Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29C)
November 24, 2019
Text: Luke 23:27-43
            What comes to mind when you think of a king?  A crown, of course.  A throne.  Maybe a scepter.  Certainly castles and palaces, riches and glory, military might and political power.  Perhaps also a royal family.  A queen to sit beside the king on his throne.  Princes and princesses.  Courtiers, that is, royal attendants and advisors.  The Last Sunday in the Church Year is often celebrated as Christ the King Sunday, and this morning’s Holy Gospel is that appointed for the day.  But that may strike us as odd, because the picture painted of our King Jesus in this reading is not at all consistent with the image that comes to mind when we think of kings… Or is it? 
            Could it be that our image of what it means to be a king is, like so many things in our fallen and sinful minds, skewed, bent, twisted?  In our Holy Gospel, which preaches to us the precious blood and innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ to save us, the whole scene is inundated with misunderstandings of what it means that Jesus rules, that Jesus is the King.  Pilate, the representative of that greatest of earthly powers, the Roman Empire, gets it right, albeit in spite of himself.  He nails the charge to the cross above Jesus’ sacred head: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38; ESV).
            But everyone misunderstands what this means.  The people stand by as passive spectators.  Just another shameful death of another shameful criminal.  The rulers, that is, the members of the Jewish Council, scoff: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (v. 35).  They echo the evil one’s temptation in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3, 9).  The soldiers mock, pretending to offer Him the royal cup, sour wine, swill, advising “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (23:36).  So also one of the criminals crucified with Him: “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us” (v. 38).  You see, the skewed, bent, twisted idea of what it means to be a king, and in fact, Messiah, the Christ, the Elect of God, the true Son of David, is that the King looks out for number one!  He is first of all to save himself!  Is this not what the Roman emperors do?  And the Herods?  And Pilate, who perverts justice and condemns and innocent man just to save his own neck?  Think what our own politicians will do just to hang on to power, never mind to save their own lives!  And then, having saved himself, the king is to wield all his political power and military might to obliterate his enemies in a blaze of glory.  That is what everyone was looking for in Jesus, disciples included.  But there He is, hanging naked and bleeding on the tree of execution, condemned by church and state, cursed by God.  Surely this is no king!
            But we’ve missed it!  The duty of a king is not to save himself.  The duty of a king is to expend himself for his kingdom, for his citizens.  Again Pilate… He got it right, and he didn’t even know it.  Jesus is the King of the Jews, and of all people, precisely in His death on the cross for the Jews and for all people, for sinners, for you; to purchase for Himself a Kingdom by His own blood; to free you from your captivity to sin, to death, to the devil; to make you His own so that you live under Him in His Kingdom, so that sins forgiven and His own righteousness given you as a gift, you now serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Crowned with thorns, from the throne of the cross, Jesus reigns.  And from His throne He pronounces the royal judgment: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v. 34).  He is speaking about those who are there, crucifying the Lord.  He is speaking of you who have crucified Him with your sins.  As King, He commands the soldiers.  They think they are in charge of this operation, but in reality, Jesus has brought about this course of events.  Nothing happens apart from His saving will.  Even Pilate did not act by his own authority, but by that which was given him from above (John 19:11).  And most importantly, as King, Jesus fights against the enemies of His Kingdom and defeats them.  By His death.  He sacrifices Himself.  And the devil loses his grip on everything.  Sin lies slain on the battlefield.  Death has swallowed a bitter Morsel that will rip a hole right through his guts and open the way to Life. 
            There is one, and only one, who sees all of this take place and gets it.  It is the other criminal.  He has heard the preaching of forgiveness, the gracious Words of the King who pardons His treasonous subjects.  He beheld the royal valor, the selfless kingly sacrifice, the love of the King for those He so graciously rules.  And this criminal confesses his sins.  His condemnation is just.  He is receiving the due reward for his deeds.  But Jesus… Jesus has done nothing wrong.  Jesus is innocent.  Jesus is righteous.  And Jesus will not save Himself.  But He will and does save us!  He is our only hope.  Jesus,” my King, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  And the King’s Promise, His answer to the petition of His subject: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).  Jesus has the authority to grant it.  He rules.  He is the King.
            Well, you know the rest of the story.  There is the darkness, the tearing of the Temple curtain, Jesus calling out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (v. 46).  And then, it is finished.  Having said this he breathed his last.”  The centurion in attendance realizes, all at once, and too late, that this Jesus is a righteous man (v. 47).  And the crowds, many of whom had hoped to see Jesus lead a glorious revolution, went home beating their breasts (v. 48).  Jesus was buried in a sealed tomb, and along with Him, all the hopes of His disciples. 
            And then what?  The Third Day!  He is arisen!  Jesus stands triumphant on the field!  The tomb is no longer sealed.  All of His enemies have been defeated, put to utter shame.  And you… you have been freed.  You are no longer a slave.  Not to sin.  Not to Satan.  And you will not die.  You’ve been raised to new life in Jesus, who is risen from the dead; in Jesus, into whom you are baptized; in Jesus, your Savior and your King. 
            Now this Jesus, who loves you, rules.  He has ascended into heaven, and His throne is no longer the cross, but His seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  His crown is no longer a garland of thorns, but the royal diadem of righteousness and heavenly glory.  His scepter is the rod and staff of His Word by which He rules His people.  His power and might are His death and His life.  His castle is the Church on earth, the fortress by which He defends His Christians and keeps them alive.  His palace is the Church in heaven, where His own dwell with Him in paradise.  His Queen is His beloved Bride for whom He gave Himself into death, to sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water and the Word, to present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).  That is our Mother, the Church.  And we, you and I, beloved, are the princes and princesses, children of the heavenly Father, heirs with Christ of His Kingdom.  He has redeemed us for this very purpose.  We are born of the water and the Word.  We are nourished at the King’s Table, with His own sacrifice, His very body and blood.  We are His riches, His glory, His joy.  And the courtiers, the holy angels, attend the King and us.  All hail!  Christ Jesus reigns!  Long live the King.  Forever live the King. 
            And you, too.  For the King remembers you, having come into His Kingdom.  And truly He says to you, on that day when you close your eyes here, you will be with Him in paradise.  Beloved, stop looking to politicians to deliver you heaven on earth.  Stop looking to your money or your leisure or the stuff of this life, or to any of your idols.  Repent of all of that.  You have paradise in Jesus.  He is the King.  He’s the only one.  He did not deliver you in the way you expected.  He did not deliver you according to your skewed and bent and twisted notions of kingship.  He delivered you the only way you could be delivered.  God’s way.  The way of the cross.  The way of sacrifice.  The way of resurrection and life.  Confess your sins and die with Him.  He forgives you and saves you.  He raises you up and gives you life.  This is the King of the Jews.  This is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.  This is your King and your God.  You belong to Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

