Monday, November 13, 2017

Just one thing [Trinity 25; St. Matthew 24:15-28]


On this 3rd last Sunday of the Church year, we hear our Lord speak directly to us saying,

No man has greater faith than the congregation here at St. Luke. False christs and false prophets will not find a welcome here, because St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church knows that the only great sign and wonder to be worked in our time is the Word and Sacrament received by the Baptized.

The Word of God is kept here and the sacraments of God are freely given according to it. There is no holier place on earth than this spot.

Yet, there are those who believe that the Church on earth is simply a vaccination. A “get well” pavilion. Where we can come in for our once a week, mandatory appointment, shoot up, and be on our merry way for the rest of the week, month, year, lifetime…

Some would even have it be a hospital where cures are administered and the sick are cared for and nursed to better health. Thus, when we feel down or grumpy, we can come in, have our mood turned around, and skip down the road.

Rather, it is neither of those things, but it is a hospice center, plain and simple. Truly, you could say the whole world is on hospice and all headed in the same direction.

Let’s set the record straight, first. The Abomination of Desolation, in part, has already come to pass in humanity offering up God on the cross. At this horrific act of complete and utter rebellion against the Creator, the whole world shakes and fear spreads like wildfire. Truly there is nothing worse that can be done on this earth than killing God.

Thus we flee to the mountains of the Lord which are His Chancel and Pulpit. We run to the consolation of Israel in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We flee because we know death follows all these happenings. We flee because we also know that death has already grabbed hold of us and we have nowhere else to turn.

Thus, we can put to rest any thought we may have of the Church being a booster shot center. The problem with this is that there is no vaccine against death and fear.

We may also nix the hospital idea. Not only are there no cures to be had in church, but when we join, things only seem to go downhill, instead of up. We get worse, not better. We pick up others’ diseases, we despair of treatment, and we question competence of staff and attendees.

What do we think? That we are the nurses and the attendants who are healthy and administering to the sick? There aren’t any upright people in the whole world to administer any kind of treatment, much less a correct one.

The world is very evil. So much so that no one is left to care for the wounded and dying, except for the wounded and dying. In fact, if you read the pericope from the Gospel again, you will not find the faithful standing up to any of this. If we assume these running away are faithful, then they are simply told to run, not stay and fight.

Why do you suppose that is? Was everyone on vacation that weekend or had something better to do than to watch for the Coming of Christ or this abomination? Truly we are in the midst of this great tribulation Jesus speaks of.

You do not see the faithful because they are sin-sick and dying. No one is standing up to the Abomination because they lack the strength, not to mention it is God’s doing so who could stop it? All believers are not fighting, but wrapped comfortably in their death beds and waiting.

But Hospice provides comfort, at least. So what comfort is there in Church?

Well, what if you were on hospice and the doctor came in to tell you that there was a way to get well. You just had to eat this one piece of broccoli each week and you would be out of hospice that day. Would you do it?

If you had chronic heart failure, but your cardiologist says that if you do this one pushup, just once a week in order to stave it off, would you do that?

Even simpler, does putting gas in your car once a week make the gas any less valuable or necessary?

No, it doesn’t. It does the opposite. Having gas in your car increases its value for you, for then it is able to work. Push-ups? Broccoli? Heck yes we would do those things. If something so simple could accomplish so much, why would we shun it?

Jesus says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Does that not sound like the piece of broccoli or the pushup or the gas to you? Jesus is saying that until the Son of Man returns like lightning, you will find Him doing His Will and making His Kingdom come through the sacrament.

Which, if you take it often, you will be a part of His work. The care and cure at the hospice of the Church is not administered by a man, but the God-man, Jesus Christ. Who walks among His baptized believers, washing their wounds that make them weak in battle, speaking words of encouragement as they face their own sin and death, and spoon feeding life and salvation to each and every patient.

This is the power of the Lord’s Supper. Even though the flesh is weak, the Spirit is willing and moves us towards the Body and Blood of Jesus, which is the one and only true medicine on earth.

