Friday, November 27, 2009
The National Day of Thanksgiving
November 25, 2009
Text: Philippians 4:6-20
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why do we say thank-you to someone? Perhaps it is just social convention - being proper and polite. That is not a bad thing. We had a Pastor Schroeder who worked for the seminary in an administrative post. He had been raised in the south and was always very proper and polite. This is fine in and of itself. But it can also hide things from ourselves. We might say or do something without knowing why we do it. It’s rather like Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” trying to explain shaking hands to the Faun, Mr. Tumnus. She doesn’t know why we do it, it’s just what we do. So back to the question. Why do we say thank-you to someone. Well, because they have done something for us. This is especially applicable when someone has done something that they didn’t have to do. In saying thank you we are acknowledging what they have done for us.
In celebrating a national day of thanksgiving, we are saying as a nation, that we cannot build our nation by our own power. All our industry, skill, wisdom, and strength is worthless unless it is blessed by God. Now we can observe, that in material things, God blesses the unbeliever along with the believer. Yes, that is true. God does this for two reasons. First because He is a God of order who desires the earthly welfare of His creation. But God also blesses believer and unbeliver alike for the sake of the believers. If I go to a doctor of great skill, who is an un believer, and I benefit from His gifts, I have gained. It would certainly be right and proper for me to pray for him, both giving thanks to God, but also that this doctor would come to faith.
While the believer and the unbeliever are blessed by God, side by side, in earthly matters, they are not equal when it comes to giving thanks. This takes us to our text. Paul here gives us a command to pray. We are to speak to God of our needs, our frustrations and our joys. We are to give thanks to God for all things. But not everyone can do this. Unbelievers have no access to God. They cannot enter into the courts of heaven. They cannot come before our Heavenly Father. They cannot come into God’s presence because they are under God’s wrath. This is the state of man on account of sin. But believers can come into God’s presence. Why? Because Christ died for our sins and brings us in with Him into the presence of our heavenly Father. Yes, Christ died also for the sins of the unbelievers, but they do not gain the benefit of it. Only by means of faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ do we receive these gifts. We often think of forgiveness and eternal life. But also among these gifts is access to the heavenly throne, that is the ability to pray. So tonight we are acting as priests before God - that is standing between God and the world. We are here speaking on behalf of our unbelieving neighbors who cannot give thanks to God for all that He has done. Thus we are speaking to God for ourselves and on behalf of our neighbors. We are also attaching their names to God’s altar. Certainly we should pray that they come to faith. But we should also give thanks to God on their behalf, as well as plead that God would continue to bless them with earthly blessings. For we often benefit when they are blessed.
In giving thanks we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from God, directly or indirectly. We can claim nothing for ourselves. I’m reminded here of Jimmy Stewart’s prayer in the movie Shenandoah. He talks about how they had plowed and planted and tended, in the hot sun and in the cold. Many Americans think this way. But we did not do this with hands and feet that we ourselves made. God gave us the ability to do the work. God blessed the work. God protected the work. One of the prevailing images of the Old Testament was to plow and plant and then have it taken away by raiders. Most of these things are not in our hands. We do not control the weather. Our work could easily be destroyed by drought or flood or some other natural disaster. We do not control the world around us. Political unrest could undo our work. But God restrains these things and thus establishes the work of our hands.
It is time to give thanks. We set this time aside, as a nation to do this. This is a right and proper thing. Are we commanded by God to have a day of Thanksgiving? No. But we are commanded to give thanks always. So certainly to have a special time, when we make this the main focus, is good, right, and salutary. What are we to give thanks for? Everything and everyone. All that God has done and continues to do. We do this because in saying thank you, we are also acknowledging that God is indeed the one who does these things. We remind ourselves that we are totally dependant upon God’s gifts, from creation and redemption, to all that is needed for the preservation and welfare of this life. And then God give us that much more. We live in a time when even the very poor are rich, compared to the standards of history. Consider this: Many of our poorest people have material goods that the richest men of a hundred years ago could not imagine. They have computers, televisions, radios, cars and the like. So yes, it is a time when many are struggling. Our nation’s future stands upon a razor’s edge. Yet, we have more than we can ever use in our life times. That is the nature of God. He doesn’t just give. He gives abundantly, beyond what we could ever imagine or ask. He gives because He loves His creation. Thus, we give thanks without hesitation. For we know that all this comes from our loving Father in heaven.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Mark 13:1-13
Dear Friends in Christ,
On 9/11, we saw something that we would have considered impossible. The two towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. These towers had come to define our image of New York City. In the remake of King Kong, he climbed to the top of the World Trade Center. Yet, anything that can be built, can be destroyed. In fact everything built by man is temporary, because this world it temporary. Now we can take this two ways. We can be philosophical about things and go about our business. We know that one day, whatever we do will be undone. In the end this world will cease. This was Luther’s approach. Once when asked what he would do that afternoon, if he learned that Christ would return the next day, Luther replied that he would plant an apple tree. That was what was on his schedule and he wouldn’t change it, even if he knew it would last but a day. But many have taken a different approach. Cardinal years seem very important in people’s thinking. In about the year 970 A.D., people stopped all construction on new churches. Why? Because of course Christ would return in the year 1000. It wasn’t until about twenty years or so had passed beyond the turn of the millennium, that construction resumed. So for about fifty years, church construction was put on hold. That’s a long time - particularly at a time when large churches took a generation or more to build.
Our text is one that must be carefully studied and understood. It is and it is not about the end of the world. What does that mean? Look at the question - what about the great buildings in Jerusalem? The temple was rebuilt at the time of Ezra. But they built everything, including the temple, from the building materials that they had on hand - namely the rubble left behind when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. So the temple was built of small stones. It was not seen as having any great beauty. Yet, the Prophet Haggai assured the workers that the new temple would indeed be the temple of the Messiah. After Rome took control of Jerusalem, they installed a client king - a half Jew named Herod. Herod the Great was one of the shrewdest politicians that ever lived. This is the Herod of the Christmas story. Unfortunately, he went insane in the last years of his life. So many people do not understand what an incredibly accomplished man this was. Herod, was among other things, a great builder. He rebuilt the temple, though it remained in continuous use. Thus we still count this as the second temple, not a third. Herod had his masons use massive blocks. Some of these stone were 37 by 18 by 12 feet! They would have perfectly smoothed and polished faces and so forth. This was the height of Roman building technology applied to the Temple. In Jesus day, the construction was still ongoing. So it was the marvel of the temple that enthralled the disciples.
What did Jesus say? Not one stone will be left upon another. What is He talking about? He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus Flavus Vespatian Minor. The Roman assault would breach the city walls right in the courtyard of the temple itself. The temple was totally destroyed. So everything that follows is warning signs about the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church remembered Christ’s words very well. When the revolt started in 66 A.D. and the Jewish authorities killed James the Just - that is Christ’s brother who served as the first bishop of Jerusalem - they fled the city. No Christians died when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D.
Now, do these words, about the destruction of Jerusalem have anything to say to us? Yes. For much of what Christ is saying applies to any calamity, as well as to the stresses Christians face in these latter days. First notice that Christ does not give a date or a definite sign. They had to interpret what they were seeing and take appropriate action.
The key here is found in verses 5 and 13. See that no one leads you astray and endure to the end. What will happen in the later days? There were be false Messiahs. In fact in 66 A.D. they paraded a false Messiah through Jerusalem. Interestingly, he was brought in, riding on a donkey, from the Mount of Olives, wearing a purple robe. Sound familiar? Our text says that these false Messiahs will come and say I am He. But here our translation is not quite accurate. It actually says that they will say “I AM”. In other words they will claim to be Yahweh, that is God. Every generation has it’s version of this, Jim Jones, when I was in high school and so forth. We see the muck that has been made of the Christian faith in our age, and particularly, the non Christian religions that have been spun off from Christianity - Mormanism, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science and so forth. All these groups would point us to a false Messiah of one sort or another. And all of these false teachings throw everything back upon ourselves. They would teach us that we must do all that is necessary for our salvation.
As Christians we face many enemies and many trials. We may have neighbors who despise us. We may have government officials trying to tell us what we can and can’t say. There have even been laws proposed, in the U.S., that would attempt to tell the churches what they can and can’t call sin. Such laws are already in place in some other countries, including Canada. We also know that this sinful world will always be marked by wars and natural disasters. This is the course of this world. They are not signs of Christ’s return, but do serve as a warning. They warn us of our constant need for repentance. As Christ said of another disaster - you repent, lest you also perish. Even families will be divided. But again, this is what Christ does - He divides the world into the believers who live and the unbelievers who are dead. These two groups will always be at war.
