Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Baptism is your "today, you will be with me..."

Pastor Fisk has posted a great article on his blog "Babylon Falling"

Especially insightful is this paragraph. 

The Biblical truth is that the manner in which Jesus told his Church to go and make disciples was by baptizing them into the faith which they would also be taught. Apart from this promise, there is no assurance that anyone anywhere will be saved. (The thief on the cross was saved the exact same way - by a direct promise from Jesus. Baptism is your "today, you will be with me.")

I can easily imagine using the account of the thief on the cross to explain baptism!  This is very cool!

Friday, March 26, 2010

They Will Know We are Lutherans by Our Books!? McCain T.E.L.L.s all in Revelation of Subversive Plot.

(Original Post, July 18, 2010)
Update: (3/26/10) To be released this summer; An Updated "Indispensable" "New Edition" of Walther's Law and Gospel.
(St. Louis) Word of a Concordia Publishing House plot to publish a definitive "Lutheran Library" leaked out late yesterday (July 17) on the Rev. Paul McCain blog, Cyberbrethren.  The previously hidden conspiracy (codename "T.E.L.L." - T-he E-ssential L-utheran L-ibrary) continues the publisher's pension for acrostic alphabet soup.  The plot is to publish a set of volumes that not only look similar, but are so indispensable to parish pastors as to separate them from unnecessary income.  McCain admits "There's the method to the method, the reason to the rhyme, etc."  (HT: see comments). 
So far the scheme has been wildly successful.  Currently six volumes have been released piling up the acronyms and creating a confused order to the confusion.  McCain '...we want to encourage people to think “Bible” when they think “Hymnal” and think “Hymnal” when they think “Bible”.' One pastor who refused to be identified noted that his wife dreaded the arrival of the new Concordia catalog.  "What book has that devil McCain convinced you you can't live without now!" she quipped.
The book list includes:  
TLSB - The Lutheran Study Bible
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions
Lutheran Service Book
Luther’s Small Catechism
Treasury of Daily Prayer
Lutheran Book of Prayer
The subversion is far from complete.  Rev. McCain admitted that two additional volumes were a part of the plot, one previously published and a second forthcoming.
RPL - Reading the Psalms with Luther
SP - Starck’s Prayerbook
The final genius of the plot has been magnified by the House offering several of the books at half price.  Reports have surfaced of pastor forgoing daily necessities such as their fifth cup of morning coffee in favor of the "Mini-Me" edition of the CTLC (on sale in May for seven dollars).  There are sporadic reports of book hoarding.  One parisioner said, "Our pastor has ten copies of the Mini Book of Concord in his office." The real danger of the plot is yet to come, however.  McCain set the goal high with the threat, "These are volumes that I deem absolutely essential for every Lutheran"
Reporting Pastor Jonathan C. Watt
(update: The author is still trying to decipher the letters "TCLLTLRS").

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Luke.20.9-20; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 21, 2010

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

We love stories. People have always loved them. Around the campfire, dad tucking the children in for sleep, tales about family escapades… and Jesus’ parables. Some folks say that Jesus’ stories, his parables, are earthly stories with heavenly meaning. I think it’s much simpler than that. Jesus’ parables are Jesus-parables. In other words the stories Jesus tells are about him. It’s the simplest rule to keep in mind when reading and hearing them. Without that, people won’t understand them. When the disciples asked him to explain the parable of the sower…

he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ ” (Luke 8:10, ESV)

The secret is knowing Jesus and seeing Jesus in the parable. It is about him. The hard part is that we are going against our sinful nature. You see, whenever we start to talk about religious ideas we go into a kind of auto pilot. Our first thought is us. In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word that’s all human religion is, human work to raise up humans. Any example you look at is going to show that. Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc, they are all religions about what people do. Christianity is the only religion that is really about what God does, and the key to it all is Jesus. His life, death and resurrection are actually God doing, God saving.

And so today we have this parable. And right here in the middle of it we have a great example of this very thing I’ve been talking about. Before I read it again I want to set up the context and remind you of the keys to interpreting parables. First the context:

This is probably Monday after Palm Sunday. Remember Jesus rides into Jerusalem surrounded by people shouting, “Hosanna! The king is here.” He weeps over Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction. He goes into the temple, the “home territory” of his enemies, and flushes out the money changers. Then comes this important sentence:

And [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. ” (Luke 19:47–48, ESV)

So Jesus’ enemies confront him in the temple asking where he gets his authority. He shuts them down by asking,

“I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luk 20:3–4, ESV)

They are afraid of the people. If we answer “from heaven” Jesus could ask why they didn’t believe what he said. If they answer “from men” they were afraid of the people’s reaction because the people knew he was from God. So they answer “We don’t know.” So Jesus doesn’t answer their question either. The tension is thick. The people are hanging on Jesus words. The priests and scribes have blood in their eyes. Then Jesus tells the parable… not to them but to the people.

