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Archive for October, 2013

As usual…

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

I can’t say it any better than many of my colleagues.  Here are two who are saying it really well today.LuthSLG

Brother Surburg has a great post on why the Reformation still matters. (Sorry to all you folks who think the Joint Declaration on Justification 1997 fixed the rift between us).  It’s here.

And in a nice counterpoint, lest we get to a little too big for our britches, Brother Peters has a wonderful post about the work of the Reformation still left to do.  It’s here.

You could do worse than to read these two pieces today or over the weekend.  I know I’m the better for having read them.  +PS

Cross posted to my Facebook.

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Sermon for Wednesday before Reformation, 30 Oct, 2013

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Romans 3:19-28 and Revelation 14:6

Note:  As usual, the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

Sunday, we celebrated the festival of the Reformation and tonight we’re just that much closer to the actual day, 547701f1-77f4-46a6-b741-5b743b5855eaOctober 31st, so I thought we might as well carry that over for the service tonight.

I mentioned Sunday that there are only two festivals on our church’s calendar that are post-Biblical events, Reformation Day and the day of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, June 25, 1530.  What we mean by including these days as festivals or feast days in the church is that we believe that God was active, as in Biblical times, to cause these events to come to pass.  We believe that the Reformation of the Church is a particular work of God and that work of God was tied closely to, if not limited to, the posting of the 95 Theses protesting the sale of indulgences written by a young monk and lecturer at the local university, Martin Luther.  And what we commemorate liturgically is also what we confess doctrinally.  Here is a quote from the Preface to the Christian Book of Concord, 1580, what we commonly refer to as simply, the Lutheran Confessions:

In these Last Times and in this old of the world {Acts 2:17], what a remarkable favor of Almighty God has arisen after the darkness of papal superstitions!  According to His unspeakable love, patience, and mercy, He willed that the light of His Gospel [2 Cor 4:4] and Word—through which alone we receive true salvation—should arise and shine clearly and purely in Germany, our most beloved fatherland. (Preface 3)

Reformation Day is then a day of thanksgiving for what God has done, for the rediscovery of the bright beams of the Gospel light of salvation in by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.  And so our focus should be on the truth of reading from Romans 3 tonight.:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

If all have sinned and fallen short, so too all humanity has also been redeemed by Christ. Sinners may draw distinctions between people, but God does not. He would save us all through Christ alone.  And this is the point of the day and God’s point for all eternity.

Perhaps what is not so clear is the first reading for the day from Revelation 14.  “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”  Already in 1522, another Augustinian monk named Michael Stifel, interpreted this passage from Revelation 14 as a prophecy fulfilled by Luther.  When Johannes Bugenhagen preached Luther’s funeral in 1546 he also made the same connection.  And even the sainted founder of our beloved synod, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, saw this text as a prophecy of Luther and the Reformation.  Walther actually wrote: “Luther is the only theologian who is prophesied in the Holy Scriptures.  He is without doubt the angel of whom Revelation 14:6 spoke.”[1]  I’m not as entirely certain as Doctor Walther was, but regardless of how one reads this passage and who specifically is the messenger of God, whether it’s Doctor Luther or any who carries out the same mission of God to preach, God did make good on this prophecy to send a messenger with the eternal Gospel (the only time the word “gospel” is used in Revelation) the eternal Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.

Hear what that angel, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth.”  This is directly tied to the celebration of the unveiling of that eternal Gospel.  Why should you fear God and worship Him?  Because He has unveiled an eternal Gospel.  Why fear God?  Because of the Law, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Why worship Him?  Because of the eternal Gospel, for all have been justified by His grace as a gift, by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

How then should we live?

Well, we could start by actually celebrating the Reformation.  This is easier said than done.  There are fewer and fewer folks like you.  That is to say, there are increasingly fewer people who fear God.  The fastest growing religious demographic in the US is “none.”  The first part of the angel’s message, “Fear God, because the hour of His judgment has come,” is not on the tops of most people’s to do lists these days, and increasingly so as the United States follows after Europe in an increasingly secular fashion.  Luther’s dilemma, a sinner finding grace before an angry God, is not even the dilemma of most Christians.  Many, are instead seeking to live their best life now, along the lines of the prosperity preachers today.  That’s a significantly different question and a troublesome one because it assumes that once the grace question is answered, it never needs to be answered in the life of a believer again.  The Reformation was about the rediscovery of an eternal Gospel not a rediscovery of a gospel that brings us to a certain point that we grow out of and then return to a new Law of prosperity or discipleship or purpose or whatever term the latest fad has adopted.  To be a Christian is to be a Reformation Christian, a Christian who delights in the eternal Gospel and the messengers God sends to proclaim it.

