Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Far We Have Fallen

"How Far We Have Fallen"features samples of what is going on under the banner of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.



The following item is found at http://epiphanygreenville.org/Newsletter.aspx, where you will find the online edition of the Epiphany Lutheran Church newsletter, "Glad Tidings of Comfort and Great Joy"


Item :

Trinity - An invention of the church, this term does not exist in Scripture. the term "Trinity" is useful in understanding the three ways that God blesses us. The first way is that He richly and daily provides for all our needs. The second way is that He speaks to us through His Word, and in this Word we have the blessing of forgiveness of sins through His death on the cross and the promise of eternal life in His resurrection. The third way is through His Spirit, which enlightens us and seperates us into a new creation. We see the Trinity because we have three forms to OUR existence, not because God is confined to three forms in His existence. -- end item

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Reality of Christmas

As I struggle to get everything done this holiday season that stretches from the celebrations of Thanksgiving to Christmas and even New Year's Eve, I look forward to the times I will be able to spend with you in worship. For it is in worship that time stands still for the nonce and our Lord stands there with us.

I have heard many others speak of similar sentiments regarding worship during the holidays. Often it is described as an escape from the hectic reality of the world. But actually, the Divine Worship service is exactly the opposite. For in the Divine Service Christ dwells among us in Word and Sacrament, bringing heaven to earth from Invocation to Benediction.

And that, my dear friends in Christ, is the ultimate reality. The reality for which God the Father created us in the very beginning. The reality to which God the Son restored us in His bitter suffering and death. The reality delivered to us by God the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of sins poured over sinful heads in Baptism, proclaimed to sinful ears in the preached Word and Holy Absolution, and placed between sinful lips in Holy Communion. The reality of dwelling in the presence of the Lord now and forever.

God grant you a holiday season that is indeed a season made Holy by His presence among you.

See you in Church!
Pastor Hering

How Far We Have Fallen

Introducing a new feature of Laughing Martin.

"How Far We Have Fallen"
features samples of what is going on under the banner of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

I leave it to the readers to comment, analyze, and offer nominations for future columns.

Kicking off this new feature is Stephen Hower of St. John Lutheran Church of Ellisville, MO (a Willow Creek Association congregation) in a video called "www.CuzChristmasIsNotMyBirthday.Com" posted on their website and at YouTube.






Sunday, December 16, 2007

Behold, I Send My Messenger

Our Text today is the Gospel Lesson appointed for the THIRD SUNDAY in ADVENT, Matthew 11:2-15

"Behold, I Send My Messenger before your face." The Greek word translated here as messenger "angelos," that is, "angel."

Normally our English translations render this word as angel when speaking of a messenger that has no flesh, i.e. a heavenly spirit, and messenger when speaking of a human being. One notable exception is in Revelation where John the Apostle speaks of the angels of the seven churches of the New Testament churches in Asia Minor. There the Lord is speaking about the pastors who will be the messengers, the angels speaking the message of repentance and glad tidings of great joy through the forgiveness of sins.

ADVENT marks the beginning of a new year of grace in the life of the Christian Church and the proclamation of the message of Christ through God's chosen messengers who He has called into and by the Church to preach and teach everything our Lord has commanded [Matthew 28:19] -- from the repentance of Advent to the joy of Christmas that is Christ in the flesh here for you and me!

On the first Sunday in ADVENT for century upon century the Church has read and pondered the message of the prophet Zechariah, foretelling our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then we get two weeks of John the Baptist, before we finally get a Gospel text that has any apparent connection at all to Christmas.

Palm Sunday!? At the start of ADVENT?

It never fails to strike as strange For those who forget that it is ADVENT, and not Christmas, it never fails to appear od, even wrong somehow --
  • that the Church observes this thing called ADVENT, while the world frenetically Manheim Steamrolls its way through December;
  • that the liturgical color adorning the sanctuary and hanging from the neck of the pastor is purple (or maybe blue), not red and green;
  • that the worship service is filled with hymns written in minor keys that sing words about repentance and preparation rather than the bright major keys of festive Christmas carols.

The world sees no need for ADVENT - for repentance and preparation - also the world that lives inside our hearts. It wants to leapfrog over ADVENT and plunge right into the joy of angels and shepherds and Wisemen. And the sinner in us is eager to jump right in with them.

But the Church in her wisdom says "no," wait a minute. We are not to be conformed to the world's view of Christmas, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds that is worked through the power of the Holy Spirit that teaches us everything that our Lord has commanded [Matthew 28:20] through the means of grace He has given and entrusted to the Church and her called servants of the Word. As Christ's bride, the Church says "no," because if the joy of Christmas is going to be all that God intends it to be for His people, it needs to be received in hearts that are stilled and quiet, in hearts that have come to know the sorrow of sin and long to be freed from it.

So we pray in the Collect on the First Sunday in ADVENT, "Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come that we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins..." that Christmas, indeed Christ Himself, will be received in hearts that understand His three-fold coming and can pray with fervor: "Come, Lord Jesus!" in the full meaning, and certain hope of that prayer.

Only such hearts are prepared to receive the fullness of the joy that lies in the Christmas Feast - a joy far brighter than tinsel and infinitely more satisfying than an endless round of parties and gluttony.

" O Little Town of Bethlehem" is on the horizon, where with the eyes of our flesh we will see our Savior "Away in a Manger," "Upon a Midnight Clear."

Yes, we see with your eyes. But belief comes thorugh the ears. That is the key. Because "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. " [Romans 10:17]

What you see will offend the Old Adam in you - and I do not mean the commercialization, secularization and political correction of the Winter Holiday Season - because that sinner in all of us is bedazzled and enticed by the things that appeal to the flesh, to our emotions, to our desire to get along with and be accepted by the world out there. The scene of a crude manger, in a dirty stall where the teen-age mother of our Lord, who conceived out of wedlock trundles off the back of a flea-ridden, dung-matted donkey offends our senses and sensibilities so much that we make the scene sparkle pristinely for the decoration of our living rooms and sanctuaries.

What is more, a Lord who allows the carnage of this world to go on without wielding the winnowing fork and setting those sinners ABLAZE! with the fires of Judgment Day is offensive too, as we suffer seemingly as helpless, innocent victims.

But that is walking by sight. Could it be that is what prompted John the Baptizer's question in our text today? -- "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Is it possible that what his eyes of flesh saw was challenging what he knew and believed in his spirit?

You would be surprised at the discussion this passage has prompted among Lutheran pastors this past week as we bounced ideas around and asked questions of each other in preparation for preaching the Word into the ears and hearts of God's precious people.

