Thursday, October 24, 2019

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24C)
October 20, 2019
Text: Luke 18:1-8
            Politicians!  Is there a group that we love to hate more?  They promise us the sun and moon, but they never deliver.  “Elect me, and I’ll make fix every problem in the world and make your life pleasant, fulfilling, and easy.”  Now, I’m overstating the case a bit.  We actually do need politicians, because we need people who will serve us in civic office.  And I want my politicians to stand for what is good, especially the sanctity of life and marriage, religious freedom, freedom of speech.  And I want them to make promises accordingly.  I wish they were better at keeping their promises.  At least the promises I agree with.  I’m glad they don’t keep the promises I’m against.  One thing is for sure, though: No politician will ever fix every problem in the world, nor will any politician ever fix my life and give me paradise.  See, that really isn’t the domain of politicians, contrary to popular opinion.  That role belongs to God.  Politicians are not God, though they sure seem to want you to believe they are.  Don’t fall for it.  Don’t make them into idols.  Repent when you think the future of the country or of the world depends on electing your people.  Repent of putting politicians in God’s place.  Vote, yes, out of love for your neighbor… Though I will say, only vote if you’re informed.  This business of “everyone should vote” often leaves out that important point.  And if you are informed, and if you have the talent and ability, maybe you should run for office, out of love for your neighbor.  But be ready to suffer!  And please, for God’s sake, serve with some integrity.  But don’t depend on politicians for salvation.  Jesus is your only Savior.  Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the only true God. 
            When politicians make outlandish promises they have no intention of keeping, they betray the fact that they neither fear God nor respect man.  See, the unrighteous judge in the parable is a politician.  And that is the only reason he will help the widow.  He doesn’t care about her.  He doesn’t care about justice.  He doesn’t care about doing what is right.  He cares about himself.  He will only help the widow because it helps him.  The widow, for her part, has no other recourse.  The judge represents the law of the land.  Now, we don’t know her particular predicament, but we know she is a widow, and that means she has no husband to provide for her.  In the ancient world, that would leave her at the mercy of her family and her community.  It’s not like she could get a job at the local Walmart.  So she has no means to speak of.  She has no status in the eyes of the judge.  She’s a nobody.  But she won’t give the judge a break.  He relents and gives her justice lest she “beat me down,” or literally, give me a black eye, “by her continual coming” (Luke 18:5; ESV).  It’s unlikely a widow would actually sock a judge in the eye, although I’ve met a few feisty Lutheran widows in my time.  But this is probably an idiom.  “If the widow keeps coming to me, begging for justice, and I continue to ignore her, how will that look to my constituents?  Not that I respect them, but I need them to respect me and support me in office.”  Just like a politician, am I right? 
            We don’t really like where this is going, though, because the judge is in the role of God in the parable.  God is not an unjust judge, and we’ll go to our death confessing that truth.  But that isn’t Jesus’ point.  The point is, if even this unrighteous judge vindicates the widow because of her continual coming, lest she give him a black eye, surely God, who is just, who does care for widows and orphans and the least of these, who does care about all men, and all that is right and holy and good, surely He will give justice to His elect, His faithful people, His Church, who cry to Him day and night (v. 7).  That is to say, He will deliver His people from all their afflictions, from sin, death, the devil, hell, and all who hate and persecute them.  That is the justice, the vindication for which the Church continually cries to our very-much-righteous Judge, our Savior and our God. 
            The widow is the Church.  She is the Christians, you.  And she has no resources of her own to draw upon for protection and to provide for herself.  She is lowly and despised in the world.  She’s a nobody.  She’s mocked.  She’s derided.  She’s rejected and persecuted, even unto death.  She’s at the mercy of others.  Often even judges.  You watch.  It has happened, and will happen increasingly, that the beliefs and practices of the Church will land the Church in court, to be judged by secular judges and justices.  It’s happened to the Missouri Synod.  Do a little research into the Hosanna-Tabor case that went before the Supreme Court in 2011.  We won that one, thanks be to God, but we won’t win them all, or even most of them.  So be ready.  It’s coming.  But our final deliverance, our true vindication, our salvation doesn’t rely on any earthly judge, righteous or otherwise.  This is so important in our over-politicized culture.  Our only Savior is Jesus Christ.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the only true God.  From Him alone comes justice. 
            In reality, our Lord Jesus Christ has already delivered and vindicated us by His life, death, and resurrection.  Though He was righteous, perfectly fulfilling the Law, nevertheless, He stood before unrighteous judges: The Sanhedrin, Herod, Pilate.  He was falsely accused.  He was derided.  Despised and rejected.  Tortured.  Crucified.  His was the execution reserved for the most heinous of criminals.  Humiliating.  Excruciating.  Jesus knows a thing or two about unjust suffering.  But in submitting to all of this, in taking on the sin of the world… your sin…  the machinations of the devil, the pangs of hell and death, Jesus won the victory.  For you.  And He is risen from the dead.  And you, baptized into Christ, have died with Him and so have conquered.  And He gives you His new life now, and He will raise you from the dead when He comes again in glory.
            But until that Day, all of this, though very much real, is hidden.  Christ, Himself, is hidden.  Ascended into heaven.  Seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Ruling.  Yes, ruling all things.  He’s the King.  But the world doesn’t know it, and the devil doesn’t acknowledge it.  And though we know it and confess it, it is hidden from our eyes.  And so we are the widow.  A Christian widow buries her husband, and with him, really, herself, her life up to that point.  But she knows that he lives in heaven with Christ, and that she will see him again, on that Day when Jesus raises all the dead.  Widowhood is sort of this in-between state, an interlude, so to speak, between life with her husband and eternal life when he will be returned to her.  (Of course, she can marry again, and go on living a full life, but that is beyond this analogy, so just stay with me for a moment.)  The Church’s Husband, Jesus, has died.  And yes, He’s been raised from the dead.  But He’s gone from her sight.  She knows that He lives and that she will see Him again on that Day.  And, she knows, He’s with her in His gifts, the Word, the Supper, just as earthly spouses who have died in the faith are with us around the altar for the great Feast.  But for now, her Husband, Jesus, is hidden.  So she waits and she prays.  She cries to Him day and night.  “Come back to me!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly.” 
            And that, in the end, is the point of the parable.  We ought always to pray and never lose heart.  This isn’t about guilting you because you don’t pray enough.  You don’t, by the way, and so, repent, and get to praying.  But this isn’t about that.  Nor is the idea that you persevere by your own cheerful spirit, like a football team down by ten at the two minute warning, taking the field and playing with heart, never losing hope.  The point is, this is the Christian’s life in this world between our Lord’s first coming to die for our sins and rise again, and His second coming to deliver us from all that afflicts us and manifest His Kingdom and the eternal life we already have in Him.  In this in-between time, this interlude, what Luther calls the “already/not yet,” the Church prays and she waits.  And she does not lose heart.  That is to say, she keeps the faith. 
