Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thanks Pr. Hall for The Article. "Pelosi Needs to Study Christian History"

Pastor Hall has a good article on Nancy Pelosi's comments on church history.  On "Meet the Press" she stated that the church has been unclear in its understanding of abortion.

I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose...over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.

She's quite wrong, yet defends her stand.  Very much like those who pick and choose what they want to believe.

Read pr Halls post here:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Matthew 16:13-20,Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 24, 2008

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Well, the confession doesn’t get any clearer than that. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter surely doesn’t understand all the implications of the confession, but he is saying something miraculous. The man, Jesus, his friend, his teacher, standing before him, breathing the same air, eating the same food, wearing out the same sandal leather, this human being is from God, himself; the promised Messiah; the Christ. Christ is a title that means “the anointed one.” Saying that Jesus is the anointed one is saying that he is the one set aside and appointed to do a specific task for God. The specific task of the Christ is to save God’s people from their sin. Peter was saying exactly that. He knew who the Messiah was supposed to be and why he was supposed to come. That’s the promise of God that Peter heard from his parents and his church. That’s the promise of God throughout Peter’s bible.

Peter may be thinking about the promise made in the garden:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

It means that Satan is defeated. He won’t have control over God’s people anymore. This is the first promise of what the Messiah, the Christ, is going to do.

Peter may have been thinking about the promise made to Abraham as he sheathed the knife that was held at Isaac’s throat. You remember the story. God tells Abraham to take his son, his only hope for the future, and offer him as a sacrifice, a burnt offering. Abraham faithfully obeys all the way to placing the knife against the soft flesh of his son’s neck. God intervenes and provides a substitute and a promise. A ram is caught in the thorns. The lamb’s life is sacrificed in place of Isaac’s. Isaac is spared. A different sacrifice is given. Its blood is shed instead. And God promises Abraham:

and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18 ESV)

This event isn’t just a picture of Abraham’s willingness to do what God said. It is a picture of faith, but also a picture of the object of the faith. It is a picture story of the Christ and Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus is the substitute in death for the sin of the world. Jesus is The Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.

Peter may have even been thinking about the confessions of the prophets. Like King David who writes in Psalm 22 the very words Jesus uses on the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)

Jesus is suffering the just punishment for sin. He uses David’s words (which are God’s Words) to describe it. God turns away from Jesus. God abandons Jesus to punishment and death and hell. Jesus receives the just punishment for sin, eternal separation from God, that’s exactly what hell is. The just punishment for sin is poured out on Jesus on the cross.

Peter may have been thinking about Isaiah. He describes the Christ as the one who carries the load of sin. The Messiah is the one who removes the punishment of the sins of the world, by bearing its burden.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)

All this is Peter’s confession. It comes from God’s Word. All this is what it means when Peter says that Jesus is the Christ. It is something miraculous and amazing. He didn’t just figure it out on his own, God, the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. God, the Holy Spirit spoke through him. And it isn’t just the words that are amazing it’s also the fact that Peter utters them so clearly without reservation. In this instance Peter lives us to his nickname, the Rock. He is rock solid, faithful, and confessional.

My friends in Christ, Peter’s confession are our confession. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” We’ve said it already a half a dozen times this morning. We’ll say it more times before our worship time is through. It is one of the reasons we gather as a congregation; to say clearly what God has given us to say about Jesus; to confess our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, our Savior from sin, death and hell. To worship God by proclaiming who He is and what He has done for us.

Peter gives a great confession. But he very shortly erases all that he said. When Jesus tells the disciples all what it really means to be the Christ, Peter reacts outside of his clear confession.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

Jesus sets Peter in his place. It’s as if he says, “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection, all that I have come to do. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me again as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

But we are no different than Peter. Life happens. Stuff happens. Roofs leak. There are bills to pay. Pastors come and go. Long faithful members die. As the community shrinks attendance declines. Families fight and struggle for power. We worry and fret about survival. And our confession evaporates in a cloud of trouble. Jesus is not at the center anymore. So our Lord Jesus rebukes us. “Get behind me Satan. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but instead the things of man have been put at the center.”

