Monday, August 14, 2017

Alien work [Trinity 9; St. Luke 16:1-9]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

Whom we hear today, speaking to us, saying,

If we do not see and fear that every single one of our works, righteous or not, is a mortal sin, then they become mortal sins.

We have been told by Jesus, these last couple of weeks, that we shall not be entering into heaven. Whether it is because our righteousness is less than the scribes and Pharisees or that we simply cry out “Lord, lord” and are turned away at the gate.

Jesus even says elsewhere that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before us (Mt 21:31) and today Jesus explains that unless we are a dishonest manager, we will get no praise from Him.

Jesus even finishes off this parable in saying, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (v.10).

More directly, we are dishonest with little things, therefore we are dishonest in much. We will not get into heaven because we are not, nor would we admit to being prostitutes, swindlers, or poor. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus is saying here. However, in the real world we demand justice for such crimes.

We make laws against prostitutes and throw them in prison or fine them, because it offends the sensibilities of decent, god-fearing folk. We crack down on the thieves, because how dare someone attempt to relieve me of my private property. And we can’t have the poor living wherever they want; doorsteps, parks, alleys. They need to be kept under control. All for their own good, which of course only we know.

This signals our own virtue. We order and command that life be brought under how we see things and then claim the moral high ground in doing so. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless mortal sins, if worked without the fear of God. What is necessary to have a pure heart and true fear of God is for God to testify and God to cleanse our hearts by faith. (Acts 15:9)

In contrast, the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits. How can we say that??
Samuel says, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord takes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Sam. 2:6-7)
Isaiah says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isa. 52:13-14)

God’s works are “evil” to us, because “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In the sinner’s eyes, our works are good and God’s are bad. In this way, the dishonest steward gets himself in trouble. He does what is right in his own eyes. Yet, the mercy of God even exceeds our works and thoughts and, though, we muck it all up, Jesus can still work salvation through our misdeeds.

Isaiah calls God’s work strange and alien (Isa. 28:21) and commending a dishonest steward is strange and alien, much less the prostitute and the tax collector. But this is the beauty and wonder of the Gospel: that it is not dependent on how well we do things, but how well Jesus has done things for us. Salvation is a great work that is done outside of us and then brought inside us.

Jesus is not the alien or the stranger that rises from the dead, you are the alien who is dead in your sins. You are the strange thing on earth that has chosen death and the devil over Life and the Creator. Thus, when God comes to earth in the flesh, He is cast out because He is not like you.

That the prostitutes, tax collectors, and dishonest stewards get into heaven before you, is not because of who they are as sinners, but that they confess they are sinners to their Savior. Admitting your sin on earth, gets you 10-20 in the Federal prison. Confessing your sins to Jesus gets you a complete reprieve. Alien.

This is one of the key words in understanding what the Gospel is. It is an alien work. A work that needs to be done outside the sphere of sin, death, and the devil and imported. Your works are not alien to you. Christ’s works are.

Thus for the sake of the Gospel and to give glory to God’s holy Name, Jesus becomes the dishonest manager, taking the debts owed to His Father and paying them off, not just partially, but completely. He takes what is the Lord’s and “misuses” mercy by giving it to those who are “unworthy” and “unloved”. He wastes the Lord’s possessions by casting the pearls of forgiveness and salvation before swinely sinners.

Your debt, before the Father, is zero, for Christ’s sake.

Your works, good or bad, are now sanctified and made holy, for Christ’s sake.

Your heart is now the purest substance known to man solely because Jesus has said its so.

St. James says that if we fail in one part of the Law, we fail in all of it. St. John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. And this is the point. Just admit it. Just confess. If you do not, the Law of God will condemn you. If you do, it is Satan who will accuse you, but in the end he will be punished, not you.

In this way; in Confession and Absolution, you agree with the devil. But, only in the confession of your sins; that you are guilty of all and more that you don’t even know. He convinces you in two ways. The first is that you are a horrible sinner, dishonest in every way, undeserving of God’s favor. The second is that you are not a sinner.

This, then, is where Christ disagrees with both of you. Jesus disagrees with Satan that anyone on earth has sin, because He has taken all sin onto Himself. Jesus also disagrees and declares that sin is a part of every inch of this world. This is why salvation comes through the cross.

It is only through the death of the old man; the death of sin and death, that a new man can arise. It is only through the Crucifixion that the dishonest steward is made honest, the promiscuous is made chaste, and the thief is made honorable. Likewise, it is only through the confession of yours sins that the stink of all of them on you may be erased.

