Monday, November 29, 2010

Bronze Age Lutherans II

What happened to the Bronze Age Lutherans in the LCMS after Seminex? I noted in my first article that they were immediately challenged by conservative/confessionalist forces. These people are disciples or Robert Preus, Kurt Marquart, David Scaer, and Norman Nagel, among others. The great literary voice for this movement is Herman Sasse. (It should be noted that one of the most prolific translators of Sasse is LCMS president Rev. Matthew Harrison.)

But just because a new voice successfully challenged the re-ascendancy of the Bronzies, doesn't mean that they went away. So what happened to them? They became Fullerites. (A Fullerite is a follower of the theology of Fuller Seminary. It is sometimes also called, quite erroneously, church growth theology.) Fullerism is about as anti Lutheran as you can get. It is a based on the belief that the church is built by human power and human methods. Further, it embraces an ends justify the means type approach.

How did Bronzies get hooked into Fullerism. In the wake of Seminex, I think there was the realization that something had to fill the void left by liberal theology. These men had no faith or interest in the Lutheran confessions. Nor do they have a strong sacramental theology. Further, many Bronzies seemed embarrassed by Lutheranism. They tend to apologize for Lutheranism, rather than defend it. With this was also the belief that growth would be seen as God's stamp of approval. And so if the Bronzies could grow the LCMS using Fullerite methods, they would be seen as fit to lead.

Sadly, the result has been endless controversy, no growth, and a massive waist of money and resources. One would think that after all these years of effort, people would see that Fullerism is an utter failure. But for the Bronze Age Lutheran, admitting failure is not an option. The only other game in town is confessionalism. Since they don't really believe in the confession, or the office of the ministry, or sacraments, or means of grace, this becomes a major problem.
From the Disk of the Pastor December 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
As we press into December with snow already on the ground, and temperatures that look more like January, we enter into the season of Advent. The word means “Coming”.

Advent was first marked in 400's in southern France - what was then known as Gaul. It was originally six Sundays in length. It was copied from Lent. In those early days people fasted two or three days each week during Advent. (Typically Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.) By about the 11th Century, the practice was universal in the Western church, but had been reduced to four Sundays. But the season really extends for seven Sundays. Yes, the official season is only four Sundays, but the climax of the old church year, with three Sundays dedicated to Christ’s coming, already resounds with Advent themes.

Over this seven Sunday span, we focus upon Christ’s coming. We work backwards through time. We start in the future. The first events we consider are those associated with the return of Christ at the end of time. We look at the last judgement. We consider the fact that Christ will consign the unrighteous to hell. We also celebrate that Christ will take the believers to heaven. The traditional text to open Advent is Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. From there we continue following the clock backwards until we get to the stable in Bethlehem.

Advent is a time of preparation. But that word has lost its meaning for most people today. The solution is not to abandon the word to reinstall its proper meaning. What does it mean when Christians prepare? It means to repent. Preparation for the Christian is to examine our lives in the light of God’s commands. It means to seek out our own sins - that is to identify where we have sinned in our lives. It also means to rededicate ourselves to amending our lives. All too often we fail to take amending our lives as seriously as we ought. We justify ourselves by saying, well, we can’t ever really stop sinning anyway. This certainly is true. But that does not excuse us. Seeking to amend our lives is part and parcel of repentance. One who is unwilling to amend their life, who would keep on sinning with no care, desecrates the grace of God and treats it with contempt. Such a person is still in their sins.

We are now at the time of Advent. This is a solemn season. It is a season marked by the examination of our lives. We are to consider our sins. We are to amend our lives. This is what it means for the Christian to prepare. Advent and Lent are twin brothers in the Church year. The two seasons are supposed to look like one another. It is also a season marked by some of the richest hymnody in our hymnal. It is a catastrophic tragedy for the church when it is in such a rush to get to Christmas that we don’t sing these priceless treasures. For those who don’t understand what a great treasure our Advent hymns are, I would suggest that you take some time to study the texts of these beautiful pearls of great price. All these things we do to prepare our hearts. Christ is coming. Are you prepared?
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105
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.

Sermon for November 27-18, 2010

The First Sunday in Advent
November 27-28, 2010
Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we begin the season of Advent. It is a twin of the season of Lent. It is a season of preparation. What does that mean for Christians to prepare? Do we clean house? Do we put up various decorations? Do we go shopping? Obviously many people do this. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called black Friday because it is the day that most retailers’ ledgers for the year go from red to black. It is the day they start to make money for the year. But, no for the Christian this has no special meaning. Shopping does not help us to prepare in the Christian sense. Preparation for the Christian always involves self examination and repentance. It is the repentant heart that is prepared. So Advent is a somber time. It is a time step back and compare our lives to the Commands of God. It is not a time of celebration. It is not a time to party. It is a time for quiet contemplation. It is a season where we need to spend some quite time alone with the Word of God. It is a time for us as Christians to act in a manner that is contrary to the way of the world.

Advent has a rhythm and structure, but it is really backwards to what many people expect. Even some pastor’s don’t get it. I remember a pastor a few years ago throwing out the lectionary in Advent, because he didn’t understand the logic of the season. First, it runs through time backwards. This is especially clear if we include the broader season and extend back three Sundays into the old church year. We start with Christ’s return at the end of time. Then we move backwards until we get to the stable of Bethlehem. The traditional text for the First Sunday in Advent is Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

What is the purpose of including this text on this day? It is somewhat different than when we examine this text on Palm Sunday itself. The last couple weeks we spoke of Christ as our judge. We could say “Here comes the judge.” And it won’t be near as funny as it was on the old “Laugh In” television show. This judge is the One who judges the living and dead, heaven, hell, and earth. But that was last week. This week its here comes the King. It is our King who comes to us. It is not a teacher. It is not a prophet, but the Prophet, Priest, and King. It is the King who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, who comes to us.

Why is this important? Why must we remind ourselves that Christ is our King. Because we
live in a world of rebels - both inside and outside the church. In colonial times there were many groups who refused to bow to the king of England. They refused to follow any of the court ceremony. Why? Because only Christ was truly king. While this is misguided and a twisting of Scripture, it was commendable. The Scriptures teach us to give to earthly rulers whatever honor and deference is owed to them. But one can understand why some Christians would come to the conclusion that they should not honor earthly kings. But today, in America, the attitude is more this; “We don’t need no stinkin’ king.” And those who utter such things would often include Christ as well. Even many Christians have so radically redefined Christ and God so that He is not our King.
Why do people reject Christ as King? Because then we are not king.

