Monday, June 27, 2016

St. Peter: the rock; the author [St. Luke 5:1-11]

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

There is no getting around it. As much as we want to disagree with our Roman Catholic friends, St. Luke puts St. Peter front and center, today in the Gospel. He is the rock, the leader of the 12, and spokesman for them. In hearing Jesus, St. Peter is now to become a different man in order to witness a greater miracle than just catching a bunch of fish.

This greater miracle is not going to be a mountain-top experience, its not going to be a personal revelation, its quite possibly not even the resurrection of Christ Himself. No, the greater miracle is smaller than all of that. It is simply the conversion of a sinner by hearing the Word of God.

That’s right. Hearing the Word of God is a miracle, in and of itself. No other God in the history of the world has ever held conversation with man face to face, made good on His promises, and doesn’t change. And, St. Peter, like this crowd, did just that: heard the Word of God.

In the first place, when sinful Peter hears the Word of God, he is self-secure. Just before this event, his mother-in-law was sick, but Jesus healed her. St. Peter had heard the Word of God, seen Him in action and yet continued on in life as if nothing had happened.

He is secure in his sinful ways and wishes not to depart from them. He wishes to retain his sin and love them and can not take comfort in the love and grace of God. He is thankful for the restoration of his mother, but believes nothing more needs to be done that he can’t do himself.

In the episode of the great catch of fish, St. Peter is called directly by Jesus, but he is only awakened. In this awakened state he begins to believe, but now knows there are things he must do.

The first of which is to repent of his sins, of which he begins to find too many. In one way, the large number of fish caught reveal to St. Peter the large amount of sin that he has, for he has toiled all night in search of all his sin, by his own hands, and has come up with nothing.

This pattern does not end for St. Peter with him following Jesus at the end of this reading. He remains in this awakened state even when the dawning of Easter is upon him. Throughout the gospel, St. Peter continues to hear that his sins are abominable and condemnable. He continues to learn that dregs can not satisfy an hungry soul.

They do give a sense of tumbling recklessness, where anything is permissible, but that is not peace. They do feed your imagination, giving you misplaced senses of awe, wonder, and majesty, but they offer no refreshing hope of conversion. 

Jesus reveals to us what it means to not only be truly awakened, but also truly converted and St. Peter shows this to us. Acknowledging Jesus as true God and true man, believing He is crucified and risen for the salvation of the whole world, and that the Call of St. Peter has something to do with all that, is the point.

It is no coincidence that Jesus has 2 boats, 2 testaments, and 2 natures. It is not background story that water and boats appear again and again in all of Scripture. Jesus is at certain places at certain times to reveal sin to self-secure sinners and also to reveal their Savior and He does so through St, Peter and the Apostles.

It is not the way St. Peter acts. It is not the way he works. It is not the great example of faith that he displays. The only purpose St. Peter, or any other man in holy Scriptures, is there is to hand down the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to you.

Prophetic Scriptures are defined by two things: 1) they tell of a promised Messiah in every word and 2) they are written by the prophets. The Apostolic Scriptures are similar yet they differ in two small points: 1) they tell of a Messiah that is here now and 2) they are written by the Apostles.

From the creation of the world, to the crossing of the Red Sea, to catching a bunch of fish, Jesus has declared that what these men write down is holy. And just to make sure that point sticks, He becomes a man, Himself, and speaks as a man, even though He is also fully God.

For the sinner, God is not approachable. If we can not get near to God, there is no point in Him helping us do anything. If we can not speak with Him, there is no point in Him speaking to us. If we can not commune with Him, then there is no point to any protection or forgiveness He offers, because it would all mean nothing.

That is only if God were far away. In Christ, God becomes near. God does not just observe and interject here and there at random. In Jesus, God interacts and intercedes, physically. There is no call for you to be a fisherman, not catch fish, and then have God give you a great big catch, even metaphorically, in your life. In Jesus, God is speaking, men are hearing and are writing it down in the Spirit.

The reason you know what Jesus is telling you, and that it is in the Bible, is because you are hearing His Word and what He is teaching is that faith comes by hearing; hearing the Word of God, only: Scripture alone. No other revelation is acceptable. In no other place, except the Bible, is God handing out salvation.

