Monday, September 18, 2017

Prudence [Trinity 14; St. Luke 17:11-19]


It is Jesus Who speaks in your hearing today, saying:

This is a wise thing that these 10 lepers do. They go to Jesus. This is a wise decision because they have reasoned that Jesus is a healer. They have heard of Jesus’ deeds and from that deduced that He would do the same to them, if they could just get to Him.

This wisdom, however, only saves 1 of the ten. Though all ten were wise and infected, perfectly suited to receive healing, only one had been given saving faith. Why this difference.

I would say that this 10th leper had wisdom applied to practice, or prudence. He did not simply go to a place or a person solely for his own gain, but recognizing true goodness in Jesus, he turns back to stay with Him, where this true goodness is.

Wisdom is finding the good. Prudence is staying with the good and returning to it again and again. Thus, prudence turns out to be one of the four cardinal virtues, meaning anyone can practice them even without a gift from God. The other three are justice, fortitude, and temperance.

While the world turns away from virtue, it is good for us to practice a life full of virtue. Not because we will become famous or rich or healed by Jesus, but because an unexamined life is not worth living and indeed our own culture has proved this for us.

Every part of the cultural revolution in the United States has failed virtue. Whether it’s the sexual revolution, education revolution, or scientific revolution. We were given a republic that guaranteed a wide berth for liberty and for local oversight, with the central government reserved only for matters that were truly national, we now face tyranny.

We were given a clean slate and a very intriguing plot line for culture and community. We were a civil melting pot, able to live together in peace with those who differed from us. So we need to clear out the garbage, admit our errors, and rebuild.

Repent. Every single pagan philosopher of the ancient world said that if you wanted to be free, you had to learn the hard ways of virtue and that the worst form of slavery was slavery to your own appetites. We must find the good and return to it.

Joseph, of the coat of many colors fame, was called prudent by Pharaoh when he interpreted his dream and was consequently set as second in command of all Egypt’s empire (Gen. 41:33, 39). King Solomon of course, on top of his unmatched wisdom was also prudent (1 Ki. 3:12).

Jesus tells us the prudent man builds his house upon the rock, so it won’t wash away (Mt. 7:24). There are 5 prudent virgins who make it into the marriage feast of the Bridegroom (Mt. 25) and there is a faithful and prudent slave who, when the Lord returns to His house, finds him so, giving food at the proper time (Mt. 24:45).

There is also the downside to virtue, however. The Serpent in the garden of Eden is called “more prudent than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made” (Gen. 3:1). And most of St. Paul’s talk about prudence is in the negative, as in don’t be prudent in your own eyes (i.e. Rom. 11:25; 12:16). Again, anyone can practice it.

So why bother?

The key is in the phrase, “then one turned back”. Virtue will not save us from death, but it sure points the world in the right direction. God is full of all virtue, yes, and yet we see Jesus acting imprudent with these 10 lepers. He wastes a good healing miracle on ungrateful louts and only gets a 10% return on His investment. Not wise. Not prudent.

Virtue gets us halfway, but halfway is not good enough. Because Jesus is not numbered with the self-righteous, He is numbered with the unvirtuous, the transgressors. Virtue may save our culture, but it will not lead us to Jesus. Jesus is where prudence means wasting all that you have for the sake of one sinner repenting.

Thus, we see that what we think is prudence is not really prudence. What we see as 1 sinner making the right decision, is really one sinner being saved before even thinking about turning around. What we think is a parable about 10 lepers, is really a picture of a leprous Savior.

Jesus takes on your skin, which means He takes on all the disease that goes with it. He is numbered with transgressors and lepers alike, taking their disease in exchange for His health. He walks with all of us in our disease filled sin and corruption. Yet in all that He does not sin. The nine; all of creation, continue to walk in sin and death. The One, true Son of God, turns back.

Jesus is the one, born of a woman, that turned back; the only one to turn back to God. Multiple times the Lord has called His people to repent and turn to Him, even in the New Testament, but we would not and do not. Not at His Incarnation. Not at His miracles. Not at His cross. Not at His empty tomb.

But that is where Jesus went. We find our unvirtuous God handing out godly virtue and unlimited grace to all who have faith, and faith comes only by hearing, and hearing only by the Holy Ghost.

Thus true virtue is only found in the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in wisdom points us to Christ and in prudence drags us to His Church again and again. Virtue is not virtue if practiced in sin, but in faith the Christian stands up against even death itself.

Because Jesus has done this for you, in a body just like yours. Thus, He heals you in a body like yours. He comes to you in a body like yours. He feeds you, speaks to you, washes you with a body and creates a bodily faith that saves even you.

