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Sermon for Lent 4 Midweek

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: This sermon was rather heavily adapted from one in the Lenten Series, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” by Pastor Todd Peperkorn.

Click here for mp3 audio 24 Sermon for Lent 4,mp3

Sermon: But You, O Lord, Are Enthroned Forever (Psalm 102)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for tonight is Psalm 102, which we prayed earlier in the service. We will also be examining the explanation of the Office of the Keys as we prayed from the catechism earlier as well.

The title of Psalm 102 reads, “A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.  We don’t know who the author is, but we know what sort of state he’s in, faint.  He is near the end of his rope, on the verge of utter despair.   “I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places.”  “I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop” (Psalm 102:6, 7b), so prays the psalmist. He complains of tears and fever, lost appetite, and doubt.  It is as though the writer of this psalm has been inside our heads and hearts to know what happens there in the midst of an emergency or personal crisis.  I would expect that everyone here has, at some point, felt like this little sparrow, separated from the rest, alone, far from what feels like home.  But notice that for the psalmist this isn’t simply human isolation.  What does he say has separated him from his friends?  What is it that has brought his own mortality and fear right in front of his face?  It is God’s indignation and wrath over his sin.

When God’s Law does its work in our hearts, we are alone and silent before an angry God.  We know that God does not overlook sin. Sin must be punished. As Paul said, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).  This is what the Law does, dear friends.  It crushes; it shows us what we deserve.  The Law shows us that we deserve to be separated and isolated completely from God to no longer enjoy his presence.  There is a name for the physical locality from where God has withdrawn and is not present.  We call it hell.  Even mature Christians sometimes have a rather Sunday School version of hell in their heads.  It’s the hot place where bad people go.  From the media depictions these days, it’s a cartoon, a caricature of what the Scriptures tell us about it.  It’s far more mature to see hell as the place from where God has withdrawn his presence.  Those who sin are separated from God, not worthy to be in His presence.  It is what we deserve because of our sins.

This is the nature of our sins: they hold us back and keep us down.  Our sins keep us away from God and His mercy.  They would even blind us to our own true character as a beggar before God.  But God’s Law will have its way with us.  Like Peter knowing his sin in the words of Jesus his week so that he broke down and wept, God’s Law looks at us, and we see ourselves for what you truly are: sinners who stands in need of rescue.

Through his work on the cross, Jesus came to rescue from the bondage of hell, to buy us out of slavery to sin, to heal our blindness to sin, to restore to us the honor to walk in the presence of His heavenly Father.  This is what the Gospel is all about. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is about reconnecting you to the God who saves you.  As the psalmist wrote, “But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12). He promises to arise and have mercy on Zion. He will have mercy on you. This is what Confession and Absolution is all about.  Confession is the contrition worked by the Law and Absolution is the declaration of the free gift of forgiveness spoken by Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father.  This is His promise to us for all eternity.

So how does this work specifically for us and our particular sins?  Let’s look at the Small Catechism again.

What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

God wants us to plead guilty of all sins, even the ones we are not aware of.  We do this in the Lord’s Prayer every day.  We also do this in the general Confession and Absolution on Sunday. But Individual Confession and Absolution is about what troubles the sinner’s conscience.  Last week I said that we don’t confess for God’s sake.  God already knows our sins.  We’re not telling Him anything new.  Rather, we confess for our sake.  We confess so that we realize what it is we have done wrong the magnitude of our sin in the eyes of God.  We confess so that we ourselves see all the more clearly why it is we need the forgiveness Jesus came to earn for us on the cross.  Because left to our own opinions of ourselves, we would never say that we are as deserving of the eternal punishment of hell at least not as much as that other person over there.   I speak from experience here.  Whenever I see someone passing me on the street doing 50 in a 35 mile per hour zone, it never occurs to me that if I’m going 40, I’m breaking the law too but least I’m not as bad as that guy.  The same holds true for God’s Law, of which every single instance of our breaking it is recorded and for which every single instance we break it earns us eternal punishment.  Distracted by the sins of others, I fixate on their sin and their hypocrisy rather than my own and I try to even connivance God I’m a valuable team member whereas this other guy, well…

As a sinner, I need the practice of saying, this particular sin, whatever it may be, my arrogance, my pride, my laziness, my foul mouth, these trouble me.  They hold back the growth of the kingdom in this place.  I confess them, not for God’s sake but because I need to be driven into the arms of a merciful Rescuing Jesus.  I need to hear that God forgives me because of Jesus.  I need to hear again, I am His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.  Reading about it is not the same.  I don’t want to simply pray about it and rely on my faith to appropriate it to myself, wondering if God truly spoke a word of forgiveness to me or not.  Satan loves to trick us into doubting God’s forgiveness.  But where Satan plants seeds of doubt, our Lord Jesus speaks a word certainty and truth.

Remember, when you hear again that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, He did so for you.  He suffered abandonment and the isolation of the cross, to the point that he was even separated from the presence of the Father, He was forsaken by the Father all so that you would never be abandoned, never be forsaken, never be cut off, and never be cast out of the presence of your merciful and loving God.  He was scourged and mocked and suffered contempt, so that you would never bear those marks from God and so that if ever you were whipped, mocked, and held in contempt for following after him, you would know you suffer not in vain.  You don’t suffer alone.  Your suffering connects you to His suffering for you.

So when Satan flings your sins at you, when the world tells you that you are not worthy to be saved, when your own conscience casts doubt in your heart about your life and salvation, where do you flee?  Flee to God’s word of absolution and forgiveness.  Our Lord died on the cross so that your sins would be forgiven, so why cling to them?  Confess them, and our Lord will fling them into the depth of the sea.  As He said in Psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12).  That is a beautiful picture of the freedom from our sins Christ won for us.

