Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Annual Report Letter

Annual Report - Immanuel, Cedar Lake

Dear Friends in Christ,
We have come to a time when much that will affect us is not in our control. We are increasingly seeing false doctrine and even occult practices coming from official synodical sources without consequence. We have seen, in recent months, tacit promotion of women’s ordination. We have seen advocacy of centering prayer other mystical practices.

What can Immanuel, Cedar Lake do to stop such things? Nothing. This is not in our power. What are we to do than? Watch and wait. Educate ourselves. Pray that positive, scriptural changes would come. And perhaps, if necessary, change affiliation. If it comes to that, Immanuel, Cedar Lake will not be making such a move alone. It will be part of a major exodus, such as is happening in the ELCA.

How did we get here? By not understanding what was happening in the 1970's “battle for the Bible.” In 1970 there were two competing theologies in the LCMS that were both, to some degree wrong. The liberals saw themselves as the corrective for the pietistic, legalistic, elements of old Missourian theology. By 1975 the old Missourians had won, in theory, but they had little to offer, other than a flat, dead, pedantic theology. Thus there was a vacuum. Something had to fill that vacuum. Some turned to historic Lutheran confessionalism. But many turned to non Lutheran models. We had a huge influx of pop evangelical thinking. In other words we had a huge influx of false teaching. The liberal professors had so gutted the seminary programs academically, especially at St. Louise which trains about two thirds of our pastors, many were not equipped to see the dangers. Many of our pastors didn’t have the knowledge or skill to see the dangers of bringing in foreign theology.

Further, an absolute desire to preserve the outward institution on the part of the bureaucracy made it impossible to actually hold any of this in check. In fact the bureaucracy often lashed out at those speaking the truth about the dangerous waters we were entering.

So now we have a mess. We must study. We must know. We must confess. That is all we can do. But this we must do. And so there is the rub. We wait to see this play out. The LCMS is not dead yet. But it is seriously ill. The question remains if we are going to apply the pure medicine of the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions or swallow even more Fullerite/pop evangelical poison. No matter what, we, at Immanuel, must drink at the pure font of Word and Sacrament. We must confess, with our words and actions. But for the moment, we must wait.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January 2010 Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor January 2010

As we enter the last year of the first decade of the new millennium, I would like to take up what many would consider a surprising topic - the wrath and judgement of God.

Many times it is said that Martin Luther grew up thinking that Christ was an angry judge who needed to be appeased, but that when he read the Bible, he found that this was all wrong. This view of Luther and the Scriptures is incorrect. Late in his life, Luther lectured on the book of Deuteronomy. He stated: “God is called ‘Fire’ because He utterly destroys the godless and leaves them nothing; nor is there anything that can resist His wrath. He is called jealous because His disposition is such that He will not spare. Who, then, should not fear Him of whom it is known that He will not spare and that He has the ability implacably and unceasingly to take vengeance.” (WLS #5033) This echoes earlier comments from 1529 when he preached on Deuteronomy 4:24. In this same sermon Luther explains that because people do not understand that God is a consuming fire, they have no fear of Him and live wild lives.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18) St. Paul make it clear that God’s anger does not cease with the coming of Christ. Luther’s position is that of St. Paul. God is our righteous judge as we confess in the creeds. But that is not all that God is. Christ is also our Savior from sin and death as well as our judge. Christ is the One who will judge the living and the dead. But He also takes that judgement upon Himself. This is why we should both fear and love God.

Luther, as we noted, said that people don’t understand the true nature of God’s anger. Thus they regard God’s commands lightly. There are two categories that we should address. Before we take up those two categories, let me point out a third group. The unbelievers do not fear God’s wrath and they cannot be moved to fear God until they come to understand His reality. Thus the two groups that we are examining are both believers, or at least claim to be. First we have those who live without a care for God and go about their worldly business, thinking that God forgives them so that they can have no more care for God. They don’t come to the Divine Service, they don’t raise their children in the faith, and they don’t dine at our Lord’s Table. Yet, does not Christ say that those who deny Me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven? Is not such indifference a denial of the One who died for their sins? This indifference angers God. The other group is those who abide in sin, but do not consider this important because they are forgiven. They continue to come to the service and even the altar, but never amend their lives, or even intend to amend their lives. Christ understands our weakness. But He does not countenance indifference toward sin. This too is a thing a thing that places us under judgement.

As we move into 2010, we need to look carefully at our lives. We are sinners. We have a God who is rightly angry over sin. We need to understand what causes this consuming anger. We need to see Christ as the righteous judge. But we must also, at the same time, see Him as our Savior from sin and death who takes the anger of God against us and places it upon Himself. Knowing that God forgives sins, should then lead us to seek to amend our lives. While we know that our lives are never perfectly amended, we do not want to add to our sins those of indifference. This is how we properly respond to God’s words of Law and Gospel.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for Dec 26-27

The First Sunday after Christmas
December 26-27, 2009
Text: Luke 2:22-40

Dear Friends in Christ,
To understand our text we must go back to Exodus12: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” In Exodus 13, God then commanded that every first born male that opens its mother’s womb is to be consecrated to the Lord. They belonged to Him, because He had passed over the first born of Israel in Egypt.

