Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Visitation – Luke 1:39-56

Fecit mihi magna. He has done great things for me. Pope John Paul the Second was so taken with this verse from the Magnificat that he had it printed on a holy card for the day of his ordination. In spite of misplaced honor toward the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism, we agree with his choice of words. The Lord, the Mighty One, has done great things for me.

You can’t tell it from all the complaining we Christians do. We complain about walking by faith and not by sight. We complain about Jesus not having come yet to begin the New Creation. We complain that we can’t see the riches of God’s grace. We gripe about being the most despised and most rejected people in the world. We groan in our flesh because we know and feel how much we sin. Even Saint Paul gets in on the act in Romans chapter seven: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

In addition to all the complaints are the curses of the Law in the conscience. The more we have satisfaction in Jesus Christ’s blood cleansing us from all sin, the more Satan works overtime to sully the conscience. We start thinking about death and hell rather than eternal life and eternal joy in the presence of our heavenly Father. We start to sound like Jacob telling Pharaoh, Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.

There isn’t constant complaining among Christians. The Psalms have taught us to say, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Isaiah has taught us to say, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness. Even Mary’s song puts these words in our mouth and in our hearts: The Mighty One, the Lord, has done great things for me.

The great thing the Lord has done for Mary isn’t chastity, virginity, even sinlessness. Elizabeth tells her, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Blessed indeed is Mary, for she is, as it were, the tabernacle with skin. The Lord has temporarily pitched His tent in her until His birth according to the flesh. The joy of Elizabeth’s words is directed to the Lord. The fruit of her womb brings salvation for Mary, for Elizabeth, for you, and for me.

When we have enough money or possessions, then we will be satisfied…or so we think. Learned people raise up themselves and despise those of simpler minds. The world is full of prideful people. Those who cling to Christ, though, are rich in spirit, knowledge, experience, and gladness. Money and possessions are gifts from God worthy of praise. However, the greatest praise is given to God for sending His only-begotten Son into time and space to bear our sin and be our Savior. From what Jesus has done for us comes all praise and honor to God.

Praise and honor to God isn’t mere lip service. Mary says, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. The entire life of Mary, our entire life as well, bears witness of God’s greatness to me. Out of the billions of people on earth, the Lord deigns to save me, a lost and condemned creature, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Sure He saves all mankind in His death, but He also saves me, little ol’ me!

No wonder Mary goes on to sing and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. God’s grace, His undeserved love for sinners, has happened to me. His grace recognizes me. He lives in me, for 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. That is why your soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. He is my God. He is my Savior.

So much for how Mary, and we, praise God. Why, then, does she, and we, too, praise God? Because He has looked with favor on the humble state of His servant. God has considered Mary, and you, from eternity. Think of it! God knew you before anyone else knew you. He knew your wretched state and did something about it for you. God took decisive action to be your God from the beginning and now has you in mind as He is about to carry out salvation in Jesus. Yes, He sees nothing but wickedness in you, but He has exalted you in Christ. No wonder you now praise God!

From now on all generations will call me blessed. All generations will praise God’s work for your sake. Think of those in your families who have gone before you in the faith. When they receive Christian burial, we praise God’s grace on them, not all the good things they did to earn God’s favor. We don’t worship our ancestors. Any praise we give them, and it’s OK to honor the dead without overdoing it, we praise God’s work in them.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He did it – not me. His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. His mercy knows no end. His mercy is why God gave us His Son. Mary ends her song with the words, He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering His mercy. God remembers His own mercy. What comfort these words bring us today. Two women bear two men whose words will change the course of history. John the Baptist will prepare the way for Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Word of God come down from on high, is the Way to salvation. He alone makes the necessary sacrifice for our sin. He alone is the mercy of God clothed in flesh and bone.

No wonder these words of praise from Mary’s mouth are frequently sung in church. We usually consider them around Christmas time, but they are good for consideration at any time. The little baby Boy in Mary’s womb is the source of praise and thanksgiving for countless Christians. He brings peace between God and man. His mercy endures forever. His bruised foot stomps the serpent’s head, giving us life and freedom. There is a time to mourn, yet there is also a time to rejoice. Today, as all days, is that time to rejoice, for fecit mihi magna, He has done great things to me. Holy is your name, for holy is His name upon you.

 

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Christians excel at remembering the poor. Consider all the charitable organizations Christians have started. The first thing that might come to mind are hospitals. Christian hospitals remember the poor in providing health care without worrying about profit. Even our congregation remembers the poor with “Focus Out”, providing a ten dollar Berkot’s card for those seeking charity from us.

