Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sermon: Property and Custody

The sermon…is the property of the church in the custody of the pastor. Both qualifiers are important. Because the sermon does not belong to the preacher, but to the whole church, the preacher will try to see to it that, on a given Sunday morning, the witness of the whole church is heard, not simply the preacher’s own biases and prejudices. But because the sermon is placed in the custody of the pastor, it will at the same time be a personal statement, a kind of “testimony”: This is how I hear the Spirit speaking to me in the Scripture for the day.

Furthermore, the sermon on Sunday morning is set in the context of the church’s public liturgy. It is one part of a larger public offering of praise and thanksgiving – part of a meeting with the Lord of life and with one another in the Christian family. The sermon of course brings God’s Word to bear upon our lives in contemporary terms; it mediates between God and His world; it provides a “mask” through which the hidden God is revealed in His judgment and His grace, today, in this place, among these people.

Rev. Paul F. Bosch, The Sermon As Part of the Liturgy, page 19

Paul F. Bosch

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 17:11-19

If we wanted to write a headline for a picture of Jesus healing ten lepers, perhaps the most appropriate headline would be from Psalm 50: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Today’s Holy Gospel is a history of this verse. The lepers obeyed Jesus’ command and called on Him for help in their distress. The Lord fulfilled the second part of the verse from Psalm 50 and helped them. Yet only one of the ten, a Samaritan, kept the third part by glorifying Christ. The other nine rewarded their heavenly benefactor with ingratitude.

The pagan philosopher Seneca once said “Nothing so soon grows stale as a favor.” You do something for someone and they might thank you. Maybe. If you’re lucky. The courtesy of writing a thank you note to someone seems to have gone out of style, let alone even saying “Thank you” to someone. Everything is an entitlement. Everyone owes me something, but I owe them nothing in return. Even you show no gratitude, whether receiving help from your neighbor or from God Himself.

The lepers called upon God in their day of trouble. They lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Their flesh was literally rotting alive on their bones. They had no human association. There was no cure for leprosy. They took refuge among their own. Their only hope was to cry out to Jesus for help.

Jesus is our only help from every distress. We are afflicted with the leprosy of sin. Sin is an abomination before God. Sin expels us from heaven. We are guilty of eternal condemnation. We are also afflicted with disease, hunger, thirst, nakedness, sorrow, even death. There is only one person who is able to help, no matter the size or the nastiness of sins.

God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is much greater than sin. King David was an adulterer. Peter denied Christ. Paul persecuted Christians. Mary Magdalene may have been a prostitute. Lot lived in one of the most profane cities on earth. Moses was caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. Peter was rescued from prison under persecution for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If God helped the saints of the Old and New Testament from far worse predicaments than ours, how much more will He help us out of so-called “first world problems”?

God will deliver you. The lepers experienced Jesus’ help. When Jesus saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Help came not in an instant, but gradually, as they went to the priests. The Lord asks them to show themselves to the priests in order to test their obedience and their faith in Him.

Help is certain. God cannot lie. Scripture is full of promises and examples of how God hears the plight of His people. The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Eliphaz the Temanite tells Job: He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. James says in his epistle: Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

The thing about how the Lord helps is that His help may not come when and where you want it to come. The Syrophoenician woman begging Jesus in Matthew chapter 15 shows that our Lord may tarry, but He will help. God tests and exercises our faith and our patience by these delays of His help. He arouses zeal to pray and reminds us Who is in charge. As the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes: Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

All ten lepers ought to thank the Lord. Only one does, and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asks: Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Where are you? Where am I? We might thank God for the big stuff. Yet for the day-to-day things for which we pray, rarely does a prayer of gratitude leap from our lips.

The Samaritan teaches us a lesson in gratitude. He’s the last person you would think would return to give thanks to Jesus. The Samaritan should take the healing and run. He’s less than nobody. He’s a half-breed mutt who is not fit to stand in the presence of God, let alone the presence of any observant Jew. Yet here he is, falling down before Jesus worshiping Him. The Samaritan embodies the last verse of Psalm 50: The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!

There’s the slap in the face. The Samaritan should never see the salvation of God. Yet he puts all of us to shame by merely showing gratitude for being healed from leprosy. Where are the nine? Where are you? Where am I? We’re running to the priests as we were told. We don’t realize the Great High Priest is right there before us, showing mercy just as we asked. The dirty foreigner sees it. The home team misses it.

Yet Jesus does not miss us. He forgives our ingratitude. He forgives our unbelief. Even when we don’t know what we’re doing, He forgives. The Word stands before us: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. God runs the verbs. Don’t call upon anyone else but Him. He is the only One Who is able to deliver you. In return, you shall glorify Him for all He has done both bodily and spiritually.

