Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sermon for October 17, 2010

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 16-17, 2010
Text: Luke 18:1-8

Dear Friends in Christ,
If Jesus were around today, one has to wonder whether elected officials wouldn’t be the butt of many of His commentaries. How many elected officials have we had over the years who wanted people’s votes but then did nothing for those who elected them? Or who actually worked against the interests of their voters. In the past, many politicians could hide what they were really doing. Only those who took the time and expense to get their hands on actual bills and read them, knew what was happening. But in our day, the internet is exposing some of this nonsense. We can find out the voting record of our officials just by a few clicks of a mouse. I suspect that this part of what is happening this election cycle. Enough people have become informed about what happening to force changes. The longer term question is whether this round of reformers will actually reform or be corrupted by the system as previous reformers have been. Will they continue to listen to the people of this nation or will become insulated politicians who line their pockets and ignore the people who elected them? I suspect Jesus would have had something to say about that.

Jesus uses an example from the political realm of His own day. There was a corrupt judge. Nothing unusual there. Many judges were corrupt. All too often in world history has justice been about who you are, who you know, and how much money you have. This judge has a widow who keep pestering him. Widows in that time had no power or influence. She probably didn’t have a lot of money. Judges usually ignored widows. But this widow persists. She just keeps bugging him, until he finally has had enough and grants her petition. He doesn’t do it because it is right. He does it so that she’ll go away and stop bugging him. Let us change the parable. Let us say that the judge was a righteous man. What would happen? The widow would come to him and he would hear her case. If it has merit he would immediately rule in her favor. The matter would be finished. Why would he do it? Because it is simply the right thing to do. She would not have to pester the judge night and day.

This parable is unique in that it doesn’t exactly follow the normal rules. One of the ways we interpret the parables, is to place ourselves into the story. Clearly, we are the widow. But the unrighteous judges has no parallel in the kingdom of God. Why? Because the judge is Christ. He is a righteous judge. We don’t have to storm the gates of heaven. We don’t need to pray on our knees for twenty hours straight. We don’t need prayer vigils. We lay the matter before Christ and we know that He will do for us, immediately, all that is good and right. He will not delay acting on our behalf. If it appears that God has delayed, it is only because God, even in this is acting for our good.

This parable is often misunderstood. Some will say it teaches us to be persistent in prayer. Rather, it teaches us to pray. The point is that even the unrighteous, on earth, can be worn down. You can even get your plea answered by the unrighteous. Certainly, God who is righteous will answer without the pressure applied to the unrighteous. Thus we can be confident when we pray. We know our righteous Lord will not forget us. He hears and answers.

One of the popular things these days to post prayer requests on Facebook. And everyone responds that they are praying for you or your loved one. This not a bad thing in itself. But some seem to feel as though more prayers change the mind of God. Now a high school and college friend reported that his mother is in ICU. This is a lady who went to the same church as Bonnie did, when she was growing up. Now, probably hundreds of people are praying for her. Multiple churches are praying for her. What if she dies? Does that mean God didn’t hear all hundreds of prayers? No. He heard every prayer that was offered by a Christian in her behalf. What it means is that God knows that this is what is good and right for her and her friends and family. We can be absolutely certain that God will do what is good right in each case.

Well, if God will do what is good and right in each case, why do we pray at all? Why don’t we just leave it to God? Well, first because we are commanded to pray. Now, when we pray, we are teaching ourselves that these things are in God’s hands. We are reminded that life, death, our daily bread, the heath of our church, and all things, are in God’s hands. There is a saying - prayer changes things. Actually, what prayer changes is us. It teaches us how totally reliant we are upon God. We have nothing apart from God. We are nothing apart from God.

How is it that sinful man can pray to a holy and righteous God? This is where prayer connects to justification. Christ died on the cross as payment for our sins. He rose to life for our Salvation. In Baptism we are adopted as sons of God. In Baptism, what Christ did on Calvary become ours. By taking our sin from us, Christ makes us holy and righteous before God’s judgement. Thus we can approach God’s throne of grace and mercy. We can come to Him with our concerns and lay them before Him. Christ and our heavenly Father answer our prayers, in grace. We know that. Thus we can be bold to pray, knowing that the One who died for us will answer with all that is good and gracious.

The final verse of our text is a chilling warning. Christ asks if He will find anyone who believes in Him when He returns at the end of time? Indeed Scripture speaks of the Church that survives to the end of time as a mere remnant. I suspect is that this will come about because of false doctrine. The church will appear full. Just like we see the televangelists and the mega churches of today. They have people galore. They take the collection with ten gallon trash cans - and they are filled each week. But is this the Christian Church? Sadly, in most cases no. They are preaching self righteousness and new age mantras. There are all sorts of names, word faith movement, purpose driven, emergent church, and so forth. All of these are outright attacks on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So what I think Christ is telling us here, is that sure they’ll be a lot of people who call themselves Christians, and think that they are Christians, who are not. The Church will appear to have triumphed, but will have utterly failed. It will have failed because it no longer preaches Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.

God gives us a great gift. We, as His adopted sons, can come before him and lay all our concerns before Him. We do this knowing that He already, before we ask, will do all that is good, right and gracious. He does this because He is both righteous and loving. Prayer, like all good things, is about God. It is about His grace and His love. We can trust this, because the grace and love of God are most reliable things in all reality. Amen!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Millard Obama

Millard Fillmore was the 13th president of these here United States. Many regard him as the least successful of all U.S. presidents - until recently. The Millard Fillmore Society was created to honor the memory of this president and to recognize the value of mediocrity in general.

There have been several good attempts to dethrone old Millard over the years. Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan made back to back attempts in the 1850's The strongest run was made by James E. "Jimmy" Carter. But old Millard still sits there atop the heap of presidential failures. Critics say he remains there because he can't decide if he should go or stay.

But alas his run at the top of just middlin men, might well be over. The Millard Fillmore Society is considering whether to change their name to the Barack Obama Society. It just goes to show that no matter how bad you are as president, someone will honor the memory of your achievement.