When George III fought against the Americans, did he come and lead his armies into battle? No, of course not. He sent generals like Carlton, Howe, Burgoyne, Kyniphousen, and Cornwallis. One of his sons would later serve in the Navy and another in the army. Frederick the Great of Prussia still commanded armies in the field. Later, Napoleon would as well. But even these monarchs were rarely involved in the actual fighting, staying well to the rear. George VI during World War II often wore a navy uniform, but knew little about military affairs. (His daughter, now Queen Elizabeth did serve as a driver in the army.) But if we go backwards in time, as we do in Advent, we see something quite different. Kings use to actually, literally, lead their troops into battle. Henry V of England was right in the thick of the fighting at Agincourt. Charlemagne likewise personally wielded the sword in battle. Roman emperors were often generals in the army before they became emperor. And if we go back to the Old Testament, kings like David, Solomon, Hezikiah, Jehu, and Josiah, were right in the thick of the fighting. A king had to lead by example. He had to be a warrior.

Yes, there is a point to this rather lengthy illustration. Christ, in entering Jerusalem, is entering as a warrior king. He doesn’t necessarily look it. He is riding on a donkey. He’s not wearing armor or holding a sword. That was okay. People got the picture. That was because this was how Solomon had entered Jerusalem after being anointed king on the Mount of Olives. Christ was coming in as our warrior king. He would lead in battle. But it was a battle against Satan. It was a battle He would win by dying. Thus the great Lenten hymn: “Sing my tongue the glorious battle, sing the ending of the fray... tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer as a victim, won the day. ”

So when we speak of Christ coming as our King, He is not just our ruler. He is our warrior King who fights and wins the battle. He comes as the old medieval Christmas carol says “to riffle Satan’s fold.” He come to defeat Satan and claim us as His property. He comes to dictate a peace treaty between God and man. He does that by first winning the great cosmic battle between good and evil, between life and death. He establishes peace by being the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. He crushes Satan, then says, I won, you lost, here’s the terms of the settlement. That’s what Christ entered Jerusalem to do. And on the cross He declared victory with His dying breath - “It is finished.” Sin is finished. Satan is finished. The victory is complete. Forty-two days later, Christ would entered into heaven as the triumphant conquering King.

Christ is coming. This is certain. He is coming at the end of time. He returns because He is the conquering King who has won the victory for us, over sin and death. He came to Jerusalem as the King. He stepped onto the battlefield and emerged triumphant. This is what we mean when we say that He is the King. It’s not just that He rules, but that He fights and is victorious. And this is why we must prepare our hearts. This is why we must repent. As the victorious King, Christ dictates the terms of peace. He places the conquered in to eternal bondage. But for those who are claimed by Him as His children, for those who trust in Him, we are set free. We are freed from sin and death to live with our conquering King forever.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sermon for November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving (Harvest Observance)
November 24, 2010
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
Yesterday, I awoke to news that North Korea had shelled South Korea. I spent the rest of day wondering if World War III had begun. That doesn’t exactly put one in a thankful mood. From our point of view a few strategic heart attacks would make the world a better place. You ask yourself why doesn’t God just take out Kim Jong (mentally) IL, Osama Bin Ladin, Hugo Chavez and a couple dozen others? Life would be infinitely more peaceful if these men were not part of the world. But then God looks at things differently than we do. Saddam Hussain was terrible man, who did terrible things. But there is one good thing that he did. He protected religious minorities from attack. In other words Christians in Iraq were far better off under Saddam than they are today. The anarchy that followed Saddam’s fall, allowed radical Muslims to terrorize and massacre Christians. Ironically, the United States has done little to correct this problem. Political correctness has prevented us from enforcing justice. We must remind ourselves of these things whenever we think ourselves wise enough to challenge God. What if World War III does begin tonight, or tomorrow? Then we must simply say, “Thy will be done” as well as “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh - blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Our text is a familiar one. It is a parable that Christ told, which illustrates many things. A rich man planned to retire and live a life of luxury, with no concern for others. God takes the man’s life. How can God take the man’s life? Because He is Lord over life and death. He controls the events of this world, to bless and to punish. He makes all things happen for His purposes. And often God blesses and punishes in the same event.

How can God bless and punish in the same event? God brings terrible destruction upon a nation for its sins. The destruction is in the form of a catastrophic war. But in that war, a young man’s faith is formed and reinforced. He becomes a committed Christian and impacts with the world with his faith. One example of this would be a young German boy by the name Uwe Siemon-Netto. Today he writes books on ethics and vocation for Concordia Publishing House. Germany became a nation cursed by God, but this boy was blessed by God in the midst of the curse. Why Germany was cursed by God, we cannot say with precision. We can only guess. But I think it was because this nation which had the pure fountain of the Gospel proclaimed to it by the prophet of Wittenberg, ultimately rejected the Gospel for human reason.

We don’t know what the future will bring. We fear that we are on the brink of a great and terrible curse from God. The repentance of each heart is the only answer to this. Nations cannot repent. But the people of a nation can repent of their own sins as well as the sins of their nation. And in repenting of our national sins we must speak out against them. This is because repentance is turning around and going the other way. We must speak out against the rampant abuse of women that has become the norm in our day. We must speak out against marital infidelity, as well as the easy sexual norms of our day. We must speak against abortion and euthanasia. We must speak against homosexuality. We must work to change hearts. But laws must be changed as well. For the law is a teacher. If one sees that the law condemns a certain action, they see a testimony that this is immoral and sinful.

Yet, we must thank God, even for the trials. For in these trial, God rescues and saves. He draws people to Him. It has been often noted that more people come to church in a time of crisis. And often they stop coming when it is resolved. But some false Christians do come to real faith at such times, and some repent of superficial faith and become more deeply committed.