Even when you ought not to be saved from everlasting death, Jesus still saves you, as He does the ten lepers, one of whom was a Samaritan. The Word of healing goes forth to all even today from pulpits like this one. Jesus’ Word says that You are free. Your leprosy of sin is gone. You are my precious child. I wash you, I feed you, I put My words in your mouth so you are able to thank and praise Me for what I do for you. Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.

Ubi et Quando Visum est Deo

As parents never can warrant the faith of their children, no single generation of the Church can guarantee the faith of the next generation.

It is not faith, but superstition, if I assume that because we have Christian schools, colleges, faculties, parishes, catechism, confessions, a ministry for the administration of the means of grace, the next generation will be Christian.

We must not misinterpret the 5th Article of the Augsburg Confession. “That we may obtain this faith, the Office of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Ghost is given, who worketh faith where and when it pleaseth God….”

This “ubi et quando visum est Deo” must not be overlooked. It does not justify the Calvinistic doctrine on predestination. But it reminds us of the fact that also the Lutheran Church knows of the mystery of Predestination.

Of course we know that the word of God is never preached in vain. But how many or how few may be brought to real, living faith, that is solely in the freedom of God….

Herman Sasse, “Problems of Lutheran Evangelism”

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 10:23-37

What did the disciples see and hear that made their eyes and ears blessed? It was something many prophets and kings desired to see…and did not see it, not to mention what prophets and kings not hearing what they heard. The disciples saw the Good News in action among 72 others sent by Jesus ahead of Him. They saw, as it were, Satan fall like lightning from heaven as demons were subject to them in His name. The Father’s will is revealed to little children, not merely in age but in believing the preaching of the Father’s only-begotten Son.

After all the excitement of healing the sick and demons made subject to the 72, Saint Luke includes an interesting encounter with a lawyer. The man is not a lawyer as we know them, but is a student of Torah, the fullness of the Law of God revealed primarily in the first five books of the Old Testament. The lawyer doesn’t get the fact that the One He challenges is Torah in flesh. The lawyer calls Him, “Teacher”. He does not call Him Lord or even Jesus. “Teacher”. The question the lawyer asks gets to the heart of the matter not only for what happens earlier in Luke chapter ten, but for Luke’s entire Gospel. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?

The answer is love. Satan falls like lightning from heaven because the love of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. Jesus comes to heal the sick from their sin; a full healing by removing the debt owed to the Father and paying that debt in full. Jesus Christ loves His Father by willingly, obediently, suffering death to make the payment for the wages of sin. He dies that we may never die. That is love, a love stronger than death.

The lawyer knows the answer to his own question. Love. Jesus even tells him he knows the answer. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live. That’s not enough for the lawyer. Who is my neighbor? The lawyer perhaps knows the answer to this question. By the end of the parable, though, the lawyer’s answer and Jesus’ answer are two different answers.

If what Jesus tells in the parable of the merciful Samaritan is true, then the lawyer has had his worldview exploded, stomped on, and thrown in the trash. A lawyer studying the Law of God, zealous for the traditions of his fathers, answers that his neighbor is his fellow Jew. As Saint Paul says in Galatians chapter six: as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. The lawyer wants to remove the prepositional phrase to everyone. Yet as a child of God, you are given to show mercy to everyone. Yes, especially to other Christians, but chiefly to everyone, especially your enemy.

That is what stands at the heart of the parable of the merciful Samaritan. So often we hear him called the “good” Samaritan. What he does is good, yes, but what he does chiefly is be merciful. A couple months ago we heard Jesus say be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. But what do we do with the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable? They are the ones who should be the ultimate example of being merciful. Here we have a man half-dead lying by the side of the road. This is their opportunity to do good to one who is of the household of faith.

They keep walking. Not only do they keep walking, they go out of their way not to help by going from one side of the road to another. This dodging of the half-dead man is quite a feat in itself. They are, as it were, going out of their way not to help. God forbid they end up like this man. There may be robbers who will do to him as they did to the man lying in the road. Better to be safe than sorry. Better luck next time. They will take a rain check.

There is no rain check when it comes to doing good to your neighbor. The Law of God says Love. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. No percentages of love. God is looking for whole-hearted love, a wellspring of love that knows no end. There are no enemies when one shows mercy to everyone. In fact, your enemy should be the number one target to whom you should show mercy. Yet the priest and the Levite look out for themselves and won’t help. Their actions do not jibe with Christ’s words to the lawyer: do this, and you will live.

A half-dead man cannot raise himself. Someone must help. A Samaritan, the bitterest enemy of a Jew, is the one who helps in the parable. When he saw him, he had compassion. His guts churned for the man. This is a reaction from one’s guts. It is an instinctive reaction to seeing someone dying. You can’t help but help. At great cost to his life and livelihood, the Samaritan went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”

The Samaritan’s plans are interrupted. He spends at least two days pay and risks his life to show mercy to his neighbor. Perhaps the half-dead man is a Jew; perhaps he isn’t a Jew. It doesn’t matter. He is shown love, a love that goes above and beyond what is necessary. The love shown to him saves his life, at the cost of the Samaritan also falling prey to robbers.

