Monthly Archives: August 2017

Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 19:41-48

Everyone has a home. It’s the place where family and friends are. It’s the place you know best. For most of you, home is here in Kankakee County. For me, though Momence is my adopted hometown, most of my family lives downstate around Du Quoin. When I go home, there are many good memories. I drive by my home congregation and remember my confirmation day or when I first preached there as an ordained minister. You have the same memories. They are often tied to a house, a church, or another place.

For the Jews, their home, whether physical or spiritual, was Jerusalem. The temple, the presence of the living God, was there. The Jews may have had a synagogue in their town, but they longed to go home at least for Passover. Their memory is tied to a city, a building, a place on the map that sits on the hill of peace. To hear Jesus say that they will not leave one stone on top of another is impossible. It’s nonsense, just like when He said destroy this temple in three days and I will raise it up, though it took many years to build the physical temple.

What the Jews didn’t know is that the temple Jesus was talking about was His body. They also didn’t know what He knew concerning the future. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem came true less than forty years after He said it. The Roman army laid waste to Jerusalem, killing over a million people as they tore through it. The destruction of Jerusalem is a fact of history written for us by a Jewish man named Josephus.

The reason Jerusalem would be destroyed is because they did not recognize the time when God came to help them. All the signs were in place when Messiah, Jesus Christ, dwelled on the earth. Some recognized them and believed in Him. Others mocked Him, cursed Him, and did whatever it took to silence Him. Jesus’ own people acted like pawns in a game as they handed Him over to Pontius Pilate in order to be crucified. They didn’t believe that His death actually was their atonement. Josephus said the same thing about the Roman army in the year of our Lord 70, when God seemingly used them to destroy Jerusalem, fulfilling Christ’s prophecy.

As then, so it is now. Many do not recognize the time of Christ’s visitation. Even we Christians fail to see our Lord Jesus Christ at work in His Gifts. Like the Jews, we look to some sort of home for our peace and not to the Prince of Peace. Christ’s forgiveness and life dwells in the preaching of the Good News. Yet we look for His forgiveness and life in institutions that proclaim the Gospel.

We often place our love and trust in a building rather than the One Who is proclaimed in that building. We find our salvation in our name being on a church roll, even if we never actually attend the church where our name is attached. We think that as long as there’s a, whatever your last name, on the roster of our congregation, then everything is good with God. We might even go as far as thinking that the Lord sure does need a Lutheran Church in Momence. I mean, what would He do if this church building wasn’t here? What would He do if there wasn’t a Missouri Synod? We’ve got to preserve all these institutions or there won’t be a Gospel without them!

Self-perpetuating an institution for the sake of the institution has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His Word is preached whether or not there is a church building here, whether or not you are here, or even if I was or wasn’t here. Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed whether or not there’s a Missouri Synod or an Our Savior Lutheran Church in Momence, Illinois. Let these things all be gone if we place our trust in institutions rather than Jesus Christ. Where the Gifts of Christ are given, there you see Christ’s Church, the body of Christ.

That’s hard to believe in a time when numbers mean everything. If we don’t see a lot of cars parked out front, if we don’t see full pews, if we don’t see young children in church, if we don’t see a healthy bank account, then we think there’s a problem. The problem isn’t numbers or children or money. The problem is that we have taken our eyes off Christ and put them on ourselves. What can we do to fix the problem?

What if there wasn’t a problem except sin? Sin always looks to self as the hope for salvation. Sin always plays the numbers game. Sin always curves everything in on our own self. When we look inside us, we see nothing that makes for eternal peace. We see a war for our soul. Jesus’ death ends that war. He alone makes the peace that surpasses all that our mind conjures. He alone is the scapegoat. He alone is the spotless Lamb. He alone is the perfect offering that wipes away sin. He alone is the blessed Peacemaker, the Son of God.

There are times when it’s hard to see or feel the peace Christ brings when you come to this house of prayer. You see sinners like you, yet you may not have a close relationship with them. You see empty pews, pews that once were full. You see a preacher, a sinner like you, who sometimes says and does things you don’t like. Consider the view from here. The feeling sometimes is mutual. We might be led to think not merely this congregation, but all Christian churches, are nothing but a den of robbers.