            When the Son of Man comes, will He find… not just faith, as the ESV has it, but the Faith on the earth (v. 8)?  Will He find the community of the faithful, the Christian Church, doing what she is given to do in this time?  Praying.  Waiting.  Preaching.  Confessing.  Will He find His Bride watching and yearning for Him in faithfulness?  He will.  By grace.  By His Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying the whole Christian Church on earth and keeping it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  And that means you.  He has called you, and gathered you here to do His enlightening and sanctifying work upon you. 
            And as we wait, and as we cry out to God day and night in our afflictions, we can be certain: God will not delay His justice.  He will give it speedily.  Jesus is coming soon.  Rejoice, dear Bride of Christ.  He is coming for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23C)
October 13, 2019
Text: Luke 17:11-19
            Lepers were to stand apart from the crowds and cry out, “Unclean!  Unclean!  Do not approach!”  In their uncleanness, the lepers were separated from their community, separated from their families, separated from their synagogues, and, as was supposed, assumed, quite logically we might add, separated from God.  After all, leprosy made one ceremonially unclean according to Mosaic Law.  Leprosy symbolized the uncleanness of sin.  The priest diagnosed it.  The priest declared the leper unclean and put him in quarantine.  And if, by some miracle, the leper was healed, which was about as likely as someone rising from the dead, then there were blood sacrifices to be made, to atone for the leper. 
            Starving for human interaction, human touch, the lepers only had each other.  This explains why these Jewish lepers were hanging out with at least one Samaritan (Jews and Samaritans, as you’ll recall, hated one another and refused to associate otherwise).  And there was another hunger, a ravenous yearning for divine mercy.  Now, we’re not quite sure which disease or diseases the Scriptures are indicating by the word “leprosy”.  It could be any one of a number of infectious skin disorders.  Hansen’s Disease is the modern name for the leprosy we most often think of in relation to the Bible, a skin-eating bacterial infection that also affects the nerves, the eyes, and the lining of the nose.  It’s a pretty miserable affliction, thank God now treatable and even curable with early detection.  It is not the fearsome scourge it once was, at least here in the Western world.  But you can imagine the suffering, the loneliness, the helplessness, the hopelessness of these ten men as they stood apart, bewailing their uncleanness.
            But now the ten are lifting up their voices to cry something else.  Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13; ESV).  They had heard about this Man, that He is able to cure diseases.  Word is, He has even cured lepers and raised the dead.  Who knows?  Could it be true?  Grasping at straws, clinging to any shred of hope, the lepers cry, not “Unclean!  Unclean!” but “Jesus, Jesus, Lord, have mercy!”  And Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, and as they go, it’s a miracle!  They are cleansed!  The lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy, and He hears, and He delivers.  That’s how it works with Jesus.  Okay, not always a miraculous healing (pre-resurrection of the dead, anyway), but always, always mercy.  Cry to Jesus for mercy and you always have His mercy. 
            Now this is the Holy Gospel appointed for Thanksgiving, so we’ll hear it again in just a few weeks.  And you know that as a result, this text is often used to guilt everybody for not remembering to say thank you to Jesus, like those wretched, ungrateful nine lepers who didn’t have the common courtesy to turn around and acknowledge the good Jesus had done for them.  The great surprise, according to this way of preaching the text, is that of all people, the foreigner, the Samaritan, remembered what his mom taught him and came back to thank Jesus.  Alright.  We could all use a lesson in being more thankful.  But I’m not so sure that’s the main message here.  I bet all ten lepers were exceedingly thankful.  I bet they were leaping for joy and praising God, maybe even singing Psalms and hymns as they went their merry way.  And the nine who didn’t return were simply doing what Jesus said to do.  They were going to the priest.  Which is what Moses commanded.  They were keeping the Law.  Isn’t that a great way to give thanks to God, by doing what He says?  No, no.  Here’s the point.  What the Samaritan gets that the other nine don’t is that Jesus is the Priest!  And he’s right.  Jesus is the One who makes the blood sacrifice of atonement, not just for leprosy, but for sin!  And He doesn’t sacrifice a lamb and some grain, as prescribed in Leviticus (Chapter 14), but Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away all uncleanness, and will give Himself in the grain, the bread, to the unclean sinners, to cleanse them, in His Supper.  The old sacrifices all point to Him!  He is the Priest.  He is the Sacrifice.  He is the cleansing.  He is the mercy.  He is the resurrection and the life. 
            And there is something else the Samaritan gets that no one else does.  He turns back, praising God, and falls at the feet of Jesus, giving Him thanks (v. 16).  For you see, Jesus is not just the Priest.  Jesus is God.  Giving thanks to God means giving thanks to Jesus.
            Thanksgiving is an expression of faith.  The Samaritan has faith in God, which is to say, He has faith in Jesus.  And here is what faith receives.  Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Rise”…  Resurrection!... “and go your way”…  Live in this new reality, this life I have given you… “your faith has”…. Not just “made you well,” as your English Bible has it, although that is certainly a possible translation.  But more to the point, the Greek word is “saved!”  Your faith has saved you (v. 19)!  The cleansing that has taken place is not just an outward cleansing of physical symptoms, as great as that is.  The other nine received that, and the priests are able to confirm it and make the appropriate sacrifices.  But faith in Christ receives a cleansing that is much more profound.  The Samaritan, who believes in Jesus, is cleansed not only of leprosy, but of his sins!  He is saved.  He has eternal life.  Jesus, God in the flesh, has broken into creation to heal of its brokenness and cleanse sinners of sin!
            As a general rule, you probably don’t sit around worrying about leprosy on a daily basis.  Thank God for modern medicine.  But you were born with the greater disease, sin.  And as a result, you suffer the symptoms.  Actual sins.  Sins of omission and commission.  Sins that separate you from your community, from your family, from your fellow Church members, and not just supposedly, but really, factually, from God.  Your disease isolates you.  It makes you unclean, untouchable, unholy.  It eats away at you.  In the end, it will kill you.  In fact, it will damn you.  In the meantime, it will wreak havoc on your body and on your soul.  And the cure for it is as unlikely as a resurrection from the dead. 
            There is nothing you can do about this disease.  But here comes Jesus.  God in the flesh is breaking into His creation.  He comes to heal and restore.  He comes to forgive and save.  And here you learn from the lepers.  There is nothing to do but lift up your voice and cry: “Kyrie eleison!  Lord, have mercy!”  “Jesus, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  And you know He will.  And He does.  He declares you clean.  He forgives your sins.  He washes you, and you are restored.  He places you in a community, the Church, a family made up only of other healed lepers, and you are no longer isolated.  You are not alone.  He touches you… Yes, you, the untouchable.  He touches you, His body, the burnt offering, the grain offering, His blood, the sacrifice of atonement.  He is the Priest.  He is the cleansing.  He is God’s mercy.  He is God. 
            And you, you turn, praising God, and come right up here to the altar, to fall before Jesus, eucharisting, giving Him thanks by receiving His Eucharist, His Supper, His body and blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Jesus did not heal the ten lepers by accident.  His healing was mercy for them, and it was mercy for you.  For these things are written for your learning.  This is what Jesus does for you. 
            And now, having healed you, Jesus says to you, “Rise!”  Resurrection.  “Here, have new life.  My life.  Real life.  Eternal life.  And go your way.  Live!  Go out, forgiven, cleansed, restored, with Me in you, and do your life in the world.  Do it joyfully, confidently, with thanksgiving.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Fulfill your calling.  For your faith, your Jesus, has saved you.”
            And so it is.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