Our walk as Christians, however, doesn’t always match our talk. We like nice things. Our affluence sometimes harms our witness. We wish to help the poor, yet only from the comfort of our air-conditioned car with the window cracked about one inch to slip currency or coins through to the one in need. Even I don’t practice what I preach. If I helped every person I see in need, I couldn’t feed my family. We are jaded. We’ve seen too many professional beggars by the side of the road hustling cash, then walking a ways to their car to drive to another intersection.

There is another way to remember the poor besides giving them money or something tangible. Consider poor Lazarus and the rich man. Every day they saw each other at the rich man’s gate. The rich man was in a position to help Lazarus. Lazarus, though, was in a better position to help the rich man. The message Lazarus preaches in a sermon without a word is brought home by the stunning outcome of their deaths.

The first hint that Jesus has upset the apple cart is the rich man…in Hades, being in torment. It’s as if Jesus has led us down the garden path by telling us Lazarus is resting in Abraham’s bosom, then, out of the side of his mouth, mumbles something about the rich man in Hades. That’s not where we expect both men to be, especially if you’re a Jew and you’re listening to this parable. Even today we fall into the trap of thinking the poor go to hell and the rich go to heaven. Jesus loves a good success story and must turn away those who didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and did something about their situation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for reversing the situation. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean an automatic trip to Abraham’s bosom, while those greedy rich people fry in the burning lake of fire. There is something else to this parable; something rich that can’t be kept in a bank or dressed in purple linen.

Lazarus is really the rich man. The rich man is really poor. That’s where Jesus upsets the apple cart. What makes both men the opposite of what our eyes see? To answer that question another question is asked: What is counted before God as righteousness? The answer is in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter fifteen.

God makes a promise to Abraham about an heir to Abraham’s family. Abraham was afraid that, because he was childless, no one would carry on the promise of the Seed of the woman Who comes to stomp the head of the serpent. Not only will Abraham’s very own son be his heir, God the Father promises more. He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Not only will Abraham have an heir, he also will be rich in offspring. By faith we are children of Abraham, too. Why?

Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. That’s what matters in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Believe what He says about His promises, especially the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and He reckons it as righteousness. You can’t put a wad of cash before God’s face and ask if that’s enough. You can’t pile up all your good works, even your good intentions to do good works, and ask God if that’s your righteousness. Outside of God’s promise to you, your righteousness is, as Isaiah says, filthy rags. Cling to His promise and you have everything necessary for salvation.

Even clinging to His promise is not your own doing. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The riches you have because of Jesus Christ, the Great and Precious Promise of our heavenly Father, are everything. Forgiveness is yours. Life is yours. Salvation is yours. You are an heir of eternity by God’s grace through believing in Jesus Christ.

When you fail at being His workmanship, when you fail in helping the poor, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We walk in our good works each day, doing what is given us to do in our callings in life as God gives us light. Sure there’s more to be done. Sure there’s much you’ve left undone. Christ’s blood and righteousness covers every failing. The rich man sees that from Lazarus, but it is now too late. Lazarus lay at his gate every day as a testimony of where true riches are found: Jesus Christ. The rich man couldn’t see that testimony until he needed that cool drink from Lazarus. Too late. What about his father’s house? They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. What if they don’t repent? Not even Jesus rising from the dead will convince them.

Trust not in rich men to clout for you before God’s face. Your riches are in Christ Jesus. His Word with water washes away sin and brings you sonship with God. His Word with bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. His Word of reconciliation brings peace and joy with God and with your neighbor. Where you fail to be Christ’s workmanship, Christ’s blood bespeaks you righteous. The Lord is your riches. He alone has dealt bountifully with you.

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

The cross. The right arrow. The heart. I saw Professor Richard E. Muller write that simple diagram on the chalkboard so many times in seminary. Guys loved his classes because he was great for visual thinkers. He had a diagram for everything. The diagram of the cross, the right arrow, and the heart was perhaps the closest he could come to showing how God works, but even then a diagram couldn’t explain everything. It was merely a start of an explanation of a mystery as deep as God Himself.

Consider the diagram for a moment. The question lying behind it is “How does God get the benefits of the death of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, into your life?” Notice the diagram doesn’t ask how you get the cross or how you get Jesus into your life. Neither of these things are any benefit unless you are talking about what Jesus’ death is for you. You can explain it until you are blue in the face. Ultimately, though, it is a mystery that is not explained, but believed.