An eternal Gospel is an unchanging Word from the Lord.  How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  Change?  Lutherans don’t change.  But the mantra today is change or die.  In the face of the demographic shift that is heading our way, many advocate significantly changing the church of the Reformation and under the guise of a church should always be reforming, semper reformanda, they advocate changing the doctrines of the church to accommodate newly received norms in the broader society.  If these folks have their way, maybe the Lutheran churches in the US will become like the Lutheran Church of Sweden with a new archbishop who can’t advocate for Jesus as being better in any way than Mohammed.[2]  Now, I actually believe that the separation of our western culture from Christianity is a good thing, for Christianity anyway, but it does mean that we will have to learn to live not in the mainstream of the prevailing culture but as one of many countercultures that exist all around us.  That will be a new thing for many  but it could really strengthen those who remain.  We will certainly have to stop assuming that everyone is seeking the answer to Luther’s dilemma and learn to articulate the basics of the Christian faith to people who have even lost the basic vocabulary of faith, such as sin meaning more than just a mistake.  We will need to answers to questions like, “How can I know God exists?” and learn to articulately answer that question long before we can ever turn someone on to the great gift of the eternal Gospel.

But if there’s one more comfort we can receive from God’s acting to make the Reformation happen, it’s that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church and we can be assured that His Word endures not just for a moment, or for a culture, but forever.  It is the Word that is eternal—the Law speaking with the full force of its convicting power and the Gospel answering our need with the merits and mediation of Christ on the cross.  Amen.


[1]  Walther, “The Fruitful Reading of the Writings of Luther,” At Home in the House of My Fathers, p. 333.

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Sermon for Reformation Day (Observed) 27 Oct, 2013

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Sermon on John 8:31-36, by Andrew Smith

Note:  A version of this sermon was submitted to the Göttingen Sermon Archiv.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

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

The sermon for today is based on the Gospel for the festival of the Reformation from John 8.

Jesus spoke these words to some Jews who had begun to believe in him.  They show very quickly how little of Jesus’ message they were willing to receive.  They did not see themselves as slaves to sin and therefore saw themselves as better than the sinners and tax collectors Jesus typically associated with, and worse they did not see themselves in need of what Jesus came to bring, freedom from slavery.  There is a quote by another famous German that I would like to share with you this morning, “None are more helplessly enslaved than those who believe themselves to be free.  Goethe said that.  And although I’m not certain of the context, I think it applies to the Pharisees gathered around Jesus in the text this morning.  They stand out in the Scriptures as a strict warning to us to watch what we make of ourselves.  It is too bad that we so rarely see such attitudes in ourselves.

Today, of course, is Reformation Day.  It’s far too simplistic to say that on All Hallows Eve, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg and thanks to him we’re finally free, free from the tyranny of the pope.  First, when you read the 95 Theses you are instantly aware that dear Father Martin, not yet Doctor Luther, is not yet Lutheran.  Thesis 44: “Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.”   Second, the 95 Theses are not part of our Lutheran Confessions, The Book of Concord.  They are a rather narrow reaction against the selling of indulgences, pieces of paper from the pope that remitted temporal punishment for sins in purgatory that could be bought with money.  Father Luther doesn’t want people to buy remission of temporal punishment; he wants the sheep of his flock to continue to do acts of penance to earn their freedom.  That’s not Lutheran and it’s not yet the basis for the revolution that would become the Reformation of the Church.  At most we can say that Luther’s reaction against indulgences were the beginning of what would become the Reformation of the Christian Church.  Overly simplistic notions of the Reformation do us no good and pit us as the good guys verses the Roman Catholics.  Jesus says something different.  Jesus says, the real enemy is ourselves and the most terrible part about it is that we are blind to our own slavery.

