Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sermon for June 13-14

The Second Sunday After Pentecost
June 13-14, 2009
Text: Mark 4:26-34

Dear Friends in Christ,
Late in his life, Luther was asked how he carried out the work of the reformation. Luther replied: I did nothing. The Word did it all. Melanchthon and I just sat around drinking our good Wittenberg beer, and God’s Word carried out the Reformation. At first we might be tempted to say that this was just a hyperbole. For surely Luther and his fellow professor, Philip Melanchthon did a great deal. Princes like Duke Frederick and later his brother Duke John the Steadfast played crucial roles. Each of these people was a lynchpin without whom there is no Reformation at all. Yet, I would like to suggest to you that Luther is not exaggerating at all. The problem is that we really undervalue the power of God’s Word. Nor do we fully comprehend the very nature of the Word itself. For the Word is Christ, Himself and Christ is the Word. Yet, to the world, the Word looks like nothing. This is the mystery of the Church itself.

In our text, Christ is speaking of the Kingdom of God. How is God’s kingdom built? First we must understand the nature of God’s kingdom. God can build His kingdom by the might of His power. He is unstoppable. Philippians 2:10 tells us that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that of Jesus is Yahweh - the Lord and ruler of all things. This isn’t what God hopes for. This isn’t what ought to happen. This is what will happen. The question is whether one bows in response to the promises of God’s grace, or if one is compelled to acknowledge this before being sent to hell. While this is true, it is not the aspect of God’s kingdom that is usually meant in Scripture. Scripture, by the Kingdom of God is speaking of the Church on earth and in heaven. It is speaking of those who live in God’s presence by the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins.

Seed is a very small thing. It is often not very reliable. We prefer to plant potted plants. I’ve planted a bunch in my flower bed. If we do start with seeds, we often start them in pots in the house. Or if we have to plants seeds, we watch the weather reports and make certain we have “certified” seed. I remember my father getting sugar beet seed from the sugar factory, to make certain it was good seed. And even then we sometimes had to replant. I remember walking out in the field with my dad or with my uncle Fritzie to see if the crops were coming up.

The Word of God is the seed that is planted to grow the Church. But it is always good seed. In
Isaiah 55:11 we are told that God’s Word will always produce some result. It might bring people to faith, or it might confirm people in their unbelief and seal them for doom. Either way it does something. It never does nothing. Thankfully, many people hear the Word and come to faith. This is how the Church, that is the Kingdom of God is built up. St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

The problem comes in understanding how the Word comes to us. The Word of God is divided into Law and Gospel. The Law is what we are to do and not do. The Gospel is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. The Law is always about doing. The Gospel is about receiving the free gifts of God. Both Law and Gospel are good gifts from God and intended for our good. They both serve an important purpose in our lives. They both are truly the Word God. All too often in recent years, in the Missouri Synod, we have spoken as though the Law were a bad thing. True, it accuse us of our sins. Melanchthon in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, one of our official confessional documents, states that the Law always accuses. (Article IV para. 38) Yet, is this a bad thing? Further, while the Law always accuses, it is how God communicates His will for our lives. In this, it is a good and helpful thing, though we understand that human beings can never do all that the Law demands. And so we must not set aside the Law. Yet, without the promise of forgiveness won by Christ, the Law would only lead us to despair. The Law becomes something we can embrace only through the Gospel. If Christ has not died for our sins, the Law only serves to justify God in sending us to hell - and it still does this for the unbeliever. So we must always have both Law and Gospel side by side. Then we have the full counsel of God, which reveals both our sins and our Savior.

But even here, we do not have yet, a clear picture of the power of God’s Word. God’s Word is true. That is well understood by most among us. Though perhaps we don’t always have a clear picture of what the Word actually says. But what is often not understood is that God’s Word creates truth. What does that mean? If God says something that is not true, then the universe changes, and what God says becomes true. God said let there be light and what happened? Nothing right? It stayed dark. No. God said let there light and there was light. God said let the air be filled with birds and the oceans teem with fish and what happened? The world was filled with birds and fish. This is what we mean when we say that God’s Word creates the reality it expresses. Such is the power of God’s Word.

