Monday, August 16, 2010

Sermon for August 15, 2010

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 14-15, 2010
Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29

Dear Friends in Christ,
A man came into town promising to make everyone rich if they would just invest in his company. Of course he ran off with the money and everyone was poorer. The most greedy, who then of course invested the most, suffered the most. We have names for men like the one that came to town. We call them con men, confidence men, flim flam men, and the like. They are evil men in a sense. But they prey upon other men’s evil, particularly greed. In the old days, con men supposedly had a code. Perhaps this is romanticized, but I have heard it said many times. The old con men never wanted to hurt the innocent. They preyed upon the greedy and worldly. A good con was supposed to draw people in at what ever level of greed they possessed. A truly honest person would avoid their schemes. In this way, con men also revealed hypocrisy. Many would claim not to be greedy, but the con men would show them to be the greedy pigs they were. So a good con man, according to the code, would never prey on the innocent, only upon the guilty.

There is a another kind of con man. This type is common today. This type preys upon the piety and innocence of people. It is the false prophet. There are two types of false prophets - those who are simply trying to line their pockets, and those who actually believe their own lies.

The first group includes many of our television evangelists. The British rock band Genesis led by singer Phil Collins did a song and music video called “Jesus He Knows Me” about this type of false prophet. This secular rock band was willing to say what many in the church were unwilling to say. These men and women are self serving hypocrites. They are not preaching Christ, they are preaching themselves. But they are not just on television. We see them in the local parishes as the marrying sams, or more recently the burying sams, who jump at any chance to earn an extra buck, and often times to do so compromise the word of God. This is part of the reason we don’t have set fees for pastoral services. Funerals and weddings are not there to line the pastor’s pocket. We also have such men in the local parishes in those who are constantly jockeying to “move up the ladder.”

The other type, those who believe their own lies are more insidious. They actually think that they are expressing God’s word and God’s will. Such men are earnest and well intentioned. They can appear to be very outwardly godly, sometimes more godly than those who teach the truth. But in the end they are preaching people into hell. Such men exist in our own community, and even in some cases in our own church body. This is why you must know the Scriptures and the confessions so that you can spot such charlatans. This type is only revealed by comparing their words to the words of Scripture.

What about our lay people. Can they be false prophets? Yes, though often in a different way for different reasons. Usually here the push is to abandon any preaching or teaching of sin, because such teaching might break relationships. Adulters might stop coming to church, pastor, if you preach that adultery is a sin. Often when you are told such things, the child or children of the one saying it are the adulterers. Pastor if you talk about sin, thanksgiving dinner is really going to be uncomfortable for our family. No one every stops to consider what true repentance might do to strengthen our relationships. For no sin is unforgivable save that of unbelief. What has become the ultimate sin in many people’s minds is homosexuality. Homosexuals repent all the time. We have a large and growing body of people in the U.S. who call themselves former homosexuals. Repentance and forgiveness is God’s plan for dealing with sin. It really does work every time its put into effect.

Here in our text, God warns us through the prophet Jeremiah that we must not listen to false prophets. We must not make light of sin. God does hate sin. God punishes sin both here in time and in eternity. Sometimes the punishment of sin is delayed because it would also harm God’s people. Consider this example. A Christian pastor needs an operation to save his life. But only one doctor in the world is skilled enough to do it. This doctor happened to be a feminist, Hindu, lesbian. Does this pastor refuse to have the surgery because of the doctor’s beliefs. No. He has the surgery and continues to preach the Word. He should pray that this doctor would come to repentance and faith, but he should go to the doctor nevertheless. But if God were to kill this woman as punishment for her sins, this pastor would die as well. Thus God sometimes delays His punishments for the sake of His people. But that does not mean He doesn’t punish.

In Jeremiah’s day, God said that the nation of Judah would be conquered by Babylon for its
sins of idolatry. This was an inevitability. The die was cast. Jeremiah was sent to warn people to accept God’s judgement. Their survival would be determined by their acceptance of the judgement. But many false prophets preached that Judah would not fall. They said that sins were not really sins and that God was not angry with the nation. The day came when the city of Jerusalem was attacked, the walls breeched, the king captured, the people carted off into exile. For those who resisted God’s judgement, horrible things happened. Many were killed. The king himself had to watch his children executed in front of him, and then his eyes were put out. Babylon carried this out, but it was the judgement of God.