How did it happen? Sin is how it happened. Forgetting to prefer Christ to everything else happened. Getting my way happened, and that includes pastor. We do not recognize the time when God came to help us. That time is now. Here He is, in the preaching of His Gospel. Here He is, in your baptism. Here He is, in His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The time when God comes to help you is now. There comes a time when He comes to bring ultimate help: the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Until then, here He is, Gifts at the ready, bringing you forgiveness of sins.

Welcome to the place where the things for your peace dwell. Welcome to Christ’s house. Welcome to the place where His glory dwells. Christ is here for you. Though the body of Christ’s believers cannot be seen, we know that where they gather around His Gifts, there His Church is seen. Welcome to your place of refuge. Dearly beloved, welcome home.

Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:1-13

Although Jesus tells this parable to His disciples, the parable is pointed at the Pharisees and scribes. They are never far from hearing what Jesus says, always looking for a way to trap Him in His words. When Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and scribes, or even to the Sadducees, you must see yourself as one of them. The parable is directed to you as well, for our heart is a Pharisee’s dwelling place. Yes, a heart of stone is made a heart of flesh in baptismal waters, yet this side of Paradise a Pharisee stands alongside the one made holy believing in Jesus Christ.

The children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light are. That stings, and it should sting. As a child of light, it stings to hear that people who live as if the world is all there is to life know better how to deal with what they have. That is why Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager. Although released from managing his master’s goods, he still has time to cut deals and do what he was given to do in the first place.

A manager, a steward, handles someone else’s property. If there is a debt made from what his master has, he collects the debt. If his master is in debt to another, he pays the debt. Perhaps there is a line of credit involved. Looking at this parable and what happens after the manager is relieved of his duties, there is a line of credit involved on the part of the master’s debtors. The manager is supposed to make sure those debts are paid in full, or at least paid toward being paid in full.

Somewhere along the line the manager is accused of wasting his master’s possessions. Note there is no hard evidence. The master goes on hearsay. Give an account of your management, because you can no longer be manager. Jesus never says how the manager wasted his master’s possessions. The hearsay was good enough for him. Instead of thinking what he could do for his next job, the manager gets busy doing what he was supposed to be doing. This time, however, his debt collecting comes with a price more advantageous to the debtor than to the master.

One debt is slashed in half. Another is slashed twenty percent. At last the steward does what he is supposed to do. Even his master has to commend him for dealing shrewdly with debtors. Although there are deep discounts, the debts are paid in full. Mismanagement becomes shrewd business savvy. Although not faithful with much, the manager makes friends on his way out the door. Perhaps he might find a new job with one whom he has dealt shrewdly.

What do you do with what you have? Children of light tend to squeeze everything they own so tight that not even a drop leaves their hand. God forbid you have an opportunity to tell the Good News about Jesus to your neighbor. She might laugh at you. Worse yet, you think you might say something wrong. Better to keep quiet than open your mouth. God forbid you have an opportunity to help someone in need who may or may not be a Christian. You might have to give away one of the five or six boxes of cereal you have in your pantry. You still have plenty in store.  Yet you’ll miss that one box so much.

No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Yet those who serve mammon are more shrewd than those who serve God. Whether or not Jesus is being sarcastic when He says make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon, so that when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings, there is something to His words here. No one enters eternal life with a U-Haul. There are no storage units in the New Creation. But don’t have that estate sale quite yet and live in poverty. You get to use what is given to you to show your neighbor Who has given it to you to give it to them.

Last Thanksgiving Eve you heard that something isn’t a gift until you can give it away. Freely you received it. Freely you give it away. Granted it may not have been free, but you are free to keep it or give it away. All your possessions don’t belong to you. You are a manager of it. Your greatest possession, your priceless treasure, is the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Even that is meant to be given away, just as it was given to you.

Once you see that you don’t own all your possessions, you’ll also see that your possessions don’t own you. You belong to God the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. You are His greatest possession. He will use all you have to show His love for sinners. He will use your mouth to tell His mercy. He will use your hands to give your neighbor what he needs this side of Paradise. Your body is a living sacrifice, set apart to worship God and serve your fellow man. Christ died for all. Believing that is true, you see everyone as one for whom Christ died and one for whom you are privileged to serve. You see Christ in them. You prefer Christ over your mammon.

This doesn’t mean that all earthly things are bad. After all, God uses earthly things to bring you heavenly joy. He sanctifies water as a blessed flood of your baptism. He sets apart bread and wine as His Son’s true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He sends men to speak His Word, creating faith when and where He wills it.