Every time you hear words of forgiveness from God, He is covering you up with Christ’s death on the cross.  He is clothing you with the new justice worked out for you on the cross and rinsed over you in Holy Baptism. Remember it is through baptism that you are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection, buried with Him and raised with Him to new life.  What then is Absolution but the assurance of all those promises returned to you in those life–giving waters, again and again and again?  That, my friends, is the Christian life.

So rejoice! God hears your prayers for mercy. You are not alone as a sparrow on a housetop.  The God who laid the foundations of the earth, and who sent His son to die for you, will hold you in the palm of His hand and love you forever.

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The Fourth Chief Part: Holy Baptism

Click here for mp3 audio 23 Sermon for Lent 4.mp3

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

It’s fairly customary for pastors to do sermon series for Lenten services.  But the sad truth is, most people don’t attend those and they are the poorer for it.  So this year, I’ve set aside my normal practice of explaining and clarifying one of the readings for the day and we’ve been working through the Small Catechism on the Sunday mornings in Lent.  The previous Sundays were the first three chief parts, today the fourth, Baptism.

I would like to engage the topic by starting with this quote from Dr. Luther from the Large Catechism.

“We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves.  So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, “Nevertheless, I am baptized.  And if I am Baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.”  (LC IV 44).

From my observations most Lutherans take issue with Dr. Luther’s language here and world must rather we replace what he says here about baptism with faith.  Let’s try it:

“We must think this way about [Faith] and make it profitable for ourselves.  So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, “Nevertheless, I [have faith].  And if I [have faith], it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body, [well, at least in soul anyway].”

That’s much better.  That helps us fit in with the other American Christian groups around us who downplay Baptism and the Sacraments.  It puts the emphasis back on ourselves and, we certainly like feeling important.  There is nothing so much that an American likes to think than that he has the power to do something himself.  This makes its way into matters of the faith too.  And it works most of the time except it doesn’t work at the times when we need it most to work, in our times of weakness, and inability and struggle and powerlessness, before we are born, if we are really sick, when we lay dying, when we are mourning the loss of people dearest to us, when we feel as though was can’t go on, when we feel as though we have even lost our strength to believe.  Then this doctrine of faith is of no help and leads us only to despair.  By the way this is not the Scriptural doctrine of faith either.  It’s purely a self-made concoction, not of God.

We’ve heard from Dr. Luther and I’d like us to hear from one more Lutheran voice, at least a once-Lutheran voice, but he wrote this while he was still Lutheran, Father Richard John Neuhaus.  This is a rather lengthy quote so please bear with me.  See if you can hear a similar theme from Father Neuhaus.

“. . . the churches, and Lutherans in particular, need to find fresh ways to proclaim the sacramental and communal nature of Christian existence. The sad truth is that many, if not most, of our Lutheran people believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is what really constitutes being a Christian, with Baptism, Eucharist, Confession and Absolution as perhaps helpful addenda. The idea that being a Christian means most essentially sacramental incorporation into the Body of Christ and discipleship in a committed community is, let us admit it, frequently absent from Lutheran piety.  [Martin] Marty and others are correct in observing that those Lutherans are making a massive strategic mistake who would downplay or abandon the sacramental and catholic dimensions of Lutheranism in order to compete in the marketplace of consumer religion. Second-rate Lutherans make fourth-rate Baptists. Diluted Lutheranism is a washout when it attempts to peddle superior spiritual highs. The future of Lutheranism does not depend upon a new gimmick but upon a renewal of evangelical catholic practice and preaching. Given the shape of things short of the Kingdom, the Church will always have a mission among those who recognize the need for sacramentally sustained community in a world that is better explained by the Cross than by the death-defying illusions of the religious happiness hustlers.”  (Father Richard John Neuhaus)

We Lutherans are doing ourselves a dis-service by mimicking the garage band clubs scene that passes for church in so many places.  We could do a host of analyses to see how this isn’t helpful, but the reason we’re doing it in the first place is akin to the reason we no longer describe Baptism the way Luther did.  Among us we’ve replaced it with faith like the other American Protestant churches have.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that many who call themselves Lutherans are in fact not so.  They are not sacramental Christians; they are spiritualist Christians.  Over the next three Sundays, I will try to unpack this statement and show how this is the case.  I think Father Neuhaus’s quote should be a clarion call for us to reclaim for ourselves the Gospel of Baptism in particular and the Gospel of the Sacraments in general.

What is the Gospel of Baptism?  It’s there in the catechism we just read.  “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”  We haven’t made this up.  “Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” (Mark 16:16) How can water do such great things?  But water with the word of God “is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”  Even for babies?  Yes, even for babies, perhaps even especially for babies but babies are not yet arrogant enough to think they can rely on their own faith in matters concerning eternal salvation.  “And this is not of yourselves, lest any man should boast.”  If we don’t understand Baptism, and infant Baptism in particular, we don’t understand the pure, unmerited, undeserved, unalloyed with the works of man, grace of God.  We hear it.  We say we believe it and then we say, “But how can a baby have faith?”  Thanks be to God, the same way you can; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, pure and simple.  The same way a flower can have rain.  The same way Lazarus can be raised from the dead, by the blessing of God.  Remember, “this is not of yourselves, lest anyone should boast.”

Baptism is not something invented by the Church.  It was instituted by Jesus.  Like he reworked the Passover, Jesus took Jewish proselyte baptism and filled it with new meaning.  He attached his promise and the name of the Holy Trinity to the water so that baptism was no longer something someone does to show they are repentant, a la John the Baptist, but rather that Holy Baptism is something that God does.  What God institutes and commands is not a human thing.  To be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity is to be baptized by God himself.  Dr. Luther says, “although it is performed by human hands, it is still truly God’s own work.” (LC IV 10)

I should note that we don’t believe that the Baptismal formula is hocus pocus, alakazam; it’s not magic.  We can’t just say the words and sprinkle some water and force baptism on anyone.  We can’t.  But where the eyes of faith are opened to see that God is active in Holy Baptism, there all the blessings of adoption into God’s holy family are poured out on the ones who are baptized.  God’s Word, God’s name is God’s promise.  And where God puts his name he has put his promise.  The same thing can be seen in the OT reading for today.