Just one shot is not enough. It is not that the Lord’s Supper is so weak that it needs multiple installments, just one is enough for the Supper. It is you who are too weak for only one dose, for in sin you are hemorrhaging. Hemorrhaging blood, hemorrhaging life, and hemorrhaging faith.

The cure that Jesus gives is a steady IV drip of Communion. It is there that we find Jesus. It is there that we find the forgiveness of sins. It is there that we find true strength and true healing.

It is in the Lord’s Supper that the abomination of desolation will have no rebut or defense against. It is in our communion with Almighty God that all the false christs, all the false prophets, and all the false signs and wonders will give way to. No lie of the devil can stand up to the true Body and Blood given and eaten.

This is because it is a rock solid promise and sign. Jesus promises forgiveness and delivers in His Supper. Jesus promises healing and salvation and He delivers in the physical, concrete bread and wine of communion.

The Christian’s solace is only in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. But it is not ours until He gives it to us to take and eat and take and drink. You can sing about salvation and argue about theology all you want, but until you give someone physical proof of your truthfulness, they will never believe you.

The pure Gospel and the true sacraments are what make the Church a mighty fortress against the great tribulation and a comfort against our own sickness and death. Through our own might, nothing can be done, no matter how sincerely we try. Through Jesus’ promises, nothing will get through to us no matter how sincerely He tries.

But something we can lay hold of; something concrete that appeals to our sin-dulled senses does. Especially something that’s available as often and as much as we desire it to be.

Truly the table and the cup of the Lord overflows and we want to be there when it flows upon us and the Faith of Jesus makes that happen, for you. For where the body is, there we will gather.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Blasphemer [Trinity 19; St. Matthew 9:1-8]


Jesus is speaking to you, from His own Gospel, saying,

Blasphemy falls under the 2nd command to “not misuse the name of the Lord your God”. This command is broken in two ways: cursing God or cursing your neighbor. If you speak evil of God or mock Him, Moses warns that you will be held responsible for those words.

If you call down the anger and punishment of God upon yourself or any other person or thing, you break this command, unleashing your tongue. Do you curse and praise out of the same mouth? Brothers it should not be so.

We usually think of cursing as using bad words in front of the preacher (in front of friends its ok), but this is not so. It is not vulgar language in itself that is the blasphemy, it is how it is directed and who it is directed against.

But this is why we become so confused and so guilty so quickly. Because we can not distinguish who we curse and who we don’t. We believe that keeping some language private or secret, at least covers some bases, but we do not fool ourselves. We still feel guilty.

Especially that one weak moment when we cursed God.

In sinful hands, knowing what blasphemy is simply gives us recourse to use it as a weapon against our neighbor, maybe even God. We feel that if we point enough fingers at everyone else’s blasphemy, deserved or not, that God will forget about ours.

However, it is exactly in our judging that our judgment is revealed (Rom. 2:1). Point one finger, three point back. We want to boast so much in the law, but it just ends up showing how we are the ones dishonoring God. In our zeal to root out blasphemy from politics and public schooling, we make the blasphemy worse by modeling the holy life with our sinful life. “For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom. 2:23-24)

What we should be doing is using our knowledge of blasphemy in a positive way. Not only should we be teaching against it, but we should self-reflect and discover that we are just as guilty as the worst of our neighbors and therefore both are in need of forgiveness rather than judging.

Because, where do we see true blasphemy and what do we do about the unforgivable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and the fact that we may be guilty of that?

Blasphemy is always against Jesus, because the Law that declares that “a man can not be God” and that is exactly Jesus’ crime against humanity and the charge that gained Him the death penalty. For no good work did the Jews condemn Him, but because Jesus, being a man, makes Himself God.

As such only God can forgive sins. So when the paralytic walks away with the forgiveness of sins, that act signals Jesus’ own declaration: I and the Father are one. But, the blaspheming did not stop there.

What the enemies of Jesus did as Jesus hanged on the cross was blasphemy saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt.27:40)

Cursing, according to the 2nd Command, then becomes not just dirty language or speaking evil of God, but preventing Jesus from being God and man and preventing Jesus from going to the cross.

