Monthly Archives: October 2017

To Love Is To Help It Become What It Is

To love the Church, then, is to help it become what it is. The first axiom of classical Greek wisdom is “Know yourself.” The second is, “Become what you are.” When St. Paul speaks of a Church without spot or wrinkle, therefore, he is not speaking of a different Church than the one with which we are so restlessly dissatisfied. No, he is speaking of this Church becoming what in reality it is. This does not mean that the whole of past and present Christianity will finally be vindicated and presented as the Bride of Christ, “holy and without blemish.” We know there are tares among the wheat, but we are also warned by our Lord not to embark upon a premature and presumptuous effort to sort out the one from the other. That will be done in due time. For now, and until he comes in glory, our task is to love. And to love means to assist in the actualizing of possibilities perceived by faith.

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Too often movements for change fail not for lack of analysis, nor for lack of commitment, but for lack of love. And when movements that are without love do succeed, their success is often a greater wrong than the wrong they set out to correct. Whom you would change – lastingly, and for the good – you must first love.

Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, pages 15-16

RJN

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Reformation Day Observed and Confirmation Day – Revelation 14:6-7

A.J. Horn, Lilli Horn, Catherine Juhl, Keith Morellas, and Trey Sandstrom are confirmed and receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time this Sunday.

The word “angel” means “messenger”. There are angels, the crown of God’s unseen created beings who watch over God’s children. Then there are angels who aren’t so much spiritual beings but are messengers. These messengers spread the Gospel: Good News for those who dwell on earth. Saint John writes about seeing one of these messengers in his vision on the island of Patmos. The angel flying overhead has a message for us even today: Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.

Five young people today are before us who have heard the Good News of the eternal Gospel over a long period of time. It began for them when they first heard the Good News from a pastor’s mouth and from a family member’s mouth. They heard that Jesus has taken away their sin. They heard Jesus has given them eternal life. They heard there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. They have a good conscience. The seed of the Gospel that was planted in them in hearing the Word, the seed that was watered in their baptism, has been nurtured over a period of time in being taught the Christian faith.

These young people, as well as you and me, have heard through our lives to fear God and give Him glory. This fear that the angel proclaims is a holy awe of what God has done for us. Not only does He provide earthly things for us, He also takes care of every spiritual need. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil’s power. All this He does from Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

The devil demands you fear him and give him honor. Kings and princes demand the same thing when they make themselves as gods. Even our own human hearts demand that we bow down and worship ourselves as our own false god. Satan sets every obstacle in the way of letting God’s judgment over the world have place in our lives. Yet this judgment breaks through in spite of every obstacle.

The history of the Church shows how the Gospel, God’s judgment over the world in Jesus Christ, breaks through even when those inside and outside the Church try to stop it. In spite of the Israelites’ disobedience, even Moses’ disobedience, the Promise of a land and a Savior remains steadfast among them. In spite of kings who demand idolatry, even exile into a foreign land, the Promise of the Savior and a spiritual Israel remains. In spite of Herod slaughtering innocent male children under two years old in order to rid his kingdom of the so-called interloper named Jesus, the Promise remains alive. In spite of every human leader who makes himself a savior, in spite of every attempt to snuff out the Light no darkness can overcome, the Promise of forgiveness and new life continues to be proclaimed today.

The hour of judgment has come. In Jesus Christ, in Him alone, you are judged worthy of eternal life. His blood and His righteousness speak freedom from slavery to sin better than the blood of bulls and goats on the temple’s altar. Satan has been judged and found wanting. His head is crushed. The Savior’s heel is bruised. In that bruise, in His blood, you have sure and certain hope of salvation. Saint Paul says it best in Romans chapter three: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Now you see why the angel says worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. The Lord God has done everything to save you. He acted in time, in real life, letting His Son become flesh to suffer and die for your sins and rise from the dead for your justification. Nothing else matters. Jesus Christ lived and died for you. That’s all that is necessary for eternity.