The people of Israel had grumbled against the Lord and so he sent poisonous snakes with a fiery bite.  I really wish they were fiery snakes, that would be cool, but it’s probably more reasonable to think it was their bite that was fiery.  God instituted the remedy given to Moses to make a bronze serpent upon which the people could look if they had been bitten and they would be healed.  Those who did not look, continued to suffer and die.  But those who looked at the bronze serpent received healing and restoration from the Lord.  Why is it that a bronze serpent is commanded and a golden calf is forbidden?  Because the Lord said so.  Why is it that we make disciples by baptizing and teaching?  It’s the same reason.  The Lord said so.

Dr. Luther has a few other choice things to say in the Large Catechism.  Including, “It is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil when our “new spirits” mock Baptism, leaving God’s Word and institution out of it.  They look to Baptism in no other way than as water taken from the well.” (LC IV 15)  “[To] state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this—to save.” (LC IV 24)  1 Peter 3:21  “Baptism now saves us.”  And Romans 6.  And Acts chapter 2 where Peter says Baptism works the forgiveness of sins.  And Titus 3 where Paul calls Baptism the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  This is what God is doing in Baptism.

Our faith does not make baptism any more a baptism.  Does your faith make you saved?  If you don’t believe, does that mean that Jesus didn’t die on the cross for your sins?  No, of course Jesus still died on the cross.  “God loved the world so much He gave his only begotten Son.”  Objective fact.  God so loved.  If you don’t believe it, you simply refuse what he did for you and you receive no benefit of it but you don’t get to think it never happened.  Baptism is likewise an objective reality.  It happened.  God acted to save you by water and His holy name.  But if you reject it, and refuse what God gives, it makes the gift no less great.  Faith merely receives the benefit of the work of God.

It remains for us then to have our faith strengthened that we may receive all the blessings our God bestows to us in Holy Baptism.  He has done it for us, to declare to us that what truly constitutes being a Christian according to the Word of God is being baptized and taught.  To take us away from faith in ourselves and point to us to Jesus and the great love of God the Father.  Behold the cross of Jesus Christ.  You have been baptized into his cross.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Sermon for Lent 3 Midweek

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: This sermon was adapted from one in the CPH Lenten Series, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” by Pastor Todd Peperkorn.

Sorry there is no audio this week.

 

“Against You and For Me” (Psalm 51)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for tonight is Psalm 51, which we prayed earlier in the service. We’ve been working through the penitential psalms, so far, Psalms 6, 32, 38, and now 51 and trying to find in them the biblical underpinning for what Dr. Luther wrote in the Small Catechism concerning Confession, probably the least well known of the chief parts.  And so we’ll also be examining the explanation of the Office of the Keys as we confessed from the catechism tonight as well.

I think most folks know that Psalm 51 was written by Kind David in the wake of being caught out by Nathan in his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals.  We see the situation from Nathan’s view; we see it from God’s view.  We don’t see it from David’s point of view.  Just before Nathan comes to him, King David had it made.  He had Bathsheba.  He husband Uriah was dead.  The whole kingdom thought that he was the kind and wise king for taking care of poor Bathsheba in the wake of her husband’s glorious death in battle.  “What a good king we have!” they probably exclaimed.  “He takes care of his poor dead soldier’s wife.”  But this view was far away from the truth.

God saw it all.  God knew that David’s unbelief had driven him to lust, adultery, and murder.  So God sent David a pastor to preach the Law to him.  Pastor Nathan came to David with a story, which we heard before.  When David heard this great misdeed that the man had done, he declared the man guilty, and condemned him to death.  Nathan then said the most pointed Law in all the Scriptures: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). David’s response gets to the heart of the matter: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

Very few of the Psalms match up with events as clearly as Psalm 51 and the contrition of King David in his sin with Bathsheba.  Psalm 51 is but lyrical and poetic exposition of what David says in his confession to Pastor Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  David gets to the heart of the matter very quickly.  He has not just sinned against Uriah, his own general, he has sinned against his wife.  And he has not just sinned against them, but, as you well know, Bathsheba is pregnant and so David has sinned against the unborn child.  He has sinned against all those people he has lied to, the whole people of Israel over whom he is king.  He even sinned against his pastor by not going to him to rid his conscience of this great and terrible sin.  He sinned, alright.  He sinned against the Lord.  “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” (v. 4)  Sin against our neighbor is ultimately sin against God who gave us neighbors to love to be loved by.  David knows his sin intimately but his admission is more than just introspection.  He knows how rebellious he has been; he knows he has sinned against the Lord.

Any sin is fundamentally sin against God (v. 4).  When we confess our sins to God, we are saying in effect that He has every right to condemn us, that we deserve nothing but hell and punishment.  Many believe that God is arbitrary and unjust in His punishment, but we confess in this psalm that He is right and just in condemning us for the sin we have done against Him.  All sin is ultimately against God.  All sin finally is against the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”  That is the terror of sin that troubles the conscience.  That was Peter’s sin from our reading.  His pride would not let him see himself as a weak sinner who needed Jesus.  It is that same pride that eats away at you and I when it comes to confession.

Some visitors to our church on Sunday morning are offended by the Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service.  “I’m not a poor, miserable sinner.”  Some see it as too negative.  Even in some Lutheran churches the confession of sins has been replaced with something less severe, or omitted all together.  These are Christians who see the faith as nothing more than positivism, a religion of only the joyful and happy.  One supporter of this view actually calls the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, the “Be-happy attitudes” as if Jesus were some toothy-grinned self-help guru.  If visitors are offended and appalled by the confession of our sins and our sinful nature, going and confessing your sins to God before the pastor is probably seen as even more galling.  Forgetting completely that it is against God that we have sinned, they ask, “What business does the pastor have with my sins with my sins?”