Friday, October 11, 2019

Thursday of Pentecost 17

Thursday of Pentecost 17 (Proper 22C)
October 10, 2019
Circuit Winkel
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Pastor Timothy had a rough go of ministry in his Ephesian parish.  Right off the bat in his first letter to the young preacher, St. Paul has to tell him to stay put and do the hard work, take his lumps, and rejoice in suffering for the Gospel God has given him to proclaim, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).  That Gospel, Paul says, has given the Apostle himself strength, and will strengthen Timothy to keep the charge.  Paul pulls no punches.  It won’t be easy.  It will take prayer and dedicated study and preaching of the Word.  Not just anybody should be a pastor, or a deacon for that matter, even if they desire the noble task.  It wouldn’t kill us to re-read the list of qualifications in First Timothy 3 regularly, as Paul gives us a pastoral theology beyond compare.  It is important for us to keep these things before our eyes, because, Paul says, pitfalls and stones of stumbling await us around every corner.  Many who are with us will turn out to be against us and depart from the faith.  Suffering is a promise.  There is a personal cost to it all.  The preacher will suffer rejection, and even persecution, as a good servant of Christ Jesus, the Crucified, for the servant is not above his Master.  False teachers will abound.  The preacher must fight the good fight of faith, and there will necessarily be casualties.  These are the things they don’t tell us until after Seminary.  But then, we should have known better, because it’s all right there in the Bible, spelled out for us in First Timothy. 