Even the fish get it and much to our shame, they are the first to respond in this scene. First, there were no fish. Jesus spoke, then there were fish. You were caught in the Gospel the same way. First, there was no Church, but by the preaching of God’s Word, today the Church is practically full.

And on the Last Day, you will see that the Church is completely full. Not because St. Peter went fishing one day and certainly not because you had a vision. The Church is filled and God’s Kingdom is extended when His Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered according to it.

This is public knowledge. The Lord never spoke to someone privately and if He did, it was written down. Not too private anymore. Never believe a private revelation unless it is the Words of Scripture. The Prophets and the Apostles died to get them to you in order that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

You hear the Word of God and you see it fulfilled in the open. The Christ suffers and dies, He rises again three days later, and He makes it so the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. Period. No commas, no additions, no editing. Salvation is found in no man, except the God-man, Christ Jesus, and only in His Word: the Holy Bible.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Logs and specks [Trinity 4; St. Luke 6:36-42]

Jesus speaks to us today by the Gospel saying,

I put it before you today that if you were able to remove the plank from your eye, then the prophecy of old would come true, that your eyes will be opened and you will know good and evil. However, you know that those were the devil’s words and not God’s.

There are two commands from Jesus today: take you own plank out and take your brother’s speck out. So do you want eyes that see or do you not, because it appears as if the devil and Jesus are saying the same thing here.

To complicate things even further, Jesus says in John “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”(9:41). Also, your favorite song states that you were once blind, but now you see.

So, hypocrite, what is it going to be? Will you desire your sight, to see good and evil, in order that you see more good and evil than you can handle OR will you remain blind and keep the sins you already know and love?

I am not trying to trick you and neither is Jesus. You will be tricked if you feel that there just must be some thing you can do about it all, but if you are saved by faith alone then all you hear is God’s revelation of your own sin and Christ’s absolution.

A true plank in the eye is not just some misguided principles, it is anything that turns you away from the person, words, and work of Jesus. Anything that says, “Jesus didn’t really say that…”.

For the Pharisees, they continued to condemn Jesus and His disciples by the Word of God. They refused to listen to God’s interpretation, from His own mouth of flesh, and instead interpreted holy Scripture according to their thinking and pleasure.

For the modern world, there are too many to list, but for an example we can look at what is said about marriage. The modern American thinker condemns marriage, not upfront, but in a round about way. By refusing to see the real good of getting and being married, marriage is rejected.

It is said that it is better NOT to be married. Then you are free from the responsibility of children and the drudgery of being with just one person forever. Keep your options open. Don’t have children. All this is taught and yet their only alternative is to wallow in prostitution and adultery.

Repent. You think you have no plank in your eye. And this is Jesus’ point. You presume to see the tiny faults of your neighbor and point them out, as I just did, but you believe that those things are not in your life.

You believe that, because you have your life under reasonable self-control, that your plank does not exist. In fact, you are so plank-free that you just want God to use you to extend His kingdom. You are so plank-free that you want some greater experience with God, because you have out-grown His milky Word and are mature enough for solid theology.

Dear Christians, true mercy means that you are performing speck-surgery on each and every person of the world, every minute of the day and being successful. True non-judgment means you let your neighbor get away with wronging and defrauding you, every time. True forgiveness means to really forgive and mean it, not just forgetting about it.

Jesus would rather that He be defrauded in the front of all people, than that you remain with a plank in your eye. Jesus would rather be wronged and falsely accused, than allow you to determine which is the best way to remove your plank. Jesus would rather that His Name, the Name of the Almighty, everlasting God, be dragged through the mud and open to all accusation and criticism, than you to expend one iota of energy on doubting your forgiveness.

Jesus is as merciful as His Father in heaven. Jesus gathers all those with specks and planks in their eyes and performs successful surgery. Like a magnet, the cross of Jesus forcibly collects all the specks and planks, making it incredibly large. And when it looks like God can not take all that suffering, He rises from the dead.

Jesus is non-judgmental. The unlimited atonement He paid for in holy, precious Blood, covers ALL sin. His forgiveness goes so far as to plead for those who don’t even believe in Him and who wallow in their wickedness.