The Athanasian Creed does speak of thinking about the holy Trinity in one right way. It also speaks of believing the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That’s where everything in the diagram begins. You start at Jesus taking on flesh for your sake. It’s a promise almost as old as the foundation of the heavens and the earth. It’s the foundation of prophecy and proclamation in Scripture. It is so holy that Isaiah needed his lips cleansed with a searing-hot coal as he saw the vision of the mystery of God in order to preach it. It’s a mystery so bottomless that Saint Paul can only step back with us and marvel at its holiness and its beauty.

It’s a mystery that confounds Nicodemus, yet is perfectly clear to Jesus. Of course it is clear to Jesus, for He is the Father’s only-begotten Son. He is the mystery in skin. He comes not only to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord, but also to do that favorable season in the shedding of His blood and in His rising from the dead.

If you’re confused about the whole thing, you’re not alone. Join Nicodemus and the long line of people who scratch their heads when contemplating God’s work for you. You can only being to appreciate it when the Holy Spirit gets you to stand still and receive every good and perfect gift from above. That’s what Jesus tries to do with Nicodemus. Don’t use your noggin so much, Nicodemus. It’s a mystery revealed only through the sacred Word and the preaching of the sacred Word.

The only way to know what way the wind blows is to feel it on your body and hear it with your ears. If you’re hard of hearing, you’ll certainly feel it on your body. The Spirit’s work in the Word preached, heard, and read is the only way you’ll know what way the Spirit works on you. You hear the Word. The Word works not only repentance, but also faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. When you hear Jesus speak in His Word, you hear what the Father has to say about you. That’s what the Spirit makes sure you hear. The Holy Spirit keeps you close to Jesus, and in so doing, keeps you close to the Father in heaven.

How can these things be? There’s the question that has no explainable answer. Even Professor Muller’s chalkboard diagram can’t answer the question. The closest to a definitive answer is from Christ’s mouth with a twofold oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. Notice the use of first person plural by our Lord. We speak. We bear witness. What is spoken and borne witness is the mystery of salvation. No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

You were not there that dreadful Friday before the Passover when our Lord died for your sins. Yet by faith you believe that what Christ did that day, He did for you. You heard it spoken to you. You hear it spoken to you right now. A witness has been borne for your sake. The witness chiefly is Holy Scripture, for these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Yet how shall they hear without a preacher? The men who have stood in this pulpit through the years bear witness to Christ. As they speak, the Holy Spirit works in the words they speak to convict you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Repentance is worked. Faith is created and renewed. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are fed the very Body and Blood of Christ. Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. A line is drawn straight from Eden through the pilgrimage to the Promised Land, where a bronze snake is lifted up on a pole to save the Israelites as they gazed on that snake, to Calvary, where Christ is raised up for your sins, through the empty tomb, to this church building at this very moment.

The Triune God is at work for you today. They work to bring the benefits of Christ’s death into your ears, your heart, and your life. All these things happen through earthly stuff like words, water, bread, and wine. All these things bear witness that God loves the world by sending His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. How can these things be? King David answers in Psalm 34: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Don’t be afraid. Listen to the Lord in His Word and hear your salvation in Christ, for He alone has done it for you.

The Bronze Serpent and Jesus

The serpent, which bit and poisoned the Jews is sin, death and an evil conscience. I know that I must die and that I am under the power of death; I cannot free myself and must remain in this state until a dead serpent is set up for me, one which, because it is not alive, can harm no one, but rather benefit, as did the serpent of Moses. Now, this is Christ. I see him hanging on the cross, not beautiful nor greatly honored. If his death upon the cross were in fashion to win for him the plaudits of men, the flesh might say that he deserved his honors and his exaltation by his works. But I see him hanging in disgrace on the cross, like a murderer and malefactor; thus, reason must say that he is cursed before God. The Jews believed that this was true and they could only consider him the most cursed of all men before God and the world, for they remembered this passage in the Law of Moses: “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)

Moses had to set up a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery serpents, but did not bite or harm any one, nay, it rather saved the people. Thus, Christ also has the form and the appearance of a sinner, but has become my salvation; his death is my life; he atones for my sin and takes away from me the wrath of the Father. The living, fiery serpent is within me, for I am a sinner, but in him is a dead serpent; he was indeed regarded a sinner, but he never committed any sin.

If, then, man believes that the death of Christ has taken away his sin, he becomes a new man. The carnal, natural man cannot believe that God will gratuitously take away and forgive us all our sins. Reason argues in this manner: You have sinned, you must also atone for your sin. Then it invents one good work after another and endeavors to take away sin by good works. But the Gospel of Christ is: If you have fallen in sin, another must atone for you, if a man believes this, he becomes one with Christ, and has everything that is Christ’s.

(John chapter three), then, signifies that our works are nothing, and that all human power can do is useless, but faith in Christ does it all.