The Fruits of the Spirit: Patience

Pastor’s Pulpit for December 2019
The Fruits of the Spirit: Patience

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).

The fruits of the Spirit are gifts of God in Christ, to be received by faith.  The love with which we love our neighbor is first of all the love of Christ for us, who gave Himself into death for us to redeem us (Eph. 5:25).  The joy we have even in the midst of sorrow and suffering is first of all the joy set before Christ, the joy of redeeming us, for which He endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2).  The peace we now know and experience with God and extend to our neighbor is first of all the peace of sins forgiven on account of the saving work of Christ, the peace imparted in Holy Absolution (John 20:22-23).  Each of these gifts flows from the wounds of Christ.  They are given to us in Holy Baptism as we are joined to Christ and become one with Him, members of His Body.

Which brings us to patience (μακροθυμία [makrothumia] in Greek).  The word could also be translated “steadfastness, endurance, forbearance.”  It includes both the idea of remaining faithful to the Lord while waiting upon Him in difficult circumstances, and being patient toward others.

This is first of all a description of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He remained faithful to His Father while suffering, waiting upon Him for deliverance.  And He was patient with others, His disciples who never seemed to get it, the crowds who only wanted to see miracles and be healed and fed, the Jewish leaders who were always seeking to trap Him in His words, the soldiers who mocked Him and crucified Him.  He is patient with us in our sins and failures, forgiving us and loving us.  Indeed, the common Old Testament confession of faith captures our Lord’s patience with us: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8; ESV).

Consider how our Lord Jesus set the pattern of Christian suffering in patient faith that God will deliver.  St. Peter writes, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly… For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:19, 21-23).  See how His patient endurance while relying on His Father extended to patience with those who were crucifying Him, including you and me who crucified Him by our sins?  He knew His vindication was coming in His resurrection, and His joy in saving us for Himself for all eternity sustained Him in His suffering. 

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He died for our sins, and we are His forgiven people, declared righteous for His sake.  And now we have the Promise.  He will raise us from the dead on that Day.  We belong to Him.  We will live with Him forever.  So there is no suffering we cannot endure with patience, waiting on the Lord to deliver us.  We know He will.  We know our suffering is not forever.  We know our Lord is using our suffering to accomplish His will for us.  We “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  That doesn’t mean the suffering won’t be hard at the time.  That doesn’t mean we won’t hurt or be sad.  But we know how this ends.  The Lord will deliver.  He always does.  He is faithful.  So we can wait.  Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse famously said, “The Church can wait, for it does have a future” (“The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council,” in The Lonely Way, Volume II, Trans. Matthew C. Harrison et al. [St. Louis: Concordia, 2002] p. 328).  Our future, together as the Church and each one individually, is eternal life in Christ.

