Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29B)
November 25, 2018
Text: Mark 13:24-37

            The Son of Man is coming soon, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him (Rev. 1:7).  It is the Day of Judgment, the End of the old creation, the visible manifestation of the New Creation begun already in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It will be a fearsome time for those who are not in Christ.  Their condemnation has come.  But not for you.  For you, it will not be a Day of terror, but a Day of rejoicing.  For your deliverance has come.  The Savior has arrived.  It is the end of death forever.  It is the end of sin, once and for all.  It is the end of the accusations of the Law and the appearing of your righteousness, your life that has been hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  It is the Day when you know by sight what you once knew only by faith.  It is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  It is the new heavens and the new earth.  It is the end of Satan and the demons, death and hades, which will be thrown into the eternal Lake of Fire.  It is the Day of your eternal consolation, for there will be no mourning, or crying, or pain anymore.  God will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:4).
            But this morning, our Lord Jesus bids you keep watch.  Stay awake.  Be alert.  As we heard last Sunday, and hear again this morning, the signs are all manifest.  The time is ripe.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And of course, we do not know the day or hour.  Jesus says this to His disciples.  No man knows.  Not the angels in heaven.  Not even the Son of Man, Jesus Himself (Mark 13:32).  Now, that is a mystery to us, that Jesus Himself claims not to know the day or hour.  He is speaking in terms of His state of humiliation, the time during His earthly ministry when He did not always or fully use His divine powers.  Now seated at the right hand of His Father, ruling all things in His state of exaltation, always and fully using His divine powers, the Son of God certainly knows.  But not then.  And His point is twofold.  First of all, don’t believe all the crackpot predictions of false teachers who claim He is coming at such and such a time, on such and such a date.  Our Lord has spoken clearly.  The time is impossible to calculate.  When these teachers come, as we know they will, for our Lord has promised, do not listen to them.  Do not be anxious about their predictions.  Remain with the sure Word of the Lord, which will never fail, will never pass away.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of Jesus will never pass away (v. 31).
            But so also, our Lord reminds us that, because we do not know the day or hour, we must always be on our guard and keep awake.  Be vigilant.  Read the signs.  That is His point with the fig tree.  You know when summer is coming, because you see the sign in the fig tree’s branch and leaf, or in the other vegetation, and so you are prepared for the new season.  Therefore, what you are able to do in such mundane matters, do in this cosmic matter of our Lord’s return.  The signs are in place.  Be ready. 
            The temptation is to become complacent.  We talked about this last week, but we must always remind ourselves.  Here we confess week after week in the Creed, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead,” but then we act like we don’t really believe it.  We take a casual attitude toward sin, as though it’s not really that big a deal, when in fact the Judge stands at the door, ready to pronounce His verdict at any moment.  And those sins that we think are not that big a deal are leading our dear loved ones on the road to perdition.  We feel no urgency to repent of our own sins.  I like to sin, God likes to forgive, so we’re both happy.  No, beloved.  Examine yourselves.  Repent of your sins.  Confess them to God.  Hear His glorious pronouncement of Absolution.  And then let’s get busy confessing the faith.  Let’s proclaim to the world that Jesus is coming soon, and all people need what He has to give them to be prepared for that Day, namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.  Our lack of zeal for our Lord’s mission betrays our complacency.  Beloved, repent.  Christ is coming.  It really is true.  There is a judgment.  Therefore watch.  Believe.  Confess.  Pray.  And wait with eager anticipation for the coming of the Lord.
            The beautiful thing for you who are in Christ is that you already know the verdict in your judgment.  God has let it slip.  He did it again this morning.  He just can’t keep it in, thank God.  And that is those beautiful words to which you cling for your very life, pronounced upon you just a few moments ago: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.”  That is the verdict.  Not guilty.  Innocent.  Righteous, in fact, not with a righteousness of your own, but with a righteousness from outside of you, the very righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to you as a gift, received by faith.
            Now, how can God do such a thing?  How can He let us off so easy?  Well, it is anything but easy.  Don’t make grace, mercy, forgiveness, a cheap thing.  What forgiveness is NOT is God simply sweeping your sins under the rug and pretending they never happened.  Nor is forgiveness our Grandfather in the Sky winking at our transgressions and giving us a good-natured scolding over our mischief.  You have to understand what it means that God is “just.”  A just judge must punish sin.  If we heard of a judge who let a murderer or a rapist off the hook with a slap on the wrist and a little scolding never to do it again, we would rightly say of that judge that he is unjust.  So our just God cannot simply excuse sin.  Forgiveness is not excusing.  Sin must be dealt with.  Justice must be meted out.  But we also know that God loves us.  He loves sinners.  So what is He to do?  He sends His Son.  He gives His Son into the death of the cross as punishment for our sins, in payment of our debt.  His Son is the sacrifice of atonement.  The cross is the intersection of God’s love and justice.  The cross is where justice is accomplished.  The sentence is carried out.  The cross is where God’s love for you hangs, in the flesh.  He is the price of your redemption.  There is nothing cheap about that. 
            And that is where Judgment Day begins.  This is not in any way to deny the Judgment of the Last Day.  That Day is coming.  But you have to understand, your judgment is already complete.  When our Lord underwent the Great Tribulation for us on the cross, the signs were all there.  The sun was darkened and the moon did not give its light.  We read in St. Mark’s account of our Lord’s death: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33).  The powers of the heavens will be shaken, Jesus says (Mark 13:25).  St. Matthew writes, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51).  Now, I have no doubt that these great signs, the darkening, falling, and shaking of the cosmic bodies, will accompany our Lord’s visible return on the Last Day.  St. Peter says that when that Day comes, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:12).  It is the death of the physical universe in preparation for its own bodily resurrection as the new heavens and earth.  But look how the signs point us not only to the Last Day, but to Good Friday and Jesus’ death.  The two are intentionally and inextricably connected.  Because on Good Friday, Jesus receives the judgment for your sin, so that on the Last Day, and already now in the Holy Absolution, you receive the judgment for His righteousness.  That is why that Day holds no terror for you.  All the terror has been poured out already on Jesus, your substitute.  Now, Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  God has vindicated Him.  And when He returns, that is your salvation, your deliverance.  When you see the signs, lift up your head and rejoice, and pray with the Church of all ages, “Come, Lord Jesus.” 