We might ask ourselves, with the economy in the tank and the world perhaps on the brink of major war, what is there to be thankful for? Our government is in total disarray. Our sons and grandsons might soon be conscripted into the army. If that happens, some of them will die in combat. But we must see that God blesses even through His curses. God does not desire our destruction. He would call us to Him in repentance. And for this too, we must be thankful. For God would draw us ever closer to Him. He would make us see that we are totally dependent upon Him. He would show us how to use all the blessings that He has given to us to help our fellow man. So even in the midst of calamity, we are to praise and thank God. For He works all things for the good of His children. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sermon for November 20-21

The Sunday of Fulfillment
November 20-21, 2010
Text: Malachi 3:13-18

Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was a kid, movies taught the lesson that crime does not pay. There was a zany movie about a guy who had a plan to break into the government print shop where they print the money and print a bunch for himself. He assembled a nutty group of crooks who pulled it off, in spite of the fact that their safe cracker was deaf and so forth. But then, the money was stacked in boxes in the ally and the trash man came along and carted it all off. So in the end, for all their work, they had nothing. Their crime did not pay. In the 1960's there were the crime as justice movies, like Jane Fonda’s Cat Ballou. She took revenge on the railroad men for killing her father. For this she became an out law and was almost hung. Her escape from the hangman is one of the funniest scenes in the history of movies. Lee Marvin’s drunken gunfighter is unforgettable. But today, many movies glorify crime. The criminal satisfying his greed and lust is the hero. This then is also reflected in video games like Grand Theft Auto where you win by stealing the most cars.

In real life, it is little better. Bill Gate became a billionaire by purchasing a key piece of software from IBM. He didn’t invent anything. He didn’t innovate in any way. He just understood that every computer would need this software and if he owned the rights to it, he would get rich. Many of the wealthy simply get that way by moving money around here and there in the markets. Kids go to college, specifically to learn how to do this. Politicians line their own pockets even as they run the country into the ground. A recent song accused politicians of stuffing their pockets while Rome is burning. Congressman Charlie Rangel was convicted by the House Ethics Panel of major corruption and all he is getting is a censure - an official reprimand. We certainly could never get away with the thing’s he’s done. We’d go to jail.

When we look at the world, we wonder, does it even pay to be honest? Does it benefit us to do good? Often, in the world, it doesn’t appear that it does. We hear sayings like no good deed goes unpunished. The Jews in 400 B.C. were thinking the same things. Following the will of God was not a good thing. The wicked prospered and the righteous often suffered.

Malachi was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. And it is pronounced Mal-a- ki not Ma-lach-ee. He was a Jew not an Italian. Malachi was active as a prophet around 400 B.C. This would also be close in time to the death of the Prophet Zechariah. The temple and Jerusalem had been rebuilt. They had peace within the Persian empire. Yet, many who were their enemies lived in lands around them. They often seemed to prosper more than the Jews did.

Christ also warned in the New Testament that people of the world would often seem better off than the people of God. Christians would often suffer at the hands of the world. We see this to this very day. More Christians were martyred for the faith in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined. From a worldly standpoint it is not a good thing to be Christian. It might cause you poverty. It might even cost you your life. And what happens to those who do these things to Christians? They go on their merry way and prosper.

Through the Prophet Malachi, God responds to this situation. He makes a book of remembrance. Does God need a book to remember these things? No, of course not. But it is a frequent image and I would suggest that God does have a literal book. What is written in a book does not change. It has an official character to it. God records the evil deeds done to His children. They are written in the book. They will not be forgotten.

Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. Many fear this. It will be the end of this world. We are unable to understand what will come after this. Yes, we are told that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. They will be without sin. We will live there in peace and joy. But these things are so far beyond our experience that we cannot even imagine them - at least not with any great confidence. So people fear this. We also fear the judgement of God. As sinners this is natural. There should always be a sense of fear when dealing with God. But there is also great confidence - a certain hope. We know what is written in that book. We know that when God opens it to our page, He will not see our sins, but instead will see the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the official record for each of us. But we also know that this is not so for the wicked. When God opens the book, He will not see the cross. He will instead see all the evil that they have done.

This book of remembrance will be the basis for a distinction. In the judgement we will see who is righteous and who is evil. All will be revealed. The distinction will be clear. Here will be the sheep and there will be goats. Here will be those who trust in the cross of Jesus Christ and there will be those who reject the cross. It will be clear to everyone who is righteous and who is evil.

When Christ comes He will take the believers to heaven, to live in the new heaven and the new earth. How that exactly will work, I cannot say. But I can say this. There will be no sin. We will no longer sin. And those who remain in their sin will no longer be there among us. We will be separated from them. Christ, tells us that there will be a great gulf between us and the wicked. There is no way to cross between them. The wicked will bother us no more. The distinction will have been made.

Christ promises to make a Book of Remembrance, and on the last day to clearly distinguish between righteous and the wicked. Though we often see the wicked prosper in this world, they will not prosper in eternity. They will be cast into the outer darkness. The righteous will be in the new heaven and the new earth. They will be gather together with all the righteous. That’s part of what makes it heaven. Not only will we be with Christ our Savior, but with all Christians from throughout the ages. As a child I thought it would be neat to see Moses, David, and the other saints of old. As I’ve gotten older, my sights are lower, and closer to home. I look forward to seeing my brothers, father, grandparents and the like. To be gathered with them at the table with my Savior, that is paradise indeed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bronze Age Lutherans

The term was coined, I am told, by Dr. John Pless, and it is intended as an insult.
Bronze age as opposed to golden age.

I have become convinced that the sole figure view of history is a myth.
It was not Luther but Luther and Melanchthon, for example. And thus,
the LCMS founding was not the work of Walther. It was the work of
Walther, Wyneken, Ernst, Silher, and Craemer. Especially, it was the
work of Wyneken and Walther. Wyneken was a fiery missionary pastor.
And he was a firebrand by nature. He was astute theologically, but not
really a professional theologian. Only recently have we had any of
Wyneken available to us in English. And what we see is a man militantly
committed to confessional Lutheranism, but who doesn't speak with the
great precision of the professional theologian. The best theologian
available to the followers of J.K. Wilhelm Loehe in America was
Friedrich August Craemer. But he arrived just in time to be a charter
member of synod. He was later president of the Fort Wayne Seminary. In
the mean time however, at the urging of Ernst, they reached out to Walther
and his cohorts in Missouri. They had read Walther's work in Der
Lutheraner. They saw that he was the careful theologian that they needed.

