Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon for July 18-19

Sermon
The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 18-19, 2009
Text: Mark 6:30-44

Dear Friends in Christ,
The Venerable Bede, one of the ancient church fathers, in writing on this text, bemoaned the fact the people of his day did not have such enthusiasm for the Word of God. We could make much the same lament today, a millennium and a half later. Our world is literally starving to death, and most in our world do not even know that they are hungry. We might say, where is the hunger. In America, even the poor are rich, by the standards of the world. And for those small number that need help, we have food shelves, numerous government programs and other charities. Anyone who can work the system will surely be provided with food. And there are even social workers who will help people work the system and access such assistance. So there is no hunger here, surely. Perhaps in Darfour or North Korea or some such place, but even there it is rarely a lack of food, but a lack of individual liberty that leads to starvation. But of course our text is speaking of a different kind of food, a different kind of starvation. Moses teaches us in Deuteronomy 8:3 that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” The food that truly feeds us, that gives us true life that does not end is the Word of God.

In our text the people followed Jesus and His disciples out into the wilderness. Christ doesn’t send them away, even though it says that they were tired and hungry. Christ has compassion on them because they were without a shepherd. What does that mean? It means no one was feeding them. The rabbis weren’t doing their jobs. They weren’t giving the people the pure fountain of God’s Word. They were starving for the Word of life. One might wonder at the later growth of Christianity. But here the foundation was laid. Christ preached to them and taught them. He fed them His words. This is what Christ means when He speaks of Shepherds and Himself as the Good Shepherd. It means someone who feeds the sheep with the Word of God.

Now some might say Pastor, you’re missing the real point of action here. The real action was the miracle. No. Miracles only serve to authenticate the Word. Christ feeds bodies as a symbol of how He has fed souls. The real action in this text is the preaching of the Word. For faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ.

The Lutheran Confessions affirm this understanding. Dr. Luther in the Smallcald Articles, one of our confessional documents, writes: “In issues relating the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word.” (SA Part III Art. VIII p.3) By outward Word here, Dr. Luther means Holy Scripture - the Bible. In defense of this, Dr. Luther cites Galatians 3:2. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” And also verse 5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” Dr. Luther reinforces this a few paragraphs later. “Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit - without the Word and Sacraments - is of the devil himself.” (SA Part III Art. VIII p. 10) In our day many people starve to death because they don’t want the Christ that comes to us through the dusty old pages of the Bible. They want something more exciting. They want something that gives them the warm fuzzies, or a burning in the bosom. Well, for the warm fuzzies I would suggest a fleece blanket and for the burning in a bosom a meal at a Mexican restaurant might do the trick. The problem is that the Christ Who comes to us through His Word is the real Christ, the only Christ. These other Christ’s are false Christs. That warm fuzzy feeling goes away. I remember about twenty years back being on a respirator for a day or so. You feel a lot of thing, but the warm fuzzies is not one of them. I won’t tell you what the burning sensation was, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. At times like that, all the garbage of the world burns away. All that’s left is the Word. That is the only thing that has the power to endure. In fact it is the only thing that we have on this earth that will last forever. As Christ Himself says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35)

Another point that must be made here is that it is the external Word. Christ comes into us from outside ourselves. All that is within us is sin and evil. Modern Americans have a poor understanding of mankind. All these socialist utopian models that are proposed assume that man is basically good if we only structure society in the right way to bring out his goodness. But this never works. It doesn’t work because men are born with a corrupt and sinful nature. The founders of our nation understood this. The idea of a government with checks and balances assumes that men will attempt to use power for evil purposes. So you structure things in ways to limit their power. This also affects our understanding the work of God’s Word. We cannot look inward. All we find there is sin, corruption, and death. We must look outward toward something that can come into us and make us clean. That very thing is the Word of God.

Back in the early 1970's when our synod was in battles over the authority of Scripture, the liberals would say well you have the Bible but we have Christ. To this we must respond by asking; What Christ do you have? There is no Christ apart from Scripture. Christ is the living Word of God. The incarnate Word can never be separated from the enscripturated Word. They are one and the same.