So we can be patient with our neighbor, who gives us ample opportunity to exercise patience.  Patience is both a faith word (waiting upon the Lord) and a love word (bearing with our neighbor and forgiving his sins against us).  The Lord is patient with us: He “is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  In faith, we wait patiently upon the Lord and His deliverance: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7).  “You also, be patient.  Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).  In love, we are patient toward others: “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4); “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14); “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:12-13).

Be patient.  Maybe give your neighbor a break.  So the rude guy cut you off in traffic.  So what?  Forgive, as Christ forgives.  After all, you’ve probably cut somebody off a time or two.  So your kids are whining for no good reason.  So what?  You whine to God all the time and He doesn’t even yell at you.  So your co-worker is driving you crazy.  Oh well!  Bear with them, as Christ bears with you.  And watch yourself so that you don’t drive others up the wall.  Do you see how God’s perfect patience with us enables us to be patient with others?  And do you see how that frees us?  And as for suffering, remember: The time is short.  God will deliver.  Jesus is coming back.  He is coming soon.  Wait patiently.   

Let us pray for this gift of God: “O God, by the patient endurance of Your only-begotten Son You beat down the pride of the old enemy.  Help us to treasure rightly in our hearts what our Lord has borne for our sakes that, after His example, we may bear with patience those things that are adverse to us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (LSB 312).  Amen.