How can we endure in the face of such things? Because there is no alternative. Christ alone is life. He alone died for our sins and gives us perfect forgiveness and eternal life. Even if we were killed, as Christians we have not lost. For as St. Paul says, to die is gain and to live is Christ. Our life is wrapped up in the life of Christ. As He lives so also we live. Christ is coming. He will judge this world. He will draw it to its end, though I doubt it will happen in 2012. Yet, we have a power that the world cannot comprehend. It is the knowledge of God’s love in Christ Jesus. It is the certainty that in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have life. It is the promise that the dead will rise in their bodies and the believers will live with Christ in holiness and purity forever.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Another peeve of mine is the "plague on all their houses" broad side. Christendom has many branches. I do believe that confessional Lutheranism is the one that has everything right - that is perfectly reflects the Scriptures. But simply blasting away at all others is in no way helpful. We must carefully distinguish what it is that each group teaches, affirm what is right and therefore with which we would agree, and that which they teach wrongly. Further, this indiscriminate blasting leaves the impression that only confessional Lutherans are Christians and will be in heaven. This of course if completely contrary to both the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. In short, I have no time for brain dead Christianity.
We have enough problems in our lives in the church and don't need to shoot ourselves in the foot. Both of these do, in effect shoot us in the foot.
The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
November 7-8, 2009
Text: Mark 12:38-44
Dear Friends in Christ,
About twenty five years or so after our text, the people of Ephesus complained that St. Paul and the Christians were turning the world upside down. That was certainly true. But why did Christians turn the world upside down? Because Christ turned both the Church and the world upside down.
At the time of Christ, the Pharisees were seen as the most holy and devout of all Jews. They ruled the synagogues. Rabbis were Pharisees. They also made a great show of their piety and often said their prayers in public. But what else was going on behind the scenes. Many Pharisees were money grubbers who took advantage of the plight of others. Instead of helping widows, they were stealing their houses and turning them into prostitutes. Interestingly, a few years ago in Israel, research revealed that many of the most conservative rabbis frequented brothels. So not much has changed.
We have this right in our own circles as well. In the late 1600's a German pastor named Philip Jacob Spener became concerned that too many people were nominal Christians who really didn’t live Christian lives. He launched a movement call Pietism. Now this became so extreme that Spener himself later repudiated it, but the cat was out of the bag. It could not be undone. Many of the most pious began to say that they were so holy that they didn’t need the Lord’s Supper anymore. That was for more worldly Christians. But when you looked under the surface, many pietists and even pietist preachers were not righteous at all. They were just keeping their sins hidden, as though if no one knows its okay. Thus you have the absurdity of a man visiting a brothel on Saturday night and preaching a hellfire and brimstone sermon on Sunday morning. It’s rather like the old joke about going fishing with a Baptist. You never know how much beer to bring. If there’s just the two of you, you need a whole case. But if the Baptist brings another Baptist with him, they won’t drink any.
Let’s first be clear about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is holding others to a standard that you do not hold yourself. There is a baseball player who has had a history of abusing narcotics. A big deal was made in the press when he was photographed using drugs. Ironically the picture was taken some month earlier, and the player had reported the incident to league and sought help, the very next day after it had happened. So this man is not a hypocrite. He recognizing that using drugs is wrong. He doesn’t excuse his own behavior. But he struggles with this sin. The Pharisees did hold others to a standard they did not live by themselves, though they might have made it appear that they were.
Why is all this talk about hypocrisy and righteousness important. The day of judgement is coming. There will be a reckoning. All things will be revealed, including our most secret sins. In fact God already knows them. No one will get past the judgement. Those who abide in the evil of their works will be condemned to live in them forever. A good picture of hell is Ebenezer Scrooge sitting in his cold rooms, all alone. He has hurt others by his greed and his miserliness. But in the end, he is the one who sits alone in the cold room, by his down choice.
To face the judgement, we must have a righteousness that is more than outward show. But we are sinners, born in a state of total depravity. The most man can do put on an outward veneer. The more man tries to be righteous by his own will and works, the more he fails - the more he becomes a hypocrite. Yet, this is by our nature what we do, what we want to do. So what is Christ talking about. He’s pointing to a whole different kind of righteousness. We call it an alien righteousness or a beggars righteousness. By this kind of righteousness we are made holy, sinless, and right before God. It is literally as alien as dressing in foreign clothing. Think on this. You are summoned to the king’s palace for trial. But someone grabs you and drags you into the ally and tells you that you must trade cloths with him. You do and when you come before the king, he does seem to see you at all. He bids you to come forward and he feels and smells your cloths, and says, ah, my son, welcome home. You turn around there is the man who changed clothes with you standing behind you. He say, father, let me introduce my brother. This is what God does for us. Christ clothes us with His righteousness, and then presents us as God’s son and heir to God the Father. This is the greater righteousness of which Christ was speaking in our text. This is perfect righteousness because it is the righteousness of God given to us. So if indeed God is righteous, we to are righteous. We call this a beggar’s righteousness because it cannot be earned. It can only be given and received.
The day of judgement is coming. We don’t know when. It could be today. It may not be in our life times. But then, death also takes us to the judgement. So if these are the last day of this universe or not, does not matter. We must be prepared for the judgement, to which we will be called in one way or the other. There is a reckoning that we cannot avoid. But for us as believers in Christ, we do not have to fear the judgement. In fact we welcome it. Why? Because Christ has covered us with His own righteousness. This is the one to whom all authority has been given. This is the one who will stand in judgement over us. This same One died for our sin, shed His blood for our salvation and clothes in His own righteousness. For us the judgement is a welcoming home. But for the world, there is great fear. Damnation and hell are very real things. No human righteousness can stand in the judgement. All human righteousness is unclean before God. This is what will happen to the righteousness of the Pharisees and the piestists and others who rely upon themselves and their own works, it will fall and the people with it. Those who trust in themselves will find out that God is indeed angry over sin.
So we must be prepared for the judgement. We will either be judged by our unrighteousness or Christ’s righteousness. We know from God’s word, Holy Scripture, that we, cannot stand in the judgement by our works. Our works will not save us. But clothed in the righteousness of Christ, the judgement will be a triumphant celebration. Christ will present us to God the Father as a fellow son of God and seat us at the great banquet table of heaven.
October 31-November 1
The Feast of All Saints
Text: Revelation 7:9-17
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. What are we doing? And why are we doing it? We are remembering all the faithful believers who have died in the faith. We are celebrating the fact that they are in heaven. Why are we doing this? Because they were great? No. Because Christ has done great things for them. We celebrate the fact that Christ, in grace, has taken them to heaven, and anticipate the day when we shall join them. But there is more. We are celebrating the fact that we join with them in the Divine Service. The liturgy, the Divine Service, is never celebrated alone, but with all the saints on earth and in heaven.
The Revelation or more properly the Apocalypse of St. John is a book of comfort. That is its purpose. The prophecy nuts would use these words to scare the you know what out of you. But such interpretations should be rejected, since they would not serve the original purpose of offering comfort. Why did people need comfort at that time? It was written in the 90's A.D. The Emperor Nero launched the first persecution of Christians, in 64 A.D., but his work was mostly centered on Rome itself. If you were a Christian in say, Corinth, you were probably not directly affected. Persecution of Christians ended with Nero’s death in 68 A.D. After three years of turmoil, Roman general Titus Flavus Vespatian Major became Caesar. He is known to history simply as Vespatian. He was the emperor who built the Colosseum, in Rome. Vespatian had no interest in persecuting Christians. There is some evidence that several members of his family were Christians. In fact his brother Sabinus, who had died before Vespatian became emperor, might well have been Luke’s Theophilus. Vespatian was succeeded by his son of the same name. To avoid confusion, they usual call him Titus. He in turn was succeeded by his brother Titus Flavus Domition. Domition, like Nero, was paranoid, and probably insane. He launched the first empire wide persecution of Christians.
By this time, John was the only remaining apostle. He was a very elderly man living in Ephesus. Domition was afraid to kill John. He feared that John’s death would lead others to become Christians. So he sent John into exile on the island of Patmos. Here John would record the great vision that now concludes Holy Scripture.
While John was in exile many Christians were imprisoned, enslaved, and killed. It was a terrible time to be a Christian. Many feared that Christianity would be wiped from the memory of man. Many wondered if God is really in charge. This is why God gave this vision to John. The theme is take heart, God is with you.
So how is this vision comforting? Who is it that is standing before the throne in the white robes? The martyrs. This is the assembly of those who had been killed for the sake of Christ. Where are they? In heaven. They are before the throne of Christ. They have been sealed for life. They will not die again. They will rest forever in perfect comfort. Christ Himself will wipe every tear from their eyes. So God is saying, through John, you saw them get their head chopped off, be crucified, be torn by wild beasts and so forth. You saw them enslaved and worked to death. But here’s the reals story. They are before the throne of God. Their death was not in vain. They live with Christ, their Lord.
Let’s contrast this to the death of their persecutor. Domition was murdered by his own guards. Truly a case of just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. One would presume that he now lies in hell. Domition’s life was in vain. So also his death. He accomplished no good thing in life or in death. He did not even achieve his own pleasure, for he was a bitterly unhappy man.
