Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Obama Says the Right Things

Credit must be given where credit is due. Recently President Elect Obama made a statement about the fighting in the Gaza strip. He said all the right things, with exactly the right tone of voice. It sounded like Ronald Reagan. He condemned terrorism and insisted that Hamas must renounce violence and come to the negotiating table.

Now, the question is, what is he going to do about it, or allow Israel to do about it. Talking a good game is important, but real credibility comes from action. What is he going to do to put the heat on Hamas? What can he do? What is he willing to do? Time will tell if he has real credibility. For the sake of our country, I pray that he does.

Sermon for December 27-28

The Feast of the Holy Innocents
December 27-28, 2008 (December 28)
Text: Matthew 2:13-18

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ came to bring peace on earth many will say. But if you look at the Fox New web site or the Drudge Report, you will see that a man dressed as Santa killed a bunch of people. Israel launched attacks on the Gaza Strip. India and Pakistan are ramping up toward war. There doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of peace on earth. In reality Luke 2:14 records the song of the Angels as: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Christ did not come to bring peace between men. Rather He brings peace between God and man - the peace that surpasses all understanding. All too often the peace that God gives results in violence upon this earth. Christ Himself confirms this in Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Many conflicts upon this earth are just sinful men contending with sinful men. But other conflicts are specifically directed at Christians. Sinful men, who choose to remain in their sins, hate Christ and His followers. They lash out, often blindly and violently, against Christians.

One such person was King Herod the Great. Now, as I have often noted, Herod gets a bit of a bad rap among Christians. There is no denying that became an evil monster at the end of his life. In his last years he appears to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Herod was never a nice man at his best. He was a military strong man who had plotted with Rome to get his crown. But he was a successful ruler and a great builder and administrator. The accolade of calling him “the Great”, is not undeserved. He was also one of most astute politicians to ever live. He was placed in power by Pompey, but at just the right moment, Herod switched to supporting Julius Caesar. Then at the right moment he cast his lot with Marc Antony. Later, again at just the right moment, Herod betrayed Antony and allied with Ocatavian who became Caesar Augustus. Had Herod died five years earlier, this might indeed be what people remember - his building and his political acumen. But he lived into a time where he became insane. And in those days, though it might have been clear to everyone that he was mad as a hatter, he was still the king. There was no process for retiring him. The Herod we see in our text is in the very last weeks of his life, when the insanity had completely taken over the man.

I want to take a moment here before we proceed to talk about the time of Herod and the historical context. Mary and Joseph lived in Herod’s kingdom. He ruled all of what would be today Israel, as well as parts of Syria, and Jordan. When he died the Roman’s divided Herod’s territory into three sections, naming three of his sons as rulers. Archelous, like his father was mad, and was soon replaced by a series of Roman governors, the most successful of which were Valarius Gratus and Pontius Pilate. In Herod’s time he had his own army, which he raised himself and was not reliant on a Roman occupation force. Later, under the governors, the Romans raised auxiliary troops to serve as the garrison. These were mostly Samaritans. There is a reference to an Italian Cohort or battalion in the New Testament, so apparently they did have one unit of actual Roman soldiers. I bring up this tangent to make an important point. The Jews circulated many false stories about Jesus, including, as Matthew records, that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. One such story is that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier named Panthera and this is how Jesus came to be. This claim has been given new life in our own day by recent authors. But at the time Jesus was conceived, there were no Roman soldiers in Galilee or Judea. There were very few actual Romans in Judea at the time of Jesus crucifixion. So this claim is false on the face of it.

Now, we should stop goofing off and get back to the text. Herod was an enemy of God. He was an enemy of anyone whom he perceived as threatening his throne. He even put some of his own children to death. He had no room in his heart for God. Herod was his own god. So he lashed out against Christ. He wants Christ dead. He sends his soldier to Bethlehem to kill all the young children. One point that needs to be made is that they counted age differently than we do, so what they called two years of age is what we would call one year of age. So Herod’s order is that they kill all the children in Bethlehem one year of age and under by our reckoning. This would not have been a large number. There is also some historical evidence that Herod’s soldiers knew of their king’s madness and tended to do just enough to satisfy him. Sometimes we have the image of hundreds of babies being slaughtered. In fact it would have been a small number of children who were killed.

The numbers don’t really matter, other than as a point of historical accuracy. They are the first martyrs of the Christian faith. They are first to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. The infants of Bethlehem teach us that the world’s first, instinctive reaction to the coming of Christ is to lash out against Him. He comes to bring peace between God and man, but many in this world only want odds between them and God.

Faithful Mary and Joseph flee as God commands them. They go to Egypt. Now this would in fact only be about a long days journey on foot to get across the frontier. The Gaza strip was part of the Roman province of Egypt. They may not have stayed long, perhaps only a couple days. However long it was, it was long enough that King Herod had died. Here too we see how the faithful react to persecution. It is not wrong to flee. One indeed should be foresighted. One should never seek to be a martyr. But what one must never do is deny Christ. Christ is our Savior. Apart from Him there is no life. To deny Christ is to run into hell. And so we must confess Christ who paid for our sins with His blood. He gives us life as a gift that the world cannot take from us. In the infants of Bethlehem we see what the world intends for us and all who would dare to even consider the possibility of peace between God and man. Though the King Herods of the world are still with us, we have a peace and life that they cannot touch, even if they take our lives. We have it because God Himself became a human being and brought that peace to us, when He was born in Bethlehem.

Sermon for December 24

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2008
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever walked through a village or town in the middle of the night? Have ever had to leave for some matter of business at three or four in the morning? Have you ever noticed how quiet it is? Have you ever noticed how still it is. Nothing is moving. Nothing is making nose. You get the same feeling getting out to a deer stand in the predawn. You almost feel like you are intruding upon something. Winter nights seem especially calm. The quiet of the night is a time of peace. It can be disturbing in a sense as well. It closes you in with your thoughts. Sadly, our thoughts are not nearly as peaceful as the night. Of course we don’t get much peace and quiet at this time of year Frederic - not with the snowmobile trail running through town. Of course I should apply something I once heard. A friend from seminary was assigned to his first parish. He was from the city. The parsonage at his church was just downwind from a large pig farm. His parishioners were quick to explain that this was the smell of money. I should comfort myself that the sounds from the snowmobile trail are the sounds of tourist dollars. But most of the time, nights are quiet. They are a time of peace and stillness.

Compare this to a king’s entrance. A king comes and his soldiers go out and take control of the streets. His ministers come and set up his court and his golden throne. Musicians are lined up to play music of festive pomp. Enemies are arrested and thrown into jail or maybe even executed. Everyone is warned to be ready - or else! One day Christ will come just in that manner. And every knee will bow to Christ. Either we will bow willingly, freely acknowledging Christ as our King, or we will be forced to our knees before being carted off to hell. Christ will come one day with more pomp, more glory, more awe, and more power than any earthly king ever imagined. But that is in the future - when His kingdom upon this earth will be brought to a close. However, it is not the first time Christ came to earth. He first came to establish His kingdom. And that arrival was very different.

When All was still, and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word descended from the royal throne. This is the traditional liturgical verse that introduces the Christmas Introit. The King has come into the world. But it’s not the way kings come. His army of angels didn’t sweep the streets in preparation. A palace wasn’t prepared for Him. There were no trumpet fanfares. There was only the stillness of night. A young couple arrived late in the day and took lodging in a stable - probably a cave used as a stable. This was not a mark of great poverty, but a common practice. They had no escort and very likely, didn’t even have a donkey. In fact, most Jewish girls of the time would have been insulted if their husband showed up with a donkey for them to ride. They would have considered it an insult. These were women who prided themselves on their heartiness and vigor. This had been part of their culture for centuries. We read in Exodus: “...the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." This was most likely a young couple, though Scripture does not tell us their age. The husband was probably about seventeen or eighteen. The wife about twelve or thirteen. She would have went off by herself and quietly given birth, cut the cord herself, and so forth. Jewish girls were well prepared to be mothers, and knew all that was needed. And that was it. There was nothing more to it. In the still, quiet of the night, the King arrived to establish His kingdom.

This is not unusual for God. We might consider Elijah who journeyed to Mount Sinai to speak with God. There was a fire, an earthquake, a whirlwind, but God was not in any of them. Then when all this had passed, Christ spoke to Elijah in a still small voice. Christ quietly gave His message to Elijah. There would be a new prophet in his place, kings would fall and many would die. Though the message promised great violence and upheaval, the Christ spoke His words softly. Maybe this where Teddy Roosevelt got the idea of talking softly and carrying a big stick.

Like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds were quietly going about their business. They were watching in the stillness of the night. Perhaps it was lambing time. Some of them were undoubtedly asleep, as they divided in watches. Their quiet was suddenly shattered. But wait a minute. The angels came to tell the shepherds that their king had come. That’s backwards. The angels were supposed to tell the world the king was about to come - at least that would be how an earthly king would do it. And further, what are they doing bothering with shepherds. Why weren’t they telling Caesar or King Herod? Why weren’t they telling the high priest? Everything is backwards. But Christ stands everything on its head.

Why does Christ come into the world in this peculiar way? Why does He come quietly, almost as a thief in the night? Because Christ is a different kind of king laying claim to a different kind of kingdom. The pomp, the glory, the raw display of power would come one day - a day that is still in the future. But not that night. That night Christ came quietly in the stillness of the night. He was coming to bring peace between God and man. He was coming to be the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. He wasn’t coming to compel us to bend our knees before Him with swords at our back. He was coming to invite us to kneel before the manger and see the face of a loving and gracious God. He is inviting us to kneel and see our Savior from sin and death. In the stillness and quiet of the night, Christ was born. He was born to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin - yours and mine. He was born to die in our place, so that we might live with Him forever. He was born to rise from the dead and ascend to the highest place of glory and honor in heaven. He was born to judge the living and the dead. But most all He was born to invite us into His gracious presence, not as conquered subjects, but as His brother. For in the end that is what Christ wants us to see when we look into that manger - our brother.

