christian who suffers, especially when that suffering is at the hands of enemies of Christ, serves as a witness of the death of Jesus Christ. That Christian knows Whom they believe and know exactly where they will spend eternity. Though it looks as if the evil foe has triumphed, God always gets the last laugh.

When the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. We forget Jesus’ words of suffering and punishment. Our heavenly Father doesn’t forget that Jesus suffered and died the death we deserve. God’s Word remains forever, even in death and especially in the resurrection. The best illustration of Christ’s everlasting presence among us is Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of the Ascension. We see the disciples on the mountain looking up with amazement. All we see of Jesus is His feet and His footprints. Those footprints aren’t a shadow of what was once ours. Those footprints are a living testimony of Jesus’ Words that end Matthew’s Gospel: lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Christ’s Ascension leaves us with a promise and with comfort. The promise is Jesus’ abiding presence among us with His Word. The Spirit of Truth points us back to His Word proclaimed in sermon and song. The Spirit of Truth points us to Christ’s mandate in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution. The Spirit of Truth is present in these Holy Things, bringing to our remembrance Jesus’ Words of forgiveness and life. Yet we do more than remember Jesus. We receive the benefits of Jesus’ death on our behalf.

If we remember what Jesus did as if we remember a birthday or anniversary, there wouldn’t be much comfort in an act of the mind. Instead of thinking about an event, Jesus gives His Church the Ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, as through means, to deliver the Gifts of God to the people of God. These gifts deliver the comfort that no matter what happens to us here and now, there is a sure and certain hope of eternal life yet to come.

While we wait for that glorious day of our ascension, we heed the words of Saint Peter: above all things have fervent love for another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” As Christ first covered our sins with His blood, so we cover each other’s sins in love for them as we love and are loved by God. Jesus does not leave us without consolation. We do not leave each other without consolation. We comfort one another with the hope that is put in us through Word and water. Though life delivers many hard blows, we build the hope of our ascension on Christ’s ascension. Jesus goes before us to prepare a place for us to live with Him. While He prepares that place, He abides with us where the Spirit of Truth points us to find Him.

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