Who Is A Christian?

Who is a Christian? Rationalists describe a Christian like this: A Christian is a man who strives to be virtuous, to live according to his reason, or to live honestly according to the rules of “the great virtuous teacher”. A papist, upon questioning, would define a Christian as follows: A Christian is a man who submits himself to the Pope’s rule and who conforms himself to ecclesiastical arrangement. And there might well be among Lutherans here and there those who describe a Christian this way: A Christian is a man who goes to Church, and from time to time to the sacrament, pays his contributions, and is concerned with an honest manner of life before the world. — These are, however, descriptions which are partly quite false, partly do not give a clearly visible essence of a Christian. We say on the basis of Scripture: A Christian is a man who is convinced through the working of the Holy Spirit of two things: 1. of the fact that he is a sinner worthy of condemnation before God, and 2. of the fact that God forgives all his sins for Christ’s sake; i.e., a Christian is a man who knows to distinguish Law and Gospel. He lets the Law come into play; he lets his sin be revealed by the Law. He does not say: There is no serious intent with the demands and threats of the Law. No, he leaves the demands of the Law as they are. He admits not only with words, but also in his heart: I am a sinner worthy of condemnation. Through the law comes to him knowledge of his sin and worthiness of condemnation. But he lets the Law remain in this area. The question of how he is saved can only be answered by the Gospel. He believes that God absolves him in the Gospel of the sins He has revealed to him by the Law. He recognizes the Law as the Word of God; but he also knows that God has yet another word, the Gospel, and that all poor sinners should hear this other Word and from it gain the confidence that their sins are forgiven them. Thus a Christian is a man who lets both Law and Gospel take effect in themselves, but also knows how to separate both of them. Where this does not happen, then there is also no Christianity.

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

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The Gospel > Any Earthly Thing

For when I compare my life with the Law I see and experience always the contrary of what the Law enjoins. I shall entrust to God my body and soul, and love him with my whole heart; yet, I would rather have a dollar in my chest than ten gods in my heart, and I am happier when I know how to make ten dollars, than when I hear the whole Gospel. Let a prince give a person a castle or several thousand dollars, what a jumping and rejoicing it creates! On the other hand, let a person be baptized or receive the communion which is a heavenly, eternal treasure, there is not one-tenth as much rejoicing. Thus we are by nature; there is none who so heartily rejoices over God’s gifts and grace as over money and earthly possessions; what does that mean but that we do not love God as we ought? For if we trusted and loved him, we would rejoice more that he gave us the sense of sight than if we possessed the wold world. And the word of consolation he speaks to me through the Gospel ought to give me higher joy than the favor, money, wealth, and honor of the whole world. But that it is not so and ten thousand dollars can make people happier than all the grace and possessions of God, proves what kind of fruit we are, and what a distressing and horrible fall it is in which we lie. And yet we would not see nor realize it, if it were not revealed to us through the Law, and we would have to remain forever in it and be lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.

Martin Luther, Second Church Postil for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 22:34-46)

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Luke 18:9-14

There is a baptism at the Saturday night Divine Service.

The Pharisee and the tax collector present us with a fascinating look at how our Lord considers people and how we consider ourselves.

Everything the Pharisee says is right. After all, he is the model for imitation among the Jews. He is the interpreter of God’s Word. He’s the man who puts the Law and Prophets into perspective. Following what he says and what he does should mean you’re on the right track when it comes to everlasting salvation.

The Pharisee is not like other people. He’s not a robber, evildoer, or an adulterer. He certainly isn’t like that tax collector over there. All these people are open about their sin. One takes from others. Another does wrong for the sake of doing wrong. Another cheats on his wife. The tax collector is the worst offender of all. He’s always charging more than necessary in order to provide for himself, not to mention for Caesar. Everybody knows he does it. So we agree with the Pharisee. We might even take our stand alongside him. We, too, aren’t like other people; at least as other people see us.