Now, one note here about the time line of events in Luke 2 and Matthew 1&2. The two gospels cannot be reconciled with any reliability. That does not mean that they contradict each other. Rather, it simply means that we don’t have enough information to fit them together. Christ was born the very last days of the life of Herod the Great. He died in March of 4 B.C. Herod tried to kill Jesus and they fled to Egypt. But we don’t know when in the time line this happens. Nor do we know how far into Egypt they traveled or how long they stayed there. At that time, the Gaza region was part of Egypt. That would only be about forty miles at the closest point. This distance could have been traversed in a day and a half on foot. So Mary and Joseph could have been to Egypt and back before Christ’s appearance in the temple at forty days of age. So we don’t know if this occurs before or after the visit of the Magi. Conventional wisdom is that the Magi would come after this, but I tend think the opposite. I think the Magi had come and gone, Mary and Joseph and Jesus had fled to Egypt and already returned by the time Christ was forty days old. This would place Christ’s birth near the end of February of 4 B.C. This would explain Luke’s note that they returned to Nazareth after this. But as I noted earlier, this cannot be determined with any certainty from the text.

Human beings have always struggled with the birth of Christ. Because this is God, the very maker of the universe, they want to say that Christ could not have been born in a normal manner. Thus, the teaching developed that Christ was born from a closed womb. In other words Mary didn’t have a normal delivery, but the baby just miraculously came out, without labor and without opening the womb. However, the ancient Church father Tertullian writing at end of the second century points out, based on this passage of Scripture, that this could not be the case. They consecrated Christ to God as the first born who had opened His mother’s womb. Tertullian explains that they could not have done what Luke records if Christ had been born, as some teach, from a closed womb. Thus Luther insisted that Christ was born in the normal manner, opening His mother’s womb, passing through the birth canal and all that.

The other question that arises is whether Mary remained a virgin. In Latin the term is “semper virgo.” Here Scripture is not as clear. Many Lutherans including Luther and Walther taught that Mary did remain a virgin. When I was in seminary, Dr. Denger taught that Mary remained a virgin, but Dr. Scaer insisted she did not. Most of the ancient fathers likewise taught that Mary remained a virgin. However, Tertullian is again insightful. He points out that in Jewish law a marriage is not legal unless it is consummated. It should also be noted that scripture attaches no blessing to celibacy and perpetual virginity. A women is considered blessed in Scripture if she has many children.

When Jesus was forty days old they went to temple to consecrate Mary’s first born Son to God, in accordance with the command given at the time of Moses. They also offered the sacrifice for Mary’s cleansing. Women were considered ceremonially unclean after they gave birth. Now this seems a rather messy bit of ceremonial law, but it was intended to protect women. Since they were ceremonially unclean they were limited in what they could do in the household. Nor could they enter the temple or synagogue. Most importantly, they could not have sexual relations. This would allow for a good period of rest and healing. Interestingly, the time was longer if the child was a girl. I think this was perhaps to prevent husbands who were overeager for a son from trying again too quickly.

In the temple Mary and Joseph encountered two very interesting people. The first was Simeon. He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. The Holy Spirit led him into the temple that day and showed him that this child was indeed the promised Messiah. Simeon takes the child into his arms and sings his great song, the Nunc Dimitis - “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation...” Simeon is saying that he can now die in peace. But he also warns of the tumult Christ will bring and that Mary too will bear much suffering because of this Child. The second person is an elderly woman named Anna. A better rendering of the Greek would be that she was a widow for eighty four years, making her over a hundred year of age. She, like the shepherds, begins to tell everyone that this child is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed One.

Why is all this important? Christ fulfills righteousness in our place. That includes the ceremonial Law of Moses. Here Christ is beginning that task of being our fulfillment of the Law. Christ is here doing what we could not. This is why He is the consolation of Israel and a light to the gentiles. He is opening the gates of heaven for us. He is inviting us in, with the assurance that Law has already been totally fulfilled. We owe no further debt. All the obligations have been fulfilled. And it does not matter who you are, or who your parents are. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish or Gentile. Christ has done it all for everyone. He is the Savior of the whole world.

What of Simeon’s warning about the fall of many? Who will fall because of Christ? Many in power would reject Him - people like the high priest Joseph Caiaphus. The temple establishment would be wiped away. But in its place would be the Christian Church, Word and Sacrament. In its place would the be Church, built on the foundation of the forgiveness of sins. Here in the temple we see the beginning of Christ’s work of fulfilling the law in our place.

Sermon for Christmas

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2009
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Dear Friends in Christ,
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35) Here is the climax of the book of Exodus, what the whole book has been leading up to. The Children of Israel complete the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Then Christ descends from Mount Sinai and take up residence in the Tabernacle and enthrones Himself between the cherubim on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. But the glory of Christ is so intense and so consuming that not even Moses can enter the Tabernacle. Nevertheless, Christ was now enthroned in the midst of His people.