Christ is our true Shepherd who feeds us His Word, and ultimately Himself. For He is the Word. And so for us today, we must have pastors - that is undershepherds - who would offer to you Christ in Word and Sacrament as your feast. For it is only by the Word of God that we have life. Christ understood this and that is why He preached to the people, even to the point of exhaustion. The Word is life, for faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
Amen!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Comments on Concrete

Yesterday it was announced that Walter Cronkite had died. Growing up, and not thinking too much of him even then, we kids called him Walter Concrete. Now being older and wiser, I realize our youthful barb was actually quite accurate. Cronkite was called the most trusted man in America. Never was trust more misplaced than in this man.

Cronkite had his own private agenda which he covertly promoted while claiming it was the news. Nor was he a good reporter. During the Tet Offensive in Vietnam he reported that this proved we couldn't win the war. In fact Tet was a huge tactical and strategic victory for the U.S. Ultimately, we won the Vietnam war and forced North Vietnam to sign the Paris Accords. (The take over of South Vietnam was a really a second Vietnam war, in which we did participate. There was about year between the wars.) Had Cronkite simply spoken with U.S. commanders at the time of Tet, he would have learned that the offensive by the NVA and Vietcong played right into our hands. Yes, it led to intense fighting, but we ultimately prevailed in every engagement. Cronkite never reported this fact. So those who got their news about Vietnam from the most trusted man in America got a lie - a lie I would contend was deliberate on Cronkite's part.

After retirement, Cronkite spent much of his twilight years campaigning for environmental causes. Most of these were likewise lies, as are most environmental causes in general. Again, he lent his credibility to a lie.

Pardon me if I don't mourn this passing. I don't think we lost much.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sermon for July 11-12

Sermon
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 11-12, 2009
Text: Amos 7:7-15

Dear Friends in Christ,
We have before us a powerful and insightful text. It is one, however, where the context is crucial to understanding this text. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom divided. The northern kingdom was termed Israel and the southern kingdom, which stayed loyal to the house of David, was termed Judah. The first king of Israel, in the period of the divided kingdom, was Jeroboam I. He had been a commander of King Solomon’s workforce. Jeroboam was concerned about his people going down to worship in Jerusalem. So he set up his own shrines in Bethel and Dan. In these shrines he set up golden bull calves. Now to understand the text we must understand what these golden bull calves represent.

The image of the bull calf goes back to Mount Sinai, when the people pressured Aaron to make them an idol. Now many scholars will speculate on which god this is. They might suggest the Egyptian god Apis. But why would they worship an Egyptian god when they had just been humiliated by the plagues. Other Ammorite or Canaanite gods often suggested. But none of this holds water. In fact, the text of Exodus tells exactly which god was being represented by the golden bull calf. The problem is that many of our translations make a muck of this. In Hebrew two words are used in connection to the true God - Elohim and Yahweh. Now Eloheim is a plural form, but is understood to be singular when referring to the true God. This is hinting at the Trinitarian nature of God. So Elohim can be rendered either God or gods, depending on context. Aaron makes the golden bull calf and then the people say this: “This is Elohim, O Israel, who brought you up out the land of Egypt.” To which Aaron replies: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh?” (Exodus 32:4-5) If they were celebrating a new god, why were they having a feast to Yahweh? Because this wasn’t a new god. This was an idol created to represent Yahweh, that is the true God. Even though it was intended to represent Yahweh, it was still a graven image - that is an image of God through which He had not revealed Himself. He had never appeared as a bull calf. So even though the people intend this as worship of Yahweh, God rejects their worship.
The bull calf as the image of Yahweh did not go away, however. Jeptha in the book of Judges has an idol, presumably in the form of a bull calf, to represent Yahweh. Likewise in Judge 18 the Danites set up an idol to represent the true God in the city of Dan. It is probable that this shrine was destroyed in the years of King David. But the memory of Dan as a place of worship was now ingrained in their culture. So when Jeroboam I wished to set up rival places of worship, he set up golden bull calves at Bethel and at Dan. We’ve talked about Dan as a place of worship, but why Bethel. The name, Bethel, means “House of Elohim.” It’s the place where Jacob had his dream where he saw Christ coming down to him on a ladder or staircase. So it too was a place associated with God’s presence. Because of this sin, and the fact that the nation as a whole was led into this sin, God rejects the house of Jeroboam I. Then came the house of Omri which led Israel into even greater sins - the actual worship of false gods. This climaxed with the confrontation between the Prophet Elijah and King Ahab. The house of Omri was replaced by the house of Jehu. Jehu purged the false gods from Israel, but continued in what Scripture calls the “sin of Jeroboam.” He continued to worship the true God through the graven images.