But confessing sins is not a pity party.  Remember the words of the psalm: “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16–17) So then, hear again the words from the catechism:

What is confession?
Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Notice that it doesn’t say, I confess my sin, singular or even generally speaking, but my sins, plural.  Now God does call on us to confess our sinful nature.  But what this catechism section is getting at is that when I confess my sins, what specifically I have done that troubles me, that leads me to understand my sinful nature.  So Dr. Luther is trying to help us understand that God wants me to actually confess my sins.  In other words, God wants you to know and acknowledge with your lips what you have done wrong, and that you deserve to be punished for it.  But then God desires that you ask for His mercy and forgiveness, which He gladly and willingly gives.

Perhaps an illustration is in order.  Part of the discipline of teaching children right from wrong is getting them to recognize that what they did was wrong.  So you ask them to tell you what they did wrong.  Now the parent knows perfectly well what the child did wrong.  This isn’t for the parents’ benefit; it’s for the child’s benefit.  It’s the same way with confession.  God desires you to confess your sins not for His sake (He knows perfectly well what you did) but for your sake.  God wants you to see yourself as a sinner. Why?  And this is the most important thing I have to say tonight, so please hear me.  God wants you to see yourself as a sinner so that you to know that you need Jesus.  For Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the sinner, the contrite, the messed up, the ones who know that they live and move only by God’s everlasting mercy. Confession is not an exercise in self-abuse, self-pity, or self-hate.  It’s not just an exercise in realizing maybe you got too big for your britches.  God wants us to confess our sins so that He might forgive them on account of Christ.

This is the true work of God.  God’s proper work is to forgive, to love, to show mercy and pity.  God wants to forgive your sins.  Have you ever paid close attention to how David prays in this psalm?  For a fellow who has committed adultery and murder and brought his kingship, the kingship of God’s own Israel into disrepute, he’s awful confident in his prayer.  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (v. 1–2)  What a great prayer!  David appeals not to God’s justice but to His loving-kindness.  “Cast me not away from your presence.”   David knew the danger he was in.  “When holy people—still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them.  The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants [Romans 6:14].  If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present” (SA III III 43–44).  “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12).  God, give me back the joy of living in You.  The joy is more than a passing emotion; it is a contented resting in God.  This joy results from the security of having been reconciled with the Lord and of having peace with him (cf. Rom 5:1).

God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, comes to restore your joy, to blot out your sins, and to save you.  He comes to open your lips to sing His praise.  He comes to give you a new life in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, which is why it is appropriate that we used those words to open our office of Vespers in the evening and Matins in the morning.  He comes to absolve you and free you from your guilt of sin. If God can forgive David, He can forgive you.  It is simple acknowledgement that God has come to you to forgive your sins to put into your mouth the very praise of Him.  So we can pray and sing with the whole Church on earth and in heaven:

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. . . . O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:4–5, 12b).

“Oh, Lord, open my lips, that my mouth will declare your praise.”

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: this sermon was adapted from one in Concordia Pulpit Resources.

Sorry there is no audio this week.

 

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

The sermon today is on the third chief part, the Lord’s prayer.  We’re on three of six and that means we’re halfway through Lent and halfway to Easter.  In the ancient the church entire catechism consisted of just the Ten Commandments the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  By the Middle Ages many other element had been added to various catechisms.  It was Luther who returned to the basic three and then added what was necessary to know about Baptism, Confession and the Lord’s Supper.  When we’re done this morning with the Lord’s Prayer we’ll be done with the content of the ancient catechism.

The truth is, though that we’ll never really be finished with the Lord’s Prayer or the catechism, because, as Luther says, in it we have enough for a whole lifetime of prayer, and our heavenly Father gives us reason to make prayer our whole lifetime.  Nevertheless, our brief look at the Lord’s Prayer this morning can get us started in understanding better how our Father gives us every good reason to pray.

How did your week go?  What did you do?  Whatever your role in life, employee, student, child, parent, grandparent, you did the things you were supposed to do, more or less this week.  Everyone has duties and responsibilities.  One of your duties, believe it or not, was to pray.  How often did you pray last week?  It’s our duty to pray.  God commanded it.  In fact, Paul tells us we are to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes 5:17)  And as Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel, he says, “And when you pray…” (Mt. 6:5) Notice there it’s not “if you pray, it’s “when.”  Our lives are to be lives of prayer.  So how did you do?

I was raised in a Christian family.  I was taught to pray before meals.  I do that pretty well.  I wasn’t taught to pray after meals like Luther instructs in the catechism.  It’s just something I’ve never done.  Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been so hungry that you ate without prayer?  Is that okay?   Is prayer optional?  It’s good to do it if you remember to, but it’s okay if you don’t?

What would Daniel the prophet think about that kind of attitude to prayer?  It was Daniel’s refusal to stop praying three times a day, the traditional Jewish prayers at the temple that landed him in the lions’ den.  Remember Daniel had not been commanded to cease praying to his God forever, just for 30 days.  We might have been tempted to say, “Well, it’s just thirty days.  No biggie.  After all, prayer is optional.  Daniel certainly did not see it that way because he knew it was his duty to pray and in spite of the consequences, Daniel prayed.  Daniel agreed with Peter and John who would tell the Sanhedrin centuries later, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Ac 5:29) Daniel knew it was his duty to pray regardless of the consequences.