That’s the reason God gathers His people in places like this one each week. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me asks the Psalmist. You render Him thanks and praise in your presence. You speak and sing the words of Scripture. Almost every word spoken in the Divine Service is drawn from Scripture. Even the events in the Creed are drawn from the Bible. In our time together in instruction we walked through the story of salvation. It’s an amazing story to hear. Sin befell the world like a bottle of ink spilled over a pristine piece of paper. God acts among His people. He makes a Promise to Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve that a Redeemer is coming Who will undo everything done in the Garden. He makes the same Promise to Abraham and gives him a family to carry on the Promise. Through time and every seeming setback God prepares His people for their salvation.

Then comes the birth of the Savior according to the flesh. The Promise has skin. The Promise lives the perfect live for you. He dies. He rises. He ascends into heaven to fulfill all things. One day the Promise returns to raise the dead and bring the living and dead who are in Christ with Him into eternal life.

The impossible is possible in Jesus. We deserve death. Jesus gives life. We deserve hell. Jesus gives us heaven. Jesus becomes sin. We receive Jesus’ righteousness. This is the message of the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the messenger in Revelation chapter fourteen. It’s a message for you, no matter how old you are. It’s a message once covered in darkness for centuries, yet renewed time and again by messengers, angels if you will, whom God raises up to proclaim His story anew.

A.J., Lilli, Catherine, Keith, and Trey: This is your story, too. It’s the story you live in as Christians. Everything Jesus does, He does for you. You see your name, your life, and your everything tied up in the Savior. If there’s nothing else you learned in instruction, you learned that much. That much is enough, for Jesus is enough for eternity. You are free in Christ. Believe it for His sake.

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:1-8

You’ve heard a string of bad news. Cancer. Surgery. Death. Loss of your job. The hits just keep on coming. Then someone has a new message for you: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Is it the truth? Is this truth going to comfort me? Is it for me in the first place? Then there’s the bigger question: Are there strings attached to this message?

Jesus spoke the message: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven to a paralytic. These words not only apply to him, but to you and me as well. They apply to every poor sinner. So let’s put these words to the test and see how well they apply to us some two-thousand years later.

Every poor sinner is confident when they hear their sins are forgiven because the words are certain truth as much as they are comforting truth. Jesus knows the thoughts of the experts in the Law who say Christ is blaspheming. After all, no man may say that someone’s sins are forgiven. Only God can forgive sins. They don’t, or won’t, know that Jesus is God and man in one person. Not only is He able to forgive sins, He is also able to heal the man.

The greater miracle among the two performed in Matthew chapter nine is forgiving sins. That is not to downplay the healing of the paralytic. The word spoken by our Savior does what He said it does. The man stands up, takes his stretcher, and goes home. Yet the words Jesus speaks about forgiveness also do what He says they do. Jesus Himself satisfies divine righteousness for sinners. That’s why Jesus takes on flesh: to earn and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. To show He’s not a liar, He adds the healing of the paralytic. It’s the extra whipped cream on top of the delicious ice cream sundae that is the forgiveness of sins.

You are like the paralytic in the fact that sin paralyzes you. There’s no way for you to delight in forgiveness of sins if you are in charge of your own forgiveness. Your righteousness outside of Christ is nothing. It’s a farce, a joke. It’s actually offensive and, worst of all, usurps authority from Jesus. The afflicted conscience needs a foreign righteousness; one that is outside himself. Christ’s righteousness is that resurrecting balm and consolation for the anxious conscience.

You see this firsthand when you are sick, or when a family member or your neighbor is hurting. Trusting in the foreign righteousness of Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes from the outside in, brings either recovery from God’s hand or a blessed end under God’s guiding love. Both are welcome. Either you’ll recover from sickness and live a while, bringing joy to all who know you, or you’ll die a Christian death and fall asleep in the Savior. Though there is weeping for a time, joy comes sooner than later, for all who live in Christ shall die in Christ. Dying in Christ is slumber. We wait in joyful expectation for the certain hope of the resurrection.