This bring us to the time of Jeroboam II, who is a descendant of Jehu. It is a prosperous time. Israel has achieved its highest level of power, with the promise of perhaps even greater achievements to come. But the kingdom is rotten. It is filled with false worship and unbelief. The laws of Moses are ignored. Justice is only for the rich and powerful. God sent a number of prophets to Israel in this period. One of them was Amos, a Judean shepherd. As a Judean, Amos is a foreigner. It would be like someone coming from Canada and telling us what to do. Amos prophecies against the shrine at Bethel and warns that because of this false worship, God would reject them. He would measure them with the plumb line and find that they were not straight - they were crooked. Because they were crooked, and not straight, God would make the high places of Israel desolate, the sanctuaries of Israel would be laid waste, and God Himself would rise up and make war against the house of Jeroboam. There is double meaning to this last part. Jeroboam, as the first king represents all the kings of Israel. They all shared in the “sin of Jeroboam”. But the current king was also named Jeroboam. So it referred to the current king, as well to the kingdom as a whole. Many of those who heard Amos give this warning lived to see its fulfillment. In, 722 B.C. about 30 years after the time of Amos, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. The people were carted off into exile and forced to intermarry with non-Israelites. The tribes carried off by the Assyrians are known to history as the lost tribes of Israel. For all intents and purposes, they ceased to exist.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not free to worship God any we please. Worship itself is really not a good word. Our German forefathers used the word “Gottesdienst” - God’s Service to His people. When we gather, we are gathering in the heavenly throne room, before Christ, our Lord, to be served by Him with His gifts of Word and Sacrament. True Christian service to God takes place out in the world, in our daily lives. If we try to do anything to serve God here, in His throne room, we are creating our own golden bull calf. It is also crucial to remember that we cannot serve God until we have been served by God. So we come in to be served and leave to serve. This understanding is crucial to our lives. Here, we must do things the way that Christ as commanded us. Christ has given us this law so that we would always have the Gospel. Much of what passes for worship in America is indeed nothing more than our own version of the golden bull calf. True Christian worship is always about the proclaiming of God’s Word in its full truth and power, and the celebration of Sacraments. This is why our synod has passed resolutions urging our congregations to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. Far from being an add on, the Lord’s Supper is the very expression of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. Why does it have this central place? Because it is what Christ has given us to do. Further, it is fullest expression of God’s presence among us. For the in the Supper, Christ, our Savior from sin and death is among us according the flesh, dispensing His gifts of forgiveness, life and Salvation.

Word and Sacrament are not just a slogan for us. They are the very center of what we are as Christians. They are the things we are given by Christ to do. They are the way that Christ is present among us. They are the way that Christ distributes His gifts to us. The alternative is something of our own invention - our own golden bull calf. And there’s a lot of bulls in American. This is certain. And so we pray that we would be shown how to put such nonsense aside, and cling to the things Christ has given us - the things in which we have life.
Amen!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sermon July 5

Sermon
The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
July 5, 2009
Text: Mark 6:1-13

Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was in Indiana my organist was a high school classmate of John Mellencamp. She didn’t think too highly of him. They used to ridicule him, because in their minds he acted as though he was “it”. In fact she said that her and her friends were absolutely stunned that he had become successful. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that they had a rock star in their midst. And no, as far she knew, there was no Club Cherrybomb in the Columbus/Seymore, Indiana area. I don’t think she’s much of a Mellencamp fan to this day.

In some ways, it’s amazing to think of all the people we know. I have two high school classmates doing weapons research - one for Raytheon and the other for the Navy. They can’t reveal any more about what they’re doing, otherwise they’d have to kill us. I have several high school and college class mates who are now professors, and several have written books or been published in prestigious journals. Some guys you say, yeh, they’re going places. But others surprise you. An incident during my junior year in high school brought this home. We were in Pastor McDonald’s class when a man came to the door flashing a badge. Pastor Mac went out to talk to the man for a moment. Here it was the secret service doing a background check on one of the guys who had graduated the year before. He was going to be guarding nuclear missile silos. Considering our schoolmate, this didn’t exactly inspire confidence in our national defense.

Christ did not inspire confidence in everyone He met. In fact, the reaction to Christ was often very negative. Our text speaks of the very cool reception He received in His home town of Nazareth.