True blasphemy is denying that Jesus is both God and man and that He died and rose again. Thus, when we get to the unforgivable sin of blasphemy, it is not simply our sinful judgment of God and others, but it has to do solely with Jesus.

The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a rejection of the gift of forgiveness that Jesus spent all of history accomplishing. If you don’t think your sins need forgiving, then Jesus didn’t die for them. That is unforgivable blasphemy, because there is nothing to forgive, rather you think there is nothing to forgive and so keep your own sins.

The Good News? The Good News is that blasphemy is a forgivable sin. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people…” (Mt. 12:31). Because you feel that guilt, because you feel that contrition, because you still believe that your cursing and blasphemy is sinful, you are still on the right track.

You know what else is a forgivable sin? Scourging, crucifying, and killing Jesus! In fact, it was that sin that made the forgiveness of sins possible. The crucifixion of Jesus stands as the demarcation between praise and blasphemy. Is Jesus on the cross for you or is He not?

Jesus did not curse you or swear against you in His suffering. Jesus did not lie or deceive by God’s Name in any of His miracles or good works. Jesus did not use satanic arts to raise Himself from the dead.

Jesus called upon the forgiveness of our heavenly Father from the cross. Facing His own unjust death, Jesus prayed for others, praised our Father for His almighty will, and gave thanks that one should suffer and die instead of all of you.

This, sin, death, and the devil can’t stand, because in Jesus’ actions, they are blasphemed. The Lord blasphemes against sin by becoming a man, living a perfect and holy life, and dying for everyone else. Christ blasphemes death by forcing life to Himself Who once had died. Jesus curses the devil by proving that the Lord is slow to anger and quick to forgiveness.

In God’s blasphemy of sending His only begotten Son to the cross, the entire world is saved. God allows the world to curse Him, swear at Him, use satanic arts against Him, lie about Him, and deceive by His Name in order that salvation be brought to you. Jesus opens Himself to history, to investigation, and to sharp criticism in order that the forgiveness of sins be preached to the whole world.

Because the only way to fulfill the law; the only way to avoid the sin of blasphemy is through love. Brow or Bible beating is not going to do it. Rooting our all blasphemers and burning them at the stake really won’t do it.

But, the love of Christ shining on the cross, will do it. The Holy Spirit, freely given, convicting us of sin, of Christ’s righteousness and justice, will do it. Living among the Word and sacraments of Jesus will continue to strengthen us and give us confidence that all of His promises are true.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Intemperance [Trinity 18; 70th Anniversary; St. Matthew 22:34-46]


Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

Just when you think that the Son has come to set you free indeed, Jesus turns on us and tells us that there are two important laws that the Law, the Prophets, everything depends on. And, as we all know, laws are a limiter of freedom, not a proponent, and when the laws get too heavy, we throw in the towel and shout, “I can’t!”

However, in the hands of sinners, freedom becomes a problem; it becomes a weapon. The great example of this is the Reformation. As wonderful and necessary to the preaching of the Gospel as freedom is, once it was given, people ran wild starting so many new denominations, smashing churches, and beating priests.

Freedom is given by Jesus, but it is ruined by us sinners. Thus, the giving of the Law tempers the sinner and the saved. The virtue of temperance is concerned with overcoming the overriding condition of our fallen human nature. Practicing temperance means that you know you have freedom, but you also know that you’re horrible at it.

Temperance is a difficult thing which is why we first figure out how to act rightly (prudence), then we give each man his due (justice), then we stand strong in those things (fortitude), and finally we find our own place, not in exercising absolute freedom, but in restricting our freedom. As Jesus commands us to love God and love neighbor today, temperance reminds us that there is no room for loving self in those commands.

Thus the Law tempers life, even though for the sinner and our sinful self it still means guilt and death, Jesus does not remove one iota of the Law. Though His suffering and death has removed the punishment and guilt of the Law, you remain in your flesh until Christ returns for you.