So also in our day, the judgments of God are real. They don’t go away because we wish them away. But God also has a plan for our survival. It starts with Christ bearing our sins to the cross. It includes our recognition of our own sins. It includes repentance, that is the turning from our sins. It includes our being raised to life in the waters of baptism. It includes our sins being forgiven. It include our living in God’s presence through the Lord’s Supper. It includes our being taken to heaven and being seated at God’s banquet table, to remain forever. Think back to the parent who is worried about their temporary, earthly relationship with their children. What is this compared to the eternal relationship that God desires to have with us? Thus we cannot ignore sin. We cannot ignore false teachers. These things must be confronted on the basis of God’s Word. We must be turned to repentance so that we also receive the forgiveness of our sins from Christ, our Lord.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

From the Disk of the Pastor August 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
What a difference a month makes. Beginning September 1, a new leadership team takes the reigns of the LCMS. It’s not just the election of Rev. Matthew Harrison, but all the elections. Very few incumbents were reelected. We now have a new and markedly younger set of leaders. Dr. Wohlrabe went from being by far the youngest VP to be right in the middle of the pack.
Where will this new leadership try to take us? Actually the bigger question, the more important question is how will it take us there. Pr. Harrison is determined to lead on the basis of the Word of God. He will draw people together around the Word and let the Word lead us forward. This is a marked contrast from nine years of bylaws and marketing programs. Pr. Harrison in a unifier. He will seek to draw people together.
What does this mean for us? Well, it means that if we receive some document from the president’s office we know that it was properly examined in light of our theology. If we are asked for money, there is the assurance that the synod will use it wisely and in ways that are in accord with our teachings. It also means that we also will be encouraged to be people of the Word. Scripture first in all things. It also means good public relations. People will know that the Missouri Synod is a church with integrity. It also means that we will again be a church that display its accomplishments. We will again be able to point to our mission work as a real jewel of our church.
Education will be a major theme under Pr. Harrison. It is his desire to rebuild our system of colleges. I think that the number of his supporters elected to the various boards of regents will certainly add weight to this task. Pr. Harrison sees our schools as central to our mission. He will work closely with both seminaries. This is important because our seminaries train not only our pastors, but many pastors from around the world. The next generation of Lutheranism is formed in those classrooms in Fort Wayne and St. Louis. Pr. Harrison will see that they remain strong voices forming the next generation around the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.
What does Pr. Harrison need from us? First our prayers. Second, he needs our patience. Many are already complaining that he isn’t moving fast enough. The man is not even officially in office, yet. We didn’t get into the mess we are in today overnight. It took a half-century of mistakes, mismanagement, bad theology and the like. We won’t get out of this situation over night. Pr. Harrison and his 1st Vice President, Pr. Mueller, have a monumental task to reform the Missouri Synod. They are determined to do it. But they must have the time and support to do it. Rapid changes would cause damage. Congregations might be forced to choose to stay or leave before they have had a chance to study God’s Word in the matters before us. Thus, Pr. Harrison would rather take the patient approach. We need to be patient with him, as he tries to draw all the synod together around the Word of God.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:104-105
The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
July 31-August 1, 2010
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
In this day and age, this text is twist, misapplied, misused, and misinterpreted in every way imaginable and some that aren’t. Christ tells a parable to explain the problem of covetousness. In the parable man dies. What did he do that was so terrible that God was going to strike him dead? Was it because he was wealthy. No. Nothing wrong with being wealthy. Was it because he had a good harvest. No. Nothing wrong with having a good harvest. Assuming that he had labored and planted, he was simply reaping his reward. Even if he was a gentleman farmer, hiring others to do the work, he had carefully managed his operation, leading to the good crop. Was his life taken from him because the man wanted to save for the future. No. Nothing wrong with saving for the future. That’s just plain prudent. Everyone should try to salt away a portion of their earnings for future needs. Was it wrong to celebrate? No. In fact Christ made a bunch of wine for a party. Celebration has its place in life. Was it wrong to build bigger barns? No. Again, that is just prudent. If you don’t have the barns to store the crops, they will spoil and be worthless. So nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong then? The man was not about the things of God.