Now the parable: Remember the two helps in interpreting the parable. First, it’s about Jesus. Second, watch for the thing that would never happen and that’s usually describing what Jesus is doing.

And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Ok so it’s about Jesus. It’s pretty obvious that the son in the parable is the Son of God. The servants are the prophets. The vineyard is God’s people who reject prophet after prophet and finally Jesus. But take care. The thing that would never happen isn’t that the tenants would kill the son. According to the law of the land, this actually could happen. And the tenants would be in a good position to take the property because the landlord was out of the country. It’s the people who hear the parable that tell you what’s out of place. When Jesus says,

What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”

Do you see what they’ve done? They have made the parable about them losing the vineyard. Almost like saying, “That could never happen!” They are thinking, “God would never do that!” That’s what we are likely to do too. When we hear it we start asking questions like, “What do we have to do to not be like the people in the parable?” Do you see how we automatically center it on us? Jesus tells them they’ve missed the point. Listen:

But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Jesus directs them back to the main thing, him. He is the son who will be cast out of the vineyard and killed. He is the rejected stone. In a matter of days they are going to see it in all its bloody detail. God’s glory, his work for us, God doing what is needed, is actually accomplished by the rejection of his son. In the garden the priest’s thugs arrest him and beat him. In an illegal trail they condemn him. They force Pilate to put him to death on the cross under threat. And so Jesus dies just as he tells in this parable. Rejected! He is the cornerstone. The parable is about him and his work for us, his people. On Wednesday nights we’ve been singing the Magnificat. It’s Mary’s song about God’s great reversal in Jesus Christ. God working to undo injustice. God turning the world’s order upside down. God doing things like no one else would do them. Jesus talks about it like this. You may have wondered why that song is so prominent in that evening prayer service. Listen to some of the words:

Oppression halted;
The meek exalted.
Full are the hungry;
Empty, the wealthy—
O sing the greatness of God the Lord!

© 1991 Stephen P. Starke. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.

It’s not a song about the rich getting their comeuppance. It’s about God turning making everything right again in Christ, the rejected stone becomes the corner.

And there’s even more here than meets the ear… Jesus says:

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.

It’s a quote from Psalm 118:22, and an explanation. I want you to notice something here too. He says everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces. He’s not just talking about the scribes and priests that rejected him. He’s not just talking about today’s religious leaders that lead God’s people astray with false teaching. He’s not just talking about popes and pastors who push their works before the work of Christ, he says everyone. Yep, he means you and me, too. Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken. He does that to us. We must be broken and crushed. Otherwise we fall into to our old selfish patterns. We make ourselves the center of our religion. Over and over again Our Lord breaks us with the law. He doesn’t do it the way we do. We use the law to show how good we are. See I keep the law. I haven’t stolen from my neighbor even though he deserves it. I haven’t cheated on my husband, even though I could do much better. No, Jesus uses the law to kill us. He shows us that we must be perfect, and nothing short of perfect will do. When we see our sin clearly, we fall at his feet and call on him to save us. He does. The stone the builders rejected becomes the corner stone. He was cast out of the vineyard and onto the cross for us. We are forgiven. He is our savior. In repentance, the gift of faith, we broken sinners cling to Jesus for forgiveness and receive it. Those who reject him, he falls on them and they are crushed.

Jesus is the ultimate stumbling stone. Jesus is Christianity, not good works of any kind, not transforming culture, or getting good laws through the legislature. Jesus only. Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus the rejected stone. Jesus for you and me.

And that’s how the text ends today too.

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19, ESV)

It all begins just as Jesus told in the parable. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Luke 15:1-3; 11-32; Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 14, 2010

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: ” And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ” ” (Luke 15:1-3, 11–32, ESV)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March 13, 2010; Funeral Sermon for Kelly Brown;

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

Here lies a very strong man. Well, he had to be didn’t he? Between his flock of older brothers who I’m sure never did anything to aggravate him, and a sister who could tease and outrun him, he had to be strong. Those brothers may have called him spoiled but here lies a very strong man. I know it’s true because he’s my age and he has endured more (medically) in his lifetime than I can even contemplate. And even though he probably had more to complain about then most people, he didn’t do it. Here lies a strong man.