For the Christian then, the Law holds no sting or power to condemn to hell, but it still points out the way to live that is God-pleasing, because Jesus does not simply redeem you and then place you down in the midst of wolves and say, “Good luck.”

We are still in the world. We are still in our sinful flesh. The sacraments permanently tattoo God’s promises to us, but He leaves us in this world so we are in a constant struggle with our sinful desires.

You don’t think you have a problem with violence, until someone convinces you its God’s will. You don’t think you have a problem with chastity or fidelity, until that one person persuades you that its ok just this once. We never think we have problems handling anything our bodies desire, until it becomes a problem.

In regards to what Jesus is telling us today, we are free to love God and love our neighbor, but we are horrible at it. We never knew we had a problem with loving God or our neighbor until we heard it in black and white. In other words, until we heard it from the Law of God.

This sinful handling of Temperance is called concupiscence. Remember that word well. It means natural tendency and lustful leaning. That is us in our sinfulness. There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a temperate man. There is nothing more dangerous to the faith, than a concupiscent man that thinks he’s temperate.

So what does all this have to do with the Reformation, the LWML, and starting a church?

From the Genesis reading heard at the beginning of Service, we hear that the Lord is working in this world. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves, but instead works out all things for our good, including placing His Church on earth and placing us in it.

The Lord does all this while being intemperate. He showers His wedding feast with an overabundance of wine and food. He sows seed in excess, tossing them upon road, rock and thorn and weed alike.

He gives grace to the undeserving. He enriches in speech and all knowledge those who despise it. He does not spare any expense at revealing His true Son to any and all sinners, calling from every corner of the earth, and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.

This intemperance climaxes at the cross. There we see the excess of life poured out into the ground. Feeding no one, nourishing no one, and benefiting no one as one would pour out milk into the ground. All of Jesus’ hard work: His words, His miracles, and His very person, seemingly wasted in grim death.

This is the price Jesus pays. His words fall on deaf ears. His miracles are undone. His body dies.

Yet through this abundance of waste comes an abundance of righteousness. As it turns out, this was the Father’s will; that the Son obey Him unto death on a cross in order that He would glorify Him by raising Him from the dead, permanently.

Thus it is not intemperance the Lord practices, but mercy and love. Though His words fall on deaf ears, those ears hear and, regardless, His promise remains true. Though His miracles only last for awhile (people get sick again and die again), Those people find eternal, permanent healing in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Though His body died, it is alive. Jesus has raised the lowly body to immortality, to imperishability, to glory, to power; to life. In three days, Jesus’ body has been torn down and rebuilt again. He has become the building built without hands.

Through this, whenever we ponder the Church, why its here, why we’re here, and what the good of it all is, we must always remember Christ Crucified and that intemperance. And, desiring to be Christ-like ourselves, then we must participate and commune with that intemperance, when it comes to the House of God.

Do we want Gospel preached in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to it in this place for only 70 years or 70 times 7?  The Spirit that has been given to us is not a spirit of wekness, but of power. Power to invest ourselves completely in the Church. Power to overcome our sinfulness and hatred for the apparent waste of time that is the Church on earth and see it for its eternal glory that it is.

The Church of God is the one unique place on earth where all of Scripture comes true because this is the Body of Christ. This is the place where we invest in eternity. This is the place where heaven opens its gates for us. This is the place where the Lord comes to set a table for us. This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of heaven, as Jacob declared oh so long ago.

To our comfort and peace, the Lord is intemperate with His Church. He continues to sustain it wherever the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments administered. He continues to invest His entire being into those “successful” churches and those “unsuccessful” churches.

He continues to lavish this house with an overabundance of eternal gifts, though the walls remain brick and mortar. He constantly comes to His Supper, though it remains crusty bread and passable wine.

But that is the real Good News. That though these things are the lowest of the low; though we be the lowest of the irredeemable, Christ comes to us. He sets Himself as the Chief of sinners. He is the chief cornerstone that the builders rejected, because He was not virtuous enough.