This seems an odd place to start, especially on Christmas of all times! But this really is what Christmas is all about. We must start with the reality that God is holy and righteous. Christ is a righteous judge. We confess this in the creed when we say that Christ judges the living and dead. His holiness is consuming and dangerous to us sinners. Not even Moses was allowed to see the face of Christ. For this is what we must understand. Moses was dealing with the pre-incarnate Christ on Mount Sinai. He was not dealing with God the Father. He was dealing with God the Son. And we see at Mount Sinai just how holy, just, righteously vindictive Christ is. He is to be greatly feared. This is particularly true for those of us who are sinners. How do we know who the sinners are? Just look around and ask yourself, who among us will one day die. There is your answer. All those who will die are sinners. Death is the consequence of sin. Without sin there is no death. So all who will die are sinners. The last I checked that means everyone.

Luther describes what happens next as Christ putting on a mask. It is a mask of human flesh. He puts on this mask so that He can deal with us in grace. The mask is a barrier to protect us. He makes it possible for us to be in His presence, without the terror of Mount Sinai.

Now listen again as you ponder Christ in all His glory and righteousness at Mount Sinai. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Mary just took the Lord of Sinai, wrapped Him in strips of cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough. Just an aside here. Mary and Joseph were not, I repeat, not poor. They were common. Sleeping in stables was a common practice at that time and in fact up until recent times. Back to Mary and her Son, the Lord of Sinai. The angel said to [the shepherds], "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Christ, that is God’s Anointed One, is born and you are not to fear. In fact, He’s not just the Anointed One, He is Yahweh Himself, He is the Lord. Not only is the Lord come into the world, but He is come as your Savior. What are the signs? He’s the Baby in a stable, laying in a manger. The One who spoke from Mount Sinai in a great fiery cloud of power and might is a baby laying in a manger. They found it just as the angel had said. People wondered at the report of shepherds. The Lord of Might is now a Baby?

At Mount Sinai Christ took up residence in the tabernacle. It had been specially constructed for Him from the finest materials. He was enthroned atop the golden Ark of the Covenant. At Bethlehem Christ took up residence in a stable, which was very probably a cave used as a stable. He was enthroned in a manger. No one could enter the tabernacle because of the terror created by the glory of God. The shepherds freely entered the stable and saw what Moses was not allowed to see - the face of God.

So tonight I ask you, which would you rather have, the Christ of the Tabernacle or the Christ of the stable? They are one and the same. But they represent two completely different ways that God deals with man. The stable connects to Mount Calvary where Christ would die for the sins of the world. This is God who is truly God with us. This is God who comes to us and desires to abide with us. He would remain with us in grace. He would remain with us to forgive our sins and give us all His good gifts. Thus Luther can say in his great Reformation hymn that Christ is “by our side upon the plain.” This is the Christ of the stable. And yet we must not forget that both Christs are the real Christ. Christ the Holy Being, possessed with consuming righteousness that we see at Mount Sinai is also the little Child who invites us to gaze upon the loving face of God and even hold the hand of God. And that is what makes the incarnation so truly amazing. For this shows the purest of all love, and teaches us that this love is also a part of who God is. Sadly, many in this world will only see the Christ of Mount Sinai. That would be a terrible and frightening thing indeed. But we also see the Christ of the stable, enthroned in a manger. We see Christ, the Lord, the God who loved us, so that He became one of us, to pay the price of our sin.

Sermon for Dec 19-20

The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 19-20, 2009
Text: Luke 1:39-45

Dear Friends in Christ,
St. Luke was a well educated man, who was also a careful writer. He is the most skilled writer of the New Testament, often deliberately changing his writing style in various parts of his writings. In about 150 B.C. seventy Jewish scholars in Alexandria Egypt translated the Old Testament into Greek from the original Hebrew. The translation is called the Septuagint, and it is the translation of the Old Testament used in the New Testament and in the early church. The Septuagint is a strange and quirky translation, often using words that you wouldn’t expect. Luke, in chapters 1&2 of his gospel emulates the style of the Septuagint. In chapter 3 he breaks into what would have been a common contemporary Greek style. This even come through in translation, giving these early chapters their familiar character and cadence.