Now I don’t think in general people really thought of Kelly as all that strong. After all, he needed daily care. He depended on his family for everything, especially these last few years. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t even hold his own eyes open. He walked with great difficulty. And these last few years again, he was pretty much confined to his house. And he didn’t speak much. “Hello Kelly, how are you today.” “Fine.” For Kelly that was a Russian novel. No, I think most people would look at that and say this guy is not strong.

But I know that he was. The thing is, I think Kelly really understood something very clearly. Something that we don’t have the perspective to understand. He understood what it means to be dependent on people, and I think he understood what it means to be dependent on God. Now don’t take me wrong. Kelly was no perfect person. He was a sinner just like you and me, no better, no worse. Sinful to the core. Just like me. Just like you. Every day he struggled with selfishness. I’m sure that nearly every day he questioned God’s wisdom at letting all this happen to him. You see, he struggled with sin, too. I know that even though he never said a word to me about it. I know that sin was there in his heart because: Here lies a strong man. Because according to God, the soul that sins will die. And as for you and me; well, you’re looking at what we deserve too. Someday we will all hold the place of honor at our own funeral. Remember I said as far as sin is concerned, we are no different than Kelly. We are sinners who deserve this.

Back to Kelly’s strength and his dependence. Listen to his confirmation verse.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. ” (Proverbs 30:5, ESV)

This really is Kelly. Actually it is God’s wonderful gift of faith given to him. All those years ago, God gave that gift of faith to Kelly with His name and water. “Kelly Jay Brown I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And year after year, Sunday after Sunday Kelly sat here in the pews and listen to every word that came from God. How many times did Kelly open his mouth here and receive God’s forgiveness through the body and blood of his Savior, Jesus? You see, Kelly took refuge in God, in Christ. I have two short stories to tell you.

I was visiting Kelly in the hospital. I asked if he wanted to take communion. Some of the family was there and said that he just had it Sunday. Then Kelly spoke up. “Yes!” He wanted it. He wanted God’s promises right there in the hospital bed.

The other day Ellen told me that when Kelly was alone he used to take the bulletins that had the hymns printed on them and try to sing them. The psalm says, “Make a joyful noise!”

Here lies a strong man. But the strength that I want you to think about now is something different than the strength that kept him alive all these years. It is the strength of faith. Faith is being dependent on a Savior from sin, completely dependent. As the proverb says taking “refuge in Him.” Our faith, Kelly’s faith is in God’s faithfulness. We believe that God will keep his promises.

And this is what we rejoice in today. Not in Kelly and his strength but in God and his promises, God and his forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16 ESV) That’s his promise to Kelly. “This is my blood given for the forgiveness of your sin.” That too is his promise to Kelly. Kelly’s sin, oh, and by the way yours and mine too, were hanging on the cross with Jesus. This is where all God’s promises come true. Jesus suffers God’s anger over all human sin. Jesus Christ suffers the complete punishment of Hell for all. And this point I want you to really understand, and I want you to understand it by understanding Kelly’s dependence. We take refuge in Jesus, believing God’s Word of forgiveness. But it is nothing that we do, can do or will do. We don’t make ourselves right with God in any way. Rather God makes us right with himself by becoming human in Jesus Christ. He is God’s substitute for sinful people; living a perfect, sinless, God dependent life; Suffering punishment that was not his but ours, and walking out of death alive again. And then through His Word and Sacraments he gives us the faith to believe that all that Jesus did he did for me and you and Kelly. That’s what Kelly believed. That is Kelly’s faith; taking refuge in God, being totally dependent on Him for forgiveness; depending on him to raise him up from death to life again. Like the hymn we sang says, and I think you can put it on Kelly’s lips.

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

You see, this death, Kelly’s death is absent of the ultimate punishment of sin. Because of Jesus, Kelly has only passed from life here to life with God. The eternal punishment of Hell was already taken up by Jesus. And, God be praised, on the day when our Lord returns, Kelly’s body will be raised up perfect, and whole without spot or wrinkle or blemish and we will stand with him rejoicing in Jesus. Amen.