Thanks be to God that is so. Thanks be to God that the Lord of all can be numbered with the sinners below me, descend to death and hell in front of me, and be there when I must go there. Thanks be to God for His Church on earth, for there would otherwise be nowhere to go to find Him.

The Lord sets up an oasis of life, in this desert of death, in no other place than His Church and this is where we find His full glory, His full power, His full kingdom, and His full righteousness and no where else. Period.

Earthly churches comes and go, but the true Church of the Lord endures forever. It is the Body of Christ and, like a passing rain shower, will be found here for a time and then to another place, but it never dries up and will never leave the earth.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fortitude [Trinity 17; St. Luke 14:1-11]


Jesus speaks to you today, in your hearing, saying:

Verse 6 from the Gospel today, is translated very weakly. That “could not” in “they could not reply” is not something to pass by lightly. Because that phrase is used so much by us: we couldn’t do this or that; it lacks punch. What Jesus is actually saying here is not that these men harassing Him couldn’t find a good answer or explanation, but that they lacked the fortitude to stand up to what Jesus was actually doing and saying.

That is, that Jesus was actually doing the miracles of God and that He was saying that He was God Himself.

But this is what happens when we are caught being in the wrong. We hate to admit it. We hate being found out, so we remain silent. We don’t have the fortitude to either see our position through to its logical end or give it up and say we were wrong. You should be able to sympathize with the Pharisees.

The reason you feel that way is because fortitude is the virtue of the martyrs. Fortitude is not just strength or ability or courage, it is the moral courage to stand against the evil spirits of the times, against fashions, against human respect, and against the easy way out. Fortitude is the virtue that helps us stand up for what’s right even when others say that Christianity is outdated.

Even when it means your death. Even when it means your suffering, poverty, or loss. This is what the Pharisees faced today, in your hearing, when they heard Jesus forgive sins and when they saw Jesus heal that man from his disease. If they were to agree with Jesus and accept what He said, they would be facing their deaths; social and physical.

It would mean that everything they had believed up to that point about God was wrong. It would mean that everything they had grown up with and was familiar to them would change. It would mean their family and friends would turn them out of house and home as an idolater, worthy of condemnation and death.

This is why the Jews lose their fortitude in front of Jesus. They would rather be silent in their sin than to admit that they were wrong and that Jesus is right. They would rather not stand up for their wrong, than to admit that Jesus is right.

We would rather curl up like the Pharisees than stand up for what’s right. Don’t rock the boat, the saying goes. “Just take it easy”, they say. “Don’t get so worked up” or even “God has everything worked out”.

True fortitude is not with us or even with the martyrs. True fortitude is found only with God (Jer. 12:16); beside Him; ruling with Him; dwelling with Him.

So, in one sense I will not get worked up and will take it easy, because the Lord had worked everything out through Jesus. Jesus is the Lord’s fortitude Who not only stands up to these Pharisees today, but also defies death and danger on the cross.

Yes, Jesus is the fire brand, talking about unpopular things at inopportune times. He confronts man-made superstitions about healing on the Sabbath. He defies the establishment that would rather have sacrifice than mercy. He stands up to and fights the law and the law doesn’t win.

But that is not what this is about. Yes, Jesus faces ostracization and capitol punishment by breaking these taboos and being a rebel, claiming to be God’s Son, but for what? To get debate points? To make sure everyone knows He’s right and they’re wrong? To argue, yell, and Bible-thump?

The real reason we see the fortitude of Christ on display is not to impress nor is it to target these men questioning Him. Jesus’ true objective, in showing true fortitude, is defying and defeating the powers pulling all the strings; the man behind the curtain: sin, death, and the devil.

Sin has many a silencing arguments for you and me, but sin can not reply to Jesus. Sin has no fortitude in front of the cross, because then it would have to double down on its own judgment and instead of justifying itself, it would have to claim that it is right and thereby bring to fruition its wages: death. But sin does not want to die, so it remains silent.