For more information go to: http://millardfillmoresociety.org/

Women Vote Project Idiocy

Well, the world of political slander is going hot and heavy. The Women Vote Project is in full attack mode against Sean Duffy. They are trying to convince voters to vote for Democrat Julie Lassa based on an outright lie.

This should not surprise us when we understand that the Women Vote Project is none other than EMILY's List - also known as the yeast infection crowd. (EMILY's List is actually an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast. Considering the damage this radical pro abortion group does, the effect is more like a yeast infection.) They are miss representing themselves from the start by not disclosing who they really are. So why shouldn't they tell lies about candidates?

They start with a quote from Sean Duffy, most assuredly taken out of context. They quote him saying that he can't create jobs. Duh!!! Neither can Julie Lassa. Government does not create jobs. Government can kill jobs by high taxes and over regulation. But they cannot create jobs. All government can do is keep taxes and regulation under control so that the private sector can create jobs. We don't need special programs that offer loans to small business or some other big government gimmick. We need low taxes and less intrusive regulation so that small business can flourish. Sean Duffy gets this. Julie Lassa is still clueless about how jobs are really created.


Ann Hraychuck just sent out a flier that says that she has the integrity to resist special interest groups. But she has clearly shown that she does not have the integrity to stand up to the Democrat leadership in Madison. Nor does she have the integrity to stand up for concealed carry, even though she says she is for it. Nor does have the integrity to stand in defense of the unborn. So what kind of integrity does she have?

Sermon for October 10, 2010

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
October 9-10,2010
Text: Ruth 1:1-19a

Dear Friends in Christ,
What was life like in Israel in about the year 1300 B.C.? The book of Judges gives us an account of some of the big geo-political events. But Judges does not give us a picture of everyday life. In this, the book of Ruth is unique. Here we have common people going about their affairs. We see a picture of life in Israel during the period of the judges.

The setting is a little village called Bethlehem Ephretha. It is just south of a Jebusite settlement called Salem or Jerusalem. The name means House of Bread. It was a common name, there were many Bethlehem’s in Israel. But this one has a second name to distinguish it. It is called Ephratha, the fruitful one. It is the place where Jacob buried his beloved Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. But Bethlehem was a village in the tribe of Judah. Judah, of course was born of Jacob’s first wife, Leah.

A man named Elimelech left Bethlehem during a famine and went to live in the land of Moab. This is just the other side of the Dead Sea. The Moabites are descended from Lot, though an act of incest with his oldest daughter. They were not Canaanites, though they were pagans. They had adopted the Canaanite gods. The Israelites were warned not to marry foreigners who would lure them into the worship of their gods. But the sons of Elimelech did just that. We don’t know if they became idolaters. All we do know is that Elimelech and his two sons died. His wife, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. The two daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth start out with her. They were unlikely to marry again in Moab. Widows were treated terribly - even young widows. Many were forced into prostitution. This was also true in Israel. Noami bids them to return to their homes in Moab and plead for mercy from their families. Orpah does. But Ruth begs to remain with Naomi. Then she says something extraordinary. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” She is begging to become an Israelite. - a true Israelite.

Back in Bethlehem, she goes out and gleans in the fields. Now she could have simply entertained the workers and been paid well. But she did not. She chose the more difficult path of gathering grain. Israelite law required the farmers leave the edges of the fields for the poor. Some followed this, some did not. She caught the attention of a man named Boaz. Now, Boaz is the son or descendant of Salmon and Rahab. Rahab, you will recall, was the prostitute who hid the spies in Jericho. Salmon was one of those spies. Rahab likewise placed her trust in the true God and became an Israelite. Boaz took note of Ruth and ordered his men to protect her. This was important as some would have tried to use her as a prostitute. He also instructed his men to leave extra grain for her to harvest. After this, Naomi instructs Ruth to ask Boaz, a kinsmen of hers, to redeem her from widowhood. Again, this was required by Israelite law, but many did not follow it. Boaz indicated that he could not because there was a closer relative. But Boaz went and confronted this man, who, in front of the village, surrendered his rights to Ruth. Boaz then took Ruth as his wife. From the line of Boaz and Ruth would come the kings David and Solomon, and all the kings of Judah that would follow. And eventually, from their line would come the Christ.

Ruth, though born a Moabite, was a true Israelite. Romans 4:16 says: “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” St. Paul here is explaining how Jews and Gentiles were both descendants of Abraham. Those who share Abraham’s faith, are his children, down to the present day. Christ Himself calls heaven “the bosom of Abraham,” in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. When Ruth claimed Naomi’s God for herself, she was an Israelite. And some of those who did not trust in God, were not true Israelites, though they were born of that line. Abraham is the father of the faithful. Ruth became one of those faithful.

Throughout the period of the Exodus, the conquest under Joshua, and the time of the Judges, many foreigners became Israelites. Moses married twice, both times to foreign women. The second wife was probably a black African. The Gibeonites tricked Joshua into making a treaty with them. Once the deception was known, Joshua agreed to uphold the treaty so long as the Gibeonites were circumcised and became followers of the true God. They did. We’ve already mentioned Rehab, the prostitute from Jericho. All these came to faith and were rewarded with a place in the household of God. Thus it has always been. Israel was chosen not to be God’s exclusive people, but to stand before God on behalf of the whole world. The Church of today fulfills a similar role, when we pray for our leaders and our nation.

How can this happen that foreigners become Israelites? Because the household of God is gift of grace. God gives us a place in His household by the forgiveness of our sins. This gift is given to all men. It’s there for all of us. It is grasped by those who trust in these very promises of God. So it was there for Orpah. She too could have journeyed to Bethlehem and become an Israelite. Apparently, she did not trust in God. She did not have faith. Ruth did.