This happens on a large scale with institutions and organizations and it happens to us as individuals too.  It happens because we fail to abide in the Word of Jesus.  Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  Those who have no time for the Word of God are not abiding in the Word.  The longer a person stays away from the Word, the weaker faith becomes.  Eventually, if faith is not nourished by the Word, it will die.  The Word of God is the food of faith, the air faith breathes, the fuel faith burns.  Without the Word faith dies.  It will forever remain a mystery to me why some, otherwise wonderful Christian people, stay away from the serious study of God’s Word.  I confess that I am not perfect in this area—no one is—but the attitude of staying away is not only wrong-headed, it’s sinful.  Every time I have grown as a Christian, it has been because of the serious study of and mediation on God’s Word.  Every time I have failed in faith toward God and in love toward others, it has been because I failed to take to heart God’s Word.

Our study Bibles do us no good if they are covered with dust.  Our catechism does us no good if we do not meditate on it daily.  And I can assure you that all your doubts concerning God and His ability to answer your prayers come from so little fuel for faith, the engine of prayer.  I can assure you that all the anger and arrogance you find leaking out of your heart in your relationships with other people is there because you have first failed to abide in the Word of God.  When we live like this, we live like Pharisees, completely blind to the slavery of our sin and therefore we are slaves to sin.  When we abide in the Word of God we know the truth about ourselves and how God sees us and we know the truth about Jesus and what He has done on the cross to free us from sin and slavery to sin.  That is the truth that sets us free.

On a personal level, we need to hear the Word of God and live as we have been called to live but contrary to prevailing opinion today, we are not just living for ourselves, we are in this entity called the Christian Church just as we as individuals are in constant need of repentance, so the Church until the Last Day, is ever and always in need of reforming, semper reformanda if you prefer your slogans in Latin.  The Reformation was not meant to have been a singular event in history but an ongoing movement to reshape the Church always toward the will and heart of Christ our Lord.  It simply means that each generation must hear the Word of God afresh and respond to the call to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.  What our Reformer fathers set down in the Lutheran Confessions as the Reformation of the Church’s doctrine is pure and true and yet the Church and every congregation struggles in every age to learn it and adapt themselves to it.  Don’t you find it odd that every time a pastor is ordained or installed in our churches we make him swear to uphold the content in every article of every document in The Book of Concord?  Why would we do that if history has not already taught us how hard it is to maintain a clear confession of the truth of the Word of God?  That’s why today in Bible class, we’re doing a brief overview of the Reformation, and set the stage for understanding the first of the Lutheran confessional documents, the Augsburg Confession of 1530.  Did you hear that?  1530.  Luther’s small catechism was printed in 1529 and came first chronologically, but only by a year.  That means the first doctrinal statement of the Lutherans as a whole came 23 years after All Hallows Eve, 1517.  If we are to be a confessional Lutheran church we need to be not only in the Word of God but we need to know why we believe what we believe or we are doomed to repeat the history we do not know.

That’s why Jesus’ Word first shows us our slavery to sin, so that His Word can bring us freedom from sin.  God’s purpose is to break our pride and bring us ever before Him as no better than anyone else.  But Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  The Word was written down not just to give a list of dos and don’ts and certainly wasn’t given so that we would have a list to hold over the heads of others.  We have the Word of God that we might remain and dwell in it always, not graduate out of it.  The Word preaches to us the truth and that truth is Jesus Christ.  The truth is that truth which Jesus Himself speaks from the cross.  “Father, forgive them.”  “It is finished.”  He alone speaks this truth for He alone is bore our sin, even our sins of spiritual blindness and our prodigal attitude toward the Word of God.  He has born even these sins to the cross.  From the cross flows the forgiveness won for us by Jesus perfect obedience and steadfastness to the will of God the Father.  To know that truth is to live in it, to abide in it and to be free from slavery to sin and to be freed from our callous attitude toward the Word of God, to be freed to listen, to love, to treasure and even obey God’s Word.  That Word sets us free.  That Word abides forever.

Luther and the Reformers risked their lives and all they had for the sake of the freedom given to us by Christ alone so that we might be a people who abide in the Word of God and so that we and our congregation and all the congregations of the Christian Church would be continually reformed by God’s Word.  Take seriously Jesus’ invitation to abide in Him, to abide in His Word.  He means to use to use it to reform you for the better and for the benefit of those around you according to His own purpose.  He means to free you, both now and forever.  Amen.