Now someone might say, “Hey now preacher, that’s not right.  I shouldn’t pray just because God commanded me.  God is not forcing me to pray.  I should just be praying out of my heart.  What are you trying to say, saying, ‘God commanded prayer’?”  When we come to almighty God with all our meager little complaints, problems, and needs, how do we know that God will listen to us?  One of the reasons we know God listens to all our prayers is that he told us to come to him.  “Got any problems?  Come, tell me about them.  Pray without ceasing.”  God tells you to pray so that if you have any doubt that he hears your prayer, simply open the Bible and read that yes, God has told you to come and pray.  His command here is gives us confidence rather than a burden.  God promises to hear our prayer.

Luther makes this interesting comment in the Large Catechism about prayer, “Babbling and bawling [is] not prayer.” (LC III 7)  There is a certain form to our prayer and a certain discipline of things we need to do. For example, bowing your head and folding your hands are appropriate to teach our children.  Bu these things are not what makes prayer.  Some may think that if they put more energy into a prayer, God will listen to it more attentively.  If I bawl and cry out to God, then he will listen.  There was a competition of sorts between the prophets of Baal and Elijah (1 Ki 18:16-46).  Each was to build an altar and pray to their god/God to accept the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal had the most sincere prayers ever; they walked around their altar, bawled and cried out with loud voices.  They even cut themselves to show their sincerity.  But there was no answer because they prayed to a false god, an idol.  The effectiveness of prayer is not from the energy we put into it.  Rather, it’s from the person who hears our your prayer, the one true God.  Elijah prayed to God, and God heard Elijah’s prayer.  And God sent down consuming fire from heaven on the altar and burned up the sacrifice.  Elijah’s God, the one true God, answered his prayer.

Imagine this situation.  Supposed you call 911 because your house is on fire and you say, “I need the firemen to come; my house is on fire,” and the operator replies, “You don’t quite sound sincere enough.  Come one, put your heart into it.  Make me believe your house is on fire.”  That doesn’t make any sense does it?  Let’s keep this one going.  Okay, so what if the operator says, “I’m glad you called, but we’ll only know you’re sincere if you get a hundred friends and family to call too.”  Some of us think about prayer this way and it’s not helpful.  It’s not the sincerity my 911 call that gets the help.  It’s the duty of the fire department to answer the call.  God wants us to pray from the heart and to be sincere, but God answers prayer because he is a good and gracious God.

Do you ever feel so unworthy that you think God doesn’t want to hear much less answer your prayer?  He promises you that he will.  Come and call upon him.  There’s a reason he tells you this.  The reason is the cross.  On the cross, when Jesus died for your sins, he made you acceptable to God.  There is nothing that stands between you and God.

We’ve come all this way and not talked about the Lord’s Prayer yet.  But this is why the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s prayer is so important, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  If God were to look upon our sins, he could only deny our prayers—all our prayers.  But because Jesus took our sins away on the cross, God does not see our sins.  He only sees us as his dear children, as holy and as worthy as his only-begotten Son who took our place and gave us his.  See, the privilege of prayer is all because of the cross of Jesus.  God has promised to hear your prayer on account of Jesus.  Jesus gave you the permission to say, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  You can call him father in sincerity and truth.

Luther says this to one who doubts God will hear his prayer: “You should say, ‘My prayer is as precious, holy, and pleasing to God as that of St. Paul or the most holy saints.  This is the reason: I will more gladly grant that Paul is personally more holy, but… God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word.” (LC III 16)  Our Father promises to hear our prayers because we are his dear children through Jesus and his cross.

When children sing in church, it makes me happy to see the smiles on their faces.  But there’s a special joy in seeing the faces of the fathers and mothers as their children sing praises to God.  Parents have great joy when children phone home.  They rejoice because they have live their children.  Because of your faith in Jesus, this is God’s attitude when you pray: “My children, who have been adopted into my family through Holy Baptism, how wonderful it is that you are now talking to me as dead children talk to their dear father.”

This is exactly what Luther is teaching us when he explains the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father”: “With these words [Our Father] God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence, we may ask Him as dear children as their dear Father.”

We should all form a daily habit of prayer.  It would be good if we could learn this form youth.  It’s a great blessing to be raised in a family where parents teach their children to pray regularly—when they get up in the morning, at meals, and when they go to bed at night.  They pray without ceasing.

Sometimes our heavenly Father teaches us the habit of prayer.  He may remind you to pray by putting you flat on your back in a hospital bed so that you must look up to heaven and remember him in prayer.  Sometimes he teaches you to pray by allowing you to have difficulties in your life.  These are all opportunities to be reminded of the godly habit of prayer.

Luther says this, “Whenever a godly Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, let your will be done’ [Mt 6:10], God speaks from on high and says, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.’” (LC III 32) In spite of the devil and all the world, God’s will is done for your ultimate blessing.

One of the greatest examples of this is a prayer I want you to remember throughout this Lenten season.  On a hill, far away, stood three crosses.  From one cross a prayer came to Jesus’ ear, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)  God privileged that child of God to hear the answer to his prayer immediately, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (23:43) As you offer your prayers to God, I hope the answer to the prayer of the thief on the cross will ring out and echo sincerely in your ears.  God wants you to be with him forever in paradise because of Jesus, your Savior.  Amen.

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Why I am not “with the times” part one

March 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Note:  This post is the first in what I hope to be a clarifying of my understanding of how I approach the work I have been given to do as an undershepherd in the Lord’s Church. I’m looking at this as at the very least my thinking out loud about what it means for me to be a Lutheran Pastor in the cultural context of the early 21st century, southeastern US. I invite questions and comments and especially encouragement.

 

If congregations are truly serious about our Lord’s command to make disciples, so it goes, they will have a contemporary service in order to reach people for whom traditional church just did not speak to them, meet their needs, whatever it takes.