For the only unforgivable sin, is a sin that doesn’t exist. The alien work of Christ is Him taking all that sin as His own; being actually guilty of them, before the Father. For it is only Jesus Who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Apples and Apples [Trinity 8; St. Matthew 7:15-23]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

The Lord Jesus Christ speaks to us today:

Whenever a religious conversation goes to the topic of work and we hear Jesus talking about fruit, everyone invariably runs to St. Paul where he talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Then we all start singing the Sunday School song and everyone gets along, happily ever after, the end.

This happens because St. Paul is easier to understand than Jesus. Love, joy, peace, patience and the whole lot is easily put into practice and understood by physical and emotional beings, such as us. They are easy to access. Easy to process.

If I were to preach a sermon series on love and tell you that its all you need and its what makes the world go round, you’d nod your head and feel good about yourself. If I were to give a presentation on what joy is in the Bible and say you need to find more of it in your walk with Christ, you’d clamor for more.

If I were to chide you into being peacemakers, or becoming more humble, or committing random acts of kindness and goodness; you would tell me one of two things: either that you have already done those things from your youth up or that you don’t feel like it today.

But Jesus, God in the flesh; made man; creator of both spiritual and physical, is not only making a theological, spiritual point, here. If He were, these fruits would be pretty worthless for the kingdom of heaven, because just about everyone on earth can produce these fruits, though they not benefit from them eternally.

We do not have to be seminary trained in order to read St. Matthew and understand St. Matthew writing as St. Matthew. Meaning, we can let Jesus interpret Jesus, instead of St. Paul.

So, where else does Jesus talk about fruits, in St. Matthew’s gospel, and what does He mean by the word. In the parable of the Sower, we have seed being tossed onto the good soil, dying, and yielding fruit 100 times over. Here, we may see fruit as being those brought into the Church by the preaching of the Gospel. (Mt 13)

In a similar vein, Jesus talks about the wheat and the tares, when a man sows good seed and when the wheat sprouted, it showed its fruit and the tares also.

Likewise, towards the time of His crucifixion, Jesus brings again the fruit to mind when He tells of the last day saying, “when the time of fruit drew near, He sent His slaves to the vine growers to receive His fruit.” (Mt 21:34)

Here, the fruit has already been made ripe and perfect for harvest, is noticed, and is targeted for harvesting.

What then, does St. Paul’s fruits have to do with Jesus’ fruits? In the Gospel, Christ is speaking of the creation and recreation of baptized believers. Does this mean that St. Paul is talking of something else, as in our works, completely changing what Jesus had already said?

I’m presenting a false argument here, but in hopes that you see that one: St. Paul is not against Jesus and two: the fruits spoken of by Jesus are not simply good works, but Christ Himself.

Think about it. Limiting these fruits that Jesus speaks of to mere restraint from evil and sin would only be the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Meaning, anyone can check off all those items in St. Paul’s list and yet be the biggest unbeliever that ever walked the face of the earth.

The false prophet may, and most likely, do no evil better than you can, but he will refuse to be reconciled as is required by Jesus’ preaching here. He will refuse Christ and Him Crucified.

And “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” (Mt 15:13)

The seed the Father plants is Christ Crucified. He tosses out Jesus into the field of the corrupt world, Jesus falls into the ground, and dies. His death produces fruit 100 fold. The fruit that is produced from the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the salvation of the entire world.

And what does this salvation produce? Church-goers.
When a person has been converted by the Gospel and hears Jesus’ promises made to Him in His Church, that person searches, not for Jesus, but for His Church. This is because the Church of Christ is the only place on earth where God promises to be for you, and not against you, in Christ.

So now that we are in the one, true Church and we have found Jesus in the bread and wine, St. Paul tells us what else we find in this wonderful Savior: Love, joy, peace, etc. St. Paul does not contradict Jesus, but neither does St. Paul make a different way than through Jesus. For, unless you are a part of the only Good tree, you can do nothing.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

The branch can not produce fruit by itself and the diseased tree only brings forth evil fruit. Without Jesus, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gave out death. With Jesus, we now have the forgiveness of sins and access to the Tree of Life.

Not just “with Jesus” as some sort of tool. As if we bring out Jesus when He’s useful and set Him back on the shelf when we can do the rest. No, no. “With Jesus” means, quite literally, in Him. Just as branches that are grafted into the Good vine, so are you grafted into the Body of Christ. No longer separate.

It is no longer a matter of “what you can do on your own”, but a matter of what Jesus is doing, despite your sinful nature. In this way, you are with Jesus and you can do all the things that good fruit does. You will especially be brought past that scary bit about saying “Lord, lord” and not being let into the kingdom of the heavens.

So Jesus is the root, tree, and vine. He incorporates you into Himself by baptism and adorns His Church with you. Hanging you beside forgiveness, salvation, love, joy, peace, and patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, meekness, and self-control. All plentiful, all ripe, and already ready for the harvest.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Robert Barnes, martyr, confessor [Trinity 7, St. Mark 8:1-9]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.