The Pharisee goes above and beyond what God’s Word requires. Instead of fasting once a week, he fasts twice a week. He tithes all of his income. The Pharisee is the example of holiness, at least on the outside. If only we could be just like him.

We are just like him. We put on a good show on the outside. We want everyone to think well of us. King Solomon says in Proverbs chapter 22 that a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The Pharisee seems to have a good name and favor among the people by what he does and says. Externals are good, but they aren’t the only thing.

Consider how King David was chosen to be king in Saul’s place. Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to sacrifice to the Lord and select one of his sons as the next king. Jesse brought Eliab before Samuel. The prophet thought surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Samuel saw how the Lord works when he rejected all of Jesse’s sons except the ruddy shepherd boy David whom his family had to call from the pasture. David was probably the last person anyone expected to become king of Israel. Yet he was the Lord’s choice, for He looks on the heart. The same thing can be said about David when he faced Goliath with a sling shot and five smooth stones. How will these items fell a man almost nine feet in height? The Philistines and the Israelites learned that the Lord is not concerned with the size of the boy in the fight, but the size of the fight in the boy. The Lord was with David. He could not lose.

Let’s take another look at the Pharisee, this time from the inside. His heart is black with sin. All the extra external deeds try to cover the fact that he thinks God must accept him because he’s so pious. He doesn’t do bad things. He does think them, though. He does speak them. Merely not acting out sin won’t save him. He goes to his house unjustified, for he has exalted himself.

On the other hand you have the tax collector. He’s as close to the chief of sinners as you’ll get this side of Paradise. Tax collectors usually take more than they should to make sure they are able to live well. Jesus doesn’t tell us if that’s the case with this tax collector in the parable, but knowing how tax collectors operate you wonder if those hearing the parable knew the guy was a cheat. He stands at a distance in the temple. He doesn’t lift his eyes to the heavens. Instead he beats his breast and says God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

The tax collector’s outside matches his inside. He knows what he does is wrong. He is also contrite about his sin. His humility pours out of him. The last person you’d expect to be humble is deeply humble.

Recall again our Lord’s words to Samuel: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. Alarming displays of piety tend to make us uncomfortable. The Pharisee’s display of piety may not make us uncomfortable, but it should. It’s all show. The tax collector looks like he’s putting on a show, but he’s not acting. Here’s a man realizing how evil he is before the Lord. He’s not thanking God for not being like everybody else. He’s begging for mercy, the mercy he will receive from a gracious God Who saves the better class of losers like the tax collector, but despises so-called winners like the Pharisee.

The alarming point of the parable isn’t so much about being more like the tax collector than the Pharisee. Jesus’ point here is to realize that it won’t do to put on airs before our heavenly Father. He alone is holy. He alone is all-powerful. He alone knows the heart of man. Trying to shield your heart from Him through acts of piety or blustery words will get you nowhere.

Take little Alexander in his baptism tonight. The boy is brought to the font with nothing. He is brought to receive everything from a gracious God Who loves this boy in spite of his sin. Using water and His Word, Alexander’s sin is washed away. He is a new creation, robed in Christ’s holy and perfect righteousness. He’s still a boy. He’ll still sin as long as he remains in the flesh. Yet His sin is paid in full because of Jesus Christ. His baptism isn’t a bargaining session. It’s all Jesus, all the time at the font. Jesus gives. Alexander receives.

So it continues for Alexander and for all of us in our lives. The preached Word hits our ears, showing us our sin. We see just how far short we are from His standard for us. Once repentance is worked in us, we are ready to receive the Good News that Christ has died for our sin and has been raised for our justification. We shall not die, but live. We can’t bargain for it. There’s nothing for us to say but Amen. Gift received. The Lord does all the heavy lifting. We receive all the benefits of His heavy lifting on our behalf.