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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Luke 13:1-9; Third Sunday in Lent; March 7, 2010; Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” ” (Luke 13:1–9, ESV)

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

Recently one of those television preachers said that Haiti suffered its earthquake because they made a deal with the devil to get rid of the French. The story goes, according to this preacher, they wanted to end French occupation so they prayed to Satan to kick them out. He did and that’s how they got Voodoo. This is the kind of thing that these folks were taking to Jesus. We’re not exactly sure what happed to these Galileans, but it seems they had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and were killed by Roman soldiers, maybe even in the temple. It is a terrible thing. And Jesus brings up another example. Others were killed when a tower fell. The question was the same. Lord, what caused this? What kind of sinful people were these that died so horribly? What they were looking for was a reason for the problem, a reason for bad luck and random death. They wanted to know what these folks did to deserve the death that they got. They must have been terrible sinners. It is a natural thought. But Jesus has a different idea. No, he says. These folks weren’t any worse than anyone else. And in fact, you all deserve the same fate! Ouch! That’s not what we want to hear. That doesn’t even sound like Jesus, does it? After all we kinda think Jesus walks around all day with a smile on his face, feeding people, healing people, holding their hand… these words make Jesus sound, well, not nice! Certainly he’s not speaking to us! Maybe he’s talking to the drug addicts, drunks, and child molesters out there, but not to his people. Not to people who willingly give up their Sunday morning to sit in the pews here at church. Not to people who drop their hard earned money in the collection plate. Is he?

Well, yes. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying. Actually, the parable at the end really puts the fine point on it. The owner of the vineyard has every right to expect fruit from the fig tree. But year after year he gets none. No one would complain about him axing it. He has the right to expect that things he plants will produce fruit. But it doesn’t. The amazing thing is he doesn’t destroy it. The gardener actually tells him to wait. I’ll tend it some more and see what happens. Perhaps with some care it will produce. Amazingly the owner relents. This is what’s amazing about the world, too. That God hasn’t destroyed it. Even though the news is full of rotten fruit; people kill each other over a trifle; children starve to death while powerful men do nothing; people who speak out about God’s clear will for the world are shouted down and called bigots. And personally, you and me, well our sins seem smaller, but they are sins just the same. We fail to help when help is needed. We push our needs and wants ahead of everyone else. And what is worse is that the people we most often hurt are those who live in our own house. So much for family love. In fact, every day we have that God waits to destroy the world is a gift; a gift to change. That’s what Jesus says after all. Repent. Unless you repent you (all) will perish. Now he’s not really agreeing with the television preacher. The folks in Haiti are no worse sinners than we are. What he is saying is that judgment happens. Every earthquake, tsunami, construction accident, car crash, illness and death is a picture of the world’s deserved judgment for sin, and yours and mine. Now is the time for you and me and the world, as Jesus says, to repent.

There’s that word repent. Tragedies like the tower of Siloam (or the Haiti, Chile earthquake) and Pilate’s heinous crime against the Jews (or the World Trade Center) don’t show us their sin but show us all the need for repentance. But here’s the thing. You can’t just change what you do on the outside. That’s not really repentance. The word literally means to change your mind. And this is the real nub of the problem. We must be different people than we are, not in actions, but in heart. Changing what we do is like dipping a bucket into the ocean over and over again and expecting to get to the bottom of sea[1]. The deepest problem with sin isn’t in the doing. The problem with sin is in the heart. We sin because we are sinners. With Jesus word repent he lays the ax at the root of the tree. Good fruit only comes from good trees and we know, because Jesus tells us so, that we are not good trees.

But, Jesus’ parable shows us that God is mercy. Actually, he has already taken care of sin. He doesn’t ignore it like some forgetful grandfather. He actually does cut down the tree. The axe is laid at the foot of Jesus. And it leads him to the cross. All his life he falls under God’s judgment. Every sin he forgives, every person he heals, every mouth he feeds, every hand he holds is good work, good fruit. He is changing sin’s power over people. He brings God’s mercy where there is only suffering and death. As he goes he gathers up all that evil from everywhere and bears it in himself to the cross. If you would look at Jesus hung on the cross, bloody, beaten, suffering the pain of nails and thorns you might well ask, what kind of a sinner is this that he should deserve such and evil death. Well, the truth is Jesus dies as the worst sinner of all. He carries your sin and mine, and all the people who died at Pilate’s sword, and all the thousands who died under rubble in Haiti. The axe cuts him off. He is ignored by God, rejected to a sinner’s death. There is no mercy there, only punishment. There is no time to repent God’s anger is poured out in full. This is where God deals with sin. This is where the tree is cut down and cast out. Jesus instead of you. Jesus instead of me. Jesus hangs in our place in suffering and death.