Luther begins his sermon on our Gospel by saying the "question [similar to those I have posed] is unnecessary and of little import." However, in his new CPH Commentary on Matthew, Prof. Jeffrey Gibbs - not one prone to disagree with Saint Martin -- writes, "it is not an unimportant question; indeed, it is related to the main point of the unit and the issue deserves an answer in itself."

Well, let's split the difference and say it is a question that cannot be answered to a certainty. Let us also remember that it is not the faith, or lack thereof in the messenger -- then or now -- that effects faith in the hearer. It is the message of the Word itself that holds the power to save because it is the Word Himself who is being delivered by the breath of the Holy Spirit in those means of grace.

And yet the question deserves and begs treatment. John the Baptizer and cousin of our Lord was a sinner. Our Gospel text has him in prison, where certainly he knew it did not bode well for him in the hands of King Herod -- offspring of the King Herod who had sought to slay his infant cousin -- even though he could not have know he would soon lose his head and his life.

What is certain, is that the captive John needed to hear that his true Head had come into the world so that his everlasting life would never be threatened or in doubt.

You are sinners too. And you need to hear the same thing. God sent the world a messenger to prepare the way for her Savior in John the Baptizer. But notice in today's Gospel lesson, God sent messengers to His messenger. And God never fails to send a messenger to His people because the Baptized of God walk by faith, not sight. For, you see, faith comes by hearing the message of Christ, the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Seeing is open to interpretation, everybody sees differently, so the Lord sends a messenger to tell you what the right interpretation is, "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." [2 Peter 1:20-21]

Pay no attention to the world and its constant need for hype, entertainment and emotional highs - or at least recognize it for the fleeting oy of the flesh that it is Then leave it out there in the world and let the Church and her messenger speak to your soul. What you hear in Christ's Church during Advent will astonish and delight your ears and hearts of faith. For what you hear is the deeper truth, a truth hidden in the simple means God has chosen.

"Your King comes to you!"
  • today in the Word, Absolution & Sacrament of the Divine Service;
  • and any day of the week you seek out your pastor for counsel in the Word and private Confession/Absolution.

And you can be sure He comes not merely to get you into the mood for Christmas , but to actually deliver the Kingdom of Heaven to you -- and you into the Kingdom of Heaven.

So let us greet Him with the songs of hopeful joy, repentant hearts, and eager anticipation of Advent that looks forward to Christmas - Christ in the flesh

  • born in Bethlehem to die outside Jerusalem;
  • risen from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father to reign, now unseen in His kingdom of grace among the Baptized of His holy Christian Church;
  • and on the Last Day and forevermore face to face among His redeemed upon the Resurrection of all flesh!

" Behold, I Send My Messenger" says the Lord of Advent and Christmas to you today - in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


With thanks to Rev. David Fischer of Redeemer Lutheran Church, SLC for the idea and the core message above.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Hegelian Dialectic at Work in the Church

In a revealing article at http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor137.htm, Paul Proctor warns of how certain leaders within a variety of Christian church bodies and movements employ the Hegelian Dialectic to silence those who take exception to their false teaching and practice of the Faith.

Here follows an excerpt from, "CHRISTIAN LEADERS BETRAY CHRIST FOR WORLD PEACE,"
By Paul Proctor
November 28, 2007
NewsWithViews.com

Once again, leaders from the so-called "church growth movement" are demonstrating for us the Hegelian Dialectic - that transformational Marxist process of compromise and consensus made famous by Georg William Friedreich Hegel which seeks to rid the world of its divisive absolutes in the interest of global peace and unity.




Here's the formula: Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis

. . . Among other things, the dialectic process redefines "love" to mean tolerance instead of obedience, and calls Christianity and Islam "Abrahamic faiths" as if the two groups have some moral obligation to unite under a god of common ground.

"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." - James 4:4

The Bible is uncompromisingly clear on this issue both in 2nd Corinthians 6:14-17, where we are specifically commanded to not yoke ourselves with unbelievers, and again in Ephesians 5:11, where we are instructed to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."

Jesus Himself said: "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth." (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23)

How then can Christians join Muslims to love God together and not be an abomination before Him? We're talking about two entirely different "Gods" here - not the same God with differing names. And that's the big lie hidden in this global agenda. By swapping love letters with Muslims, these "Christian leaders" endeavor to legitimize the illegitimate by setting aside the whole counsel of God for Results & Relationships. Jesus Christ is not the Son of Allah; and to even imply that He is by claiming to love the same "God" as Muslims is not only being dangerously deceitful - it's blasphemy!

But that's what the Hegelian Dialectic does to the Christian faith - it unites opposites and enemies under a guise of goodness - all at the Lord's expense; and that is and always has been the modus operandi of the "church growth movement" - to mingle the sheep with the goats until they are indistinguishable.


Christianity (thesis) + Islam (antithesis) = One World Religion (synthesis)

It should come as no surprise to the readers of my column that two of the reported signers of this letter who "share the sentiments" of Muslim leaders are none other than pastors Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life fame, and the seeker-sensitive Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church.

In other words, false teachers and those who employ heterodox practices in the Church will turn the conversation from their own false teaching or practice into accusations against those who are pointing out their errors. They shame the orthodox into silence with the claim that "Christian"

  • love
  • and/or peace
  • and/or trusting each other
  • and/or good intentions
  • and/or the best construction clause of Luther's explanation to the 8th Commandment, etc.

all take precedence over faithfulness to teaching everything and only those things commanded by Christ and His Word -- not to mention conforming the practice of the church to those teachings.

No less than Luther himself warned us of such chicanery:
"They have so plagued us with love in their books and writings saying 'You people at Wittenberg have no Charity', when we then ask 'What is Charity'? they reply, 'It means that we agree in Doctrine and stop these quarrels about religion'. We reply 'Indeed'. Have you heard that there are two tables of the law, the first and the second? Charity or love belongs in the second
table and there it extends its way over all works, but in the first table it is said 'Fear God, hear his word", about this they are not concerned.'" -Quoted by Ewald Plass in, "Luther Speaks"

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (Galatians 6:7)

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Given that there are a number of Willow Creek Association congregations in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and even more LC-MS congregations who employ many of their programs and resources without formal association, we ought take note and beware of this temptation to water down the Faith once delivered to us.

How could/should we fill in the Hegelian Dialectic blank as a synod?

Lutheran (thesis) + __________ (antithesis) = synchretism/unionism/heterodoxy (synthesis)

And what does this mean in the context of Article VI of our Constitution? --
Conditions of [LCMS] Membership
Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod [include] the following:
2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, . . .
4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.

Certainly this does not mean that a congregation and/or pastor can use doctrinally impure material and programs as long as they are not technically an "agenda," "hymnbook," or "catechism" -- does it?

One more question -- does not "unionism . . . of every description include association with Willow Creek and its members that deny Baptismal regeneration and the bodily presence of Christ in the bread and wine of The Lord's Supper?