Dr. Luther speaks: “This Dr. Robert Barnes, who, when with us, in his remarkable humility, would not allow himself to be called Doctor, called himself Antonius; for which he had his reasons. For previously he had been imprisoned in England by the holy bishops, the St. Papists, and had escaped with great difficulty. This Doctor, I say, we knew very well, and it is an especial joy to us to hear, that our good pious table companion, and guest of our home, has been so graciously called upon by God to shed his blood, for His dear Son’s sake, and to become a holy martyr. Thanks, praise and glory be to the Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, that He has permitted us to see again, as in the beginning, the times, wherein Christians who have eaten and drunk with us, are taken before our eyes, and from our eyes and sides, to become martyrs, i. e. to go to Heaven and become saints. Twenty years ago, who would have believed that Christ our Lord would be so near us, and, through His precious martyrs and dear saints, would eat and drink and speak and live at our table and home?”

In 1528, during a period of persecution under Henry VIII, Barnes fled to Germany for safe haven. While there, Barnes studied with Luther and published a book of Lutheran theology in English, which made its way across the channel and into English hands. Thomas More (a staunch Catholic and traditionalist) found not the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be most objectionable in Barnes’ book, rather the article that challenged the authority of the pope caused More the greatest consternation.

Dr. Barnes fought a two-front battle, until his martyrdom in 1540, not of his choosing, either. One was against his king and one was against the pope. Both of which were only brought on because he dared claim that justification was given by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith alone.

Yes, this very same Dr. Robert Barnes we commemorate today as a true reformer in England, had but few supporters there. Though he was very loyal to his king and his country, he still preached the truth, even though it went against his king and country.

And, as we heard from Dr. Luther, Barnes was a martyr. He confessed the faith to the point where in order to shut him up and move their own agenda along, he was murdered. There real question about any martyr is, what were they murdered for?

We reap the benefits of martyrs today. They paved the way for the Church throughout the ages and still continue to do so. Giving us such a great example of faith that we can’t help but be in awe of them.

So what is this great example of faith? What was so important to these martyrs that they felt the need to sacrifice themselves? When you really stop to think about it, you can’t even conceive of something like a martyr’s life, it doesn’t happen anymore in the USA. We think going 40 days without chocolate during Lent is martyrdom; we think giving all our free time to others is martyrdom.

No, we do not understand martyrdom.

Case in point. There is a popular method that is being taught on how to read and study the Bible. It is called “verse-mapping”. Maybe you have heard about it, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. The core of verse-mapping is being taught everywhere, just without the name.

In verse-mapping, you follow 7 steps (please don’t take notes):
First, you read a portion of Scripture assigned and examining it. Next, you write out one verse and leave plenty of space around it, between the lines and between the words.

Third, you personalize it: replace words like “you”, “we”, “us”, “them” with your name. Fourth, mark, circle, underline, highlight words and phrases that stand out to you.

Fifth, read the verse in context: Read the preceding and following verses or whole chapter. See how it ties in to how you read it. Sixth, read the verse in other translations: Note which words or phrases help you understand or apply the verse.

And finally, cross-reference the verse: Find, list and read other verses which speak to you about the same topic.

This is considered reading the Bible in true faith. This is considered a true Christian work which is to be suffered for and find one’s cross therein. Is this what Dr. Barnes died for?!

Or, how about this one? This method is called S.O.A.P. It stands for Scripture, observation, application, and prayer. Starting off, you write out the verse meaningful to you. Then you observe what was interesting to you or how God was speaking to you. Then you apply it to your life and let it change you. Finally, you pray that your application takes hold.

With these two methods, among others, your Bible will be so full of your name that you will not be able to differentiate between your Bible and your diary.

Yes, the martyrs did die, in a way, in order that you would have Scripture in your own language, but not this way. The problem here is that the only person that has even mentioned the name Jesus in this sermon, up to this point, has been Dr. Luther.

The problem with the way the modern man reads his bible is that he would not be martyred for such a thing. If Dr. Barnes would have presented these ways of reading Scripture to his king and to the pope, they would have let him live.

Why? Because none of the modern methods of reading the Bible will reveal to you justification by grace alone, through faith alone. What these methods give you is a self-help book. They give you more laws which you are to follow in order to make yourself feel better. They do not give Jesus and they do not give Him crucified.

Imagine how many books these people would sell if you were to write yourself into the crucifixion story? Or the story of Judas? None.

What we prayed for in our Collect this morning were profitable things. Not that which brings us cash money, but that which places us within and keeps us within the service of God. The hurtful things we prayed against are Original Sin and our actual sins.