            Now, in the meantime, as we wait and watch and pray, we recognize that we are like servants whose Master has gone away on a journey.  We do not know the Day of His return, but we do know that we have work to do.  Jesus says of the master, that he put his servants in charge, “each with his work” (Mark 13:34).  You all have vocations, callings from God, relationships in which God has placed you.  You are to do them faithfully as you wait.  You are to be faithful spouses, faithful parents, faithful children, faithful and chaste singles.  You are to make your living faithfully, with integrity.  You are to love your neighbor.  You are to give to the poor, and to your Church.  You are to pray all people, and especially for the government.  You are to perform your civic duties, faithfully.  Get up and go to work.  Come home and take care of your family.  Pay your taxes.  Do your duty.  Always, though, with the disposition of one who is watching for the Master’s immanent return.  Take sin seriously.  Repent of your own, and admonish your neighbor, and cling to the Holy Absolution.  Take the mission of our Lord seriously.  Confess Christ, no matter the consequences.  Proclaim the Gospel.  Be true to His Word.  Be generous in giving to missions.  And do not live as though this life is the be all and end all of your existence.  Your citizenship is in heaven, and from it you await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).  Live with your eyes focused on Him.  Receive Him as He comes to you here and now in Word and Sacrament for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And watch for Him to return visibly, as you know He will and confess in the Creed.  You will not miss Him on that Day, nor will anyone else.  But you will greet it with a sigh of relief and a hearty “Alleluia!”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

A Couple Thanksgiving Sermons

Thanksgiving Eve
November 21, 2018
Text: Deut. 8:1-10

            Beloved, we are God’s people, His Israel, the Church.  And we are pilgrims in the wilderness of this world.  God has come to us in a foreign land.  He has brought us out of the house of slavery, the Egypt of our sin and our death, and the power of our pharaoh, the devil.  He has brought us out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the mighty hands pierced by the nails, His arms outstretched on the cross.  He is the Lamb slain for us, that the doorposts and lintels of our hearts being painted with His blood, death passes over us.  Though the devil and his hoards are in hot pursuit, our God leads us through the Red Sea of Baptism to freedom and life.  He drowns our enemies and leads us safely through on dry ground.  He guides us through the wilderness of this fallen world, giving us His Word, His Commandments and His Torah (His Instruction, Law and Gospel), feeding us the Bread of Heaven, the manna of His own body, giving us to drink from the rock that was struck, the Lord’s side from whence poured water and blood, Baptism and Supper.  He shelters us with His presence.  He is a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  He comes between us and our enemies.  He leads us and is with us.  Where He goes, we go.  Where we are, He is.  He dwells with us in the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting that is His body.  He speaks to us as to a friend in His mighty Word.  In Him we live and move and have our being.  And He will lead us through the Jordan, through the valley of the shadow of death, to Himself in heaven, to the Promised Land of the new heavens and the new earth in the resurrection of all flesh and the bodily eternal life of all believers in Christ. 
            All of which is to say, Israel’s story is our story.  What happened to Israel happens to us.  We are God’s new Israel in Christ, the holy Christian Church.  And so, as we hear what Moses preaches to the children of Israel now on the cusp of the Promised Land, we not only hear it as ancient and holy history (which it certainly is), but as our holy history.  His words are for us, as they were for them, for they are the eternal Words of our Lord God.   And we know, as Jesus preaches to us and to the very devil, “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Duet. 8:3; ESV). 
            Therefore, “remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” (v. 2).  Remember it.  This is not just a command to God’s Old Testament people.  It is the command to you.  Remember.  Reflect.  Mediate upon the way that the LORD your God leads you out of bondage to sin and damnation to His Promised Land in heaven and the resurrection of the dead.  This text is for our learning, so that we remember.  And so we ask, what does God teach us in our text?
            Do the Commandments.  Obey them.  Things go better when you do.  Now, of course, you don’t obey the Commandments to merit God’s favor or earn eternal life.  Those you already have by grace, through faith, on account of Christ.  The children of Israel were already God’s children by grace when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  The Commandments were not the way they were to be saved.  God had already brought them out of slavery and was leading them to the Promised Land.  The Commandments were given because they were God’s loving will for Israel.  And so for us.  When God gives the Commandments, He is saying to us, here are the things that are good for you.  Here is what I, as your loving Father, want for you.  I want you to love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And I want you to love your neighbor as yourself, because I love your neighbor as I love you.  I love you and your neighbor to the death of my Son.  So do good works.  Have no other gods.  Honor the authorities.  Don’t murder, or commit adultery, or steal, or give false testimony.  Don’t covet, but be content in God.  This is God’s will for your life. 
            Do you sin against these Commandments?  Yes, you do, all the time, and it doesn’t work out so well for you, does it?  Thank God, Jesus has fulfilled the Commandments for you, perfectly, in Your place, and He gives you the credit.  And He has paid your debt for all your transgressing of these Commandments, and He gives you this righteousness and forgiveness all by grace in Holy Baptism, and in His Word and Supper.  That is wonderful, good news for sinners.  But that is not all He does.  He also teaches you by letting you fall flat on your face when you transgress.  It is what loving parents do when they allow their children to fail, because that will teach them more than if the parents simply shield their children from every possible adverse consequence. 