Why are the martyrs in heaven? They earned it with their suffering and death, right? No. Because this is something that human beings cannot earn. Each of those white robed martyrs was a sinner, just like you and I. All human beings are born in sin. As King David said: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) God first convicted them. God showed them their sins. God showed them through Scripture, though preaching and teaching, that they could not save themselves. We could look to the first three chapters of Romans where Paul lays it on deeper and deeper, showing that no one is righteous before God. But what does John tell us here? Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
What does that mean? Salvation belongs to God the Father and to God the Son. They can give it to whom they choose. It’s their property. They own it. The Scriptures teach us that God has placed all authority in the hands of God the Son. We read this most clearly in Daniel 7 as well as Matthew 28. So now, all who trust in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, will indeed have life. This is God’s promise, this He will do. For those who have died in Christ, this He has already done.
The martyrs, like us, did not choose to believe in Jesus Christ. They in fact believed in spite of themselves. True faith is a conviction. We are convicted in our hearts that this true. We can do no other. To trust in anything else would be to trust in what we know to be false. For one who is convicted that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, there is no option. Such faith cannot deny Christ, even on pain of death. This is because true faith is not something that we decide. True faith comes from God’s Word and Sacraments, and overwhelms whatever we desire.
The Feast of All Saints - the celebration of all that now live in the halls of heaven with Christ our Savior. This is our parents, grandparents, brother and sisters, sons and daughters, who have died in the faith. We do not celebrate nameless faces in a vision. We celebrate our families and friends. We celebrate because Christ gave them faith and salvation. We celebrate because, though we miss them, we know that they live and have a joy that we cannot imagine, but will someday share. We will one day join them yes. But we are also with them now. Think on this: if you have lost a faithful spouse, when you commune, they are with you, also communing at the rail. The same it true of all those close to you. I never met my sister Sandy, who died at age 10, two years before I was born, but whenever I commune she’s right there with me. She’s with me because she lives in Christ and I live in Christ. And that life will last forever. That life, though divided now, will one day be united in heaven. This is not our doing, but Christ alone. So yes, perhaps today is a morbid day. We are thinking about the dead. But they are dead who live in Christ. And we celebrate precisely because they do live in Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19 ESV) These words of Christ take on new importance in our day. We are beset on all sides by false teachers. This was illustrated on a recently aired edition of the radio program “The White Horse Inn”. They sent their producer out on to the floor of the National Christian Booksellers convention. He interviewed a number of people at random. Now remember that these are Christian authors, publishers, editors and the like. These are supposed to be people who are very knowledgeable about the Christian faith. Virtually none of the people interviewed believed that we are saved by grace. When asked if the human heart was essentially good, 100% of those interviewed said yes it is. Yet, what does Christ say comes out of our hearts? Sin! In fact the deeper we delve into our hearts, the more sins we find. I have often pointed out that maturity of faith is the recognition of our own sins. The more truly mature we are in our faith, the more fully we see our own sins. The more fully we see our own sins, the more fully we see what Christ has done for us in His death and resurrection.
The founders of the Missouri Synod included men like Walther, Wyneken, Craemer and Sihler. Looking at their writings is insightful. One of the points to focus upon is who did they write against? Did they write against Rome? No. Not too much. In fact when later generations of the LCMS started to get fixated on Rome, it is a reflection of a degeneration in their thought process. The founders used the most ink writing against other Lutherans who had departed from our historic teachings. That makes sense because you always respond to those closest to us. But what about outside of Lutheranism? They wrote extensively against the Methodists. They wrote extensively against revivalism. In fact the first constitution of the LCMS, in 1847, banned the practice of revivalism. What were their beefs against the Methodists? Preaching to the emotions rather than instructing people in the word of God. Preaching work righteousness. And not conducting responsible missions - that is not focusing on forming local congregations and placing pastors in pulpits.
Where are these same ideas today? Methodism today is dominated by liberalism and no longer looks much like it did in 1847. So where do we find these same ideas today? In popular, megachurch, evangelicalism. Most of American evangelicalism believes that we are saved by our own works. It further teaches that if we are good enough, God will bless us with material wealth. So wealth is seen as a reflection of how tight we are with God. Yet, what is in our hearts? What did Christ say? Sin. We can never be good enough. Wealth is not a reflection of God’s blessing. Wealth may even be a curse. Yet, people eat up the teaching of the megachurch evangelical pastors. Why? St. Paul has the answer for us in II Timothy 4: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. Men like to hear that we can save ourselves. So they are drawn to preachers who will confirm this. We don’t like to admit that we are sinners. But it is a myth - a lie. The preaching of this lie is as popular as ever. The problem is we are not good, deep down. We are sinners, from the depths of our hearts. We cannot save ourselves. Thanks be to God, that in Jesus Christ, we are given forgiveness and salvation as a free gift apart from anything we have done or even could do.
Rev. Jody Walter
Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:104-105
The Festival of the Reformation (Oct. 31)
October 24-25, 2009
Text: John 8:31-36
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Church has always struggled to maintain the teaching of the truth. The reason for this is both simple and complex. At the root of the problem is that Satan is always trying to attack the Church and substitute his lies for God’s truth. These battles led to the first split in the Church in 1054. It is called the Great Schism. The Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople mutually excommunicated one another. A Roman cardinal actually had the gall to march in and lay the papal bull of excommunication right on the altar of the Hagia Sophia. By the late fourteen hundreds, the western church was in terrible shape. The teachings were all over the map. In one case, a man was burned at the stake as a heretic, at the same time as the Pope’s closest advisor was teaching the same things. Since few could read and even fewer had access to the Scriptures and the writings of the ancient fathers, no one really knew what was supposed to be taught. Even many priests could not read. Was this some grand conspiracy to hide the truth? No. It was simply a reflection of the fact that books were few and very expensive. A single copy of the complete Bible would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in today’s prices. In the late fourteen hundreds the price of books suddenly dropped. Why? Because a man named Gutenberg invented movable type. Now books could be easily pressed in mass quantities rather than copied by hand. This didn’t help the masses, but it was a great boon to scholars.
Most of us know that October 31st is celebrated as Reformation day, because on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses protesting the sale of indulgences on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. But I want to focus on events that would take place a few months later. Luther was the lecturer on the Bible. He was the only professor at Wittenberg permitted to lecture on the text of Scripture itself. Other theologians had to lecture on the writings of other theologians. Luther, was one of most knowledgeable men in Germany on the text of the Bible. But the only Bible he’d ever seen was the Latin Vulgate. This was a translation done by St. Jerome in the 400's A.D. Early in the year 1518, Duke Frederick took a chance on a young scholar and added him to the faculty. He was just 18 years old. His name was Philip Melanchthon. Why did Duke Frederick covet this man’s services? Because Melanchthon, at 18, was already the foremost language scholar in Christian Europe. He knew Greek, something few did at that time. He also knew Hebrew, which was virtually unknown the Christian west. He was also the foremost expert on the writing the ancient fathers in the western church. A half century earlier, a scholar from Constantinople brought an extensive library of the eastern church fathers to Florence, Italy. They were quickly published, via the new printing press. Young Master Melanchthon devoured these writings and had them all but memorized. Melanchthon began to teach Luther Greek and Hebrew. Just three years later, Luther would translate the whole the New Testament from Greek into German in just six weeks. Luther, who had so struggled to understand the grace of God, now through the Greek text of the New Testament, found at last the peace from God that he was seeking. In a very real sense Luther finally, once and for all came to understand the Gospel through his friendship and collaboration with young Master Philip.
And what was it that Luther came to understand? That the truth would set him free. That’s a bizarre concept in this post modern age, where all truth is seen as relative. The Lutheran Reformation was about the conviction that truth is fixed in place and does not change. It is fixed in place by the very words of Jesus Christ. By this we mean the whole of Scripture, for the whole Bible is the voice of Christ speaking to us. And so if we abide in Christ’s word, we are His disciples and we are free. Free from what? Free from sin and death. Why are we free from sin and death? Because Christ says we are. In one of our hymns, we have the line “At Thy Speaking it was Done”. Many people connect that with creation. But it also refers, just as much, to “It is finished!” Christ speaks our sins forgiven and they are forgiven.
How did Luther and Melanchthon know that they had it correct? How did they know that they weren’t completely twisting the Scriptures to suit themselves? The ancient church fathers. They could quote Augustine, Cyprian, Chyrsostom, Nazianzus, Athanasius, and many others who taught the same thing. They could show that they were introducing nothing new into the Church at all. This is why it is significant that Luther was well read in the ancient fathers, and could quote them freely and Melanchthon was the foremost expert on the ancient fathers in the western Church. And so when we build on the teachings of Luther, we are building on the teachings the ancient fathers as well. It is true that the Lutheran Church was born in 1530, with the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, but the teachings presented at Augsburg, go back to the Apostles themselves.
And so we can have great confidence. We have the Scriptures. We have the fathers, right back to the days of the Apostles. The words of Scripture are clear in themselves. But we are doubly certain because we know that Christians for many centuries have understood these words in the same way.