For, in the Garden of Eden, God planted two trees: one was the Law and one was the Gospel. God gave the Law to Adam. He said do not eat. That’s it. Just one law. He gave no instructions about the Tree of Life, but we assume that Adam and Eve were eating, since God forbid their eating of it, after the Fall.

Regardless, the thing to notice is that the Tree that would produce death in the world was called “very good” by God on the day He rested from Creating all things. In similar manner, dying for the faith is also “very good”, in fact it is key, because Jesus’ greatest example to us, is His death, for the faith, on the cross.

The Tree of Life is now the tree on which Jesus hanged, suffered, and died. The Tree of Life is fed by the flowing Blood of Christ, just as we are fed by those hands, marked by nails. This grace-filled and undeserved feeding of the forgiveness of sins, is exactly the path to martyrdom.

In this confession; when you dare to claim that Jesus fed 4000 people, not just to show off, but to prefigure the Lord’s Supper, you are claiming justification by grace alone through faith alone and that, ladies and gentlemen, does not make you any friends.

Dr. Barnes did not confess on a burning stake these methods of reading Scripture, or just wanting to feel loved, or anything else in that vein. He confessed a God Who took on his very flesh, Who as a man took on the sins of the world knowing none of His own, was crucified, dies and was buried. Three days later He rose again in order to fulfill all things. And, dear Christians, when Jesus says all, He means all.

This Crucified Christ not only removes sin and guilt from the repentant sinner, but does all these things free of charge and no amount of personal study, piety, or investment is going to make Him give you more. Not from pope, not from king, and definitely not from inside yourself.

All of Scripture is about Jesus and all of salvation and forgiveness is from Jesus. You have no hand in the matter: before, during or after. All your preparation for martyrdom or the Last Day has already been accomplished in Christ.

In short, reading Scripture in any other way than how God intended, starts you on the path to removing Jesus from Scriptures. There can only be one subject and object of Scripture and that is the one Man by whom salvation has come into the world: Jesus.

Through faith, you have been grafted into the True Vine. By grace you have been saved from your blindness and deafness regarding God’s Word. For Christ’s sake alone, you are counted among the adopted sons of the Almighty.

This you do not get from reading yourself into Scripture, but only if you read Jesus into Scripture. But really, you don’t have to, because He is already there. Its just that sin still gets in the way and for this we cry out for mercy.

From the last words of Robert Barnes on 30 July 1540:

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgment? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Our Accuser [Trinity 6; St. Matthew 5:20-26]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

Who speaks to you all today saying,

In our lives of reading and studying God’s Word, we have been taught that we have an accuser. One who constantly stands before God accusing us of evil against Him. We immediately sort this out to be the devil, who is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.

Not withstanding, we also have Revelation 12:10 which says, “…the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” And we all know who it was that was cast down out of the heavens like lightning.

Also, St. Peter warns us that our “…adversary the devil prowls about as a roaring lion seeking who he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) So, it appears natural to equate the devil with the Accuser.

And I would say, in one sense, you are right. In another you are wrong. In the first place, yes, the devil sits and whispers in your ear all of your guilt and all of your prestige. He sits in front of God enumerating all this and you have no defense. The devil is an accuser.

In the sense you are wrong is this: the devil has nothing of himself. Meaning, he doesn’t just make up his accusations on his own. He creates nothing. He must use something in order to corrupt it. In your case, he uses everything you say, do, and think, against you. What he uses is not his own, but what is yours alone.

Take Proverbs 18:17, for instance. There, the Lord says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” Here, the word used for “another” is the word St. Matthew uses for “accuser” (LXX), in the Gospel today. This means that we think we get into heaven by making our case first, but there is always the cross-examination.

The word “another” can also mean a close acquaintance (Hebrew). Maybe a neighbor or friend, but in any case someone who is close to us; who knows us very well. This we would say, is not just ourselves, but the Almighty God.

God is the one Who knows us, our inward parts, and all our inward thinking. He numbers the very hairs on our heads. He has fashioned us from clay, breathed life into us, and has given us Law. A Law whose sole purpose is to reveal our sin and guilt.

Our neighbor is our adversary! What I mean by that is, you will never come across an alien or a foreign being and be able to say he is your adversary. Whenever you are in conflict with someone, anyone, it will always be with a neighbor; a close acquaintance, whom you are supposed to love as you love yourself.

We are so self-righteous that we think by demonizing a certain portion of the population of earth, that we can justify our sins against them, our hatred of them, and be righteous in God’s sight. And God’s Law reveals this to you. It fact, it does more than reveal this hatred, it also testifies against you as an adversary!