This has huge implications for us in our life. Christ teaches us that in Baptism we died with Him. We were placed in the tomb with Him. This is not mere symbolism. This actually happened. In Baptism we were buried with Christ. How did this come to be. I mean that happened nearly two thousand years. How could I have been placed into a tomb two thousand years ago? Well, because God’s Word says it. It says it, that makes it so. Christ says, that bread and wine are His Body and Blood. His saying it makes it so. The bread and wine are now His Body and Blood. His Word has the power to create this reality. When the pastor speaks the absolution, sins really are forgiven, in heaven and on earth. Why, because Christ gave this authority to His Church. He said it. That makes it so. His Word creates the very thing it says.

We live in a time when many do not believe that the Word of God builds the Church. Many of our top Church officials spew out programs that reflect the idea that man rather than God builds the Church. It is in our parishes as well. How often do we hear people say things like, we need to get the right pastor in here to make the congregation grow? No. We need to be in the Word and trust in that Word to build the Church. This is God’s plan for Church growth. It doesn’t look like anything to the world, just as little seeds don’t look like anything. But God’s Word is living and powerful. It creates what it says. And from that Word, which seems so weak and impotent, grows up the vast bulwark of the Church. For Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit as we confess in the creed. It is created by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It is the Word that brings forgiveness, life and salvation. For that is what the Church is all about. The Church is the place where that Word of life is applied to us each of us. The Church is the place where the Word creates life in us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sermon for June 6-7