This brings us back to Christ. Yes, we are born slaves to sin. A slave cannot free themselves. And because we are slaves to sin, we are helpless - prisoners of sin and death. But Christ, the Son, sets us free by His death and resurrection. Then, Christ presents us, dressed in His righteousness, to God the Father and says, here, Father, is your son. Amazingly, God the Father receives us as His son. Why? Because we have been set free from sin and death. We are free to be sons of God. And as a son of God, we remain in our Father’s house forever. We will not be evicted. We will remain with Christ and our Father as free citizens of heaven. We will remain free because the Son has set us free.
Nearly five hundred years ago, a great battle broke out within the Church. It began with hammer strokes on a church door in a small German university town. It was a battle for the truth. Sadly, we are still fighting that battle for the truth. It never ends. The devil is always trying to deceive us and the church as a whole. The church is always in need of reformation. This is just as true of the Missouri Synod as it was for the church in Luther’s day. Yet, it is a battle we cannot ignore. It is a battle we cannot lose. There is too much at stake. It is the difference between slavery and freedom. The truth will set us free. Jesus Christ is the truth. His words are the truth. And it is in His words that we learn that He has set us free from sin and death, to live as free citizens of heaven. This truth we must never compromise. This truth we must never surrender. For this truth is life.
The 20th Sunday After Pentecost
October 17-18, 2009
Text: Mark 10:17-22
Dear Friends in Christ,
Down in the Smokey Mountains, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a place where there is a natural rock bridge. You have to walk some distance to get up to it. One of the routes you can take, goes through a narrow cut in the rock called the “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” I was about seven years old when we went through the place. I had no trouble getting through. I wasn’t too sure what the big deal was. These days, I understand completely, considering that I somewhat resemble that title. I would probably have to suck it in a little to get through. The truth is that it isn’t really that tight. Otherwise they wouldn’t let people through. But many adults do have to shuffle through kind of side ways. But needless to say, you wouldn’t ride a horse through there or anything like that.
Our text could be termed the fat camel’s squeeze. Christ makes reference to something termed the “Eye of The Needle.” This was very likely a reference to a small gate in the wall of many cities. In the middle ages they called such a gate a postern. This was a gate that was intended for certain emergencies. It was usually quite small for a man on foot. It might not always have been on ground level. So you might have needed a ladder. So picture this scene. First you get a camel to climb up a ladder. Then you get him to suck in his hump, and crawl through the door on his belly. There is only one place that you would ever see this happen - in a Warner Brothers cartoon with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. It would be the kind of thing the Three Stooges would attempt.
Now, at first glance, one might say our text is about money. No, that is not correct. It is about faith and trust. Money and wealth is only the back drop against which Jesus talks about faith. Our text pick right up where last week’s Gospel left off. Last week, you may recall, the rich ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and to follow him. The man left Jesus. So is Jesus saying money is bad? No. If he were, he’d be contradicting Scripture. Abraham was a wealthy man and Scripture says that God counted him as righteous. David was wealthy and Scripture says that he was a man after God’s own heart. We could go on throughout the Scriptures and find many true believers who were very wealthy. The money is not the problem. The lack of faith and trust is the issue.
The real question is one of trust. Where do you place your trust? And for what purpose? What do you understand as the source of your wealth? Faith is a funny thing. It is only as valuable and useful as the object of faith. To see this we must look to everyday things. If I turn on a light switch, the light comes on. But if I had no faith in light switches to turn on lights, I would never bother to turn them on, and I would remain in darkness. So such faith is a very proper thing, born of our experience with light switches. But if we trust a light switch to take us to Wal Mart, we have an absurd faith, no matter how strong it is. A light switch will never take us to Wal Mart no matter how many times we flip it. It is simply incapable of delivering that. Many Americans place their faith in faith itself. But faith has nothing of its own to give. Faith is a worthless object of faith.
So where is your trust. Many trust in their wealth. It’s not that a rich man can’t go to heaven. But many rich men trust in their money. They think because they are rich and powerful God will have to regard them favorably. But God does not judge according to worldly importance. The most powerful king, is still a sinner who must confess their sins before God and be absolved of them. The most powerful king gets to heaven the same way you and I do - by trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus Christ says, that many who are first on earth, will be last in the judgement. In other words, many of the richest, most powerful, and most famous people, will not be in heaven. And many poor people, who nevertheless trusted in God for their salvation, will have places of honor in heaven. God’s elect include people of all stations. They will all be there, not because of what they have done, but because of what Christ has done. This is why the disciples ask, who can be saved? For by earthly standards no one can be saved. This is because only Christ can save us. It requires no earthly power, but one hundred percent divine power.
So did Jesus really want the rich ruler to sell everything he owned and follow Him? Yes. Because for this man, his wealth was what was preventing him from following Jesus. This of course would not be true of all people. But for each of us there is that thing with which we struggle. There is always something that has the potential to rob us of our faith. It might be a desire for power. It might be a desire for romantic love. It might even being something that is good. Sometimes people get so wrapped up in helping the poor, that they have no time for Christ. So their own work for the poor becomes the thing that they trust. The question has been raised if even Mother Teresa is in heaven. From statements that she made, one could conclude that she trusted more in her own works than in Christ. But of course we cannot read, with certainty, the condition of another’s heart. All that can be said, with surety, of Mother Teresa, is what can be said all people, of you and me. If she trusted in Christ, she is in heaven. If she trusted in her works, as great and Godly as those were, she is not.
So where is your trust? Is it in Christ, or do we carry a lot of other baggage around? Are we really trusting something else? Every Christian, will, on some level have this struggle. But it is as individual as each person. One might trust in their knowledge. Another might trust in their athletic ability. Another might trust in their ability to shoot straight. Another might trust in their wealth. All these things are potentially good things. All of these things could well have a proper place in our life. But they must not displace Christ. Our trust for forgiveness of our sins and eternal life must be in Christ, alone. He alone has the power to forgive our sins and give us life. No one else can do this. Nothing else can do this. Thus, we must push all else aside, all that gets in the way and follow Christ.
October 10-11, 2009
Text: Acts 9: 36-43
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we are celebrating LWML Sunday. We do this each year to honor the service of our Synod’s Women’s auxiliary. This year posed a challenge, as neither the regular readings appointed for the week when we celebrated St. Michael and All Angels, which then we did not use, nor the readings appointed for this day seemed suitable. It has been the practice in the published materials to use the readings for the date they are suggesting for LWML Sunday. That would be two weeks ago when we celebrated St. Michael. But as I said, they seemed particularly unsuited. So in a departure from normal practice, I have selected a different text.
Years ago, many of our local ladies groups, were called the Dorcas Society. They were named in honor of the woman in our text. One of my tasks this morning is to disabuse you of the notion that she was some super Christian. She was in fact, very ordinary. But God used her in extraordinary ways.
This account takes place just a few months after Jesus’ ascension. The growth of the Church was explosive, rapidly spreading in the Jewish and Samaritan communities. They had not yet preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. One of the striking features of our text is the role played by the widows. In those days widows were often young women. The death of their husband would leave them destitute. Many were forced into prostitution. We see references to this already in the book of Ruth, about 1200 years earlier. But the Church, from day one, took in widows and provided for them. They already are playing a vital role in the Church in its first year. We don’t know if Dorcas or Tabatha was a widow. She might or might not have been a widow. But it appears that she had some means of her own. So if she was a widow she would have likely had a son. In that case she would have had control of her husband’s estate, to preserve it for her son. How do we know that Dorcas was a women of some means? She made garments for the widows, who had been left destitute. This was not just a mark of talent - that she was skilled with needle and thread - but that she had the means to afford to do this as well. Now in saying this, I don’t mean to imply that she was necessarily wealthy. She just had access to at least a small amount of funds. Had she been very wealthy they would have anointed her body with spices and oil, not just washed it.
Peter is nearby so they summon him to attend the funeral, which normally took place the same day. So there was some urgency. What is interesting, is that when the widows showed Peter the garments Dorcas had made, he put them outside. He wanted nothing to do with the praise party. At that moment, what Dorcas had done was not important. What was important was what Christ had done for her. Christ had forgiven the sins of Dorcas. If her sins were indeed forgiven, she was no longer bound by death. Now Peter, could have simply assured the mourners that Dorcas now lived with Christ in heaven. That would certainly have been true. Peter certainly did this on many other occasions. But Peter does something different. Peter is directed by the Holy Spirit. We know this from the outcome of the event. Without the working of the Holy Spirit, this does not play out the way Scripture tells us. Peter, instructed by the Spirit, raises her from the dead. This became a sign used by the Holy Spirit to bring many to faith in Christ. Peter does not raise Dorcas from the dead, because she was some special saint. She is raised from the dead so that others would turn to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
As I have noted, Dorcas was not a super Christian, saint extraordinare, or anything like this. The only thing that makes her stand out from the other women of her age is that we have her name. About now, you are ready to object saying, but what about all the garments she made? Yes? Your point? Let’s work this through. Why was Dorcas a Christian? Because Christ died for her sins and through the Holy Spirit gave her faith to trust in this for her salvation. In other words, she was saved by grace, as a free gift of God. Nothing she did earned any favor with God or even could earn any favor with God. I would go so far as to say that Peter was probably at the deathbed of dozens of women, just like Dorcas, even some that had done more than Dorcas. Only this one did he raise from the dead. She was raised, not because she was special, but because at that moment, this sign would bring many to faith.