We are all beggars. This is true. But it’s good to be a beggar before the gracious God Who gives. He gives daily bread. What is more, He also gives everlasting life and forgiveness of sins. We go home justified tonight because He has shown us who we truly are: sinners, yes, though forgiven, redeemed sinners in Jesus Christ. The God of Israel, the God of David, the God of the tax collector, He is our salvation.

Kurt Marquart on Preaching Law and Gospel

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make some things very clear. I am not advocating that we as truly evangelical preachers should imitate Calvinism or so-called “Evangelicalism”. The main use of the law is that which shows us our sin. And the Gospel, not the Law in any of its uses, must predominate in our preaching. Like humane physicians we must stress the diagnosis not for its own sake, but for the sake of the cure, and then concentrate on the glorious treasures of the love of God, poured out upon us so superabundantly in His blessed Son! It is our task to preach the love and joy of God into people’s hearts. But then we must also guide them towards God-pleasing expressions of their responding love for God. And in our non-sacramental age, in which all sorts of sacrament-substitutes flourish, such as alleged tongues and miracles, millennialist fantasies about Middle Eastern places and politics, “purpose-driven” psycho-babble, and the like, we must hold high the glory of the Gospel, which is “the power [dynamis] of God for salvation'” (Romans 1:16). Our preaching needs to serve and communicate the three permanent witnesses on earth, the spirit (or the blessed Gospel words which are spirit and life, St. John 6:63), the water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the New Testament, 1 John 5:8. It is through these blessed Gospel-channels that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners.

“The Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord”, from “You, My People, Shall Be Holy: A Festschrift in Honour of John W. Kleinig”, pages 122-123

MarquartPortrait

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.

Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Mark 8:1-9

Growing up in a county that once knew prosperity, and now living in a county that also once knew prosperity, the words from a couple of hymns take on personal meaning. We live “in these last days of great distress”; “these gray and latter days”. The memories of what some call “The Great Recession” still linger. Perhaps we are still in the throes of it here. Many hearts remain full of anxiety.

Saint Paul tells the church in Rome: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good…. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? The answer is nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even hard times serve for our own good.

Hard times serve for humble recognition of your sin. Four thousand men were in physical need in Mark chapter eight. They followed Jesus into the wilderness. They wanted to hear the Word of life. They forgot about earthly food to feast on the Bread of Life. They sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else follows from it. What happens in the wilderness with Jesus, His disciples, and four thousand men shows what happens when everything follows after seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Every weekend the Holy Spirit gathers the faithful together to be fed with the Bread of Life. The church bell rings. Hymns are sung. The Word is heard and proclaimed. The Lord’s Supper is given. You are blessed and go home forgiven. Who wouldn’t want to miss it?

Many people miss it to their own peril. Yes, life happens. Yes, you’re sick. Yes, you’re physically unable to be here. Yet so many miss what happens here because the pursuit of personal satisfaction has gotten in the way of true satisfaction in Christ. We pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, then spend our whole lives going after daily bread with a vengeance. Before you know it, well, there’s no time for Jesus. Maybe there’s a scattered moment or two in the day when you think about God, maybe say a quick prayer, then get back to racing and chasing after that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Even Christians are guilty of misplaced priorities. We are well-fed with things of this world. Granted there are wonderful moments of clarity, like this past Wednesday’s ingathering of food for our community food pantry. Those seem like fleeting moments, though. There’s always one more thing you need and then everything will be just so…until you discover you need just one more thing to round it all off. You set aside the heavenly things for yet another chase after earthly things. You still think everything is up to you to run the race to the bitter end. You forget that everything rests on the Lord blessing you with stewardship of all you have.

Hard times also serve for joyful confidence in the Lord’s help. Jesus says to His disciples: If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way. It’s as if Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them to come up with a solution. They have seen Jesus change water into wine. They have seen Him feed five thousand men with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Their response has to be: “Lord, You will make it happen. You alone can do everything.”