Wyneken was uncompromisingly opposed to anything "protestant". He saw
this as a way to kill the church, not build it. He promoted things like
private confession and every Sunday communion. As president for 14 of
the first 17 years of the synod, he had a profound influence on that
generation. But Wyneken published little. He preached from outlines,
so few sermons survive. Thus his influence was limited to that first
generation. Further, the difficult conditions of the frontier, made
much of what he promoted difficult to carry out in practice. For
example, it is difficult to have every Sunday communion when the pastor
only comes once a month.

Walther, on the other hand, did write, and his influence lived on.
Further, Walther wrote in such a way that future generations could
redefine his work. Amplifying this problem was the transition from German
to English which was largely accomplished by WWII, even though
individual congregations often still worshiped in German. Now, an
increasing number of laymen and pastors could not read what Walther
wrote and were dependent upon others to tell them. Further, many of those translating Walther had their own theological agenda, other than faithfully reproducing what Walther actually said.

Missouri's Bronze Age (1930-1960). You could perhaps extend this back
to 1920. After the turn of the century, Missouri began to turn away
from the sturdy confessional Lutheranism of the Founders. Franz Pieper was
a major force in holding onto our confessional roots. But even he was
starting to pull away from the founders on some points. Pieper died in
1931. Pieper was a Pomeranian, born and educated in Germany. But after
1931, almost all our professors were trained in house. This would start
to change about 1960 as men began to seek accredited academic degrees.
Missouri at this time become bitterly anti Catholic. In the founding
generation more literature was written against the Methodists and other
Lutherans than against Rome. Now little was written about the dangers
of Methodist work righteousness. The liturgy was less important.
Sacramental theology was not taught or preached. The big names here
would John T. Mueller, Walter A. Maier, Sr. and Edward Koehler. It has
been noted that Maier, on the Lutheran Hour, never once mentioned
Baptism. Richard Shuta's recent article about Maier points out he often
asked people to make a decision for Christ, much like Billy Graham.
Needless to say, Wyneken would have been appalled.

The Bronze agers were very strongly committed to the authority of
Scripture. In this sense they equipped the synod well for the battles
with liberal theology that were to come. However, much of liberal
theology was a reaction against errors of the Bronzies. It was the
wrong reaction, but it was a reaction nonetheless.

In the wake of the walkout in 1974, and the partial purge of the
liberals that followed, the Bronzies tried to reassert themselves, and
had some initial success in St. Louis. But a non LCMS trained pastor
began to turn the synod in a new direction. His name was Robert Preus.
He was president of the Sprinfield, later Fort Wayne, seminary. He
brought in a number of young professors, like David Scaer and Kurt
Marquart. These men understood that in a sense both sides had been
wrong. The solution is what I term a dynamic or living confessionalism,
with strong sacramental theology, which these men taught. It eventually
became standard for both seminaries.

(It should be noted that Rev. Norman Nagel was instrumental in bringing true confessionalism to our seminary in St. Louis. He also is non LCMS trained. He's an Australian and a disciple of the German theologian Herman Sasse.)

Why do we call this group from 1930-1960 the Bronze Agers? Many, in the
wake of Seminex began to call this Missouri's golden age. Maier,
Mueller and Koehler became almost god like. It was the period when
Missouri experienced its greatest growth since the founding generation and
became the largest it had ever been. Yet, many theologically gifted
pastors dreaded the thought of returning to this theology. They understood
that the leaders of this period were lesser theologians and in some
cases only marginally Lutheran. Thus, as a slap to those who thought of
this as Missouri's golden age, it was termed Missouri's Bronze Age.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sermon for November 13-14

Due to bad weather, only 10 people heard this. One of my better ones I thought.

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
November 13-14, 2010
Text: Luke 21:5-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
Sven and Ole were these two old pastors who served churches that were right across the road from one another. The two churches were out on a paved country road just before a sharp curve. Sven was a Swedeborg - that is Swedish Unitarian - and Ole was a Lutheran. These two guys had a habit of putting up signs in front of their churches to get each other’s goat. So one day a guy drives by and there’s Sven on his side of the road and Ole on his side, each putting up a sign. Sven’s sign said “Da end ist near!” Ole’s sign said “Turn around before Da end!” The driver shakes his fist at them as he zooms by and yells; “When are you two old Swenskas going to grow up?” He peels around the curve. Suddenly there is the sound of tires squealing and a crash. This went on for a little while. About the time they heard the fifth crash, Ole calls over to Sven, “Maybe ve should jus’ say Da bridge ist out.”

How many people in our world are like the drivers going by those churches. The warnings are there. But they pay no heed to them. They don’t recognize them for what they are. They go on their merry way, paying no mind to the fact that the judgement is coming, one way or the other. I think of all the snowmobilers back in Lincoln County, where I previously served. The trails literally ran from tavern to tavern to tavern. Every week there’d be several injuries and deaths on the trails. Inevitably, the guy was four times the legal limit going a hundred and twenty at two in the morning. Not even the wood from a town of Corning popel tree is soft enough to absorb that kind of impact. Then of course people would go around ringing their hands and saying, I don’t understand why so many people are getting killed on snowmobiles. Did those snowmobilers understand that the judgement of God was at hand as they quaffed their twentieth drink of the night? Obviously not. But in a short time, the opportunity for repentance was over. They were in the judgement hall of Christ.

Our text is one of warning, one of law and vengeance. One of the false ideas of modern man is that vengeance is wrong and has no place among men. This is not correct. Rather we learn that vengeance belongs to God. (Is. 34:8, Rom 12:19) God exercises this judgement both in the final judgment and through earthly, human agents upon the earth. In this case, the human agent was a Roman general by the name of Titus Flavius Vespatian Minor, who would later become the Emperor Titus.

Christ uses a form of a technique we call typology. This is typological prophecy. In typological prophecy, a near term event is used a type or symbol of some ultimate or final event. In this case Christ is using the destruction of Jerusalem that would occur in 70 A.D. as a picture of the final judgement at the end of time. And following Jesus’ logic, this makes every disaster, natural or man made, a picture of the final judgement of God. We should take such events as a warning to us. As Christ says speaking of those killed in another disaster, “you repent, lest you also perish.”