Jesus puts us in our place. “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

How do we survive at such criticism? How do we react to God’s Word that convicts us of our sin? It is all in the confession. It is in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come into the world to bring us forgiveness of sin. This isn’t some un-practical, un-revelevant thing. You and I are sinful. We tend push Jesus out of the center. We do it not only as the church, but also in our personal lives. As we just heard:

“… we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” (Divine Service, Setting Four, LSB, p. 203)

Life happens. Stuff happens. Our sin comes to the surface again and again. We pay for it over and over again; broken church, broken lives, broken promises, and broken friendships. It never ends as long as we live. We cannot free ourselves. And more than that, when we die in our sin, without faith in Jesus, there is only eternal punishment. There is nothing more relevant, more important than the message spoken by Peter, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

My dear Christian friends, today I come to you to proclaim exactly what I did the first time I spoke from this pulpit. With Jesus there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness in Jesus only. He has forgiveness for your failures, forgiveness for your broken promises, forgiveness for your thinking more of money than of Jesus, forgiveness for thinking that it is your job to save the church, forgiveness for thinking of yourselves first instead of others. Forgiveness is all here, in Jesus Christ. It is found here at the font, where born sinful people are washed clean and adopted by God; where sin is washed away forever; where God’s promises put on people with His name. It is found in Jesus on the cross. It is found in Jesus in His holy and precious blood shed for you. You receive it right here in, with and under bread and wine, Jesus’ special meal for you. It is found in his suffering and death as payment for the debt you owe for your sin. It is found in his bearing of your grief and sorrow over sin. He is wounded for your transgressions. He is crushed for your iniquities.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 ESV)

What does that forgiveness mean? It means that as life happens, as stuff happens, our sin is taken care of. We can serve each other without fear. The things we do for one another are washed clean of sin. Our self-serving motives are taken to the grave by Jesus. Dear Christians, confess with me and Saint Peter, the confession that makes all the difference for us. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Wilken Plan!

Pastor Todd Wilken has a plan for Synod restructuring.

Most of it sounds good.  Right now (though not very long) I live near Woonsocket, SD. 

I hereby nominate Rev. Bagnall for Synod president.

He has all the necessary qualifications, stogies and Lutheran beverages with the added advantage of no re-location expenses.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Matt.15.21-28, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 17, 2008

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Great is your faith!” That’s what Jesus says about this Canaanite woman. It’s pretty amazing, considering that at first he doesn’t even listen to her. There she is crying out again and again, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Have mercy on me… Have mercy on me… But [Jesus] didn’t answer her a word. Nothing at all. Not a peep… not a whisper… nothing at all. In fact, you might infer from the way that Matthew, the Gospel writer puts it, that Jesus flat out ignored her. But she’s persistent in her plea for help, so much so, that the disciples get tired of it. “Get rid of her. Tell her to go home. Remind her that she’s not worthy. Send her away, for she is crying out after us. If it doesn’t bother you, Jesus, we’re telling you now that she bugging the heck out of us.

It’s pretty clear what the disciples though of her. She was and outsider. Not a member of Club Jesus. She was outside the loop. A dirty beggar looking for a free handout. One of those folks that just take what you give for free and abuse it. If she gets a handout today, I’ll bet you’d find her buying cigarettes or beer tomorrow. She doesn’t even know how to keep quiet in church. Her kids were probably ill behaved, too. Can’t you see the looks she must have been getting? You know the ones. They say, “Hey, can’t you keep quiet, I can’t hear what Jesus is saying… to me. I can’t concentrate on Jesus with all your bellyaching.” Well, the disciples were just being human. They are reacting just as you and I react all the time. We are very careful in helping, or as the woman was asking, “showing mercy.” We like to hold back until we see a sign that the help we offer will be received correctly. We like to hold back until we see a sign that it will be received by a person who is worthy of our help. We hold back our real welcome until “unacceptable” behavior changes. After all we don’t want to be taken advantage of. We don’t want to be enable rotten behavior. But most of all we don’t want to act in any way that would give anyone the impression that we don’t value money. After all there’s nothing worse than wasting money on people who don’t deserve help. There is no greater sin than being over generous.