Your comments are not only welcome, but heartily solicited.

Can we talk?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rejoice & Give Thanks in ALL Things

Rejoice & Give Thanks in ALL Things
(ca. 2002)


Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evi-
dent to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about any-
thing, but in everything, by
prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your
requests to God.


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 4:4-7

To all the saints,

As Thanksgiving approaches there are many things that would tempt us to be less than thankful and perhaps cause us to question our faith or even our loving and merciful God.

How can we be thankful when we live in a world in which snipers pick people off the street, indiscriminately wreaking their havoc; when terrorism threatens our security; when nuclear war is a very real possibility?

How can we be thankful when perhaps millions go to bed hungry every day and plagues of deadly diseases threaten even our technologically advanced nation?

How can we be thankful when so many people are without work and all the benefits gainful employment brings?

How can we be thankful when evil men prosper and the moral among us suffer?

How can we be thankful when the world insults us, mocks us and threatens us because of our belief in a God Who claims there are none beside Him?

How can the Lord tell us to rejoice in Him always, to not be anxious and to be thankful when all this evil surrounds us every day?

The answer is that God’s kingdom is not of this world. Our creature comforts or discomforts, our corporate security or insecurity, our worldly success or failure are not measures of the depth of our faith or of the love and mercy of the One True God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We rejoice and are thankful because in all these circumstances – in good times and bad, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health – "the Lord IS near."

As the prophet Jeremiah assures us, "the Lord has plans to prosper and not to harm us;" and as the apostle Paul concurs, "nothing can come between us and the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus."

No matter what happens in this world, the believer in Christ as the Son of One True God – the Word made flesh Who gave His life for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin, Who has risen from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven – will always have a tomorrow. And that tomorrow is one in which he will be in the presence of God.

Now what more could you ask?

Rejoice! Give thanks!

And the peace of the LORD be with you all.

Ya Just Gotta Laugh!

Thanksgiving Humor




A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn't find one big enough for her family. She asked the stock boy, "Do these turkeys get any bigger?"

The stock boy answered, "No ma'am, they're dead."




A man in Phoenix calls his son in New York the day before Thanksgiving and says,"I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough."

Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the father says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her."

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced," she shouts, "I'll take care of this!"

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced! Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "they're coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own way."




A Blessed Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Outrageous Fortune of Soldiers [Updated]

While Martin was not laughing at the original posting of this item, he is now glad to pass on the good news that the reports of ABC et al have prompted the Pentagon to investigate and correct the error with Tyson, and hopefully any other soldiers who have suffered the same outrageous fortune.

[Laughing Martin's original post follows]

Thanks for your service, soldier.

I have good news and bad news for you.



You'll be happy to know Pres. Bush has pardoned two turkeys named May and Flower from becoming Thanksgiving dinner and is sending them to Disneyland.


However, since you are now unable to fulfill your duties, we want a rebate of your enlistment bonus.

Brian Ross reports for ABC news:

Hundreds of soldiers wounded in battle in Iraq have found themselves fighting off bill collectors on the home front, according to a report to be released tomorrow. The draft report by the Government Accountability Office, which ABC News obtained, said that hundreds of wounded soldiers had military debts incurred through no fault of their own turned over to collection agencies.

. . . Army specialist Tyson Johnson of Mobile, Ala., had just been promoted in a field ceremony in Iraq when a mortar round exploded outside his tent, almost killing him.
"It took my kidney, my left kidney, shrapnel came in through my head, back of my head," he recounted.
His injuries forced him out of the military, and the Army demanded he repay an enlistment bonus of $2,700 because he'd only served two-thirds of his three-year tour.
When he couldn't pay, Johnson's account was turned over to bill collectors. He ended up living out of his car when the Army reported him to credit agencies as having bad debts, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

“A Blaze for the Stubble, the Sun of Righteousness for the Redeemed

SERMON for the 25th Sunday after PENTECOST: November 18, 2007

A blaze is a consuming fire -- just ask anyone who was in So Cal 4 weeks

ago when a series of wildfires consumed 780 square miles, killed 10, injured more than 100 firefighters, destroyed more than 2000 homes and displaced upwards of 1 million people – including no few of the very rich including star athletes and entertainers.

A blaze is a consuming fire -- just ask another rich man, the one from our Gospel lesson some 3 weeks earlier than the fires, who asked Lazarus for but a drop of water to relieve his torment.

A blaze is a consuming fire -- just ask the prophet of our Lord, Malachi:
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings." Malachi 4:1-2a

A blaze, though it be a consuming fire to the stubble of this sinful world and those who do not believe in Christ and abide in His Word, it cannot touch those who are kept with the Son of God, or separate them from Him:
[Because they would not worship nor even recognize his god] Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain valiant warriors who {were} in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, in order to cast {them} into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their {other} clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king's command {was} urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire {still} tied up.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?"
They answered and said to the king, "Certainly, O king."
He answered and said, "Look! I see four men loosed {and} walking
{about} in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of {the} gods!"
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.
And the satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king's high officials gathered around {and} saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire {even} come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." (Daniel 3:19-29, NAS)

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, we should have nothing to do with those who worship other gods, no matter what peer pressure or political correctness is brought to bear upon us. No matter how much we love our neighbors, countrymen, and even our own families – it is better to be hated by them than to worship and pray with them and pretend as if invoking the precious name of Jesus alongside their Christless worship and prayers cold possibly unite the Son of God with those who despise Him and His baptism and separate themselves from His salvation and church.

Like He did with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, our Lord sends His angel to deliver you -- His chosen people who abide in His Word alone -- from the blaze that would destroy you: the blaze of the devil’s jealousy, the blaze of the world’s lust, the blaze of your own passion, the blaze of the end times.

Like He did with the three men in the blazing inferno of the furnace, our Lord keeps you with His Son in the midst of the fire without harm. As we confess in the Third Article of the Creed: "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.

Dear people of God, fear not the blaze of earthly flames, nor the blazing jealousy and anger of the evil one. May the Lord give you peace even as we see the end times fast approaching, for "... when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:28

So we pray, "Come Lord Jesus," "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," and "deliver us from evil."

And to those who ask it is given, to those who seek His kingdom and His righteousness, the blazing flames of hell cannot prevail.

A blaze is for the unbelieving stubble of this world, but for you that blaze is the sun of righteousness risen with healing in his wings. So rejoice dear people of God, because your redemption draws near – here and now in the waters of baptism, the preaching of His Word and, the Holy Supper of the very body and blood of the Son of God-- to forgive you all of your sins, to shelter you from the blaze to come, and to give you eternal life – in the name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, November 2, 2007

What a Child and a Bird Can Tell Us about Worship

A little 5-year-old Lutheran girl, who went to a Baptist "church" service recently, told her mother the music made her want to dance -- but she really didn't want to dance in church. Interestingly, this little one also observed, "They don't talk about God much."