The temple was a beautiful structure. Some said that after Herod’s renovation, it was more beautiful than the temple of Solomon. The first temple was really the tabernacle constructed by Moses and Aaron at Mount Sinai. It was God’s intent that it be moved from place to place within Israel. However, very quickly , it found a permanent home at a place called Shilo. The Ark of the Covenant was lost at the time of the High Priest Eli, when the Prophet Samuel was still very young. After this Shilo fell into ruins. It would never again be Israel’s place of worship. The Ark was recovered and later, David moved the Ark to Jerusalem. Solomon built the temple to house the Ark, God’s throne of grace among His people. Later, the Ark was lost again. It appears to have been removed from the Temple by a Pharaoh the Bible calls Shishak. This Pharaoh is better know as Ramses II or Ramses the Great. Though Scripture does not record this, it appears to have been returned. About three hundred years later, during the rule of King Manassah of Judah, it was lost again, and remains missing to this day. It is almost certain that the Ark of the Covenant was not in the temple when it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. About fifty years later, when they started to rebuild the temple, people wept because it would not be as beautiful as the previous temple. King Herod the Great, the Herod of the Christmas story, ordered a reconstruction or renovation of the temple. Ordinary stone was replaced with marble. Gold was pounded into the veins of the marble. Some of the stones used were twenty feet or more long. When the sun hit the temple it seemed to glow with a heavenly light.

This was the picture before the disciples that day. Christ warns that they would live to see the temple destroyed. Most of them did. God rejected the Temple and the rulers of the Temple because they had rejected Him. The end was closer than anyone realized. The early Christians remembered Christ’s words. When they Jewish revolt began they fled Jerusalem and went into hiding in the hills. Not a single Christian was killed when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.

But this is a warning for us as well. Every time we see a disaster, large or small, from a car crash to a hurricane we should see it as a warning to us. We are to repent of our sins. We are to seek Christ’s forgiveness. We are to amend our lives and live lives that reflect the reality of being Children of God.

It is only in repentance that we can avoid destruction. When the tsunami hit Indonesia a few years ago a passenger train was swept away and most of the people were killed. Among the dead was the Bishop of the Indonesian Lutheran Church and his wife. You might say that God did not protect them. But they were protected by God. He had forgiven their sins. They may have died. But they did not perish. They now live among the saints of heaven. They were ready for the end.

God uses the events of this world to punish and save, to warn and to preserve. When we see that one stone indeed is not left upon another, we are to know that this was the hand of God. We are to take that to heart. We are to cling to our Baptism, and flee to the Absolution and to the Supper. We are to cling to the forgiveness of our sins. I cannot promise that life will be easy. I cannot promise that God’s ravaging hand will not strike here, for reasons that we will never understand in this life. We might die. We might be left destitute. But in Christ, we will not perish. We will have life and have it abundantly. We will have the life that Christ gives through repentance and forgiveness. That life will not end, regardless of what happens here or there.

Sermon for Nov 9

November Winkel
November 9, 2010
Text: John 20:19-13

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ gives to His Church a great and precious gift. It is a gift that I think has been despised over the centuries. In my youth pastors were not confessors - they were counselors. Many pastors actually went and got degrees as counselors. And some claimed such degrees when they had not earned them. There was a very famous case in the Saginaw valley involving St. Michael’s, Richville and a certain Pastor McNutt. And yes, that is his real name. This fad had passed by the time I went to seminary. But we are still assaulted by the forces of Pietism and evangelicalism that both attack this gift of Christ - the gift of Holy Absolution.

In the Lutheran Confessions, both Luther and Melanchthon speak of Absolution sacramentally. Melanchthon uses a simple straight forward structure and calls it a sacrament, along with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is Melanchthon who specifically terms it “Holy Absolution.” This is a radical departure from both Luther and the earlier terminology, wherein it had been termed penance or the sacrament of repentance. Melanchthon does this to show God’s work in the very title, rather than man’s work. And thus we also should prefer Melanchthon’s terminology - Holy Absolution. Luther speaks of only two sacraments. But a careful reading the Large Catechism section on Baptism shows that for Luther the first sacrament is really Baptism inclusive of repentance or Absolution. So Luther is, in essence, saying that Absolution is a Sacrament, but simply not giving it its own number. So the options the confessions give us regarding Absolution are to count it as a Sacrament in its own right, or to count it as a sacrament under the heading of Baptism. Luther indeed correct in noting that Holy Absolution is just the daily drowning of the old Adam. It is the living out of Baptism.

Why did God give this gift to the Church, to be carried out by it’s ministers? So that we would have the constant assurance and comfort that our sins are indeed forgiven. God has given us the authority to loose sins and set men free. We are told by Christ that this is as binding in heaven as it is on earth. So when we hear those precious words, we know that we have exactly what they say - forgiveness of our sins.

The Small Catechism makes a clear distinction between pastoral absolution and lay absolution. In the section on the Office of the Keys, it always prefaces the action with the phrase, when the ministers of God... The catechism does not ascribe the same to lay absolution. But we have understood that lay people are to absolve in an emergency, just as they are to baptize. And certainly all Christians are to assure one another of God’s grace and forgiveness.

So when should sins be confessed to another person, and when should they be confessed to a pastor in private confession? We confess to one another what we have done against that person. It is right to seek their forgiveness. Nor should we treat confession as an apology. We should not say, I’m sorry. We should say, I have sinned against you. On the other hand we go to the pastor as the representative of Christ, a modern day apostle in the sense of an officially authorized messenger. We go to the pastor for Christ’s forgiveness. So we go to our brother for their forgiveness, and to our pastor for Christ’s forgiveness. So there may be times when we confess the same sin twice - to our brother and to our pastor.

In a few weeks we will begin the season of Advent. However, Advent is a strange season. It begins before it begins. The official season is the four Sundays before Christmas. However, really the season begins yet in the old church year, including the last three Sundays. All of these seven Sundays focus on the theme of Christ coming. Advent is a season of penitential preparation. In fact, in the Church, penitence and preparation go together. We prepare by confessing our sins and receiving the Absolution. We prepare by being forgiven. And so today, I commend to you the importance of preparing our hearts in a truly Christ centered, Gospel focused, and God pleasing manner. Our hearts are prepared in Holy Absolution - the declaration that our sins are forgiven, in heaven and on earth.