Well, maybe the disciples were taking their queue from Jesus. After all, he didn’t say anything to her. He didn’t encourage her. He didn’t rebuke her and tell her to be quiet. Nothing. So, the disciples must have thought that he was agreeing with the way they felt. They must have thought that all Jesus needed was a little nudging to get rid of the annoyance, so that they could all get back to the important business at hand… so that everything could get back to normal… without rude interruption. “Send her away…” they said to Jesus.

[Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Those words might have set the disciples faces to grins. They might have even been thinking about turning to the woman and giving her the brush off. For once, something Jesus said seemed to agree with the way they were thinking. Instead of the phrase, “you of little faith…” Instead of feeling lost and confused, Jesus seemed to agree with what they thought. For once they were right, they thought. There was no place for this woman in their crowd. There was no place for this “non-jewish” woman among them. Her problems were hers to deal with. They had more important things to do. But the woman wasn’t about to cooperate. She took one last stab a Jesus’ attention. She pushed through the disciples to get to Jesus and fell at his feet, shouting, “Lord, help me!”

The next words Jesus speaks just don’t feel right. It’s not the kind of response to a hurting person that we expect from Jesus. We might scratch our heads in wonder, because the words seem callous… almost rude. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. How could the man who let people touch the tassels of his robe to be healed say such a thing to a needy person? How could the man who restored a man’s withered hand begrudge this woman what she sought? How could the one who said, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, ESV) Turn this woman away.

But the woman’s response is also just as unexpected. Her response is really at the heart of what’s going on here. Her response opens up her heart and shows us what’s inside. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” At first look you might think that she’s disagreeing with what Jesus says. Especially the way it’s usually translated. “Yes, Lord, yet…” or “Yes, Lord, but…” But she’s what she’s saying is really more like “Of course not, Lord, the dogs get their own food from the scraps that fall from the table. The children are taken care of but so are the dogs. Each in a way that is appropriate. Think about the dog lover who drops food to the floor for the dog. The dogs aren’t neglected. They receive what’s left over from the table.

So what’s so great about what she says? What’s so profound? What’s so exceptional about the faith she expresses here? Well, this woman, this outsider, this gentile, is absolutely convinced that Jesus has something for her. She is sure that Jesus isn’t just for the disciples. She is sure that Jesus will help her. She shows it in her persistence. She shows it in her words. Her faith isn’t in her ability to speak to Jesus. It isn’t in the disciples. She has faith in Jesus. He is the one, the only one, who can save. Great faith is great not because of the one with faith but because of the object of that faith. She sees Jesus clearly as one who can and will help. She sees Jesus for who he really is… just as she spoke earlier, “O Lord, Son of David…” words that say she recognizes Jesus as the promised Savior of the Jews, but also as her promised Savior. The author of Hebrews says it like this, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus heals the daughter. But don’t think of what Jesus does as a reward for the woman’s “Great faith.” It is nothing less than she expects from Jesus. Jesus heals because he is gracious. Jesus heals because he has mercy. Jesus heals to show that faith in him is well placed. He speaks his words of praise to her for the sake of the others who were listening. The disciples would have sent her away, like we might have done, too. It was Peter who rightly spoke that he wouldn’t leave Jesus because he had the words of eternal life. Yet, he expected this woman to be forced away. Faith held her there, faith in God through Jesus Christ. She would not be sent away.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV)

Jesus demonstrates his exceptional mercy in action. He demonstrated it through the healing of the woman’s daughter… but he demonstrated it even more clearly at the cross. It was because his cries for mercy there went unanswered that God hears our cries for mercy now. God, the Father, turned his back on his only begotten son on the cross. It is the rejection that we should experience. It is the punishment that should be ours for disregarding the law of God. It is the punishment we earn for our unwillingness to give help where help is needed simply because we think it won’t be appreciated, or properly received. We should be sent away, outsiders from God, no better than that woman from Canaan. But, we too, know what she knew. Jesus is for us. Because of Jesus death and resurrection, we are gathered to God. It isn’t because we are worthy, quite the contrary we are wholly unworthy. It’s because we have faith in Jesus to be for us exactly what he promises to be, and to do for us exactly what he promise to do.