Sermon for December 20-21

The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20-21, 2008
Text: Luke 1:26-38

Dear Friends in Christ,
I can just picture this conversation. A girl comes home from school and says, Mom, Dad, I’m pregnant, but it’s okay. An angel came and talked to me between algebra and lit. He said this baby comes from God. Somehow I just don’t think too many parents would believe the girl. I think they’d be looking for the “angel’s” picture in the year book and checking which side of the tracks this Gabriel comes from. They might even call the police depending on the age of the girl and the age of this Gabriel. But really, why should parents be so suspicious? Virgin conceptions and births happen every day don’t they? Isn’t that why we have so many teenage girl’s pregnant? It couldn’t possibly be anything else, could it?

Sadly, of course the parents are correct about a hundred percent of the time. If their daughter shows up pregnant it is by the will of a man. A friend of mine is one of those rare creatures who has remained a virgin throughout her life. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer she decided she’d better have everything check out. The doctor did a double take when she said she’d never had sexual intercourse. According to this doctor, our friend is the first virgin over fourteen she’d seen in many years. Such is the sad state of our society.

Our text deals with an event that has happened once in the whole history of the world. The implications of this one event are staggering and mind boggling. Luke’s simple prose cover the turning of the hinges of time itself. It’s such a simple thing. A young girl is pregnant. Knowing the customs of the time she was probably twelve or thirteen years old. But this was not uncommon. This was the typical age of marriage. But there is this once in the whole history of the world fact that changes everything. She is a virgin. This child is born apart from the will of a man. This little tidbit is a like a nuclear explosion on the time line of the world.

There is more to this than just that it’s only happened once. A child born apart from the will of a man breaks all the rules. When Adam fell into sin, that sin became his legacy to all future generations. Thus we say, “In Adam’s fall we sinnéd all.” Everyone of us inherited sin from our father. Thus every human being is born a sinner, like his or her father. But here we have a child born apart from the will of a man. This child has no human father. He does not inherit sin from His Father. Why? Because His Father is not a sinner. His Father is not a human being. This child is not a son of Adam. What does our text say? Instead of being a son of Adam, this child is the Son of God. There are more implications to this than Colonel Sanders has chicken parts.

Luke’s straight forward account drips with massive amounts meaning. A Child without sin. A Son of God. One who would rule forever. If you ran all this through the most powerful computer in the world, it would blow up from informational overload. A Child without sin. That alone would be remarkable. A person without sin will not die. Sin is the cause of death. To understand this we need to look at the words of Genesis 2:16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Now people will say that they weren’t struck dead. But that is not what is meant, and perhaps this is more clear in the Hebrew. With the fall into sin, death entered the world. The process of life was replaced with the process of death. By death here we mean the whole business of human frailty and infirmity. Mankind becomes capable of dying and physical death becomes his ultimate end upon this earth. Death along with sin is what we call original sin. It is, as we said, passed down from father to child. But, because this child that Mary is carrying has no human father, and therefore is without sin, it cannot die. He is exempt from infirmity and death. Death cannot claim Him, unless some sin becomes attached to Him.

What else does the angel say? He will be called the Son of the Most High. By this Luke is telling us that this Child will be called the Son of Yahweh. There was once another child called the Son of Yahweh. We read this in Genesis 4:1. But here we must consult the Hebrew, because most English translations get this wrong. The translators look at the Hebrew text and say that just can’t be right. But it is. We read: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man who is Yahweh.’” But Eve was wrong. It was quickly painfully obvious that Cain was not the Son of God, but the son of Adam. Cain was a sinner, like all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. But now in our text the Archangel Gabriel says that this Child will be rightly called the Son of God. He is the Son of God because He will be born in His Father’s image - that is the image of God the Father.

There were three things. What was the third thing? Oh, yes, He will rule over David’s kingdom forever. That’s a neat trick. Sure the Son of a Jewish peasant girl is going to be a king? Right. And He’s going to rule forever. Right. The last I checked kings have this habit of ending up in tombs. Usually really deluxe accommodations, Westminster Abby, a pyramid, or some such thing, but it’s still a tomb. But this One is going to rule forever. That’s the promise made by the great archangel.

All of this is pointing to one extraordinary fact. There is only one way for this promise to be fulfilled. The Child she was about to carry is not just a descendant of King David. This was great David’s greater Son. This child would have to be God. God in the flesh - Yahweh, the One enthroned between the Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. In fact Mary was about to become a living Ark of the Covenant. I think, being a good Jewess, raised in the synagogue tradition, that Mary probably understood this. I don’t think that her serenity was just ignorance. Yes, she was very young, and like all of us, she would need some time to work out all the implications. I think she was just a faithful believer gifted with an incredibly serene nature.

Why then is God taking up residence in Mary’s womb? So that He can save us from our sins. We said earlier that someone without sin would not die. Christ took our sins upon Himself so that He could pay the price of our sins for us. He died because He carried our sins. He died our death. So in a real sense we can say that Christ took up residence in Mary’s womb to die - to die for us. This then is the significance of the angel’s words. Christ would rule over all believers, not as their conqueror, but as their Savior from sin and death. Once in a lifetime! That is once in the lifetime of the world. Only once would a virgin bear a Son. Only once would God be born among us as our Savior. Once was enough. The deed is done. Our salvation is a accomplished. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises began when a young girl conceived through her ear, and God took up residence in her womb.

Sermon for December 16-17

Note: In an ironic twist of fate, this sermon on the Third Commandment was heard by very few people. One of my congregations canceled do to poor weather and the other did have service, though we were barely dug out. Needless to say, attendance was poor.

The Third Midweek in Advent
December 16-17, 2008
Text: Exodus 20:8-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
The most dangerous place in the world is not on top of the Mackinaw Bridge. The most dangerous place in the world is not on some battlefield. The most dangerous place in the world is not the pirate infested waters off of Somalia. The most dangerous place in the world is that inner space between our own ears. Why is that? Because our mind is consumed by sin and blinded by self. The more we dwell within ourselves, the more we place ourselves in danger. Yet, for post modern man, all real authority is located in inner man. This is why you can never say to a person you are wrong, because there is no authority outside the self. Yet, the more man dwells within himself, the more deluded he becomes and the more distant he is from God. God’s answer to this is to come to us through very specific, external means.

The true God is not spiritual as the current day uses that word. God is incarnational. That is, He comes to us in material means in our world. Central to this is the Word. It is God’s intent that we carry His Word in our hearts and minds. But also that we gather around that Word on a regular basis. The Third Commandment is not about rest, but about the gathering together of God’s people around His Word. Why was the seventh day - Saturday - first chosen as the day of worship? The seven day week and worship on the seventh day, reflects the rhythm of creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. So then the seventh day became the day to gather around God’s Word and rest from our other labors. In the New Testament, the Church was freed from the Old Testament ceremonial law, but not the moral law. Thus, Christians were still to gather around the Word, but it didn’t have to be on the seventh day of week. To distinguish themselves from the Jews, they began to gather on Sundays, the first day of the week, but also the day of Christ’s resurrection. But Christians gave Sunday worship a twist. They didn’t originally speak of it as the first day fo the week, but as the eighth day of the week. It was the first day of the new creation in Jesus Christ. Thus, baptismal fonts traditionally have eight sides. But the command to gather as the community of believers around the Word of God remained.

Why does God command this? Because God doesn’t want us to dwell in our own minds. What do we mean by that? The French philosopher, Rene Decartes locked himself in his house, alone, for a couple years, so that he could think things through. After a couple years, he suddenly came up with the proposition, “I think, therefore I am”. This in turn led to philosophy students joking that Decartes, while flying on an airplane, was asked by a waitress if he wanted anything to drink. Decartes replied, I think not, and poof he was gone. But what Decartes did is not what God want us to do. We are not to try to work it out in our own heads. Most people who try this, end up like the Irish writer who said he’s made his own religion, with a little of this and that and put it all together. Rather we are to be students of God’s Word, and in particular we are to be gathered with our fellow believers to hear God’s teaching, together. Originally, the Apostles Creed was worded as we have it - I believe. But the Nicene Creed, originally read, “We Believe.” I was hoping our new hymnal would restore that wording, but it didn’t. Many will have a canipition, saying how can anyone believe for someone else? But that is not the point. Rather, our confession is what we hold in common. It is something we share. We are to believe the same things. Why? Well, first because they are true. It is what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. We learn this from a common source - the Bible. So it is fitting to have one creed read “I believe” and the other read “We believe”.

It is essential that Christians gather around God’s Word, but it is also important to be students of the Word. When we read Scripture, we are to read in such a way that learn and know - not just so that it passes through our eyeballs. The sainted Dr. G. Waldmar Degner, was the son of an old German farmer in North Dakota. You sometimes felt a little of North Dakota soil was still clinging to him. He was not a brilliant theologian. He taught New Testament. But one day, I came to his office with a question. He pulled out his Greek New Testament, and I was shocked to see that every page was stained with the print of his hand, as though he had sat their for hours upon hours studying the text. That is a student of Scripture. I’ve never owned a Bible that was stained like that. So I know that I have a ways to go, before I become the student of the Bible that I ought to be, according to the Third Commandment. Likewise for you. You are not to just rely upon what I say, though I am thankful for your trust. You are to search the Scriptures diligently to see if what I say is correct. This what the Third Commandment lays before us.