Poor sinners are confident when hearing their sins are forgiven because no one who hears this forgiveness is excluded. Jesus never pulls a bait and switch with forgiveness. When He speaks this word of forgiveness to the paralytic, He also intends it to be heard by the experts in the Law, even everyone who was there that day, even us today. Jesus is certainly the very Son of God, yet He calls Himself the Son of Man here because He has become a genuine member of the human race in order to acquire forgiveness for all mankind. His life is a salvation for many, that is, for all, as He says elsewhere: the Son of Man came to save the lost.

Little do we realize that we are lost outside of Christ. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “If I came to your church, I know, for a fact, that the walls would fall in and the roof will collapse. I’m such a so-called ‘sinner’ that the building couldn’t stand me being there.” Well, here we are. The walls remain. So does the roof. They remain not because we’re the righteous and the holy and have no need for a Savior. The opposite is true. The unrighteous and the profane gather here every week. Jesus alone is righteous and holy. Here’s where He gives those gifts that declare us righteous and holy: our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Absolution, and even the Sermon.

Who would think that Jesus leaves forgiveness of sins in the hands of sinful men? He does. He confers this authority to the Church and to her ministers. They are given to forgive sins in His name, to preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to all creatures. Whoever you are, wherever you are, even if you aren’t here, even if you can’t or won’t believe Jesus as Lord, take heart! Your sins are forgiven. That’s the message of the Christian Church even today.

The problem remains, even for the most faithful of Christians, that there’s strings attached to that message. Your sins are forgiven if…. Your sins are forgiven when…. Your sins are forgiven, but now…. Worse yet, Your sins are forgiven, give your offering to make sure it sticks. The Gospel is not for sale here. We Christians are in the business of giving something for nothing.

Jesus never asks the paralytic for anything in return. He never asks for anything from the people who bring the paralytic. His forgiveness is free, just as the healing was free. He made him well. He saw their faith, yet the experts in the Law go home empty because they would not believe. The only thing that excludes from salvation is unbelief. The Gospel makes no demands. The Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts that appropriate the Good News.

When the Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts, it also changes those hearts from stone into flesh. You are a new person when the Good News of forgiveness hits you. The paralytic became healthy. He stood up and walked. So you also walk in a new life in Christ. Clinging to Christ not only means rejoicing in forgiveness, but also rejoicing in the many ways you get to serve your neighbor. There are no strings attached. You don’t sigh as if you must do it because God is watching you. Faith in Christ can’t help but get busy looking for opportunities to serve. In all things throughout life, in how we live before God and neighbor, all glory belongs to God for His undeserved love. He gives us consolation in believing that we are in Christ, and Christ is in us.

Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:34-46

Holy Scripture plainly says there is life after temporal death. Jesus tells the Jews who were seeking to kill Him in John chapter five: whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Yet not everyone who seeks to enter eternal life will not be able to do it. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Are you certain that you will attain eternal life? That’s the big question we face as human beings, especially when we are tempted or are afraid because of our sins. A question we ask ourselves in suffering is: Do I actually have reason for the hope to be God’s own child? On our death bed we might wonder if we can joyfully die in the certain expectation of eternal life. As sin clings to our human nature, it is natural to ask these questions.

So where is your hope based? My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Your hope is not based on the requirements of the Law. An expert in the Law asks Jesus a question: which is the greatest commandment of the Law? You wonder if this was a disputed question among them. You also wonder if this is a question meant to trip up Jesus. Our Lord answers according to the Law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. Love your neighbor as yourself. He adds: all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Both love toward God and love toward neighbor are what the Ten Commandments deal with. Even the love of your neighbor finds its ultimate goal in the love of God. Christ’s answer to the question leaves no doubt that all commandments are equally important. You can’t fulfill one part without fulfilling the other part. Even keeping the moral law falls under love of God. You love God by honoring marriage and the privileges of marriage. You honor God by not harming your neighbor even to death with your actions, words, and thoughts. Remember what Saint James says: whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. You stop loving God, you stop loving your neighbor, and then you are guilty of breaking all of the Law of God.