Martin Luther once said, “Faith clings to the Word in the heart and does not doubt the Word.” What he means is this:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Creed)

That’s the great faith that Jesus is talking about. The faith that the Canaanite woman had, believing that Jesus was for her. That’s what we believe too. Jesus for me, Jesus for you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Romans 10:5-17, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 10, 2008

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:5-17 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is a very strong contrast in this text. It talks about two kinds of righteousness. Righteousness is just a $10 word that means being right with God, or having God look at us and seeing only good. So this text is talking about that. The first way is simple. If you keep the commandments, so says Moses, you will live by them. And at first we may like what we hear. We are pretty keen on the law and the commandments after all. How many of you were distressed at the fight to remove the Ten Commandments from courtrooms around the country. God gives us laws, if we obey them we can live. If we could just get everyone to follow those Ten Commandments then we’d have a country that was blessed by God. It is interesting that recent polls show that even Christians don’t know the commandments. If you ask what they are you usually get a list containing something about killing, stealing, and maybe even littering. How are you supposed to keep the commandments if you don’t even know what they are? And that’s just the problem. When we look at our lives we think we see that we are keeping them pretty good. It’s those folks out there who aren’t on the ball. We’re not lazy like those folks down the road who never work and don’t even try, but live on the handouts of others. We’re not drinking our way to an early grave like those who are always parked on Main Street. We’re not worshipping that mattress god instead of warming our place in the pew. We’re putting “our fair share” in the collection plate, not like those folks who never give anything so the church can meet its budget. We’ve got it all over them. When Moses says, we shall live by them… We’re very quick to point out where others aren’t keeping them. And we, if we just look at the surface, are doing pretty well. The problem with looking at the commandments this way is that we forget something very important about them. The important thing is how they start. The first commandment is really the key to them all. That’s what Jesus tells us when he was asked: What is the greatest commandment?

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

The first commandment is the key. If you can’t do it you aren’t keeping the rest. You shall have no other gods is a tall order and it is infinitely personal. It’s between me and God. He is to be first and only. I am to depend on him for everything. I am to love him more than anything, including myself. He is to be in my every thought, always. The rest of the commandments don’t matter after this. The righteousness that Moses says lets me live is really having a perfect relationship to God. And when I look at my life, when you look at your life in light of God’s demand in just this first commandment we end up standing in the rubble of all the commandments broken. But the proof is in the living. Your life and mine is littered with the broken pieces of the commandments. We have enemies because we don’t keep the commandments. We hurt friends and family because we don’t keep them. We toss and turn in the night with our well earned guilt. What Moses says is true. The person who does the commandments will live by them. The way for righteousness by the law isn’t in the cards. But we still try, we gather up the broken pieces of the law all around us and dutifully carry it to God and say, doesn’t this count for anything? But the commandments must be whole. Broken pieces offered to God are nothing. Isaiah says it clearly.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

Now I said the passage talks about two kinds of righteousness. And that’s a good thing because the first way is out of reach. The second way is a righteousness based on faith. St. Paul tells us what this way is like. First, he says, this righteousness isn’t like the way of the law because it admits it can’t keep the law. That’s what he means when he says “Who can bring Christ down?” or “Who can raise Christ from the dead?” He’s just saying that faith admits we can’t do anything to make these things happen. Faith confesses the truth about who we are.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3 NIV)

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:3 NIV)

But the righteousness of faith is more than that. We know we are sinful because the law condemns us. But God’s Word also gives us hope.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (Romans 10:8 ESV)

The thing is the way of righteousness by the law is hard. We can’t keep the commandments. That is we can’t keep them perfectly enough to be right with God and have a relationship to him. But the way of faith is easy. In fact, there is nothing to be done at all.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

We confess with our mouth what we believe in our hearts. Faith expresses itself in words.