You see, apart from Christ you must deal with God on your own for your own sin. And you can’t stand on your own. You will be cut down because your fruit is only bad. Jesus offers you, instead his punishment. And more than that he offers you his fruit. There is nothing for you to do, nothing for you to change. Jesus earns all that you need. He pays the whole price. His life lived. His death died. Given for you for the forgiveness of your sin. You see, that’s actually what repentance is. God showing you your need and giving you what you need. Nothing for you to say or do. His gift of love. His mercy in Jesus Christ.

So what about the tree, and the garden and the fruit? Well, Jesus really is showing us a picture of him at work. He tends the trees. He cultivates the soil and fertilizes and the trees bear fruit. But here’s the difference. You and I don’t need to do anything for God. God is the one who does everything for us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness he gives to us we have been changed from bad trees to good ones, so we do bear good fruit. Not stuff we do for God but stuff we do for our neighbors. They are the ones who have needs. They live in a world that is full of trouble, and pain and suffering. Jesus solves our good fruit problem, not so that we can spend our time serving God, but that we can serve our neighbor (and in the process serve God by serving our neighbor).

And when bad things happen they are our opportunity to humble ourselves and remember our place before God. We are sinners who actually deserve nothing from God, but we receive everything from him instead. Amen.

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

[1]The doctrine which proposes to make men godly by their own works is the doctrine of pagans, Reformed Jews, and Turks. It proposes to empty a great river of iniquity by continually dipping up pails of water from it and expecting to reach the bottom some time. If a river of iniquity is to be dried up, the evil source from which it springs must first be stopped up, and then pure water can be led into it. Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000). The proper distinction between law and gospel : 39 evening lectures (electronic ed.) (300). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On the question, Will Strictness Kill the Church?

image Let me take for granted that our Church on account of its strictness is not suited for this present age. In that case it would behoove us to remember that it is not our business at all to save the church or to build the Church. That is the Lord’s business. Preachers and people have only one business—to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. One thing is required of them, that they love their Lord and Master and be obedient to His will. Then by their testimony to His teachings, God wants to build and preserve the Church. It is not our business at all to consider whether these teachings are popular or whether those who hold them will be regarded as bigots, fanatics, as narrow or pharisaical. They are to trust the good Lord that He has made no mistake in commissioning them to preach exactly what He taught His evangelists and apostles, the divinely ordained teachers until the Day of Judgment, to set forth in scriptures. (Theodore Graebner, Pastor and People, 1932)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Luke.13.31-35; Second Sunday in Lent; March 3, 2010

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Luke 13:31-35, ESV)

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

What’s really going on in this text… I mean the first thing we see is the Pharisees trying to protect Jesus’ life. Can we really believe that they’ve had a change of heart after all that Jesus had done and said about them? Do they really care that Herod wants to kill him? More likely they’ve egged Herod on to get him riled up. Luke tells us that members of Herod’s household were following Jesus, and Herod wanted to see him. The Pharisees had plenty of reason to want Jesus dead. He called them foolish, hypocritical, greedy, rotten, dead men (11:39ff). He told people not to listen to what they were teaching. I don’ think these guys are going to have Jesus’ best interest at heart in telling him to leave the area. Maybe they think if he goes somewhere else they can go about there business in peace. But of course Jesus won’t have any of that he’s on a mission. He said before.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)

He says it in a different way this time,

And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:32-33, ESV)

It’s that third day part that interests me today, but we’ll get back to that in a moment. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that Jesus tells the Pharisees “No! I’ll not be distracted from my purpose.”

I think the voice of the Pharisees is a voice that we’ve heard before in this Gospel. In fact, Luke has us considering this voice as a critical beginning to Jesus ministry. The very first words Our Savior speaks in this Gospel are in response to this voice. It’s back in Chapter 4. After Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan. It’s an odd kind of statement, that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. You’d think that the Spirit would lead him to avoid that stuff altogether. Instead, out there in the desert all by himself Satan comes after him with an attack of words. “If you are the Son of God, make these stones bread and eat.” He means something like this. “You’re hungry. Eat up. You don’t have to go through with God’s plan. You can make up one of your own. An easier one. One without pain and trouble. One without suffering. One without hunger. These people aren’t worth it.”