            Our text puts it this way: God humbles you.  Sometimes He lets your sins bite you in the behind.  He lets you suffer the temporal consequences.  Israel is not allowed to enter the Promised Land for forty years after the incident with the spies.  When they complain about the food, God gives quail, along with a deadly plague that is only stopped when Aaron offers the holy incense.  When the Israelites grumble, God sends fiery serpents in their midst, and they can only be saved when they look to the bronze serpent on the pole, a picture of our Lord Jesus raised up for our sins on the cross.  And so you.  If you murder or steal, God indeed forgives you for Christ’s sake, but you still go to prison and pay fines or you may even have to forfeit your earthly life.  If you are sexually promiscuous, God indeed forgives you for Christ’s sake, but you may still suffer an STD, and of course, your promiscuity may result in a child, which is always a tremendous blessing, but may also be the consequence of your transgression. 
            Then again, not all of God’s humbling is the direct consequence of a specific sin.  He also lays crosses upon us, like sickness or grief.  And though we may not understand it at the time, these are gifts, beloved.  Sometimes He takes things away and gives us to suffer lack.  Again, in our text, Moses reminds Israel that the LORD gave them to suffer hunger, and then He tells them why… So that He could provide food, manna, miraculous bread from heaven, hitherto unknown, that you might know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  And isn’t that just like our God?  He empties us that He may fill us… hunger is the best sauce, as they say… that we may know that He alone is our help and salvation, our God; that He alone saves and grants relief. 
            And what is all of this but the discipline of a loving Father for His dear children?  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (v. 5).  He disciples you so that you hear and keep His Word and follow in His way.  He is always driving you back to Himself.  He lets His little child touch the hot stove.  But He’s always right there to give aid and comfort, to rescue and forgive.  Remember that.  Remember the way the LORD has led you through this wilderness to your promised inheritance, to Himself. 
            And now look where He leads you and what He gives to you.  He is leading you to a good land.  Brooks of water.  Fountains and springs.  The water of life.  New birth by water and the Word.  Wheat and barley.  Vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive trees and honey.  Bread and wine.  His body and blood.  Forgiveness of sins.  The fruit of faith, which is love and good works.  His Spirit.  The Gospel.  Himself.
            And of course, let us not neglect to remember the good gifts He gives us for this life, our daily bread: Clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have.  Your clothing has not worn out and your foot has not swelled, which means the LORD has continued to clothe and shelter you and strengthen you for daily life in your vocations.  He daily and richly provides you with all that you need to support this body and life.  He guards you.  He protects you.  He defends you against all evil.  And all of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, which is to say, He does it for Jesus’ sake.
            Now, you know your Catechism, so I don’t have to tell you what is your duty in all of this.  But then again, we are here to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, and here is the connection between this occasion and all that we’ve said here tonight, so let’s say it anyway: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.”[1]
            And how do we thank and praise God?  To be sure, we recount His great deeds of salvation, as we have in remembering the way He has led us through this wilderness in our text and in this homily.  Remember that praise is not mindless repetition of how wonderful God is, but actually saying the good things He has done for us.  And thanksgiving is addressing our words of appreciation to God for all these good things.  But it is more than that.  The key is in the last verses in our text: “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God” (v. 10).  Is this a reference to devouring the turkey and trimmings tomorrow and returning thanks after the feast while you look for your stretchy pants?  Yes, to be sure.  It is that, actually.  All of these things are good gifts of God for which say “Thank You, Lord.”  But all of these things are but a picture of the Great Feast in which we participate tonight.  The Eucharist, which is a Greek word for thanksgiving, that is where we eat of the LORD’s abundance and are full, satisfied.  That is where we receive Jesus in all His fullness as the Bread of Heaven, the Food that sustains us in this wilderness and brings us to the Promised Land.  It is precisely in the eating of this heavenly Food that we bless the LORD our God and give Him thanks.  It is in this eating that we remember how He has led us.  “Do this in remembrance of me,” He says.  It is in this eating that we live by His Word.  The Great Thanksgiving is to receive Jesus Christ by faith.  The Commandments are fulfilled in Him.  Sins are forgiven in Him.  This is the Feast of victory for our God… the Feast of our victorious Lord Jesus Christ who has defeated sin, death, and the devil by His saving work on the cross and His glorious resurrection.  Tomorrow’s supper is great, but tonight’s is eternal.  Like the children of Israel in our text, when we gather here, we’re on the cusp of the Promised Land.  Jesus leads us in.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Thanksgiving Day

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Bingen, Washington
November 22, 2018
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            Do you really think the other nine lepers weren’t thankful when they realized they had been healed?  Of course they were!  I’ll be you they were jumping for joy.  I bet they were singing Thanksgiving hymns all the way to the Temple to do exactly what Jesus told them to do: show themselves to the priests, as they were commanded in the Law of Moses.  The issue in our text is not that nine out of ten healed failed to say “Thank you.”  That is not the difference between the nine and the Samaritan.  The difference is a matter of faith… specifically faith in Jesus Christ.  The nine are still living in the Old Testament, and they give thanks according to the old Law.  The Samaritan recognizes that more has changed than simply the health of his flesh.  A new thing has happened.  An ancient Promise has been fulfilled.  One has come who restores all things, who saves, who crushes the serpent’s head.  And it is to that One he returns.  He presents himself to our true High Priest.  He gives thanks to God by falling down before Jesus.  And do not miss what has happened here.  The Samaritan is confessing that this flesh and blood man, Jesus of Nazareth, is his Savior, and His God.  Jesus is YHWH.  Jesus is God.  That is the point of our Holy Gospel this morning. 