This is more than the lawyer can take. He can’t even answer Jesus’ question at the end of the parable: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? If the lawyer says, “The Samaritan”, he’s in deep trouble with his fellow lawyers. “Samaritan” is akin to saying the dirtiest of all dirty words. The lawyer stays true to form saying only, the one who showed him mercy. Then comes the ultimate gotcha: You go, and do likewise. Hey, lawyer, be a merciful Samaritan. Do the thing you hate to do most of all. Love your neighbor who isn’t in the household of faith. You want to keep the Law? Then keep it all the way.

Whether because you won’t or you can’t keep the Law of loving God and loving your neighbor, Jesus keeps it. He seeks half-dead, actually fully dead people, fully dead to sin, and rescues them because they can’t rescue themselves. The love of God in flesh, bones, muscle, and blood picks you up and carries you from death to life. He satisfies your debt of sin by exposing Himself to the worst punishment possible. He sheds His blood to set you right with the Father. He rises from the grave as the Forerunner for your own resurrection from the grave.

As He shows you mercy, so you, like the lawyer, are given to go, and do likewise. Your success in showing mercy to your neighbor won’t match that of Jesus Christ. You’ll fail. You’ll pull the priest and Levite rain check and find a way around the situation. You’ll ignore what is in front of you to save your skin. Where you fall short in showing mercy to your neighbor, and you will fall short, Jesus never falls short. His mercy, His love for sinners, even His greatest enemies, always hits the mark.

When you see Jesus at work in His Gifts under water, bread, and wine, when you hear Jesus at work in His Gifts of preaching and absolution, you see God’s mercy in Jesus Christ in action for you. Having seen, heard, and tasted that the Lord is good; you go forth to love your neighbor, even your enemies, as you love yourself. When you look for a way out, or when your love for others has failed, Christ is here for you to forgive your sins and give you His life. Blessed are your eyes and ears, for they see and hear Jesus at work for you.

Ceremonial: Real Growth Comes Only By Inches

Concerning ceremony in the service—the sign of the cross, kneeling, censing, and the like—how does one keep these things from calling attention to one’s self rather than to the gospel? When the servants of the liturgy come out into the chancel, they kneel at the prayer desk. With that they are drawing people into what they’re to be there for. If they came out and prostrated themselves in front of the altar, that would say something good and true and honoring God, but the rest of us would have forgotten what we were there for and would say “Well, why on earth is he doing that?” or “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Growth comes by inches. You need to recognize that we are within “the mutual conversation of the brethren” [SA III, IV]. We live within this tradition, and with its treasures we are then equipped for helping one another to recognize what is growing and what is in the way of the gospel. So, when we go into chapel and there are some who recall their baptisms with the sign of the cross as the Small Catechism bids us to, and some don’t, and some sit and pray and some kneel and pray—that’s something to be rejoicing about!

That’s the extraordinary thing about the way the apostle deals with those who are so hip off into tongues. He doesn’t stand at the door and frisk the tongues out of them. He sort of lets them go on having tongues in the liturgy. He doesn’t knock tongues. He just feeds them more Jesus. The more Jesus goes in, the more the tongues get pushed to the fringe. And he indicates that priority by putting tongues at the bottom of the list [1 Cor 12:20]. He doesn’t slice them off, but there is a direction there.

And so, when you come to a congregation whose liturgical life—that is, the way in which they have been given the gifts of our Lord and the means of grace—has been pretty impoverished, you don’t come out and say, “Hey, we got to do something about this liturgy!” You first of all preach a few years of Jesus into them, and then they come to know what they’re there for and that he always has more to be giving them.

The legalism which I spoke of is our greatest danger. It is indicated when people “come on strong” with doing this or that as a great, big liturgical advance. But the gospel works by way of drawing people into the liturgy so that they say, “Wow, isn’t this great! More than I ever suspected!” Real growth comes only by inches.

And so when we go into chapel, and there’s a great hubbub of chatter, I have sometimes felt like arising and saying, “Shut up, you lot! Don’t you know what we’re here for?” We may serve our brethren better if we are at our prayers, and by them, invite and draw and pull others into the quietness coram Deo. That is the appropriate way of being before the Lord and his having his say.

Dr. Norman Nagel, “Whose Liturgy Is It?” Logia, April, 1993

Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “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.” Every word from his mouth is true. A Pharisee is not like other men. They interpret and teach the Law and the prophets. Someone has to teach the Jews who they are, Whose they are, and how they live under God. The Pharisees are that someone. They go above and beyond the Law and the prophets in order to make sure they please God.