Like all of God’s commands, the Third Commandment, has a positive purpose. God’s Word is holy and without error. But our minds, that inner space, is filled with sin, lies, and corruption. God would draw us out from within ourselves, and into His Word. And there we learn that God is indeed holy, just, righteous, and yes, even vengeful. But we also learn that He is loving, gracious, patient, merciful, forgiving and generous. His love and mercy are so great that He sent His Son to be born in a manger as our Savior. We won’t learn that in the inner spaces. We only learn that in Word.

Sermon for December 13-14

The Third Sunday in Advent
December 13-14, 2008
Text: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
“Heeeere’s Johnny!” The voice of Ed McMahon, for a generation, informed America that the host of the “Tonight Show” was coming out. McMahon had a hard job, in a sense. He was there to make Johnny Carson look good. He had to set up things for Carson. He was the straight man for Carson’s Karnak the Maginificent routine. Carson would hold up the sealed envelope with the question and give the answer. Then McMahon had to open the envelope and read the question. McMahon often appeared in skits with Carson. He was always setting things up to make Carson look good. Interestingly enough, though Carson, saw himself in a similar light. His job was to make the guests look good. This is why so many people would come on the “Tonight Show” as guests. They knew that they would be treated well. Carson wouldn’t ambush them with something that would embarrass them. So Ed McMahon was there to make Carson look good, and Johnny Carson was there to make the guests look good. The guests were the main people on the show. It’s hard gig, but Carson and McMahon pulled it off beautifully for 29 years.

The most important set up man in the history of the world was not Ed McMahon. It was John the Baptist. When he began to preach in the wilderness in 29 A.D. people didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know who he was, or what he was. For some time now, I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been the very first person to hear John preach. I wonder if it might have been like this: A man is traveling through the region. The road goes beside some large rock. Suddenly, a voice thunders out from the top of the rocks. “Repent and make straight the way of the Lord.” The man looks up, startled, and sees this strange man standing upon the rocks. The first thing the man probably would note is the hair and the beard. John was a Nazarite from birth, that is under a Nazarite vow. Sampson and Samuel would be examples of men who lived their whole lives under such a vow. Part of this vow is that they would drink no alcohol. Another part of this vow is that they would not cut their hair or beard. Nazarite vows were common enough among the Jewish people, but the normal practice was for a man to be under the vow for a short time. St. Paul was under a Nazarite vow for a time in the book of Acts. A great deal is made of the time when he cuts his hair, thus ending the vow. But John was to be a Nazarite from birth for his whole life. So John would have looked like a wild man indeed.

As we noted last week there had been four hundred years of silence. God had not sent a prophet since time of Malachi and Zechariah, whose ministries would have ended within a few years of each other. Suddenly John appears, preaching prophetically. Now there are two different ways in which one can preach prophetically. One can preach from the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. In this sense, pastors today preach prophetically, as would the Rabbis of John’s day. The other way of preaching prophetically does not apply to pastors. John preached that his authority and message came from God. He was not relying upon the Scriptures for his authority or his message. He only uses the Scriptures to explain who he is. He shows that his coming was predicted and that it should be seen as a sign from God. What was this sign pointing to? “...among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” What John was saying is you think I’m something? Look out, there is one already among you who so great that not even the greatest of the prophets is worthy tie His shoes. Not even Moses is worthy to His empty his chamber pot.

What an incredible claim! What was John saying. How could someone be that much greater than the prophets? How could one be greater than Moses who spoke with God face to face? How could one be so much greater than Joshua who ordered the sun to stand still? How could one be so much greater than Elijah who called fire from heaven and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire without dying? The shock value must have been incredible. We need this explained to us. The emissaries from pharisees needed no explanation. They knew exactly what John was claiming.

So what was John claiming? That God, that Yahweh, was among them as a man. The one that spoke the Ten Commandments to the assembled tribes of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai was right there among them. Some in fact think that Jesus was right there hearing this, sitting among the disciples of John.

Those who teach that Jesus is just a man or that Scripture never calls Jesus God, are simply displaying their ignorance. Here is one of many texts that clearly is stating that Jesus is God. If you are the greatest of the prophets, and man is already above the angels, as Scripture states, there isn’t much above you. The only thing above the greatest of the prophets is God Himself, the One who sends the prophets.

But for God to be present is not, in itself, a good thing. God is present everywhere in the sense that He knows all and sees all. But His direct presence is a different thing altogether. There are consequences to His presence. Christ was directly present in Sodom and Gomorrah. Christ was directly present in the flood. Christ was directly present in the plagues sent upon Egypt. His presence brought destruction. Here also is John’s warning. Christ is here and His presence will bring destruction upon those who reject Him. But John’s warning does not tell the whole story. Christ was present in grace. That was why He was shrouded in human flesh. That is why He was hidden. He had not come to earth to destroy, though some would be destroyed by His coming. He had come to save. He was establishing His presence, according His Name, in grace. He was there among them to be a saving presence. So John’s message is one of warning, but also anticipation. For those who see God among them, this would be a time of great joy. All the Scriptures were coming to fruition in that age. All the promises of grace were being fulfilled.

John the Baptist was the set up man for Jesus Christ. As such, he is considered the greatest of the prophets. Christ in fact calls him this. John clearly confessed that he was not the Christ. But he pointed hearers forward. He told them that God was already among them. They needed to prepare their hearts to receive Him. And so also do we need to prepare our hearts. Christ is present here, according to the flesh. Why? Because He has placed His Name upon this place, and upon us His people. He comes to us daily in our baptism. He comes to us in the Body and Blood. He comes to us in His Word. For all this we need to be constantly preparing our hearts by examination of our lives before the commandments and by repentance. For our God is among us. He is among us to save. No we are not worthy. We are far less worthy than John. But He saves us, nonetheless. And that makes preparing our hearts a joy. It is a joy because we know that we have forgiveness and life in our Lord Jesus who is among us.

Sermon for December 9-10

The Second Midweek in Advent
December 9-10
Text: Exodus 20:7

Dear Friends in Christ,
Modern Americans have a hard time with concepts like sacredness. We tend to be iconoclastic. We like to tare down false traditions - things like the privileges of being born part of the nobility. About the closest we often come to holding something sacred is personal nostalgia. But even that is not really very sacred as we hear in the old John Denver song... “it’d hold eight kids, two hound dogs, and a pig we’d stole from the shed. We didn’t get sleep but we had a lot of fun on grandma’s feather bed.” Now this is not all bad. Some things that come down to us are indeed false and deserve to be cast aside. But there are some things which should indeed be held as sacred. Our founders understood this and often used the word sacred. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and the sacred honor.

What does it mean that something is sacred? It meas it is set aside for some special purpose or use. It is not common. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we use a cup that is only used for the Lord’s Supper. We would not use that cup for a party. It has been set aside. It is sacred.

Scripture teaches us the nothing is more sacred than the name of God. What is the name of God? That’s a good question. God is not God’s name. That is a description of who He is. It’s rather like saying man, or dog, or cat. By using the term God, we saying that this is what He is. But it is rather generic. It does not in and of itself, tell who it is that we are calling God. The Old Testament name for God is Yahweh, which means “I AM that I AM”. It became custom among the Jews, for fear of misusing the Holy Name, to never say Yahweh. They would substitute “adonai,” which means simply “Lord.” This then became the custom among Christians as well. Most translations simply use “Lord” in place of Yahweh. Occasionally, Yahweh, is brought into English as Jehovah. But this is an English word that was accidentally created by combining the Hebrew consonants in Yahweh, with the Hebrew vowels for Adonai. And so while most people recognize Jehovah as a name for God, it is getting somewhat distant from the text of Scripture. The Old Testament used other names for God. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is Yahweh Shabbaot, that is the I AM Power and Might. He is the Ancient of Days, Son of Man, Immanuel, and numerous names. The Trinitarian name for God would be revealed in the New Testament - that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Names associated with individual persons of the Trinity would become more common, Christ, Jesus, Savior, Lamb of God, Comforter, Paraclete, and so forth. All these are the name of God.

God uses His name in a very special way. God’s name is what establishes His presence. Thus Christ says, that wherever God has gathered two or three people together in His name, He is there with them. Now God places His name in strange places, sometimes even hidden or private places. We might think of a church building or the ancient temple. That would be true. God has established His presence in buildings and such. But He has also established His presence with people. In the Old Testament the rite of Circumcision was associated with both God’s name and the naming of the child. They would often be interwoven in the name of the child. Common names usually had some Godly meaning such as Joshua - Yahweh Saves. So now God is present, by placing His name upon His people. And each day, the person would be reminded that God’s name was placed upon them as they used those parts. Sometimes I think that God has a perverse sense of humor. But there is a problem with circumcision in that it is was only done for males. There is no female circumcision in Scripture. In the New Testament, circumcision was replaced with Baptism. Now God’s name is placed upon all believers, male and female alike. Where is God’s name placed? Right here, on our forehead.

God’s name is sacred, because this is the means that He uses to establishes His presence with us, in grace. God places His name to save. So we are to hold His name as something set aside. It is not a common thing. But it is also a violation of the Second Commandment whenever we sin. Our sins desecrate the Name of God that has been placed upon us in our baptism. In this way all our sins are a violation of the First and Second Commandments.