What of Dorcas’ works? Surely this is worthy of something. I think if you would have asked her, she would have said, it is nothing. For if you know that Christ has made perfect satisfaction before God the Father for you, and that He gives this to you as a free gift, does this not prompt a response? Of course. We sing songs of praise to God. But we do something else as well. We give of ourselves, as Christ gave of Himself. Dorcas is just an example of the millions of faithful women in the history of the Church. She saw a need that she could fill and she filled it. She did this freely, as Christ had also given freely to her. Her reward was already hers before she did anything. It was because she understood that she was forgiven, that she was free to serve others.
And so to this day also. Christian men and women serve in response to what Christ has done for them. We serve because Christ has already served us. We don’t serve to gain anything for ourselves. Christ has already given us all that we will ever need. This too then is the way we must view the labor the LWML. This is a natural outpouring of love for the One who has saved us. This is just what Christians do. This is just what Christian women do. Because we are already saved by Christ, we serve those around us as we see that they have need. To assist our women in this, we have created the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Just like Dorcas, these women are very ordinary. They are humble children of God raised to life by Christ. They see a need and they fill it. This is not for any reward, for what reward could there be that is greater than what they already have? The women of the LWML do this simply because this is who they are as redeemed children of God. Yes, it is very ordinary, what they do. But God uses it for extraordinary things, just God used Dorcas’ for extraordinary things.
The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
October 3-4, 2009
Text: Genesis 2:18-25
Dear Friends in Christ,
This text that we have before us is an extraordinary text for a wide range of reasons. First we must say that this text is pure Gospel. Many will say, what? How can this be Gospel? There’s no mention of Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, that is true, but you must remember the definition of “Gospel”. Gospel is those good and gracious things that God does for us. God created us, for us. He didn’t have to do this. But out of love for something that only existed in His own mind, He made that thought a reality. I think most human beings, would consider this a good thing. We rather like the fact that we exist.
This text, like many parts of Scripture, in order to be rightly understood, must be placed in context. In this case, the Scriptural context is straight forward. The language used in not terribly difficult. Jesus confirms a literal understanding of this text in His teaching recorded in the Gospels. But the secular, historical context is very crucial indeed. Why was it important to include the story of creation, and the creation of man in particular, in the Bible? What was happening in the world that made this necessary? There were several things. First is how creation came to be. In the pagan world, the original god, by a sexual act, created the other gods. Then by their sexual relations, they created the world, animals, humans and such. Thus, the universe came out of the sexual organs of the gods. Often, the gods hated creation. Man could only advance by pitting one god against the other. In contrast, what do we read in Genesis 1 and 2. God spoke and it was. Creation comes from the mouth of God. Even the quickening of man comes from God’s mouth. We read that God breathed into man the breath of life. In this we must see God’s Word being poured into man. For how do the Scriptures speak of God’s Word? They say it was breathed out by God. The whole idea of breathing and breath, of course teaches us the involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation. Further, God shows His love in that He created man in His own image. Man is to be a reflection of who God is.
Now, as we noted above the pagan gods often are portrayed as hating creation. But what do we read in our text? “It is not good...” Let’s focus on just those words. By these words, God is expressing His attitude for man. He desires man’s good. He does not desire bad things for man. There is a simple word for this attitude. It is called love. God loves mankind. God loves His creation. He want everyone and everything to be happy and content. He shows this in two ways.
God calls Adam to Him. This would have been the pre-incarnate Christ, probably appearing in human form. He instructs Adam to examine the animals and name them. Why does God do this? Because man is to be the gardener. You God loved His creation so much, He didn’t just let it run like a clock and if kept going fine, if not oh well. Rather God created man to care for the world. This is a charge that we still have. But the Christian view of the environment is very different than the environmentalist view. Man cares for the world, but the world also serves man by providing for his needs. Further, we as Christians would argue that nature is in an degenerative state. Man’s intervention helps to preserve and balance nature. So, for example, the environmentalists will say that we cannot clear out trees and underbrush from the forest, since that is a natural process. But in leaving these things, we leave behind the fuel for horrendous forest fires. It would be a very proper and Christian thing to clean out the underbrush to restrain fires. We are managing nature and making it better. Even in places where great damage has been done, man’s intervention can restore nature. In a certain mountain range, out west, virtually all living things had been destroyed by the toxic run off from a copper mine. One man was determined to restore the natural order. Conventional wisdom was that the soil was so acidic, nothing could grow. But this man found plants that would grow in those conditions and made it his mission to restore tens of the thousands of acres of wilderness. Some years later, the man’s story became well known, and forestry companies donated material and equipment. Today the area is as lush and green as it ever was. So man was created out of God’s love for His creation, to be it’s care taker.
But for man, there was no one like him to be His companion. Again we must look to the pagan world. In the pagan world man and woman were viewed to be different creatures. It was as though a dog had to breed with a cat to produce offspring. In short, women were not considered to be human beings. They were considered to be something only slightly above the animals. Thus female infants were unwanted and abandoned. But what do we see? Woman was taken from man. She was created to be the companion and compliment of man. And man was to care for woman above all the creatures, for she also was created in the image of God. This is the concept of headship. The husband it to be the head of wife. By this we don’t mean lordship or dictatorship. Rather man was to serve woman by seeing to her needs, even as she served man. This of course would work out in its fulness in marriage.
We must of course note that this perfect relationship between man and woman does not exist today. When man fell into sin, Christ stated that there would be striving between man and woman. Man’s relationship to nature changed as well. Nature was no longer benign, but there were wild beasts who feared man and who would harm man. Further, nature became cursed, and thus, even more in need of man’s care. Yet, in spite of anything that man does, we know that this world will come an end. It will not survive. This too is a mark of God’s love. He will not allow the curse of sin to continue forever. But this world will be replaced. Heaven is a new Eden, a new world, without sin and death, without corruption and without the curse. Here we must then turn our eyes to Christ. For it is Christ’s death and resurrection that begins this process of renewal. He starts the process by taking away our sins and giving us forgiveness and life. His death and resurrection give Him perfect dominion over all creation. And He uses this dominion to renew and restore. And finally, at the end of this world, He will create that perfectly redeemed and renewed world, that is promised to us in the Scriptures.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The recent actions of the ELCA should remind us of a number of things. One thing that needs to be said up front. The problem with the ELCA is not the ordination of practicing homosexuals, approval of same sex marriages, or even the ordination of women. These are the symptoms of a greater problem - the complete redefining of the Gospel itself. Many in the ELCA see Gospel as our duty to make the world a better place. But this is not Gospel. Gospel is always what God does for us. Anything we are to do is law. The Gospel, at its root, is the message that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died for sins and gives us forgiveness and life. This is good news indeed. It frees us from a law that we could never fulfill. Yes, good works are to follow, but the Scripture’s picture of good works is a far cry from the calls for radical social justice that we hear from American liberals. So the redefining of the Gospel is the ultimate problem. However, that does not help us in understanding how the ELCA got to where they are today. In order to understand this, we must realize that while the redefining of the Gospel is the final and most catastrophic problem, it is likewise a symptom of the root problem.
The root problem in the ELCA is the denial of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Starting in the 1700's rationalism began to infect the church. From this came theological liberalism. A theological liberal does not believe that the whole Bible really comes from God and that it is filled with errors. Therefore the Bible cannot be a reliable authority for faith and life. We’ve had our liberals in the LCMS as well though we removed many of them in the Seminex controversy in 1974. A. C. Piepkorn, one the LCMS liberals, tried to make the Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord) the authority for faith and life, in place of the Bible. But the Confessions themselves constantly point us back to the Scriptures as the true source and authority. The Confessions are only reliable because they accurately reflect the content of Scripture. Most liberals will, in the end, turn to subjective reason, which means truth is whatever each person says it is. A few will turn to the “authoritative” church as the source and guide for faith and life. But at that point one is back to the position of the Roman church.
For those who wish to deny Scripture there are two ways to go about it. One is the direct way, that we see in the ELCA. As I said there still some in the LCMS who would take us that way. For the most part however, the open liberals were forced out or have retired. The other way to deny Scripture is to use something to trump it. This is more common in our circles, but no less dangerous. It is also far more disingenuous. How does this work? Well, someone says, yes, I know that this is what the Bible says, but that will keep us from getting new converts. So we can’t follow that. Mission and outreach are the most frequently cited reasons for not following the Scriptures, and hey, who’s opposed to missions? We all want to grow, right? The problem is that we want God’s Church to grow - that is, we want more souls in heaven. That means, though some might be offended, we must preach a pure, uncompromised Law and Gospel. We must offend people to the point that they see their sins and come to repentance. If we compromise for the sake of missions we will not be adding souls to heaven, but in fact hardening hearts to the truth. Compromising the Word, even for a noble purpose, will only result in more people going to hell.