Sermon for November 6-7

The Feast of All Saints
November 6-7, 2010
Text: John 5:24-29

Dear Friends in Christ,
You children are loud enough to wake the dead! Did your mother ever scold you with that line? Did you ever scold your children with that line? My parents did. It is of course a false statement. The dead don’t hear. They are dead. Oh, perhaps with someone recently dead, the eardrum might still vibrate from various sounds, but there is no working nerves to transmit the signal and no brain to interpret the sound. They are dead. The remains are simply inanimate matter. The phrase itself hearkens back to superstitions that the living could disturb the spirits of the dead. Thus you walk quietly and reverently through cemeteries. This does not mean we should treat cemeteries with contempt, but rather that we should show proper respect for the memory, without bowing to superstition. Indeed a Christian cemetery, the old church yard, is intended to be a place of prayer. For the markers in such a place are a catalogue of the saints in heaven. This is why many cemeteries have strict rules about who can be buried there. You cannot bury the rank unbeliever among the faithful. And having grown up in a church that had a cemetery out back, this matter was the subject of more than one tense voters’ meeting.

Quiet, you’ll wake the dead. We can’t wake the dead. This is one of the absurdities of the WWJD bracelets. What would Jesus do if He encountered a funeral? He raise the dead person to life. What would Jesus do if a close friend died? He’d raise the dead person to life. Now you go and do likewise. It is what Jesus would do! But of course Jesus is God. We are not God. He can do things we cannot.

One wonders if Mary every ever said to Jesus; Quiet, you’ll wake the dead. Jesus literally does wake the dead with His words. I think of the Aramaic phrase Talitha Kum - little girl arise. But is was not just one little girl. Christ makes it clear in our text that all the dead hear His voice. All come to life. Death is not the end. For Christ calls all from the grave. An admiral in the navy ordered that when he died, his body was to shot out of a torpedo tub over the deepest part of the ocean, so that God could not find him to raise him for the judgement. Christ who created the depths of the oceans, knows exactly where he is. Some want to be cremated and their ashes scattered so that God cannot raise them again. But even this will not prevent God from raising them.

Our text is really sort of a double entendre. The dead will hear. Yes, indeed, the dead will hear. And not only those dead in the graves, but the dead who are still walking around on the earth. The dead who are alive also will hear the voice of Christ. Huh? How can the dead still be walking around? Christ talking about the spiritually dead - the unbelievers, those still trapped in their sins. Christ is talking about two different resurrections in our text. He is talking about calling people to faith in Him, and calling people from their graves. So Christ is speaking both ways in this text.

Why is it important that the spiritually dead hear the voice of Christ? First, we must say that every human being is born spiritually dead. We are all born dead in our trespasses and sins. Physical death is just the final consequence of spiritual death. The dead are dead. They cannot help themselves. They cannot make themselves alive. That which is not living cannot become living. Even Mary Shelly’s monster required Dr. Frankenstein to make it alive. See, even in the world of fiction it is understood that the dead do not make themselves alive. But Christ calls to us in the waters of Baptism and makes us alive. He raises us to life with him. Baptism is our resurrection from the dead. Thus we say, in the normal course of events, baptism is required for salvation. The dead cannot be saved. While this is not without exception, those are in God’s hands and not in ours.

Christ then moves from raising the spiritually dead to raising the physically dead. All the dead come forth for the judgement. Christ will then judge them. Our text says that we will be judged according to the good or evil we have done. But this must be understood in the light of the cross. Everything we do is sin. Our very best works are stills sins. We don’t have a pure heart. We do them for the wrong reason or for mixed reasons. Many times we ourselves don’t understand our own motivations. We don’t see that we are doing good with evil intent. This is because we have lied to ourselves. I’m no different than you in this. We have a limitless capacity to justify our own actions. So if we are judged purely and only by what we have done by our own power, we will be condemned. But you see, Christ looks at the actions of believers through the cross. The sin that we commit and mingle in with the good is removed. Christ then only sees the good. And thus, in Christ, we are judged righteous and enter the eternal wedding feast of heaven.

Why are we talking about Christ raising the dead today? We are celebrating the feasts of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. We are celebrating that the dead in Christ live. We are celebrating that we gather with them in the Divine Service around the throne of Christ. We are celebrating that we remain in communion with them.

In the Orthodox Church, there are many icons. Orthodox Christians will come in come into the building and kiss each of the icons of the saints. Why? Because they understand that those saints are presents there with them. They are greeting the saints as they would greet their brothers and sisters in Christ who are still upon the earth. This practice is very commendable on one level and fraught with dangers on the other. So no, I don’t suggest we copy it. But it is a good concept to understand. The saints of heaven are here. My father Marvin, by brothers Danny, and Mark, my sister Sandy, my father-in-law John, my mother-in-law Peggy, are all here. Your friends, siblings, spouses, children, are all here. All who died in the faith are here right now. When we take the body and blood of Christ, they are at the table with us. At no time are we closer to our departed loved ones than when we take the Lord’s Supper.

Quite, you’ll wake the dead! We’re glad Christ didn’t listen to that admonition. For He calls the dead to life. He called us to life. That is our hope.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Done!

The election of 2010 is in the history books... well sort of. There are a few close races to recount and there will be legal challenges, in a couple places I'm sure. Two big surprises. First, the defeat of Jim Oberstar in Minnesota and the survival of Harry Reid. Considering that Angle was up in all the polls I saw, one has to wonder to what extent voter fraud played a role. In Wisconsin, other than Secretary of State, the Republicans won all the state wide races. They also took control of both houses of the legislature. Two locals, Erik Severson and Ron Rivard played a role in that by wining their assembly seats.

Winning is one thing. Now they must govern. The key is to keep the promises that have been made. If the Republicans cut spending, cut taxes, and cut regulation and this results in job growth in Wisconsin, they will control things for a very long time. If they fritter this away, as has so often happened, by not fulfilling their promises, they won't last long.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 2010 Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor November 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ gives us salvation as a free gift. We do nothing to earn this. It is simply received by all who trust in Christ. In fact we can do nothing to earn this. God needs nothing from us. There is nothing we can do for God. Christ then would have us reflect the mercy He has given us to our fellow man. So then we speak of our duty to our neighbor. One of those duties is to be a good and loyal citizen of the nation in which we reside. What that means will vary greatly depending upon the country. A monarchy would have different requirements than a republic. We, of course, live in a federal republic. A federal system is one where several independent levels of government function together at the same time. In our case, we have national, state, and various forms of local government. We almost all have two levels of local government - county and town or municipality. (City or village.) Each of these has a reserved function, into which the others are not to tread. As we are both a federal system and a republic, we get to vote for all these different government officials. As Christians we should consider it a God given duty to vote, even in the most minor of elections. While this is a duty, it also carries with it a responsibility to be informed. So we should know who the candidates are and where they stand on the various issues. This is sometimes quite difficult to do, though the internet has made it easier. This is particularly true in our area where our print media does only a limited job, and there are really no other local media sources.