Nazareth was not the little rural village many picture in their minds. It was a place of some sophistication. It was a community that played a similar role to that of say Forest Lake. The capital of Galilee under King Herod Antipas was the city of Sepphoris. This was a city that Herod built from the ground up. It was a Greek city with all the amenities of any Greek capital. It was also about two miles from Nazareth. Joseph likely was employed in its construction. Nazareth would have been a comfortable place to live with good employment opportunities, and ready access to trade goods of all kinds. The people of Nazareth were probably equally comfortable speaking Aramaic or Greek. They would have been sophisticated and well informed about events throughout the territory.

Christ returns home after He had started His ministry in Capernaum. Why He had relocated there is not revealed to us. However, He had relatives there and a carpenter could certainly find work fixing boats. It’s likely no more complicated than that. Thus Christ begins His ministry away from His hometown. But the people back home would have heard the reports. So when Christ comes home the expectations are high. But they are not born of faith. Why is that? Scripture answers this for us. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. They heard the reports of the miracles, but miracles don’t produce faith. All miracles do is authenticate the one preaching as a prophet of God. In this case the people were actually hardened. How dare God pick a prophet from among them! They had stories about this kid after all. Scripture tells us that even Christ’s own family did not believe Him in until after the resurrection. After this cool reception in Nazareth, Christ continues to preach in the region of Galilee.

How does this apply to us today, other than as part of the story of Christ’s ministry? People haven’t changed. Back in the 1960's when we had professors at our colleges and seminaries buying into all sorts of heresy, most of them were pastor’s children. For many people, the Word of God is not enough. They have to invent something more. And certainly many in our midst have done the same thing. Ironically, it is often the ones that are closest to the center. The ones closest to Christ rejected Him. In our synod, many of those from pastoral clans, who have a direct heritage in the synod, are those who have rejected the Word. It’s interesting among the lay people, how many of our converts have a better grasp on the faith than those who are life long Missouri Synod Lutherans.

Why is this the case? We often treat the things handed down to us not as a sacred heritage, but as though they were common and of no great value. What has been handed down to us in the Small Catechism and the rest of our Lutheran Confessional documents? A clear exposition and confession of the Word of God. We must never treat these things carelessly. They are a great treasure. Why must we preserve this treasure? Because it is in the Word and the Sacraments established by the Word that Christ is present among us. So if we cast aside the Word that Christ gives us, we have nothing. There is nothing that can take its place. The Word of Christ is the Word of life.

What do people put in place of the Word? Our human works. Now good works, that is serving our neighbor, are a proper response to the Gospel, but they are not any part of the Gospel. Those who reject the Word always turn around and make man responsible for his own salvation. But we cannot save ourselves. Our works are never enough. So rejecting the Word enslaves us to works that we can never complete. Finally rejecting the Word leads us to Hell. This is how the Word sets us free. For in Scripture, and only in Scripture, we learn that we have a Savior who has fulfilled the law in our place - that is Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is what we have when we cling to the Word of God. We have forgiveness, life and salvation. When we reject that Word, we have an endless cycle of hopeless works that ultimately cannot save us.

Christ in His preaching is again dividing people. He is dividing between those who are people of the Word, whose ears are open and who listen in faith, and those who are people of works. Those who were focused on works wanted to see Christ’s works, but their ears were closed to His Word. Yet, salvation comes to us through His Words. And so for us, we can be people of works, demanding signs and wonders of Christ, and seeking to please God with our works, or we can be humble beggars, trusting in God’s grace, delivered to us in that Word. Works have no future. The Word delivers an eternal future though the forgiveness of our sins.
Amen!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sermon for June 27-28

Sermon
The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25th)
June 27-28, 2009
Text: John 15:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
For twelve long years, the Holy Roman Empire had been racked with religious controversy. In that time, Emperor Charles V had defeated France, sacked Rome in a dispute with Pope Leo X, and defeated the Muslims who had laid siege to Vienna. Charles had been raised in the Spanish Netherlands - what we would call today Belgium. He was the grandson and heir of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. He had ascended the Spanish throne at age sixteen under the name King Charles I. He was also the grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. He succeeded to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire at age eighteen in the year 1518. Holding two of the most powerful and most wealthy thrones in Europe, he was considered the most powerful man in the world. But there was one matter that he couldn’t seem to get under control - the religious controversies racking Germany. The religious dissent had led to a popular revolt in the mid 1520's called the Peasants War. Tens of thousands died. Yet, Charles could not get his hands on the leaders of the religious dissidents. Part of the problem was the peculiar polity of Holy Roman Empire. The emperor was elected by a small group of nobles called “electors”, and thus was largely dependant upon their support. The most powerful of all these electors was the Duke of Saxony. Frederick the Wise was a cagy, elderly politician, who had played young Charles like a fiddle. By 1529, Charles was older and wiser, and Frederick had died. He was succeeded by his brother, Duke John the Steadfast. And Charles had defeated his most powerful enemies.