The devil has a mouth that oozes sweet and sickly words in order to convince the sinner to continue in his sin, but he has no answer for Jesus. The devil does not have the fortitude to stand in outright war against God and His true Son. This he knows would only result in his defeat. So he hides behind creation, ever corrupting, never creating, and remaining silent.

Death is the final answer to a lot of worldly arguments and one could say that it has the fortitude to stand up to God, doubling down on its role and standing up to the Lord of Life, confronting Him on the cross. But death is not a person, it is simply a result.

At this point, we can work backwards to undo all of this un-virtuous living. The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56). In this way, Jesus claims the victory. Life wins out over death, because Jesus does have an answer to all of those arguments and temptations: Himself.

Jesus offers Himself, both God and man, on the cross, suffering and dying and rising again and all your arguments are invalid. Prudence, justice, and fortitude bow down at the foot of the cross and yield to the undying and everlasting love of God, that sacrifices itself, rather than see His enemies win.

So I will not remain silent, because the Church does not remain silent. Every argument, debate, or discussion begins and ends with the cross of Jesus. It is lawful to dine with Pharisees because Jesus is on the cross.

It is allowable to touch and mingle with the diseased, because Jesus is on the cross. It is lawful to heal and do work on the Sabbath, because Christ forgives sins from the cross. It is ok to take the higher position or the lower position, because Christ is in the lowest position, hell, and also occupies the highest position, almighty God.

I will not double down on my sin, my life, or my courage and strength. I will double down on Christ and His Person, Word, and Work.

Because these things are Christ’s and not my own, I have the fortitude to be His instrument in the Divine Service, to robe as one chosen by God, and stand in this pulpit.

Because you have the fortitude of Christ, you are able to return to His presence, in His Word and sacrament, repeatedly and find pardon and peace. Remember that loving God means receiving what He is giving, not giving your own stuff to Him.

Remember when Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and mind and fortitude? Same word there. You have pledged your fortitude to Christ and His Word, as you have been taught, in your confirmation vows. In them, you state that you would rather face death than to fall away from this doctrine.

But true fortitude is not being the loudest or most persuasive to the most people. True fortitude is found in Confessing your sins to your Pastor and receiving forgiveness from him as from Christ Himself. True fortitude is not going in front of the enemy and seeking a martyr’s death. It is humbling oneself in the presence of God in the Divine Service, knowing that He is here to commune with you.

The world is very evil and the times are waxing late. Jesus is at the door, preparing His final judgment to terminate the evil and crown the right. In this life we must strive and toil, but we do so in hope. And we throw that hope all around us and as far ahead of us as we can, knowing it is our only hope.

Our hope is that this pile of dust and ashes will be exalted. That our fortitude, as weak as it is, will not be needed. The promise is that the Lord will be our part, that we will be His only and forever. And so it is.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sufficient injustice [Trinity 16; St. Luke 7:11-17]


Jesus speaks today, saying,

The word used to describe our funeral crowd this morning, read as “considerable”, is a pretty broad adjective. It can mean larger than normal, but it can also be interpreted as sufficient or adequate.

So, in the case of us hearing the Gospel today, we hear it in two ways. The first was already spoken, as in a larger than normal crowd was there. The second way is that the crowd was sufficient, as in it was just enough to do justice to the grieving mother and to the city’s image.

This second reading suggests an uncaring attitude, as in we will provide just enough mourners to make it look good. And you can relate. If you have ever lost a loved one, you feel as if the whole world should be paying respect, especially those people who don’t stop for the funeral procession on the road.

Here is the evidence for reading it this way: In I Kings, it was not sufficient enough for King Ahab to walk in the sins of his predecessor, but he had to serve Ba’al as well. Going back to Genesis and hearing about Rachel and Leah, Jacob’s two wives, fighting over who is giving more children to their husband, Leah, who is not having any children, complains to Rachel demanding to know why it is not sufficient enough for Rachel to take Jacob, but she also needs to take Leah’s livelihood as well.