The story of Ruth is one of grace, forgiveness, restoration, and confession. St. Paul reminds us: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11) This was certainly true for Ruth. She boldly confessed the true God. She was not put to shame. She was given a place in the household of God, among the people of God. And so also for us. We confess Christ as our God, as Yahweh, as Savior, and we have all that Christ gives. We have forgiveness, we have a place among God’s people, we have eternal life in God’s household. All this is a gift of God’s grace, received through faith. Ruth trusted and was saved. So we also trust and are saved.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Excitement in the Church

This past summer, the Lutheran - Church Missouri Synod unseated it president and elected a different man to serve in that office. This is a rare event in our church body. As a delegate, when the screen came up with the vote totals, it took a moment for it to register what had happened. We replaced an aging bureaucrat with a man who had actually done something in the world.

Rev. Matthew Harrison was the director of LCMS World Relief. In this capacity he had a taken little agency and turned it into a major player. He had worked directly with Lutheran leaders all over the world.

The excitement over Pr. Harrison's election is greater than I have ever seen for a new synodical president. And it is not just us in the LCMS. Lutheran leaders from all over the globe are genuinely pleased at this turn of events. Several were present for his installation on September 11, 2010. The preacher for the service was Bishop Walter Obare Omzuma, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. Leaders came of Siberia, India and other distant lands. We pray that this excitement leads to a renaissance for our church body.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Clueless Ann Still Clueless

State assembly person, Ann Hraychuck is showing why she should never have been elected in the first place. She's bragging that she's introducing a bill to prevent companies from writing moving expenses off their taxes when they move out of state. This is called closing the barn door after the horse is out. Why didn't she do something to improve the business climate in Wisconsin so that companies don't want to move out of the state? Governor Doyle has waged a scorched earth campaign against business and all she can say is that it not right for companies to write off moving expenses on their taxes?

She further brags that Wisconsin has been cutting business taxes. First she neglects to say that we started with some of the highest business taxes in the nation. Second she neglects to say that neither she, nor the Democrat party had anything to do with these tax cuts. Most of these tax cuts took place under Governor Tommy Thompson. In fact these tax cuts were not supported by her, but many of them were enacted with the help of her predecessor, Mark Pettis.

Showing Hraychuck in an even darker light, she is reported to be having great difficulty in raising money in the district. According to reports, most of her campaign cash is coming from Madison and Milwaukee. That is fitting, in that she doesn't represent us. She never has. She's always been Madison and Milwaukee's choice to be our assembly person. She was bought and paid for by the Democrat leadership from day one. Maybe it's time we elected someone that actually would represent us here in northwest Wisconsin.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Political Nasties

This October, the monsters running around might not just be kids in costumes. This promises to be the ugliest political season of my life time. We've already had a candidate's words edited to say the opposite of what he really said. We've had a candidate attacked for paying a maid a good wage, then firing her when she found out the maid was illegal. We've had a candidate pilloried for something she did in high school. I fear that this is not even the beginning. So brace yourself.

Who is responsible for this? To some degree all sides have done these things. We remember well Tricky Dick Nixon's special operatives who derailed the campaign of Edmund Musky. But at the moment, the dirty tricks are mostly on the Democratic side. Why? Because Republicans have more ammunition than they can use. All they have to do is tell the truth about their opponents. In fact, the records of some of the democratic candidates like our local assembly person, Ann Hraychuk are so bad, that if you tell the whole truth, you'll be accused of making it up.

Historically, Republicans have been uncomfortable with this sort of underhanded politics. We want to focus on the issues. Yes, there have been Republicans who play dirty. But its the exception not the rule. But it seems becoming the rule on the Democratic side of the aisle. Perhaps when all you have power, and power is your ideology, all you can do is play dirty. So hold on tight. The 2010 elections are going to be a wild ride.

Internet Bullies

One of the problems with interactive blogs and e-mail lists is that certain people don't play nice. When this happens the people who should be posting are scared to post. This has destroyed more lists and blogs than I care to mention.

Now, how do I know that it's not just me? Perhaps Pastor Walter is the Internet bully. This must be carefully considered. I've certainly been involved in a good many conflicts in cyberspace. But in fact, most of my conflicts have been with five specific people. I've dealt with hundreds of other people with little difficulty. Many of these people have had views that are different than my own. But we are able to work through that without personal attacks and such.

Cyber bullies are often like NHL goons back in the days when they only had one referee. The goon would get away with his cheap shot and the person who reacted to defend themselves would get a penalty. What I have seen in practice is that those who start the conflicts on line are rarely blamed for it. Those who dare to stand up to the bullies and defend themselves are often treated as if they were the trouble makers.

Is there a solution. Yes, but it is not a popular one. Those who own or manage blogs and lists must carefully police them. They must be careful to identify those who are persistent problems and ban them from the forum. For very large blogs and lists this requires a lot of work. It's hard to do. Further, in some cases the list/blog owner is the problem. This makes any sort or proper monitoring impossible.

Because of some of the bad experiences that I've had on line, I got together with Pr. David Emmons and created the E-Pasture list. Lay people are invited to join. (Only those marked by previous bad behavior will be denied.) Pastors are likewise invited to join, but we do screen them carefully. So there is little bit of vetting process for pastors. We do this keep those who would offer a knee jerk reaction off the list. Pr. Emmons and myself promise to carefully monitor this list so that it is always a comfortable place to discuss Lutheranism.

If you are interesting in discussion Confessional Lutheran theology, practice and related church news, please contact me at voneisen@lakeland.ws

October 2010 Newletter

From the Disk of the Pastor October 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
We live in a sea of things that make us look in the wrong direction. In our own midst we have the battle for the Bible. This became so intense that I have seen churches that replaced the image of Christ with an image of the Bible on the altar. Such a thing is idolatrous. We don’t worship the Book. We worship the Christ who is revealed in the pages of that Book. Sacramental theology is also suspect in some circles. I knew an LCMS pastor, many years ago, that believed that anyone who was strongly sacramental, was a Seminex liberal. He honestly believed that trust in the Sacraments was a denial of Scripture. This is reinforced by pop evangelicalism that openly denies that God works through the Sacraments.