Unlike your mercy, judgment, and forgiveness, Jesus’ actually does what it says its going to do. Being both God and man, Jesus can pronounce judgment upon sin, death, and the devil and they are judged and condemned. Jesus can unleash His mercy on whomever He wishes and they will have mercy, regardless of who they are.

Jesus can proclaim salvation to the entire world and it will be true, simply because He said it and it is all yours simply because He says so, in His Word.

What a wonderful comfort it is to know that when we start to really concentrate on planks and specks and find no end to them within ourselves, that there is no lack of the Blood of Christ to cover them. What a joy to know that though we fail and come short of true mercy and true sight, that the Body of Christ works these out for us perfectly.

God gives no instruction manual on how to remove your plank or your neighbor’s speck and that is for the express purpose of not letting you do it. Because, when you remove one plank or speck, two take its place. There is no end to sin in you or your neighbor and both are fatal to the eye. God gives no manual, but He does give His Son.

These are what build up the cross and yet we are not condemned, but set free. Our sins have caused the suffering and anguish of the God-man, Jesus, yet we are given prosperity; you are given the fruits of the wronging and defrauding of God and they are eternal life and forgiveness.

You receive your just desserts, not from your transgressions, but from the suffering and death of Jesus. And those desserts really are desserts, not sarcastic ones. You really do get to sit at the King’s table, wear the King’s clothes, and sleep in the King’s bed, because you have been given, for free, true Faith.

And this Faith is the only thing that lays hold of God’s grace in Christ, and justifies you before Him. Faith alone, without any work, lays hold of God’s blessings. Though we pray for a sin-free life or rescue from misguided principles, salvation is only to be had by a clean heart and a right Spirit.

In this way, even the twisted words of Satan to Eve come true, by the grace of God. IN sin your eyes have been opened to see good and evil just like God. It has come to pass just as the devil said it would.

But God has taken you one step over that line. Not only are you like god in knowing things, but you are now physically a part of Him. In Christ, you don’t just think and act like God as child’s play or pretend, you are gods. Christ has assumed your mortal flesh into His immortal flesh, something that the devil couldn’t even foresee or want.

You are now the god of this world you always wanted to be, except through suffering and death, for this godliness is attained only through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, not your own. You now see good and evil, not in order to use it to judge others, but to judge yourself dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Your condemnation has been removed. You judgment has been meted out upon Christ. The forgiveness and mercy you receive from the Father, at the hand of Jesus is full and complete. You now receive the Good measure which overflows from the side of Christ, into you mouth, for the forgiveness of your sin.

Jesus’ solution to the pandemic of planks and specks is to dissolve them Himself in Body and Blood given and shed for you. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Seekers [Trinity 2; St. Luke 14:15-24]

Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

You may be familiar with Psalm 14 as the April fool’s day psalm, for it says, The fool says in his heart, “There is no God. But King David does not stop there. He goes on to speak of those that seek out God, saying:
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.”

The Lord looks down from heaven and sees that there are NONE that seek after Him. In fact, this is what our hymn of the day was lamenting, that there are but a few within the fold of the Lord and that faith seems quenched on every hand.

And yet we hear Isaiah giving us a command from God telling us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” (Isa. 55:6).  Even Jesus gives the command to seek first the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33).

You are commanded to seek God and many are ready and willing to tell you how to do so and may even use holy Scripture to tell you. The usual place they start, however, is outside of holy Scripture. They demand that you have a “personal relationship” to God, to always desire more of Him, and to fill the vacuum in your life with only Him.

If you would just love God at the center of all you do, spend a lot of alone time with Him, and integrate Him into every area of your life, then you will have “seeked” the Lord. Sounds as though you are trying to find a girlfriend. It sounds as though you are seeking someone to marry. This is not what God has told you to do.

There is no way you can have a personal relationship with God. Just reading the Bible often does not produce the sort of relationship God demands. Neither do you desire more of God, because that means giving up your life and everything that you are. God doesn’t just want the small part of your heart with a vacuum to be filled, He wants all of it.