"Thank God, today, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd (John 10:11-16). For the children pray, "I believe in one holy Christian Church." -- Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Art. XII.2-3

Check out this link:


I think it is revealing as to why "Contemporary Christian" music that makes us want to dance is, in fact, inappropriate for worship. Sacred music is about the Word of God. It should not appeal to man's base instincts as if he were an animal to manipulate into action. Rather, it should serve to deliver and help the human memory retain the Gospel message that is for the salvation for all human beings who believe.

Perhaps we can learn from the wisdom of a 5-year-old Lutheran girl who is being catechized by her mother and the liturgy -- as well as the animal instinct of a cockatoo.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Amen! A Reformation Sermon

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.

TEXT: we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Romans 3:19-28

Amen!

There is no greater word that can be spoken by the lips of men.

Amen!

There is no good work that a man can do that surpasses the faithful, "Amen!" to God’s Word.

"Amen" is a word that signifies the speaker’s agreement with the conclusion "that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law."

"Amen" – A Hebrew word pronounced, (aw--mane'); it is a form of the word that means " – (to be) firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent or quiet; morally to be true or certain."

So to say "Amen," is simply to be certain of the truthfulness of God’s Word; to be still and know that God is faithful to His Word; to trust and believe that His Word does not come and go according to His passing fancy, but it is permanent and certain to work everything for good for those who are content to simply hear it and let it be so.

Amen – truth, certainty, yes it is so, so be it, this is most certainly true.

Sound familiar? It is the closing catechetical phrase for, "Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.’"

If Adam and Eve had been content to say Amen in the beginning, it would have saved a whole lot of misery for them and very generation to come.

But instead of saying , "Amen," Adam and Eve replaced the truth and the it shall be so of God with the "I juswanna" of man.

In the beginning, God spoke and it was so, and it was not only good, but after having made man in His image, after giving them all of His good creation for their benefit and livelihood, and after giving them the ability and the command to multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (take that all you pagan, earth firsters) – Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Gen 1:31

And God also clearly spoke to how man could continue to live the good life in this very good world, which He had created -- The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 2:8-9
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Gen 2:16-17


Amen?

Well not for the father of lies.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" Gen. 3:1

Now if Adam, Eve’s husband and pastor, had stepped in here and said a simple, "Amen, you better believe it!" All would be paradise still.

But instead of saying, "Amen!" and having the matter finished, Adam and said, in effect, "I juswanna see what makes the woman happy." And the woman thought something like, "I juswanna make sure I’m not missing something."

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" Gen. 3:2-3
Now as you can see by her words, this was no reliance upon and "amen" to God’s words, but a speculative addition to them – a speculation the evil one was quick to seize upon as an opening for his temptation.

Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Gen. 3:4-5

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit
[and behold!, having touched it she did not die as she imagined God had said she would]
and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Gen. 3:6-7

Transfixed by the tempter’s twisting of God’s Word, and emboldened by their own misinterpretation, Eve and her husband and pastor -- who with every good intention thought, "I juswanna please my wife --" exchanged the truth of God for the lie [Rom. 1:25]. They traded the "Amen, this is most certainly true because God has spoken it," Gospel of life for the "Ahhhh -- Men! What do you think? What do you feel? What do you juswanna do," Law that brings death.

One Lutheran pastor, in his sermon today, sums up the message of the Reformation as, "Out with the Law; In with the Gospel" – and rightly so, for this is the message of Christ.

I have summed this same message of the Reformation as, Law & Gospel Restored."

That sounds rather contradictory, doesn’t it? But think about it. What is the proper place of the Law? It kills. "If you eat of it you will surely die." And what is the proper place of the Gospel? It gives life. "Eat of it freely, and you shall live life abundantly and forever."

So truly, to say "out with the Law and in with the Gospel," is to restore Law & Gospel to their proper place.

That is all Luther sought to do when he posted those 95 theses on the Wittenburg Church door.

More accurately, he was not even seeking to do the restoring or casting out of the old and bringing in of the new, he was merely calling God’s people to speak the hearty, "Amen!" of faith, rather than the feeble, "Ahhh-Men, what do you juswanna do?" of sin.

The trouble facing Luther and the church in the 16th century is the same trouble that faced Adam & Eve. And it is the same trouble that faces us today – the I juswanna of sin and the Law.

In the beginning, God saw all that He had done and it was very good – and He rested because it was finished.

But man knew better. Adam & Eve, formed in the very image of God, turned away from God’s sure and certain Word that accomplished His good and perfect will for them without fail.

So Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, took on the form of that fallen flesh to reform it in God’s perfect image – knowing no sin of His own, yet taking on ours and killing it dead on Calvary, where once again, and for all time and people God proclaimed, "Tetelestai! – It is finished!"

Tetelestai! The greatest Word spoken by the Son of Man once and for all, is now echoed and confessed by the "Amen!" of those He has baptized into His death to participate even now in His resurrection.

Tetelestai! It is finished! The Gospel has been restored.

And you, dear baptized children of God, have been reformed. You have concluded, with the Apostle Paul, [that you have been] justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. For you who once had a taste only for the "I juswanna" of the forbidden tree, now eat of the tree of Life that forgives you all of your sins – in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit – and with all the saints of God say . . .

Amen !

Happy Reformation Day!

Take some time off from your Halloween Celebration to do the Reformation Polka.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU0f_qJLkLg

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Increase Our Faith

SERMON for the Nineteenth Sunday after PENTECOST:
October 7, 2007


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.

And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." Luke 17:5

Ah what gold lies buried in the mine of this simple passage!

What does this innocent little question posed by the Apostles of Jesus say about making decisions for Christ, or accepting Him as Savior?

Indeed, it lays ax to the root of pietism that began with the temptation in the Garden of Eden: [When] the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,..." Gen 3:4-5 – and extends into the current millenium in the form of phenomena such as "The Hour of Decision" and other altar calls, WWJD, and "Purpose Driven living."
If faith is something a man could do out of love for God, why did the apostles ask His Son for more of it?

No by these three little words, we see faith itself "is a gift of God, not of works so that no one can boast." Eph 2:8-9

A gift, which Paul tells young pastor Timothy, dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. That is, a gift that is handed down from one generation of the baptized, the church, to another – and that passing along of the one thing needful, sitting at our Savior’s feet to hear His Word.

As we learn from the Third Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. -- We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it."