Repent. You now have not just one, not just two, but three adversaries who contend and bring forth compelling evidence towards your guilt. You have the devil. You have yourself; meaning the good you want to do and don’t do, and your neighbor. And you also have the Law of God which always accuses and always proclaims your guilt.

Just as Jesus has shown you today in taking “You shall not murder” all the way to “You are responsible even if your brother is angry at you.” Which, of course, is the impossible-to-reach “righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes”.

If man is so inundated with witnesses to his guilt, how then can the psalmist say, “Malicious witnesses rise up;
    they ask me of things that I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
    my soul is bereft.” (Ps. 35:11-12)??

And:
“Deliver me not over unto the will of mine adversaries: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.” (Ps. 27:12)??

The Law always accuses every man of guilt and in sin we even try to use that Law to justify our own sinfulness. Jesus is a man. The Law accused Jesus as well and He did not get off His cross until the last penny was paid for sin.

We, the Accused, rose up against the Judge, accused Him of His accusations against us, and put Him to death. We demand justice for sin, death, and corruption at the hands of God and we bang on the door, day and night, until we receive it in blood.

And so it was. Jesus stood before the angel of the Lord, accused and condemned, hanging on the cross. The perfectly clean, became unclean. The friend became the adversary. The innocent became guilty.

Jesus became a man in order that all the accusations of the holy Law and the devil now target Him instead of you. He is now the one who leaves His gift at His heavenly altar and is born of a virgin to reconcile with you. Jesus attempts to come to terms quickly with you, but fails. However, He fails successfully.

This is because Jesus’ righteousness does and has always exceeded the scribes and the Pharisees. And, according to our proverb quoted earlier, it is better to have the last word in court than the first. Before Jesus, death was the last word. After Jesus, life is now the last word.

This is because the Lord will weaken His adversary. All adversaries and accusers will perish. The adversary, all of them, will be taken away. Not your neighbor, but the sin that puts you and your neighbor at odds. The death that frightens and kills will be removed and the devil, the one who uses the Law of God to accuse His High priest and those whom He has baptized; this Accuser will be judged and will be removed.

For, now that we have been baptized into the Body of Christ, we love the Law, though it still accuses us. Yet, because we have this promise of redemption and salvation from God, we bang on the door to our heavenly judge demanding justice day and night, and God grants it.

Not because of our persistence or even because of our righteousness, but it is granted because justice has already been perfected. Redemption has already been completed. Forgiveness has already been filled up, in you, to the brim.

For Christ’s sake, we receive acquittal. For Christ’s glory, we are released from our debts. For Christ’s sake, we are delivered from false witnesses, because now no accusation sticks to the Christian. No charge holds water and no case is airtight.

All accusations brought against part of the Body of Christ are evil and do not stand. Only the cross now stands in the courtroom waiting for any and all pronouncements of sins and trespasses. For once they are announced, they are immediately dismissed. Christ has conquered them, Christ has paid for them, and Christ will never die again.

Monday, July 17, 2017

St. Ruth [Trinity 5; St. Luke 5:1-11]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

In the Gospel, you hear Jesus speaking to you saying,

What we see today in the casting of nets and the catching of a great number of fish, is the Gospel of Christ at work in the world. The sinner is happy in his home of sin and death and wishes nothing more than to be left alone there.

So when Jesus’ net comes crashing in, threatening his way of life and his very existence, he attempts to flee and resist. This is the perfect picture of the sinner before a holy God. Whether the sinner is saved or not, the struggle continues. You think you have lost your rebellious streak?

Yet, it is good for the net to enclose you. It is good for you to be ripped out of the only environment you think can preserve you. It is good for you to be caught and die, because Christ is the Fisherman; the One Who kills and makes alive again.

One perfect example of this is found in Ruth, whose day we commemorate today. If you remember the story of Ruth or not, make sure you go home and read it today. Let me sum up the book so you know what you’re reading: a man of God goes down to a foreign country, leaving his plentiful homeland, but his death there makes his people’s redemption, possible. (Hint: its about Jesus)

In the book of Ruth, we hear of Elimelech, which means God is King, a native of Bethlehem, and Naomi his wife and two sons, who leave the Promised Land in Bethlehem for the land of Moab.

Now, Moses and Joshua had just spent over 50 years of their lives trying to get Israel into the promised land and, in Ruth’s time, the Judges are very busy trying to KEEP Israel in the Promised Land, and Elimelech up and leaves.

A result of this is that his two sons take Moabite women for their wives, Orpah (not Oprah) and Ruth, an act explicitly forbidden by God (Deut. 7:3). So serious is this command, that in the Book of Ezra, all of Israel separate from their foreign wives, after the Babylonian Exile, in order to be complicit with God’s Law.