Herein we see the danger. The battle over the authority of Scripture is about people ending up in heaven or in hell. It is a serious business indeed. Let us keep vigilance so that the authority of Scripture is not compromised among us. In this way we preserve that pure, sweet Gospel message of forgiveness and life as a free gift for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
September 26-27, 2009
Text: Matthew 18:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
The season of Pentecost or as we used to call it Trinity, historically has been divided into four sections. The three year lectionary that we currently use, does follow this as closely as the old one year lectionary did. The first portion ran from Trinity Sunday to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, on June 24. It focuses on the confession of the Church. The second quarter ran from the end of June until mid August - the Feast of St. Laurence. St. Laurence was, traditionally, the only non Biblical saint celebrated in the Lutheran calandar. This time was focused on the Faith of the Church. The third quarter run from St. Laurence until the end of the September. This time was focused on the work of the Church. This is why mission festivals were traditionally celebrated in late August or September. The final quarter of the Pentecost season begins with the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - September 29 - and runs through the Sunday of Fulfillment, which marks the end of the Church year. This time is focused on the last things - heaven, hell, death, eternal life, the return of Christ, and the last judgement. We begin our look heavenward with a look at the ministry of angels.
The ministry of angels was considered so important that the only hymn written by Luther’s co-worker Philip Melanchthon was our opening hymn. It is dedicated to the ministry of the angels. First we must ask what are angels? There are many misconceptions. Angel are not dead people. We don’t die and become angels. Angels are a separate creation of God. We don’t know when they were created. There are two schools of thought on this. One is that everything was created in the six days recorded in Genesis. In this context, they are usually seen as being created on day five or six. An alternate view is that the six days of creation are a record of only the creation of this universe. C. S. Lewis appears to have embraced this idea. And thus the angels were created prior to the creation of this universe. Angels are spirits. They can appear in bodily form but they do not have bodies as such. Angels, in scripture, are always male, though we don’t know if maleness and femaleness have any meaning when applied to them. They are often described as appearing as young men. Thus artists usually show them without facial hair. This would be a reasonable depiction, since man, in a Jewish context would be any male over twelve years of age. So young man would likely mean a teenager.
Some of the angels, prior to man’s fall into sin, rebelled against God. Lucifer or Satan was a prince among the angels. It appears from Scripture that his special job was to be God’s appointed advocate for mankind. He rebelled from this role to become man’s accuser. Christ Himself takes Satan’s place as our advocate before God the Father. Thus, the demons and devils were once holy angels, created for mankind’s good. Those who did not rebel were confirmed by God in their righteousness and can no longer fall into sin.
We know that there are ranks of angels. But we do not know all ranks or their relationship one to the other. We only know three angels by name. All other names for angels must be considered suspect, at best. From Scripture we know the names of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. And from the Apocrypha we know the name of the archangel Rafael. While we do not consider the Apocrypha to be Scripture, that is God’s Word, we do consider it to be reliable, and Lutheranism has always accepted that there is indeed an archangel named Rafael. You will even find references to Rafael in some of the older Lutheran liturgies. Rafael is seen as a special protector of travelers. Gabriel is God’s herald to proclaim the coming of Christ. Michael is the commander of the Lord’s armies. As such, Michael is depicted with sword in hand, fighting against Satan and his minions. But Michael does not fight by his own power. His power is that of Jesus Christ. His actions, his victories over Satan, all come as a result of Christ’s victory over Satan, sin, and death, which He won on the cross.
Angels are not free agents. They do not act on their own. They act according to Christ’s commands. Thus it is fruitless to pray to an angel. An angel cannot answer our prayers. It is however, quite proper to ask Christ to send His angels to minister to us, Michael to fight in our defense, Rafael to watch over us when traveling and so forth. And from Scripture we know that it is indeed God’s will that the angels watch over us. In our text we are reminded that even little children are watched by God’s angels. There is a twofold sense to this warning. First, God will protect them. But also that God’s angels will bear witness against those who would dare to harm a child. And what does it say about those who lead a child into sin? That it would be better for them that a great millstone be hung about their neck and that they be thrown into the sea then that lead a child into sin. In other words a person would be better off dead then leading others astray. Would that more people in our age understood this warning. Yet, this also is part of the ministry of angels - that they would work to keep us from sinning. They do not only protect us from physical harm.
Many people feel alone in the world. Many think that there is no one to help them. Yet, Christ by His death and resurrection has helped us. He has made us right with Him. He has made each a son and heir of God the father. And then He sends His angels, His ministering servants to protect us from both spiritual and physical harm. He sends His angels to be with us and bear witness to all that is done against us. And they are always with God’s children. We are never alone. Many will speak of a guardian angel. I don’t think that’s quite accurate from what we learn in Scripture. I would suggest that we are each protected by a legion of angels - a great and powerful host. They carry us through this life, as servants of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and bring us to live with Christ forever.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 19-20, 2009
Text: Mark 9:30-37
Dear Friends in Christ,
Sometimes a person doesn’t have a frame of reference that allows one to understand. This was one of the themes of the movie “The God’s Must Be Crazy.” In the movie, a pilot of a bush plane in Africa dropped a Coke bottle out the window. It landed, in tact and was picked up by an African bushman. At first they viewed this bottle as a gift from the gods. They were soon arguing over possession of it. So they resolved to get rid of it. One of their warriors was dispatched to travel to the land of the gods and return the bottle. The bushman soon found himself in a bewildering world of automobiles, poachers, and all other sorts of other people. Everything he encountered puzzled him. He could not understand any of the things he saw.
In the matters of religion we see the same things. There are many assumptions that people have that make it impossible for them to understand what God is saying. For the Jews in the first century, one of the assumptions was that they were right with God because they were part of the covenant nation and they were keeping the covenant. They didn’t have idols and such. They made their regular sacrifices and so forth. They read the Old Testament, but they didn’t understand it because they had made some false assumptions. Furthering this also was the idea that God’s salvation was an earthly thing. The Sadducees even went so far as to deny the whole concept of eternal life. They argued that God’s relationship with man was about blessings in this life. With this framework of understanding many longed for the coming of the Messiah - and many feared it. The priests were all for the Messiah so long as they could control him and he could guarantee them victory and rulership in Israel. But they feared a Messiah that they wouldn’t control. The Pharisees were more mixed on this. This was in part because they were less of a cohesive group. They exercised rulership in the synagogue, but this was a diffuse power base. So the Messiah would have to first elevate them to power before they could truly rule. The Zealots or revolutionaries were certain that the Messiah would be one of them. But again they were divided into factions themselves, so from which faction would the Messiah arise? Each group was certain it would be their faction. The Essenes had the most strictly religious view of the Messiah. But they were off in the desert just hanging out reading their texts. They weren’t really active among the people.
It is in the context of this mishmash that Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise from the dead. They didn’t have a sense of needing a redeemer from their sins. They already thought that were right with God because they were Jews. It is the questions of Nicodemus from John 3. Nicodemus really reveals what everyone was thinking. Yet, Christ tells Nicodemus that we are dead until life is poured into us by the Holy Spirit. Christ in John 3 connects this to Baptism which He would institute at the end of His ministry. Since, like Nicodemus, the disciples don’t see themselves as dead in their trespasses and sins, they don’t think that they need a Savior from sin and death. And thus when Jesus says, hey guys, I’m gonna go up to Jerusalem and get schmucked, they don’t get it. They don’t even have a frame of reference that would allow them to understand.
This lack of understanding is revealed in what happens next. The disciples started to argue amongst themselves which of them was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples. Which of them was the most important. Peter, James, and John probably pointed to fact that they had seen the Transfiguration. John probably added that he was Jesus’ closest personal friend. Judas pointed out that had the treasury and thus was greatly trusted by Christ. Andrew likely chimed in that he was a disciple before many of the rest. And so it went. Jesus asks them about this, but they are suddenly embarrassed. There is probably some fear that Jesus will point out that one of the others is the greatest.
Jesus knows what they were talking about. We need not puzzle over this. In human terms he might have heard enough of the conversation to know what it was about. But then He is God after all. And God does know all things. So even if He didn’t over hear them, He still knew. His response again really attacks the idea that their whole frame of reference was wrong. Greatness before God is not found in pride and power, but in service. Those who serve are the greatest. And of course none serves more than Jesus Christ. Christ becomes a sinner in our place and bears our punishment. That’s pretty much as last as you can get. But in taking this place, Christ is also offering the mankind the greatest service ever rendered. He is making us right with God the Father by taking our sins upon Himself. Then when we are presented by Christ before the Father, we are wearing Christ’s clothes - that is His righteousness. This is the service Christ performs for us.