In confession it says,

But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4 ESV)

At the baptismal font it says,

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 ESV)

At the altar it says,

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

At the hospital it says,

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 ESV)

At the grave it says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

That’s the word that is near you, in your heart, and confessing the faith that saves. Jesus gives the victory in all these times because he is the one who has won them. Actually that’s the other way that what Moses says is true. He says that the man who does the commandments shall live by them. We know he’s not talking about you and me. He is talking about someone. It’s Jesus. Jesus did the commandments perfectly. He had no trouble with keeping God as the center of his life. It shows too in everything else he does. He had compassion on sinful people who needed help. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He gently (and not so gently) corrected those who believed false things. He placed other people’s needs above his own. Jesus is the one who can and does present the commandments in whole stone to God, the Father. There are no chips or scratches or cracks at all. By all rights Jesus should live, as the commandments promise, if they are kept whole. And Jesus does live. But first he dies. When we present our works to God all that we should receive is his anger and punishment for destroying his perfect law. But instead Jesus steps between us and God’s anger. He takes it all. On the cross God’s perfectly just anger is poured out on Jesus. All the punishment for the broken tables of the law. All the punishment for not doing what we should. All the punishment for doing what we shouldn’t. All of what we deserve for trying to deflect our own sinfulness on other people. But Jesus does live. He earned life through his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. He lives, just as Moses says. And what’s more, he presents his perfectly kept law to God, not for himself, but for you and for me. So, what Moses said about living is true for us to. That’s God’s promise in our baptism in Jesus, through his life, death and especially his resurrection from death.

But that’s not all that Paul says here either. He tells us what the church, what this church; St. John’s Lutheran Church in Miner County, Howard, South Dakota and all our sister congregations across the state, nation, and world, are all about. In short he says our task as the church is to do just exactly what faith does. Faith has an expression in proclamation. It isn’t really difficult. “Faith comes from hearing” he says, “and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Our task is to preach. How can they call on him if they don’t believe? They can’t. How can they believe without hearing? They can’t. How can there be hearing without a preacher? There isn’t. The job of the church above all things is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ alone. The job of the church is to remain focused on the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Budgets and buildings are necessary to that end but we don’t worship bricks, and we don’t keep a beautiful building for the sake of its beauty. This is all here for the sake of hearing.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: We rejoice in this gift from God; the proclamation of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins won for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Old Friends... Who Make Me Smile. (Update: Aug 9, 2008)

This is Rev. David Baker.  He and his family (Rachel and kids) are missionaries in Taldykorgan, Kazakhstan.

I went to school with them at Concordia, Seward, NE.

Here's an article on the LCMS Web Site.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Divine Call to Trinity, Creston, IA

Pastor Watt has imagereceived a Divine Call to serve as the sole pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Creston, IA.

Please pray for me, my family, St. John's (Howard), and Trinity (Creston) as I pray, sweat, deliberate and decide where best to serve.

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Matthew.14.13-21 Pentecost 12, August 3, 2008

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:1-21 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s really quite a party we’ve got here, all those people out there far from home. Just think about all the joy that’s going on as Jesus heals the sick. Jesus touching the folks who have a fever and the fever is gone. Jesus rubbing a red rash and poof the skin is normal. Jesus straightening a crooked limb and the straight leg dances with joy. Jesus speaking to a person who can’t speak and the still tongue begins to sing his praises. Jesus fixing all their problems. Jesus making all their hurts go away. Jesus doing what Jesus does.

The disciples must have been enjoying the moment, but then the something goes wrong. The good stuff lasts too late and it’s time for supper. Jesus’ disciples are getting nervous. They start thinking about something besides Jesus. They are distracted by the time. They think they need to give Jesus a nudge, a reminder. I can hear their conversation. “Peter, you tell him. You know how he is. He gets so busy helping folks he loses track of the time.” So they say to Jesus, “Send the folks away so they can buy food in the villages around here on their way home.”