Well, as you would expect, removing yourself from God’s Promises only creates death. Thus, Elimelech and his two sons die of a famine, leaving the women to fend for themselves in a life bereft of life.

In this lifeless life, Naomi is overcome. Depressed, she returns to her hometown, the Lord’s land in Bethlehem, changes her name to Mara, which means “bitter”, and attempts to send her daughters-in-law away to start their own lives over and not remind her of her pain anymore.

Orpah leaves (big surprise), but even more surprising, Ruth does not leave. She was determined to have Mara (Naomi) as her mother-in-law and the Lord as her God until death them do part.

Now, the story belongs to Ruth. The net of God’s Word has enclosed Mara and Ruth, trapping them in His Word and ruining their lives, by dragging them out of their comfort in the desert of Moab, up into the Promised Land of Bethlehem. Ruth had been married to a child of promise, but now a widow, she was just an outsider, a Moabite outside the promises of God.

Her only hope lie, now, in the bitter arms of her mother-in-law. The one person who is a part of the covenant God made with the whole earth and, in taking care of Mara, she shows forth her own redemption. In their lifeless life, Mara and Ruth find a redeemer. Meaning they find one of Naomi’s kindred that is able not only to buy back the women’s birthrights as children of God, but also to marry Ruth and continue the blood line.

The two little fish, Naomi and Ruth, though trapped in the net, find that in their lifeless lives; their lives of sin and death, the Lord brings new life. Now they are fish that can live on land; Promised Land. For Boaz, the redeemer, buys back all of Elimelech’s stuff, claiming Naomi as true descendent and Ruth as his wife.

This new life; this Word of Life and Promise spoken by Jesus is the net which He casts at us. The horrible, harbinger of death of a net is lowered onto us, and we squirm. We kick, we fight, we bite the hands, anything in order to be let go; in order to be dropped back into the waters of everlasting death.

But the net does not let go. The Gospel goes out and accomplishes that purpose for which God sent it out: the salvation of the whole world. Naomi heard it and believed. Ruth heard it and was saved. You heard it and the Holy Spirit entered your life, giving you faith, which allows you to live in a world covered in the shadow of death.

Just what is this Word of Life and Promise that mightily brought Ruth out of the lifeless desert and into a new life of redemption? It wasn’t just Boaz, but their descendant. For if you look in the first chapter of St. Matthew, you will find a list and in that list are explicitly the names of Boaz and Ruth, great-grandfather and great-grandmother of Jesus.

Ruth’s story is not just history. Its not a story of losing love and finding it again. It is not even a story about hospitality and congeniality among family. It is The Story; the History of Salvation story in which Jesus, against all odds and ends, makes it into the womb of St. Mary.

In celebrating or commemorating St. Ruth, we are simply celebrating the Word being preached to us, in our hearing. The Law, always accusing, always killing; and the Gospel always comforting, always making the lifeless alive.

Hear the promises made to Ruth:
“Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” (1:8-9)

“I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.” (1:21)

“Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find grace.” (2:2)

“Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” (3:11)

“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” (3:18)

Boaz is representing Christ, who dwells in Bethlehem, whose wealth of grace and mercy, purchased on the cross, authorizes Him to buy back all that satan has corrupted and redeem it.

He has also purchased and won His Bride, the Church, who is our Mother that we return to, empty of this world, but who fills us with Christ and His forgiveness. Where we go to the fields of harvest and find nothing but grace. Wherein we wait upon Jesus to appear with the morning and find our redemption in the sacraments freely given.

All so that Jesus’ Name would be holy, that His legacy would not be cut off from the earth, for He has made you a promise. Jesus has promised that He would save you from your sins. Jesus has promised that you will not be slaves to sin forever. He has promised that you will be free just as He is free.

Hear, then, the Lord’s words to His Church; to you all, today:
“We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman… like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this … woman.” (4:11-12)

And finally, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter…who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (4:14-15) Who is, Christ the Lord, for your salvation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Judge not [Trinity 4; St. Luke 6:36-42]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

Jesus speaks to us today by the Gospel saying,

Ah, yes. The timeless phrase used and misused over and over and over again. These great condemning words of Jesus loom so large in our field of vision, that we immediately cast them upon others using them to silence anyone and anything that begins to disagree with our life choices.

“Judge not…” I can have a baby or not have a baby, with or without marriage. Its my life.

“Judge not…” God spoke to me and told me to do this. Are you saying I’m lying?

“Judge not…” just because I don’t believe every part of the Bible doesn’t mean I’m not Christian.

“Judge not…” I can marry whomever I want.

“judge not…” Look at your own life and you’re telling me what to do?

In fact, if we were to follow the world’s prescription on “not judging” there would be no world left. For, we would have “not judged” it into oblivion, following this or that desire or lust until everyone died.