The point that must not be lost however is that it is by God’s name that He saves. In placing His name upon us, God is claiming us as His own. We are His property. This is why Christ, God the Son, came to earth. He came to establish the presence of His name among us. Where the name of God is properly used, it is a saving name. And so we must hold this name as sacred and use it only as God commands - in prayer, praise, teaching for righteousness, and the like. We must not ever use the name of God for our earthbound purposes. That is how we desecrate the holy name. Yet, we must rejoice in this name for it is a name that gives life.

Sermon for December 6-7

The Second Sunday in Advent
December 6-7, 2008
Text: Mark 1:1-8

Dear Friends in Christ,
The Christian Church, almost from day one, was racked with numerous errors. Most of these have not gone away. But the New Testament writers addressed most of the common errors on many occasions. One of the common errors is to divide the Old and New Testaments as though they were telling two different stories. Some would go so far as to say that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament. We see this still today with those who try to say that it was the Father who appears in the Old Testament, but the Son in the New Testament. But a careful study of Scripture shows that it is always God the Son who appears to man. Christ Himself would say that no one has seen the Father, except Him who comes from the Father. Already in the Old Testament idea of God as Trinity it present, though not as clearly presented as we see in the New Testament. But clearly there is a distinction between God the Father and God the Son. In Daniel 7 we see God the Father presented as the “Ancient of Days” and God the Son presented as the “Son of Man”. In this chapter we see that the Father has given the Son authority to act in the world.

Scripture is set up to tie the Old and New Testament together. There would be a bridge that would connect two. There were numerous prophecies about the this bridge person. In fact the very last words of the Old Testament speak of this person. They call this bridge person Elijah the Prophet. But we know from the words of Scripture itself that this prophet was not the old Elijah come back to earth, but a new prophet who would preach with the power and spirit of Elijah, calling people to repentance. This bridge person is John the Baptist. He is the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. But he appears in the New Testament. He is calling people to repentance and baptizing them. His preaching is still the same, Old Testament message - the Messiah is coming. But in baptism, John hearkens forward to the One who blesses the waters and make them a washing of regeneration.

Mark is trying to make this point in his opening words. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Then what does Mark immediately do? He quotes the Old Testament. The beginning is not John’s preaching. Rather the beginning of the Gospel is the entire Old Testament, which John now concludes. John would be the end of the beginning.

Now one of the points that Dr. Voelz, my Greek professor, impressed upon us is the importance of participles. An awful lot of the verbs used in the New Testament are in fact the equivalent of the English participle. What this means is that they denote continuous action, that does not end. If something begins, it also continues. If the Old Testament was the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then that same Gospel continues.

This connecting of the Old and New Testaments is hardly a new concept. The ancient fathers were quick to jump on this idea. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the fourth century: “With baptism the old covenant ends and the new begins. This is in the fact that inaugurator of the New Testament is John the Baptist... He is the crown of the prophetic tradition: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”

One must wonder what sort of stir the appearance of John caused. There had been no prophets for four hundred year. The last prophetic words of Malachi warned people to look for the appearance of a new Elijah. Then after four hundred years John appeared in the wilderness. Many wondered what this man was. The ancient father Tertullian says that some thought that John was an angel. In the sense that he was God’s messenger, this is true, for that is what the word angel means - messenger. Eusebius likewise notes that many thought that John was more than a man. But John clearly tells us in his own words that he is indeed just a man, in spite of his strange appearance and thunderous preaching. John only baptized with water. He had no supernatural power of his own.

What was John? He was the forerunner - the one to point people to the reality that the Messiah had come. He was there to prepare people’s hearts to receive their Savior. For it is a fearsome thing to be visited by God. John warned people to repent of their sins. In one of the other gospels, John even warns that the Messiah would bring judgement against those who rejected God’s Word. John was telling people that they were at the crossroads of time. They had one chance to get it right. How did they do that? By repenting of their sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The problem with this message is that one must first see that they have sin of which they must repent. Many in John’s day, and even today, refuse to see their own sin. Those who see themselves as without sin, likewise will see no need for a savior from sin. The corruption of man’s mind is so sever that we can delude ourselves in this way. But we need only look at the daily news reports to see that mankind is filled with sin and evil. We only need to look into the mirror of the Ten Commandments to see our own sins. Yet, how often do we hear the delusion that mankind is basically good? Where has this basic goodness ever come out in practice? Far from seeing good we see greed and vice of every sort, including sadly, a return of pagan misogyny. As Dr. Alvin Schmidt has explained in his book “Under the Influence”, it is where we see Christ that we see men doing good. Even unbelievers often do good because they are influenced by Christian thought. This all brings us back to John’s call for repentance. We prepare our hearts by examining them in the light of God’s law. We prepare our hearts by laying our sins before the cross of Jesus Christ. For while we are welcoming our King, we are also welcoming our Savior - the One who died for our sins so that we would have forgiveness and life.

John the Baptist is the bridge between the Old and New Testaments. He is an Old Testament prophet who appears in the New Testament. He called people to repentance, even as he continues to call us to repentance today. He baptized people as a mark of their repentance. Yet, he was just the forerunner. He was the warm up act. The One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit was already among them, though not yet revealed. That One, Jesus Christ, would be the main event. John called for people to repent of their sins. Jesus would take those sins from us and carry them to the cross. For without forgiveness, what point is there to repentance? Like people of all ages, we need to be constantly reexamining ourselves, our own lives and our own hearts. John calls upon us to do so. We do this so that we are prepared to receive our King and Savior when He appears. For Christ appears to us in many ways everyday. He comes to us in His Word. But we also we know that Christ will come at the end of time. So for each of these appearances of Christ, our hearts must be ready. And so for us preparation is just as John said. We repent and return each day to our baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. For indeed we were not baptized with just water. We were baptized with the Holy Spirit, in, with, and under the water. And so we prepare to receive our Lord, by returning each day to those holy waters.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sermon for December 2-3

The First Midweek in Advent
December 2-3, 2008
Text: Exodus 20:1-6

Dear Friends in Christ,
Events of the last couple years have convinced me that we living at a time when the most important and fundamental ideas are in flux. As a society, we no longer know right from wrong. I can’t catechize the world. But I have an obligation to catechize you. For this reason, we are doing an extended series on the Ten Commandments that will cover the mid weeks in Advent and Lent. The world may not know what right and wrong are. We had better know. Why should we know? Because God has revealed this to us. The world only has natural knowledge of God’s law. The world might work out part of it by reason. But there is no guarantee that the world will get it right. Further, man’s mind and heart is corrupted and blinded by sin. Man, clouded by sin will say that wrong is right and right is wrong. The Nazi’s argued that they were making the world a better place. The Mumbai terrorists, I am certain, believe that they were acting in righteousness. This is what sin does to the human mind. But we have no excuse. God has given us His law. We can just open the Bible or the catechism and read it. We therefore should know God’s law.

The law is what we are to do and not to do. The law is the basis of God’s justice. As such it condemns us all. None of us can live up to it. The law is the basis for civil government, as a sword to restrain evil in the world. We call this first use of the law. It is for this purpose that God establishes civil government among men. It should be noted that in carrying out the first use of the law, God uses the believer and the unbeliever alike. Likewise, the civil law that God has established applies to all. The law also serves as a mirror to show us our sin. This is perhaps its most important function for Christians. In the law we see how our lives have failed to live up to God’s objective standard. Finally, the law is a guide for how God intends us to live our lives. In this sense, the law is rather like a UL warning on an appliance. Drop this in the water and something bad will happen. Violate God’s law and your life will be less peaceful. We call this third use of the law. But we must always beware of the third use of the law. It must never be used independent of the second use of the law. Unless we first see our sin, the third use of the law will lead us into sins of self righteousness.

The first commandment, as it appears in Scripture is out entire text, from Exodus 20. It starts with the assertion that the one speaking to the Israelites is indeed God. It includes in it the prohibition on making graven images. A graven image is an image made to represent God, by which He has not revealed Himself. A statue of Christ or a crucifix is not a graven image since, in Christ, God revealed Himself as a man. If on the other hand if we set up a golden bull calf and said this is Christ, it would be a graven image, since He had not revealed Himself as a golden bull calf. It should be noted that this is precisely what the Israelites did. The golden bull calf that appears on a number of occasions throughout the Old Testament was always intended to represent the true God. But it was, nevertheless, a forbidden graven image and God did not bless such worship.

That brings us to the first commandment itself: You shall have no other gods. In the Hebrew it is literally, you shall have no other gods before My face. It is first and foremost a liturgical command. You shall not mix the worship of the true God with false forms of worship or with the worship of false gods. The First Commandment does forbids us from praying together with Muslims, Hindus, or Jews, for example. There might be a circumstance when one attends their place of service as a guest and observer and vice versa. But we are not to participate with them in their worship. So for example, some Hindu groups in Minnesota are organizing an interfaith service to commemorate the dead of Mumbai. We would not participate with them in such a thing. It would be a sin to do so. But of course we certainly include those affected by this tragedy in our prayers to the true God.

Some might object by saying, doesn’t everyone really worship the same god? No. That’s the simple straight forward answer. Such thinking is just irrational sentiment. If one were to study the teachings of the different religions, one must conclude that they teach radically different things. Often they teach opposite things. If a religion teaches that something is black and another religion teaches that the same thing is white, they are not teaching the same thing. Further, it follows that one is right and the other is wrong. This is just basic logic. In addition to this, there is one thing that only the true God teaches. Only the words of the true God are ever called Gospel or Good News. Gospel is the opposite of the Law. The law is what we to do and not to do. The Gospel is what God, in Christ Jesus, has done for us. No other religion has a god who does things for His people as pure gift, reflecting His love. Only in the true God, Jesus Christ, do we find forgiveness for our sins. Only the true God, Jesus Christ, has died for us. This makes the true God quite unique. It also makes the true God a God of hope. The law still applies to us. But Christ has fulfilled in our place. He has fulfilled all the law, for us who could not, including the First Commandment. You cannot say that of any other god.