Yet, the sacraments, rightly administered, are one of the marks of the Church. Bishop Walter Obare Omzuma, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, was the preacher for President Harrison’s installation. In his sermon, Bp. Obare went so far as to call the liturgy a mark of the Church. Our confessions do not list the liturgy as a mark of the Church, but he is essentially correct. The liturgy is about the right administration of the Sacraments. This is a little more complicated than it might seem. Nor is it just about the Lord’s Supper, as you might presume.

Baptism is lived in the Church. We mistakenly think of it as a one time thing. Rather, baptism continues to wash us daily. It is our adoption as sons of God. So we gather as the sons of God and approach His throne. How do we do that? In the baptismal name - that is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the name of God that was placed upon us when we were baptized. We now approach God through that name. This is baptism in action in our lives. The Church gathered is the assembly of the baptized. Otherwise it would be a blasphemous parody of church. The liturgy then, in this way, is the right administration of the sacraments.
The sacrament of Holy Absolution is actually an intrusion into the service. Originally, Lutherans practiced private confession. And people were expected to come to confession before communing. We see a vestige of this in the old practice of having people come and register for communion. Sadly, many pastors did not use this time for confession and absolution. Confession was added to the service, on a regular basis, when there weren’t enough pastors to cover all the pulpits. It has been done both at the beginning of the service and after the sermon. (In the LCMS German service, confession was after the sermon.) But here too we are establishing the terms of coming into God’s presence. We come as beggars, we come as publicans. We come seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, with nothing that is truly ours to offer back to God.

Then we come to the Holy Supper. This is the very body and blood of Christ. Luther once said that if a person is troubled by their sins, they should not look to the cross, but they should look to the supper. Here is where we become actual participants in the death of Christ on the cross. Here we claim this sacrifice as a credit to our account before God the Father. The liturgy is there to teach us what is happening. When we cut short the communion liturgy, we lose the understanding of what is happening. In a Christian world that denies the real presence of Christ, we need these liturgical structures more than ever to remind us that this is indeed the Holy of Holies, the very body and blood of Christ Himself for us to eat and drink.
Each day we are assaulted by all manner of false images of the Christian faith. Much that claims to be Christian in the United States is not. And much that is Christian, is wracked with severe errors that cause many to lose their faith. We must hold precious the structures of the liturgy and the centrality of the Sacraments in our lives. This is what makes us different, and more truly biblical, by God’s grace, than many others.
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

Sermon for September 19, 2010

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 18-19, 2010
Text: Luke 16:1-15

Dear Friends in Christ,
The history of the world’s navies is complicated. At no time is this more true than in the years after World War I. In those years naval goals became intertwined with diplomatic and economic goals. England the and the United States, in particular, did not want a naval arms race. This was sort of a foolish goal, but this was the thinking. Nations like Japan, however, were trying to gain ground. All the attention was focused on battleships. The U.S. was able apply enough pressure to force all the major powers to sign the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. This basically made it a rule that nobody could build any more battleships. A couple of countries were allowed to complete battleships that they had under construction. However, Japan, turned around and built heavy cruisers to the exact limits of the treaty. Secretly they were actually in violation. But this forced other nations to build cruisers that were also right to the limits. But in the end all this chicanery was meaningless. Battleships and cruisers were not nearly as important as another weapon that none of the major planners of the world’s navies had considered - aircraft. The next war would not be fought with battleships. The major naval weapon system was the aircraft carrier. So everybody was looking at the wrong thing.

This is what happens with this text. Everybody looks at the wrong thing. There is something that would have been obvious to Jesus’ hearers, that is not obvious to us today. Jesus tells a curious parable. He tells this right after the parable of the Prodigal Son. The context is a familiar one. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus receives sinners.

The parable’s main character is owner. We tend to get bogged down on the manager and what he’s doing. But we need to be looking at what the owner does and says in the parable. That’s where the real action is.

A manager is dishonest. He has, as they say, sticky fingers. The owner gets wind of this and demands an accounting. The man fears that he will be caught. But he places his hope on the master. It looks like he’s placing his hope on his master’s debtors. But that is not the case. He calls the debtors in and forgives part of their debt. Now they must believe that this is the master’s orders. They would never go along with such a scheme if they didn’t. For if it wasn’t the masters orders, they would be caught and thrown into jail. Indeed, the manager himself ought to be thrown into jail. He’s a thief. But the manager knows his master. The master wants to be known as a generous man. He cannot renege on what the manager had done without looking greedy and mean. Nor can he throw the manager in jail or even fire him. For that too would look bad. The owner would not look gracious and generous. The parable doesn’t tell us what the manager did. But I could well picture him giving the manger a different job that looks like a promotion, but at the same time removes the temptation to steal.

Now you might say, but it says that the debtors would welcome them into their houses. Yes, but that does not mean that he would live with them. Rather it means he would continue to have fellowship with them. It would mean jail for someone to house the manager if the master had fired him. They would have no further dealings with him. Rather, they would continue to welcome him as a guest to their tables, because he would still be in favor with the master.

So what is the message that Jesus is trying to communicate with this seemingly strange parable? The owner, the master, is overwhelmingly generous. Anyone who bets on the grace of the master will be rewarded. They will not be disappointed. Only those who reject the master's grace will be disappointed. When we are in heaven we are not going to look over at hell and say, oh God should have saved that one. We’ll know that those in hell placed their trust in their own works and rejected the grace of the master, Jesus Christ. Another underlying point here is the nature of these who are saved. The saved are no more righteous than those who are condemned to hell. Rather they are like the dishonest manager, and place their trust in the grace of the master.

The reverse of this is the pharisees then and now, who place their trust in themselves. They believe that they are fulfilling the law. We must see that we do not fulfill the law. At most we can create an outward facade. And in fact the more we try to hide our sins, the more corrupt we become. In the modern nation of Israel it is said the more orthodox the rabbi, the more often he comes to the brothel. I was rather amused by appearance of such pietism in local politics. The village board decided to deny the new pool hall a beer license. We can’t have beer in there, they’re might be kids in there - as though a kid has never seen someone drink a beer. Which leads to the old joke about how much beer you need to bring when going fishing with a Baptist. If there three Baptists in the boat with you they won’t drink any beer - it against their religion. If there are two Baptists in the boat with you, they’ll each have one and agree to not tell anyone. If there’s only one Baptist in the boat with you, you’d better bring two cases of beer. This is what happens when you try to look righteous. It ends up being a sham.