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

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Sermon for The Festival of St. James, 23 Oct 2013

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Note:  Welcome back.  This was the first sermon preached after returning from vacation.  As usual, the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

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

The text for the sermon is the first reading from Acts and the Epistle for today.

What’s written in this chapter happened around AD 49.  Paul had returned from his first missionary trip two or three years earlier.  He had experienced exciting and fantastic adventures we can read about in the two previous chapters in Acts.  Above all, he had experienced everywhere he went that heathens were prepared to receive the Good News about Jesus Christ.  There were Christian congregations far up in the highlands of modern day Turkey and also in Antioch, the most important city in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.  And the congregations were growing continuously.

However, there arose a great conflict in the church.  It was started by some Christians who had been Jews and were from Jerusalem.  They found it alarming that the Greek Christians didn’t follow the Laws of Moses.  They made no distinction about foods and they weren’t circumcised.  They thought they knew exactly what to say.  “You must follow the Laws of Moses, otherwise you won’t be saved.”

After that, the conflict was unavoidable.  There are times when the purity of the Gospel itself is at stake; then there’s no room for compromise.  It was a matter of eternal salvation.  The Jewish Christians said that circumcision and the Law were prerequisites.  Paul knew that Jesus Christ was the only foundation, and that it was through faith in Christ—Christ alone—that we’re saved.

It was a standoff.  Their opinions were categorically opposed to one another.  Both could not be true.  But then, something happened that would serve as a model for the all the times ahead.  They decided to gather the leaders of the church, the apostles and the elders and the priests and to listen to them, mainly the apostles, the ones Jesus Himself chose, the confessors of the faith in Jerusalem.  They would reason together and pray and present all of it to God.  That’s how the first church council met.

At the meeting in Jerusalem, Paul was supported by Peter, of all people.  He had put his finger on the decisive matter, clearly and convincingly: We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.  And at that point James, Jesus’ brother, agreed.  This was astonishing because Jesus’ brother James, or if you’re reading the notes in the bulletin, perhaps Jesus’ cousin, even though he lived as a law abiding Jew just as his Jewish ancestors did, he sided with Peter on this matter.  Even James of Jerusalem, as he was known, even James the very Jewish follower of Jesus, even quoting the Amos the prophet, even James was completely convinced that the Law of Moses couldn’t be imposed on the former pagans as a condition for salvation.

That’s how Bishop Giertz of Sweden began to explain this passage (To Live With Christ, 555-556) and how I intend to introduce St. James the Brother of Our Lord today.

By the time James writes his epistle, presumably within a year or two of the Jerusalem Council, the church is having difficulties with leaders teaching that the Law has no place in the life of the Christian and that good works done in view of the Law might even be harmful to faith or take away from it.  And while James might have been able to thread that needle very carefully at the Church’s first council at Jerusalem, he seems to have to continue to argue both sides of the truth depending who he’s arguing against.  To the newly minted Christian libertine he must say, very famously “faith without works is dead.”  (Jas 2:17).  But to the classic Jewish Christian who insisted on upholding the Law of Moses, he had to say the only Law is the law of liberty (1:25; 2:12) and mercy always triumphs over judgment. (2:13)  Some would say that James is contradicting himself.

We might say he’s not so much contradicting himself as adjusting himself to the situation.  This is not situational ethics but rather application of the Law and the Gospel in the lives of real people.  If we’re wise, we do this all the time.  To the child who is distraught over how badly they may have misbehaved, we don’t scream and punish, we comfort and console.  To the obstinate child who seems to try to never obey the rules, we have to put our foot down.  It’s not situational ethics, it’s applying chastisement and comfort when necessary.  It’s the application of God’s word of do this and His word of I have already done it for you in Christ; Law and Gospel.  By the time James writes, he’s already a respected leader in the Church in Jerusalem and he writes to Jewish Christians flung far away from Jerusalem, he calls them the Dispersion.  The Jewish Diaspora, just sounds like a scattering of people far and wide.