Martin Luther, First Church Postil for the Feast of the Holy Trinity (John 3:1-15)

God Give You A Mouth And Your Audience Ears

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you can’t preach an hour, then preach a half hour or a quarter of an hour. do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter and leave the rest to God. Look solely to His honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears…. You will most certainly find out three things: First you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace, You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased – but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Martin Luther, Tischreden 2:2606-2607

Pentecost Day – John 14:23-31

I am grateful to Rev. Mark Buetow of McHenry, IL for his mnemonic device used in this sermon.

When men tried to make a name for themselves, they ended up scattered and speaking different languages. When Jesus ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, through the preaching of Jesus’ name brings together people who don’t speak the same language. Those once scattered are now together again through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

That’s the blessing of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes with signs and wonders, with rushing wind and tongues of fire. These signs aren’t for their own sake. They focus your attention on the Word preached by preachers like Saint Peter. They preach the pouring out of the Spirit on the nations in order that they may hear and learn the name of Jesus. That’s what Peter preaches in the rest of Acts chapter two: Jesus, the Son of God, crucified for your sin, raised from the dead, and ascended on high. In His name is forgiveness of sins, poured on you in your Baptism. That’s the sermon that caused 3,000 souls to be brought into the church that day.

As it was then, so it is now. The Spirit brings Christ to you and brings you to Christ. How does He do it? Our Lord says how in today’s Gospel. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Pretty simple, eh? It’s hard for us to believe it, though. The Holy Spirit delivers Jesus. He does it in a way that you don’t get to dictate. The Spirit brings Jesus using Jesus’ words.

When you are brought to God’s house and are baptized with water and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work. When you come to church and your pastor forgives your sins, preaches and teaches you God’s Word from Holy Scripture, that is the Spirit at work. When you receive Christ’s true Body and true Blood under bread and wine that are shown for us to be the Body and Blood of Christ, that is the Spirit at work.

A mnemonic device might help plant it home. You use mnemonic devices all the time. How do you know the colors of the rainbow? Roy G. Biv, that’s how. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Roy G. Biv. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember how the Holy Spirit works: The Holy Spirit brings God’s Holy people the holy B.A.G.S. I’m not talking about cornhole bags or grocery bags. These are holy B.A.G.S. They are Baptism, Absolution, Gospel preaching and teaching, and the Supper. Where the B.A.G.S. are, there the Spirit is working to forgive you and keep you close to Jesus’ words.

Now that you know where the Spirit is at work, it’s also important to know where the Spirit is not at work. Perhaps you have heard of Christians who believe the Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself through signs like speaking in tongues, so-called holy laughter, running, barking, and other experiences. Those things happened on Pentecost so that people would pay attention to the Apostles. The bigger deal, though, that day was the preaching of Jesus Christ by Saint Peter and the baptism of 3,000 people.

Not just “Pentecostal” Christians speak this way. Other Christians often get captivated by feelings and emotions, mistaking them for the work of the Holy Spirit. We may have heard Christians tell us that, when they came to our church or another church, they just didn’t “feel” anything happening there. Some might go as far as to say the Holy Spirit speaks to them about not only matters of faith, but also what clothes to wear, what car to buy, even what kind of flooring is appropriate for their home.

That’s not how Christians speak about the Spirit’s work. Jesus promises His Spirit comes nowhere else than in the B.A.G.S. If something is said to be the Spirit’s work, yet doesn’t come from the B.A.G.S, rest assured it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to bring us and keep us close to Jesus. He uses the B.A.G.S. to do it. You have certainty there.

Another difference between the true Holy Spirit in the B.A.G.S. and false spirits who are around us is the peace that the Spirit brings. Jesus tells His disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The Spirit brings peace that transcends our feelings. Feelings can lie. The peace of God that surpasses everything that our mind can do, even feelings, keeps our hearts and mind in Christ, our Lord.

The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Baptism that says in Whose family you belong. You are not an orphan. You belong to God’s family. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Absolution. No sin stands between you and your heavenly Father. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of the Good News that Jesus is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. The peace the Spirit brings in under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the B.A.G.S. giving you everything Jesus promises, especially the peace of forgiveness and life. You will not burn in hell. You are with Jesus, and Jesus is with you. He will raise you from the dead. In Him you are a new creation, waiting for the consummation of all things. The life of the world to come is yours because of Jesus, not because of speaking in tongues or interpreting tongues or holy laughter or any other so-called manifestation of a spirit. Your comfort is found in the B.A.G.S., for there is where the Holy Spirit gives you Jesus, and with Jesus, your salvation.