            But in 99.9% of pulpits across the fruited plane this morning, this or another text will be presented as if the point of the appointed Scriptures is that we remember to say “Thank You” to God.  (By the way, I made up that statistic, but it’s gotta be pretty close!)  Now you should say thanks, of course.  Mom was right about that.  In fact, it is specifically Mom’s job to teach us to say thank you whenever anyone does something good for us.  And we’ll be happier people if we foster a spirit of gratitude, recognizing that blessings are just that, not entitlements, but gifts!  But it is not preaching the Gospel to preach this from the pulpit.  This is called a moralism, and the assumption in moralism is that the Bible is given to teach us how to be nice.  The Bible does, of course, give us rules to follow.  I can think of ten pretty important ones right off the bat.  We should do them.  We should repent when we don’t do them.  Breaking the Commandments is sin, and we rightly earn death and damnation by our sins.  That is why we need Jesus Christ.  The point of the Scriptures is not simply to modify our behavior and make us nicer people who remember to say “Thank You,” to God and to others.  The point of the Bible is that you are a sinner, and on your own, you are lost forever.  You have rebelled against God.  You have rejected Him and His salvation.  You do so every time you go your own way and do your own thing, as a law unto yourself, determining good and evil by your own reason or feelings.  But He has sought you out and found you and purchased you to be His own by the holy, precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  He has forgiven your sins on account of Christ.  He has given you Christ’s own righteousness and eternal life by virtue of Christ’s fulfilling of the Law in your place, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead.  These are given to you as gifts in the Word and the Sacraments, received by faith which God Himself gives you in the Word and in the Sacraments.  And so, the point of our reading isn’t that you remember to say “Thank You” (although that is wonderful if you do), it is that you recognize in Jesus your only Savior from sin and death, indeed, that you believe and confess that this flesh and blood man, Jesus of Nazareth is your God.
            Christian thanksgiving is to fall down before Jesus Christ and receive His gifts in faith.  That is why we are gathered here today.  Now, it is true that the National Day of Thanksgiving is actually not a Church feast.  This is not a Church Year day.  It is an anomaly, particularly in our increasingly secularist cultural context, that of all people, the government asks us to assemble and pray.  Think about that for a minute.  George Washington was the first to do it, but every president since Abraham Lincoln has issued a proclamation that a day be set aside to give thanks to God.  Well, we don’t let the government determine our theology or practice as the holy Christian Church, but in this case, since the government has asked, we Christians ought to respond with enthusiasm and full-throated singing of “Now Thank We All Our God.” 
            But we give thanks in the Christian way, and this is very counter-intuitive.  Christians don’t give thanks by doing, but by receiving.  We give thanks to God by returning to Jesus Christ to receive from Him ever more of His gifts.  Now, think about it.  You can’t repay God for all that He’s done for you.  There is nothing you have to offer Him that He needs.  He doesn’t even need your praise.  No, He’s not sitting around in heaven hoping that you’ll notice how great and wonderful He is and say some nice things about Him.  He doesn’t need a self-esteem boost.  He already knows How great He is.  His Name is Wonderful.  But there is something He wants from you.  He wants you to believe in Him.  He wants you to trust Him.  He wants you to receive from Him eternal life and salvation, the forgiveness of sins.  And He provides for you to receive just that in His Son, Jesus.  So this is the Christian way of giving thanks: You come before God with your empty sack, your sin, your death, your brokenness.  That’s all you bring to the table with God.  And God fills you with Jesus.  And He is pleased.  Because that is faith.  Empty hands that God fills with Jesus.  Dead sinners that God raises and declares righteous and whole.  It is not unlike what will happen in countless homes today as families gather around Grandma’s table (or their sister’s, as the case may be).  And Grandma will have provided a glorious feast!  Turkey.  Stuffing.  Potatoes.  Green bean casserole.  Pie.  Whatever are the family favorites.  I bet she’ll even cater to some of those favorites.  For that is how she tells us she loves us.  And how do we thank Grandma for that love?  Of course, we should say it out loud.  Thank you.  But the best thanks is to lift your empty plate to Grandma and ask for more.  More food, please, which is to say, more love please. 
            Our Lord pours out His love on us today as He does in this place week after week, year after year.  Here He speaks His Word to us.  Here He gives us Jesus.  Here He cleanses us from the leprosy of our sins and declares us righteous and whole.  Countless Baptisms the Lord has done at this font, making us His own children.  I was baptized in this very place 39 years ago, almost to the day (November 11th).  Countless sermons preached from this pulpit.  (Or that one thanks to my Grandma, but that’s a story for another day.)  Countless Lord’s Suppers.  Countless Sunday School lessons and VBS-es, Catechism classes (and here I am today all these years later, and I got to baptize the precious child of one of my fellow confirmands… praise be to Christ!).  So many friendships.  Marriages consecrated before this altar.  Burials of loved ones who are not gone from us!  They join us still at this altar, from the other side of the veil, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  They know by sight what we only know by faith.  How do we thank God for all of this love He so faithfully and generously pours out upon us?  We cling to His every Word, for as we heard in our Old Testament reading, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3; ESV).  And we belly up to the altar once again to be filled with Jesus and His forgiveness, life, and salvation. 
            Little Quinn Katherine is just beginning this life of Christian faith.  We must all pray for her.  We must all remind her of this day when she was baptized into Christ, when all her sins were washed away and she was made God’s own child.  You know, by virtue of her Baptism here she is now a member of this congregation.  There is a responsibility now that we all have to her.  We must hold Jesus before her eyes.  We must tell her of His love for her.  We must place the Word of God in her hands and teach it to her mind and heart.  For she is a member of this family.  She now has a home in the Church of God.  She is now given to call upon God as we do, “Our Father.”  And she is given always and ever to come here in her emptiness and be filled with Jesus, who is her life.  Don’t neglect this.  You have to bring her to Jesus always.  She’s been given new birth by water and the Word.  Just as we have to feed children after they are born to keep them alive and so they can grow, so we have to feed those born again in Baptism with Jesus, so that they live and grow.  Feed her.  Give her the Savior. 