Our text is a familiar one, as are all the Gospel readings this time of year. It takes place just after the Angel Gabriel visited Mary. It also takes place in the sixth month. Many people have puzzled over that - the sixth month of what? This where you need to read Luke 1&2 as a continuous narrative. If you do that, it is obvious. The sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary goes and visits her cousin, Elizabeth, and remains with her in Judea for three months. A little simple math leads to the conclusion that Mary was present for the birth of John the Baptist. A question that must be asked, that cannot be answered with certainty, is if Mary had already planned to visit Elizabeth, or if she decided to make the trip only after the angel appeared to her. I suspect that she may have already been planning this trip. She was there to assist her elderly cousin during her pregnancy. This would not be an unusual thing to do, to help a family member. Remember that though Mary was young, perhaps twelve or thirteen, she was considered marriageable and therefore had to be ready to run a household. My mother often talks about this same thing happening on the farms in Michigan where she grew up. Many families would hire a neighbor girl of about that age to help when a women had a baby.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. Here we see Mary arriving. It says it was in a town in Judah. Now this was probably a small place. Perhaps a couple hundred people lived there. Perhaps it was even smaller. This is where the grassland is going into desert. So it was not an area that could support large populations. The key here is the statement that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps when they heard Mary’s voice. John the Baptist was a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. This fulfills the words spoken by the angel in Luke 1:15. John recognized the voice of the Bearer of God. More importantly, he recognizes that he is in the presence of the Lord.

Much is written about Mary. Much needs to be said. There are also some things said of Mary that are idolatrous and blasphemous. At the Council of Nicea, Mary was given the title “Theoktos.” That Greek word is often rendered “Mother of God” but a closer rendering would be bearer of God. She is the one who carries God within her and bears Him into the world. She does not contribute anything to His godhood, only to His humanity. So Mary’s glory is always a borrowed glory. All generations call her blessed only because God has done great things to her. Thus, John leaps in his mother’s womb, not because Mary is present, but because the unborn Christ is present.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Here now Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. One presumes that she had not heard, by human means, that Mary was to be the mother of the Christ, the bearer of God. She knows, perhaps for the first time at that moment, through the Holy Spirit. Notice here a couple things. First Elizabeth calls Mary Blessed, but immediately connect that blessed state to the Child she is carrying. Then she calls Mary the mother of her Lord. The Greek word is Kyrios. That’s a little bit of a slippery word. It can mean several things. But it would be the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew Yahweh, the Old Testament proper name for God. I think that is how we should see this here. Elizabeth is saying that Mary is the mother of Yahweh.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Here Elizabeth is poking a little at her husband Zechariah. This statement is contrasting the two responses to Gabriel’s appearance. Zechariah doubted and was struck dumb, but Mary believed. Here we see the model of faith. We too should hear the Word and believe. In this Mary is the model for all Christians.

In Genesis 4:1 we read Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying “I have gotten a man who is the Lord.” Most translators are scared to render it that way. But that is exactly what the Hebrew says. Luther and many other commentators agree with this view. Eve thought that she had given birth to the Messiah. Cain turned out to be the first murderer. It would be about four thousand, give or take, before the Second Eve would bear the Second Adam. Mary becomes all women, reduced to one. She carries the hopes of all women and men in her womb. Just as Mary, in fulfilling her role, became all women reduced to one, her Son would be all men reduced to One. So that just as sin entered the world through one man, so also through One Man, Jesus Christ, the sin of the world is atoned. This is why Mary and Elizabeth were so overjoyed at the presence of their God, the Man Jesus.

Semon for Dec 16

The Third Midweek in Advent
December 16, 2009
Text: Luke 1:26-38

Dear Friends in Christ,
What does that mean? Or in the German Was is Das - what is this? This is a familiar question to Lutherans. What does this mean? It is a question that implies that there is more to this than meets the eye. In the Commandments, for example Luther gives us the positive, that is what we are to do, along with the negative, what we are not to do.

Our text is a familiar one. We’ve heard it a hundred times. Usually the perspective that is taken is the miracle of the virgin conception of Jesus. I think we feel must hammer this in the face of rationalism. It is a miracle that had never happened before and has not happened since - in spite of the claims of some current day teenage girls. But there is more to this. There is something here that is even more profound and mysterious than a virgin conceiving a child.

The council of Nicea met in 325 A.D. in the city of Nicea. Funny how that works, the council of Nicea meeting in Nicea. It was the first of seven gatherings of representatives of the whole Christian church on earth. The council was summoned by the Emperor Constantine to settle the controversy raised by the heretic Arius who denied the divinity of Christ. St. Athanasius led the charge to condemn Arius. In response to what Arius claimed the church debated the Scriptures for several weeks. Finally, they issued a series rulings. Among those rulings is the first two articles of what we now know as the Nicene Creed. Another thing that they said was that there never was a time when God the Son did not exist. Double negatives are bad English but they are common in other languages like Greek. So they said that Christ always existed from all eternity.
The Angel Gabriel shows up in Nazareth and confronts Mary. We don’t know where this happened. According to tradition it was by the village well. No way to confirm that, nor is there any compelling reason to doubt it. So we can say it was probably by the well that the angel appears. Mary is probably about twelve or thirteen years old. That would have been the typical marriage age of the time. Now the angel tells her that she will have a son by the power of the Holy Spirit and that this child will be the Son of God. He will rule forever. What the angel is saying that this is not an ordinary human being. This child is God. This was understood from the first. We see this, perhaps most clearly in the Benedictus, the song of Zechariah, where the old priest calls Jesus Yahweh.