The Feast of the Holy Trinity
June 6-7, 2009
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Dear Friends in Christ,
This weekend is the 65th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. For those involved, there must have been a great deal of fear. This would have been true of both sides. Civilians that lived there must also have been terrified of the bombardments and all the fighting. It was a fearsome time to be alive. Today, likewise we have many fears. We fear the future. We fear the actions of the government. We are starting to take more seriously the old quip - may God bless and keep the government, far away from us.
Do you fear God? We are told in Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment that we are to “...fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Again in the Close of the Commandments; “We should fear [God’s] wrath.” Why should we fear God’s wrath? Because God is Holy. God is just. We should fear God’s justice. Why? Because we are sinners. We stand condemned by God’s law. This is why the old medieval communion hymn instructs us to “ponder nothing earthly minded, and with fear and trembling stand...” (LSB 621) Likewise St. Paul tell us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) Even Christ has fear as a major theme in His preaching, even though He doesn’t often use the word. Many of the parables, such as the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) and the Parable of the Wedding Feast, are warnings to us about the wrath of God. (Matthew 22:1-14)
Trinity Sunday is a day we dedicate to the questions: Who is God and what is His nature? It is the last festival of the church year. It also, by many centuries, is the newest. It still has pimples. It’s only 800 years old. It also is an odd duck in that it celebrates a doctrine rather than an event.
Many people today run around saying nonsense like I just believe what’s in the Bible, I don’t need creeds or long theological explanations. Such thinking is absurd on the face of it. We need a way of expressing what the Bible says. Relatively few men in the history of the world have dedicated themselves wholly to the study of Scripture. Even most pastors are not the students of the Word we ought to be. Further, if each generation were required to discover all this for themselves, they would spend their whole lives trying to reinvent the wheel. So the church, from its earliest days set about creating a language and structure so that the teachings could be handed down from generation to generation. By the end of the of the 1st century you have the “Didache” and the “Shepherd of Hermas” which served as catechisms so that the faith could be passed on. Early on they knew that they had a problem with trying to explain God. They knew that they would literally have to invent the language to express and explain who God is. At the end of the 2nd Century, a North African church father by the name of Tertullian invented a new word - Trinity. God is three in one. Once Christianity became legal, there were several gatherings of representatives of the whole church on earth. We call these the seven great ecumenical councils. Most of the them were convened to deal with some aspect of the question of who God is.
So who is God? God is one. Why? Because that is what the Bible says. The old Jewish creed which Moses gave to the Israelites is “I Yahweh, your Gods am one God.” Yet, from the very beginning, we see the persons of the Trinity acting in various places. This climaxes in the Old Testament, in a vision in the book of Daniel where the Son of Man appears with the Ancient of Days, and the Ancient of Days gives to the Son of Man all authority in heaven and on earth. The bequest given in Daniel parallels, almost exactly, the words of Matthew 28 where Christ says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. The Father is shown throughout Scripture as the seat of God’s Will. Christ says in number of places that He had come to do His Father’s Will. Christ is God who appears to man and deals with man. The Holy Spirit is never visible, but speaks through the prophets and apostles, giving to us God’s Word and breathing life into us. The place where this breaks down in practice is in understanding Christ’s role in the Old Testament. Christ tells us that no one has seen the Father. For example, He says in John 6:46 “...not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” What this means is that it was Christ, God the Son, who walked in the Garden of Eden and confronted man with his sin. It was Christ who visited wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah. It was Christ spoke from Mount Sinai giving the Ten Commandments. It was Christ who descended from Mount Sinai and took up residence in the Tabernacle. It was Christ who was enthroned between the Cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant. And it was Christ who appeared in all His heavenly glory surrounded by the angels to the Prophet Isaiah.
Our text is instructive regarding the nature of God. Isaiah says that He is undone. He has seen God. No sinner can see God and live. God is holy and righteous. He hates sin and those who commit sins. This idea of hate the sin and love the sinner is not scriptural. God loves the repentant, not the sinner. So Isaiah, realizing that he is a sinful man, knows that at that moment, as he stands in the temple before the altar of incense, he’s screwed. He has no hope. God the Son has appeared to Him and He cannot stand. He knows that he will be consumed by God’s righteousness and sent straight to hell and there is nothing he can do about it. Then something very strange happens. One of the six winged seraphim takes a set of tongs and removes a burning coal from the altar of incense. The angel takes that burning coal and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth. Then the angel says that his sins have been taken away from him. They have been paid on his behalf. Now, Isaiah can stand before Christ, who is also his Savior.
We are no different than Isaiah. Were Christ to appear here in all His glory, we would be no better off than he was. We are sinners standing before a righteous and holy God. Within ourselves, there is no hope. If we rely upon ourselves, our ticket to hell is already stamped. And we won’t even get frequent flyer miles. But it is the Father’s will that we not be condemned. And God the Son paid the price of our sins. We are not touched with a coal. Instead, Christ comes to us behind various masks so that we don’t have to face the terror that Isaiah faced. Yes, we are still to fear God, but we are spared the moment of crisis. Christ comes us to in His Word and in His Body and Blood. He touches our mouths and makes them holy, not with a burning coal, but His own Body and Blood shed for us. So indeed we come with fear and trembling. We fear because we know that the reality is that Christ is here, just as He was in the temple that day. We just don’t see Him. But we know He is Holy and possessed of a consuming righteousness. But we also know that He has atoned for our sins and pours His atonement right into us. God does this because this is who and what God is. Neither God’s holiness nor His grace are alien to Him. He is the One that is Holy, Holy, Holy. He is the One who in pure love, atones for our sins and makes us holy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor
Topic: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller
May 31, 2009

There is an old saying: Two wrongs don’t make a right. This does not appear in the Bible but it certainly reflects a scriptural idea. This concept, that two wrongs don’t make a right, is certainly true in the case of the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Dr. Tiller was an infamous abortionist, who was one of the very few in the country who would perform late-term abortions. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is strongly pro-life, and condemns the practice of abortion. Dr. Tiller, a former member of a Missouri Synod congregation, was excommunicated by that congregation for his abortion practice. (The congregation he was currently attending is part of another Lutheran body.) We stand by that action. Our sister congregation acted properly in disciplining Dr. Tiller. Such action is always intended to lead a person to see their sins and come to repentance. Excommunication is never intended to bring that person harm.