Neither do you love God. If you try to put YOUR love for God at the center, then you are only loving yourself and your love, not God. If you spend alone time with God, you are not only neglecting your neighbor, but you are putting your trust in how much time YOU spend, not God.

And finally, if YOU are working YOUR hardest to put YOUR God into everything YOU do, then once again, it is all about you. Do you see what happens here? If you are seeking, then YOU are doing the work and therefore YOU get the glory. You, you, you.

Listening to the Gospel once again, we hear of a place where everything is already ready; already completed; already worked for. Think about it. If you are God commanding that You be sought after you are not going to leave a secret code behind nor are you going to hide yourself in earthly blessings or even other people.

If you want to be found, you will make it so you can be found. This is not hide and seek, this is life and death, because if you do not find God, you die eternally. But, if you do find Him, you live eternally and God wants everyone to live forever.

Jesus is the only way and the only reason you have to say that God wants to be found. It is only from Jesus that you hear and know that the Lord is merciful and loving. Jesus, on the cross, is God, saying to the world, “Here am I. Send me, send me.”

Through the cross, Jesus makes Himself painfully obvious and He does so in His Church, but still you do not seek Him. He gives you blessings and cares for your every need, and still you do not seek Him. He makes everything around you point to Himself and still you look in every other place except His Church.

One of the lessons from the Gospel is that God does not hide Himself in success; meaning, the success you have in life is not equivalent to how much God is with you. In fact, as Lazarus taught us last week, it is the opposite. It appears as if, if God is with you, then you will not be successful.

Who gets into this great and wonderful feast? Who is it that receives comfort next to Abraham? Seeking the Lord while He may be found means listening to Isaiah as he speaks more of God’ own words, saying:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,  and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa.55:6-9)

Did you never think why your thoughts are not God’s thoughts? You think rich; God thinks poor. You think full; God thinks empty. You think life; God thinks death. The only way for the wicked to forsake his way is to die to sin. His only chance to return to the Lord is by denying himself. A true seeker of God will be seeking forgiveness for being unable to do all these things.

This is what the Lord means by having compassion and abundantly pardoning. It means you need compassion and you need an abundance of pardon. It means that when you hear the Lord forgiving sins, there it is that you have found Him. For, when you hear the word of the Cross, your search is over.

Jesus’ Church will be filled. That is the promise. Whether or not we are in it, depends on whether or not Christ has died for us. Whether we are in or not depends on if we are poor, crippled, blind, or lame.

This is your cross to bear and your constant need for the Church which not only tells you of your utter depravity, but also of your abundant pardon. You do not seek Jesus, Jesus seeks you. He seeks you out in your poverty of spirit; your crippled will; your blindness to sin, and lameness on the Way.

He seeks you out because He has a baptism to give to you. He has a kingdom that has been prepared for you since the foundation of the world. There is a rich Spirit being handed out for free. There is wholeness of bodily senses given to you in the perfected Body of Christ.

For as much as I’ve talked about it, do not listen to all that talk of “uninvited”, or “poor, crippled, blind, and lame”. Because that is not you anymore. You were that way, but not anymore. You still struggle with sin and will have to face death, but they have no power over you anymore.

For you have died to sin and have been baptized into the one true faith, found only in the Body of Christ. You have heard the Gospel and believed that where it is preached in its purity, there the Church of Christ is. You have faith in the words “given and shed for you” and therefore have exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.

The Lord “may be found” in His Church. The Lord is near, in His Church. His Bride is dear to Him and will never be forsaken. These promises are also for you because you find yourself in that same Church. Not just as a weekly participant and financier, but as a bodily member; a grafted in branch; an adopted son.

This place where the Lord is forgiving sins, is your home. This place where the Lord is handing out salvation, is your rightful throne. This place where heaven meets earth in a beautiful assumption of the flesh, is where you belong.

For you have been brought in, through the cross. You have been invited, in Christ. You are made whole and are forgiven, in Faith alone. Looking back at the first verse of the Gospel today, we now re-work this man’s wrong words for him. It is not, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”, but “Blessed is everyone who, right now, eats the Bread of Heaven in the Church of God”. For, now has Christ passed through life and death and lives still. It is today that is the day of salvation for you.