What should we do instead? We should be like the dishonest manager and trust in the grace of God. We should live lives of true righteousness in the forgiveness of our sins. It’s like the sermon that Luther is depicted giving in the movie. “When the devil confronts you with your sins, you say, yes, I’ll admit I deserve death and hell, but what of it? I have One who advocates for me, Jesus Christ. Where He is, there I will be also.” We are sinners. We are thieves, murderers, adulterers. We are these things because this is what is in our hearts. But we have a gracious God who would save us from sin. He would give us eternal life at His banquet table. But not because we are so great. Rather because we trust in His grace. He saves us. We do not save ourselves.

When looking at the Bible, it is important to understand what we should be looking at. Most times it is obvious. But this text is a bit deceptive to the modern reader. Christ is not praising dishonesty. Rather Christ is telling us that sinners who trust in the grace of God will be saved. This parable is natural follow up to the Prodigal Son. In both cases the sinner in the story sees his own helplessness. He then places his hope in the grace of God. He is not disappointed. Nor will we be disappointed when our trust is in Christ alone.

Sermon for September 12, 2010

The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 11-12, 2010
Text: Luke 15:1-10

Dear Friends in Christ,
In one scene in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, the king of Rohan asks one of his aides, “Who am I?” The aide is a little taken aback and doesn’t know what to say. He simply replies; “You are the king, sire.” Who am I? It is a question that we often ask ourselves. Who am I that I should have such troubles? Or who am I that I should be so blessed? Who am I that I should be blessed to hear the Word of God throughout my life. Pastors must ask who am I that should presume to stand before the Lord’s throne and speak from the Lord’s pulpit? Who am I? It is a question that mocks us. It is a question we often ask and receive silence for an answer. And yet, how we answer this question will determine so much of our lives.

Who am I? This is the unspoken question that completely underlies the text. Everybody reacted as they did, based upon how they answered this question. The text has three people or groups of people interacting. How they act in the text is determined by how they have answered this question for themselves and for others - who are they?

The tax collectors come to Jesus and Jesus receives them. He has dinner with them. He teaches them and they eagerly hear Christ’s words. So how do the tax collectors answer the question. Who do they think that they are? Sinners. Sinners in need of a savior. They need forgiveness. They need hope. They were considered hopeless by the people of their day. They were reprobate - beyond redemption. They had sinned by collaborating with the Romans. But Jesus doesn’t treat them that way. He welcomes them. He offers them forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life.

What about the Pharisees and the scribes? Who did they think that they were? They were the righteous. They were without sin. They followed the law of Moses. But St. Paul, himself one of the most learned of all Pharisees, tell us: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law thought that through the law, they could save themselves. How do they see Jesus? As a threat. He attacks the law by making it unattainable. He drives people to despair. But at the same time Christ flaunts the law by eating with sinners. How then did Jesus see the Pharisees? He saw them as sinners who did not see their own sins. They were self righteous which always means unrighteous. They were enemies of God. They were enemies because they misused the law. Instead of seeing the law as a mirror to examine their lives, they saw the law as something that they could actually do. What does St. John tell us? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9) Now none of us have ever heard that before, have we? The Pharisee were making God a liar by not acknowledging their own sins.

Now, we come to us. Who am I? Who is Jody Walter? Who is Bonnie Walter? (Name some other names.) We must each ask and answer that question. Our text actually gives us a good mirror, or foil. We can test ourselves against the text. We obviously are not Christ. That part of the answer is easy. So are we the Pharisees or the tax collectors? Who should we want to be? The tax collectors, of course. They were honest sinners. They came to Christ as beggars knowing that their was no good in themselves. All too often however, we find ourselves being the Pharisees thinking we can somehow please God by our own righteousness.

The law of God functions in several ways, both properly and improperly. We think of three proper functions of the law. The Pharisees were of course using the law improperly. In fact when we try to use the law, we almost always abuse the law. When the law is functioning properly we are not using the law, rather God is using the law upon us. The law is really something for God to use. And when He uses it upon us it functions in three ways. First it is a curb upon evil. God has built His law into the fabric of the universe and established the authority to restrain evil. So if you were a soldier or a police officer, God’s law would explain to you, your vocation. The law is a mirror. It shows us our sins. Then God uses the law to teach us His will. But only those who have seen their sins in the mirror of the law, can truly understand the will of God. The will of God flows out of forgiveness. It does not ever function apart from forgiveness. Obedience must always flow from the forgiveness of our sins. If we try to be obedient apart from forgiveness, we will only be self righteous hypocrites.

Jesus eats with the tax collectors because they understand that they have no hope in themselves. They need a Savior. Christ is that Savior. That’s why He came to Earth. That is why God dwelt with mankind. God came so that He could be our Savior from sin and death. God would pay the price of our rebellion. He would die on the cross in our place. Crucifixion, in the Roman system, was the death of rebel. Christ died as a rebel. He died because we are the rebels. But He did not die so that He could come and zap us. He came to die so that we would live.

So who am I? In my sins I am a rebel and whore. I am an enemy of God. In Holy Baptism I was reborn as a child of God. I was put into that room with the tax collectors and sinners. Of ourselves there is no hope. In ourselves there is only false hope that only leads to the fires of hell. But that’s the strange part about what Christ has done. It is those who know that they are sinners who are received by Him. Sin is a terrible thing. But to be placed into the company of sinners by Christ, is a good thing. For in that company of honest sinners, there is a certain hope. For those who know that they cannot save themselves have a Savior - Christ Jesus, our Lord. So who am I? A poor, miserable sinner, a beggar, who has nothing to offer God. Those who approach God in this way, are filled with hope, love, mercy, forgiveness, and life. So who am I? A redeemed sinner who lives because Christ is righteous in my place. So who am I? A redeemed sinner who lives because Christ lives for me.