Which brings us to our text in Second Timothy Chapter 1.  Things are not much easier for Timothy, and now Paul, his spiritual father, is on his way to martyrdom.  Paul prays for Timothy from the dungeon, constantly, night and day.  Timothy sheds his tears for Paul.  In times of suffering, it’s back to the basics, and in particular, the Promises, the Gospel, Jesus.  Timothy, I’m reminded of your faith, Paul says.  You know, the faith you learned from infancy on the knees of your grandmother, Lois, and your mother, Eunice, a faith that now dwells in you (v. 5).  The faith you learned as a child is no different than the faith you now preach in the face of much opposition.  It is the same Lord Jesus who loves you, this you know.  But you’ve grown up into this faith, and now you’ve received an Office, the preaching Office, by the laying on of my hands.  And that did not come without a gift.  It is the gift of God, a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control (vv. 6-7).

When a man, like Timothy, is placed into the Preaching Office, the Holy Spirit is present, not to stamp upon the man some indelible character a la the Roman priesthood (you can call me a sacerdotalist, and you may be right, but this isn’t that), but by the Word to bestow gifts on the sinful man now entrusted with a ministry.  The man is not sufficient of himself.  Timothy is not sufficient.  You, brother, are not sufficient.  But God is.  And He does not forsake the man… He does not forsake you. 

Power, He gives: δυνάμεως, dynamite!  Well, we like that word, but I’m not so sure we know what it means.  I took a chance and looked it up.  Not just power… Ability.  Capability.  Capacity.  But for the disciple, and so for the preacher, always under the cross, under suffering, and that which, to all appearances, is the opposite of power.  Paul learned this first-hand with his thorn in the flesh.  My grace is sufficient for you, for my δύναμις is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9; ESV mostly). 

Love.  You know this one: ἀγάπης.  It is the love with which Christ loves us and gave Himself for us to the death of the cross for our redemption.  This is self-sacrificial love.  It expects nothing in return.  It does not love because the beloved is loveable or worthy of love, but because this love is good.  It loves because it declares the beloved loved.  It lays it all on the line, suffers, gives everything, even to death, for the sake of, for the good of… ah, not just those who receive and appreciate that love, but even those who will reject it and kill the love-giver.  That is the love the preacher is to have for his people, and as you know from first-hand experience, if you’re in any way honest about it, it is a love of which you fall far short.  Especially with a few of your… beloved sheep.  Timothy, too.  He knows that problem.  I’m not excusing you.  Repent.  Me too.  But look what the text says.  This isn’t a love that comes from you, down in your heart.  It comes from the Spirit.  It is the gift of God, for all Christians, to be sure, but in this text, particularly for the preacher. 
And self-control: σωφρονισμοῦ.  In addition to self-control or moderation in terms of behavior, we could translate it as soundness of mind.  Why not both?  A mind set on the pattern of sound words, as Paul says, is a mind of faith and love in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13).  That’s as sound as it gets in the midst of the cacophony of spiritual storm and war that rages all around the preacher.  And that kind of soundness bears fruit in controlled and deliberate pastoral behavior.  What do faith and love demand of me in this difficult situation?  What Word of God is called for?  It is Spirit-sanctified slow-motion in the mind while chaos wreaks demonic havoc on all sides.  This, too, is God’s gift to the preacher.

And these are given, not because the preacher is Somebody, or anybody, but because God is the preacher’s sufficiency.  So that he is not ashamed of the testimony (μαρτύριον) of our Lord (v. 8), which is the Gospel of Christ, but is ready to share in suffering, even as Paul is in prison and about to lose his head, even as Timothy bears rejection and the apostasy of those he loves and has given his all for, even as you bear the holy cross of anxious ἀγάπη for those you love and serve, and have undoubtedly suffered rebuke, rejection, and someday maybe even persecution, as a good servant of Christ Jesus.  I’m not entirely sure what you suffer, but I know you do, because that is what we are promised here.  It is the lot for the preacher. 