Christ then sets a small child in their midst. Some legends say that this child grew up to be the church father, Ignatius of Antioch, but that is no importance. What is important is what this tells us about greatness in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. What do we mean by receives - as in receives a little child? Welcomes? Yes. Provides for? Yes. That would include providing for their earthly and heavenly needs. And when one provides for a child they become a servant of that child. Their life is no longer their own. They are not free to come and go as they wish. They must see to the needs of the child - that they eat, that they go to bed and get good sleep, that they say their prayers. So what Christ is saying, is that being a faithful and godly parent is one form of greatness in the kingdom of God. Greatness is not found in super churchmen. One is not great because they preach to ten thousand people each week or are on television. Greatness is not being the smartest theologian. Greatness is found in homes, in fields, in workshops, in schools and the like whenever people, who cling to their Savior for forgiveness and life, faithfully serve their fellow man in their daily lives. As Lutherans we call this the doctrine of vocation. It is the idea that all honest and legal work is God pleasing. It is God pleasing because by it we serve our fellow man.
In the early Middle ages everyone had a great fear of Viking raiders coming in their long boats. What happened to these great and feared warriors? No, they didn’t all just move to Minnesota. They became Christians. Now, they understood that greatness was not found in skill of their swords, but in working their farms, grazing their animals, and raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You see the Vikings came to understand what the disciples did not. To be great before God, one must be a servant, just Christ was a servant. He became our greatest servant of all by bearing our sins to the cross and giving us life and salvation.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The question must be asked, what went wrong? Surely, this was funded with the best of intentions. Surely, this has horrified almost all of those involved with this project. I can't say, since I don't know all the details. But one thing seems to be clear to me. It appears that Perlitz was working alone for the most part. In the book of Acts, missionaries usually went out in pairs or even larger groups. Most protestant missionaries to the developing world are husband and wife teams. In many of these cultures one is not considered an adult until one has a wife and children. So one simple safe guard would be to have people working in teams of two or more. It's not fool proof. But if one person sees something is amis, they can intervene. It would greatly reduce the chance of this happening in the future.
Friday, September 18, 2009
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 12-13, 2009
Text: Mark 9:14-19
Dear Friends in Christ,
When people think of demons, they might think of the movie the Exorcist or more recently the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Both are based on true stories by the way. In the case of the Exorcist, the author of the book took a real case and turned it into a fictional account. He set it in the 1970's as opposed to the 1940's and so on. In the real case, it was a young boy who was demon possessed. I’m not certain the cause of his possession, but normally this would happen because of dabbling in the occult. The parents had a mixed marriage on paper. One of was Catholic and one was Lutheran, but in reality they were nothing. They practiced no religion. The first attempt to exorcize the demon took place in St. Louis, and it was done by two Lutheran theological professors from Concordia Seminary. Yes, that’s right, two of our professors attempted to exorcize the demon. They succeeded initially, but the parents didn’t take things seriously enough and quickly were back to their non religious ways. There was no follow up instruction for the boy or anything like this. The demon returned. This time a Catholic priest was called and the family was required to sign an agreement that the child would be properly instructed in the Roman church once exorcism was completed. Today the man is a practicing Catholic with no memory of his demon possession.
Demon possession can serve an even more subtle purpose than capturing little boys. In the 1600's a German pastor was confronted with a girl that was possessed by a demon. He was exorcized the demon, but the experience of it changed him. This pastor began to teach all sorts of false doctrine. He became of the leaders of the charismatic movement of his day. He led many astray with his false doctrine. And so we must ask, who was the demon after? Perhaps the pastor was the real target. Thankfully, to date, I’ve never had to deal with a case of demon possession. It might make a great topic for a movie, but in the real world it is a terrifying thing.
Our text is about a demon possessed boy. This must be said up front. The symptoms look a great deal like epileptic seizures. Some have tried to treat this text that way. But if we read it closely, Christ Himself confirms that it was a demon. So as much as we might like to say that this was more of a healing than a casting out of a demon, we cannot. This was a case of demon possession.
The father of the boy brings him to the disciples. The disciples had recently returned from the preaching trip of the 72. When they had been out preaching they had cast out demons. But this one resisted them. Why? Was it simply too powerful for them? Did they lack faith? Or was their something else happening here? One possibility was that they were not commissioned to cast out demons at that time. They were sent out with that authority, but now that their mission was completed, did they still have it? So it could simply be that they were not sent.
The scribes were making hay with their failure. They were attacking the disciples for failing to cast out the demon. Their glee did not last long. Jesus comes and speaks with the father of the boy. Their exchange is interesting. Jesus’ first response is to condemn the lack of faith of everyone. The boy is brought to Jesus and immediately goes into a fit. Jesus asks how long the boy has been like this. We don’t know why Jesus was asking this. Perhaps it was a way of calling the man to repentance for some sin. Perhaps the father of the boy had dabbled in the occult, opening the door for his son to become possessed. We don’t know for certain. The ancient father, The Venerable Bede, simply noted that this child’s possession was a mark of original sin. For if we were not born under bondage to sin and the devil, the possession of a young child like this would not be possible.
The man begs Jesus to cast out the demon, if He can. Jesus appears almost to mock to the man, by throwing the words back in His face. But this is more than Jesus saying of course I can. The man responds by saying that he believes, but then adds, God help my unbelief. This is not the only time we hear this line in the Gospels.
What Jesus is doing is contrasting His own perfect faith in God the Father, with troubled, impure faith of the man and even that of His disciples. All things are possible for the one who believes. Yes, but you see Christ is the only man who has ever had perfect faith. Jesus then casts the demon out. The boy appears then to be dead. Jesus reached out and takes the boys hand. It should noted that the Greek phrase here is exactly the same as when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. I would suggest that we should understand from this text that the boy died as the demon left him. Jesus now raises him from the dead.
This is really a text about faith. What most Americans have is faith in faith. But faith, in itself, is just empty hope. If I trust that a rock would get me to heaven, I would be greatly disappointed, no matter how much I believed. Further, faith in faith is a form a self righteousness. One who does this is trusting in their own faith. In other words they’re trusting in themselves. Faith only becomes of value if the object of faith can deliver what we desire of it. So faith in a chair is not misplaced at all if I trust it to hold me when I sit down. If I trust that same chair to heal me of disease or make me smarter, my faith is misplaced. A chair cannot deliver these things. So for eternal salvation we must trust in the forgiveness of our sins given in Christ Jesus for the sake of His death and resurrection. This is the only thing that can deliver life and salvation to us. This type of faith in Christ is of great value indeed. It is of value because Christ delivers these things to us.
The other point that needs to made is that no human being has pure faith. Sin still clings to us. The devil, the world and our flesh raise doubts in our minds and hearts. So we are all really in the same boat as the father of the boy - I believe, God help my unbelief. The intent of Lutheran preaching is to provide perfect assurance. But human beings will still carry some doubt because of sin. But the assurance is always in the Word and Sacraments. The assurance is in Christ and what He has done on our behalf, and what He continues to do on our behalf. We can look to our Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Supper and say, Ah, here is Christ present with me to deal graciously with me. Here is my salvation. If we look within ourselves there was always be doubt, because there is always sin. But in Christ, there is perfect assurance.
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 6, 2009
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Dear Friends in Christ,
The first permanent colony in what would become the U.S. was in fact the Spanish colony at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. The first Christian service in the future U.S. was a Roman Mass celebrated there. But St. Augustine was not primarily a religious colony. In 1606, the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia. Again one of the first thing they did was celebrate the Divine Service, this time according to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. But again Jamestown was not primarily a religious colony. That would come in 1620 with the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. But Plymouth was small and never really grew all that much. In 1630 the Massachusetts Bay colony was formed. They established several settlements including Boston and Salem. This was a religious colony on a grand scale. It is also the place where universal public education has it’s roots. Each community was required to provide land for a school house and money for a teacher so that the children would all learn how to read. Why was this important? So that they could read the Word the God. New England Puritanism was a very intellectualized form of Calvinism. It was believed that young minds had be made open to God’s Word. Lutheranism has likewise valued education for similar reasons. However, in Puritan New England the purpose for studying the scriptures was to create the perfect Christian nation. In Lutheranism, the Scriptures are studied so that people know God’s plan of salvation.
The text before us seems straight forward. But it is not so simple as one might expect. On one level the story is that a man came to Jesus who was deaf and Jesus healed him. But on another level, there is more happening than it would first appear.
Jesus takes the man aside. He doesn’t command that he begin to hear or to speak. He commands him to be open. Mark even gives us the actually Aramaic word that Jesus used - Ephphatha. Now Mark was teen during Christ’s ministry and was an eyewitness to some of the events he records. He also received a great deal of additional information from Peter. So some have said that Mark is really Peter’s Gospel. In this case, as in much of the Gospel, we don’t know which is the source for this. But the detail suggests that either Mark or Peter was a direct eyewitness to this.