I have read C.S. Lewis describe his entry/return to the faith.  I have heard and read others’ descriptions.  There seems to be something of a nice blend of people who had Damascus Road-like experiences, which I do not pooh-pooh, and those who seemed to have reached the logical end of their nihilism and realized there can be no other answer something a little closer to my own experience.  These people tend to be ardent believers and faithful supporters of the work of the Church no matter their vocation.  Never once have I heard someone say, “I was sitting in a seeker service one night and the praise band was jammin’ I just knew that Jesus wanted me.”  Now that probably owes more to the circles I run in, but it still begs the question about several issues concerning contemporary worship and me and ultimately what church should look like.

I want to go on the record to say contemporary worship is not wrong; it’s not evil.  I can see why some folks like it.

Truth be told, I went through a phase where I did like contemporary worship.  But then, and I say this in all sincerity and with no malice toward those who do still prefer it, that was in college and I’m no longer in college.  Like a lot of other things I did in college, I just can’t do it now.  I find contemporary worship rather undeveloped.  In my mind, contemporary worship is the Ramen noodle of worship, the garage band of worship, the second hand futon or worship, the wine cooler of worship.  After I grew up and began to understand the traditional liturgy, I couldn’t see myself going back to it.

Is it just my perception or is contemporary worship most popular among the “Baby Boom” Generation?  As I observe it in my church body, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, that there are no stronger proponents for such worship practices than the aging Boomers.  As a generation, there has never been such a monolithically narcissistic, anti-authoritarian, morally permissive, and disconnected from anything that came before it.  Why would I want to adopt the worship practices of such a generation?  Forget all the failed logic that would say if I wanted to appeal to twenty somethings and thirty somethings I should tap into the worship practices of their parents, the pressure I have had to adopt such practices has all come, not from my colleagues and peers, but from the Boomer higher-ups in the organization.  I have some more thoughts about the Boomers as a generation and why the Church in the US is in the crisis it is but I’ll save those for another post.

If I’m supposed to be generationally aware, I read that the Gen Xer’s and the Millennials, (I am a Gen Xer), seek authenticity above all else.  So my question is, if I led contemporary worship, wouldn’t I be found out pretty quickly?  And if I was seen as willing to sell myself out like that wouldn’t that call into question the authenticity of my preaching and of my witness?  It wouldn’t be too hard to hang the charge on me, “You’ll just say anything to get people in the door.”

I will grant that the traditional liturgy can be daunting to a newcomer.  It can look stogy and stagey and formalist.  It can be done that way too which doesn’t help the cause.  The liturgy can be seen as snobbery.  I think there maybe some egalitarian anti-liturgy current in the US, at least, like there is for so much.  The Boomers being the source of most of those currents, or if not the source, the generation in which these waves have certainly crested.  But the liturgy of the Church isn’t any of those things.  It is the voice of the faith of our mothers and fathers.  Just as we learned to speak from them, we learn how to pray from them so that we might pray with them.  The liturgy can seem like a foreign movie that has already been playing for some time before we get to the movie theater.  We don’t know the plot or the characters.  The language makes no sense even with subtitles, “Kyrie eleison!”  “Sanctus!”  “Pax!”  “Nunc Dimittus”  “Benedicamus!”  “Shalom!”  It feels foreign because it is.

I would have stuck out like a sore thumb at the royal wedding in London last summer even though I can speak the language and presumably fit in.  Notwithstanding the Euro/Germanic (although they are arguably not so) cultural dissimilarities, the liturgy proclaims a courtly routine from another kingdom, the kingdom of God, one in which we who were formerly enemies are declared citizens only by naturalization on behalf of our gracious king.  In this kingdom there is a different worldview, a different history of origins, a different sense of what’s truly important, a difference not just in kind but category.

The easily-accessed worship of American Protestantism comes from a theology of easy access to the kingdom of God.  “All ya gotta do is give your life to Gawd!”  That is a far cry from “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Ac 2:38)  No really, I’ve seen the difference up close; it is very different.  So please, for the love of all that’s holy, will someone please tell me why is there such an expectation that we should expect to feel perfectly at home the minute we walk in the door?  I can’t understand it.

Discipleship is a lifelong way.  It seems to be Acts 2:42 that is the clearest, most succinct, example of what this like of discipleship, denying oneself, picking up one’s cross and following Jesus looks like.  We need to do a far better job teaching people the Apostles’ doctrine.  It is the rare Christian who seems to be able to clearly articulate all Ten Commandments much less the two natures of Christ.

We need to do a far better job of including into the fellowship those who confess with us the Apostles’ teaching.  It is even rarer to find a Christ who can clearly articulate the need to be a part of the fellowship.  The idea of “All ya gotta do is believe” and the preaching of the revivalist preachers who condemned “church-going people” as “not true Christians” have made church attendance optional.  This needs to be reversed ASAP.  Church members who are otherwise able to attend church and don’t for a period as little as one month ought to be kindly and pastorally rebuked, longer than one month should be disciplined, and longer than one year should be excommunicated. It is simply inconceivable that the church should live with such flagrant breaking of the third commandment any more than the flap we are in today over the sixth. (For any Protestants reading this, the Lutheran Church follows the traditional numbering of the commandments; I am referring to what you number as the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”)

Actions speak louder than words.  We must do a better job clearly articulating the benefits of the Lord’s Supper and tying the reception of those benefits to the receiving of the Supper.  A church that does not commune weekly is communing weakly–paying mere lip-service to our teaching that in this body and blood of Jesus we receive life, salvation and the forgiveness of sins.  I’m not arguing for ex opere operato, but we could stand quite a bite more operato.  The vast majority of Lutherans are functional Protestants: they may confess the Real Presence on paper but they only want him present on the first and third Sundays.

We need to teach people to pray “the prayers.”  This is the liturgy, plain and simple. Already in the earliest days of the Church, praying “the prayers,” the Psalms, the prayers, “Blessed are you Lord of heaven and earth…”  lift up your hearts!  Kyrie eleison! the Lord’s Prayer, were part of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  These are “the prayers.”  They need to be taught so that they can be learned and taught again.  Replacing any of them with the ditty of the moment, seems like replacing our fire departments with issuing everyone a “Super-Soaker” squirt gun.