Sermon for September 5, 2010

The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 4-5
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Dear Friends in Christ,
This is of course Labor Day weekend. This of course is ironic, since we don’t normally labor on Labor Day. In fact most of us don’t even know what it’s celebrating other than the end of summer. As a child, of course, I didn’t think the end of summer was much to celebrate. We had to go back to school. Playing baseball in front of the barn was more fun. Labor Day was created by American socialist to celebrate the labor movement in the United States. Considering the desolation organized labor has brought to states like my home state of Michigan, I’m not sure that’s much to celebrate either. Perhaps we’d be better off renaming it entrepreneurs day and celebrate innovation and industry. That would fit nicely with things like the State Fair.

There is another kind of labor that we as Christians are to be about. There is another kind of remembrance that needs to be front and center. The labor we are to be about is the study of God’s Holy Word. The remembrance we must have is the remembrance of what God has done.

The children of Israel were read to cross the Jordan into the promised land. Moses gathered them together and gave them the longest sermon ever recorded. It’s most of the book of Deuteronomy. Our text is climax of that sermon.

To whom was Moses preaching? These were people who were children when they left Egypt
or were born in the wilderness. Remember that the adults who left Egypt, except for Joshua and Caleb, all died in the wilderness because of their sins. They were people who had seen God’s mighty works in Egypt and in the wilderness. But would they remember what God had done for them? The answer is only partially. They remembered and remained faithful for themselves. But they did not see to the instruction of their children. It was not many years hence, that few remembered the mighty works of God. They turned to other gods and their sins multiplied. Faithful who cross the Jordan under Joshua’s leadership, soon became the craven, debauched idolaters of the book of Judges. The book of judges ends with the statement: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. That statement needs some examination. It is not as straight forward as it appears. Why is it eye and not mind? And how would we render it today? The eyes for the Hebrews would have been used much like we use heart. Everyone did what was right in his own heart. Well, what is in the heart? Sin, idolatry, fornication, murder, theft, sexual perversion, and craven unbelief. So when we say that each person did was what was right in his or her own eyes or heart, it is saying that they did evil. They dwelt in their sins. They no longer even understood that they were sins. What would mind has signified? Knowledge. The mind knows. The people at the time of the Judges no longer knew what God had done. So their mind was not involved. They were acting mindlessly.

This leads us to examine for a moment the nature of faith. I caught an episode of The White Horse Inn on Pirate Christian Radio this past week. The regular panel was making the point that in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, faith starts with the mind. Christian preaching in the New Testament starts with a testimony of facts. For example; Jesus Christ who was dead, rose to life again. The heart then follows the mind. It doesn’t always but in most cases it does. Consider for example the life of C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a bitter atheist who studied Christianity in great depth so that he could publically debate against Christians. He became so knowledgeable that he could destroy any argument put forward by his Christian opponents. But within his own mind, his knowledge of the Scriptures, destroyed all his arguments. So Lewis could defeat all his opponents, but he could not refute his own mind. The knowledge he possessed was overwhelming. Thus he became a Christian.

Are we really any different than the people do whom Moses was preaching? Are our hearts, of their nature, filled with anything other than sin? Of course not. We desire our own way, the way of sin and self. If we want Christ at all, it is simply as fire insurance. We don’t really want to live as His child. But what else in our hearts besides sin? Death. So when we choose our own hearts over the knowledge of Christ, we are choosing death, rather than life. One of the ways this culture of death takes over is through fads in the church. So many people and so many congregations are chasing the latest program and the popular gimmick. But these things do not expand our knowledge of Christ. In short, fadishness in the church leads to fatishness in the church - particularly in our minds. And we all know what cholesterol does to our brains. So we could say that fads in the church are spiritual cholesterol. Just remember, fadishness in the church lead to fatishness in the church.

Another point that needs to be made before we depart from this text, is that of choice. Who has a choice and who does not? Scripture never speaks of unbelievers having a choice. It is always believers who are presented as having a choice. Moses is here speaking to believers, or at least people who have the knowledge needed to believe. Okay, you believers in Yahweh, you decide if you are going stay with God or turn from Him. Moses is not giving this choice to the Canaanites. One who is floating in the middle of ocean, miles from any ships cannot decide to get on a ship. That option is not there for them. But a person on a ship can choose to jump off the ship. Coming to faith is not our choice. We are called by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. Faith is created by the Holy Spirit as knowledge is given to the mind and the heart follows. But one can take that God given life and commit spiritual suicide.

Are you going to choose life or are you going to choose death? This is the question Moses poses to the Church. Is it life that flows from the knowledge that Jesus Christ has died for our sins and gives us life as a free gift? Or is it going to be death that flow mindlessly from our hearts? Churches are dying. We hear about church bodies who will probably cease to exist in another decade or so. We’re talking about large and powerful church bodies like the Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church and even perhaps the ELCA. And don’t assume that it couldn’t also happen to the Missouri Synod. Many local congregations are closing their doors forever. It is all happening because people have turned from the Word of God and no longer remember the mighty works of God. They no longer remember the Cross of Christ where our the price of our sins was paid. And thus I lay before the labor of the Church on this Labor Day weekend. We remember the mighty works of God by studying His Word. So which is it? Do we choose the death which flows from our own hearts? Or do we choose life and labor in the Word? Amen!

September 2010 Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor September 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
If you noticed your alphabet soup at lunch had a few more letters in it, you’re right. It does. As I am writing this the NALC - the North American Lutheran Church - is holding its constituting convention in Columbus, Ohio. (Having grown up in Michigan in the midst of the Bo and Woody Wars, one must ask; can anything good come from Columbus? Go blue! Beat those Buckeyes! Or as a common bumper sticker read; OhhowIhateOhioState.) The NALC is a break off from the ELCA. They have over 1100 delegates in attendance. I am assuming that represents congregations, probably pastoral and lay delegates. So at least over 500 congregations. If we project that out, the initial membership is probably in the 250,000 range - about half the size of the Wisconsin Synod (WELS). However, once formed, it is likely to grow very rapidly. Most of that growth will come from the ELCA. So as they grow the ELCA declines.