Charles ordered the Diet or parliament to assemble in the city of Speyer in the summer of 1529. At the opening of the Diet, Charles ordered that all the German princes join him in a Corpus Christi procession - that is a procession through the streets of the city behind a piece of consecrated communion bread. A number of German princes, led by Duke John, refused. Because of their protest of the Emperor’s command, they were termed “Protestants.”

Both sides maneuvered through summer as the Diet dragged on. Finally, Duke John was able to secure an order from the Emperor to present their confession of faith to the Diet. There were a series of hastily convened meetings through the winter. The protesting princes chose Professor Philip Melanchthon to prepare their statement. He was considered a better writer than Luther. Further, since Luther was an outlaw, he could not attend the Diet. Melanchthon was able to be present.

The Diet again convened in June of 1530, this time in the city of Augsburg. The maneuvering was on again. Finally, on a blistering hot, June 25th, Wittenberg attorney Christian Beyer read the confession before the Emperor in a booming voice, declaring that their confession would prevail against the very gates of hell. It had been signed by seven German princes, and the representatives of the free cities of Nuremberg and Roetlingen. By August, most of Germany and some territories outside of Germany had signed on to the Augsburg Confession. The Lutheran Church was born. To this day, pastors and congregations of the Lutheran Church pledge themselves to the Augsburg Confession.

What did the confessors of Augsburg do? They divided themselves from others. They shattered relationships. They told the majority of Christendom that they would have nothing more to do with them. And they paid dearly for this. Two of those seven princes would spend many years in prison for their confession of faith. Why would they do this? It certainly wasn’t Minnesota nice! They did this because they understood something very profound. As Christians, we are bound by the Word of God, that is the Holy Scriptures. Our relationship, one to another, is based upon Christ and upon His Word. If we are not united in the Word, any relationship we would have would be a false relationship. The Lutherans were first to take such a stand.

The text that has been associated with the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, already in 1531 is John 15: I AM the vine, you are branches. What John the Steadfast, well schooled by Luther and Melanchthon, understood, is that in Baptism we are grafted into Christ. As branches grafted into Christ, His sap, flows through us and nourishes us. That sap is the Holy Scriptures - God’s law which us shows us our sins and God’s Gospel which shows us our Savior. Furthermore, our relationships are determined by Holy Scripture. Either we are together conformed to God’s Word, or our relationship is based upon a lie. This has become a big problem in America. The world tells us that the way to get along is to stand for nothing. If we dare to stand for the truth, it will divide us. It will divide us from those who stand for falsehood. But didn’t Christ come to draw people together? Listen to the very words of Christ recorded for us in Matthew 10:34 and following: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” So Christ Himself says that the purpose of His coming was divide. He came to divide those who confess the truth of God’s Word from those who profess falsehood.

Why does this make a difference? Because this is not a game. This is a deadly earnest business. Eternal life is at stake. Christ also warns us in Luke 12 to fear that One who kills people and then sends them to hell. Who is that? Christ is speaking of Himself. We confess this every week in the Creed when we say that Christ will judge the living and the dead. One of the constant themes of the Old Testament is that God is about truth and God establishes what that truth is. We either do this God’s way or we are enemies of God. Thanks be to God, that in Jesus Christ, we have perfect forgiveness of our sins and are given, as a free gift, eternal life. Being grafted into Christ, and having God’s Word flowing though us as life giving sap, is not only for this life, but for all eternity. No man made worship, no man made rites, no man made works can please God. All these things are false and must be rejected, as our forefathers did at Augsburg. But the ways of God are not a burden, but a joy. Why, because He has done for us what we could not do. Now Word and Sacrament are gifts to us to graft us into Christ. They are the sap that flows through us and preserves us in the faith. They give us life by the forgiveness of sins. God is angry at man for sin. But that anger was burned out upon Christ. So now, all who are in Christ, have forgiveness and eternal life.