I plan to develop more about a process to do what I have outlined above in a section about restoring the catechumenate among us.

If I’m wrong, and I could be, and in twenty years the Church is still singing, “I can Only Imagine” well, then, Kyrie eleison.  Maranatha.

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Sermon for Lent 2 Midweek

March 7, 2012 Leave a comment

“Make Haste to Help Me” (Psalm 38)

Click here for mp3 audio 22 Sermon for Lent 2 MW.mp3

Note:  The sermons for midweek have been adapted from a series, God’s Gift of Forgiveness, written by Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for tonight is Psalm 38, which we prayed earlier in the service.  Like last week.  We will also be examining the explanation of the Office of the Keys as we prayed from the catechism earlier as well.

Last week we heard about some of the harm to the soul that does not confess its sin.  This week we have a flood of problems that weigh us down.  No health to the body, overwhelmed by guilt, festering wounds, bowed down, searing pain, feeble, crushed, failing strength—the list seems limitless.  Our psalm presents the picture of a man who has been deeply wounded and crushed by his sinfulness.  But David’s problems (and ours) get worse: his friends abandon him, and his enemies use David’s weakness to try and destroy him.

What a true picture of life under sin!  Sometimes with sin, it sticks out like a festering sore that the entire world can see, except for you yourself.  Your pride won’t let you see the plank sticking out of your eye.  Peter could not see that his pride led him to a great fall by denying Christ to the world.  In the same way, we are all by nature spiritually blind and dumb and incapable of seeing our sin for what it truly is.

God then has His way with us through His Word.  David, in our psalm, has God’s Law heavy upon him.  The arrows of God’s Law have pierced him through.  The Law has awakened in him the knowledge of his condition.  As Paul said, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20b).  David finally sees how his sin has destroyed his life.  His health his gone, his friends have abandoned him; his enemies are at the gate.

Yet at the bottom of all of this is the reality of sin and forgiveness.  Saint Augustine once said regarding this psalm, “But happy he is who is wretched in this way!”[1] Augustine echoes the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). David mourns and laments his sins.  He recognizes the depth of his sinfulness and the harm that his sinful nature does to him in both body and soul.

So the question tonight is this: do you?  Do you see yourself in this psalm?  Has God’s Law had its way in your heart, so that you mourn your sinfulness and fear God’s just wrath?  We live in an age where no one is responsible for anything.  It’s my parent’s fault.  That’s the way I was raised.  It’s in my genes.  God made me this way.  Whatever.  But God’s Law will not let you or me to pass the buck.  As David prays, “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:18).  Confession is literally “saying with.”  In this case, we are saying the same thing with God about ourselves.  We agree with God; we are sinners.  Notice in this psalm that David never tries to pass the blame.  These troubles of body and spirit weigh heavy upon him because of his sin, not someone else’s.

This is what the catechism has in mind when we speak of the office of the keys.  Hear again the explanation from the Small Catechism:

What do you believe according to these words?

I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

 Notice the two sides to this coin.  God’s Word has two sides, Law and Gospel, and therefore the called ministers of Christ must deal with God’s flock by Law and Gospel.  God crushes with the Law, but builds anew with the Gospel.

Through the lens of the Law you see yourself in this psalm.  Crushed, broken, alone, forsaken, apart from God.  You have only the cry of the beggar: “Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:22).

Now look at this psalm through the eyes of Jesus.  Look at this through the eyes of the Gospel.  Isaiah said of the Suffering Servant that “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  And again Paul wrote, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Christ cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1).  This same Jesus who shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane prays this psalm for you.

So pray this psalm again in as a forgiven sinner.  Remember what Jesus gave up for you.  He took your sin upon Himself.  He groans, He suffers, He bleeds, He has no health in His body, He is abandoned by His friends, betrayed by His disciples, His enemies rise up around Him.  His back is filled with searing pain.  His strength fails.  The light left His eyes in death.  The One who had no sin bore that sin, that wretched pain and death for you on the cross.

This is the gift of Holy Absolution, of forgiveness.  When you come before the pastor and confess your sins, all of Christ’s work on the cross comes to bear for you, personally and individually.  The Words of Absolution ring out with words of sweetest Gospel:

In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (LSB, p. 293)

Today you still suffer the earthly consequences of sin.  You still hurt.  There are still aches and pains and even worse consequences for our sins.  But those consequences have no teeth.  Ultimately, they cannot harm you, for you are in Christ, and His words of forgiveness release you from your debt.

Those words of forgiveness were bought with a terrible price: the death of God’s Son.  But God gives this forgiveness to you freely with joy!  While Peter denied our Lord three times, He claims you as His own every time. You are not abandoned; you are His.

So we pray together with David, with Jesus, and with all the hosts of heaven: “Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:22).  We pray this with repentant joy because we know that God comes, and He forgives your sins and makes your life anew.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Adapt.  Saint Augustine, On the Psalms: Psalm 38 in Philip Schaaf, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 8:103.

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Sermon for Lent 2

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

“The Apostles’ Creed”

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 21 Sermon for Lent 2.mp3

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

As I explained last week, I’m doing something a little different during Lent.  We’re working through the Small Catechism together, reviewing what we have come to believe, teach and confess as Evangelical Lutherans.  Last week was the Ten Commandments and this week we’ll try to tackle as much of the Apostles’ Creed as our time will allow.

We are living in a culture that is proud of ignorance.  A study came out a year ago that over a third of Americans don’t know who the vice president of the United States is.  I find that to be a little disturbing.  Another study group took the U.S. Citizenship test and asked a thousand naturally born US citizen to take the test.  The results were even more unsettling; fully 38% of them failed.  They found a fourth of Americans didn’t know the US had fought for and won independence from England.  Some 70% did not know what the Constitution was.  It was a multiple choice test.  “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” is a popular game show but why?  It’s because so many adults aren’t smarter than a fifth grader.  This doesn’t bode well for us as a democratic republic and it doesn’t bode well for us as a society.  What happens when this attitude bleeds over into the Church?