So think about this for a moment. This twelve year old girl has just been told that she will have a child, which she will carry in her womb in the normal manner who is Yahweh, that is God. And I think, from the Biblical text it is reasonable to surmise that she understood this. So what does this mean? It means that the child in her womb created the very universe it was now entering. It means that Mary herself was created by the child in her womb. It means that the child in her womb called Abraham from Haran to the land of Canaan. It means that the child in her womb was the One who had killed the firstborn of Egypt at the time of Moses and slaughtered the army of the Assyrians before Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah the prophet. It means that the child in her womb had parted the Red Sea and then drowned Pharaoh and his army. It means that the child in her womb was the Lord of Might who had spoken from the top of Mount Sinai, giving the Ten Commandments. The child in her womb was the One enthroned between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The child in her womb was the one who dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Ladies, are you freaked out yet? It nearly creates a panic just hearing about it.

What does it mean? It means that this is Yahweh Elohiem, that is the Lord God, now enthroned in a new Ark of the Covenant - the womb of the virgin. What does Mary do? She simply asks for instructions. Her question of the angel was not born of unbelief as Zechariah’s had been. Rather she is simply, asking, what am I to do? The answer is do nothing. God is already doing everything to bring about this miracle of the ages. God has done great things to her. This is faith at an extraordinary level. One can only conclude that God had given her a special gift of faith beyond what is normal.

The key to understanding all this, is found in the words of the Old Testament prophets. Christ had appeared many times throughout the Old Testament. But always as a judge, a destroyer, an avenger and so forth. Here, He is the wonderful counselor, the prince of peace, the great light, and all these other wonderful promises of the Old Testament. He is great David’s greater Son, the prophet who is greater than Moses. He is all these things because He is Yahweh, visiting His people to save them from their sins. This is what we must not miss. This is Holy God, Yahweh Elohiem. And He has come not to destroy and damn, but to save. This is what is in the Virgin’s womb. A baby yes, but more than that, our God. That is what this means.

Sermon for Dec 12-13

The Third Sunday in Advent
December 12-13, 2009
Text: Luke 7:18-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
How do we think about things in general? How do we think about the task of doing theology? What are our filters? What are our presuppositions. That is what is at the heart of this text. It really is a lesson about how we view the world and how we do theology.

Late in his ministry, John the Baptist picked a fight. He went to King Herod Antipas and confronted him as a public sinner, much as the Prophet Nathan confronted King David. Herod had divorced his wife and then married a woman who had been married to one of his many brothers. Herodius had likewise divorced her husband to marry Herod. So in essence, Herod had stolen his brother’s wife. John confronted Herod with his sin. Herod, fearing John, because he appeared to be a prophet, would not put him to death, but did throw John in prison. Why did John do this. He could have condemned Herod from afar. He could have stayed in Judea, out of Herod’s reach. John did this because he knew that it was time for his ministry to end, and that this was how it was to end. John’s work of pointing people to Christ was nearly complete. There was one more group of people he needed to point to Christ - his disciples.

John’s disciples reported to him all that Jesus was doing. John was now in Herod’s dungeon and so could not travel himself. So what does he do. He sent two of His disciples to Jesus to ask if He is the Messiah. Why did John do this? Not for his sake. He knew the answer. But they need to see the answer. But John didn’t want to just tell them. He wanted the to understand this in a very special way. Jesus gave John just as exactly the answer, John was seeking for his disciples.

They to Jesus as he was preaching and healing. Now we need to put this in perspective. The Old Testament prophets had performed some miracles, on occasion. But they were not common. They didn’t happen every day. If fact Jesus says that in the days of Elisha the prophet, only Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy. No one else. Both Elijah and Elisha each raised one person from the dead. One of those was a foreigner. There are no other instances in the Old Testament of anyone being raised from the dead. But now Jesus comes and he heals people right and left. There are three occasions mentioned where he raised someone from the dead. But it appears from the Gospels that there were others as well. It was bad time to be the funeral business. It’s like a glass that is already full and they just keep pouring. God’s gifts are overflowing in every direction. Christ heals a the daughter of a Phoenician women and the servant of a Roman centurion. He feeds multitudes, walks on water, calms storms, and on and on.

So John’s disciples come and ask Jesus are you the coming One. What does Jesus do? At first He doesn’t answer them. He makes them watch for a while. Then He quotes from Isaiah 29 where it talks about what would happen when the Holy One of Israel came. The lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear and so forth. Why did Jesus do this? What John and Jesus were trying to do was to get the disciples of John to think Biblically. We might say today that they wanted them to put on their Biblical glasses. Think this through Biblically. What does the Bible say will happen when the Messiah comes? Is that what you are seeing? Start with what you know to be true - the Word of God. Don’t just follow here or there because something impresses you. Lot’s of false teachers impress people. Think Biblically. See if what you are seeing matches what you read in the Bible. John’s disciples would have reported that Jesus was doing all the things that the Messiah was to do. And these were extraordinary things that had never been done before or since. We don’t know if they every reported back to John. It may well be that John was dead by the time they returned. If so, they would have reported to the other disciples of John. That was John’s purpose. That John’s death was near we see in our text. The last verses are often called Jesus’ eulogy for John. Our text doesn’t quite have the sense of the Greek. It leaves us with the impression Jesus said this after the disciples of John had left. Rather, Jesus said this just as they were beginning to leave. So John’s disciples would have still heard this. Jesus said: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?... A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."