Peace and joy in Christ,
Pastor Krenz

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28C)
November 17, 2019
Text: Luke 21:5-36
            Suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, like an unexpected thief in the night, it will happen.  The trumpet will sound and the heavens will be rolled up like a scroll.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will come down on a cloud, in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels.  He will raise all the dead, believers and unbelievers, and all of us, including those left alive on that Day, will be gathered before His throne, where He will judge.  The believers will be judged righteous, having received the righteousness of Christ by faith, and so they will receive eternal life, in their bodies, in the New Creation, the new heavens and earth.  The unbelievers will be judged unrighteous, having only a righteousness of their own, which is, in fact, wickedness and sin, not having received the righteousness of Christ by faith, and so they will receive eternal death, in their bodies, in hell.  See, the Lord has told us beforehand, lest that Day take us unawares.  It could happen at any moment.  It may not happen in your lifetime.  But then again, it may happen this very day.  So be ready.  Stay awake.  Be prepared by being in Jesus, lest you be found naked on that Day.  Jesus is coming.  He is coming soon.  He is coming to judge. 
            In our Holy Gospel, Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Last Day at one and the same time.  When He talks about fleeing for the mountains when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, He is prophesying precisely what happened to Jerusalem in AD 70, the Gentiles trampling the city underfoot, the Romans sacking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple.  The great Temple, a wonder of the ancient world, the dwelling place of God with His Old Testament people… not one stone left upon another.  Well, that has come and gone.  We don’t have to worry about pregnant women and nursing mothers having to run for the hills, because that particular episode has already happened.  This was the judgment for Jerusalem’s rejection and murder of our Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But it is also one sign among many of the Judgment that is to come upon the whole earth.  And just like we know that summer is coming because the fig leaf sprouts, so we should know the Day of Judgment is coming by the signs.  Wars and tumults.  Man-made and natural disasters.  Earthquakes.  Famine.  Pestilence.  Terror and great signs in the heavens.  The persecution and martyrdom of Christians.  9/11.  The war in Afghanistan and the possibilities of a nuclear Iran or a missile from North Korea.  Civil unrest.  Global pandemic.  Bird flue.  Swine flue.  A cancer diagnosis.  The death of a loved one.  These are signs.  Things cannot go on this way forever, calling evil good and good evil, trampling the poor and slaughtering the unborn, worshiping the creature rather than the creator, embracing every perverted fleshly pleasure while denying the one true God.  The End is near.  The Judge is at the door.  Read the signs.  Repent of your sins.  Jesus is coming.
            We’re very good at reading the signs simply as further proof that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Well, it is, but God doesn’t give the signs simply to lead you to despair so that you’ll give up.  No, He’s warning you.  Look at yourself.  Examine yourself.  Repent.  Turn.  Stop living for the flesh, which will be destroyed, along with the whole universe, which will be burned up with fire (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-13).  Those things will pass away.  But God’s Word will not.  Jesus will not.  Live for the New Creation which will appear on that Day, the resurrection universe, where you will live forever in your resurrection body, your body, but risen and made perfect, like Jesus’ resurrected body.  We live for that Day, for that reality. 
            In fact, Jesus says, when you see these signs, all these things taking place, straighten up!  Raise your head.  Your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).  It’s a good Day for you.  It is the Day of your deliverance from all that afflicts you.  We often think of the Last Day as something scary, to be feared.  And in one sense, that’s right.  We should fear it with a godly fear, lest we be lulled into spiritual sleep by the seductive whispers of the devil, the siren song of the world, and the passions of the flesh.  We should always keep awake and alert, which is to say, we should always be repenting of our sins and clinging to Christ in His Word and Sacraments.
            But in another sense, this is not a Day for us to fear.  It is a Day for us to rejoice.  Think again of the signs.  In the very midst of the chaos and destruction, when all appears hopeless and lost, when it seems like evil has won decisively and forever, and God’s wrath has been justly unleashed in all its fury, then, suddenly… Jesus.  All at once, there is Jesus.  Then you will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (v. 27).  And that Day is the Day of your deliverance. 
            This is the way God works in the matter of our salvation.  It is the way of the cross.  Think about that Day, Good Friday, which is really the beginning of the Last Day.  That Day is our judgment and the punishment of our sins.  There in the darkness, as the crowds jeer and God bows His bloodied head in death, all appears hopeless and lost.  It seems like evil, the very devil, sin, death, hell, have won decisively and forever.  And it is certain that there, in that place and at that moment, God indeed unleashed His righteous wrath in all its fury.  The Son of God, buried in the earth, a great stone rolled over the tomb to keep Him in it.  But just then, suddenly, and wholly unexpectedly… Easter.  Jesus.  In His death, He was accomplishing His victory over all our enemies, releasing us from slavery.  And now His tomb is empty, the stone rolled away, and there He stands.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            That is God’s verdict.  That is the result of Judgment Day.  The sacrifice has been accepted.  Your sins are forgiven.  The gavel falls as the Judge declares you… not just “not guilty”… not just “innocent”… but righteous!  The Judge declares you righteous.  Sinless.  Holy.  Not with a righteousness, sinlessness, or holiness of your own, but with that of Jesus Christ, whom He has raised from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus is the justification of the whole world for the sake of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The resurrection of Jesus is your confidence and joy when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. 
            So that being the case, how should we now live as we wait for that Day?  St. Paul tells us in our Epistle (2 Thess. 3:1-13).  What you don’t do is just sit back and wait for the world to end, as though you don’t have work to do.  Don’t give up.  Live each day fully, in Christ, who has redeemed your life.  Pray and labor for the preaching of the Gospel, that more may be rescued and come into the Kingdom before that Day (v. 1).  Rejoice that God is faithful, and will establish and guard you against the evil one (v. 3).  Do not be idle, for the one who is not willing to work shall not eat (v. 10).  Love your neighbor and serve in your vocations.  You have responsibilities to your family, your congregation, your community.  Fulfill them.  Serve, as serving the Lord, for that is what you are doing.  Do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13).  We should always live as though the Lord were coming back tomorrow, and at the same time as though He will not come back for a thousand years.  We should be ready for Him now.  But so also, we should love and serve as an investment in the future.  We do not know when He is coming again, and that is the point.  That isn’t our business.  What is our business is the welfare of our neighbor.  So get to work.
            And Jesus adds, watch yourself, lest your heart be weighed down with dissipation (that is a heart scattered in various directions by the passions of the flesh) or with drunkenness and the cares of this life (Luke 21:34).  Don’t be distracted by the stuff of this life and this fallen world.  Cling to Jesus and His Word.  Be in Church, always, receiving the gifts by which Jesus sustains you in the holy faith.  Remember your Baptism.  Hear and believe the Absolution and the Preaching.  Read the Scriptures.  Eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.  He is faithful.  He will always give you His Spirit in these means of grace to keep you safe for that Day. 
            And never lose heart.  Straighten up.  Raise your head.  Whether Jesus comes back in your lifetime, the plain fact is, at maximum, you only have a few years until He comes back for you.  In other words, you never know when you’re going to die.  Your redemption is drawing near.  And that, my friends, is reason to sing a hearty Alleluia.  Be warned, but even more, be encouraged.  Jesus is coming back.  He is coming back for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Fruits of the Spirit: Peace

Pastor’s Pulpit for November 2019
The Fruits of the Spirit: Peace

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).

Peace (εἰρήνη; [eirenei] in Greek) continues and fulfills the Old Testament idea of Shalom (שָׁלוֹם in Hebrew).  Shalom is the Hebrew word often translated as peace, but it means wholeness physically, emotionally and spiritually.  It includes ideas of wellness, prosperity, harmony, tranquility, and overall welfare.  This was the prayer with which the Hebrews greeted one another: Shalom!  Peace!  Be well in this complete sort of way.  And it is no accident that it sounds an awful lot like our life in Christ as it will be manifest in the resurrection!  Then we will be perfectly whole.  Perfectly well.  Prosperous.  At peace.  Peace, in the Holy Scriptures, is a resurrection word. 