God, who saved us, has called us to a holy calling (v. 9).  We are appointed to proclaim the purpose and grace of God which has now been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the vey Gospel we are given to proclaim (vv. 9-10).  That is why you suffer, according to Paul (v. 12).  But be not ashamed.  Fan into flame the gift that is yours by the Holy Spirit who has set you apart for this very thing.  Preach the Gospel.  With power, made perfect in weakness.  With love that flows from Christ the Crucified through you to your flock.  With the soundness of a mind set on Jesus Christ and His pattern of sound words.  God has not and will not forsake you.  He has outfitted you for this ministry.  Hold fast to Him.  Guard the good deposit.  Which is to say, preach it.  And stay the course.  Take your lumps and rejoice.  Even if the flashing of cold steel severs your sound mind from your neck.  You know whom you have believed.  And you know without a doubt that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to you (v. 12).  He is faithful.  He will surely do it.  We know that.  Because He is risen from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22C)
October 6, 2019
Text: Luke 17:1-10
             Jesus said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6; ESV).  Have you ever tried this?  Go stand in front of a tree, concentrate really hard on believing in Jesus enough, and then speak the command: “Be uprooted and planted in the midst of the sea!”  What happens?  I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts the tree just stands there where it always has, roots planted firmly in the ground.  What does this mean?  Does it mean you don’t have enough faith?  Do you need to drum up even more faith within yourself?  Does it mean Jesus was lying when He made this promise?  Does it mean God can’t deliver?  Where is the deficiency?  In you?  In God?  In your Bible translation?  As is so often the case with Jesus and His Word, there is more going on here than meets the eye.  First of all, let’s just agree that, as Jesus says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7), which is precisely what you would be doing if you did this little experiment with the mulberry tree.  You must first ask if it is God’s will that the mulberry tree be so moved.  And if not, God is unlikely to give you the power to move it.
            But what is really the point of what our Lord says here?  Is He really concerned about you moving trees with your faith?  Jesus has just told the disciples to do some impossible things.  Never lead your neighbor into temptation, whether by encouraging or participating with him in his sin, or tacitly condoning his sin by your silence.  When your neighbor sins, rebuke him, and (and this is the hardest part), if he repents, forgive him.  No matter what he’s done.  No matter how many times he’s done it.  If he sins against you seven times in one day, and seven times repents, you are to forgive him.  Or, as our Lord answers Peter’s question elsewhere, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” … “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21-22).  Well, you all know from experience how difficult, nay, impossible, these commandments are to fulfill.  Never lead your neighbor into temptation?  Every child has broken that one.  Rebuke your brother when he sins?  No way, that would hurt our relationship.  It’s too hard.  And then the really tough one.  Forgive.  As Christ has forgiven you, forgive your brother who sins against you.  And how has Christ forgiven you?  He died for you.  Forgiving you killed Him, literally.  That’s how you are to forgive.  And of course you must recognize that you sin against Him more than seven times, or even seventy-seven times in a day, but there He is, holding out His pierced hands to you, ready to receive you back, covering your sins by His blood. 
            You forgive that way.  Impossible!  And you’re right.  The apostles recognize this, too.  They understand that this is impossible for them to do by their own strength.  They know that they need something from the Lord, from outside of them, to be able to do this.  So they pray to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).  It is a prayer that we also pray, constantly.  This is going to take a lot, this not leading into temptation, this rebuking, this forgiving.  This is going to take more than we have within ourselves.  Lord, increase our faith!  
            What is interesting, though, is how Jesus answers this prayer.  He doesn’t answer by giving them an increasing quantity of faith.  He simply says that if they have faith, and they do, then they can do the impossible, even saying to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would do it.  Faith, even as small as a mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, can do the impossible, like forgive the brother who sins against you.  Yes, it can.  
            Now, I’m not talking about having warm and fuzzy feelings about that brother.  I’m talking about you dying for that brother’s sin, dying to yourself, taking it on the chin.  I’m talking about you loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).  You understand that when you pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” you are essentially saying, “Lord, forgive me all my sins.  And I am publicly stating here in this prayer that I forgive everyone who has sinned against me.”  There is an objective quality about this forgiveness.  Again, I’m not talking about how you feel toward that brother who has sinned against you.  I’m talking about your objective decision to forgive, even if it kills you, as Christ has forgiven you. 
            “Impossible, Pastor!”  Right.  Just like the mulberry tree.  What is going on with that tree?  A living tree uprooted and planted where it has no hope of survival, namely, the salty sea.  And there it is to go on living, to thrive even.  Impossible.  
            There is another tree, the tree of life, the tree of the cross, which is planted in the most inhospitable environment, in the heart of the sinner.[1]  In your heart!  And there the impossible happens.  This tree that bears the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ takes deep root in you and produces the fruit of living faith in Christ.  This happens as the Word is preached, as Baptism washes and waters, as by the Supper Jesus’ blood courses through your veins.  And you find that something amazing happens.  You want to do what your Lord commands.  You want to forgive.  You want to do your duty of love toward your brother.  Oh, it’s still hard.  Very hard.  You can’t do it by your own power.  But you can do it in Christ.  You can do it in Christ who forgives your sinful inability to forgive.  You can do it in Christ who died for you that you might die for your brother.  You can do it in Christ, who is risen from the dead and gives you to walk in newness of life, who here and now dispenses to you eternal life by His Word and Sacraments.  You can do it by faith.  The righteous, the justified one, shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4). 
            Now, I’m not going to lie.  You will struggle with this forgiveness business and love for your neighbor until the day you die.  Because of your sinful nature.  Don’t worry about that.  Christ took care of your sinful nature in His death on the cross.  Your sinful nature has been drowned in Baptism and will ultimately be put to death forever when you go to heaven.  But even if you are successful at forgiving your brother (and when you are, praise be to God!), you haven’t done anything worthy of boasting.  When you have done what your Lord has commanded, you are simply to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).  In fact, you haven’t even done your duty, as evidenced by your struggle to forgive.  But here is the Good News.  You have a Lord who has done more than His duty.  He has done it for you and in your place.  It is He who prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), as the Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing and He hung there on the tree to pay for your sins.  There He won the victory over your sin and death.  He is risen from the dead.  And now what does He do for you?  He says to you precisely what He says in our text a master would NOT say to his servants: “Come at once and recline at table” (Luke 10:7).  Come and let me serve you.  I have prepared a Feast, my Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And at this Holy Meal you will be given faith and strengthened to do the impossible: to forgive as I have forgiven you. 
            Now, you may not be successful in your little mulberry tree experiment, and because we know we shouldn’t put God to the test, I recommend you don’t even try.  But by faith you can do the impossible.  You can forgive your brother.  You can do it because Christ has done it for you.  You can do it because Christ does it in you.  Christ died for you.  Christ died for your brother.  In His death on the tree, He has reconciled us to God and to one another.  And His cross has been planted in our hearts for the increase of our faith, to accomplish what is impossible.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