But Jesus isn’t ready for the party to be over yet.

“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

Now the disciples are in the thick of it. It’s probably the last thing they expected. Maybe they made a plan, “What should we do? We’ll ask everyone to pitch in.” If they were Lutheran they’d call for a pot-luck. But the best laid plans of disciples often go astray. Just look at how inept their efforts turn out. With five thousand men there and some women and children too, the disciples, doing what they do, come up with a snack pack. Five loves and two fish is the modern day equivalent of one of those little plastic packages with a tiny dish of cheese and a couple of Ritz crackers. Ok, so now picture the crowd, a hungry crowd of some five thousand people and more. With the disciples’ best effort, they don’t even come up with enough of a meal for one person, let alone five thousand plus. Well now the party is over. The mob won’t even fight over what they’ve found. They drop the ball. They can’t provide. The disciples have failed. The crowd is going to go away hungry. It’s a bit surprising that they even show what they’ve found to Jesus at all.

Jesus uses it all to make a point. Maybe the disciples should have just answered out of the gate, “Lord, we can’t do it. Only you can provide for all these people.” That’s just what he’s about to show them. Jesus makes the party. First, he tells everyone to sit down. He commands them to sit, in fact. He wants everyone to know for sure who is doing what and who isn’t doing what. He wants everyone to know who is in control and who is about to provide. “Don’t do anything,” he’s saying. “I’ve come to give you what you need.” Then he takes the snack, the bread and fish, and blesses it; he breaks the bread, and gives it to the disciples to distribute. And they do. And he does. I don’t know what it was like, whether every time someone took a piece of fish or bread another appeared or if the baskets refilled only after they were empty, or whether there were suddenly bunches of baskets, it really doesn’t matter. Jesus provides for the people in abundance. He could have done it without the snack the disciples found. They show who they are by their thinking that they actually can do something. Jesus shows who he is by providing. Jesus is the life of the party, literally.

There was another party too. St. Matthew tells us about it right before he tells us of this one. The author wants us to make some kind of a connection between the two. That’s why he starts out,

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.

The “this” is the other party. It’s a party of a different kind. It’s King Herod’s birthday. It’s not difficult to imagine the difference. There’s drinking and carousing, and dancing, drunken laughter and over indulging of all kinds. Herod’s sexual fantasies are indulged. The daughter of Herod’s live in lover dances for him. It is quite a dance. Herod is so impressed or so moved that he offers her anything she wants. Who knows what he thought she wants. “What I really want, my King,” she says a death drips from her lips, “is John the baptizer’s head on a platter.” Her mother told her to as for that because John was telling everyone, in public, that she and the king were living in sin. He was causing such a stir that Herod had John thrown in prison. Now Herod is trapped. He made the promise right there in front of all of his guests. He doesn’t have the backbone to say “no.” He sends the solders to the cell to retrieve the gift. Just to show you what kind of a party it really is, just to show you what kind of people are living in the palace, when this young girl, this teenager, gets John’s head on a platter, it seems she calmly accepts it and takes it to her mother without any other reaction. Now that’s a party of a different kind.

Now we’d much rather have the first than the second. We’d much rather have Jesus fixing all our problems, Jesus balancing our checkbook, Jesus healing our cancer, Jesus smoothing over our arguments with our neighbor. And in fact, if you listen to those radio and TV preachers they’ll tell you that that’s what Jesus is really all about. Live for Jesus, find his purpose for your life and your life will be better. Obey God’s principals for living and God will give you health, wealth and happiness. Do such and such for God and he’ll be obligated to do such and such for you. Say this prayer 20 times a day and God will give you the desire of your heart. Jesus comes to make you all that you can be and give you your best life now. In fact, that’s what we might conclude by the feeding of the five thousand. But that’s only because we aren’t really seeing what’s going on here. That’s our sinful nature putting ourselves at the center instead of Jesus. We want Jesus to provide the way we want him to provide. “Jesus, if you’re not going to make my life easier, what good are you?” So when we see Jesus healing and feeding, our hearts naturally go straight to our own hopes and desires. We start thinking about how we can get God to do for us what we want him to do for us. That’s the kind of party we want Jesus to bring.