It is also a forgiveness of sins word.  On the evening of that first Easter, remember the disciples were locked away for fear.  Of the Jews, yes.  They were afraid the Jews, or the Romans for that matter, would come for them next.  But their fear was more than that.  They had all forsaken Jesus in His time of need.  They had all deserted Him.  Peter had even thrice denied Him.  And now there were the rumors and the risen Jesus sightings.  Could it be true?  What if it is true?  What if Jesus appeared, suddenly, in the room?  Wouldn’t He justly strike us down in His wrath?  Shouldn’t He cast us all immediately into the pit of hell?  That’s real fear, caused by real sin, perpetrated by real sinners.  So when Jesus does suddenly appear in the room, it is not by accident that this is the first thing He says: “Peace!”  “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26; ESV).  “Peace to you” (Luke 24:36).  And then He backs it up by showing His wounds (John 20:20, 27; Luke 24:40).  “See, I have died for your sins.  All of them.  For deserting me.  For denying me.  For locking yourself away in fear and unbelief.  And I am risen from the dead, victorious over your sin and over death itself.”  As He says to Thomas, so He says to the Twelve, and to us all: “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).  Your sins are forgiven in Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One.  Peace.  The word is nothing short of a Holy Absolution.      

In other words, peace is not first of all a feeling in your heart, or a lack of conflict in the world.  It is first of all a description of your objective (outside of you) reality in Christ, who died for your sins and is risen from the dead.  You have peace.  Your sins are forgiven.  Death is defeated.  You have eternal life.  You will live forever with God.  He will raise you from the dead.  Because that is the case objectively, peace then becomes your subjective (inside of you) reality.  You can begin to feel at peace in your heart and mind and life.  You can bring peace to conflicts with others in the world.  Not perfectly in this life.  There will always be struggle, because in this fallen world and in your fallen flesh, there is still sin.  But you know that Christ has ultimately defeated sin, and you already live in the new reality of Jesus’ sins-forgiven, resurrection peace.

Jesus gives us this peace in His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  It is a pivotal moment in the liturgy when, after the bread and wine have been consecrated and are the very body and blood of Jesus crucified and raised, the sign of cross is made over you and the pastor proclaims, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  In the sacrifice of this very body and blood you are about to eat and drink, Jesus won your peace, and in giving it to you, He gives you His peace, which is to say, His forgiveness and resurrection life.

And having received Jesus’ peace, you can become a peacemaker, which is the particular business of baptized children of God (Matt. 5:9).  That is to say, in your relationships with others, let the mind of Christ rule.  Apply His forgiveness and His new resurrection life to others.  Forgive them.  Regard them as those from whom Christ also died and lives.  “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).  “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).  “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).  “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).  Notice how that last verse is a summary of the idea of Shalom as it comes to fulfillment in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead!

Let us pray: “O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us, Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen” (LSB 233).