In 1530, the confessors of Augsburg confronted a church that was corrupt. It taught many false and man made doctrines. Because the church was not conformed to the Word of God, that is Holy Scripture, many people ended up in hell. People were taught to please God by their own works of satisfaction. But this is impossible, because the filth and disease of sin is so deep that we cannot earn God’s favor by our works. We are hopelessly lost in sin and death. But our forefathers at Augsburg confessed something else, was well. They knew from Holy Scripture, that, while we cannot earn God’s favor by our works, Christ has already earned God’s favor in our place. And all who cling to this truth, will indeed rise, bodily, from the dead, and live forever with Christ in heaven.

Amen!

July Newsletter Article

From the Disk of the Pastor - July 2009

Dear Friends in Christ,
During the recent district convention, there was a presentation on the Transforming Churches Network. It was a really a waste of time. The presenter, Rev. Terry Tieman, spent about three hours rehashing the same old song and dance that’s been around for about three decades and which has never really worked all that well. Furthermore, only in one brief segment did he even mention the Bible. Likewise the pastors have been receiving information on revitalization grants from the synod. These would be monetary grants which congregations could seek to pay for special projects to help fire up their congregation. But there are strings attached - hoops to jump through. Many of these things appear to be counterproductive.

This got me thinking. What if I were a billionaire and therefore had the resources to offer my own grants to congregations? What would I require of congregations? What things really would revitalize a congregation. Some of what I would require is based on my observations of one particular congregation - Advent Lutheran Church, Zionsville, Indiana. Advent was started in the mid- 1990's. It has grown steadily, each year since. Many years it has been the fastest growing congregation in its district, and among the fastest growing in the synod as a whole. First I would require that the pastor preach substantial sermons, heavy with strong, distinctly Lutheran content. Second, I would require the congregation to use services selected from our hymnal. Likewise, I would require them to use hymns from our hymnal, with a special emphasis on those hymns of Lutheran origin. Third, I would require them to offer the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Fourth, I would require that their Bible Study attendance be at least 80% of their worship attendance, and that their Bible Studies be catechetical in nature. Topics to be covered would include the authority and nature of Scripture, the Small and Large Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, and the liturgy. Fifth, I would require the restoration of the old Lutheran practice of Private Confession and Absolution and require that at least 50% of those who commune each month also receive private absolution. Of these, only the last item is not in place at Advent, Zionsville. After doing these things for six months, I would give the congregation the grant, for whatever project they are proposing. However, I would do this in the form of a loan, which I would service on their behalf so long as they continued doing these things.

The most controversial probably would be Private Confession and Absolution. If we look at the section on Confession in the Small Catechism it presumes that this will take place in a private setting. It specifically asks the question of what sins we are to confess to our pastor. Further, the first constitution of the Missouri Synod, back in 1847, instructed congregations, wherever possible, to abolish corporate confession and replace it with private confession. Frontier conditions where pastors spent only short periods of time in each parish made this impractical.

Why would I do it this way? Well, because I know that money, while helpful, does not, in itself, revitalize congregations. Nor do special projects. Congregations are revitalized when people are drawn closer to Christ through Word and Sacrament. Part of that growth process is improving life long catechesis. While faith is not bare knowledge, knowing more about who God is and what God has done and continues to do, makes it easier to trust in Him. We cannot believe in a God we don’t know. So in the end it is not the money that will revitalize congregations, but the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament. If I were a billionaire, I would use some of that money to draw people to these God given means.
IN CHRIST,
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for June 20-21

Sermon
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 20-21, 2009
Text: Job 38:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was a child they used to have a television show called “You Are There”. Walter Cronkite, or was usually termed him, Walter Concrete, would host a documentary of a historical event as though it were a current day news cast. They would have actors play the part of various historical people and reporters would interview them. I remember in one episode, Fred Gwyn played Davy Crockett. Of course none of us were really there at any of these historical events. And one has to wonder how accurately the events were recreated. Considering Cronkite’s now documented distortions in his reporting of the Vietnam War, one hardly considers him a reliable source. As much as we might wish to study history, we were not there. I can tell a great deal about the Battle of Shilo, General Grant’s first great victory. But for all the details I can give you, I was not there. I didn’t see General Albert Sydney Johnston stuck down, accidentally, by his own men. I didn’t see General Grant’s heroic stand with his siege guns at the landing. I didn’t see the mortally wounded General William Wallace being lovingly tended by his wife. I wasn’t there. All I can do is read about it after the fact. This places me into a certain relationship with these events and those who were there. I don’t have the right to challenge their accounts, without clear evidence, since I was not there.