[1] I am indebted to Pr. Mark Love for this analogy.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

St. Michael and All Angels

St. Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2019
Text: Dan. 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Rev. 12:7-12; Matt. 18:1-11
            The Prophet Elisha and his servant are holed up in Dothan.  The King of Syria is in hot pursuit.  Elisha must be captured and put to death, for by the word of the Prophet, God has been protecting the nation of Israel from Syrian assault.  The Syrian army surrounds Dothan.  “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17; ESV).
            So it is for the people of God.  The enemies arrayed against us are colossal.  There is the devil and his evil angels (more on them in a moment).  There is the world, which is hostile to Christ and His people, the Church.  There is your own sinful nature, which believes the lies of the devil and the world and is all too willing to capitulate to their temptations.  These surround the holy city, the Church of God, and to all appearances, guarantee our defeat and ultimately our destruction.  But if the Lord would open our eyes to see the spiritual reality that surrounds us, we would not only see the demonic hoards that seek to do us harm, but the holy angels gathered around us for our defense.  And we would realize that those who are with us are more than those who are against us.  Christ Himself fights for us and has already conquered our enemies by His death and resurrection.  And now He has given us the protection of the angel host, so that we need not fear.  We are safe and can rest secure.  Though the battle rages between the forces of good and evil, holiness and wickedness, the war is won in the blood of the Crucified.  And His angels have been dispatched to guard us in all our ways, to bear us up lest we strike our foot against a stone (Ps. 91:12). 
            Who are these majestic beings, the holy angels?  Well, they are not the souls of the dead.  When Grandma dies, heaven doesn’t “gain another angel.”  That’s from cartoons and popular American spirituality, but it’s not the Bible.  Angels are a special creation of God.  They were created in the beginning, ministering spirits who do the will of God.  They are not smiling naked babies with wings as we so often represent the Cherubim.  Nor are they the serene feminine beings we place on top of our Christmas trees.  They are fearsome creatures, mighty warriors who do the bidding of God, fight against the devil and the evil angels, and aid us in our Christian life.  Angels are spirits.  They are personal beings that do not have a physical body.  They are described in various ways in Holy Scripture, so that an exact description of them is beyond our ability.  Isaiah describes the Seraphim, one particular order of angels, as having six wings: with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly (Is. 6:2).  The Cherubim, another order of angels, were charged with guarding the door to Paradise with a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24).  Likenesses of Cherubim were set over the Ark of the Covenant, where God dwelt with the people of Israel (Ex. 25:18-22).  Ezekiel describes these strange and wonderful creatures in his 10th Chapter: “as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went…  And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around… And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle” (vv. 10-12, 14; ESV).  So much for our Christmas angels! 
            The angels are neither male nor female, though they are most often described in masculine terms.  They were created sometime during the six days of creation, and sometime before the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, there was a rebellion among the angels.  Since this rebellion, the holy angels have been confirmed in their holiness, they cannot fall; the evil angels have been confirmed in their wickedness and condemnation, they cannot repent.  Originally created as holy angels, Lucifer (Light Bearer) and the angels that followed him in his rebellion were cast out of heaven to spend eternity separated from God.  Our Lord Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).  In his vision, St. John sees the evil dragon sweep a third of the stars of heaven out of the sky with his tail, the dragon being the devil and the stars being the angels that fell (Rev. 12:4).  The name “Satan” is Hebrew for “adversary.”  The name “devil” is Greek for “accuser.”  His name indicates his nature.  He is our adversary, “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  He seeks to lead us with him into eternal damnation.  He accuses us before God and before our own conscience, seeking to lead us into despair.  He tempts us to sin and unbelief and causes untold damage spiritually and physically.  St. Paul calls him the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” who is “cast out” by the redeeming work of Christ (John 12:31; cf. John 14:30, 16:11).  Though the devil is a powerful angel, we need not fear him, for by His death and resurrection our Lord Jesus has “disarmed the rulers and authorities [demonic beings] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15). 
            The word “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos,” meaning “messenger.”  The holy angels are God’s messengers.  They are His special agents dispatched for our physical and spiritual protection.  “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).  And yet, at the same time they are guarding and protecting us, they are ever in the presence of God.  Jesus says in our Gospel, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” meaning certainly the children, but also all of God’s children, all Christians… “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).  That means that even as they are present with you, they are present with God, have direct access to Him, and do His bidding for your good.  What a comfort!  Their job is to help you, to protect you physically and spiritually for the sake of your salvation.  Some of them may even appear visibly among us in human form, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).  And these angels, they are a countless host.  As they serve and help you, they simultaneously sing praise to God in heaven.  St. John saw a vision of this in the Revelation: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Rev. 5:11-12).  And what is amazing is that we join them in this reality when we gather around the altar to laud and magnify the glorious Name of God “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” 
            The angels help us in our worship, and as God’s messengers, they are always directing us to Christ and His saving Gospel.  So the angels announced the coming of the Lord Jesus to Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25).  They hailed His birth to the shepherds tending their flocks by night (Luke 2:8-15).  An angel rolled back the stone of Jesus’ tomb and was the first preacher of the Resurrection (Matt. 28:1-7; John 20:12).  It is the angels who will announce with trumpet sound our Lord’s coming again to judge the living and the dead (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16).  And if we only had eyes to see, we would marvel at the many and various ways they direct our ears to the hearing of God’s Word in Scripture and preaching.  Angels, messengers of God, indeed. 
            And what good news they bring.  Here you are surrounded on all sides by your three main enemies: the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  The yawning jaws of death and hell are eager to swallow you whole.  But you are of good courage.  You do not lose heart.  Because by faith you know that what was true for Elisha is true for you.  Those who are with you are more than those who are against you.  He who gave His Son into death, washing away your sins by the holy and precious blood of Christ, will not betray you into the hands of the enemy.  He has surrounded you with His holy angels, horses and chariots of fire, to protect you, body and soul.  And when your last hour comes and you take your last breath, the holy angels will carry you to heaven to be with the Savior (Luke 16:22).  You see, you are never alone.  Not even in death.  Christ is with you.  And His holy angels are an impregnable wall of defense around you, mighty warriors who fight for you.  And they and you have conquered Satan and his hoard by the blood of the Lamb and by His holy Word (Rev. 12:11).  Thanks be to God for the holy angels.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