He’s writing to them because they are suffering persecution.  He’s writing to encourage them, us too really, to take joy even in the testing of faith because that testing produces steadfastness.  Our faith gets tested and put through trials.  This is one of those key words in the New Testament that we should be somewhat familiar with.  And there’s quite a bit of misunderstanding about this.  God does not test faith to see if you’re good enough for Him.  The devil doesn’t test your faith to get you to crack.  I think James might be advocating we should be involved in testing our faith.  When they launch a new ship, it goes through a series of tests called sea trials.  They get underway and see what the ship can do.  Some might even say they try to break it to find out the limits and tolerances of the ship.  How fast it can go, how quickly it can stop or change directions.  It’s an active process and it’s no game.  At the end of the process the ship is declared sea worthy or the builder is contacted to make it right.

We are no different.  We been given this great gift called the faith.  It contains not all the answers to all life’s problems, but it is God’s answer to how it is we should live as His children.  We get this faith growing up and its explained in Sunday School and catechesis when were young but if we’re lucky, we have little opportunity to truly test it to put it through the paces and see what holds when the storms of life gather and the waters get rough and threaten to swamp us.  James himself uses the same image in verse:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Many of you have been through such trials.  Many of you are undergoing them right now.  It’s not easy; it’s exhausting, actually.  What hope is there?  The strength of God that has been delivered to you is surest and strongest.  I’m not worried about how strong you are, I know how strong our God is.  He has promised the crown of life to you who are steadfast and immovable.  If you’re reading James and a little overwhelmed, don’t forget he was the one who was so firmly convinced of Christ alone as the sure foundation for eternal salvation.  “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (1:12)  God Himself has promised it.  If you are in any doubt where you stand with God, rest assured, He has ratified your good standing with him through the cross of Christ Jesus.  By Christ alone, through the cross alone.  Amen.

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

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Newsletter article for November

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Like most pastors, I’m obliged to write an article for our congregation’s monthly newsletter.  Often, I’ve tried to use it as a vehicle to explain something I’ve been doing or as a way to talk about some other things that I’ve been thinking about or stuff that doesn’t really fit into a sermon.  Anyway, here’s my newsletter article for this month.  

 

From the Pastor’s Desk

Discipleship | Spirituality | Reflection

 Potpourri

This newsletter article comes on the heels of my return from vacation last month and so rather than a more developed thought on one particular topic, I thought I might write on a few topics.

Rest and Family

You probably aren’t surprised that I’d wax a little on rest and family after a vacation.  Over the years, I’ve read a few things on Sabbath rest, the best of which was Marva Dawn’s, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, which apart from the pun in the title was actually a great book on the value of rest.  After creating the cosmos and all that was in it in six days, God rested on the seventh.  And it should be noted that God did not rest because He was worn out from a terrible week at work!  Rather, He rested to set the example to rest for us.  Rest is a gift from God.  The Israelites were a nation set apart by a number of different practices, dietary laws, no intermarriage, circumcision, etc.  One significant practice that many of their neighbors noticed was resting one day a week.  It was unheard of in the other cultures of the ancient world and when you think about it, rest and leisure is a relatively new thing, within the last hundred years or so.  It wasn’t so long ago that there was no weekend.  Just ask any farmer.  But rest is good and a gift from God.

And family time is important too.  I don’t know what perceptions of family life many folks have of pastors’ families but I can testify that were not nearly as pious as I might we were.  We run hither and yon just like most families with the exception that we probably run hither to church a little more.  Our week consists of the normal grind, up early for breakfast and getting ready for school and work and the return burst in the afternoon of homework and attempts to eat together as healthy as we can before meetings or services.  So vacation is really a good time for us.  And unique to our experience is the two week fall break in the school year here.  We love it.  What a great blessing to have a significant break in the routine at a time not otherwise dominated by a major religious festival!  Christmas and spring breaks just aren’t breaks for us.  So since we arrived, our family had been looking forward to the fall break and we’re all thankful for Pastor Meyer and Pastor Wiegert who stepped into allow me the time off.  What a blessing!

The Quiz

Some of you have responded to the little quiz I published in the newsletter last month and one of you actually did it and turned it in!  There were some really basic questions on the quiz and there were some that were a little more difficult and some were phrased to make a specific point.  The first statement, “To understand the Bible correctly, we must first realize that the facts in some Bible stories have been exaggerated,” is false.  Liberal Bible scholars have used such a presupposition about the Bible to suggest that the miracles are mass-hallucinations and the virgin birth of our Lord was simply borrowed from Greek myth.  “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3.16)  Sarah had a baby in her 90’s!  Really.  Nothing is too hard for God.