Here is the key to our text. We are to be about the things of God. But what does that mean? It is a far more loaded of a statement than we might think. Christ is packing a great deal of assumed information into that statement. To understand the things of God, we must first understand who we are and what our relationship to God is. The man in the parable lusted after wealth in order to gratify his desires. But was that his first sin? No? Was that the first time he came under God’s condemnation. No. In fact he was born under God wrath. King David says in Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This confirmed by St. Paul in Romans 5 where he talks about how all men became sinners when Adam fell into sin. So this man in the parable was born a sinner and therefore was born under God’s anger. He compounded God’s anger by his actual sins, including his lust for self gratification. So how then does a sinner go about doing the things of God? If he is a sinner, he is under God’s judgement. He cannot do things for God. The answer lies in the work of Christ, who reconciles us to God. He reunites us with God by paying the price of sin on the cross in our place. He bears our punishment. You and me are supposed to be on that cross. Christ is the One who is there. In Holy Baptism we are made children of God. This would the same as the man in the parable, who was made a child of God when he was circumcised at eight days of age. Baptism replaces circumcision as God’s rite of adoption. So this man was a child of God, by God’s grace. It was a gift given to him. So he was to be about his Father’s business.
So then, as a forgiven and resurrected from the dead, child of God, how was this man supposed to use the blessings given to him. First, yes, he should build bigger barns and use that as an excuse to employ people, to whom he would pay fair wages. He certainly would have needed help to bring in the harvest. When the harvest came in, the first ten percent, the first and best, taken off the top, was to be given to the church. This was a law in the Old Testament. For us it is not a law but is a still a model of proper Christian practice. He was to share his bounty with those who could not work - the blind and the crippled. Now that he had the wealth and the leisure that goes with it, he could look to the needs of the poor and the widowed. He might even train to become a physician to help care for crippled and infirm. Perhaps, if he was unmarried, he could even go out of his way to take a young widow as a wife, thus, redeeming her from widowhood. This is simply what a child of God does.
Let me apply this matter to the issue of government charity. The government was not created by God to be an agent of charity it and does it badly. Often those who receive government charity are harmed by it. And often those who would genuinely benefit are refused assistance. Christ is not advocating government programs in the New Testament. He is telling us to get our hands dirty and serve our fellow man. If each person does what they can for those in need, where they know the need is real, we will have a far better society than what the government can create by it’s programs.
This also ties in very nicely with a Lutheran understanding of worship. We come into the church and Christ serves us with Word and Sacrament. Then we go into the world and serve God by serving our neighbor. As Dr. Luther would say, God doesn’t need our works, our neighbor does. First we are given the gifts of forgiveness and life. We are adopted as sons of God. Then we live in the world as a child of God. What happens to us in church changes what happens out in the world.
Some will object saying, pastor isn’t that works righteousness. Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Technically, we saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Getting the prepositions right is important here. So we are save through or by means of faith alone. Yes, that is correct. Our salvation is gift of God to us. But, as Luther says, faith is never alone. In Christ we are a new creation. Faith changes who we are. If we are a new creation is Christ, we will live our lives differently. So our works are not the cause of our salvation, but rather are cause by our salvation. Thus, Jesus’ brother James can write, “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)
Jesus tells a parable to explain the problem of covetousness. Rather than coveting goods, we are to count our blessings. We are to take what God give us and use it for His purposes. We are His sons by the adoption of baptism. We are to be about heavenly Father’s business. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good party, say in celebration of wedding or some such thing. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the material blessings that we are given. But we do these things always as children of God. These things never become the focus of our lives. Our lives are not about ourselves. Our lives are about Christ who died for our sins and gives to us eternal life.
The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
July 25, 2010
Text: Luke 11:1-13