We live an age of great fear. We also live at a time when there are many false teachers and false messiahs. Many do not know where to turn. This was much as in Jesus day. The Greek word that is used for “the poor” in our text could also be rendered, those in fear. In this context that makes more sense. Those in fear have the good news preached to them. We also, in our age, are those in fear. We fear life. We fear the economy. We fear poor health. We fear death. We fear what children will do, what our grandchildren will do. We fear random disasters. But there is good news that overcomes all these things, that overcomes our fear. Where do we find it? In the same place where John directed his disciples. We find it in Christ and in Scripture. Christ and Scripture cannot ever be separated. They are one and the same. In fact Christ is called the living Word of God by St. John. So where do you find Christ? Where do you find the good news? In Scripture. This also requires us to know Scripture. Faith is both knowledge and trust. John’s disciples knew immediately what Jesus was saying. As good Jews they knew vast parts of the Old Testament from memory. And so for us. We find the good news in the words of Scripture.

What then is this good news? That God dwells among men, not to destroy them or punish them. God dwells among men, not to cause fear and panic. But God dwells among men to give the good gifts of God. Chief among these gifts is forgiveness and eternal life. With this understanding that God is among us giving His gifts, also allows us to resolve the fears that plague us. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. It’s been doing that from the time Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden. But we have God’s favor. That doen’t make bad things go away. It does allow us to face them, with the knowledge we are in God’s loving hands.

Sermon for Dec 5-6

The Second Sunday in Advent
December 5-6, 2009
Text: Luke 3:1-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?“ It sounds really impressive, echoing off of desert rocks. It’s the kind of thing that needs a special kind of voice. Oh, let see, a voice like that of Charleton Heston. Actually we don’t have to imagine that. We just need the DVD. Heston is one of many actors, famous and not so famous to depict John on film. Perhaps the other really big name would Michael York. Heston played opposite Max Von Sydow’s Jesus, in what is considered one of the poorer film depictions of Christ’s life. John Wayne played the centurion at the cross in the same movie.

Luke, is a writer of great precision. He tells us exactly when these things happened. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius would be 29 A.D. This fits nicely into the rule of Pilate which was from 26-36 A.D. Sometime objections are raised to placing this date at 29 A.D. on basis of Luke 3:23: Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, The claim is made that if John’s ministry began in 29 A.D. Jesus would be too old. But please note here that Luke is imprecise about the age of Jesus. He does not say that Jesus was exactly 30. Just in that general age range - thirtyish, thirty-something. So we must also be precise where Luke is precise, that is about the 15th year of Tiberius, and imprecise where Luke is imprecise, that is about the exact age of Jesus.

Thus, it was in the year 29 A.D. that this John began to preach in the wilderness. He was a wild man of desert. He lived his whole life under a Nazarite vow. Among other things, this meant that he never cut his hair. Think of Sampson in the Old Testament. He’d have fit right in at Woodstock.

Who was this man? What we know for certain is what we find in the Biblical text. Beyond this, we really just have historical guess work. Some suggest that he might have come out of the Essene community in the region of the Dead Sea. These would be the people who produced the Dead Sea scrolls. He may well have come from the Essene community. But that really doesn’t tell us much. The Essenes were a group of people who had withdrawn to the desert to wait for the coming of the Messiah. One of the interesting questions is when this happened. We don’t know. We know that the Essenes went out of business in the wake of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 A.D. But we don’t know just when their communities were established. Conventional wisdom is in the first century B.C. so say around 50 B.C. But in fact there is no evidence of the existence of Essene communities in the Dead Sea region prior to the first century A.D. So it is entirely possible that communities like Qumran, where we found the Dead Sea Scrolls, were created in response to the birth of John the Baptist. Remember that this not so very far from the hill country of Judea from which John’s parents came.

The center of John’s message is that of repentance. This is how we prepare for the coming of God among us. We repent of our sins. In fact this is the very first of Luther’s 95 Theses - the Christian life is one of constant repentance. But what does that mean? What does it mean to repent. It means to turn from our sins. The word itself means to turn around and go the other way. Repentance is not I’m sorry I was caught. In fact God knows all things, so we are always caught. It does not mean sinning with the attitude it is okay because it is all forgiven. Repentance means to turn around and go the other way. It carries with it the intent and desire to amend our lives. We are not always successful in amending our lives, but it is always the intent of the repentant heart.