Wisdom is finding out that Jesus lives with His Church. Prudence is constantly returning to where Jesus is giving food at the proper time: His true Body and His true Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Better-than-good Samaritan [Trinity 13; St. Luke 10:23-37]


Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

Ah. The Good Samaritan. Everyone’s favorite parable for three reasons: 1) it seems upbeat and apparently shows the good in people, 2) it sets a nice, low bar for having mercy (one neighbor), and 3) we don’t need Jesus to be a Good Samaritan.

The first step to becoming a good Samaritan is being able to say, “I am wrong”. That is what the Samaritan does in this story. He thought he had plans for the day, but he was wrong. God had other plans in that he was to find a neighbor in need.

The people in Texas and Florida had plans. God had other plans. Now you have other plans. God places neighbors in your path so that you, too might be like this Good Samaritan, find a neighbor in need, and show him mercy.

And that’s a good thing. We can send money or go ourselves and help a few people or for a little while and call it a day. We have the godly (ungodly?) advantage of not being in danger from hurricanes and so have a whole home to come back to.

Another good thing is there are not just churches helping. In fact, most of the religious help is about as bad as the government help: corrupt and not helpful. But there are many organizations not even associated with religion helping. In fact, what has saved most of Texas at this point is not federal aid, but local aid not handing out bibles, but handing out hands.

We would call that signs of humanity. People scraping well laid plans and giving selfless aid instead. But robbery and snobbery are also signs of humanity and that certainly is still going on in these devastated areas.

Thus, in this parable, Jesus gives us a micro picture of the world we live in. He shows humanity in action: those working to the betterment of their own lives, by whatever means. The robbers had plans to be lazy that day, but found they could increase their holdings by robbing this man.

The priest and the Levite had plans to do their business quickly and without interruption, but found that they were inconvenienced, maybe even by a prick of conscience, along the way. The innkeeper had plans to run a clean and well-kept inn, but found this uppity patron who forces him to run a hospital instead.

We are all eager to confirm “helping our neighbor” and condemn those who don’t. We wholeheartedly accept Jesus’ “loving thy neighbor” bit, but only when it has to do with our neighbor’s actions towards us. We demand people recognize our efforts. We demand that others return our calls and treat us with the respect we deserve.

We expect all to stomach our bad moods, our short temper, and our selfishness. We groan and complain when our boss demands better work from us and shorter breaks. We are hurt, angry, and go sulk when others aren’t the neighbor to us that we have never been to them.

Because, your neighbors are not just the victims of hurricanes or poverty, left half-dead in ditches. Your neighbors are the thieves in need of your prayers and admonition. Your neighbors are the priests and Levites in need of your example, your patience, and your loving rebuke. Your neighbor is the innkeeper in need of your two denarii, your encouragement, and your promise to help even more.

Though they are unlovable, you are to love. Though they are merciless, you are to show mercy.

Attend to this other parable: A man was stepping down from heaven to His own creation and He fell among His own people who stripped Him, scourged Him, and left Him for dead upon a cross. All had abandoned Him; all we like sheep have gone astray and scattered when the Shepherd was struck.

By divine chance, His heavenly Father was watching and had compassion upon His obedient Son. He went to Him and bound up His entire being, having poured out His Blood for the forgiveness of others’ sins, and carried Him from death to new life.

He brought Him back to heaven and took care of Him. He set Him on His throne and gave Him all His authority in heaven and on earth. He would never be molested again, never be wounded again, and never die again.

The next day, the Father showed His Son to the women, Peter and the twelve, more than 500 of the brothers, and to one untimely born: St. Paul. The Father gave this command: “Take care of my Son. Guard His Word and Sacraments and whatever you spend, be it coin or life, I will repay you when I come back.”

The Father proves Himself the neighbor of neighbors. The Son proves Himself the true merciful God Who offers mercy freely to those who believe.

For you robbers of mercy from your own neighbors, Jesus is your better-than-Good Samaritan who not only heals your death, but forgives your sin and restores what you have stolen. Even moreso, the Father then looks upon you as those who have given, who have restored, and who have shown mercy, because the Son has done all those things while wearing your skin.

For all the times we have walked away and refused to show love, the Better-than-Good Samaritan did not walk away, but has knelt down with us and extended mercy to us. He does not pass us by, but stops to love us and intercede for us: washing us, He speaking comforting words to us, and He feeding us heavenly medicine from His very Body and Blood.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Service [Trinity 12; St. Mark 7:31-37]


God is speaking to you today, saying:

Dr. Luther says that if we could perfectly obey the first commandment, we would not need the rest. If you could love God above all things, you would be able to love your neighbor as yourself. Some people even say that if you love God best, you will love the rest.