            And do not neglect this yourselves.  Thanksgiving is not for God’s sake, it is for yours.  You should recognize that every gift for body and soul is from God.  Your whole life depends on Him.  So you come to His house, and He sets a Feast.  Here it is, on the altar: the true body of Christ, given for you.  His true blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  One word for it is Eucharist.  That is simply the Greek word for “Thanksgiving.”  Which is a great reminder.  You who have been cleansed, forgiven, made whole come to this place to fall before Jesus, who is really enthroned on the altar, body and blood.  And receiving Jesus, you give thanks to God.  You lift your empty plate and ask for more.  And He gives it to you.  Thanks be to God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28B)
November 18, 2018
Text: Mark 13:1-13

            The End is near.  Christ is coming soon.  He is coming visibly, with the holy angels, at the sound of the trumpet, to judge the living and the dead.  He will raise up all the dead bodily.  The believers, the sheep of Christ, He will set on His right and bid them enter the joy of His Father, eternal life with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.  The unbelievers, the goats who have rejected Jesus and His gracious forgiveness and salvation, He will bind and cast into the Lake of Fire prepared for the devil and his minions.  And the great tragedy of that is that the Lake of Fire, hell, was not prepared for people.  Jesus died for all people.  His forgiveness, His justification (which is to say, His righteousness), is for all people, accomplished on the holy cross and by His resurrection.  But it is received by faith.  And so, those who do not have faith do not have Jesus and His salvation.  That is the Judgment.  Faith has Jesus, and so receives what belongs to Jesus.  Unbelief does not have Jesus, and so receives what it has coming to it for all its works: eternal condemnation. 
            The End is near.  So let’s act accordingly.  Let’s start acting like we actually believe this.  We do believe it, somewhere deep down inside.  But we live for all practical purposes as if this is not the case.  We live as if this earthly life is the goal, our happiness here, now; our fulfillment here, now; in the stuff of this life.  Think about it.  Think how much energy you put into planning for your retirement… or despairing of the impossibility of it.  And for what?  A few years of supposed ease, which, in reality, you’ll spend in waiting rooms at doctors’ offices, and then you’ll die.  Now, I’m not against retirement.  I probably shouldn’t be preaching this right before a Voters Assembly when we’re discussing my benefits.  Look, I pray you’re able to retire and enjoy doing some nicer things than what I just described.  But you will die.  Unless Christ returns first, which He very well may.  And here’s my point: Yes, go ahead and plan for your retirement, but that is an infinitesimally small part of your reality.  Don’t spend your energy there.  Spend it on eternity.  Spend it receiving the gifts of Christ Jesus here in His Church.  Immerse yourself in the gifts!
            It’s a matter of priorities.  Jesus is coming soon, so live like it.  Think about how many things get in the way of attending Church services, hearing the Word, receiving the Lord’s body and blood.  Sports events.  Vacations.  (You can go to Church when you’re on vacation… you do know that, right?  I can help you find one wherever you’re going.)  I’ve had more than one person in my ministry tell me that Sunday morning is the only day they have to relax and get things done around the house.  Well, enjoy that rest.  Is eternity worth it?  Is getting the laundry done worth eternal salvation?  (W)hat does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36; ESV).  Beloved, repent.  Repent of all that keeps you from the Lord’s House.  You are not saved by coming to Church, as if that is a good work that earns something before God.  But Church is where the living Lord Jesus, who is coming soon, prepares you for His coming and the Judgment by giving you living faith in Him by His means of grace, the Word and Sacraments.  Here He speaks to you.  He speaks His Spirit into you, faith into you, Himself into you, and He forgives your sins.  Here He gives you new birth by water and the Word.  Here He marks you for the bodily resurrection into eternal life by feeding you with His own crucified and risen body and blood.  He is the vine.  You are the branches.  You only live by virtue of your continual connection with Him.  Get rid of anything that severs that connection.  Be obsessed with Jesus and His gifts to you.  Be always repenting, always confessing your sins, always hearing and believing the Gospel that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life in Christ.  THAT is how you live as though you really believe Jesus is coming soon.
            And the signs are all around you.  The signs in our text are not some ambiguous future events that will happen someday, nearer to the End.  No, they’ve happened, and they are happening.  This is why Jesus bids you stay awake.  Watch.  (B)e on your guard” (Mark 13:9).  The first sign Jesus prophesies in our text is the sack of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of the Temple.  That happened about forty years after He said it when future Roman emperor Titus came through with his legions and ripped it all down.  That, by the way, is the penalty for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as their Messiah.  He longed for them, begged them, pleaded with them to believe in Him and receive His salvation, but they would not.  There are, of course, Jewish believers, and we thank God for that, but as a religion, Judaism has utterly rejected Jesus.  Which means they have utterly rejected God.  The old Law, the old system, is at an end.  There is no more need for the Temple building.  The new and greater Temple has arrived: Jesus.  The flesh of Jesus of Nazareth is the dwelling place of God with His people, His Israel, His Church.  So that is one sign of the End: The destruction of the Temple and the sack of Jerusalem. 
            But the other signs have been around since Adam and Eve fell into sin.  False christs?  They’re all over the place.  They are, of course, in the false religions that set up other ways of salvation than the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And there are the cults built around personalities that often end in mass suicides, like Jim Jones or David Koresh.  You may think you’re safe from those because you took Catechism class and you know better than to fall for their tricks.  That’s true, thanks be to God, but it’s the other false christs you have to watch out for; like politicians, for example.  Or celebrities.  Or jobs.  Or money.  Or doctors.  Or diets.  Or whoever or whatever you believe will save you.
            Wars and rumors of wars?  That is the story of the evening news.  Earthquakes in various places?  Yes.  All of these are signs of the end.   And that is not a complete list.  Fires in California, or right here in our own back yard?  Destructive hurricanes?  School shootings?  Terrorism?  Abortion?  Your own tragedies?  Your own sin?  These are signs of the End.  They tell you in no uncertain terms that this can’t go on forever.  God will bring this to an end.  He will do it when the heavens are rolled up like a scroll and we all see Jesus Christ.