Sermon for November 29-30

The First Sunday in Advent
November 29-30
Text: Mark 11: 1-10

Dear Friends in Christ,
Happy New Year! Yes, today we begin a new church year. We also begin the festival half of the church year. We begin, as we do each year, with a season of preparation. Advent means “coming”. Christ is coming. He is coming at the end of time. He is coming to us in Word and Sacrament. He is coming to us in the absolution - that is the forgiveness of our sins. He is coming. Are we ready? All of this, of course, is to prepare us to celebrate the coming Christ in the flesh - that is Christ’s incarnation. Christmas is not Christ’s birthday, as such. The date of his birth was not recorded. But rather it is a celebration of Christ, who in coming to us as a man, became for us the light of the world. The date was originally chosen because December 25 was the winter solstice. Over the centuries the solstice has moved a few days, as it will continue to do. Some claimed that Christians chose this date to celebrate Christ’s birth in order to keep Christians away from a pagan festival. But recent scholarship suggests that the pagans began to celebrate the feast of Sol Invictus, to keep the pagans from joining the Christians in celebrating Christ’s birth.

What a place to begin! We begin with Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. Now before you wonder whether or not the lectionary committee was smoking some wacky tobacco in their pipes, consider this. Until the mid 1960's we used a one year lectionary that had not been significantly changed in more than 500 years. The Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent is from Matthew 21 - Christ’s entry in to Jerusalem. In the mid 1960's we began to introduce the three year lectionary. There is still some debate whether this is good or bad. It has be pretty fluid, with frequent adjustments. But here, we hearken back to the old one year lectionary and began, as we did for 500 years with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Christ is coming. Are you prepared? That certainly must have been the question many were asking on that Sunday - March 29, 33 A.D. Christ made His entrance as a king. Christ reenacted Solomon’s coronation entrance. Solomon had entered Jerusalem riding on his father’s donkey after he was anointed king by Zadok, the high priest, on the Mount of Olives. The people recognized what Christ was doing and they responded in celebration. They threw their coats and palm branches before him. They cheered Him with cries of Hosanna - that is Lord Save us. They praised the “Son of David”. Yet, were they really prepared? Did they understand the King that was before them. One suspects that they did not.

Who is this Christ who comes to us? The promised one. The Messiah. The Son of David. But does that really tell us who He is. This, I think, is the hardest concept for Christians to grasp. Yet, grasp it we must. For if we don’t understand who Christ is, everything about the Christian faith falls apart. So who is Christ? He is God the Son. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. He is the Angel of the Lord. He is Immanuel - that is God with us. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. He is the God who appeared throughout the Old Testament. He is God who deals with man. In entering Jerusalem to be our king, Christ was not elevating Himself. He was humbling Himself. He was condescending to be our King of grace. As St. Augustin said: “The master of humility is Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient even to death, even death on the cross. Thus He does not lose His divinity when He teaches us humility...What great thing was it to the king of the ages to become the king of humanity? For Christ was not the king of Israel so that He might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king of Israel in that He rules minds, in that He gives counsel for eternity, in that He leads into the kingdom of heaven for those who believe, hope, and love. It is a condescension, not an advancement for one who is the Son of God, equal the Father, the Word through Whom all things were made, to become king of Israel. It is an indication of pity, not an increase in power.” St. Augustin is here reminding us that the One Who comes to us is fully God. He is not grasping some higher thing. Rather, Christ is lowering Himself down to us, to bring forgiveness to us. He is reducing Himself to bring peace between God and man.

This teaching is more important than ever in a world that constantly wants to say that Christ was just a man. He was true man. Indeed, were He not, He could not save us. But Christ is not just true man. He is also true God from all eternity. He is the eternal Son of God. He came down into our broken world, into the stinking muck of our sin, breathed our poisoned air, so that He could save us from sin and death. For Christ’s coming is always connected to His cross. He lowered Himself into our world, in order to lower Himself even further, that is to death. Understand something, since Christ is without sin, He cannot die. It is not possible. Yet, He took our sins upon Himself and died the death of a sinner. He did this out of His great love for us. And what is Christ’s great reward for this? He gains us. He becomes our King. Consider again the strangeness of this. He is King, just because of Who He is. But He comes down and makes Himself King again in a new way by dying on the cross for our sins. So then His reward is us - us stinking, filthy, miserable sinners. If we consider this judgement on the nature of mankind, too harsh, consider what happened in New York on Friday. Shoppers trampled a man because they were in a hurry to get a bargain. One must ask here is God insane? For indeed, who would die for mankind? Are we worth it? I cannot imagine a man reckoning mankind as so valuable. Yet, Christ considered us of sufficient value to die for us. Christ turns everything upside down.

Christ is coming. Are you ready? Have you prepared your heart? Have you confessed your sins? Have you sought to amend your life? Have you studied and learned, so that you understand Who this is that is coming to You? Do you understand that this is God coming to you to forgive your sins? Do you understand that God is coming out of pity for our sinful condition? Do you understand that Christ has become our King by becoming our servant? All these things are important to preparing our hearts. This is why we take four weeks to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. There is much to do before we are ready. Yet, for us, this preparation is a joy. We know that our King comes not to exact revenge, but to save. We rejoice at His coming because we know that He brings peace between God and man.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sermon for Thanksgiving

November 26, 2008
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
Some with short memories might ask, what is there to give thanks for this year. It has not been a good year. Now for our young people, like our confirmation students, this is understandable. This is certainly been the worst economy that they have experienced in their lives. But for those my age and older, I just say, remember 1979? There was a time in my life when I knew of no one under age 35 that had a full time job. I remember stagflation. Normally, when a country goes into a recession, it also experiences deflation. Stagflation is when you combine a recession with inflation. Stagflation never occurs as a natural economic cycle. This is why so many people didn’t know what to do in 1979. Stagflation only occurs when government types try to control the economy and then make catastrophically bad decisions. But no, at the moment, we are at the beginning of a moderate recession and just as there is supposed to be, there is mild deflation. So long as the government types keep their paws off the economy we won’t go into stagflation. It is as Ronaldus Magnus said, the government is not the solution, the government is the problem. Now considering the bad decisions that have been made, we should be thankful our economy is as strong as it is. This teaches us that power and industry of American workers and entrepreneurs still greater than the power of government to screw it up. That alone is something for which we should give thanks.

Our text reminds us that we should be on our guard, lest we become consumed by things. Many today act as though he who dies with the most toys wins. But it is in reality the opposite. If we are consumed with our things, we lose. It is fine to benefit from our possessions, as do from a sound house or a medical device. Certainly, God intends this. It fine to enjoy our possessions. Many of us take pleasure from a good book, a hunting rifle, a fishing rod, a boat, pleasant furnishings and the like. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. But if we allow ourselves to become consumed with the getting of these things we are in violation of the Tenth Commandment. And in the end, what value are these things? They will be of no value or comfort to us in heaven or in hell. These things are only of value for this life. That makes them of temporary value.

In further understanding our text, we must ask ourselves: What is an inheritance? An inheritance is a gift. It is not the fruit of our labors. God intends that we benefit from the fruit of our labors. In fact that is an image of heaven used throughout the Old Testament. Hell is to labor and have it stolen from us. That not only includes foreign raiders, but also excessive taxation. Heaven is to plant and sow, reap, harvest, and finally eat. In contrast, an inheritance, is a gift. We do not labor for it. We do not earn it. We have no right to it. In case of the two brothers, they are both covetous. The brother who did inherit should be generous with the gift he received from their father. But the brother who didn’t inherit has no right to ask for it. He did not earn it.

In this life, God does bless our labor and industry. It is blessed by the fruits of our labor. It is blessed by creating opportunities to help our neighbor. It is in our vocation, in our jobs, that we most greatly serve our fellow man. I have often noted that a hospital would not operate without clerks, cleaning people, maintenance people, and food service people . They serve the patients just as much doctors and nurses. We make a terrible mistake to overlook our own honest labor as a service to our fellow man. Our charitable work, special projects and the like, are generally God pleasing, but our greatest service to God and our fellow man, for most people, is in their employment. You might say, I was just a factory worker, or just a farmer. How can this be pleasing to God? I can only say in response to this, you misjudge your value, sir. My life, and the lives of all of us, depend upon farmers and factory workers. It is in that honest labor which God has given us to do, that we please God. And in this we must see the opportunity to labor, as a gift from God. For in this honest labor, be it ever so lowly, we please God and we are kept from great sin and vice.