As Christian voters we take Christ with us into the public square. We are to vote our beliefs. By this I don’t mean that the church is to take over the government. But if we know that Scripture teaches that something is wrong and destructive, we should vote for candidates who share that view. It’s that simple. These candidates may be Lutherans or belong to another church. They may even be non Christians - just so long as they share our view on what is right. We should never vote contrary to what the Bible teaches us is right or wrong.

One issue I don’t think has weighed heavily enough on the consciences of most Christian voters is that of life. God is the author of all life. We are made in the image of God. It is never man’s place to take a life. Because of sin in the world, God permits just a few narrow exceptions - self defense and those acting lawfully as police or military, including, if human laws allow, capital punishment. Other than these narrow exceptions, human life is never to be taken, from conception to natural death. Abortion, except to save the life of the mother, is always excluded. Euthanasia, that is the killing of the elderly and infirm, is also forbidden. Rather than kill the elderly, we are to care for them with grace and dignity.

As Christians we have a duty to uphold life when we vote. But there is more to this. It’s not just the specific acts in question. It is about a whole world view. Our founders believed that every individual person has dignity and value. They embodied this in the Declaration of Independence when they said... “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...” All people, no exceptions. This idea was drawn from the Bible. Jefferson was not a Christian, but he had a Christian world view. When considering law in all areas, how a person views life will effect how he/she votes. Understanding man as having intrinsic value and seeing man as a commodity are radically opposing ideas. Pro abortion legislators will also, likely, support other measures that attack the dignity of man, in all areas, from the environment to job creation. So it is imperative that we elect pro life people to office. God is pro life, and so also should we be pro life. And one’s attitude toward life will determine their views on nearly every other area governmental activity. So yes, it is our duty to vote, and to vote for life.

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 October 31, 2010

The Festival of the Reformation
October 31, 2010
Text: Romans 3:19-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
A day like this poses a problem for the preacher. Do you tell the story of the Reformation and preach a rather poor sermon because you took so much time telling the story, or do you simply preach the text and leave everyone wondering what you are celebrating? Inevitably, you try to strike a balance. You succeed this more or less depending on the year.

Reformation Day marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses or statements on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. That seems like a mundane event. Such a posting must have happened a dozen or more times a year in the university town. But this day, someone unknown to history recognized their potential importance, copied them down and took them to a printer. They were quickly translated from Latin into German and circulated throughout Germany. What followed was an explosion of nuclear proportions. The western Church shattered like a piece of glass.

Luther was a reluctant and a conservative reformer. He wanted the church look as close to what it had looked before. He retained everything that he could - even some things that did not have Christ’s clear command. For example, in Luther’s day one had to come to private confession before coming to the Lord’s Supper. They retained the same vestments that they had always worn. The liturgy was largely unchanged, though some parts were now in German. Some parts were left in Latin. Many thought that Luther didn’t go far enough. Some wanted to purge the church of everything Roman. Some wanted revolution. Some wanted to completely withdraw from the world. So the majority, around Europe who broke from Rome did not follow Luther. Thus we have many confessional groups that formed at that time, with names like Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Mennonite and so forth.

The Christian Church in 1517 was nearly 1500 years old, having been born on Pentecost in the year 33 A.D. With the collapse of the Roman Empire that took place in the 400's, a great deal of learning was lost. Distant Ireland became the place where books were preserved for future generations. In the years that followed, many priests could not read, let alone the people. In this context, many of the things that were taught changed. But there were also those who remembered the truth. There were those few who read the Scriptures. You had competing schools of theology. These often attached themselves to the various monastic orders. Dominican scholars like Thomas Aquinas were prominent. They stressed the importance of good works and dependence upon the church. That dependence upon the church, over the centuries transformed from trust in the Word preach and the Sacraments administered to trust in the earthly institution. Others, like the Augustinians and the Franciscans gave the grace of God a higher place. Two point we must take from this. First the true theology was preserved but in isolated places like the Augustinian monasteries. Secondly, this situation confused church officials, including the Pope himself, who initially saw Luther’s complaint as nothing more than an Augustinian versus Dominican dispute.

How was Luther revolutionary? He made his arguments from Scripture in the language of the people. He didn’t just dispute with scholars. Luther was one of the few men who had read the text of Scripture and one of the even fewer who could read it in Greek. He would soon master Hebrew as well. In 1522, Luther published his translation of the New Testament. The whole Bible followed twelve years later. With the use of the printing press and movable type, a technology less than a century old, Luther’s work spread to all who could read and in many cases all who could hear. Now all could see what Luther himself had found when he studied the Scriptures.

For Luther, the key was his study of the book of Romans in preparation for his lecture series of 1515 - 1516. Here he found the whole counsel of God in digest form, clearly articulated. The text confirmed something he already believed - that God is indeed holy. God hates sin and those who sin. He learned something else that had understood intuitively. The grip of sin is unbreakable. It is hopeless for man to struggle against sin. We cannot do it. Thus all man are lost and damned. All men are consumed by their sin. St. Paul puts simply, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” St. Paul tells that the works of the law cannot save us. We cannot make up for our sins. Even if we committed no actual sins, we would still be born under the curse of Adam’s sin. We human beings had no answer, no way to free ourselves. But God has a simple and elegant solution, as St. Paul also explains. “[All] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Propitiation is one those twenty dollar words. Maybe with inflation it’s a hundred dollar word. It means satisfaction. Christ’s blood satisfies the demands of God’s law. Christ’s blood pays the full debt of our sins. All who trust in Christ as Savior from sin and death, have this as a free gift.