In our text, Christ is speaking to Job. We must make this clear. All throughout Scripture, when God appears and speaks to man, it is always God the Son - that is Christ. The Father never directly interacts with man and the Holy Spirit always works in more subtle ways.

Job lived about the same time as Abraham. We know little about him. He was a wealthy man living about five hundred years, give or take, after the flood. He trusted in God. But God allowed Job to be tested. He allowed Satan to take Job’s wealth, his family, and even his health. Why God allows this is unclear. He obviously had His reasons, but they are not revealed to us. Nor it is clear that we would, in this life, be able to understand God’s reasons. Sometimes God does things for heavenly reasons that we would not understand, since we do not, as yet, fully understand heaven.

In order to understand Job and many other events in Scripture, we must distinguish between those who question God in faith and those who question God as an act of unbelief. Questioning God, even wrestling with God, is not wrong, in itself. It is unbelief that is wrong. However, we may not get the answer we are seeking when we question God. Job, in questioning God, was still acknowledging that God was his Lord and His redeemer from sin and death. And He got an answer that only God could give. God tells Job that He does not have understanding of the things he is asking. He is asking in ignorance. Why? Because man does not understand the deep things of the universe. Why is this? Because we are creature. We are part of creation. God stands above it. So there are things that we can never understand. We can’t understand these things because we were not there when the foundations of the universe were laid down.

God is not just asking about the physical creation. He is asking about the law, the laws of nature, physics, and metaphysics. C. S. Lewis illustrates this well in the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is one of the few places where the recent movie missed the point. The White Witch knew the magic that had been revealed. What she didn’t understand was that there was a deeper magic built into the foundations of that universe. It’s not just that she misinterpreted the magic, as the movie suggested. She couldn’t possibly know it. So when she killed Aslan in place of Edmond, Aslan rose from the dead. Death could not hold an innocent who died in the place of the guilty. This was part of that deeper magic, which the White Witch did not and could not know. Likewise, Christ is asking Job, if he understands the hidden foundations of the universe. That deeper law that has never been revealed. Christ asking Job if he understands what God has hidden in the foundations of the universe. The answer of course if that Job does not know this, because he was not there when these things were done. These are questions that no human being can answer.

This text takes right to the mystery of creation itself. God created this universe in six days. Man has always struggled with this. Augustine said that the six days are only a metaphor. In fact God created the universe in a single moment. What would he need six days for, after all. However, Luther’s answer to this is the best. “If you cannot understand how this could have been in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.” (WLS p.1523) In other words, you weren’t there, so you know nothing. Listen to words of the One who was there.

Many in our world don’t want to acknowledge that we are creature and that we have a creator. For if we have a creator, we are responsible to that creator. We are not free to do as we please. Also if there is a creator, He has built things like laws into the very fabric of the universe. Some we know, and others are kept hidden from us. We don’t know everything. We cannot answer every question. But many in our world arrogantly assume that mankind has all the answers. This is the whole point of Darwinism. It is man’s attempt to shatter any sense of obligation to God. Darwin himself made statements to that effect. But we cannot change what is. God is our creator and redeemer. We owe Him everything.

Do you know who you’re dealing with? This is really the sum of Christ’s words to Job. Do you understand that I made you - I brought you into this world and I can take you out of this world an make another one just like you. All the old clich├ęs apply. Christ is not saying this to be vindictive. He is our redeemer, the One who died for us. Already, Job recognizes Christ as his redeemer. Job already understood that Christ would raise him from the dead. Yet, He is still God. He is still the holy and righteous one. He is still One with whom we should never trifle. The disciples also caught a glimpse of this when Jesus calmed the storm. He told Job that He is the one who sets the limits upon the waves. As Christians we must never presume upon the grace of God. Nor can we reduce God to a single attribute. We must see that this is our creator and redeemer. This is our judge and our Savior. Only then do we understand our place before Him.
Amen!