Tonight we celebrate our day of national thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for. We have peace and security at home. Our war efforts in Iraq are winding down. Only time will tell in Afghanistan. That nation has been a thorn in the side of many nations in the past, and likely will continue to be troublesome in the years to come. We have economic concerns but, still on the whole, we are very prosperous. We have family. We have access to unprecedented medical care. And as Christians we have an inheritance given to us by our heavenly Father. He gives us forgiveness and life. He makes us His son and heir. And that is an inheritance that will not perish, but will last forever. So yes, indeed, even in these wary times, we have much reason to give thanks to God.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sermon for November 22-23

The Sunday of Fulfillment
November 22-23, 2008
Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20, 24

Dear Friends in Christ,
Every so often there is a story in the paper about a registered sex offender being released into the community. What is the reaction? Fear. Anger. Often such people, when they are released into the community take a great deal of abuse. Since our current laws make few distinctions, and “sex offender” covers a vast array of things, this reaction may or may not be deserved. But let us set that matter aside and consider those cases where the person has done truly terrible things, say to children. These would be the classic pedophiles. Why is there fear? Well, they might do it again. Well, so what? Why are we concerned about this? Because what they do injures others in a profound way. Or more simply, we could rightly say that what they have done is evil. Plain and simple. They have done evil. And so that they don’t do evil again, we want them walled off from their potential victims. We divide those who have done evil from those who have not. We are judgmental toward them. This is what we do in the realm of civil righteousness - that is good and evil before the world. We would consider it insane to let these evil people wonder about freely in society. Yet, how many people, seem shocked when God does the same thing? Surely God would not condemn anyone. Surely God would not punish any one. Why not? If we do this among men, and it is indeed good and right, why is it so shocking that God would do the same thing?

Our text tells two very important things about God. We will take the text backwards and start with the second half. “Therefore, thus says the LORD GOD to them: ‘Behold, I, I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep... And I will judge between sheep and sheep.’” God will judge between the people of the world. We learn here that the fat sheep have oppressed the lean sheep. That’s how they have made themselves fat. They have scattered the lean sheep by their abuse. So such abusive sheep will be condemned. They will be cast out of the pasture. By this Christ is saying that He will divide good and evil people. And the evil people will be cast out of heaven. They will not be allowed to be around God’s people. This is to protect God’s people from further abuse. The implication here is that the people in hell would still like to injure God’s people if they could. This is why it is imperative that God do this. It is actually a mark of God’s grace toward’s His people that He shuts evil people up in hell. God’s people can never be harmed again.

But wait, doesn’t God make everyone holy in heaven? If one gives a gift do they ever force another person to take it? What of those who don’t want to be made holy? Does God ever force this upon them? The implication here is no. God doesn’t force His good gifts upon anyone, though He offers them to all. So what do you do with a person who chooses to remain in their sin? What do you do with a person, who, even at the gates of eternity, refuses give up the evil in their heart? Salvation is a gift of God that does not come by our choice or decision, but condemnation to hell is always our choice. Do not ponder this saying, this doesn’t make sense. It is not ours to fully understand how this works. It is ours to confess what the Scriptures say. If it doesn’t make sense to human logic, then we must say that our reason is simply clouded by our sins. To God this makes perfect sense, even if it does not makes sense to us.

In short, God does in eternity, what we do in time. God separates the evil from the righteous. He does this to protect the righteous. One of the joys of heaven is that we will never again be troubled by those who would do evil against us.

The first half of our text is a statement of great promise. God will gather His people. Though evil people oppress God’s people and scatter them throughout the world, God will find them. He will gather them back together and He will appoint David to be their king and shepherd. Now here we must understand how to read Biblical prophecy. The prophet Malachi offered the very last prophecy of the Old Testament - that the Prophet Elijah would come and proclaim the arrival of the Messiah. But Christ Himself tells us that this Elijah was John the Baptist. So also here. It is not speaking literally of David. But it is speaking of someone who will be like David - a Davidic king. A successor to David. This was quite a promise as the heirs of King David had, almost to a man, turned to great sins. The kings who had followed David were the fat sheep of our text. But there would be an heir to David’s throne who would truly be king and shepherd to God’s people. This Son of David is none other than Jesus Christ. This Davidic king and shepherd would gather God’s people together and He will rule over them, protect them, and provide for them. It didn’t matter how far afield God’s people were scattered. He would regather them from the ends of the earth. God’s people would again be gathered before His throne. This was a rich promise to the people of Judah facing exile in Babylon. It is an even richer promise to us. No earthly power can take us out of God’s reach. Regardless of what calamity happens in this life, all those belong to Christ will be before His throne in the halls of heaven.

This promise that God will regather His people is certain because He has said it. We must not forget the effect of God saying something. God’s words are not simply truth. They call the very thing they say into being. When God said let there be light there was light. This is the nature of God’s Word. So when God says that in Christ, He will regather His people and bring them into the halls of heaven, it is certain and unchangeable.

Today we come to the end of another church year. As always we consider here at this time the last things. In the words of Ezekiel the prophet, we have great warnings and great promises. Those who reject Christ, will be condemned. They will be condemned so that they can do no further harm to God’s people. What will Christ do for God’s people, those who have placed their trust in Him? He will regather them and take them home to the promised land of heaven. There Christ, the Son of David, will be our king and shepherd. We will be at peace. We will have this peace because those who would harm us have been walled off from us. They will no longer have access to us. We will be protected from them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GM and the UAW

In the midst of bailout mania several questions come to the fore. The question needs to be asked, what are we really being asked to bailout? GM, Ford and Chrysler could all declare bankruptcy and get their union contracts voided by a judge. But the UAW controls Michigan politics and to a large extent midwest politics. Many elected officals owe their office to the union. So I must join with those who are saying that this is really a bailout of the UAW, not the auto corporations.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hollywood Pinups

A photographer got a bunch of the current Hollywood starlets to recreate 1940's pinup photos. A few of them are posted on Fox News. Maybe it's just me, but I've always found that more modest type of erotica to be far more alluring than say full nude photos or even photos of sex acts. They have a sensuality about them that is hard to match. They tease you and invite you to desire more. They also reinforce the idea of some things being so private that they cannot be depicted.

In our current culture, these types of photos are considered tame family fare. I find this sad in a way. It marks the death of imagination. It also reduces all allure and romance to crass lust.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sermon for November 8-9

The Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 8-9, 2008
Text: Amos 5:18-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have prophets around today and we could go to them and they would tell us what God’s will is? Actually, no it wouldn’t. First we don’t need a prophet. We just need to open the book. The sad reality is that the more commonly available the Bible becomes, the less people actually read it and know it. Just under fifty percent of Americans are “churched”. Yet, a book called “Shocked by the Bible” by Joe Kovacs was recently published. It recounts all the misconceptions people have about the Bible. Most of these fall into the category of duh, have you ever read it? The very fact that Kovacs book was seen as necessary really should be an embarrassment to American Christians. So going back to our original statement, we don’t need a prophet to tell us right and wrong. The Bible already tells us. Second, prophets only come when there are problems. Prophets come to tell people that they are sinning and that they need to stop. Further, they typically warn that bad things are going to happen. Sometimes it’s conditional. If you don’t knock it off, this will happen. Sometimes, it not conditional. You didn’t knock it off, now here it’s God is going to do, and you aren’t going to like it. So no, we really don’t want to have prophets around. Genuine prophets are bad news.

Amos was just such a genuine prophet. He was from Judah. He was a shepherd. God plucked him from watching his flocks in Judah and sent him to the other kingdom - Israel - to warn them of God’s coming wrath. This was the high water mark of Israel. King Jeroboam II had rebuilt Israel as a regional power. They were wealthy. The nobles lived in luxury. They even prided themselves on their loyalty to Yahweh. King Jehu, the great-grandfather of Jeroboam II, had purged the worship of foreign gods from Israel. Jehu did this by tricking all the worshipers of Baal to gather in one place, then killing them all. So they looked at Judah and how they still worshiped Baal, and they would beat their chest with pride. See, we’re not like those idolatrous people down in Judah. We only worship Yahweh. The problem was something called the sin of Jeroboam, named after Jeroboam I, who was the first kind of Israel, when Judah and Israel divided after the death Solomon. Jeroboam I set up golden bull calves Bethel and Dan. These were idolatrous images to represent the true God. By the time of Jeroboam II, a little more than 150 years later, the knowledge of Scripture was so poor that people actually thought it was acceptable to worship God through the golden bull calves.

Amos was sent from Judah to Israel to tell the people that God was ticked and that was no bull. God says to Israel: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Why? Because they were worship God through the golden bull calves. That is why God would not accept their offerings. God would not accept their worship. So Amos warns them that it will be bad for them when God comes. God will come to them in anger and wrath. God will come and bring them to destruction.

The end would come swiftly. It was only about thirty years later, that the kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyrians. They fell from the height of their power and wealth to nothing, in thirty years. I know that many of you are elderly and you may not see thirty more years. But some of us most likely will. It is a chilling warning. The Assyrians took those they did not kill and broke apart families and marriages. They forced the Israelites to marry foreigners so that they would lose their identity as Israelites. Those who were allowed to remain in Israel would eventually become the Samaritans. This name comes from the Israelite capital city, Samaria.

The warning of Amos is not only for the Israelites in 750 B.C. It is a warning for us as well. Christ is coming. There are two ways that He is coming. He comes to us in our death. He also comes with the end of the world. Either way, everyone of us will come face to face with Christ. Amos is reminding us that Christ’s coming is not a good thing if we are at odds with God. We should all be filled with terror at the thought of Christ’s return. He will judge the living and the dead. We confess that in the creed. That means we will stand before Christ’s judgement.

I want you to think of this phrase, judge the living and the dead, in a new way. It is not only talking about the physically dead. It is also speaking of the spiritually dead. I can remember one particular funeral where the living one was in the casket. I have no doubt that this person is alive in Christ, and now is numbered among the saints of heaven. But the dead ones that day were sitting in the front pew. Christ will judge the living and the dead. When one judges they divide. So Christ will divide between the living and the dead. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that divide.