While we condemn Dr. Tiller’s actions as an abortionist, we just as strongly condemn the actions of the person who took his life. Murder, even of a murderer, is never acceptable. God teaches us in Romans 13 and other places, that the government is in place to enforce justice. We are never to take private vengeance. This is simply not given to private individuals. Murder in any circumstances is a grievous sin. It was our utmost desire that Dr. Tiller come to repentance, and perhaps in time he may have. We do not know. Only God sees all ends. Sadly, because of this heinous act of violence, Dr. Tiller no longer has that opportunity.

Rev. Jody R. Walter, pastor LCMS
Immanuel, Frederic

Rev. David Emmons, pastor LCMS
Zion, Turtle Lake/Immanuel, Clayton

Rev. Mark Schoen, pastor LCMS
Shepherd of the Valley, St. Croix Falls

June Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor June 2009

Dear Friends in Christ,
One of my pet peeves as some of you know is when people are more against something than for anything. This always distorts and damages. When your focus is what you are against, the truth itself is lost. The only thing that matters is that we oppose the thing we are against.

In the United States, and in American Lutheranism, there is a history of strong anti-Roman Catholic attitudes. Lutherans are not unique in this. Talk show host Barry Farber speaks of growing up in North Carolina in the 1930's. He is Jewish. But the relationship between Jews and Evangelical Christians was quite good in those days. So even though the KKK was active in his community, Jews rarely felt the wrath of the Klan. But Catholics were far less fortunate. Unfortunately, many American Lutherans drank in this societal attitude. The result was a great deal of damage to our theology and our piety. The truth itself was the first casualty.

As Lutherans we have a clear pattern for establishing the truth. We have the Scriptures and the Confessions. The two sources are there to keep us bound to the truth. It must be understood that the Confessions, that is the Book of Concord, is not a second scripture, but a collection of writings faithfully drawn from the Scriptures. The Confessions serve to keep us from doctrinal drift. Non-confessional churches tend to drift from one view to the next. In Bremen, Indiana, were I vicared, a man claimed God called him to start preaching and start a church. He did and it grew to some size. He was getting on in years so he groomed his son to become pastor after him. He sent the son off to England to get some education. The son returned and split the church. The father was an Arminian while the son was a Calvinist. The congregation had nothing to which it could turn to judge which was correct. The point here is that unlike many such free churches, we have a pattern of sound words and teaching. We can study and find the truth. And indeed this is what we must do. We must constantly be searching through the Scriptures and the Confessions seeking that which is true and from God. While we do this we must shut out other influences. We don’t use the Bible to justify our being against this or that. We use it to find the truth. If that makes us against this or that group so be it. But if it means we are in agreement with this or that group, that is fine as well.

We have quarrels with Rome and with the Reformed. We have some disagreement with the Calvinists (Presbyterians, for example), but we have much stronger disagreements with the Arminians (Pentecostals). We also have much in common. So back to Rome. In our Catechism it speaks of making the sign of the cross. It is not necessary that we make the sign of the cross or not make it. But many refuse to do so because it would look too “Catholic.” Yet, the sign of the cross has a long and rich history in Lutheranism. It is a remembrance of our Baptism. While of itself, making the sign of the cross is not of great import, it is wrong to refuse to do so because we are anti-Catholic. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper was held in low regard and some theologians even went so far as to de facto deny the real presence to show that they weren’t “Roman”. The truth of God’s Word was lost.

Our focus must always be on being Lutheran. We must not be against this or that. We have something in common with all other Christians churches. In some cases we have much in common. Our liturgy and common piety will look rather Roman. Our preaching will sound almost Calvinist. This is perfectly fine. We need not be concerned about this. This is simply reflecting who we are as Lutherans. Our focus needs to always be on who we are, rather than who we are not. That is how we stay focused on the truth of God’s Word.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for May 30-31

The Feast of Pentecost
May 30-31, 2009
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
We might remember the old spiritual - “Ezekiel connecta dem dry bones”. But of course the old spiritual gets it wrong. Ezekiel doesn’t connect anything. God does it. God does it again and again. In Genesis 1 God created man by forming his body from the dust of the ground. But the man did not live until God breathed in him His Own breath. Only when the breath of God was in man did He become alive.