The ELCA had a net loss of 90,000 members in 2009. It is likely that NALC represents less than half of the losses that the ELCA will experience in 2010. A few congregations, like Zion Lutheran, in Mission Valley, Texas, have joined us in Missouri. Most ELCA congregations have lost individual members. In some cases the losses have been nearly half the congregation, as happened in Grantsburg. Some are forming new congregations and choosing to remain independent for the moment. Others congregations are leaving the ELCA but not joining one of these groups. It seems likely that at least one more church body will yet be formed from ELCA refugees.

How do we view this? Do we rejoice? Are we sad? The answer is yes. We are sad that relationships are shattered. We are sad that false doctrine is being promoted by church officials. We rejoice that some are turning back to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We must remember that this is not a game we’re trying to win. This is God’s Church. Our focus must always be on what this does to the proclamation of the Gospel.

Where is the NALC at theologically compared to the ELCA and the LCMS? They reject homosexual ordination and fellowship with the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). At issue on this second point it the teaching of Apostolic Succession. The Episcopal Church teaches that only those who can trace their ordination back to the Apostles through an unbroken string of hands are validly ordained. The ELCA had more or less accepted this notion when they went into fellowship with the ECUSA. On the flip side, the NALC does not recognize the Scriptural prohibition on the ordination of women. They still endorse the liberal method of interpreting the Scriptures. It is also felt that the NALC is theologically in motion. It is not now where it will be. And what direction it will move is not predicable. So at this moment there is no possibility of Altar and Pulpit Fellowship between the NALC and the LCMS. One cannot, however, rule that out in the future.

How should we speak to NALC people as we deal with them? We should be friendly toward them. It took great courage and sacrifice to get where they are now. We should encourage them to dig ever deeper into the Scriptures and the Confessions. Perhaps there might even be forums where we can do that together. Most of all, we should pray for them. They are our brothers in Christ. Yes, we are separated by doctrinal differences, but never forget that they are still our fellow believers in Christ.
Rev. Jody Walter
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for August 29, 2010

Because of a pulpit exchange Pastor Walter conducted services this week at Salem Lutheran Church, in Barron, Wisconsin.

Sermon (Salem, Barron)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2010
Text: Luke 14:1-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
The face of American Lutheranism is changing. Old bodies are breaking down. New bodies are being formed. More congregations than ever are choosing to be independent Lutheran congregations, rather than being part of a church body. There is a strong anti institutional attitude developing in both religious and secular politics. Ironically, this anti establishment attitude has been most strongly expressed, to date, by the Harry Potter books. But we see it also in the Tea Party movement. One aspect of this is that of generational change. In many ways, the world we live in is the one created for us in the late 1940's by the World War II generation. Attempts to create a new order in the 1930's were never quite completed. The ideas didn’t quite work when put to the test. In spite of all the New Deal programs, the U.S. remained mired in the Great Depression. Only after the war, when Truman eliminated war time taxes, did we finally see recovery. So it is this period, the late 1940's, when our world was really created. Structures were established, that would later be expanded. Those structures were copied in the church, the Missouri Synod. Where a generation earlier, the synodical headquarters was the president’s enclosed back porch, you now had a large bureaucracy. Soon there were also district offices with full time staffs. They mimicked government departments with many staff persons and many secretaries, and lots of paper work. Baby boomers were impatient to coopt these in institutions for their purposes, but in the end, made no effort to change them. To have the right people controlling them was enough. Now come the post baby boomers. Now they are taking the reigns and something is happening that terrifies many in the generations before them. Post baby boomers don’t want to control of the structures of church and state. We are the barbarians come to end them or radically change them. We don’t think like our parents or grandparents. We think like our great-great- great grandparents. And the world is holding its breath as they wonder what the changes will be.
The most obvious change is that the Missouri Synod replaced 67 year old Rev. Kieschnick with 48 year old Rev. Harrison. Age tells part of the story. But the paths of the two men to the presidency of synod tells another part of the story. Rev. Kieschnick worked up the ladder in the Texas district, until he became president of the district. From there he promoted himself around the synod and was elected president. Rev. Harrison was an inner city pastor at Zion, Fort Wayne, where several of our seminary professors are members. He began to write many articles and books on various theological subjects. He was selected to be the director of LCMS World Relief. This was a small little agency that didn’t do much. Under Harrison it exploded onto the scene, being front and center at nearly every disaster around the world. Harrison continued to write, translate, and edit serious theological works. As Rev. Harrison went around the country to promote LCMS World Relief people began to say, that this is the kind of man we should have as our synodical president - someone who has actually done something.
Front and center to this the work of mercy. As Christians we are called to have mercy upon our fellow man. Here we need to lay a careful foundation, however. Otherwise, we confuse mercy ministry with the Gospel itself. We come before God as beggars holding empty sacks. In the Divine Service, Christ fills our sacks with grace, mercy and forgiveness. We then go out into the world and share these things with our neighbor. Then we return to the Divine Service the next week with empty sacks and Christ fills them again. And again we go out into the world and again share grace, mercy and forgiveness with our fellow man. We are made right with God so that we can serve our neighbor.
Our text is about serving our neighbor. The context that Christ uses for this bit of teaching is a feast given by one of the Pharisees. He noted how they acted, how they sought to bring honor to themselves. Christ noted how this was just a social game, where one would invite a person to their feast, and then in turn expected to be invited to the other person’s feast when that came around. I remember as a child my parents asking themselves if it was their turn to visit or the other family’s turn to visit us. Christ then suggests something rather revolutionary. Instead of this social tread mill, why don’t we invite people who could not possibly invite us back? Why don’t we have compassion on our needy neighbors and feed them? This is one of the ways we empty that sack. The Apostle James points out to us that the mercy we have for others needs to be the mercy that they need right now. If its winter, we don’t just ask God to bless them and keep them warm. We give them a coat. We invite them inside to warm up. Or on a day like today, to cool off. This is not the Gospel. But it is mercy. And it is a reflection of the Gospel. Throughout the history of the Church such mercy has opened the door so that we could tell people about Jesus and the forgiveness He won for us on the cross.
At the root of this is grace alone. Christ saves us by bearing the entire cost Himself. We pay nothing. We receive forgiveness and life for free. We share these things with those in need without cost to them. We give as we have been given. This is important to understand. We have nothing to give. We ourselves are beggars. We can only give what Christ has given us. Since we give nothing of our own, we can claim no credit. We are simply sharing what Christ has given us. But wait a minute! How can we say this when we are talking about charitable gifts to others. We certainly have earned our money and our possessions. Not according to the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. As Luther teaches us, all things, even our material blessings come from God. God gives us a peaceful society. God gives us employment. God gives us rich soil, fish filled lakes, game filled forests, lumber and stone to build, as well as the knowledge and skill to use these things.
Pastor Harrison has laid this vision before us. It is his vision for the synod. But he does not ask us to embrace it because it is his idea. Rather we are to embrace mercy ministry because this is what Christ gives us to do. Mercy ministry is simply taking that sack which Christ has filled out into the world and sharing with all we meet. We are to provide mercy to all in need because Christ has already met all our needs. Christ has forgiven our sins and given us life everlasting at no cost to us. When we are people of mercy we are reflecting the mercy of Christ. We open the door for Christ’s Word to be shared. For feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is not the end. Rather it is the beginning of sharing Christ with the world. In mercy, we open the door so that people can hear that their sins are forgiven in Christ and that He would give them life everlasting. Amen!