This, of course, is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Judge not”, neither did He mean that religion is whatever anyone feels it is. What He meant was, there is judgment and, depending on who judges, will determine whether or not humanity has hope for an eternal future or an eternal hell.

Really, we can blame this all on God. It was He who said “judge not” but then tells us in Leviticus (19:15) and many other places TO judge. The Bible seems to contradict itself here. How do you explain this disconnect that gives apparent permission to everyone to be as vague as possible with “not judging”?

God is the Judge, you say? Well, that’s true. He says that He will judge the ends of the earth (1 Sam. 2:10). He says that the earth rejoices, because HE comes to judge the earth (1 Chron. 16:33).

That’s fine. He can be Judge, but what does that have to do with us? It doesn’t matter who is judging, it matters how they judge. God being a judge does not hold any special meaning in anything religious for us, if He just wants to set up court somewhere.

What’s not fine, is God claims to be judge and claims to do it with uprightness and equity (Ps. 9:8, 75:2). This is a problem, because we don’t see evidence for that. The earth is filled with evil that always wins out over good; where injustice rules the day; where the poor are oppressed. So whenever God, or anyone else, says they judge with equity, we say: prove it.

Worse than that, we go further and say that God judges unjustly! That He doesn’t play fair, that He picks favorites, and that He is too harsh and intolerant. In this way, we play both sides of the fence: we use “not judging” as an excuse for evil and we also use it to judge God.

Repent. One thing is certain: there must be judgment in this world, no matter who does it. In order for a civilized society to remain civilized, we must have judges. Likewise, if heaven is to remain pure and undefiled, there must be a judge who makes it so.

So we return to God’s claim of being a fair judge, but this time look at the evidence He provides in the affirmative.

The first piece of evidence is strange, for God says He is Judge and God is Spirit, but then His Word promises that man will be the judge. He tells Moses not only to judge, but to then continue to appoint judges over the people to judge in God’s place.

Most profoundly, the Lord says this: “And you, son of man, [will judge the bloody city]” and declare to her all her abominations (Eze. 22:2). Somehow, it seems, a man will be judge in God’s stead? But we all know we can’t trust men to do that work, for they are all corrupt.

To be a fair judge you must be a champion of justice and a punisher of evil and no one fits that bill, not even Jesus, for there were still many oppressed and victimized that He did nothing about. If there are those who have been plundered, you must rescue them (Jud. 2:16). The wicked must be killed and the poor, needy, and meek must be attended to (Isa. 11:4). More than that, you must be able to save even the wicked man.

Nowhere is this spelled out in Jesus’ words: “Judge not…”, but now it is a much bigger picture we must look at rather than just focusing on our lives and how we and others judge. Because our last piece of evidence clinches the case and leaves us in want.

The Lord tells us that it is He who is reviled and did not revile; He who suffered, but did not threaten and continued to trust Himself to the One Who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23).

God can judge, because He judges Jesus in your place. God’s judgments are unjust because they punish the innocent (Jesus), instead of the guilty, you. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” now is not a command to you, but a command to God Himself, Who has judged in the past and is therefore judged on the cross.

We are all victims; prisoners of our own devices. When we hear a command from God, we expect its meant for us, when it turns out it is meant for Jesus. In the cross, we see exactly how judgment is done uprightly and equitably. In the cross, we see exactly how God can be the judge and we can depend on Him to be impartial and fair.

This is because He has judged His own Son, His very essence, and found Him guilty. You want God to be an unfair judge, believe me. You want Him to find some other scapegoat to punish for your crimes against the crown.

If He does not, then it is your life that is forfeit upon another cross. Do not judge yourself or your neighbor worthy of the cross and death, when there is only One worthy to mount that tree and descend into the grave. Do not judge your neighbor to hell, when only One retains the honor of descending and ascending.

When Jesus tells you not to judge, He is telling you not to put anyone up on the cross except Him. Judge not, for the Lamb is worthy of honor, riches, glory, and wisdom, and strength, and power, and blessing, all gained in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thus, when we want to understand God’s claim to be Judge and His other claim to be fair and upright, you know, the kind of judge we want around, we don’t look at the evidence our eyes see, we look to the cross.

Jesus on the cross is the reason God is the Good Judge and that we can trust Him with such responsibility. He has given His promises and His judgments through Jesus and in the suffering and death of Jesus, we see and believe that all things work out for our good, even when they seem evil.

Jesus will be the Judge, because He is the one to share our humanity and suffer with us. God’s judgments are best and true, because Jesus has risen from the dead. He was crucified on our behalf and therefore can be trusted. Jesus is the only reason God has any claim to be Judge and Jesus is the only reason we find mercy and pardon, rather than guilt and condemnation in God’s Judgments.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The woman You gave me [The Visitation; St. Luke 1:39-45]

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.