The Law, with its demands, cannot be the bedrock of our salvation. If it were so, then there’s no need of Jesus except to look at Him as your example of how to get the job done. Even His death becomes an example of what you must do to fulfill the Law. Yet your blood and your righteousness avails nothing before the Father in heaven. The Pharisees thought they would be righteous before God. They placed Sabbath laws or sacrifices or circumcision on top of the Law of God. Everything depended upon external observance of these commandments.

Note, though, that Jesus emphasizes the commandment of love over external observances. Merely going through the motions earns nothing. The attitude of the heart is the main thing. Love the Lord your God…. Love your neighbor as yourself. A quick look at Matthew chapter 23, where Jesus pronounces seven woes over the Pharisees and experts in the Law, shows that there is no love among those folks. What do you see when you examine yourself? Saint Paul explains it in Romans chapter seven: we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

Your hope is based solely on the promises of the Good News from God in Jesus Christ. Jesus returns the volley of the experts in the Law with his own question. He asks What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? He asks these questions not in order to tempt them but in order to make them aware of what is the end of the Law; what makes the sinner righteous. Again Saint Paul has the answer in Romans chapter ten: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Jesus asks these questions to redirect their attention where it should be directed: to Messiah, to Himself. Yet the Jews made misconceptions about His person and His office. They lost sight of the Gospel promises given through the prophets. That is what our Lord asks the Pharisees about Whom is Messiah. They get the genealogy right when they answer the son of David. That answer is all over the Old Testament. They heard that answer with their own ears a few days earlier when our Lord entered Jerusalem to suffer and die for sins and rise from the dead. Remember that this conversation takes place mere days before our Lord’s Passion.

The Pharisees did not deny the human nature of Christ. They had no knowledge, or purposely wanted no knowledge, of His divine nature. Jesus then quotes the opening words of Psalm 110 to answer their question. The One Who is David’s Son is also David’s Lord. He is more than an earthly son of a king many generations later. He is the Son of the King Who dwells in heaven. The prophet Jeremiah says: the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

What the Pharisees didn’t, or wouldn’t, know is that Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord wrapped up in one person. This also answers the question about His office, about what He comes to do. If Christ, about Whom this prophecy deals, only assumes divine rule, how can He then be eternal God? He humbles Himself, according to His human nature, unto death upon the cross and then is raised to the right hand of His Father. Yet His divine nature and His human nature are together in one person. Jesus alone not only suffers and dies, but also overcomes our enemies: sin, death, devil, and hell. He alone is Messiah, the Redeemer of the world.

It is a teachable moment for the Pharisees and experts in the Law. What they didn’t, or wouldn’t, know, we now know. Matthew tells us from that day on no one dared to ask Him any more questions, not to mention that no one was able to answer Him a word concerning Christ’s own questions. Jesus alone is the branch from the root of Jesse and the only Child of the everlasting Father. He suffers and enters into His glory. He is seated at the right hand of God with royal power. He reigns as Victor over His enemies until at last they lie beneath His feet as a footstool. All this He does for our own good…for our own good and not for His own good. Jesus Christ alone is our brother and our substitute. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. “When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” This hope never disappoints.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

What does our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees give us to consider regarding relations with a world hostile to Jesus Christ? Consider first of all that we should beware the hypocritical love from those outside of Christ. The Pharisees invited Jesus to eat bread with them. Yet they also watched Him closely. They were looking for something to accuse Him of so they could get rid of Him. Jesus, however, perceived their shenanigans and showed true prudence in all His words and works.

It’s as if the Pharisees and experts in the Law had planned everything perfectly. A man who was suffering from swelling of the body was right in front of our Lord. Jesus asked them one question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? No answer. All eyes are on Him. So He took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.