Human beings have a strange relationship with sin. It is the proverbial love/hate relationship. How many movies involve fornication? And I’m not just talking about today’s movies. The tension between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann in Cassablanca was based on the fact that they’d had an affair back in Paris. We are fascinated with sin. We like our sin. St. Augustine offered an insightful quip when he said: “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.”

Where does repentance come from? In American pop theology, repentance comes from our will, our decision. In fact it is just the opposite. Our will is what opposes repentance. It is because of our will that we are so often unable to amend our lives. Repentance comes from the Word of God. Repentance flows out of a clear understanding of God’s Law and Gospel. But wait a minute, isn’t it the law that shows us our sins. Yes, but the Law will never lead us to repentance. The naked Law will only lead us to despair. The Law will tell us it is hopeless, we’re screwed. We’re on our way to hell so we might as well forget about our sins and enjoy the party while we can. The Gospel says, hold on, it’s not hopeless. Satisfaction has been made for your sins. In repentance there is also life and salvation. So the Law is most precious indeed, for without it we would not see our need for a Savior. We would not see our need for forgiveness. But the Law cannot save us. We must have the assurance that there is forgiveness to make repentance of any value. So repentance and the whole Christian life, flow out of God’s Law and Gospel, side by side, each fulfilling their function.

John came preaching such a word. He came warning of judgement. He came warning of God’s anger over sin. But he also preached hope, that in the Lamb of God sins would be atoned. John offers yet another insight into the Christian life. It is not lived in great quests but in fulfilling your station. Soldiers were to be faithful and honest soldiers, doing their duty and not abusing people. Tax collectors were to do their duty and collect the appointed taxes, but no more. This is the life of the Christian. It is found in every day things. It is found is simple duty and honesty. This is the life of repentance that John preached.

Sermon for Dec 2

The First Midweek in Advent
December 2, 2009
Text: Luke 1:5-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
During this Advent season we will be looking at the three great announcements that preceded the birth of Christ. They were all announcements made by an angel. Two were made by the Angel Gabriel and the other is an unnamed angel, though one would tend to think it likely that this also was Gabriel.

What do we know about Gabriel? He is one to two archangels mentioned by name in Scripture - the other being Michael. Rafael is known from the Apocrypha. This also is considered reliable information. No other names of angels are known with any degree of certainty. That makes Gabriel remarkable in itself. His appearances in the New Testament are all connected with the birth of Christ. He also makes two appearances in the book of Daniel. In every one of these cases Gabriel does nothing other than speak. He is a messenger in the true sense. He comes to speak God’s Word, as his Master bids him. He is God’s herald of good news.

So where does Gabriel first present this good news? In the holy place of the temple. Zechariah was an elderly priest whose home was in the hill country of Judea. There were so many priests at this time they that they took turns serving in the temple. Zechariah was assigned the task of burning incense on the altar of incense in the Holy Place - that is inside the temple sanctuary. Many priests would never get to enter that building in their whole life. So this was a great honor. After he had done this, he was to come out and pronounce Aaron’s benediction over the people. Things didn’t go as planned.

Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. He was an elderly, childless man. Gabriel comes and tells him that he will have a child. Now that would be good news in itself. Then comes more good news. This would be the fulfillment of the final prophecy of the Old Testament, that Elijah would come and announce the coming of the Messiah. This is the part in our text about having the spirit and power of Elijah. Further, he was to be a Nazarite from birth. That meant that he would live his whole life under a vow to God, just as Sampson and Samuel did. Now Zechariah surely knew all the accounts of the Old Testament. He knew about all the special births including Isaac born of Abraham and Sarah in their old age. He knew about barren Hannah praying for son and promising him to God and how she was rewarded with several children, the first being Samuel. So of course Zechariah had no trouble believing the angel at all...

Well, actually, Zechariah, the learned priest had a great deal of trouble. Here is the odd part of the text. Zechariah of all people should have understood what the angel was saying and believed it. Instead he cannot accept what the angel is saying. This would be a miracle after all - but aren’t miracles part of the business priests are in? I remember a line from a movie where a bishop says “I believe in miracles, it’s part of my job.” Thus Zechariah was struck dumb by the angel. He would not be able to speak until after the child was born. Then he would say a great deal. He would sing the Benedictus. Here Zechariah shows that he truly did understand. For in the great song of Zechariah, he explains that John would be the forerunner of Christ who would come and take away the sins of the people. Zechariah finally shows that he knows what this is about - the forgiveness of sins. That’s what makes this good news. Christ was not coming to take an accounting. He wasn’t coming to see who was naughty or nice. He knew that already. He knew that the hearts of men are constantly inclined toward evil. Rather Christ was coming to bring forgiveness, which in turn would heal the relationship between God and man.