Last week we mentioned the Christians who could not name the Ten Commandments.  The folks at Pew Forum made headlines a year ago with their study on religious knowledge.  The test was not hard.  “Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?”  Moses.  “Which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering?”  Job.  A disturbing number of those who self-identified as catholic did not know the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.  Christians in many mainstream denominations don’t bat an eye when the pastor baptizes a person in a name other than Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whether it be Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or even Mother, Daughter, and holy Soul.  I don’t make this stuff up.  My point is that we cannot afford to have ignorance in the church.  So all of that to set up our time together in the Creed this morning.  The creed prevents us from such ignorance.

The Creed in the catechism is the Apostles’ Creed.  Whereas the Nicene Creed is the creed of the Church, a corporate creed and what we say about ourselves as a group, and in fact should be translated as “we believe,” the Apostles’ Creed begins, “I believe…”  It is the creed of the individual baptized saint of God; it is a personal confession of faith and truth.  Much like Jesus’ question of Peter this morning, “Who do people say that I am,” it is the faith of the believer about God and reflects a developed understanding of Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ.”  It is confessed daily by the believer in individual prayers and devotions.

The Creed starts out very simply, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  What does this mean?  This means you are not a random happenstance of evolutionary biology.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made; you were made in God’s own image, no less.  Yes, there is some evolution in this world.  Species adapt to new environments and maybe even become new species, but people did not evolve from apes any more than we evolved from slime.  I’m not trying to run counter to what the scientists have observed about our world and our universe but I will say scientists don’t always understand what they observe correctly especially when they have an axe to grind to the contrary.  Our right understanding of the first article of the Creed has tremendous implications for the other two articles.  If we are not specially created by God, there is no redemption, no forgiveness of sins, no freedom from death.  Think about that.  If we evolved, it means death entered the world long before Adam’s rebellion.  If death is simply the natural end of life, Christianity becomes an elaborate thought experiment to deal with guilt and death.  The path of evolution simply leads to a nothingness, a world where nothing matters but the here and now and the pleasurable, there is no ultimate meaning, no purpose to any of it.  Against all of this we say, “No, you are created by God the Father and elevated to a position even above the angels.  They serve us, remember.  And so as children of God the Father, we receive all that we have from our benevolent Father God and He still takes care of you.  God the Father is not the God of the Deists: a watchmaker God who just wound up the universe and now sits in heaven impassively as things tick by.  No, “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

Be aware of where the devil attacks you here.  He will try to get you to think that God your Father has been stingy with you.  That He has been holding out on you while He blesses your neighbor the lottery winner.  This is the first step toward the nihilism I just described.  So tell the devil to go back to hell where he belongs and remember your catechism.  God the Father
defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.  All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

There are quite a few religions in the world that have gods somewhat like our God as revealed in the person of the Father but none of them come even close to the understanding we have of God through Jesus Christ His only Son.  We need to pay close attention here because it is in Jesus alone that we have the clearest picture of God the Father.  Jesus is eternal God yet begotten of the Father who took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was a real, historical person, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is not a mythological person like Homer’s Ulysses.  He is not a person who existed in history but after he died a bunch of wonderful stuff was attributed to him.  Jesus, the Son of God entered human time and space in human flesh and took our place under the Law of God.  By rising from the dead, He shows us the way out of the grave on the Last Day and He did this by suffering on the cross and dying, by shedding His innocent blood for you and for all people.  He did this, we know, because God the Father so loved the world that he wished not to condemn the world but pay off the debt of sin through perfect obedience of Jesus Christ.  Or in the words of St. Paul from this morning, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This too has enormous implications for our understanding of the faith.  None of us are saved because we are the nice people.  We were enemies of Christ.  This leads us to our understanding of the Holy Spirit and how we come by faith.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Dr. Luther’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is instructive.  It takes into account we were enemies of God.  What do we believe?  We believe that human reason and human strength is no sufficient for true faith.  We should believe that we can’t believe.  We should believe that our observations would lead us to different conclusions, conclusions that would put us at odds with God the Father but “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  We believe that left on our own, we would not be convinced by the cleverness of our pastors, nor even their winsomeness, and that we would be lost forever without the Holy Spirit calling us through the Gospel of Jesus and His perfect life, His miracles over nature, incurable disease and even death itself, His suffering, death and His resurrection from the dead.  Christianity makes unique truth claims and if they are true, and I mean true in its classic sense, not in the, “well that may be true for you” sense.  I mean if Jesus really calmed the storm, walked on water, raised Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus from the dead and then then suffered died and Himself was raised from the dead as the Scriptures tell it, there is no other way in which we can see the world we live in or our place in it.  This then is the role of the Holy Spirit to testify to us that the eyewitness accounts we have of the stories in the Bible did indeed happen just as they are recorded.  If you believe even a portion of them, this is not your doing but the work of the Holy Spirit in you to create faith.  Blessed are you; no other person has revealed this to you but God the Father in heaven.  The same Holy Spirit has drawn you here to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.  You are no longer an enemy of God.  You have been made right with God.  You are blessed by God the Father.

The Creed gives us the content of the faith.  God does not want us to be ignorant about His great Fatherly love and mercy for us shown specifically in the blood of Jesus, His only-begotten Son shed for us, and the place of the church as the place where the Holy Spirit gathers us that we might receive the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross.  God does not want us to be ignorant but for us to know and understand what He has done for us that we might thank and praise Him, live under Him in His kingdom and serve and obey Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness for all eternity.  This is most certainly true.

In closing I would leave you with the words of the Apostle Peter at the end of his second letter:

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Pe 3:14–18)

Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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