Pastor’s Pulpit for October 2019
The Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23; ESV).

Joy (cara [chara] in Greek) is not the same thing as happiness.  Not if we understand happiness as only good feelings in the heart, a positive disposition of the mind, and a smile on the face.  Christians are not always happy in that sense.  How could we be?  There is much to be sad about in this fallen world and in our fallen flesh.  But we do always have joy.  Christian joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is its source.  It is rooted in the redemption and forgiveness of sins and eternal life we have through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It flows from faith in Christ and the sure and certain knowledge that our Father in heaven loves us.  And so Christian joy abides and perseveres even in the midst of great sorrow and suffering.  This is why St. Paul can write from a prison cell: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). 

Some people think a Christian must always be happy and smile.  This comes out of American pop-Christianity.  Frankly, it’s fake.  It is a denial of reality.  Sad things happen in a fallen world.  Christians weep.  We weep over sin.  We grieve over death.  We hurt.   We suffer.  We suffer sickness and injury and loss.  We suffer guilt and regret.  We suffer persecution from others.  These things may cause us to feel emotions that are less than pleasant. 

Christian joy is not an emotion in this sense.  Though it may sometimes be felt as the emotion of happiness, at other times it is hidden to sight and known only by faith.  We know we have joy, even when we don’t feel it, because we know we have Christ.  And having Christ, we have salvation, life, forgiveness of sins, and all things… “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

Christian joy is not based on the present set of visible circumstances, but on the knowledge by faith of God’s steadfast love and favor for Christ’s sake, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things, the undoing of evil and the triumph of the good, when Christ comes again in glory.  That is to say, we know the end of the story.  Disney movies can be quite stressful when it appears that the wicked queen just might win.  Maybe the prince isn’t going to make it in time.  Maybe Snow White will stay dead forever.  But then, we know that in Disney movies, they all live happily ever after.  So we’re certain as we watch the movie, even when all seems hopeless and the princess lies dead, that the prince will come and give her the kiss of resurrection, life, and love.  So we enjoy the movie, even when we get to the sad parts, or the scary parts.  The end is coming, and all will be well.

We know that Christ, who died for our sins, is risen from the dead.  He lives and reigns.  He rules all things for the good of His beloved, His Bride, the Church, us!  And He is coming back for us, to take us to Himself, to the eternal Wedding Feast, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, where God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).  Then there will only be joy, unencumbered by grief and sadness.  Then feelings of happiness will always accompany the joy we now know by faith, but not always by sight.