Today is designated as Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) Sunday in the LCMS. In her Fall 2007 Message, LWML Pres. Rosenwinkel writes:

"I have had a very hard time writing this article. I just could not think of anything to say. then I realized that life has been so crazy that I have stopped to spend time with our Lord and His word. We are so busy being Martha’s that we don’t take the time to be Mary. I asked for God to forgive me and, as your president, I ask your forgiveness, too.

"We can not feed others if we are not being fed and nourished ourselves. In order to recover from this harried "busy-ness" I’d gotten myself into, I had to stop and drop what I was doing, put on some Christian music and be still."

Well using Mrs. Rosenwinkel’s own references to Mary and being fed, Mary did not incline her ear to "Christian" music for feeding, but to the teaching of her Lord.

And the task of feeding the sheep was given to the Apostles and those who would carry on the apostolic ministry by the Good Shepherd as He tells Peter in John 21:

"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" ... "Feed My lambs."

He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" ... "Tend My sheep."

He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep."

Christian musicians, authors, tele-evangelists etc. have neither the call nor the authority nor the responsibility of the office of the ministry. Their only constraint is what will sell. And what sells is what feels good, that is, what "itching ears" desire to hear as per 2 Timothy 4:3.

For example, the popular "Christian" song, "In the Garden," sweetly sings, "I come to the garden alone – While the dew is still on the roses; and the voice I hear falling on my ear The son of God discloses. And he walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."
Now this sounds nice and makes us feel good – until one examines what the lyrics are really saying – or not saying. There is no hint of the Church or the hearing of the Word that occurs within her. There is no gathering of two or three in His name -- and so there is no Christ in this lonely garden at all. Furthermore, to claim God shares a joy with any one individual that no one else has ever known is to deny the presence of angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven that Christ brings with Him wherever He goes, as we sing in the Preface to the Sanctus of Holy Communion.

As one Pastor has rightly observed, "The authority is in the Word, not in the experience."

That we are to lean not on our own understanding, or feelings, or experience is what we confess as Lutherans:

"... enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil." – Smalcald VIII.10

And this we confess, because it is what God has first revealed and spoken to us in His precious and holy Word:

Rom 1:15-17 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
Rom 10:14-15, 17 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" ... So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."


Therefore, when we [with] the apostles say to the Lord, "Increase our faith," He in effect tells us not to worry about the magnitude of our faith, as He actually ignores the disciples request. Rather, He directs them and us to abide in the magnitude of His Word, its unlimited capacity for forgiveness, and that preached in the tradition of the Apostles as the work given them to do by their master.

Therefore in our Epistle Lesson, one of those servants of the Master, the Apostle Paul, in our Epistle: "thanks God, whom [he] serve[s] with a pure conscience, as [his] forefathers did, as without ceasing [he] remember[s] [young pastor Timothy, who is to carry on this work] in [his] prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see [Timothy], being mindful of [his] tears, that [Paul] may be filled with joy, when [he] call[s] to remembrance the genuine faith that is in [Timothy], which dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice, and [Paul is] persuaded is in [Timothy] also. Therefore [Paul] remind[s] [Timothy] to stir up the gift of God which is in [him] through the laying on of [Paul’s] hands. 2 Tim. 1:3-6

For the Word of God does not come to isolated individuals in the privacy of their own thoughts or unique experiences. But it comes with the Holy Spirit and great power to save, by the preaching of those called to serve you, as it keeps you in your Baptism with the resurrected Christ and the fellowship of all the saints -- where he daily and richly forgives you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Chaplain's Call-Out Report: Unexplained Death

Chaplain's Log -- October 6, 2007

My home phone rang this morning, Saturday, at about 8:50. It was one of those mornings made for sleeping in. Autumn weather had arrived with a chill and a steady rain through the night. As I reached for the phone I noticed the rain was turning white and starting to collect on the lawn.
I had to fumble around to switch the cord from computer modem to the bedroom phone on my bedside table. Still able to answer on the second ring, I heard a male voice say, "This is the Layton City Police Department. Is this Kurt?"

It did not immediately occur to me that I was still the volunteer Police Chaplain on call for the week, as the dispatcher addressed me by my first name sans title. So my first thought was as to whether everyone in my family had gotten home safe and sound from their Friday night’s activities. This is no small thing, given that includes three sons, two of whom drive and one of whom has a wife and infant living with us – especially since late the night before they had taken my little granddaughter to the after hours clinic. Had I heard anyone leave earlier in the morning?

Also floating around with all the flotsam in my foggy morning thinking was the fact that I have a court date for a traffic accident sometime in October – had I missed it? It is truly amazing how many thoughts can cross a person’s mind in the blink of an eye!
The next words from the dispatch officer helped clarify things and set my mind more at ease, "Did you get our page?"

Officially being on call only once every six weeks, I had forgotten to turn it on. But now I knew this was a business call, and I had become wide awake in a hurry. As I told him I had not received the page, my mind automatically shifted to the mental exercise of preparation for dealing with a tragedy in the community. Had the early snow triggered a traffic fatality?
No, I was being called to the scene of an unexplained death. A twelve-year-old girl had perished in her sleep. Now, to be sure, no chaplain call out is a pleasant task. But anything involving a child ratchets up the emotions exponentially, and raises such specters as drugs, suicide, and abuse.

After a quick, hot shower and shave, I arrived at the home at 9:25. There were three officers on the scene, including the shift commander – a sergeant. The sergeant met me outside and took me in to meet the parents. The house was already full with relatives and friends of the family. From what I could piece together during the course of the morning, the young lady was a foster child who had been with the family for most of her life. She leaves behind two little sisters and two little brothers, as well as her mom and dad.

I spoke with the deeply distraught and despairing mother first. Dad looked rather numb in trying to be the pillar and port in the storm as he communicated and coordinated with the officers and family members. I inquired of him as to the family’s religious affiliation and/or pastoral contact. Not surprisingly for this area, they were LDS, but had not been active for quite some time. As I was making phone calls outside to determine who the bishop was that served their ward, and how to contact him, a soft-spoken young man introduced himself as the new bishop – a neighbor from across the street who came over after seeing the commotion and squad cars.

At this point my duties pretty much came to an end. After I made sure that the bishop had met the father, I left them to get acquainted and went inside to say my goodbyes to the mother. Having not had the opportunity previously, I asked Mom if she would like to hear the Word of God and have a prayer with me before I left. She agreed, and as we finished the bishop came to the bottom of the stairs, politely – and it seemed even somewhat gratefully – listening as he waited for me to finish. I am not sure how long he had been standing there, but as I left he was gracious in his thanks and clasped my arm – almost a hug really – as he shook my hand.
My final concern was to make sure the police officers were doing okay, and had no more need of my services. As I took my leave from the scene, the medical examiner (M.E.) was going about his investigation. Given the age of the deceased, her complaint of some back pain the day before, and some illness in the household, there was some concern that we might be dealing with an infectious disease such as meningitis. The shift commander who told me this, shared my concern of taking this home to our own families. When I somewhat sheepishly asked for his antibacterial hand lotion, he told me not to feel silly about it, he had already used it a couple of times himself. He also promised to keep in touch as to the M.E.’s findings.