Dear Friends in Christ,
Some times crossroads are important. There was a little market town that was at the crossing of several important roads. Because all these roads went through that one place, so also did the armies. In fact in early July of 1863, two armies met there at the crossroads. The place was named Gettysburg. Likewise in December of 1944, all the roads in certain place led through this one town. When the Germans attacked, troops were rushed forward to hold the crossroads, thus limiting the German’s ability to maneuver. The place was named Bastogne.
Crossroads are important. Sometimes, something sits at theological crossroads. The Lord’s Prayers is one such thing. It sits at the crossroads of prayer and confession. In order to fully understand this prayer, we must understand how it functions for us in both ways.
The key here is the question that the disciples asked Jesus - “teach us to pray as John taught his disciples to pray. In those days each rabbi had a prayer that he would teach his disciples. They were not to teach this prayer to other people. Only the disciples of that rabbi were to pray that particular prayer. So then why do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? In Matthew 28:19 Jesus’ followers were told to go into the world and make disciples. All believers in Christ are His disciples. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus we pray the disciples’ prayer.
It is instructive to examine how the Lord’s Prayer has been used in the church. In the ancient church, the Lord’s Prayer was placed adjacent, either before or after, the Verba, or words of institution. That’s just where we use it today in the communion service. Why is this significant? Because in the ancient church they ushered out those who would not commune. Only the communicants were present to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In other words only those who were truly disciples of Jesus were allowed to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It was understood that this prayer was also a confession of Christ.
Luther likewise understood this concept. You might ask, Pastor, how do you know this? Well, if you think about it, you know it too. These words of the good doctor are as familiar to you as they are to me. To which you might reply, I’ve never read anything of Luther. Ah, but you have. Do you remember these words: “God’s name is kept holy when His word is taught in its truth and purity, and we lead godly lives according to it”? Of course, right in the Small Catechism. These words under the first Petition of the Lord’s Prayer are speaking of the prayer as a confession. We are confessing the authority of Scripture. In the Fourth Petition we are confessing that our food and all our earthly possessions come from God. Every petition of the prayer has a confessional quality to it. So the Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer and a confession of faith in Christ. It stands at the crossroads.
This then already answers the question if we are to actually pray the Lord’s Prayer or just use it as an example. Of course we are to pray it. For to pray the Lord’s Prayer is to confess Christ. And think on this, all other creeds are man made. Church councils in 325 and 381 A.D. gave us the Nicene Creed. The Apostles Creed was developed in the congregation in Rome as a baptismal creed. Even the ancient creed, “Jesus is Lord”, which is mentioned by St. Paul, was created by men. These are fine expressions of the true Christian faith. They are careful reflections of Scripture. But the Lord’s Prayer comes from Christ Himself. It can therefore be seen as an even greater confession of faith.
Yet, we must not forget that it is also a prayer. It is one of the ways that we speak back to God. God speaks to us in Scripture. We speak back to God in prayer. Luther in the Smallcald Articles, part of the Book of Concord, says: “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.” Thus we say that God’s speaks to us through the Scriptures and we speak back to God in prayer. Prayer is the proper response of faith. Prayer ought to come in many forms in our lives. We should have formal prayers, written out with a carefully crafted structure. We should have regular prayers which have some structure but follow upon the needs of ourselves and those around us. So we might have a form that we follow when praying for the sick, but the names we mention might change daily. Thirdly, we ought to have prayer that is like an ongoing conversation with God throughout our day. This will have no more structure than the thoughts of our brains.
One thing that is of utmost importance, that must be said, is that only believers in Christ can pray. Others simply go through the motions. Their prayers are not heard by our heavenly Father. Prayer comes from faith. Faith is nothing more than trust. We know who our heavenly Father is, and because of Christ, we trust in Him. We know that our heavenly Father loves us and desires good for. His desire for our good is so strong that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins. With the forgiveness of our sins, we can now approach God and speak to Him for ourselves and for our neighbor. We must be very mindful of our unbelieving neighbor. Especially for them we must pray. We must place their names before God’s throne, attach their names to God’s altar. We must do this for them, because they cannot do it themselves. We trust in Christ and our Heavenly Father, therefore we can pray. We can petition our king and trust that He will hear us, His subjects, and that He do all that which is good and right in the time and manner that He knows to be best.
There is much confusion today about the Lord’s Prayer. Many cast it off as simply a model or relic of earlier times. Some will even say that the truly spiritual don’t need such crutches as pre written prayers. All of this fails to understand that the Lord’s Prayer exists at the crossroads of confession and prayer. It is both our confession and our prayer. It teaches how to pray and what to pray for, but it also is a prayer and confession that we must say as well. It is the very words that Christ gives us to mark us as His disciples - as those whom He has saved.