            And what are we Christians to expect in this time as we wait?  The picture Jesus paints is not a pleasant one.  You’ll be delivered up to councils.  You’ll be beaten.  You’ll stand before governors and kings.  We’re all shocked when the government picks on florists and bakers for their religious convictions, and frankly, we’re in denial.  We act like this is an anomaly, an exception to the rule.  No, we should expect this.  It’s going to happen more and more.  And no, Republican administrations aren’t going to save us from that.  Yes, vote, of course, and make the best decisions you can between candidates and proposals because that is what love for your neighbor demands.  But don’t be a fool and think that your candidate, Republican or Democrat, is going to save you from anything.  Jesus is the Savior.  And that may just be why He allows us to suffer for the faith at the hands of earthly government.  So that we despair of all earthly help and cling to Him alone as Savior.  We Americans have had it pretty good.  We still do.  While we worry about how comfortable our retirement can be, our brothers and sisters throughout the world are actually suffering the very things Jesus prophesies.  They are being beaten.  They are being imprisoned.  They are being shot, beheaded, crucified, burned alive.  They know what Jesus means in this text, and they love not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11).  Blessed are they.
            And blessed are you whenever you have to endure.  Blessed are you when you endure the mockery of the world.  Blessed are you when you lose Facebook friends or when your family members turn their backs on you because of your confession of Jesus and His Word.  Blessed are the bakers and florists who lose their businesses and livelihoods for Christ.  When these things happen… if you are drug before councils or governors or kings (it could happen!  Stop living in denial!)… “do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).  That is the Promise.  The Lord will not forsake you in the hour of trial.  You will suffer, yes.  Brother will deliver brother over to death, fathers their children, children their parents… This is precisely what happened in the Communist block in the days of the Soviet Union.  Family members had to report on one another.  This happens in Islamic tyrannies still today.  It will happen here.  Just wait.  You’ll be hated by all.  Jesus promises it.  But don’t worry.  The Lord will give you the words to say.  He will be with you.  His Spirit will be in you.  And here is the sure Promise of the Lord: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).
            The one who endures to the end.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  With you, it is impossible.  But not with God.  God is the one who gives you endurance.  He keeps you safe to the end.  He does it here in His Church, in His Word, in your Baptism, in His Supper, by giving you Jesus.  Jesus endured to the end.  He endured the bitterness of the world’s hatred, the beating, the stripes, the nails, the wood.  He endured the worst Satan and sinners could hurl at Him.  He endured it unto death…  And Jesus Christ is risen from the dead…  He will keep you.  He will keep you even in death.  And He will raise you from the dead.  You have eternal life in Him.  Nothing the world can do can possibly rob you from His pierced hands.  Enjoy retirement if you can.  God bless you in it.  But for God’s sake stop living as if that’s all that matters.  Jesus is all that matters.  And you are all that matters to Him.  He’s coming to get you soon.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2018
Text: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44
Guest Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Thomas Wolbrecht

Monday, November 5, 2018

All Saints' Day (Observed)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 4, 2018
Text: 1 John 3:1-3

            “Saint” means “holy one.”  Now a saint is not someone who is morally perfect, or sinless, or even less sinful than the average person.  A saint is not someone who is holy before God by his or her own works.  A saint is rather one who is declared righteous and holy on account of the sin-atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who receives Christ’s own holiness as a gift, by faith.  All Saints’ Day is particularly about those saints who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb by Holy Baptism, and who are with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies and eternity in the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth.  That is to say, this day is about your loved ones who have died in Christ.  They died, yet they live.  No one who believes in Jesus ever dies.  They live.  They are safe in Jesus.  Their bodies rest in the ground, but their spirits are with Christ.  They have come out of the Great Tribulation.  They are before the throne of Christ.  They see Him face to face.  And they sing.  And by the way, they are not gone from us.  We say confess it every Sunday.  As we gather around the altar of Christ’s body and blood, we are caught up together with them in heaven.  Heaven breaks in here, and we stand there.  Heaven and earth are joined, and our voices are joined in praise of the thrice-holy God “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” 
            And the “all the company of heaven” includes all the great saints of the Bible: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, King David, Esther, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul.  And you know of every one of them that they are saints by grace, through faith, and not by their own righteousness.  And there are the great saints of the Church gathered around the altar with us: St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, the blessed Reformer Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Sebastian Bach, C. F. W. Walther.  And there is my dad and my brother-in-law.  And there are your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who died in the faith, and who are responsible for you being here today.  There are all your loved ones who died in Christ.  They meet us at the altar.  If you miss your loved ones who are in heaven… if you want to be with them once again… This is the place.  Here, around the altar, where Christ is enthroned, where He gathers us together for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end.  We best celebrate All Saints’, by gathering together with all the saints around the altar.  They are saints by grace.  And you are a saint by grace.  And in our Epistle this morning, St. John explains to us just how that can be.
            You are a saint because, in His unimaginable love, the Father calls you His own child.  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1; ESV).  This is baptismal language.  Where does the Father make us His own children?  At the font.  In the water; the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  There He puts His Name on us, the Name of God in all its fullness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There He washes away our sins in the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus Christ, and makes our robes white with Christ’s own righteousness.  There He joins us to the Lord’s death and resurrection.  There He makes us one with Christ, and so one with each other, one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church; one Body of Christ; one spotless and holy Bride for our Bridegroom, Jesus.  And so God loves us and gives us to call upon Him as “Our Father.”  We are His dear children.  He is our dear Father.  We call upon Him as dear children ask their dear Father.  And He loves us.  He is for us and not against us.  He has redeemed us for Himself at the price of His own Son’s precious blood.  So now as His children, we have all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.  We are heirs with Christ of the heavenly Kingdom.  We have a place at the royal table.  We are brothers and sisters with Christ and with one another, and we have a home, the Church, where we always belong. 
            It should not surprise us, though, that the world laughs at us.  The unbelieving world, the world that has rejected the Lord Jesus, rejects those who are in Jesus.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (v. 1).  The world despises us, considers us Christians as of no account.  She calls us haters, intolerant, bigots.  It doesn’t matter what we actually believe or what we actually say.  The lie of Satan doesn’t have to be fool proof for the flesh of man to buy in.  We should expect rejection.  We should expect persecution.  Jesus promises it, and here St. John echoes that promise.  But we do not lose heart.  Instead, we rejoice.  Because suffering the rejection and persecution of the world is actually a reflection in us of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  It is evidence of our unity with Him, and it is the way our loving Father molds and shapes us into the cruciform image of His Son. 