Jesus speaks to you today, saying,

Ah, the question that forever plagues Lutherans: 
what to do with Mary?

On one side, we do not want to fall into the Roman Catholic camp and confess her as co-redeemer alongside Jesus. Neither do we want to fall into the Protestant camp and completely throw her under the bus.

We can’t side with the Romans, because Scripture doesn’t say she hears prayers or comforts us. We can’t side with the Protestants because Scripture speaks so highly of her. So what is a poor Lutheran seeking the truth supposed to do?

Our first answer should be God’s answer, meaning what we hear in the Bible. What we find are two, very important people who say some pretty uncomfortable sounding things to St. Mary. The first is the Archangel Gabriel. I don’t know what you think, but he’s pretty high up the food chain.

He says, “Greetings, Highly Favored One”. No one else in the Bible is greeted as St. Mary is. The second address comes from her cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Elizabeth greets Mary in the Spirit calling her the “mother of my Lord”. In other words the mother of God.

A third reference we don’t always think of, is from Moses’ first book, Genesis. In it, the Lord addresses the Serpent after the Fall and promises redemption. God says to the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

In Scripture, there is a woman who is highly-favored, who is Mother, and who is at odds with the serpent. Now, Scripture talks about women a lot. Some of it confusing, but most of it liberating. More liberating than most people think. Scripture also gives women the vocation of motherhood, which is highly prized and highly protected.

But, in the Bible there is one woman whose worth is far above jewels (Prov. 31:10), a woman who is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev. 12:1), and one woman whose children will be more than the children of her who is married (Isa. 54:1).

Now, that may be Eve. Adam did name her the mother of all the living, but God’s Messiah was not any of her sons. That may also be Mary. Since she birthed the Lord of all Creation, you’d think she would be the leading candidate for those titles.

However, there is also a Bride in the running. A mysterious Bride who speaks and is spoken to in the Song of Solomon. A pure Bride who is purchased and won, made pure and holy, by her Husband.

In Revelation, the angel says this: “’Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:9-14)

The true woman of Scripture is the Bride of Christ, His Church, wherein are found all the blessings and gifts purchased and won upon the cross. It is protected by the high walls of the Word, it is adorned with the rare jewel of the cross of Christ, God’s glory, and the doctrine of the 12 tribes and the 12 Apostles are its entrances and foundations.

What we hear in St. Mary and St. Eve and all the baptized Christian women in our own lives is a shadow and reflection of the one, true Church. The Church who is so highly favored, that Jesus dies to purify her completely. The Church who holds so tightly to the Gospel and the Sacraments that she is afflicted by the serpent. The Church who is the Body of Christ and is with Him for all eternity.

Just as St. Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of the Faith, so too does our holy mother the Church give birth to us by water and the Word. Just as St. Mary nurtured the one, true God, the Church brings us up in the Word. And just as Jesus nursed at St. Mary’s breasts, so too are we nursed by the true Body and Blood of Christ.

So, in the first place, St. Mary and all the women of the Bible should immediately remind us of the redeemed Church of Christ, of which we are a part. In the second place, St. Mary, like St. Peter, is special. No bones about it. How special? So special that she was a virgin and remained so even after giving birth, according to Jesus.

Now was she a perpetual virgin, having no more children after Jesus? When the Bible says “brothers and sisters of Jesus” is it literal or does it mean cousins or spiritual siblings? We don’t know. You can make the case for both; that she had other children or that she didn’t.

In either case, Gabriel is sent specifically to Mary, not just to give our children something to act out at Christmas, but to usher in the age of the Church. The age where true salvation and forgiveness is found outside Temples of stone and mortar.

For being birthed outside the Temple, Jesus teaches that now the whole world is sanctified as the Temple, or at least can house the Temple. Now that righteousness has been born apart from the Law, anywhere two or three are gathered can become, can manifest the Temple among them, in faith.

Jesus does manifest Himself among us. He does cover the sins of the whole world, by grace alone, and it is faith alone that makes all this possible for you. This same faith that entered into St. Mary, through her ear, comes to you today, revealing to you the specific location of your Savior.

There is a narrow way which the Christian walks, where St. Mary is not any more special than any other saint and yet more important than all of them. The Christian can be comfortable is hearing praises sung for St. Mary and not talking about her for quite awhile.

In any case, Jesus is the result of St. Mary and her faith. She was a necessary stop along the way to the cross and even before that, it was necessary for Jesus to receive a true body and soul through His mother, in order that He would act in our place under the Law and fulfill it for us. And, with the body and soul, be able to suffer and die for our guilt, because we failed to keep the Law.