Nope. Their response sounds like our probable response. Where can anyone get enough bread to feed these people here in this deserted place? They can’t help it. Neither can we help it. When life is cruising along, we don’t lack in courage and confidence. We’re not bashful with advice and help. When a need comes, we are helpless and embarrassed. We cling to what we see and what we have. We start playing the numbers game like the disciples. Let’s see. Seven loaves of bread. A few small fish. That might feed four, but certainly not four thousand.

Jesus wants to help. Jesus does help in a big way. You get a sense something big is about to happen when He says I feel compassion for the crowd. Something big does happen. The crowd is told to sit down. Jesus took the seven loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. He gave the pieces to His disciples to distribute to the crowd, and they did so. They also had a few small fish. He blessed them and said that these should be distributed as well. The people ate and were satisfied.

The Lord Jesus Christ knows only one way to give: the way of more. Christ gives more than what anyone expected. We think of Psalm 145: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. These words are often heard when asking a blessing before a meal. What is not often heard are the verses that follow: The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Every day we see suffering before us. We probably know at least one family wondering where their next meal will appear. We probably know at least one family struggling to keep the power on or the rent paid. There are those who squander what is given to them. Yet there are those who are underemployed; those who suffer from generational poverty. Living hand to mouth is literally their way of life for decades. Whether you have much, or whether you have little, the Lord will make sure you are never skimp. He’s probably not going to plop millions of dollars into your lap. He will, however, make sure His children have what they need exactly when they need it.

You’ve seen it. You’ve lived it. There’s too much month and not enough money. Yet there is just enough to see you through, with perhaps some fragments left to tide you over until next month. You will eat and be satisfied. The Lord God will see to it. The Lord God also will see to it that you have satisfaction for your sins through Jesus Christ. Though you may be in debt over your head, your eternal debt is paid in full in the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no need for rambling and scrambling to try to make ends meet for God. He’s done everything necessary for you to live with Him for all eternity. Everything is accomplished in Christ. Nothing is left in your hands.

When you have enough, you have enough to give to others who haven’t enough. If the Lord works good in happy times, He also can work good in hard times. Hard times show you Who is truly in charge of everything. Hard times show to Whom everything belongs. Hard times gives you the opportunity to open your hand and let gratitude fall from it. When gratitude falls from your hand, you have a basket full of broken pieces that are used to satisfy the need of your neighbor. A basketful of broken pieces given to broken people is the love of God in Christ Jesus in action. As the Scriptures say, we love because He first loved us.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 5:17-26

Saint Paul summarizes the entire content of the Gospel in Second Corinthians chapter five: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. You have a different look at life once you take Paul’s words to heart. Everyone you know, everyone you meet, becomes someone for whom Christ Jesus died.

Why, then, have you not taken this truth to heart? Why do you remain angry with people? You may not be really angry with most people you know, but there are those who remain in your personal penalty box for some major or minor infraction. How does your keeping track of your neighbor’s sins against you stack up against your sins against not only them, but others whom you may not know, even against God Almighty? Today Jesus gives us encouragement to be reconciled to your brother.

When Jesus speaks about reconciliation, He is speaking about keeping the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. The Pharisees and experts in the law taught that not murdering someone meant you don’t take up a weapon and cause physical damage. What they forgot about the Fifth Commandment is that it includes more than a weapon. The Fifth Commandment covers every action that hurts or harms your neighbor.

Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in your arsenal is the least-likeliest to cause damage. The tongue causes more damage to your neighbor’s reputation than any other weapon. Your tongue causes irreconcilable differences between people. Irreconcilable differences are nothing other than continued hate. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Raca,” will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You fool!” will be in danger of hell fire.

The danger of hell fire alone ought to move you to reconcile with your brother. This is why the Law is still preached to Christians along with the Gospel. Some Christians think that, because Christ has shed blood for our sins, we no longer need to hear the Law. Christ has fulfilled the commandments in His loving act of reconciliation on our behalf. This is true. It stands at the center of everything we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. Yet sin remains in our mortal bodies. As long as we are this side of the grave, we are at the same time both justified and yet sinners.