But this idea only goes so far. What does it mean to love God? Does it mean to focus on Him alone? If that’s the case, then you are focusing on God, not your neighbor. Does it mean to put god first? If that’s the case, then you are always going to choose Bible study over helping your needy neighbor.

Too often we see “loving God” or “focus on God” as something that we do and so it necessarily takes up our time, energy, and work. In fact, nothing could be WORSE for our neighbor than us loving God best, because then our eyes are turned up, but our neighbor and God are at our feet.

At this point then, our hands go up. If I serve my neighbor, I’m not serving God. If I serve God, I’m not serving my neighbor. An impossible task to be sure, because we are not ubiquitous beings. We can not be in two places at once and neither can we give all of our heart to one thing or another.

Finally, we get angry at God and either despair or give up altogether. It is impossible to love a God Who is this strict and this impossible to please.

The truth is we don’t love God most, less, or otherwise, much less our neighbor.

The absolute truth is: We love God and others best, when God loves us.

The man in the Gospel reading today was not exempt from God’s demands to love Him and love his neighbor and yet he was prevented, quite physically and literally from doing so. This begs the question: is God just crazy to demand these things, even from the handicapped and infant?

The answer is no, because the Lord does not demand them of you nor did He demand them of the man He healed today. He demands them of His Christ. The Commands of God are there not just to show us what we are to do and not to do, but to reveal just how pure and holy Jesus must be.

God demands the Christian life be a life led in love and because we have seen Jesus do it, that means its possible for us. And that’s the rub. Jesus did it. We are to be Christ-like. Or else. End of story.

Unless Christ loves you first, you have no life to love in you. Unless Jesus tears open you heart, head, and lips you are lost.

And that is what today’s Gospel is all about. We see a man impeded unjustly and wrongfully imprisoned, behind his handicaps. His sin and his death have locked him behind iron curtains and iron bars. Do not be fooled. This is not unique to deaf and stammering men. It is not even unique to nonbelievers. It is unique to the human race, though, for we all sin and fall short and are all in prison.

Our good works are as nothing before God because He must first perform good works for there to be good works. Jesus first goes to Tyre through Sidon. Jesus first goes to the Sea of Galilee to the Decapolis. Jesus first performs other miracles so people begin to bring Him other people. Jesus first take this man aside, first sticks His fingers up in His ears, and first utters the word to him.

This Word is then taken up by this now formerly blind and stammering man, for now he speaks plainly. More true to the language, he speaks orthodoxy, meaning he is now going to say only what Jesus says.

“Be opened”, that is “Be forgiven”. Let all of your corruption because of sin, death, and the devil fall away and cling to you no more. The Word of Christ demands obedience. This does not produce an obedient follower when spoken. The Word also demands a regeneration, for the man must not only be able to hear and speak, but he must have a clean heart and right spirit to do so.

We know the love of God because He first loved us. Not just a one-time deposit, but an ongoing declaration and giving of love. We don’t just need one vaccine of “love” to boost us on our way. We need a constant IV drip for life, for we don’t stop sinning and we don’t stop trying to do good works for godly gain.

So now that God has loved us, through His Son, our love for Him looks like believing Christ’s person, Word, and works: Jesus’ works, not ours. So now that Jesus works and has loved us on the cross, our love for our neighbor is to speak to them orthodoxy; Jesus words.

By grace our ears are opened to hear Jesus and by faith our mouth is opened to speak about Jesus. By grace we have been brought from death to life in order to live the life of faith and love. Not our faith and love, but the life of Jesus’ faith and love.

For this life we have been given has been predetermined. We do not decide what love looks like or what good works look like. We simply hear and receive as the blind man did today. We speak, but we only speak what Jesus has already said.

Now Jesus says Do unto others as He has done to you. No. Even easier than that. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

For what Jesus does is love God perfectly, in your place. fulfilling the demands of God and giving you credit, by being obedient unto death on a cross. Jesus has also loved His neighbor perfectly, not only dying for every single one of them, but being a perfect sacrifice for all their sin and being the Door to heaven.

You can not be that neighbor that God demands, no matter how hard you followed Jesus’ example.

But now that the cross of Christ and the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed by Christ’s Church, you don’t have to. Freed from your guilt, you are now free to live in faith according to the Law. Redeemed from death, you now love God’s Law and, although you are not the one to fulfill it, you are the one who receives it perfectly in faith.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I AM, the chief sinner [Trinity 11; St. Luke 18:9-14]


Today, we once again hear the Christ speak to us, saying,

More faithful to the Greek, the Tax Collector says, “…atone for me, the sinner.” Not only is he asking for a sacrifice to be made in place of his sins, but that definite article back into the English does two things: 1) it suggests that the Tax Collector is not the only sinner he is praying for, but for all sinners and 2) it gives us the idea that there is someone out there with the title of “the sinner”.