When he says, “I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted, just worship me.” He means something like this: There’s an easier way to get the whole world. You don’t have to follow this plan of suffering. Set it aside and I’ll give you what you are looking for.

And when he says: “If you are the Son of God jump off the top of the temple. He’ll rescue you from death and every one will see that you really are who you say you are.” There’s an easier way. You don’t have to suffer and die for these people who won’t believe in you anyway.

Make no mistake Satan doesn’t have Jesus best interest at heart. Neither does he have yours and mine at heart either. He simply wants Jesus to fail in his mission. He just wants his control of the world to go on forever. All he wants is for Jesus to set aside God’s plan to save the world, to save you and me. When the temptations are all over Luke writes these words:

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13, ESV)

If you’ve ever wondered what he meant by a more “opportune time” listen to the words of the Pharisees again: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Sound a little like Satan, “Don’t go to Jerusalem. Don’t do what God has planned for you to do. These people aren’t worth your death. It’s not worth all this trouble.”

And that’s when Jesus says,

“Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

In other words, “I’ll not step aside from my plans to go to Jerusalem to die, and you Satan can’t stop me.” And thank God that’s exactly what he did. He “set his face to go to Jerusalem” even when he knew that it would mean his death. But that’s why we are here today, isn’t it; because Jesus went to Jerusalem; because he wouldn’t be turned aside from God’s plan; because it was the only plan that God had made for our salvation.

If it had been me or you, we’d have been turned aside long before this. You know what happens when Satan brings temptation before you. You fold up like a dying flower. You know God’s plans for your life, they’ve been very clearly laid out for you in the Ten Commandments. We don’t have to go through them step by step to find your fault (although it is a very good practice). Remember Jesus says you don’t have to do anything against them to actually break them they are already crumbling in your heart when you just want to do what they tell you not to do. Jesus didn’t avoid temptation because he could handle it. Jesus stood up to Satan’s clever words because he had a bigger and better plan in mind, God’s plan, the one that would benefit the whole world. We can’t. We don’t. When Satan tempts us with the riches of the world we can’t wait to open our hands and grab hold of them. When Satan says eat this bread we eat it with gusto regardless of the consequences. When Satan says “just check it out and see if God really means he’ll defend you in everything. Go ahead put God to the test.” We complain when our world crumbles and we’ve got a little trouble in our lives instead of smooth sailing. We wonder why it fells that God has abandoned us to illness, and pain when the trouble in our lives is often self-inflicted. “I don’t deserve this!” We say, when we well know what we deserve is much worse.

It’s what we deserve that sent Jesus to Jerusalem to die. It’s what you deserve that made Jesus set his face to Jerusalem to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.

St. Paul describes it well,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

He was talking to a group of Christians just like you and me.

That’s what Jesus death on the cross changes for you and me, forever. We go from being children of wrath to being beloved children. Jesus didn’t just defeat Satan in the desert. He totally put away his power over people when he died on the cross. Satan scowled at him there too. “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross. Save yourself. These people aren’t worth the trouble and the pain and the sacrifice.” But in Jesus eyes you are worth it. He did suffer for you there. He put away the punishment for your sin. You’re tempted and fail every day and Jesus blood covers that sin. He died instead of you. He suffered God’s anger, instead of you. He was rejected by God, instead of you. Your sins, no matter how great, can’t stand up to the blood of God spilled out on the cross.

That’s where we get back to the third day thing I told you we were going to talk about. Well, it’s actually Paul who gets to the point.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

Alive together with Christ… the third day… get it? He’s talking about his resurrection from the dead. He’s talking about Easter. He’s talking about new life. He’s talking about victory over Satan’s words. He’s talking about a new life in him. In Paul’s words:

[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7, ESV)

And just to make sure we get it:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

It’s a good thing it is God’s free gift, isn’t it? ‘Cause you and I both know where we’d be left it were left up to you and me… wallowing in Satan’s promises… Satan’s lies… living our lives as if we were the only ones who mattered… well, that still happens doesn’t it. And that’s where that forgiveness comes in again. Ah, Jesus saves us from that, too. He brings forgiveness that rebuilds and restores. He gives forgiveness that lets us set aside the hurt and start again. It’s all there for you at the cross… the cross in Jerusalem. Amen.

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