Jesus tells His disciples frankly that they have sorrow now (John 16:22).  In their case, it was because of His impending death on the cross.  In our case, it is because of sin and death and their effects in this life.  But the Lord brings about a turn of sorrow into joy.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (v. 20).  How?  Why?  Because Jesus is risen from the dead.  And the disciples, and we, will see Him!  “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (v. 22). 

What finally turns our sorrow into joy?  Jesus, who was crucified for our sins, is risen from the dead!  And He will raise us!  And so we even “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

Joy gives birth to rejoicing.  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5).  “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (v. 11).  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Even in sadness.  Even in the face of death.  Grieve, yes, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13 ff.).  Grieve as Christians.  Which is to say, rejoicing always.  For joy is God’s gift to you.  Joy is a direct result of Christ for you.  O Lord, give us an increase in the fruits of the Spirit, especially joy in your great salvation.  We ask it for Jesus’ sake, our Savior and our Joy.  Amen.

Pastor Krenz

The Fruits of the Spirit: Love

Pastor’s Pulpit for September 2019
The Fruits of the Spirit: Love

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23; ESV).

This month we begin a series of newsletter articles on the Fruits of the Spirit as St. Paul lists them in Galatians 5.  The Holy Spirit gives us living faith in Christ by means of Holy Baptism and the preaching of God’s Word.  We might call this the planting of faith.  This is no decision of our own or act of our will.  It is God’s work in us, by grace: “by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Faith in Christ is God’s gracious gift to us, and we are saved by faith alone.  But faith is never alone.  For as faith grows and is nurtured and strengthened by the water of Baptism, the preaching of the Word, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Supper of our Lord’s body and blood, it begins to bear fruit.  And the fruit of faith is love and good works.  It is the fruit that the Spirit produces, that He works through us.  Again, it is all His gift.  We call this “sanctification,” as we begin to do the holy works of our calling: “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  The virtues listed here in this list, and the good works that are their concrete expression, are not done to earn salvation or favor with God.  That is all done in Christ.  These flow from that.  These are the fruit of faith.

The first is love.  Agape in Greek.  This is the kind of love Jesus has for us in giving himself on the cross for our sins.  It is self-sacrificial love.  It is the love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Needless to say, of ourselves, we are incapable of this kind of love.  Try this thought experiment: Replace the word “love” with your name in the passage from 1 Cor. 13, and see if it is true.  You will come to the horrifying conclusion that this cannot be a description of you.  But now replace the word “love” with “Jesus.”  Ah, yes.  Now it is true.  This love is Jesus’ love.  And it is that love that flows from the Spirit through you by faith and begins to produce its fruit toward your neighbor.  You actually begin (haltingly, imperfectly, sometimes begrudgingly [because it kills your Old Adam!], but really and truly) to love and serve your neighbor.  To be patient with him, and kind to him, in spite of all his sins and faults.  To put away your own rights and preferences.  To put your neighbor first, above yourself.  Even to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the neighbor, as Christ sacrificed Himself for you.  This is a love that expects nothing in return.  It loves the unworthy, the ungrateful, and even and especially those who reject this love.  That is what it means that it bears all things and endures all things.

Often this love must say and do hard things.  Like admonish a neighbor to repent of sin.  Call a fellow Christian back to Church who has absented himself.  Tell a loved one that what they are doing is harmful to the self, to others, and separates that loved one from God.  This love disciplines children for their good.  It teaches.  It speaks up for the defenseless.  It defends the lives and property and reputations of others.  It takes persecution and rejection as rewards for its efforts.  It dies to self.  It forgives.  Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  That is to say, it covers over the sins of those who sin against you.  It releases your neighbor from guilt.

Your loving your neighbor in this way is Christ loving your neighbor through you.  For this reason, it is at the head of the list.  And in spite of the editorial decisions of our English translators, I would change the punctuation of the list of fruits in Galatians 5.  I would put a colon after love.  The rest of the fruits are the unpacking of this first and most important fruit, and they flow from it.  The Fruit of the Spirit is Love: Joy, Peace, Patience…” etc., etc. (Pastor Krenz Unauthorized Translation of the Bible, hereafter PKUTB).  Though our love does not save us, St. Paul says that as a virtue, love is even greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13).  For faith and hope have their fulfillment in heaven.  Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:8).

As you’ve heard me say so often, this love is not an emotion.  It is decision and action.  It is first Christ’s decision to love us and give Himself up for us, to sanctify us and cleanse us from our sins so that He might present us to Himself in splendor, spotless, holy, and blameless (Eph. 5:25-27), and shower upon us His every good gift.  And now, as those baptized into Christ, one with Christ, His Body, His Bride, it is our calling and joy to decide to love our neighbor and give ourselves up for our neighbor in the Name of our Bridegroom, Christ.  Christ’s love flows through us and to our neighbor.  Or as St. John puts it, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19; ESV; in agreement with PKUTB).

Our love will be perfect in heaven.  How much less strife and bitterness, contention and controversy would there be if we loved one another more and better here and now!  Let us pray daily for an increase of the fruits of the Spirit in the Church and in our own lives of faith, namely, Love: Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  God grant it for Jesus’ sake. 

Pastor Krenz