Words like breath and wind are closely connected to the words for spirit. In some cases they are the same words. The animals live because God commands it by His Word. But humankind is different. We live because the breath of God is in us. That is the Spirit of God makes us alive. This happens on two levels. We are made alive on a physical level. We are given a life to live in this world, this universe. But this life is only temporary. God’s Spirit, breathed into us, also makes us alive before God. It does this by connecting us to Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for us.

Ezekiel was a prophet in Babylon. This was odd because gods in the ancient world were assumed to be local. Yahweh, as God in Jerusalem was assumed to have no power in Babylon. But God shatters this myth. During the time of exile, during the time when there was no temple in Jerusalem, God raised up both the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, in Babylon.

The vision of the dry bones is a picture of Israel. They are a dead nation. Their cities in ruins. The Jewish people did not believe that they would survive as a distinct nation. But God explains that He will raise them from the dead and breath once again into them the breath of life. They will be created anew. The picture here in Ezekiel is intended to remind us of Genesis 2. God formed man from the dust of the ground. Now God reforms man from the dry bones laying on the ground. Again, man comes to life when God breaths into him. This would point to the restoration of the Jewish people after seventy years of exile in Babylon

But there is a deeper meaning to this text. The Jewish people were intended to be God’s living people. They were to live before Him and the before the world. They were to live before the world as a witness to God, so that in them, the world would see God. The Jewish people were to be a witness to the world until the day when God would recall people to Him from all the world. For God’s people are not only one earthly nation. God would call all people to Him.

Just as it requires God’s breath to make man alive in a temporal sense, it requires God to breath into man for him to be alive in an eternal sense. Faith in God is never apart from God breathing life into us. We say in the explanation to the Third Article that “I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him...” We cannot because we are dead. We are dead in trespasses and sins. We are in fact born dead. We call this original sin. David speaks of this in Psalm 51 where says that he was a sinner from his very conception. This is the reality also that Ezekiel was confronting the valley of the dry bones. It wasn’t so much speaking of the literal dead, but the people in exile in Babylon. The dry bones represent people who alive on this earth but dead before God. They were dead before God because of their sins. But God would again breath life into them and they would live.

God breaths life into man every day. We normally don’t see it. But every so often God shows this power. He let’s us see it to remind us what is really happening. The most dramatic example would be Pentecost, which we are celebrating today. There was the sound of a great rushing wind. Many people came to see what this was about. I am reminded of Moses who had to go see the bush that was not burned up. They people came to the sound. They didn’t know what to think, until Peter got up and explained it to them. This was God the Holy Spirit coming upon His people, and empowering them with the Word of God, so that life could be breathed into God’s people. As I said this happens everyday. On that day, they were allowed to see it happening. Why? So that they would listen to the Word of God which Peter preached to them.

After Peter preached, what happened? They baptized 3000 people. The Holy Spirit had brought these people to see their sins and confess Christ. All through the book of Acts, Baptism is connected with the giving of the Holy Spirit. Every baptism is a little Pentecost. There God remains hidden behind water. But He is there, acting, breathing life into us. We go from being the dry bones to being the living sons of God.

Always connected with this is confession of our sins. Notice in the book of Acts, at the end of Peter’s sermon, the people were cut to the heart. They were convicted in their own hearts of the sins. They knew that something had to be done. Were they to flee the wrath of God? No. They were to embrace grace of God. They were to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Baptism, the breathing of life by God, the Holy Spirit into man is always connect to forgiveness. For sinners, there is no life in God without the forgiveness of our sins. It is sin that makes us dead. It is God removing that sin that makes us alive.

The Feast of Pentecost. We call it the birthday of the Church. It is the day when God made people alive by breathing into them the breath of life. He did that through baptism. He did that by forgiving their sins. Pentecost did not end. It continues to this day, in the Church which was created on Pentecost. It continues in the forgiveness of our sins. It continues in Baptism where we are raised from the dead. God is still breathing into us the breath of life, just as in the vision of the dry bones. For we, in our sins, are the dry bones. And we are made alive by the breath of life breathed into us, by God the Holy Spirit.