My last contact before leaving was with the officer who was writing out a report as he sat in his squad car and monitored the situation outside. I asked if he was doing all right. He replied in the affirmative, but commented, "Mom sure is angry with God right now."

Indeed! Mom had alternated between asking why God would take her precious daughter, and imploring how He could do this to her and her family. They had already been through so much trouble together.

Basically, I told him the same thing as I told Mom:

"I can’t blame her. I’m sure I’d be angry with God too. We all get angry with Him. It’s part of the grieving process and our way of dealing with the pain and uncertainty that we are experiencing. While He has the whole picture before Him, and does all things out of His perfect justice, mercy and love for *all* people, we only know what we are experiencing. And it ain’t pleasant or pretty at all."

He nodded agreement, and indicated he needed to get back to work. Since I had entered the home once more after speaking with the shift commander, I asked to use his antibacterial agent. He had it close at hand, as if just having used it himself. He sprayed a copious amount of the foam into my hand, and I thanked him for his service as I rubbed it in up to my forearm. He quite genuinely returned the sentiment, we shook hands, and wished each other well. I’m not sure he heard my "The Lord be with you," as I turned and walked toward my vehicle, which was idling to take off the chill. But as he went back to scratching out his report, I perceived a little nod and a muffled, "thanks."

The drizzle picked up its intensity as I flipped the handle of my Mazda6. As I buckled up, the warmth inside shook out one last shiver, and I hoped that I would have another opportunity someday to give him the rest of the story, one I thankfully was able to share with the mother, and which was overheard by the friend who had been at her side since my arrival as well as her bishop:

"Yes, I agree, what you are experiencing is truly horrible. I can’t tell you not to be angry. Your world isn’t a happy place at all right now. But it isn’t supposed to be! Death isn’t God’s desired result for us at all. It only comes because God has something better in mind for us than this world full of all sorts evil and distress"

"Are you familiar with Job of the Bible?"

Mom nodded right away, so I told her I was sure she knew exactly what Job went though – and then some. I asked her if she remembered what Job prayed in His distress?

"No? Well they are truly amazing words! Certainly not what I would think to say if I had lost my family like he had, or if I were in your shoes right now. But I hope they give you some comfort. He said, as we read from Scripture:

"Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
That they were engraved on a rock with an iron pen and lead, forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
Job 19:23-27 nkj

And in the Gospel of John, we hear of another who is grieving the death of a beloved family member, "Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. ‘But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’" John 11:20-27 nkj

"Let’s pray now okay?" I asked. She gave me a weak, tired nod and a "please." –

"Almighty God, Father of mercies and God of all comfort, deal graciously with this dear family and all who mourn that, casting every care on You, they may know the consolation of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."

I closed with this hymn, which like the above readings and prayer, comes from the LSB Pastoral Care Companion:

Be Still, My Soul [sts. 1, 3, & 4]

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul; your best, your heav’nly Friend
Through many thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in this vale of tears;
Then you will better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.
Be still, my soul; your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, loves purest joys restored.
Be still my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

"The Lord be with you, my dear."

And with you my dear brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Though One Rise from the Dead

SERMON for the Eighteenth Sunday after PENTECOST: September 30, 2007


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Our Text today is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in the Gospel lesson appointed for this Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost and translated by the Rev. Dr. Arthur Just Jr., dean of graduate studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne :

"And a certain man was rich, and he used to clothe himself in purple and fine linen, making merry every day sumptuously. And a certain poor man by the name of Lazarus had been laid at his gate, being covered with sores and longing to be satisfied with that which falls from the table of the rich man. But even the dogs, coming, used to lick his sores. And it happened that the poor man died and was carried by the angels into the bosom of Abraham; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades, lifting his eyes, being in torture, he saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus at his bosom. And he, calling out, said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus in order that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering torment in these flames.’
"And Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received in full your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. But now he is comforted here, but you are suffering torment. And in all these things, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those desiring to go across from here to you may not be able, nor may they cross over from there to us.’
"And he said, ‘I beg you, therefore, father, in order that you might send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, in order that he might bear witness to them, in order that they also do not come to into this place of torture.’
"But Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
"And he said, ‘No father Abraham, but if someone from the dead should journey to them, they will repent.’
"But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, not even if someone were to rise out of the dead will they be persuaded." Luke 6:19-31

Sometimes, indeed most times, confessions are tough.

This is true also of our Lutheran Confessions. In Smalcald VIII.10 we agree that, "we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil."

These are strong words, reminiscent of the words of our Lord to Peter, "Get behind me Satan!" when the disciple and dear friend of our Lord tried to prevent Him from His appointed task.
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in our Text contains a similarly strong message that is indeed tough for us to swallow, let alone confess and live.

Not only does it speak of the reality of hell for unbelievers, it condemns spiritual experiences that do not proceed from and are not connected to the Word of God.

Suppose you were to ask the suffering rich man of our parable, "You don’t have to go to church to be saved, do you?" Or imagine someone telling him, "All that matters is what I feel in my heart. God is everywhere, so he can talk to me in the garden and I can pray to Him there just as well as if I were in Church. After all, God just wants me to be happy and successful."

Dear people of God, make no mistake about it, the rich man is "suffering torment in these flames [of hell]," for precisely this kind of thinking or feeling. Wishing to help his family learn from the evil ways of his faulty thinking and mistaken feelings, "he said, ‘I beg you, therefore, father, in order that you might send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, in order that he might bear witness to them, in order that they also do not come to into this place of torture.’

"But Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’


"And he said, ‘No father Abraham, but if someone from the dead should journey to them, they will repent.’

"But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, not even if someone were to rise out of the dead will they be persuaded." (Luke 6:19-31, Just)

A stunningly cold answer to a seemingly loving and well meaning request, don’t you think? This text presents a real problem for those who think that hell has no place in the church’s proclamation and teaching of the Gospel, as well as those that separate God’s saving work in Christ from the church that He has established.

What Jesus is telling us by way of this story is, regardless of what you may think or feel in your heart about God, no matter if you are successful and happy in this life, if you hope to avoid the torments of eternal damnation you must hear His Word -- the Word of Moses and the Law that condemns you as a sinner and the Word of the Prophets and the Promise of the Savior that delivers you from that condemnation. And make no mistake about it, pursuit of happiness in recreation and leisure activities – even with family– that keeps away from the place where God pours out His Spirit and proclaims His salvation is no more holy and no less sinful than the pursuit of riches and earthly success.