Number 9, “Everybody’s sins were forgiven about 2,000 years ago,” is true in the sense that we speak about the objective justification of sinners.  It’s seeing salvation from God’s perspective.  When Jesus died for sinners, He died for all sinners. It’s a way to answer that question, “When were you saved?”  “Objectively and for certain, I was saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died for my sins.”  Now, of course there is subjective justification, that is, seeing God’s salvation from my perspective, God’s act of saving me and applying to me the merits of Christ’s cross, most clearly seen at Baptism.  God’s objective salvation is there so that I don’t get lost in thinking I’m somehow not worthy of being saved.  God loves me.  How do I know?  Jesus and His cross for me!  And yes, there are those who refuse the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for them, but that doesn’t make Jesus’ death any less an effective saving work for them, it’s just that they have no benefit of it and are not saved from their sins.  To use the courtroom language tied up in the term “justification,” they’ve been declared not guilty by God on account of Christ, but they refuse to leave the prison house of sin and death and would prefer God look at them apart from Christ.  And so they are lost.  Sad indeed.

Number 7, “God died,” and number 24, “Mary is rightly called the mother of God,” are related in their understanding of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is Eternal God born into human flesh.  Mary bore the God-man in her womb, nursed Him and changed His diapers.  In that sense, and it is not detracting from Christ in any way to say it, Mary is the mother of God.  The Greeks have a word, Theotokos.  You probably see theo in there and know it’s “God” but tokos means “bearer.”  In this sense, Mary is “God-bearer.”  Scripture affirms this.  When Elizabeth greeted her cousin, Mary, she said, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  (Lk 1:43)  When we look at the other statement, “God died,” we can say it’s true because, as the God-man, Jesus Christ died on the cross and lay in the tomb three days.  God the Father did not die.  But God, in the second person of the Trinity, died.  It’s important that God died to cancel out death and was raised to life that we might be raised to eternal life on the Last Day.

There were some other trick questions in there and I’ll leave them for now but all of the questions were looking at very specific points of our understand of God and our understanding of the Gospel, which is that God acted to save His corrupt creation by sending His only-begotten Son, into human flesh to die to the penalty of the corruption and curse and reverse it.  Thanks be to God!

Growth in Faith

I was preparing for Bible class on Oct 27, Reformation Sunday, attempting to distill into an hour the major events and results of the Reformation of the Christian Church.  What struck me was how much Luther grew in his understanding of various matters and doctrines over the course of his career.  First, it gives me hope that God will continue to grant me increased understanding as I remain a student of the Scriptures and the catechism and, second, it means that the Christian faith was never meant to be something that we graduate from.  Confirmation instruction is both a blessing and a curse to the Church.  It is a blessing in that it confesses quite clearly there is some basic level of the content of the faith that really should be taught and attempted to be understood by all Christians.  But it can be a curse if think that there is a certain level that is enough.  God doesn’t work that way; He is superabundant in His gifts.  Why would He not also be superabundant in His gift of understanding and growth in faith.

My daughter, Erika, is taking Chemistry this year and listening to her work through the material has reminded me of my own struggles with Chemistry.  I always loved science in elementary school but in high school when they started sneaking math in the science classes, like chemistry, I was lost.  I passed.  I think I got a “B” actually.  But ask me what, of any, chemistry knowledge I have today.  The goal of confirmation or adult instruction or any Bible class is not to pass, it is to grow in understanding and for that Word to have some effect on you or in you or through you.  I can tell you that any increase in any fruits of the spirit born in my life has been because I’ve been chastised by the Word and been shown the strength of God’s work for me and for others around me.  Our goal should always be to get it right and get it out.  +PS

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Ahh, blessed Sabbath

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to take a vacation and deeply grateful to those brothers in ministry who helped make it possible for me to be gone.

We camped

I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t really want the word to get out but Fall Creek Falls State Park here in centralFall Creek Falls State Park, Pikeville, Tennessee Tennessee is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been east of the Rocky Mountains.  The tent camping is the best I’ve ever tried and has set the high water mark for what a tent camping experience should be.