Saint Paul calls men given to use earthly things to bring heavenly joy stewards of the mysteries of God. The Holy Things aren’t mine. The Holy Things are God’s Holy Things given to God’s Holy Ones; holy because you are covered in Jesus Christ’s blood. I’m only a steward, a manager under orders to give them to you. Even when I could, God forbid, misuse them, they remain Holy Things in spite of myself and in spite of yourself. Though we are sinners, Christ died for us and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation. Together, forgiven, we receive good things from God. Together, forgiven, we love and serve our neighbor. Together, forgiven, Christ manages our sin by dying for it and giving us His righteousness.

Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 7:15-23

Perhaps you’ve heard these statements: “Deeds, not creeds.” “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” Listen to these words from an early 20th century Christian pastor: “There is no difference between a good Jew and a good Christian, a good [Roman] Catholic and a good Protestant. The only heresy is an ungodly life…. Men cannot fight over the Golden Rule.”

People take sides in politics. People get hot over political debate. Keeping cool in a political debate is a sign of indifference. If people cannot stand political indifference, then why do people think it is acceptable to be indifferent concerning their religious beliefs? If this is so, then why not merge all churches in every community into one large union congregation?

Indifference in what your church believes, teaches, and confesses is repugnant to God’s Word. The Scriptures are clear concerning how we deal with false teachers and false teaching. I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. The first thing necessary in watching for divisions and obstacles is to know what Scripture teaches. If you’re lost concerning what Scripture teaches, you’ll soon be taken captive by every wind of doctrine.

You will be taken captive, for Jesus says false prophets come to you in sheep’s clothing. They come to you showing just how pious, how strict, how zealous, and even how generous they are. Jesus gives some clues in discovering false prophets in Mark chapter twelve: Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces, and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. This doesn’t mean that a pastor who prays for a long time or wears fancy vestments is automatically a false prophet. Watch their life and teaching carefully. Is he in it for the glory and money? Or is he in it to preach Christ and Him crucified without regard to earthly gain?

Twice Jesus says you will recognize them. When a prophet, one who speaks before others, opens his mouth, he must teach. A prophet cannot help but proclaim the Word that is given Him to proclaim. Included in proclamation is teaching. Jesus here has Pharisees and Sadducees in mind when He speaks these words in the Sermon on the Mount. Pharisees and Sadducees do not have the will of the heavenly Father in mind when they speak.

Jesus is constantly showing them, and others, that they are all wet. He tells them in John chapter five: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.… For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

The key to watching for false prophets and recognizing their fruits is to remain in God’s Word. Laying down your Bible and letting your itching ears be scratched by smooth talk is tantamount to surrender. “But, Pastor”, you may say to yourself, “At least he said ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ in his sermon. He can’t be all that bad.” Christ says, Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

What is His will? His will is for you to be saved from the burning lake of fire that is never quenched. You are saved from everlasting death in believing Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for your salvation. When a preacher says you need to give Jesus something in exchange for salvation, then you know you’re hearing a false prophet. When a preacher points too much to what you need to do and not enough to what Jesus has done for you, then you know you’re hearing a false prophet. It doesn’t matter how large the congregation, how popular the television or radio show, or how many best-selling books the preacher has written. If he isn’t preaching Jesus Christ crucified for your sins and raised for your justification, then you’re hearing a false prophet dressed in sheep’s clothing.

How do you test what you hear in this house to see whether it jibes with Holy Scripture? Test it with the touchstone of the Small Catechism. Luther’s Small Catechism has been called “the layman’s Bible”, and rightly so. It is a compendium, a brief explanation of the basic teachings of Holy Scripture. The Small Catechism is not a second source of revelation, but a summary of what Scripture teaches concerning Jesus Christ and His work of salvation on your behalf. Hold up every word preached from this pulpit to the Catechism, especially to Holy Scripture, and see if my words agree with those words.

The little plaque on this pulpit says, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” That’s all you need for eternal life: Jesus’ blood and righteousness that bespeaks you righteous, holy, innocent, and uncondemned. The Jesus you desire comes straight up, no chaser, with no ice water. The Jesus you desire isn’t mixed with poison in order that you get a bit of the credit. The Jesus you desire, the Jesus you hear in this house, is a full-bodied, full-blooded, pure and holy Jesus Who loves sinners all the way through His tomb and out again as free people for whom He died. Anything less than that Jesus deserves these words: I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.