Sermon for August 22, 2010

The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 21-22, 2010
Text: Luke 13:22-30

Dear Friends in Christ,
Historically, this is the kind of text we would see in October. It is pointing us toward the judgement. So it is a little odd that we have this at this time of year, which has historically been focused on the mission and ministry of the church. This is where the three year lectionary still needs a little tweeking.

This text is about faith and salvation. In our age many people believe in universalism. Even within our churches we see people who say I don’t believe God would send anyone to hell. That wouldn’t be very loving. Aright, consider this. You have a faithful Christian, say a Ukrainian Lutheran, who spends years in the Gulag, though he has committed no crime. Now you say he must live with Stalin and all those who tormented him. Would that be loving? But that is exactly what one is saying when they insist that God condemns no one, that He saves everyone. They are saying the just must live with the unjust for all eternity. And of course it is not loving to place the faithful together with those who gave themselves over to evil. It is not loving because it is unjust. True love requires justice as well as love. God, out of love for His people, condemns the unrighteous to hell. So even God’s condemnation is an act of love - not love for those He condemns, but love for those He saves. He will not allow His people to ever again face their tormentors.

Luther spoke of the Gospel as a passing summer shower that comes and then is gone. That shower is just hitting Africa right now. It has largely departed Europe. It appears that we in America are on the trailing edge of the shower. We cannot count on the Gospel being preached and taught in the future. It is here now. This is part of the warning the Christ gives in our text. Those who don’t believe now may not get a second chance to come to faith.

Another aspect of this warning pertains to church membership. How often do people act as though they are saved because they are a member of this or that church. Perhaps they were confirmed and once communed. That would be the eating and drinking in Christ’s presence. The same would apply to someone claiming baptism as simple fire insurance. If we listen to the words of the baptismal rite, we learn that baptism is only the beginning of baptismal life. There is to be instruction and continued faithfulness.

Many Americans seek a vending machine Christianity. They want to push the button, get their eternal life policy and put it away in the lock box until it is needed. I took care of that church thing, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Christ tells us that such as these will find themselves condemned. They will not be in heaven. God’s gifts of word and sacrament are intended to produce faith. Faith is knowledge of God and trust in Him. Such faith changes who we are and how we relate to other people. Those who claim Christ apart from faith in Him will not be saved.

The first sacrament most of us experienced was the Lord’s Supper. Probably, before our mothers knew that they were pregnant, we received the body and blood of Christ through our mothers. Shortly thereafter, we began to hear the Word of God. We would have received, along with our mothers, the Word of absolution. When we were born, we were baptized. All of these things are intended to produce faith in Christ. They all are vehicles through which the Holy Spirit works in us, producing such faith. As we continue to learn the Word, we understand more of what God has done for us.

Faith is not a leap, nor is it blind. We trust in a God that we know. But faith must be constantly nourished. Faith is totally dependant upon grace. So we rightly say that the most important thing is God’s grace, in which we trust or have faith. It is the grace and mercy of God which nourishes faith. In short it is the constant forgiveness of our sins. Our sins are forgiven each day as an ongoing application of our baptism. But there is this sense of it. You have word from the judge that you will be acquitted but you must come to the court for it to become official. You come to court and the verdict is given. There is no surprise, but it is now official. That court is the Divine Service of the Church. Luther uses this analogy; We come as beggars with empty sacks. We have nothing for God. Then, in the Divine Service, God takes our sacks and fills them with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We leave the Divine Service with full sacks. Then we spend the week sharing those gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness with everyone we meet. It is God’s will that we give away all that we have been given. Then the next week we come again before our King with empty sacks and He fills them up again, with grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Some who are first will be last, and some who are last will be first. Some who claim Christ in this world, because they think that they’ve earned His favor, or because they once pushed the right button, will not be saved. Many will try to claim Christ and be rejected. There is but one path that leads to eternal life. It is the path of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is the path of beggars. Those who will not come as beggars will be locked out. But those who come as beggars, those who plead like the Publican in Christ’s parable, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, will find peace and rest. It doesn’t matter how great a theologian one is. In fact many theologians will not be heaven. It doesn’t matter how prominent you were in your congregation. Many prominent church people will not be saved. God is just in doing this. For we are all sinners. We are all conceived in rebellion against God. Salvation is a gift. It is a gift that God intends for all sinners, that is for all mankind. But it is a gift received by means of faith. It is a gift received by humble beggars, who plead for mercy and receive from Christ exactly that for which they have asked.