Peace in Jesus,
Pastor Krenz

Monday, November 4, 2019

All Saints' Day (Observed)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 3, 2019
Text: Rev. 7:9-17
            Who are these whose names were read at the beginning of the Service, and from where have they come?  These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14; ESV).  That is to say, these dear people, whom we love, whom we miss, are those baptized into Christ, sins forgiven, covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and they have died in Christ, which is to say, they live in Him.  They are the saints in heaven.  They are part of the continuous, ongoing parade of those coming out of the great tribulation.  And the great tribulation is the life of the Christian in exile in this fallen world, with this fallen flesh.  They come out when they die.  They leave this world.  They shed their fallenness, their sinful nature.  But it is not just a coming out.  It is a going in.  They go in to the very throne room of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, where they behold Him face to face… The “Beatific Vision,” we call it, the blessed sight. 
            And notice, they go in, not because they’re pretty good people by whatever subjective human standard we use to judge.  They go in because they are covered with Jesus.  By Baptism.  By faith.  Clothed in white robes.  That is the baptismal garment, the alb.  Radiantly white.  Without spot or wrinkle or stain.  Holy.  Because they have been washed in the blood of the Sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 
            Two things about this: First, this is why, at your funeral, we won’t talk a lot about you, what a great person you were, how much good you did, how we know you’re “in a better place” because God “needed” you with Him to make Him feel good by all  your gosh-darn goodness.  That would be to preach salvation by works.  And it’s nowhere in the Bible, and certainly not in this text.  This text talks about sinners coming out of sin, covered with a righteousness, a goodness, not their own.  It is that of Christ.  It is that of His blood and death.  So when we have your funeral here… and we should have your funeral here.  Write it down and tell your family now… we will talk about Jesus, and how He died for your sins, and how He is risen from the dead and lives for you and brought you to Himself, not by your goodness, but by His, by grace; how you were baptized into Christ, how you heard and learned His Word which He graciously spoke to you, forgiving your sins, feeding you with His very body and blood.  And when we do talk about you, it will be to say that you were a rotten sinner (and we’ll all enjoy the expressions of shock and horror on the part of those who came expecting a eulogy).  But all of this will be to the praise and honor and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ who took your rottenness into Himself and put it to death in His flesh on the cross, who drowned your old sinful nature in Baptism, who is risen from the dead and has raised you now spiritually and will raise you bodily on the Last Day.  Let’s just be clear about this now: That is the preaching of a Christian funeral sermon.  That is what will happen here, and that is what you should want.  There will be plenty of time for us to say how much we loved you, what a dear person you were, and tell all the funny stories about you over casseroles in the fellowship hall. 
            The second thing is, this is what it means to be a saint.  When we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we aren’t just talking about the big ones: Peter, Paul, Mary (which is no reference to your favorite music group), Abraham, King David, Augustine, Luther, Walther, all the holy martyrs.  These are all saints, to be sure, but not because they were great heroes of the Bible or in the history of the Church.  They are saints in the same way our dear Odessa Johnson and the others whose names we read at the beginning of Service are saints.  By grace.  In Christ.  A saint is not someone who never sins.  A saint is not a person with extra holiness to lend to the rest of us poor common sinners.  No such person has ever existed.  Except for Jesus Christ.  Saint means “holy one.”  Jesus is THE Holy One, THE Saint.  The holiness of all others is derivative.  Because Jesus gives His holiness as a gift to the one who has faith in Him.  He dresses us in Himself, robes made white in His blood, Baptism.  Absolution, the forgiveness of sins.  His holy body, His holy blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, now coursing through your veins and enlivening you with His life.  So Peter and Mary are saints, and Odessa is a saint in heaven, basking in the radiant presence of Jesus.  But much to your surprise, you also are a saint.  Because you have the same Jesus, giving you the same righteousness and holiness He gives to Peter and Mary and Odessa.  We just can’t see it yet, this truth about you.  Not with our earthly eyes.  You still look like a sinner, and you still sin, but we know you are a saint by faith, because of what Jesus said of you a few minutes ago in the Service: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.”  A saint is a forgiven sinner.
            And on All Saints’ Day, we celebrate in particular the saints who, while “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine” (LSB 677:4), the saints who have died and are with Christ.  Why commemorate the saints?  At least three reasons: First, thanksgiving.  We thank God for His mercy upon the saints, for forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life, and for giving them as gifts to us and to His Church.  We thank God for our family members and friends who have died in Christ, whom we love and whom we’ll see again in heaven and in the resurrection.  Second, it strengthens our faith when we see God’s faithfulness to them throughout their earthly pilgrimage, from birth to death to birth into heaven to await the resurrection; how He had mercy on them and guided them by His Spirit.  Third, they are examples to us in faith and in life.  We should imitate those who lived earthly lives of faith in Christ and of Christian virtue.  We should follow their pattern, and learn from their mistakes.[1]
            So a saint is one who was dead in trespasses and sins, but has been made alive together with Christ.  Note: You were dead.  Now you are alive.  Here is the progression.  You are born into death as a child of Adam, who sinned.  As we learn from the Catechism, you are born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, dead spiritually and dying physically and eternally.  But Christ has been born into your flesh of the Virgin Mary.  And He has taken Adam’s sin and your sin into Himself, and so He has taken your death.  He died on the cross, for you, in your place, as the just punishment for your sins.  And now He is risen from the dead, and you need not die.  His death was your death, and now His life is your life.  And the way that He applies His death and His life to you is by baptizing you into it, connecting you to it by faith.  He drowns you in Baptism.  You got your death over with at the font, for there you were joined to the death of Christ.  So now you don’t have to fear death.  And, in fact, you already possess eternal life, for in Baptism you were also joined to the resurrection of Christ.  For now, your life is hidden with Christ in God, as St. Paul says (Col. 3:3).  But for this reason, when you physically die, you do not die, for everyone who lives and believes in Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life, will never die (John 11:25-26).  When you die believing in Jesus, your soul goes to heaven, even as your body goes into the ground.  But going to heaven when you die is not yet the goal, beloved.  Don’t think that that is as good as it gets.  There is so much more in store for you as you live in Christ.  On that Day when our Lord returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, to judge the living and the dead, He will raise all the dead.  Bodily.  He will raise you, bodily, even as He is risen, bodily.  And He will give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ, bodily.  And you won’t be floating around somewhere up there in the clouds.  Your life will be on earth.  A resurrection earth.  It will be a bodily, restored, resurrected life on a physical, restored, resurrected world.  Heaven is just the interim.  Resurrection, New Creation, is our hope in all its fulness.  We’re coming back, we’re invading on that Day, to inherit the earth.
            So the saints we celebrate today are in heaven waiting for that.  And in the meantime, we know what they are doing.  They are worshiping God and the Lamb before His throne.  They are singing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  They serve God day and night.  They no longer suffer.  No more hunger.  No more thirst.  No more striking sun or scorching heat.  The Lamb in the midst of the throne is their Good Shepherd who guides them to springs of living water.  And God Himself wipes away every tear from their eyes.  It is a blessed thing to be there.  We long to join them.  And so we do every time we gather here around the body and blood of Jesus.  We sing with them.  We feast with them.  We are with them, for in Jesus, heaven comes down to earth.  And for a moment, we come out of the great tribulation, as we will forever when we join the heavenly procession.  And now clothed in robes cleansed by the very blood of Jesus, led by Him to the living waters, consoled by our dear Father who art in heaven, we are strengthened to go back into the fray until the day we are called out. 
            Then our names will be read in the All Saints’ liturgy.  Or even if they are not, nevertheless, this reading from Revelation will be about us.  We will join that great procession, those coming out, clothed in Jesus, saints, in Jesus.  And we will see Him there on His throne with His Father, and we will sing in the Spirit with the heavenly host, and all will be right and whole and good.  Because of Jesus.  All Saints’ Day is all about Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] Cf. Apol. XXI (IX): 4-7.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Reformation Day