People of the world also invite us to eat bread with them, so to speak. They do so not out of love, but out of spite. They, too, look for opportunities to trap us and bring us down. They, too, look to prove our hope for eternal life and forgiveness of sins to be a farce. Everything in the world will pass away, even their false opinions about salvation.

This doesn’t mean we walk away from the world and retreat to some sort of monastic way of life. We instead walk in love over against the world. Jesus never voluntarily withdrew from the Pharisees. He seized the opportunity to draw closer to them. He accepted their invitation to eat bread with them. Jesus sought to draw the Pharisees and experts in the Law closer to Him. Sometimes it took harsh words. Sometimes it took a parable. Sometimes it took a miracle. He left the matter in their lap to deal with His words and actions. They knew what He said and did was true. They saw everything as an inconvenient truth.

We, too, seize every opportunity to engage the world with the Truth of Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ has taken care of sin and death in His perfect life, His all-atoning death, and His life-giving resurrection from the dead. Over the last couple of years, however, it seems as if some Christians would rather pick up their marbles and only play among other like-minded Christians. Some well-known Christians have written that it’s hopeless to deal with those whose minds are set on the world. So let’s just deal with those who are like-minded with us and leave the world alone.

That’s not the way Jesus dealt with sinners. Jesus dwells among sinners. He doesn’t exclusively talk to His disciples. He eats with tax collectors instead of shooing them away. He has compassion on harlots and even Samaritans. As our Lord Christ put Himself in the midst of sinners, so we also are in the midst of sinful people, both within and without the Christian faith. We deal with others in love, not in hate. We show concern in word and deed instead of turning our backs on “those people out there”. Always, always, we show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus in order that they may join us in the great feast of the Gospel.

We are also fearless over against the enemies of the Truth. Christians have shown a lot of fear before the world over the last couple of years. Ever since the Supreme Court gave homosexual couples the right to marry, Christians have looked more like fear mongerers than fearless disciples of Jesus Christ. Consider our Lord’s conduct in today’s Holy Gospel. He does not avoid provocation, but fearlessly responds by healing the man and teaching the Pharisees and experts in the Law what the Sabbath is really about.

We Christians look intimidated these days against the world. It seems as if there can be no middle ground when it comes to hot-button topics. Instead of listening to our neighbor, we quickly react against them in order to be right. The shoe often is on the other foot, too. Saint Peter has good advice on how to deal with our neighbor: in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

The key words there are gentleness and respect. You win few people over with venom. You win a willing ear with gentleness and respect. You also win the respect of others not merely by speaking the Truth, but also living the Truth. Jesus shows His adversaries the true meaning of the Sabbath by healing a man. The Sabbath is not so much about strict rest as it is about attending to the Word of God and prayer. If you must work to save a life, then do it. Refusing to act because it is the Sabbath harms both God and your neighbor.

Consider your conduct before your neighbor. Do you say and do everything with gentleness and respect? Or are you always looking to win a fight by any means necessary? Our conduct before the world is not about winning as it is about speaking the Truth in love without sacrificing either the Truth or love. That’s what Jesus is driving at with His audience by speaking the parable about places of honor at a banquet. Speaking truth with humility shows that Christ dwells among us and that we dwell in Christ. When we raise our voice to speak the Truth, we do so as representatives of Jesus Christ, not as a talking head spewing talking points on a cable TV talk show.

It’s not easy to live as a Christian these days. It’s never been easy to live as a Christian. Ever. There were never any “good old days” for Christians on earth. Yet when it is our place when we must and ought to speak, we pray that the Lord give us courage to speak in boldness and confidence, yet with tenderness and peace in our hearts and in our consciences. We aren’t in it to win it. We are in it to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and to win our neighbor from the devil’s clutches into the Lord’s merciful arms.

Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan. In Christ you have ultimate victory. Live in the world in peace. You will have many opportunities to speak about your hope in Jesus. Your hope is built on the solid rock of Christ. Don’t be afraid.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.