Even the most subtle sin of destroying your neighbor’s reputation with your tongue, or with your fingers on a computer keyboard, needs warning and admonition. Your hurt or harm against your neighbor is murder. You not wanting to be reconciled with your brother when something comes between the two of you is murder. Don’t go on the Internet and tell everyone how much you hate someone, either in vague words or in direct speech. Don’t run his or her reputation through the mud, and then think about reconciling once you’ve done your damage. Be reconciled to your brother. Go. Now. Don’t wait. Reach an agreement with him quickly.

Our Lord’s harsh words concerning reconciliation preserve us from the Pharisaical self-righteousness. Oh, well, at least I didn’t hit her with a blackjack. He wasn’t shot on sight, like he should be. True, yes, but your words about murder did the job just fine. Your “at least” isn’t good enough for God, Who expects absolute, total, complete, and perfect righteousness in fulfilling the Law. No gift, however perfect, can placate our heavenly Father. Only obedience is expected; obedience you cannot give.

The Law brings knowledge of sin. The Law brings terror. Even when your heart is set on walking in the Lord’s precepts, there’s always that gnawing knowledge in the back of your head that your walk won’t walk the walk. You are guilty of the Fifth Commandment. You have murdered your neighbor in your thoughts, words, and even deeds. You may have not shot him, but you have hurt or harmed him. You deserve everlasting death. Remember, death isn’t merely assuming room temperature. Death is total absence from God and His gifts. Death is rejection of what He gives you in Christ. Death is final and eternal.

Once the Law of God works repentance, you are prepared to receive the comfort of the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment you deserved for murder. Even though Jesus never hurt or harmed His neighbor in their body, He suffered the punishment of a murderer. He was sent to the cross, while a murderer named Barabbas was set free. What horrible injustice! We deserve what should come to us for what we do. Jesus deserves none of it, yet takes on all of it for your sake. “All our debt/Thou hast paid/Peace with God once more is made./O Lord, have mercy.”

Be reconciled to your brother. Christ has died for their sin, too. Reckon even your worst enemy as one for whom Christ died. That’s hard to do when animosity builds against your adversary. Consider that Jesus willingly suffered for you in order to reconcile you to the Father. Even when you willingly do something good for your neighbor, you tend to count the cost. You seek limits on your kindness. Jesus’ love for sinners like you and me knows no limit. His death for your sins doesn’t stop being salvific after the 17,000th sin. You are His brother. He is reconciled to you in blood and in perfect, holy righteousness. These are yours in Christ. These are yours to give to your brother when you are reconciled with him.

Speaking from experience, there is no better feeling than when you speak a word of reconciliation to your brother with whom you have a disagreement. It is as if cool, clear, fresh water springs from your mouth into their heart. You feel the same thing when your reconciling words hit home with your brother.

Reconciliation, though, is more than good feelings. It is the way of the Christian life. Christians do not hold grudges against anyone. Christians do not count the cost of how many times we say “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven”. Christians forgive. Christians give forgiveness in a seemingly reckless way to all whom they have hurt or harmed. It once was said about Christians, “See how they love one another!” That love has its roots in the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We love because He first loved us. As He loved us, so we love our brother and live in peace with one another.

King David sings in Psalm 133: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Fellow oily bearded ones, rejoice! In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Believe it for His sake.

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11

(Condensed from 2007)

At Your Word.  Simon Peter’s three simple words carry a lot of comfort.  What could be so comforting about something that rolls off his tongue almost as an afterthought?  Simon and the other fishermen toiled all night and caught nothing.  Now Jesus wants to go fishing in the middle of the day?  Is He crazy?  That’s the worst time of day to catch fish.  The fish are all at the bottom.  It will be next to impossible to catch fish.