The danger, as Luther quickly realized with his own parishioners, is that many will treat grace casually and live as libertines. We struggle with this to this day. That is why we must understand what St. Paul means when he speaks of the Glory of God. God is holy and righteous. God is to be feared. His retribution is limitless. We see this in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues wrought against Egypt, and the slaughter of the Assyrian army before Jerusalem. We ought to have great fear of coming under God’s anger. The grace of God should not remove that fear. This is what happens when people become libertines and wantonly sin. They have no fear of God. The fear of God is to remain. But, the grace of God is our hope in the face of our terror. We are right to be terrified of God. We are right to tremble before the holy things of God, such as His Word and Sacraments. Luther himself, never lost his fear of God. He continued to warn about the wrath of God until the day he died. But He also spoke the sweet words of Grace. God has put away your sins, in Christ Jesus, you will not die.

So how can we summarize the Lutheran Reformation? What does it mean for us. We still have churches and clergy. We still have liturgy. We still are dependant upon God’s Word and Sacraments. Luther did not proclaim an end to all structures or total freedom. But He did restore a balance to the Church. God is still be feared as our righteous and holy judge. But God is also be loved, as the One who Sent His Son, God in the flesh, to die in our place and pay for our sins.

Sermon for October 23, 2010

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
October 22-23, 2010
Text: Luke 18:9-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
Our first reaction might be, not another sermon on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Pastor we know that one. Yes, but this is a seminal text. It explains in the clearest terms the nature of the Gospel. It also barbeques the conscience of every person. It is a portion of Scripture than no one can read and come away unscathed.

What is the point of this parable? What was Jesus’ target? He was going after the self righteous. He was attacking those who thought that they could please God by their own power and machinations.

In Jesus day, there were several groups that thought of themselves as religious reformers. You had the Essenes who said that Jerusalem and the temple was so corrupt it was beyond cleansing. There was no way to reform the temple. So they went out into the desert, separating themselves from the corruption of the temple, and preparing themselves to receive the Messiah. John the Baptist might well have been raised in an Essene community. But Scripture does not record a single encounter between Jesus and the Essenes. The next group of would be reformers was the Pharisees. They still had hope that the Temple could be saved - by them of course. They would restore Israel to obedience to the law. In fact they would go beyond the law to make certain that they were actually doing everything right. They made new laws to protect God’s commands. And they were very careful to keep away from anyone who was deemed a sinner. This would be anyone who wasn’t a Pharisee. They were certain if they did this, they would purify the nation so that the Messiah would come, trash the Romans, and make Judah the new power in the world.

Why were they so convince that this was the Messianic age? First, they new the Scriptures. The Messiah, that is the Christ, was to come during the time of the fourth empire, according to the Prophet Daniel. Then the Messiah would come and smash that empire into little pieces. First was the golden empire - Babylon. Then came the silver empire - Persia. After this came the bronze empire - Alexander’s Macedonia, and the successor kingdoms that followed. Finally would come the iron empire - Rome. But there was more to this, I am certain. Word of strange events passed through Judea. A barren old woman gave birth to a son. His father prophesied that this child would be a prophet of the Most High. It caught people’s attention because the man had been struck dumb and suddenly, without warning, broke out in his prophetic song, at the time of his son’s birth. Now it was the forth decade after these events. But people remembered them, I am certain. There were people who witnessed these things that were still alive. There also were probably stories about a baby born in a stable and angels appearing to shepherds. But my guess is that these were less well known. It was the birth of John the Baptist that primed the pump of messianic frenzy that still had not burned out. Now remember the Pharisees saw themselves as the religious reformers who were going to bring in the Messianic age, by their work.

Christ tells a simple parable. A Pharisee and a Publican or tax collector went to the synagogue to pray. Now to the Pharisees, the Publicans were the lowest of the low. They worked for Rome and got rich at the expense of their own people. They were invested in the status quo, while the Pharisees wanted to change things. The perception was that they were all crooks as well, collecting more taxes than they were required. In fact, I suspect that most of them were honest civil servants. Some were dishonest to be sure. But most were probably honest. Tax collecting, in those days, was a lucrative business. Typically they collected a market tax. To enter the market you had to pay a tax. If you were a vendor you probably paid a higher tax. The tax collector had a quota dictated by Rome. Anything above this amount he could keep. In many cases, one could get wealthy just doing it above board. The fact that Publicans were hated was in part due to the fact that they were in bed with Rome and also that they were rich. In other words it was the same kind of class warfare that we see in our political debates today. It was false then, as it is false now. But nevertheless, to a Pharisee, a Publican was the worst of sinners.

When the two men pray, the Pharisee boasts how good he is. The Publican prays for forgiveness. Christ then says something stunning. The Publican, the tax collector, the sinner, is right with God. But the Pharisee, who thinks that he has kept all the laws, is not right with God. The Publican trusted in the mercy of God. He was not disappointed. He asked and he received. The Pharisee relied upon his own works. These cannot stand. Why? Because everything we do is tainted by sin. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that all our righteous acts are as unclean rags before God. (Is 64:6) Isaiah is talking about the good things that we do - the very best that we do. The very best of our works are like medical waist before God. So the works the Pharisee was boasting about were worthless.

This parable is unique in its application. There is no character that corresponds to God, as would usually be the case. We are the Pharisee. We always want to show off how good we are. We always want to claim something by right before God. God we’ve earned this or that. We need to be the Publican. So in this parable Christ contrasts who we are by our sinful nature, with who we ought to be. We are to be beggars, as Luther said. We are to bring nothing before God other than our sin, for which we beg forgiveness. Only when we are empty of self, can we be filled with Christ. Only when we see our need for God’s forgiveness will we receive it. Any who think that they don’t need to be forgiven will be cast out from God’s presence. This is a stern warning to us. Often it is the most religious who turn to themselves. It is the most religious who get caught up in what they are doing for God. The Pharisees then and now have no place for a Christ who dies for their sins. And yet, that is exactly the thing every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve needs.

The message of parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a simple one. But it gets right to the heart of our faith. It divides heaven and hell, life and death. Those who turn to themselves and their own works will be condemned by God. Those who come as beggars, empty of self, and seeking grace, will be saved. It is that simple. The problem is that we are always fighting this battle. We want to be the proud Pharisee boasting before God. We need to be the humble Publican, begging that God would have mercy on me, a sinner.