The tax collector, on the other hand, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Again, everything the tax collector says is true. The big difference between a Pharisee and a tax collector is that a tax collector’s life is not a life you should emulate. Tax collectors lie, cheat, steal, and have a good time doing it. They are a fraud’s fraud. They take extra not only for Caesar, but also for themselves. You gotta earn a living somehow. Might as well be on the backs of the taxpayers.

If Jesus’ parable stopped there, then everything is right where it should be. Jesus tells a “just so” story. You have a perfect plot featuring the perfect characters. The point of the parable is to be like the Pharisee and not like the tax collector. The Pharisee has no sin to confess. He’s also kind enough to name names of all those dirty sinners out there. The tax collector can confess his sins all day, but you know he’s going out of the temple to sin again.

So who is the liar here? If the parable stops at what happens in the temple, your answer might be “the tax collector, duh!” Then comes the twist.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. It can’t be! The Pharisee, the upright Bible expert, the shining star of faith and life, is unjustified. The tax collector, the lowlife, thieving, conniving, scum of the earth goes home justified. What just happened here?

The twist is about humility and exaltation, yes. What’s also underneath the twist is the condition of the conscience. One man knows who he is and where he stands before God. The other thinks he knows who he is and where he stands before God. One is secure in his “old time religion”. The other is secure in being a man dead to sin before God Almighty, Who loves to raise dead people from the depths of sin to the heights of everlasting life.

You’re not going to get far with God when you go to Him in prayer and, as it were, show him your “I love me wall”. Everyone has an “I love me wall” or a “brag wall”. That’s the place in your home where you hang the things that show just how important or how loved you are. There’s nothing wrong with an “I love me wall” when it comes to showing family and friends how much you love them. There’s nothing wrong with displaying the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon you.

There is something wrong, however, when your “brag wall” becomes your ticket to Paradise. “Jesus and…” is not the way of salvation. Worse yet is to stand before God and tell him who you aren’t, thinking He’ll smile, wink, and say, “I know. It’s all good.” Everything that comes out of your mouth may be true, but those words display a conscience curved in on itself. Your conscience is curved in on itself, too. The words may not be as blatant as the Pharisee’s words, but you’ll still stand before God and show Him the “brag wall”. You don’t need absolution. You want to be justified believing everything is kinda alright between you and Jesus.

Everything is not kinda alright. Take a lesson from the tax collector. Yes, he’ll probably leave the temple and resume his five-finger discounts from taxpayers. Yes, he’ll probably lie about it to everyone. Yes, he’ll be back next week, Lord willing, saying and doing the same thing. The big difference between the tax collector and the Pharisee is that he doesn’t need to bring his “brag wall” into the conversation. He knows it won’t do him any good to lay out all the positives before God. Saying God, be merciful to me, a sinner is to speak the truth. God’s grace only works on those dead enough to receive it. Beggars live with a dead hand exposed to a gracious God Who provides for them. What does a beggar have that God wants? Nothing. God gives to the beggar from His gracious love for the beggar.

Consider Saint Paul in today’s Epistle. What gives Paul the right to be a preacher of the Gospel? The guy was the most zealous Pharisee who ever lived. He persecuted Christians. He was the guy the Pharisees brought in to particular places to smoke out Gospel preachers and get them in trouble, even death. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. God’s grace shouldn’t be in vain to the Pharisee praying in the temple, but the Pharisee refuses grace because he’s got his “I love me wall” in the way. The tax collector, on the other hand, is who he is, and God’s grace is not in vain. He’s dead enough to be raised because God loves to give life to dead people.

The Collect today is spot on. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God gives mores that we either desire or deserve. We are bold to ask: “Pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord.” Week after week you walk in and out of those doors knowing you’ll do the same thing that you did last week, maybe even more than last week. Yet here is Jesus, ready to hear, ready to forgive, ready to give, and ready to raise the dead. Here is Jesus, the Righteous One Who justifies you with His perfect life and perfect shedding of blood for your sake.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Death Is All of the Resurrection We Can Now Know

Let us make an end: as long as you are struggling like the Pharisee [in Luke chapter 18] to be alive in your own eyes – and to the precise degree that your struggles are for what is holy, just, and good – you will resent the apparent indifference to your pains that God shows in making the effortlessness of death the touchstone of your justification. Only when you are finally able, with the publican, to admit that you are dead will you be able to stop balking at grace.

It is, admittedly, a terrifying step. You will cry and kick and scream before you take it, because it means putting yourself out of the only game you know. For your comfort though, I can tell you three things. First, it is only one step. Second, it is not a step out of reality into nothing, but a step from fiction into fact. And third, it will make you laugh out loud at how short the trip home was: it wasn’t a trip at all; you were already there.

Death…is absolutely all of the resurrection we can know. The rest is faith.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 343-344