Finally, it is the Lord who prophesys against the pastors of Israel, because they are abusing the Lord’s congregation. He asks them why its not sufficient enough for them to feed on the good pasture the Lord provides, but they must also trample it for the sheep when they have finished eating.

The point is, Justice is supposed to be a virtue, but in our sinful hands it turns into a weapon. We see the oppressed, we give them just enough which is their due, and that’s it. Now, you would say, what’s wrong with that? And I would reply, Repent.

In the Kingdom of heaven, justice is not enough. If your brother asks for your cloak, give him your shirt as well. If he asks you to walk one mile with him, go two. Yes, give them justice; give them their due, but if you are to show mercy as the Lord has been merciful to you, then you must go beyond Justice.

Charity, or love, is beyond justice in this way. It is just for God to punish us eternally. It is love that stays His sentencing. Our example in the faith is Cain, the guy who gets the ninth circle of hell for his injustice towards his brother. He cries out how he can not bear God’s justice against his sins, saying, “My punishment is greater than I can bear…whoever finds me will kill me.”

In remembering and recognizing our sins, Cain’s cry is our cry. If our friends and family knew who we really are inside, if they ever found out, surely they would kill us. And it would be a justice to the world to remove such a sinful and corrupt creature from it. And yet, it wouldn’t, because then Jesus would have one less sinner to receive His free, public forgiveness of sins.

For Jesus, it is not sufficient enough to redeem this only-begotten son from this just-enough crowd and from death. It is not enough for Jesus to restore this family, mother and son, on earth. Therefore, Jesus does not give us our due. He does not give us what we deserve. He gives us what we don’t deserve.

In the Garden of Eden, when Adam betrayed Jesus, there were no mourners for Jesus. At Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, there was no considerable crowd for Him. And yet, even though He lost His entire creation, all His first-born, and only-born, and every-born person to sin, death, and the devil, it was not enough for Him to sit idly by.

Jesus switches places with the funeral; all funerals. Where there is a considerable crowd or no crowd at all, it is Jesus in the coffin; Jesus in the bier. Jesus weeps in our place. Jesus suffers, in our place. Jesus dies in our place.

This is injustice. That the holy, innocent Son of God should give His life for those who hate Him and rebel against Him is not justice. Yet, by the mercy of God, His injustice is punishing the innocent. The justice of the Kingdom of the heavens is sending One to die for the many. Justice is laying the One into the grave Who built the earth’s foundation.

And Jesus’ grave is still open. It stares at us and it stares at the widow of Nain. We know we are going down, but because Jesus left the door open, it is no longer a pit of death, but a portal of life.

Thus the church sings not because she is happy, necessarily, but because she has hope. She sings because, contrary to popular opinion, the clouds are breaking and the storms of time will cease. Death, sorrow, and earth’s dark story will all come to and end.

This end will not just be sufficient or even considerable. It will be perfect. It will be complete. It will be an end that not only delivers justice, but love 100 times over what was done to us here and 100 times over what we have lost here.

Jesus lives Who once was dead! He has blessed us and not cursed us. He has washed us and not left us. He has spoken to us and not ignored us. He has fed us and not left us hungry. The Church is not selling these things, but giving them away for free.

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…” in Body and Blood.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mammon loses [Trinity 15; St. Matthew 6:24-34]


Who speaks to you today saying,

Mammon is the name that the Jews gave to describe two things: money and gain. It is Aramaic, not Hebrew, but both still have to do with having no other gods before the Lord. So where does mammon affect us today?

For one, this flag to my right represents a government who serves mammon. Last year, the average person in America paid more in taxes than they did on food and clothing combined, even forcing families to worship mammon as well, if they want to live.

This flag to my left also represents service to mammon. Whether or not the family of the man who designed it still receives royalties, you still must pay for it. This oppositely represents the Gospel its supposedly for, which can not be bought or paid for. This also coming from the churches who are adamantly opposed to a crucifix, but gladly fly this piece of cloth in the Chancel instead.

Finally, you say you don’t serve mammon, but there is a way to disprove that. All I would have to do is set fire to either the flag of the United States, a 100 dollar bill, or your credit score and your reaction would reveal your true heart and your true god.