We traveled

One again we visited Orlando and really enjoyed Universal Studios two theme parks.  I have to say, the folks there do it right.  And the Harry Potter experience in the park is far and away the best franchise theme park experience ever created.  We also visited EPCOT Center at Disney.  My review is a little more mixed.  I have to say, that when I was younger and never dreamed it was possible for me to go to so many countries, the World Showcase was incredible.  Now that I’ve actually been to all of those countries minus China and Morocco, it feels a little different.  Maybe I should just be grateful that Mr. Disney opened my eyes early in my life to a world much bigger than I had conceived for myself and because of him, I ended up traveling as much as I have.  Maybe that’s the best way to look at it.

And thanks to my mom and dad near Atlanta, we had a transition point in the midst of our trip to drop the kids and head up to Minneapolis to visit some friends who moved there this year.  I experienced “Minnesota Nice” and it was as warm, if not warmer than much of the “southern hospitality” I’ve experienced living in many places in the south.  Minneapolis, you may be up on the edge of the often frozen prairie, but of what I saw of your city was great and I’ll be back.

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Sermon for LWML Sunday, 6 Oct, 2013

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Luke 24:44-53

Note:  This sermon is an adaptation of the sermon that was written and provided in the LWML Sunday 2013 materials, written by my colleague and classmate, Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor.  I adapted it to more of my style but the main points and the outline were certainly his.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.  

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.4536058355_9bc04e2a06_o

You are my witnesses, Jesus says.  Just as Jesus is the faithful witness of our heavenly Father’s love and compassion toward us, our Lord has called us to be witnesses who testify to what we have received in Christ.  You are my witnesses, then, is our Lord’s call to follow after Him in faithful discipleship as He leads us out into world and is also His promise to equip us with the content of our testimony that inspires works of mercy in our life together.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  We typically think of the books of the New Testament being the primary testimony about Christ, the Gospels or the letters of Paul but Jesus knew that the bulk of what we know as the Old Testament testifies to Him.  He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and poured out the Holy Spirit on them to give them power to act.  Just ten days later, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached in the temple precincts that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ,” (Ac 2:36) meaning both “Yahweh, the self-revealed divine name of God, and Messiah, the Lord’s divine servant redeemer.  Peter used specific vocabulary used only of God and His servant from the Old Testament, from the Psalms, Psalm 16 and 110.  This is what makes Christianity not a new thing invented by Paul, or even Jesus, but rather the plan of God all along to His redeem fallen creation.  The Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of this teaching about Jesus confirming in the hearts and minds of so many gathered on that holy day of Pentecost.  Just as the disciples became His witnesses, so you too become witnesses of Jesus, witnesses of the love of God the Father who sent His Son into the world to suffer and die and rise again from the death to undo the curse of sin and death the power of the evil one.  You are my witnesses, says Jesus.

Just as He once sent His disciples to be His witnesses, so too, today, Jesus sends out witnesses to testify of Him.  Too often today we forget that pastors and other church workers are especially sent to proclaim like Peter, that this Jesus who is both Lord and Christ, we crucified, that is He was crucified for our sins and transgressions, for our sins of disobedience and rebellion against the Lord and His Christ.  The Lord sends witnesses against us and our sin.  It is a witness of the Law which shows us our sin, our blatant disregard for the testimony of the Scriptures about Jesus.  Through the preaching of the Law, the Holy Spirit shows precisely how deaf we are to compassionate voice of forgiveness, how dead we are to the need for repentance and growth in Christ’s grace.  Thankfully though, our Lord sends His preachers with the word of the Gospel for us, a word that releases us from the bondage to sin and death and rebellion against God and brings forth growth and new life in the lives of His disciples.  As that Word of life is proclaimed, the Spirit brings forth the fruit of faith and love and peace.  If we sometimes fail to receive God’s sent ones as His own, our other failure is that we fail to realize that Jesus doesn’t just send out the professionals.  Every Christian can testify to the nature of the Spirit working in them.  You are my witnesses, says Jesus, not just to pastors but to you all today.