In the first place, the Tax Collector places himself in the category of sinner. Meaning, he has heard the Word of God, has heard that there are such people who are sinners, and assumes that he falls into that group because of his actions in life.

He is right that he is a sinner, but he is also right in that there are lots of them. These people are the ones in need of atonement as opposed, maybe, to the righteous Pharisee.

And it is in one of our more loved hymns that we sing of this actuality. “Chief of sinners though I be” hints at these words of Jesus about atonement for sinners, but the hymn comes more directly from Jesus’ words in St. Paul’s letter to St. Timothy. For it’s there that we hear, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” 1 Tim. 1:15

Now, by all literary accounts, you assume St. Paul is talking about himself. St. Paul, like the Tax Collector, places himself under the category of “sinner”. And you are right. He has set up all these churches, trained St. Timothy, and placed him in Ephesus all the while being just as big a sinner as anyone else with all the anxiety that goes with it. A humbling act on his part.

And he has ample reason to do so. In Romans, he says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:8-11)

In order to be saved, then, the Tax Collector and St. Paul see no choice but to label themselves as sinners so as to be on the receiving end of atonement.

This is only half the story, however. The other half lies in the words St. Paul uses in that “chief of sinners” phrase. It could also be read this way: “the Word is faithful and worthy of all reception, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I AM is first.”

Note the use of The Word. It is the Word that is faithful and worthy. It is the Word that came into the world to save. It is the Word Who is the great I AM. I AM is the Name above all names, which Jesus proclaims is His own, but in this context, it means that the great I AM now becomes the chief of sinners.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:15-16

Now, it becomes clear that it is not just the Tax Collector and St. Paul who are “the sinners”, but as in all things, God is foremost and chief, even in the area of sin. For, in order to atone, or make a perfect sacrifice in answer to the Tax Collector’s prayer, God, the perfect being, must be that perfect sacrifice.

Though none of the sin was His own, God became man that He would then be subject to sin’s wages: death. In this death, He would be innocent and an innocent man dying demands justice. This we see in the Easter morning light.

I AM becomes the Chief Sinner so that you would become the Chief Saint. And yet, we see Jesus in both the Tax Collector AND the Pharisee. As the Almighty, Jesus is not like other men. He is wholly other. The word we use for that is holy. The phrase we use behind His back is holier-than-thou.

Thus, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10. God the Perfectly holy and the perfectly sinful, offers this mystery upon the cross and makes not only the unlovable Tax Collector loveable, but makes a way for the self-righteous Pharisee as well.

And if these two can be given a way to forgiveness, so can we. All now fall under the love that dies on the cross and rises again. All now are categorized as sinner under The Sinner. All now are given the righteousness and perfection necessary to enter heaven, for free. All have all their prayers answered, now that the atonement for sin and death has been made in full, by Jesus on the cross.

So now as we present ourselves in the Divine Service as sinners, we receive everything Jesus has received. Not only His death, but His resurrection also. For He was made man in order to redeem His lost and condemned creatures and to continue to dwell among them in the same way, because Jesus sympathizes with us in His body. This then is the real comfort to Tax Collector and sinner alike: that Jesus has a body, still has a body, and still uses it to commune with you today all in order to bring you His salvation Himself.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jericho's baptism [Trinity 10; St. Luke 19:41-48]


Jesus speaks in your hearing today, saying,

In baptism we see a wonderful miracle. Not only is a person saved by it, but the Word of God is in action right in front of us. This belief that Scripture is truly God’s Word such that it produces exactly what it says, in this case a Christian born of water and the Spirit, is what is called a “high view” of Scripture.

And, unless you are within a church of one of the ancient faiths, you will not find this belief held. Outside the Church, God’s Word is infallible, except when it comes to salvation, because as well all know, babies can’t believe, therefore salvation through baptism is not literally what Jesus meant.

To illustrate, take the city of Jericho. We all know the story and Jesus today talks of no stone being left upon another. Israel walked round and round the city seven times, blowing trumpets. Finally on the seventh day of doing so, the Lord caused the walls to crumble in order to let Israel conquer the city and thus fulfill God’s promise to them of getting to live in the Promised Land.