Now, I think everyone would agree that it was nice that Jesus healed people. The healing miracles, in general, teach us how Christ undoes sin and the effects of sin. Because of sin we live in a corrupted world - a world where there is disease, infirmity, and death. But there is often more to each specific type of healing.
The Jews of the first century did not make any images. Because the Roman emperor’s image was on common coins they could not be used in the temple. They had to have special coins that only had words inscribed upon them. In the synagogue the Word of God was read each week. The Word was considered so holy that one had wash their hands before and after handling the sacred text. Would that we treat our Bibles so reverently! But a deaf man could not hear the word read. And very likely, a deaf man could not be taught to read either. This was not because of incapacity, but because instruction was normally done orally. They didn’t have the special ways to teach the deaf that we have today. Today of course Lou Feregno was a successful body builder and played the Incredible Hulk on television. Curtis Pride played major league baseball. Such are the accomplishments of deaf people today. But in the first century deafness closed all doors. Most of all it prevented one from hearing the Word of God. This was, to a Jew, catastrophic. It destroyed one’s life. Christ was not just allowing this man to hear the birds chirp. He was opening him to the Word of God. And we know, as St. Paul says in Romans, that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. (Rom. 10:17) So Christ was opening the man up so that He could have faith in Him, and thus be saved.
Sin is a form of deafness. It stops up our ears so that we cannot hear God’s Word. It clouds our reason so that we cannot understand God’s Word. And we like our sin. There is a famous prayer attributed to St. Augustine - “O Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.” We need to be healed of the deafness of our sin. We need to be opened to Word of God. Thus we confess in Dr. Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article, I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him... Sin has made us deaf as the proverbial post. The Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, opens our ears and makes us able to hear God’s Word. For some of us the first Word of God that we heard was the Word connected to the Water at our Baptism. For others, the first Word that they heard was when someone preached or taught that life giving Word. But all these Words tell us the same thing - your sins are forgiven. You are right with God. You are a Child of God. All this is so because Christ shed His blood to pay for those sins that stopped up your ears.
The Word opens our ears and makes them holy ears. They are now holy ears to hear God’s Holy Word. We desecrate our ears which God, in Christ, has made holy, when use them to hear vain and corrupt things. This is why it is never just a little song or just crass and vulgar words. When we chose to hear such things, we are now making unholy that thing which God has made holy. Some Christians, particularly some in the Pentecostal camp, teach that God forgives our sins, but then it’s up to us and if we fall into sin again, we cannot be forgiven. But this is not at all what God does or intends. He continuously forgives our sins and reopens our ears. He continues to instruct us both in the forgiveness of sins and what forgiveness does to us, how it makes a us new creation. He continues each day to speak those precious words to us - your sins are forgiven. And we do indeed hear those precious words.
Jesus said to a deaf man “Ephphatha!” that is be opened. He opened the man to hear that life saving Word of forgiveness. So also Christ, through the Holy Spirit, opens our ears. He says to us “Ephphatha!” And we are indeed opened to His Word by the forgiveness of our sins. This Word then creates faith and life within us. All this from one simple word spoken by the living Word.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Lutheran Confessions express a high view of the office of the Holy Ministry. What do we mean by saying that? We are saying that God has established the office and it is not optional.
The sedes doctrinae or Seat of Doctrine for the office of the Ministry is John 20:21-23: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'" With these words Christ gives the office of the ministry to the apostles. They in turn have passed it on to the church as a whole. We do not believe that a pastor must be able to trace the ancestry of his ordination back to the apostles, though probably most Lutheran pastors could. This is because we still teach that the normal way a person is placed into the office is by another pastor.
The Bible uses a number of terms for clergy. The most common would be shepherd, overseer, and steward. Shepherd is often today rendered as pastor. Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Pastors are to be a reflection of Christ, who calls, disciplines and calls back the flock to faithfulness to the word. Episcopus is the Greek word we render as overseer. It is the equivalent of the English word bishop. Every pastor is bishop or overseer in that place. Overseer carries with it the idea of authority. A pastor carries God’s authority to carry out the work of the Gospel in that place. Dr. Walther, in his book “Church and Ministry” states that a pastor is owed full obedience by his flock when he correctly speaks the word of God. The Lutheran Confession state that we are to be obedient to our pastors for the sake of good order, so long they do not demand things that are contrary to the word of God or otherwise tyrannize the flock. As the writer to the Hebrews says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Another way in which pastoral authority is expressed is through the Church Order. What is a church order? It is our hymnal and its attendant materials. It has always been understood in orthodox Lutheranism that we are bound to follow such orders, and when pastors and congregations significantly deviate from them they are in a form of rebellion and acting in a way that displeases God. The third term that is used is steward. A steward is a servant, under the authority of his master. A Pastor is a servant of the Word - that is Jesus Christ. While he serves God’s people, he is there to give them what God intends for them.
The early Lutherans used the word “priest”. This was the Old Testament term. A priest stands between God and man, speaking man’s word to God and God’s word to man. Certainly a pastor does this. He reads the Scriptures and preaches. This would be God’s word to man. He also leads the congregation in prayer. This would be mans word to God. So Lutheran clergy are priests, in this sense. But starting in about 1600 we started using other terms such as pastor. This does not mean that priest is wrong, but rather there was simply a change is custom. And certainly, it could be argued, pastor is a specifically New Testament term for clergy.
The office of the ministry is not optional. The definition of the Church is pastor and people gathered around word and sacrament. The Church is not just the people. This definition requires that a Christian congregation have a pastor. Otherwise it ceases to be Church. This is why a vacant congregation must have a vacancy pastor so there is a pastor responsible for that flock. You can’t have a congregation without a pastor, even for a for short time. This is the order that Christ has established. It was confirmed by the apostles who appointed pastors in the places where they preaches. Timothy and Titus are two such pastors. Nor are pastors simply hirelings of the congregation. They are servants of Jesus Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (I Corinthians 4:1)
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Posted on 31 August 2009
Hot on the heels of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s decision to allow the appointment of non-celibate gays to the clergy, another prominent Christian denomination has decided this week to allow practicing drunkards in the pulpit.
Meeting in Las Vegas, leaders of the Evangelical Lukewarm Christians in Apostasy (ELCA-Not the Lutherans) voted in favor of giving their local congregations the authority to choose ministers or lay leaders who may be in “lifelong, monogamous relationships with alcohol.”
Said the denomination’s president, Ben Halifax, “Since the Lutheran ELCA has courageously decided to ignore the condemnation of homosexuals in 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, we figured it was time for our own denomination to ignore the verses’ reference to drunkards and immediately loosen our outdated and unloving restrictions on boozehounds.”
A motion to also include the acceptance of clerical fornicators, adulterers, idolators, thieves, revilers, and swindlers was tabled until next year’s meeting.
The surprise decision to liberalize the church’s drunkard policy came at the perfect time for the denomination’s small branch in Torrance, California, where popular pastor, Glen Morehouse, had been barred from ministry last year due to his open and committed relationship with Johnnie Walker. With the historic vote, Morehouse can now officially stagger back to the pulpit and still maintain his alternative lifestyle.
His eyes reddened by tears of joy and 80 proof Scotch, Pastor Morehouse commended the ELCA (Not the Lutherans) leadership for allowing him to continue in his Kingdom work. “I jes wanna shay, it was sush a prooouu moam comin’ ta shee thish inna histacle vent… Ya no whaa um sayin’? Uh-oh… I thin’ um gonna thro up…”
Martha Wackenhut, Torrance church member and designated driver, also commended the decision, but was much more articulate. “We’re thrilled that the national leadership has finally recognized Pastor Glen’s value as a non-sober man of God,” she said on behalf of the congregation. “Whenever we’ve needed his pastoral advice and leadership, he’s always been there for us on his favorite barstool down at O’Malley’s. Quite frankly, if this vote hadn’t gone through, we’re pretty sure we would’ve lost Pastor Glen to the Presbyterians.”
Advocates of change in the ELCA (Not the Lutherans) rejoiced after the vote and were later found at the Hard Rock Cafe celebrating their victory with mojitos and Jagermeister shots. “We’re toasting to greater fairness tonight,” explained Pete Lutowski, executive director of Bottoms Up, a drunk rights advocacy group within the church. “Drunken clergy are now free to be who they are and enjoy the love and companionship of their alcoholic buzz.”
“Bottom line, this is a heart issue,” added Lutowski. “Okay, it’s a liver issue, too, but it’s mostly a heart issue. It’s time to quit acting like pharisaical tee-totalers who are hung up on judgmental prooftexts and start showing some Christian love to our drunken brethren who want nothing more than to give out sloppy back slaps and shout, ‘I love you, man!’ to an unsaved stranger. If getting sloshed is so wrong, how come Jesus changed water into wine and jump-started the first Christian drinking party two thousand years ago?”
“A-mehn, bruther!” shouted Pastor Morehouse from the floor.