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 27, 2019
Text: Rom. 3:19-28
            But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22; ESV).  Justification, God’s divine verdict, His binding declaration that the sinner is righteous, you are righteous, not with a righteousness of your own, but with the very righteousness of Christ alone, who is your only Savior from sin by virtue of His life, death and resurrection; given freely, by grace alone, without any merit or worthiness in you, apart from all works of the Law; received by faith alone, trust in Jesus Christ, which is not your decision or doing, but God’s gift to you by His Spirit in His Word and Sacraments; made known and certain by Scripture alone, God’s written revelation of His saving will for you: This is the eternal truth that drove the Reformation.  And it’s not just Lutheran, as though Luther did something new in preaching this.  It is St. Paul.  It is the Holy Spirit.  It is God the Father, in the eternal Word that is His Son, Jesus Christ.  It is good to have a Reformation Day, because this day is all about that. 
            In 2017 we celebrated what we called the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.  In some ways, the date of October 31st, 1517, though it has long historical precedent, is a rather arbitrary date for the start of the Reformation.  That’s the day Luther posted the 95 Theses against Indulgences on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.  Very important day, of course, and indulgences were a grievous abuse of the Gospel, pieces of paper with the papal seal selling the forgiveness of sins for money to fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Buy this, preached Tetzel and the other indulgence peddlers, and you can buy your own immunity from the pains of Purgatory, or release the soul of someone you love.  Luther’s opposition to this was a very important part of his evangelical development.  But the dirty little secret is, he wasn’t yet all that reformed.  The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, particularly by the preaching of St. Paul, was working on it.  But we really shouldn’t think of the Lutheran Reformation as a singular event.  It was the unfolding of God’s gracious gift in restoring the pure Gospel to its proper place in the Church’s preaching and practice over time, and for Luther, it was a process of growth into his mature evangelical theology, the theology we call Lutheran.  Which is, again, simply the theology of St. Paul and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            But this is to say, the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation wasn’t just October 31st, 2017.  We’re still in it.  Because each successive year in the rest of our lifetimes will be the 500th Anniversary of the important events and writings that mark this unfolding of God’s grace. 
            By 1519, Dr. Luther was a little more Lutheran.  But not entirely.  He was still a monk, though he had been released from his Augustinian vows.  He still seemed to think the papacy could be salvaged.  Perhaps most seriously, he still granted that Purgatory might be a reality.  He would later come to realize that not only is Purgatory not in the Bible, the idea that one must spend thousands or even millions of years burning off his sins in the afterlife is a direct assault on the Gospel of Christ… that Christ has made full satisfaction for all sins by His suffering and death for sinners on the cross.  If our sins are forgiven freely, fully and completely, for Christ’s sake, there is no room for our own satisfactions (making up for sins) in this life or the next.  Such would be an insult to Christ and make His saving work useless.  But that’s the Luther we have in 1519.  Still growing.  Still learning from the Scriptures.  Being led by the Spirit ever deeper into the life-giving Word of God. 
            This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Leipzig Debate, another great milestone in Reformation history.  Roman apologist Johann Eck, one of Luther’s most important theological opponents, had challenged Luther and his colleague, Andreas Karlstadt, to a debate at the University of Leipzig over the new Wittenberg theology.  Now, this was common procedure in those days, competing universities squaring off, much like they do today on athletic fields, only at this time, it was in the debate hall with star scholars going head to head.  The debate would last for weeks.  The whole town would be involved in the festivities, like U of I Homecoming or the Apple Cup across the way.  Judges were appointed to hear the debate and declare a winner, though that was not necessarily the last word of the argument.  For Luther, though, there was already talk that even more could be at stake.  It was common for his opponents to compare Luther with Jan Hus, who had been burned at the stake 100 years before Luther (602 years ago this past July, to be precise) for teaching things very similar to Luther about the papacy and the nature of the Church.  In other words, Luther was already beginning to face the very real possibility of confessing the Gospel unto death.  And we should be ready for that, too.  We are all called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  We are all called to be faithful unto death, and so receive from Jesus the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