And that’s all anyone cares to know about it. Just a display of God’s power in Israel’s life, probably in order to show that you too can conquer your “Jerichos” in life and topple walls of misfortune and sorrow, all with the power of Christ!!

Because that is exactly what Jesus is doing at Jericho…right? Tumbling your metaphorical “walls”. Right.

The Command from God was that Jericho’s walls were to tumble, not a stone upon a stone was to be left, so one way or another, it was going to happen. However, that’s all people know about this story and that is sad, because you miss the big picture. The tiny picture is that God is angry and violent. The big picture is, Christ has come, even to baby Jacob, to give him faith.

Let me explain. Before Israel goes up against Jericho, Jesus appears to Joshua as the Captain of the Lord’s hosts, with His sword drawn, in order to declare that He will fight, not Joshua and Israel. Which is lucky because no one was going to bring those walls down.

The second lesser-known part comes after the battle. Jericho is down and conquered, yet one family out of the entire, humungous kingdom is spared: that is the family of Rahab the Harlot. Poor girl gets a bad rap in the Bible…

They were saved because they had heard the Word of the Lord and sheltered spies from Israel. They were saved, because the Word had come to Rahab, and made her the great=-grandmother of Jesus. You could pretty much say, that the only reason Jericho’s walls had to topple over, was so that Rahab and her family could be free.

The Captain, Jesus, promises to Moses that the Israelites will be freed from Egypt, not to do whatever the heck they want, but to go three days into the wilderness and worship in the way He will instruct them. Jesus promises Joshua that the Promised land will be conquered under his lead, not to become another Alexander the Great, but in order that the Lord’s Chosen would have space to worship.

Yet, Jericho is not the only invincible-city-walls taken down and yet everything on earth comes to an end by destruction or decay. Jericho was just a shadow of things to come, for truly I say to you heaven has been invaded. It has been surrounded by the Captain and marched around until its walls crumbled.

Yes. Heaven has been conquered. Maybe you are more comfortable saying that the way to heaven has been unbarred, but either way, heretofore, heaven was inaccessible to you and me. Even more so than Jericho, heaven kept out all who wished to enter, even those who thought they could take it by force.

But it could not withstand the Captain of the Lord’s hosts, Who, for the salvation of the world took on human flesh and rescued Rahab and her family. Yes, Rahab is one woman who is counted in the family tree of Jesus Christ, which was so important to keep intact, that not even an invincible city could stop it.

Jacob was conceived and born behind Jericho’s walls. He was formed in sin and came out in sin. Only death was his reward for traversing the long and dangerous birth canal. He was held as tightly and securely as Rahab and her family had been.

This was true, until the Crucifixion of Jesus. For now a crucifix is hung on the walls of Jericho, sin, and death and they will never rise again. Even though Jericho was rebuilt and never really wiped out, its sentence was meted out: Christ has conquered.

And in His conquering, He encounters the dead. The walls tumble and He finds He is too late to save His creatures who prefer sin and death. Thus, Jesus follows them into Jericho. He goes down to the depths of hell, pillages and loots its treasuries, and brings them back out again into the light and into His own resurrection, by baptism.

And in traversing back to heaven, the walls restricted His newly obtained loot, so He knocked those down as well, opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers who are baptized.

Thus, it is baptism that now saves you, not because of magical properties or words, but because the Captain of the Lord’s hosts comes through means and these means are fleshy, just like Him. Jesus has declared that His Church shall be built and not even the gates of Jericho or hell shall prevail against it.

Why? Well, its certainly not these flimsy brick walls surrounding us this morning that stand invincible, but faith. The faith that Jesus has come in the flesh. The faith that Christ has suffered, died, and risen again. The faith given by grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake alone.

These walls of the Church will stand, because Jesus stands within them and sin, death, and the devil now no longer hold dominion over Him and, by baptism, neither is there any hold on those who believe and gather in His Name.

It is not our strong conviction or our superior knowledge, it is the strength of Jesus Who rose from the dead and gives His resurrection to the sinful dead who are stuck behind impenetrable walls.

Jesus destroys the walls of sin, death, and the devil which prevent you from finding Him, from gaining forgiveness, and from obtaining salvation through the waters of the Flood and the Red Sea, pooled in this font.

So while the enemy copies Jesus by doing these same things to us as Jesus does to sin, their attempts are vain. For though our enemies of faith surround us, tear us down to the ground, and our children also, in the midst of that the victory remains ours, because it is Christ’s victory He has given us.

Rejoice with me, brethren. Bring out the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Set the Table with the Lord’s own feast and let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found worthy in the Lord.

Monday, August 14, 2017

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


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]


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]


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]


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)??

“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]


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]


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]


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.