But lots of the time our lives really reflect the second party better. Oh, I’m not necessarily talking about the carousing. I’m talking about the suffering of John the Baptizer. John is hardly living his “best life now.” There’s not much victory in his severed head on a platter for a teenager. But that’s John’s whole life. He lived in the desert, ate bugs, and dressed in less than fashionable clothing. But look at what Jesus says about him.

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11 ESV)

And for all his trouble all his pointing to Jesus for all his greatness, John the Baptizer only loses his head.

Now what we might be missing is what’s actually going on in these two parties. That’s because we focus on ourselves instead of Jesus. Jesus provides for us. Of course he does. He became a man to provide for what we need. It’s right there in the story. Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowds. They can’t do it. It’s the most basic need of people. They are helpless. They focus on themselves. They focus on the process. They focus on what they can do instead of focusing on Jesus. When they fail Jesus provides fully. John is helpless too. The thing is Jesus provides even in cases like John. The baptizer suffers. God is still providing. The baptizer dies. Jesus is still in control. It doesn’t matter if things are rosy in your life, or if things are sour. God is still providing. It doesn’t matter if you’re living your dream life, in your dream marriage, in your dream house, or if you’re life is at its lowest point ever. Jesus is still in control. That’s what faith is; believing that no matter what, God is providing what is most needed.

But our faith is weak. We are selfish, self-centered, self-focused. We read God’s word with our hearts looking for self help instead of looking for Jesus’ help. We are sinful people unable to provide for ourselves what we need most. We cannot remove our selfish sin from our lives. We try our own way but come up with a meager offering for God. We can change the external things and make ourselves look good, but the heart is still soiled and spoiled with sin. God doesn’t judge on external appearance. He judges based on the heart. Yours and mine are filled with sin. We fall back into it in a black heartbeat.

But Jesus provides. It just doesn’t look the way we think should. We think the first party; enough bread to go around; enough money to pay the bills; a little miracle here and there to keep our health up to par; a church that grows in numbers in spite of the declining population. But much of the time Jesus provides like the second party.

In fact Jesus’ life looks more like the second party. No not the carousing, but the suffering of John; Jesus suffering in the garden praying to God, the Father, for relief; Jesus suffering under the punishment of the Roman whip; Jesus suffering the humiliation of an unjust trial; Jesus enduring the pain of nails piercing his hands and feet and thorns in his head; Jesus dead on the cross, naked and bloody, stabbed and shamed. In all that suffering and death, Jesus is providing.

Jesus provides us with our greatest need. Like the bread in the wilderness Jesus gives us what we can’t possibly get any other way. Jesus provides for us the forgiveness of sins. You can’t get rid of the sin in your heart. Jesus can. He earns forgiveness for all people through his perfect life, death and resurrection. And he gives it to you and me, he provides it, as freely as he gave those folk the bread in baskets on the green grass. He provides it as abundantly as he did on that day at that party.

And we’ve got the party still going on today. Listen to how much it sounds like what we do here:

Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

You see, Jesus provides. He give you the forgiveness you need. But he doesn’t just make it available. He makes sure you know it is for you. He makes sure you know you’ve got it. Just like he broke that bread on the green grass, he breaks bread here. You open your mouth and receive what Jesus provides. Here he gives his very body and blood, the same that was bruised and beaten on the cross. You open your mouth and Jesus pours his forgiveness right into you. Jesus is the host of this wonderful meal. He is the provider here. Jesus is the host here, not your pastor. Jesus gives what you need, his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

This party, the one on the green grass, is a picture of eternity. God is providing. And this party, the one where Jesus is giving, the one that happened on that green hillside, the one that continues here at our altar, well it goes on forever and ever and ever. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.