This message is especially important on a day like today, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Sunday, when our congregation and the wider church celebrates the faithful work of the LWML throughout the world.  It may not look like much, but two years ago the LWML announced that these little boxes have generated over 100 million dollars over the lifetime of the organization, some 70 years.  When our government throws around such huge financial numbers it’s too easy not to be impressed with $100 million but that’s a whole lot of pennies, nickels, and dimes.  How?  How could the LWML raise $100 million plus, now?  It’s a fruit of faithfulness in the word.  The LWML on the outside often looks like a bunch of church ladies who are motivated by doing, the classic “Martha”.  But that faithful Christian service comes as a result of more “Mary” like activity, faithful study of God’s Word.  Lutheran Women’s Quarterly has included Bible studies that have been used by people all over the world.  Stories of faithfulness in those pages spur others to lives of faithful witness and service.  Mustard Seed devotions left in hotel rooms and restaurants and doctor’s waiting rooms and greeting cards to friends and family show how the witness of Christ continues to for forth into this word.  Our Lord says through His servants in the LWML, you are my witnesses.

And our Lord not only speaks to us here so that we are His witnesses but He leads us out so that we are His witness in the world.

Jesus does not send His people into a world where He Himself has not gone.  He led His disciples out to Bethany, He led them out of their previous vocations to follow Him.  He led His disciples out of slavery into freedom as He leads His people out of death and into life.  As Christ leads out His disciples, His commission becomes a promise too, you are my witnesses.

Having heard the word today, where is the Lord sending you to testify of Him?  Back to your homes where you teach your little ones about God and model for them the love of God?  Back to your workplace, where honesty and truthfulness are needed so much to combat favoritism and gossip.  Back to your school where someone has heard you are a Christian and is waiting to see what that means?  Into our community where the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, deceiving people into thinking that drugs can cover up the emotional pains.  Wherever we are sent we are to testify to the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Perhaps never before has our world had so much contact with the Christian message, and yet been so unable to hear it and benefit from it.  Christ leads us out to be His witnesses.

A lot of time we think that all this witnessing should be left to the pros, to the pastors and the professional church workers.  Some of us may feel inadequate to articulate a clear confession of the content of the faith.  If you feel this way, this is all the more reason to be in Bible study, both formally and personally so that the Lord can open your minds to understand the Scriptures.  But instead of concentrating on what we don’t know, we should take quite a bit of comfort in that little word “witness.”  What can you testify of as a witness?  You can only testify of what you know to be sure and true.  You may not be able to testify about Greek and Hebrew words or even those parts of the Bible you haven’t read or made sense of.  But you don’t have to.  Just testify to what you know, to what you have seen and heard.  Jesus came into the world to save sinners and He saved you.  He washed your sins away in Holy Baptism.  In that baptism He united you to Himself by burying you with Him and raising you up with Him.  You can testify to the truth of what you know.  You are forgiven in Christ alone and that He wants all people to come to a knowledge of that truth.  You can testify to the mercy of God that He would invite you to His table and feed you as one of His very own.  You can testify to the power of the Body and Blood of Christ as His own testament to strengthen you in body and soul to life everlasting.  The recurring line in an old duet by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt is, “I don’t know much, but I know I love you.  And that may be all I need to know.”  We can turn that on its edge just a bit and say, “I don’t know much, but I know God’s loves me in Christ.  And that’s the most important thing I know.”  You are my witnesses says, Jesus.  He has led you out to testify to what you know.

Christ our Lord has led the LWML out to be Lutheran Women in Mission.  The pledge of the LWML is centered in the power of Christ’s calling and sending.  “In fervent gratitude for the Savior’s dying love and His blood-bought gift of redemption we dedicate ourselves to Him with all that we are and have.”  Christ Jesus was the One sent by the Father as a witness of the Father’s great love for His people.  Just as Christ was sent out to be the witness, so too Christ sent out His disciples to testify of what they knew, Jesus who was crucified is both Lord and Christ.  He lifted up His hands and He blessed them.  Jesus blessed His disciples with the hands marked by the nail wounds born for them and eventually that Good News was shared with each of us today as countless people have testified to the love of God the Father in Christ Jesus.  And today Jesus gives you His body nailed to the cross and His blood poured out for your trespasses and sins that you might be one with Him and He with you and that we all might be one in the common bond of the body and blood of Christ and so that we might go forth as witnesses to what our minds have been opened to understand.  You are witnesses of these things.  You are sent.  Amen.

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