Divorce is a separating of what God has joined together; a gory slicing apart of one flesh, yet it does not receive the same strong reaction.

Abortion is murder, yet sports games receive more of a reaction than does this abomination within our midst.

Children are being publically taught that money and career is more important than fatherhood, motherhood, and having families. Yet, by keeping all this among us, we think we offer service to God, but our actions betray us.

The real evil is in the “necessity of money” that modern society preaches.
We should offer recompense for work done on our behalf. We should expect recompense for our work in order to do good with it. We need it to live, but that is exactly the chink in the armor that mammon slips in through, corrupting our good intentions with sinful desires.

This is why mammon is usually referred to as “unrighteous gain” in Scripture, because this freedom is a two-edged sword. Yes we can use money, but it can be used for evil or good. It is a tool, not a god.

The Lord says to honor Him by sacrificing your mammon to Him (Prov. 3:9). He also says, 
“Woe to him who builds his house with mammon and his upper rooms without justice,
Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13).

This is because you must destroy lives, what God has created, in order to get dishonest gain (Eze. 22:27). Blood must be shed to worship mammon. Faith must be sacrificed in order to worship mammon. This we see as our sins crucify Jesus on the cross.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you serve mammon or are guilty of any other sin, you need only look at the cross of Christ. If He is there, in His Word, suffering and dying, you are indeed sinful and guilty.

Jesus says, render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Thus, Jesus can go on in the Gospel to say be anxious for nothing, because everything you have is on loan. Your money does not have your picture on it, but your ruler’s picture. Give it back to him.

Likewise, your body has Christ’s picture on it, not yours. Give it back to Him. One way or another both of these things happen. The government takes all your money and the Lord retrieves your body from you. With the world there is no mercy. Yet, with the Lord there is mercy and redemption of both body and soul.

Trust not in princes, or money, or gain, they are but mortal and soon decay. Though you need money, use it, don’t let it use you. As all things, sacrifice them at this very altar, which Jesus has prepared for you in the presence of your enemies. Give them up, for though your service is incomplete, God’s Service to you is full and free.

For unlike unrighteous gain, the Lord is righteous. He gives good gifts both of earth and heaven. Not only does He know your earthly needs and provides for you, but He knows your eternal needs and provides for them in His Church, through Jesus.

Faith purifies all things for the believer, because faith in Christ leaves no room for any kind of earthly gain. Faith knows that it is not our service, but God’s that counts for eternity. Thus, in the Church we call it the Divines Service, because it is the Divine (God) that serves us, not us serving God, much less our mammon.

Since the Spirit of the Lord has given us faith, we want nothing in the way of or obstructing that service. It is Jesus’ work, Jesus’ Church, and Jesus’ gifts. Jesus keeps His work pure for you. He purifies His Church in His Blood, for you. He offers you heavenly gain at no cost to you.

In Christ, neither money, nor food, nor any other thing can bar salvation from us, because it has been freely purchased and freely given. Your misplacement or misuse of your fear and love and trust are forgivable sins, because faith trusts that Christ is on the cross for you.

Our sins may have hung on the cross with Jesus, but it was His love and mercy that put Him there, Himself. It is not a diet free of polyunsaturated fats, or free of processed foods, or free from money that will save us, but only the Son of God.

And His Church reflects that. There is nothing but Christ Crucified here. Christ Crucified on the Altar. Christ Crucified in the Gospel. Christ Crucified in the font and Christ Crucified and living in you. Church comes first because that is where God and His Kingdom and His righteousness are.

Now, by this cross, we know what it looks like to serve God and not mammon and it is completely backwards in our estimation. What serving God looks like this: that we set aside the work we do so that God may work in us. Serving God is receiving what He is serving us, that is the full remission of all your sins in Jesus.

Thus, if you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you are saved by grace, you need only look at the cross of Christ. If He is there, in His Word, suffering and dying for you, you are indeed saved and forgiven.

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.