            Well, to discuss everything covered in this weekslong debate would be tedious and unnecessary.  But this Reformation Day, let me highlight a few points from Luther’s argument that touch our own life in Christ in this moment. 
            First, “Every man sins daily,” says Luther, “but he also repents daily according to Christ’s teaching, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17].”[1]  In other words, there are no saints who don’t sin, who don’t need repentance.  There are only Christians who repent of their sins and trust Christ’s forgiveness.  And that, beloved, is your life in Christ, your baptismal life, the daily drowning of the old Adam with all sins and evil desires and the daily emerging and arising of the new man in Christ to live before God in righteousness and purity (SC IV).
            Second, Luther says, because we are children of Adam and born in original sin, because we are sinners, we sin even when doing good.  Our good works are as filthy rags, as Isaiah says (64:6).  So there is no working your way out of sin.  You need mercy.  You need grace.  From outside of you.  You need Christ and His Gospel.  Even our good works, corrupted as they are by our sinful nature, need to be forgiven or they will damn us, as much as any other sin.  And since that is the case with even our good works, Luther reminds us, there is no sin so minor that it can be forgiven apart from God’s mercy in Christ.  But all sin is washed away and forgiven in Holy Baptism.  To deny this, Luther preaches, “is equivalent to crushing Paul and Christ under foot.”  What is at stake in the Leipzig Debate?  Christ Himself.  The very Gospel.  The forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
            That is what the Church and the Ministry must be about.  Luther attacks indulgences and satisfactions (or penance) in Confession in one fell swoop when he writes, “Every priest should absolve the penitent of sin and guilt.  He sins if he does not do so.”  That is to say, the point of Confession is not making up for sins by doing penance or paying money.  The point is the Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of sins.  The priest is duty-bound to forgive sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the very reason Jesus gave the ministry, and it is pastoral malpractice to fail to do so.  This came to be the heart of the debate.  If the Pope is a pastor, he shouldn’t be in the business of placing the burden of atonement for sin on the backs of the people, when Christ has already taken that burden and put it to death in His body on the cross.  As a pastor, the Pope’s job is to preach that!  Not satisfactions.  And certainly not indulgences, profiteering on the forgiveness of sins.  The merit of Christ is the treasure of the Church, Luther says.  The Pope and all pastors are to give that treasure freely to sinners in preaching and the blessed Sacraments. 
            And that abuse led Luther to his most dangerous assertion in the debate.  The idea that the Pope is the head of all Christendom, that there is no true Church apart from him, that there is no salvation apart from him, is an innovation, a new idea, and it is a grievous error.  In other words, it’s not very catholic.  Only in the last 400 years, Luther says 500 years ago, has this idea been maintained.  There are eleven hundred years of Church history before that that oppose the idea, never mind the Council of Nicaea and other councils, and most importantly the text of Holy Scripture.  There is the whole Church of the East, not under the Pope, in which many faithful Christians may be found.  The Church’s source and identity is not bound up in the Pope, or for that matter, the hierarchy in St. Louis (That’s my addition, by the way.  Dr. Luther was blissfully unaware of Synod politics).  It is not to be found in any priest or pastor or form of Church government.  It is Christ alone.  He is the Church’s head.  He is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride.  He is the incarnate Word of the Father, the very Son of God.  And He is our only Savior, the Crucified, who is risen from the dead. 
            This preaching would get Luther excommunicated and condemned as a criminal, but we’ll celebrate that next year and in the years following.  But understand this: This history of Luther and the Reformation is your history, and the history of the Christian Church on earth.  The Gospel was coming to light in a way that it hadn’t for many years.  And you are sitting here this morning in 2019 in Moscow, Idaho, as a direct beneficiary of that gracious gift of God.  Pastor Luther, and Pastor Krenz, are simply repeating the sermon of Pastor Paul: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:23-25, 28).  That preaching of Luther and Paul (and by God’s grace, even Krenz), is simply the preaching of Jesus Christ for you.  Your sins are forgiven, you are justified, because of Jesus Christ alone.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

[1] All quotes from The Leipzig Debate are from LW 31:317-18.