The Angel Gabriel came with good news. But that good news was not immediately greeted with joy. Sin and unbelief got in the way. Zechariah could not believe that he was at the center of a divine plan. Sadly, many people today allow sin and unbelief to rob them of this great news. For John would come as more than the fulfillment of an elderly couple’s hopes. John would preach repentance and warning. But he would will also draw people to God through the forgiveness that would be won by the Lamb of God. For this was John’s unique title for Christ. He wasn’t just the promised one. In this John displays his priestly heritage. For a priest dealt with God by means of sacrifices laid upon the altar. For John, Christ was the one perfect sacrifice that would end all sacrifices. Christ’s blood would truly atone for sin. This John would proclaim. That is good news indeed.

Sermon for Nov 28-29

The First Sunday in Advent
November 28-29, 2009
Text: Luke 19:28-40

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ is coming. That is the theme of the Advent season. The word Advent itself means “coming”. But we must flesh this out. First we must define Advent in two different ways. It is a four week season, which begins the church year and leads up to Christmas. But really, it is a seven week season that straddles the coming of the new church year. Themes of coming have already been our focus for the last three weeks.

What does that mean when we say Christ is coming? Well, just what we’ve been talking about. He will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. He will come and condemn the unbelievers to the fires of hell. He will come and take the believers to live in His courts forever. But this season runs in reverse. It moves from the second coming and transitions to first coming, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among men.

The traditional gospel for the first Sunday of Advent is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. One might think this an odd place to start, but remember what I said, this season runs in reverse. We start at the end and go to the beginning. So we start near the end of Jesus life. It is important that we do this. Why, you might ask? Well, because it helps define what we are celebrating. We are not celebrating the birth of a king. We are not celebrating the birth of a child. We are not celebrating world peace and the brotherhood of man. Christ did not come to bring a harmonic convergence. In fact Christ Himself states that He came to bring violence and bloodshed. He came to divide the world into believers and unbelievers. So what are we preparing to celebrate? God becoming flesh and dwelling among men. We are preparing to celebrate the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are preparing to celebrate the coming of the one person in the whole history of the world who was born to die.

Death is one of the most misunderstood things in our world. To grasp death, we must distinguish between God’s primary and God’s consequent will. God’s primary will is His raw intention, unaltered by any circumstance. God’s consequent will is what God does in response to what is happening in the world. The primary thing that causes God to react is sin. It is never God’s primary will that any one or any thing should die. When God created the world, there was no death. As a consequence of sin, God imposed death upon the world. Death is God’s judgement against sin. The very fact that we will die, ought to remind us that we need to repent of our sins. But death is part of God’s consequent will. Thus no human being was born for the purpose of dying - except for One. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born to die - to die for the sins of the world. Therefore, when we look into the manger, we are seeing the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Why did Christ go to Jerusalem in that spring of 33 A.D.? To enter Jerusalem as its king? He did enter as a king, but that was not why He went there. Did He go there to overthrow the government, as some contend? No. He went there to die for the sins of the world. He told His disciples this on many occasions. He was going to Jerusalem to die. That was why He was there. He was there to pick a fight, which He would win by losing. Christ Himself said, No man takes My life from Me. I lay it down and take it up again. (John 10:17-18) He had come to die, so that we might have life.

So how do we respond to this season and to this text? We contemplate death and the final return of Christ. We will all, unless Christ returns before that, die. Just as a matter of simple statistics, I think it unlikely that we shall live to the end of time. But that being said, the point is irrelevant. We don’t know the hour of our own death any more than the time of Christ’s return. In either event, we must be ready. We meditate on the idea that death comes from sin. Death is God’s judgement against sin. It is His judgement against each of us. We know that this judgement stands against us because we will die. Along with this, then we examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments. Here is God’s mirror to show us our sins. Here we see what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We examine carefully all that we have done and what we have not done that we ought to have done. Then we lay these things at the cross. What do we mean by this, laying them at the cross? This means that we turn to the comfort of the sacraments. We remember our Baptism, in which we were adopted as a son of God. And we return each day to those waters as our sins are daily washed away. We lay our sins before the altar in confession. Sometimes, we might even go to the Pastor for private confession and absolution. In the absolution we hear Christ speaking through our pastor that indeed our sins are forgiven on earth and in heaven. We go to the Supper and there participate in that one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, as our Lord bids us do.

Christ is coming. Christ enters triumphantly into His holy temple - a temple that would reject Him. Christ comes to die. Here is the message we must learn. For without this understanding, what is to come is nonsense. If Christ did not come to die, His birth is not good news at all. For then we are still in our sins and under the wrath of God. In fact His coming then can only be an act of judgement against us.

The world is jumping ahead to Christmas. You see the decorations in all the stores. You’re starting to hear Christmas carols on the radio. But we tarry behind. We are not running with the world. We are still in Advent. We are still taking time to contemplate our sins and our need for a Savior. We are remembering that this Child is God incarnate. We are remembering that this babe is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. He came as a king, yes. But He came as a king to establish a kingdom of grace. He came to build His kingdom on a foundation of the forgiveness of sins. In contemplating these things, we are preparing our hearts to celebrate the great feast, the miracle of the ages, the great exchange - the reality that God came to earth to die for our sins. That is good news indeed.