Now how does Christ judge? What is His criteria. This is where one needs to learn how to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. The Old Testament often doesn’t talk about saving faith. It speaks of the results of saving faith. If one is alive in Christ they will seek justice and righteousness. This includes justice for the widow, the orphan and even for the unborn. This is what saving faith looks like in practice. To understand this more deeply we need to look to the New Testament, where saving faith is more clearly defined. There we learn that we can be judged by our works or we be judged by Christ’s works on our behalf. Since we are poor miserable sinners, we don’t want to be judged upon our works. Our works would send us to hell. We must trust in Christ and His death and resurrection. Only Christ’s works can save us. So we place our trust in Christ and are judged according to His works.

The day is surely drawing near. Christ will return for each one of us. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you. Scripture warns us that Christ will judge and Christ will punish. We must trust in Christ for our salvation. Trust in Christ changes who we are. If we are in Christ, we share the mind of Christ. We seek His will through His Word. We seek justice and righteousness. We must not pull back from these things. Our works are the proof that faith is living. As it is often noted, we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Grace and faith are the causes of our salvation, but grace and faith lead us to act for our neighbor. We must not forget these things. Our eternal lives depend upon it. Christ is coming for each of us. The question is not if Christ will come. He will. The question is whether Christ is coming to damn us to hell or coming to carry us home to heaven. We should rightly fear Christ’s condemnation. But we should also welcome Christ in faith. For if we are in Christ, then we are judged upon Christ’s works. This is a certain foundation. For it based upon the perfect promises of our perfect God.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

United Absurdity

Many of the talk show hosts have been asking for people to call and explain what Obama will change. Several callers called several shows suggested that Obama unites the the United States. Now maybe I'm a little thick, but this radical socialist is the most divisive man elected to the presidency in my life time. I just don't think he's going to unite the country.

Obamanation Healthcare

It is a given that Obama will do great harm to the United States. He is a hard core socialist and socialist economics have failed every time they've been attempted. That's not rocket science, but junior high history.

One of the places where Obama can do the most damage is health care. Socialized medicine is simply not economically viable. This has been shown around the world time and time again. All we need to do is look at how England is now pulling away from a failed socialized medical system.

The problem is that it costs a great deal of money to take care of sick people. So the only way to make socialized medicine work is to not treat sick people. So what's the alternative to treating sick people? Euthanasia. We've already seen this in a case in Washington or Oregon where a cancer patient was told that the state would not pay for their chemotherapy but would pay for physician assisted suicide. So socialized medicine becomes the vehicle to bring in euthanasia.

Those of us with medical problems would be left with no choice but to flee the country in order to get health care. I hear Chile has a nice climate. I guess it's time to invest in Rosetta Stone Spanish.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sermon for November 1-2

The Feast of All Saints (November 1)
November 1-2, 2008
Text: Revelation 7:9-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
In the ancient world, the pagan, idol worshipers, generally believed in a kingdom of the dead. You died and went to the kingdom of the dead which was ruled by a certain god. Generally, the kingdom of the dead was not a nice place. It was really a belief that everyone was going to hell. There was no real concept of heaven. Nor was there any distinction made. It didn’t matter what your life was like on earth, you weren’t going to like the kingdom of the dead. Such a view of the afterlife removes any sense of divine judgement. There is no justice to the results in the afterlife. Hitler and Luther would be in the same place.

We are coming to a time when neo-paganism is increasingly dominating thought and practice in the United States. Even much of what passes for Christianity is really neo-pagan or gnostic. Gnosticism is a belief system that radically divides the spiritual from the material. We again see the wide spread belief in a generic kingdom of the dead. The implications of this are staggering. It makes a person’s confession irrelevant. In time, it turns society itself into an earthly hell. It must be noted that all attempts to create heaven on earth have failed and will always fail. But we only need to turn on the evening news or look at a news site on the internet to see many examples of man quite successfully turning earth into hell. The list would include many of the third world dictatorships of today, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam when the communists took over and the like.

In contrast to this idea, the Scriptures from the first, insisted that the true God distinguishes in death. Many scholars consider the book of Job to be the oldest book of the Bible, predating even the five books of Moses. We read these word of Job, recorded in Job 19. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a) In these words Job is expressing a certain confidence that he will be raised to eternal life with God. Further Job is stating that it will be a bodily resurrection from the dead. Not only his soul or spirit will live, but his body also will live. He will physically stand in the presence of God. This is not a New Testament concept. This is not a late Jewish concept. It was understood by those who worshiped the true God from the beginning. But note also what Job calls God. Job calls God “my Redeemer”. God redeems, He buys back from sin and death. So this concept also was present from the very beginning.

This then brings us to the vision of heaven that was given to St. John. Here we see the same ideas being expressed in the very last book of Scripture. It speaks of a great multitude gathered around the throne of heaven. Note what the people cry out. "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" This is the Father and the Son. But note salvation is God’s property. It is His to give. He gained possession of salvation when Christ, God the Son, died on the cross. So now God can give salvation to whomever He chooses. But God is not arbitrary. Who is it that He saves? Those who have washed their robes in the blood of Christ. In other words those who trust in Christ to save them. Those who have made the sacrifice of Christ to be a credit to their account by eating the Body and Blood of Christ.

The implication of this is that there are others who are not gathered before Christ. And indeed we could point to dozens if not hundred of Scripture passages that make it clear that those who reject Christ, either out of ignorance or out of actual defiance will not be in heaven. They will be cast out from the presence of God. In short Hitler and Luther are not in the same place. But it works a little differently than many people think. Those in hell receive justice for their works. Those in heaven are there because Christ received justice for their works, in their place. So in this sense hell is the place of divine justice. Heaven is the place of divine grace.

What is this place of divine grace? What will it be like? Our text tells us this: “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is called a new heaven and a new earth. It is called a new Eden. We do confess in the creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. This is stating that heaven is not a new spiritual realm. It is a new material realm in which we are confirmed in God’s grace, like the angels. C. S. Lewis suggests that our life on earth will seem to be a mere shadow compared to the physical reality of heaven. In other words heaven is more physically real than this earth. In this new world of heaven, Christ provides all that we need, the most delectable food, the sweetest drink. There will be no more pain or suffering. Those are gone because sin will be gone. But the best thing of all will be that we will live in the unshielded presence of Christ our Creator and Redeemer.

This gives us great hope and also great comfort as we consider those who have died before us. In heaven we will see them again. But we don’t have to wait to be with them. The divine service also transports us into those very same courts of heaven. We confess this in the words of the liturgy - “therefore with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” We gather before Christ’s throne with all the saints of heaven. We kneel at the communion rail with all the saints of heaven. So when I kneel to receive the Lord’s Supper, I don’t kneel alone. My sister Sandy, my brothers Danny and Mark, my grandparents, Bonnie’s parents, my aunts and uncles and the like are all there with me, and I am with them. Not even death separates those who are in Christ.

We live a world that increasingly does not understand life and death, heaven and hell. The world increasingly does not understand divine justice and divine grace. In this climate we must be ever more bold and firm in our confession. The dead in Christ live. Death will not hold us. We will not simply be taken to a kingdom of the dead. We will be in the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ, which we could rightly call the kingdom of the living. We rejoice that many who have gone before are already there in Christ’s presence. They are the saints of heaven. We rejoice that in the grace of Christ we will join them - that we too are numbered among the saints of heaven.

World's Shortest Funeral Homily

Don't ask the circumstances that required such a thing. It was a terrible situation. Steps are being taken to make certain it does not happen again.

Homily - Funeral of Roger Luedtke
October 29, 2008 - Text: Philippians 1:18b-26

Dear Friends in Christ,
The timing of events is often ironic. Though our time here is brief, Roger will also be honored, as we do each year for those who have been called home, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints this coming Sunday.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This is perhaps a strange verse for funeral. St. Paul in this text is saying that he must remain upon the earth to minister to God’s people. Roger was not a pastor, like St. Paul, but he was a stalwart confessional Lutheran layman - a lion for the faith. His service to Christ’s Church will not be forgotten.

Yet, Christ determined that the time has come for that work to end. He called Roger home to heaven. Did Christ do this because Roger was great? No. Roger, was so passionate because he understood that he was sinner. He understood that salvation is a gift from God. Christ died for our sins to make us His children and bring us into communion with him. Roger lives. He lives because Christ paid for his sins.

There are two great errors of our age, concerning death. First is that a person is dead and gone. No. Those who sleep in Christ live. Secondly, that the deceased are present with us because we feel their presence. There is nothing in Scripture to support such a thing. God does not come to us through our feelings. Nor do those who rest in Christ. But that does not mean that we separated from them. Every person who kneels at the communion rail, kneels with Roger, and with Roger receives God’s good gifts. For all those redeemed by Christ share in that great feast.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon for October 25-26

The Festival of the Reformation (October 31)
October 25-26, 2008
Text: Matthew 11:12-19

Dear Friends in Christ,
Throughout the history of the world there have been wars and rumors of war. Rarely are the causes of war pure. Yet rulers of all stripes must weigh the interests and needs of their nations. They must consider the defense of their nation. They must weigh the dangers in the world around them. And sometimes rulers lead counties to war based upon bad information or poor judgement, though with the best of intentions. In our age we find ourselves in a religious war we did not choose and would prefer not to fight. We can protest all that we wish that we did not go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan for religious reasons. Yet, we are fighting there because they are Muslims and we are not. Yes we can say that the causes of the conflict are wrapped up in their religion, not ours. Nevertheless it is a religious war. Most wars throughout history have had a religious component.