            You see, we live now in the time of what Luther calls the “Already/Not Yet.”  We are redeemed by Jesus’ blood and we belong to God, but that reality is not yet apparent.  Heaven is already ours, but it doesn’t yet look like it.  No Christian, no one who believes in Jesus Christ, actually dies, but it sure does look that way when we’re lowering our loved one into the ground.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (v. 2).  For we live by faith, not by sight.  Faith, by definition, necessarily has as its object what we cannot see.  All the articles of the Creed are statements of faith.  We cannot see them.  Jesus loves us and is always with us.  We cannot see that.  He forgives our sins.  We feel guilt.  He gives us eternal life.  We get sick and we die.  He promises we’ll never die.  We go to funerals.  But always in faith.  Always believing and confessing what we cannot see but know to be true: Jesus Christ, who died for us, and who is risen from the dead, will raise us bodily to live forever with Him. 
            And it’s true, we do not yet know what we shall be.  We don’t know what that will look like, how it will feel, what our experience of it will be.  But we do know this: “We know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (v. 2).  We will see Him face to face.  We will see His resurrection body, the very body we’ve received in our mouths week after week for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We’ll see the scars, His hands and feet, His side, mortal wounds, and yet, He lives.  And we’ll be like Him.  Our resurrection bodies, fully physical bodies, these very bodies, made perfect, as they were always meant to be, in the image and likeness of Jesus, our Savior, who is risen from the dead.  And knowing that is enough.  It is enough to get us through the “Already/Not Yet.”  We will be there soon.  Jesus is coming soon to raise the dead and deliver us.  The Church can wait with patience and joy.  You can wait, because you know the full reality and where this all ends up.  November 6th will come and go, and who knows what kind of government we’ll be left with.  Go vote, of course.  But it ultimately doesn’t matter.  Jesus reigns, and He is coming soon, and then every eye will see it, everyone will know it, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess it.  The dead will sit up in their graves to say it: “Jesus Christ is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11).
            So as those who live in this hope, what do we do in the meantime?  St. John puts it this way: “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 3).  How do you purify yourself as Jesus is pure?  Well, not by your own works, we can say that for sure.  Your works only get you dirtier.  No, you purify yourself in the same way you become a saint, a holy one.  Jesus must speak it.  So you come to Church and have your sins forgiven by Christ Himself through the mouth of His preacher: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.”  You dive right back down into your Baptism.  You gather with the saints of God in the holy congregation, some of whom you see sitting around you, but most of whom you cannot see, and you hear the gracious Words of your Savior, forgiving you and teaching you what it means to be a child of the heavenly Father.  And then you come together around the throne, the altar, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, those on this side of the veil, and those on that side of the veil, to be fed with the Bread of Life, the crucified and risen body and blood of Jesus Christ, to forgive you and mark you for the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.  Thus having been purified by Jesus, now you can get to work.  Now you can go love your neighbor, help your neighbor, give to your neighbor, and bring your neighbor here to be purified and join us in the mystical Body of Christ, the holy Church. 
            All Saints’ is all about the Church.  Saints are the members of the Church, here below and there above, which is to say, saints are sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus and made holy by His saying so.  The Church is full of sinners.  Only sinners.  For only sinners can have their sins washed away.  To be a saint is a gift Jesus gives you.  It is His own holiness credited to your account.  It is His own righteousness wrapped around you as a robe, to cover your sins.  It is Jesus making you His own, so that you should be called a child of God.  And so you are.  And it is enough.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2018

Text: Rev. 14:6-7 (ESV): Then I saw another angel kflying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to lthose who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, m“Fear God and ngive him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and oworship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the psprings of water.”

            Reformation Day is all about the eternal Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is all about the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel, repentance for our sins and faith in Christ, the sin-atoning work of our Lord Jesus in His suffering and death on the cross, and His life giving resurrection.  The proclamation of this eternal Gospel in Scripture and preaching and Sacrament bestows the forgiveness of sins and eternal life upon the hearers, upon you, and it is received by the very faith in Christ which it creates.  This day is not actually about Martin Luther.  It is about his teaching, which is this very eternal Gospel proclaimed in our text.  It is not about the Lutheran Church.  It is about the people of God who receive this eternal Gospel, hear it proclaimed, have it wash all over them, and eat it and drink it…  And then confess it!  It is not about sticking it to Rome.  No, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Rome, and we rejoice wherever they do have the eternal Gospel, and we long for them to come into it fully, for the eternal Gospel to reform them from within so that they join us in the preaching of Christ as our only Savior from sin and death, the salvation that He gives to us by grace alone, received by faith alone, that we be united in one, holy, catholic (in the true sense of the word), and apostolic Church.  Reformation Day is all about Christ and His gifts to us.
            Already in Reformation times, the angel, in our text, flying directly overhead, was thought to be a prophecy of Martin Luther preaching the Gospel purely once again.  This is why this text is appointed for Reformation Day.  Now, this may seem far-fetched to us, but only because we’re infected by the modernist notion that the Holy Scriptures have nothing to do with real history.  You’re gonna have to get over that.  That isn’t the kind of thing sola scriptura, Bible believing Christians say.  I don’t know if the Holy Spirit had Luther specifically in mind in this prophecy.  It’s not impossible.  The word “angel,” after all, literally means “messenger,” and it doesn’t always, or only, refer in the Holy Scriptures to the spirit beings we commonly call “angels.”  It can also refer to preachers, as it does in Revelation 2 and 3 where St. John is told to write to the “angels” of the Seven Churches, which is to say, their pastors.  Here the “angel” could be Luther.  I don’t know.  But I do know the Holy Spirit is teaching us about the ever new preaching of the everlasting Gospel by a nearly endless train of Christian preachers, a few of them more prominent, like Dr. Luther, and many whose names are lost to history but known intimately by our Lord.  So whether this text is about Luther and the event of the Reformation specifically, it is most certainly about Luther and the Reformation and God’s continual breaking in to history to declare the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ.  Wherever that Gospel is preached, this prophecy is fulfilled.  Which is to say, it is fulfilled this day in your hearing, at this very moment.  Because this text, like the Reformation itself, is all about Christ and His gifts to us. 