Not so with our Lord.  Perhaps Peter knew it.  Maybe that’s why he says at Your Word I will let down the net.  Or maybe it is an innocent comment.  Or maybe he thinks Jesus is crazy.

Peter sounds a lot like you, doesn’t he?  Our Lord promises to give you everything you need to support your body and life.  But you won’t take His Word at face value.  You suffer so much pain and loss that it seems as if He doesn’t care.  Even though you can’t always get what you want, you get what you need…and that’s never enough.  You pray give us this day our daily bread more out of habit rather than trust.

That’s the thrust of Peter’s seemingly meaningless remark.  Peter thinks, “Lord, you’re crazy to suggest we go fishing at this time of day.  We’ve worked hard all night for nothing.  Now you’re playing the fishing expert?  I’ll go along with it because You said so…but only because You said so.”

Peter’s three little words show a lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Now you see why Peter quotes Psalm 34 in today’s Epistle: He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  Peter learned the hard way to keep the Word of the Lord and not merely listen to it.

Peter’s words are spot on, I am a sinful man.  The miraculous catch of fish shows Peter that he is a sinner.  He did as the Lord commanded, but the intention of his deed was almost out of spite rather than a joyful response to Christ’s Word.

Then there is Peter’s request, depart from me.  Peter’s intentions were good.  But he missed the mark.  When God’s Word shows you are sinful, the last thing you need is the Savior leaving.  How often have you thought about not coming to Divine Service or not reading God’s Word because you are really sinful?  The last thing you need is to say something like “I’ve got to get right with God before God can get right with me.”  When you are at your lowest, that’s the perfect time to let go of your doubt and let God fill you with the sure and certain hope of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The pithy saying is true: God is in the small stuff.  You visit the doctor when you are ill.  You don’t think about the fact that the doctor is God’s Hands helping you get better.  You go and see him or her because they know how to help you.  Sometimes it takes a lot of prodding and poking to see a doctor.  We don’t like waiting.  It’s a hassle to deal with insurance.  The prescription may or may not help.  Because so many people bug you with comments about seeing a doctor, you go to get them off your back.  When you feel better, you thank your friends for annoying you like that.  You may even apologize for being hard-headed!

We have a Great Physician more powerful than any doctor in the world.  When you are sick in sin, you visit the House where the glory of the Lord dwells.  Sometimes you go out of pure habit.  Sometimes you go because there is no place left to turn.  You come to His House because He knows what you need and He is willing to give it to you.

Sometimes it takes a lot of poking and prodding to go to church.  Many people are anxious about coming back to church if they’ve been gone a while.  We don’t like the fact that church is different from the world.  It’s a hassle to dress up for church.  The prescription is not what we expect.  Yet the Lord gives the antidote to all your burdens in His House.  When you make it part of your weekly routine, you don’t even think twice about being here.  You come because you know you need more of what the Lord Christ offers here.

Jesus sends men to catch men alive.  That’s the thrust of what Jesus means when He tells Peter he will be a fisher of men.  Peter, James, John, and the rest will catch men alive and give them life.  It’s odd to say that the Twelve will catch men alive and give them life.  But that’s what happens when you are caught in the Lord’s net.  Outside the net, your life is really death.  Inside the net, your life is really life forever with the Lord.  It makes no sense to be caught in a net and be free.  But you are free from the trap of sin, death, and hell.  Holy Baptism brings you through water and makes you captive to Christ.  He catches you and cleans you with baptismal water.  He feeds you with His True Body and True Blood in His Supper.  He keeps you steadfast in the Faith to all eternity.

At Your Word.  What comfort those three little words bring!    The Lord catches you, keeps you safe in Him, and provides for you.  The Lord saves you not out of spite but out of great love and mercy.  It’s natural for us to think we’re smarter than our Lord God.  Nevertheless, we take Jesus at His Word and cling to His Word now and forever.