What Jesus is giving us in this little story is a lesson on the Third Commandment and the Holy Christian Church, His body on earth.

What is the Third Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

What is His church? As Luther tells us in his Small Catechism explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: It is where the Holy Spirit calls me and all believers by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith. It is where God the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.

The rich man -- who remains unnamed for he will never again hear the Lord call on his name though he beseeches the Lord for eternity -- is condemned to an eternity of suffering without relief precisely because he did not listen to God’s Word as proclaimed to Him by Moses and the Prophets, God’s precious Word of Law and Gospel.
What Jesus is saying in this story is the rich man despised preaching and His Word. He did not hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Instead his life was spent cloth[ing] himself in purple and fine linen, making merry every day sumptuously."

Now God does not deny us clothing or food, and even gives us six days to labor after such things. What is more He even commands and invites us to pray for them in the Fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people; but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home etc.

But as Jesus so forcefully reminds us when the devil tempts Him to turn stone into bread, "man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." This He quotes from Deut 8:1-10, which both the rich man and Lazarus would have known well:

"Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.

"You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you." (NKJ)

Lazarus, however, resides in heaven with Abraham and all who have heard and believed Moses and the Prophets – God’s Word of the condemnation of the Law and the promise of the Gospel. He and all who are humbled, tested and chastened by the Lord in this life yet gladly hear and subsist on God’s Word above all receive every good thing when they come into God’s eternal kingdom of heaven – "a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you."

Luther writes of our Gospel text:

"If they refuse to listen to Moses and the Prophets, that is, if they are going to deny the Word of God, even knowing that it is the Word of God, then they won’t be swayed by someone rising from the dead either. This is the way it still is today....

"People engage in pretense and say, ‘Sermons are old hat; but if someone rose from the dead, then people would believe. In the same vein, if the gospel were proclaimed by the high and mighty, like princes, kings or rulers of the world, or by angels from heaven, then people would believe. How can we believe if the people who do the preaching are nothing but lowly, despised fishermen? That is easily said, but basically it is of no count, for it is not the person of the preacher that makes the difference in bringing a man to faith, but the Word of God...."

Or put another way, it is not the packaging and its appeal to the emotions and senses by or through which the holy Spirit works faith, but by Moses and the Prophets -- the Law to convict us of the our own personal sinfulness by which we deserve to be cursed with separation from the benefits of God like the rich man of our parable; and the Gospel to deliver the forgiveness of sin won by Christ, the Son of God, who became sin for us, taking it’s curse of separation from God the Father upon himself, and nailed it to the tree.

Luther continues:

"Devout believers, therefore, need to cling to the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed in the church by faithful pastors. Were Paul, Peter, yes, Christ himself, to proclaim the Word, it would be to no avail if meanwhile we despised it. If we love and believe the Word, whether preached by Paul or Peter,, Christ or John the Baptist, pastor or chaplain, it does not make any difference who the person is, for it is the Word that counts. If we base our baptism’s worth on the fact that it was performed by [a famous church personality], the pope [himself, or even John the Baptist] , then we are grounding it upon the person and not on baptism itself. It will not then endure. If we, however, esteem our baptism highly because it is God’s sacrament, ordained and commanded by Him, then we stand on sure and firm ground. The person of the man does not make baptism better, whether done by the pope [or some parish pastor, John the Baptist or even a midwife in time of emergency.] Similarly, the Word preached by a parish preacher is not better than that of a chaplain. In short, it’s a matter of the Word, not of the person.

"...This is a strong testimony against the fantastic spirits. We see here that Lazarus was not to preach, but remain in Abraham’s bosom; also the rich man was not to preach, but remain in hell.... If I want to hear preaching, I want to hear it from where God has ordained for it to be. Where? In the ministry of the Word, through the mouth of the parish preacher in the church, or of the fathers, mothers, masters, mistresses of the house. Whoever hears them, hears God. Whoever will not hear them, let him listen to the devil through the mouths of the dead and the fantastic spirits. Indeed, it is the devil when they claim to hear someone from the dead, for God has not ordained that the dead should preach, but has directed us rather to the living to whom He has commanded his Word."

Each of us here knows someone for whom what is given by God through His church isn’t good enough. Baptism, the preached Word, and Holy Communion -- each for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting -- simply isn’t exciting, or fantastic, or rewarding enough.

We live in a pagan world – not just here in Layton, Utah – but throughout the United States and indeed the entire globe. This pagan world is full of people who would rather "clothe [themselves] in purple and fine linen, making merry every day sumptuously" than to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD and to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. If we are honest with ourselves, we will even be led to admit that we are among them and be driven to confess that, we too, often despise preaching and his Word and would rather make merry and pursue happiness than hear God’s plain, yet indispensable, unchangeable and fully satisfying Word.

But, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I Jn 1:9 NKJ)

And we and all those who confess and are forgiven with us -- who with and like Lazarus are "the ones whom God helps" -- are carried by the angels into the bosom of Abraham:

  • where we are comforted by the Lord our God, who "clothes [us] in purple and fine linen" of His only begotten Son's righteousness
  • and where we eternally "make merry every day sumptuously" in the name of -- and even in the very presence of – the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Handling the Means of Grace

For all the belly-aching I may do when the Divine Service is not held in high esteem, let me relate a great joy that I experienced following its celebration at Trinity today.

Sunday past, a woman visiting with her 10 year old grandaughter from a neighboring Lutheran congregation of a different persuasion, graciously extended the greatest compliment I have ever received as a pastor. As she shook my hand, she said, "You make Communion very special."

Now this was spoken by no newby to the faith, who comes from a more "conservative"
fellowship of congregations, and was asked by a pastor to refrain from receiving the Sacrament until we have the chance to speak further about the faith confessed at our altar, and how it may differ from that with which she is familiar. It was also spoken by one who is accustomed to having the Sacrament available only once a month.

Of course my reply to this dear lady was, "It is our Lord who makes it special. But thank you very much, I am so glad that you think so."

After all, I do nothing but treat the elements designated by our Lord with the dignity and reverence befitting the body and blood He declares them to be. I mean I don't even own a chasuble, our Communion ware and paraments are about as plain and simple as they come, and the altar and rail are in need of renovation if not replacement.

But for one who is used to having the *Sacrament* available only once per month, and that served by a man who wears a business suit and tie in the daily (yes, I think she said he does vest for the weekly church service) exercise of his office, I suppose our celebration of the Lord's Supper as she observed it today must seem rather special indeed. Not to mention finding a man wearing a collar distinctive of the office when she originally came to visit during the week.

Anyway, why do I write this, to toot my own horn? No, not at all. It is to rejoice when one comes to see in the light, what has been obscured by some sort of darkness. It is to celebrate that what has been lost and even denigrated by some, has now been found and valued by another as our dear Lord intends.