            And that is what the angel proclaims.  Now, this eternal Gospel is the Gospel in the broad sense, which is to say the whole counsel of God, including both Law and Gospel in the narrow sense, which is the forgiveness of sins.  So the preaching begins: “Fear God.”  The First Commandment.  Repent of your idolatry.  Get rid of whatever else you fear above God.  God is the One who gives His Commandments from on high, who writes them in stone with His own finger.  It is to Him you are accountable.  It is to Him, and Him alone, you are to give glory.  Not to other gods.  And there is a judgment.  This is why you should fear.  The hour, the appointed time, the moment for judgment has come.  So worship God.  Turn to Him in faith.  He made heaven and earth.  He created all that is.  The sea.  The springs of water.  He renews the face of the earth.  He sustains His creation.  And He redeems it.  Christ has come.  He died, but behold, He lives.  And He is coming soon to judge.  Therefore let this Word go out to all the earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  Proclaim this eternal Gospel.  Confess it.  For it is a matter of eternal life and death. 
            Do you see, by the way, how this is nothing other than the preaching of St. John the Baptist… in fact, the preaching of Jesus Himself?  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Yes, beloved, this day, in this very moment, the eternal Gospel is proclaimed to you: Examine yourself.  Repent of your sins.  For this is the moment.  Now.  Today.  The Kingdom of God has come in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He is here, now, to forgive your sins, to wash them all away in His blood, to give you His righteousness, to feed you with His body and give you drink of His blood.  Come to Him.  Fear Him.  Cling to Him.  Hang on His every Word.  That is what it means to worship Him.  That is what it means to give Him the glory.  Receive His gifts.  Receive them now.  For He is coming again in judgment, and only those found in Him, in Christ, will be saved. 
            Lutherans have their peculiarities.  I mean, just look at yourselves.  It is good and right that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, even, and perhaps, especially on Reformation Day.  But I will tell you this: Lutheranism is a gift.  I don’t know why you’re forever apologizing for being Lutheran.  Roman Catholics don’t apologize for being Roman Catholic.  Baptists don’t apologize for being Baptist.  Everything the Baptists do is unapologetically Baptist.  They don’t excuse themselves to their guests or their fellow Christians from other denominations for having authentically Baptist worship.  The Roman Church doesn’t apologize for the Mass.  But we’re always suffering an identity crisis here in Lutheranism.  We’re afraid when our worship is too Lutheran.  We’re afraid when our doctrine is too Lutheran.  So we ape the non-denominationalist denomination.  We try to do worship like they do, or preach like they do.  Lutherans, get over yourself already.  Just receive and give thanks for the gifts handed down by your forefathers.  If you’re Lutheran, be Lutheran.  It’s not a sin.  In fact, it is a high and holy gift from God.  The liturgy is a gift.  Our hymnody is a gift.  The Lutheran Confessions are a gift.  The Holy Scriptures, from which the liturgy and our hymns and the Confessions all derive, are a gift.  Don’t be embarrassed by your Lutheranism.  Embrace it as the vessel in which you have received, and continue to receive, nothing less than the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            After all, what is important in Lutheranism?  The Confessions answer that one for us: The Gospel and the Sacraments, which give us Jesus, who forgives our sins.  That’s it.  That’s Lutheranism.  Listen to just a few articles from the Augsburg Confession, the Augustana, for which this congregation is named: Article IV: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith.”[1]  Article V: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22].  He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”  Article VII: “The Church is the congregation of saints [Psalm 149:1] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.”  On and on it goes: Faith in Christ, the Word of God, the holy Sacraments (Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper).  Eternal salvation.  Forgiveness of sins.  Another way to say it is grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone.  And you’re apologizing for this?  No, embrace it.  Claim it.  Proclaim it.  Love it.  Because, in spite of the peculiarities of the people involved, you’re really just loving Christ and His Word and His Baptism and His Supper.  That’s Lutheranism.  And by the way, you’re loving those people, too, warts and all, because in Christ’s Church we live by grace and the forgiveness of sins.  We joyfully put up with each other, defend our neighbor, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything. 
            And what of Martin Luther?  How should we regard him?  We do not worship him.  What a ridiculous charge.  You know that isn’t what is happening here.  Nor do we agree with every single thing he ever said, although we do agree with most of it, because most of it is right out of the Bible.  And believe it or not, we actually aren’t named after him.  We’re named after his teaching.  That’s the only way he would ever allow a group of Christians to call themselves “Lutheran,” and he says as much.  This is how we should regard Dr. Luther: He is simply the chief teacher of our Church.  We thank God for him and we rejoice in all that he continues to teach us in his preaching and writing.  And this isn’t wrong, unless it’s wrong to thank God for all the Church Fathers or for the pastors who have taught you, baptized you, fed you with the Supper over the years, consoled you with the Gospel, pronounced Christ’s forgiveness.  Of course you should thank God for them, and you should thank God for Luther and for his teaching, of which you are a direct beneficiary.  But then, the teaching really isn’t his.  It is God’s.  It is Christ’s.  And that is why I’m a Lutheran.  That should be the reason you are, too.  Because the teaching of Lutheranism is simply the teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is the eternal Gospel.  And as you hear the eternal Gospel, your sins are forgiven, and you are in Christ, and Christ is in you.  And the angel directly overhead (whoever he may be), along with all his angelic friends, and with the whole company of heaven, including now Martin Luther… they rejoice.  They join their praises with our own.  And so, beloved, hear once again the eternal Gospel for you: Fear God and give Him the glory.  Worship Him, which is to say, believe His Word and receive His gifts.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  In Christ, who is coming soon.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] All quotations from the Augsburg Confession from McCain et al., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005, 2006).