In 1618, Ferdinand II became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. The staunchly protestant Bohemians rejected their new Romanist king. They seized two of his representatives when they came to Prague and tossed them out a window in what is known as the Defenestration of Prague. Ferdinand’s representatives survived the fifty foot fall by having the good luck of landing in a pile of horse manure. Ferdinand felt that the Bohemian treatment of his representatives stunk. Thus began the bloodiest religious war among Christians, in the history of world. Thirty years later when the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Germany had lost half of it population. Central Europe lay in ruins. Lutheranism came within an eyelash of complete destruction. Only the heroic Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus saved the Lutheran cause. Gustavus himself was killed in battle at Lützen in 1632. For his great heroism Gustavus is the only king ever honored by the Swedish parliament with the title “the Great.” He was also called “Der Löwe von Mitternacht” - the Lion from Midnight.

Why are there religious wars? It would seem that religion of all things would not be a thing to fight wars over. Indeed from a Christian perspective, war cannot, of itself, advance the Church. It should be noted, however, that war can be the occasion of the Church advancing, as in the Korean War. The first missionaries to Korea were U.S. military chaplains. Today South Korea is the most Christian nation on earth. Nevertheless, war cannot ever be fought for the purpose of advancing the Church. This does not work. Faith does not come at sword point. Faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ. Religious wars are fought because truth divides. Falsehood always tries to swallow up truth. This forces truth to defend itself. Nor can we assume this to be the nonsense of an earlier age. We may well see more religious wars in the future, perhaps even between Christians. All we can do is know the truth and stand for the truth.

This is what the Reformation was all about. It was people, like Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz and Gustavus Adolphus standing up for the truth of God’s Word. They were willing risk a great deal, even their lives, to advance the truth of God’s Word. Indeed we understand that the Bible is truth. Our confessions teach us that the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures are the only source, rule and norm, by which all teachers and all teachings are to be judged. And also that God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.

Our text warns about this age, and all the ages of sinful men. Christ warns of those who would attack the Church by force. This would include heathen, such as the Roman authorities and later the Muslims. It would include false teachers who would use rules and legal right to drive the faithful preachers from their pulpits. It would include those officials in our own supposedly Christian nation who would restrict the voice of the Church. Against all of these we must stand, as did our forefather’s of old.

The second half of our text compares people to children calling back and forth to each other, but one acts as though they did not hear the other. This describes this generation in America to a T. The Word of God is preached but people don’t listen. They go on their merry way and ignore what God is telling them. Even within the Church this is all too often the case. A recent survey showed that over half of American Catholics are pro-abortion. This is a shameful disregard for the Word of God. Nor can the Church be held accountable. While we have many disagreements with Rome, this is not one of them. Rome as been most stalwart in teaching the value and dignity of human life. The Church plays the flute, but the people don’t dance. The Church sings a dirge and the people don’t morn.

What price do we pay for not listening to the Word of God. The truth is lost. This is not some academic matter. For without the truth of God’s Word, salvation is lost. We are lost and damned. Christ says that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) It is in the Words of Holy Scripture that God lays out for us His plan of salvation. If we reject God’s Word we reject His Salvation.

What then is the truth of God’s Word? What is it that Luther recovered for us at the time of the Reformation? First, Luther taught us a greater understanding of sin and its damning power. Sometimes it is said that Luther discovered that God is not angry with man. That is not correct. Luther understood, more than any of his contemporaries and more than almost anyone before or since, just how angry God is with man on account of sin. Sin is no trifling matter. It is the very power of death itself. Because sin is so very serious, only the most serious solution is workable. Good works, special prayers, intervention of saints and like are of no account against sin. It’s even worse than this, but it makes the point. It is as if a person owed a million dollars and said to the bank, well I have a buck and a quarter. Such is the magnitude of sin. So Luther’s first discovery was man’s futility in the face of sin. Then he was ready to read the great words of St. 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... (Romans 3:23-24) So the truth is that we are sinners, lost and damned by our own power. But Jesus Christ has died for our sins and gives us faith, life and salvation as free gifts. Christ has overcome the powers of darkness and rendered them powerless. So now we can laugh in Satan’s face and stick our tongue out at him and say, Satan, you cannot touch me. Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner. But I am baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, who died for my sins and unites me to Him. Where He is, there I am also, because He has saved me. This is the truth of God’s Word. This is the truth to which we must cling, even at the cost of our lives. For only in this truth are we free from sin and death.

Sermon for October 18-19

The Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost
October 18-19, 2008
Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Dear Friends in Christ,
“[Christians] are not united on [the abortion issue] because most go under the assumption that WE have the RIGHT to decide what is more important. That WE have a choice in what WE want to see in our churches, in our communities and the country. Does anyone dare these days to say, "THUS SAYS THE LORD!"? NO because polemics is shut down as unloving. Discipline is unloving. Tolerance is the watch-word. Feeling replaces sound thinking. Relationship replaces truth. Sin is no longer REAL sin. The Law is watered down. The REAL gospel is no longer needed, you see, because we are not THAT bad off, after all. Just make us feel good. Don't call my party evil and advocates for a culture of death. It is my party after all!” Thus writes Rev. David Emmons. In this letter, Rev. Emmons describes the situation and attitudes in this country with great precision and accuracy. Many American Christians have abandoned a belief in truth. Thus they no longer are able to speak clearly on moral and political issues. In one of the most shameful things I have seen in recent weeks, a poll showed that American Christians ranked life issues as the seventh most important political issue behind such things as the price of gasoline. It makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian. And it should make you ashamed as well.

In our text, Christ is approached with the question of whether or not we should pay taxes to the government. Christ’s answer is broader and more inclusive than just that question. He says: "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Render. What does the word “render” mean? The dictionary definition that applies here is to give what is due or proper. Wrapped up in that is the idea that we give everything that we owe. This is an obligation both before God and man - both halves. That means that we are responsible to God not only for what we render to God, but also it means that we are responsible to God for everything that we render to man. St. Paul echoes this idea: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)

So what do we owe to God and man in a republic? We don’t have a king to which we must pay homage and swear fealty. We owe our Christian world view, our judgement, and our vote. Yes, we as Christians must judge. We owe this to God and our neighbor. Some will say we can’t impose our morality upon the nation. Well, someone’s morality is being imposed upon the nation.

In America, we vote by what is called “Australian Ballot”. That means we vote privately, without some official looking over our shoulder. But we are not alone in the voting booth. God is with us. God knows our vote. And we are responsible to God for that vote. We must vote for the things of God and the benefit of our neighbor. To this end, we must be knowledgeable voters. Did you know that most voters make their decision based on the physical appearance of the candidate? No wonder most republics fail! We as Christians owe it to God and our neighbor to be knowledgeable about the issues and the candidates. That means we must invest time and energy in the process.

So what should be our priorities in the voting booth. We as Christians do not think like the world. We have different priorities. So what are they? One: Anything that would prevent the Church from proclaiming the full Word of God. Thus we oppose hate crime legislation because this would be used to prevent the Church from speaking. This is not just fantasy. There are pastors in Canada and in some of the Scandinavian countries who are sitting in jail right now for saying that homosexuality and the ordination of women are sins. This is hate speech under hate crime laws. So our first priority is opposing anything or anyone that would prevent us from proclaiming the full counsel of God. Two: Life Issues. God is the author of life. God determines length of man’s days. God opens wombs and closes them. Abortion and euthanasia are abominable acts before the Lord. They are attacks upon the most innocent and most helpless among us. Neither abortion or euthanasia are loving acts toward our neighbor. We must vote to protect life, much as an earlier generation was called upon to vote against slavery. It took more than a hundred years from the time the fight against slavery was begun by Benjamin Franklin until slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. in 1868. So too will the battle over abortion be a long fight. We might not live to see the end of it. That does not absolve us. We owe it to God and our neighbor to vote for life. Three: Opposition to the homosexual agenda. Here again we have an attempt to call evil good and good evil. We must be guided by Scripture and oppose homosexual marriage and other attempts to redefine the family. The family was defined by God at the time of creation. We cannot redefine it. Four: To stop the advance of militant Islam. Christianity is tolerant. Islam is not. We oppose the advance of militant Islam because it would prevent us from practicing our faith. In countries governed by Sha’ria law, you cannot freely proclaim the gospel. Only after these things come more earth bound things like the economy and the price of gasoline. These issues are governed by our love for our neighbor. We look first at how various policies will effect our neighbor. Our earthly self interest comes last. It like the title of the book written by Chicago Bears running back Gail Sayers - “I’m Third”. Sayers explains, God is first, my fellow man is second, I’m third. This is how we must approach the issue of voting. God first, our neighbor second, me third. We look at our positions and compare these to the positions of the candidates. Then we vote for those who best match our positions as Christians. We owe this both to God and our neighbor. We don’t have the right to decide for ourselves. We must listen to the voice of God.

We have heard a great deal about God’s law today. We need that. As Christians we need to know and understand God’s law. The law teaches us God’s will. Teaching the law is part of the Church’s catechetical task. But obedience to God’s will must be placed into the context of the Gospel. Otherwise, it becomes self righteousness. Why do we seek to be obedient? Because we earn something from God? No. Just the opposite. Our obedience is a mark of our giving thanks to God. We are righteous before God because Christ has forgiven our sins. This is the Gospel message that we so desperately need to preserve. It is a matter of eternal life and death. So we go into the voting booth as redeemed sinners - as people who have been forgiven of their sins and who continue each day to be forgiven. Having been forgiven it is right that we seek God’s will for all aspects of our lives. The reality of being forgiven must never be divorced from any part of our lives. We look at all things through Christ’s eyes. Just as Christ had compassion on us, we are to have compassion on our neighbor. That extends to our vote. And our neighbor includes the unborn and the infirm. Amen!