The bottom line is this -- perhaps how faithfully the pastor sticks to the Word he is given, without straining for exceptions and broadening it according to his own understanding or intent really does matter. And, just perhaps, how he handles the means of grace and the office to which he has been called really is reflected in the faith of the people entrusted to his care.

Could it be?

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:16, NKJ

Let the discussion begin ....

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Steward of Unrighteousness

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.

The text for our message today is from the Holy Gospel, Luke 16:1-8.
Today we will look at the parable of the "steward of unrighteousness" in our Gospel lesson in light of Luke 9:51-56:
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,
and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. "For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." (Luke 9:51-56, NKJ)
Some twelve weeks ago, in the middle of the summer as we were just getting into this season of the church year we call the Sundays after Pentecost, that part of the year that focuses on the life of the church, we encountered the Gospel lesson from the ninth chapter of Luke that I just read to you. The reason I bring it up again this day is because it is invaluable in helping us understand this most difficult parable Jesus sets before us in the Gospel appointed for today.
On the face of it, this parable commends a hired hand for acting dishonestly to save his own hide. Unless we understand what is going on around this parable we walk away from it thinking it is a lesson on dealing with our finances and investments in this world in order to win friends and influence people, because in doing so we somehow are feathering a heavenly retirement nest. But, as always in reading the Scripture and hearing the Word of God, if all we get out of it is what we have to do to gain access to our heavenly home, we leave ourselves on the outside of the window looking in.
As Jesus, the teller of this tale himself warns the Pharisees on another occasion, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 NKJ)
Jesus has turned from addressing the Pharisees and is speaking to His disciples as he tells the tale of the parable of the "steward of unrighteousness" in today’s Gospel lesson. However, we also must remember that the Pharisees are still present, listening in as Jesus teaches, catechizes His disciples. This is where the text from Luke 9 is so helpful to us. It reminds us of the journey that Jesus has undertaken and the purpose for calling His disciples:
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face.... to prepare for Him. "For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them."
So, here we have Jesus catechizing His disciples, preparing them for His death on the cross and His subsequent departure which will leave them in charge of proclaiming and spreading the message of the kingdom of heaven. This He does with a parable so that hearing, the Pharisees will not understand, because they do not recognize Him as the Christ, who by His crucifixion is THE key to understanding all of Scripture, and therefore also this parable.
Now that we have an idea of what is going on here, let us take a closer look at the story Jesus tells. For today, rather than getting all caught up in the details in the middle, I’d like us to focus on the beginning and the end of the story. It is at the beginning and the end that we see what is truly happening and why.
The parable begins: "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods...."
The word "accusation" is very important here for two reasons.
1. Nowhere in the parable does the accusation become a fact born out by evidence.
2. The person or persons doing the accusing are never revealed.
The Greek word here is "diabollo," the same word from which we get the devil’s name. Satan is our accuser
and the Pharisees were tools of the devil and Christ’s accusers. Keep this thought in mind, we will come back to it shortly.

But now, let us take a quick look at how Jesus closes the parable: "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.
Here the Greek word so often translated "shrewdly" is perhaps better understood as "prudently" or even "wisely."

What was so prudent and wise about the stewards actions toward the debtors? It could only be the forgiving of their debts. Here is the nugget of the story that prepares the disciples for what is to come -- that journey to Jerusalem to which Jesus had steadfastly set His face that He might be received up on the cross to forgive the debts of a sinful world that owes the Master, the Lord God, their very lives. It is the same nugget that leaves the Pharisees shaking their heads and leads to their being the agents for Christ’s death.

These Pharisees were continually trying to trap Jesus, accusing Him of sinning against the Scriptures and blaspheming God and His name. Eventually they succeeded in making their accusations stick – at least in the realm of this unrighteous world. The result was that the only righteous one among us was slain on a cursed tree to bear the unrighteousness of those He came to serve. Jesus, the very Son of God who knew no sin and was falsely accused, became sin for us so that He could pay the price and wipe out all our debt before His Father, the rich man and Lord of Heaven to whom we all owe our very lives and all that we have.

On the cross Jesus the Christ, the steward of unrighteousness, that is, the one who managed our sin and bore its consequences for us, begged His Father, the master of the estate, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

He paid our debts, delivering us from sin and bondage to the accuser. Having done so, He is received up into heaven where He has prepared a place for us to live with Him forever. And having completed His task of clearing away the slate of our debt, He sends us forth as His forgiven people to deliver that forgiveness to others that they may know all the accusations the evil one brings against them have been wiped clean as well.

In a great reversal Jesus, the steward of our unrighteousness, makes us stewards of His righteousness. What a great Gospel lesson and parable on this day that we will be holding a Voters’ Assembly largely to address our own stewardship issues.

So often we look at stewardship as what we do with our money, our stuff, our time, our skills. Thus the meetings become forums to ask, "Where will we get the money?" "How are we going to get more people into our church to help us make the budget?" "How can we spend less to preserve our resources?"

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the wrong questions to ask! Just as the steward of unrighteousness has nothing that has not been given first by the master, that is, the Father in heaven, we have nothing that truly belongs to us that has not been given us by God to manage for the sake of our neighbor – i.e. parents, spouse, children, relatives, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, and the people in the communities in which we live.

Stewardship is not a matter of our raising funds, our luring more people into the pews, or how frugal we can be with our resources. As another of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the talents shows, stewardship is about taking all that has been given and entrusted to us – some more, some less – and using it for the sake of others without fear of running out or worry about what we will return to the Lord. For the One who has given us all things has all thing to give and has promised to supply us with whatever we need for this life and the next.

So we should never think of stewardship as what we sacrifice for God. For, other than our own sin, we have nothing to give – whether treasures of this world or the kingdom of heaven – that has not first been given to us.

This is what Jesus has in mind when He exhorts us to, "... go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Matthew 9:13

All of us baptized children of God are, first of all, His stewards of righteousness. In God’s mercy we have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and are sent out to bring more people into the kingdom and house of our Lord. We are first of all stewards of the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, for the forgiveness of sins that bestows the mercy of God on all who hear and believe. Then, second of all, we are stewards of unrighteous mammon, the riches of this world by which we are given to ensure the means of grace have a home, a person to administer them, and the means to take them out into the world.

That we may be faithful stewards and set our faces to the cross with Jesus, the disciples, the prophets, and all the saints, our Lord catechizes us to be disciples as well.

We pray in The Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer as taken from Matthew 6:12: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that he would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

And that because we have been forgiven first – for he sake of the steward of our unrighteous sin and debt, Jesus the Christ our Savior and Lord, who has given us the name we bear upon ourselves and into the world ...
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen