Friday, February 18, 2011

The Christian Ethics of Dem Senators

It is official. All the Democrat members of the Wisconsin State Senate spent yesterday afternoon in Rockford, Illinois in order to prevent a vote on a Budget repair bill. In the mean time Chicago community organizers and the teachers union were creating a near riot situation in Madison. The vicious nature of the rhetoric was stunning to see. Our governor was compared to Hitler, Mussolini, Mubarik, and every other disreputable character that they could name. This vitriol will be remembered for a long time. Elephants have good memories - unlike jackasses.

This all begs the question. Was it ethical, from a Christian perspective, for these senators to engage in such gamesmanship? I would have to say no. Their actions were abominably shameful. They abandoned their posts. They were in open rebellion against the laws and people of Wisconsin. Fortunately, the people this state are getting fed up. According one poll taken by a downstate newspaper, 60% of us Badgers are with our governor. After all, he's really posing a simple alternative. Either the state employees take a minor reduction in benefits, which leaves still better than the private sector, or about 6000 of them get laid off. Is not everyone better off with these people keeping their jobs and not in the unemployment line?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sermon for February 6-7, 2011

The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
February 12-13, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Dear Friends in Christ,
In the rare book collection owned by Yale University is a very fancy leather bound book called the Voynich Manuscript. The book is in good condition and even has metal clasps to hold the book shut when not in use. It has been dated to about 1400-1450 - just before the introduction of movable type and books produced by the printing press. The book was sold, along with whole trunk of other old books, to an Italian used book dealer by the Jesuits in 1912. None of this makes the book of special interest. What is inside is most curious. The pages are covered with drawings, letters and symbols. The symbols are not from any known language. It is believed to have been written in some form of cipher or code. But no one has been able to decode it. Even powerful decryption computers have been stumped. It is thought that perhaps the original author had a template and that only the letters that were in the holes of the template had meaning. This would have been a common code device of the time. Before copyrights and patents, many scholars wrote their work down in code. So the Voynich manuscript was probably just the journal of a renaissance scholar. It is likely that we will never know.

For many Christians, the Beatitudes are as obscure as some ancient manuscript written in an obscure code. Part of this is that it is a difficult section of the Scriptures to translate. You can’t quite get the right accent to the ideas Christ is discussing in English. But secondly, many people lose site of the key to all of Scripture. What is this key you might ask? The Cross of Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. This becomes like that templet sheet with certain spots cut out, so that we can decode the text. Secondly, another templet is needed. That templet is the Old Testament. There is some very deliberate imagery that ties into the Old Testament.

Verse 1 is a bit curious, but important for us to picture the setting. Jesus sees the crowds, but then goes up the mountain. This was not some little hill that He could use as a pulpit. He is moving away from the crowds and speaking only to His disciples. This may have been more than the twelve, but this is a sermon not given to the general public. So what does this have to do with the Old Testament? Who went up mountains in the Old Testament? Moses, Elijah, Abraham, and numerous others. But who spoke from the mountain top? Who particularly spoke from the top of Mount Sinai? How many of you think it was Moses? Wrong. It was God. It was Christ who spoke to both Moses and Elijah from the top of Mount Sinai. So Christ is not pulling a Moses. He’s speaking from the mountain top as He did before. The disciples play the role of Moses receiving the mountain top revelation from God. This is the New Testament version of the giving of the stone tablets. And just like in Exodus where the people are kept back from the mountain and God speaks to His prophet, so now He speaks to His disciples.

If we get the first of the Beatitudes correct, the rest will likely fall into place. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christ here is talking about the spiritually poor. He is talking about those who understand that they are beggars before God. He talking about those who can do nothing for themselves to change their status before God. He’s talking about those who see that they are hopelessly trapped in their sins. Theirs in the kingdom of heaven. This turns everything on its head, from the Pharisees of Christ’s day to the prosperity preachers of today. The Pharisees, like the prosperity preachers today, taught that you can have your best life now. They taught that if you just follow the law and do all the right rituals, you can call down blessings from heaven. The power is within you. Christ stands that on its head. There is no power within us. We are poor in spirit. We have no spiritual power, no spiritual discernment. What happens when a person realizes their spiritual poverty? What happens when a person realizes that they can do nothing to help themselves? Then they must rely upon another to save them. And what does Christ say? Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. They have abject spiritual poverty, but yet they have the deed to heaven. Why? Because Christ gives it to Him. He does that when He dies on the cross for our salvation.

This is a key concept to understanding the Beatitudes. The word that we translate as “blessed” carries a lot of freight. First, these blessings come from outside ourselves. Someone has to bless us for us to be blessed. We don’t make ourselves blessed. So here Christ is defining the blessings that He is giving His disciples, including us. Second, this word carries with it the idea of being saved. The blessings that Christ is talking about are not temporal. They are eternal. To be blessed is to be saved. Again, it is the idea of someone else saving us. The blessings, the salvation, the eternal life, come to us from outside of ourselves. Christ blesses us, saves us, and gives us eternal life. All this weight of meaning is included in that one word, “blessed.”

The other eight statements of blessing follow after the first. Mourning is our sorrow over our spiritual poverty. The meekness follows from this as well. A beggar does not boast or claim anything by right. The beggar meekly holds out his hand to be filled. Those who know the poverty of sin, hunger for righteousness. Those who claim nothing by right, impose nothing upon others. They do not condemn the sins of others. They give mercy as God gives mercy to them. The pure in heart are those made pure by Christ. For if we are spiritually blind and dead, only Christ can make us pure in heart. Having received the peace of God, we share God’s peace with others. This is not talking about earthly peacemakers, but heavenly peacemakers. That peace can only come through faith in Christ.

In the end, having received all these blessings from Christ, the world hates us. No one hates us more than those who think themselves spiritually rich and powerful. They lash out against Christ’s blessed ones. But even this is a blessing. For if they lash out against us, it is because of what Christ has done for us and in us.

Christ sat down on the mountain top and taught His disciples, just as He had taught Moses, some fourteen hundred years earlier. The Beatitudes are often quoted, but rarely understood. Many would make them into a set of laws for us to follow. But that would not be a blessing, would it? If we’ve earned these things, it is a wage not a blessing. But here Christ assures us that He has come to bless us. He has blessed us who have nothing to offer Him, but the empty hands of beggars. Christ gives us His gifts of forgiveness and life. He makes us to be His blessed ones.

Sermon for February 6-7, 2011

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
February 6-7, 2011
Text: Matthew 4:12-25

Dear Friends in Christ,
Jesus ministry goes through several stages. This becomes more clear when one compares John’s Gospel with the other three gospels. During those first months Jesus began to gather followers on a part time basis. Many of them were with Jesus on His early trip to Jerusalem, at the Wedding of Cana and so forth. But Christ’s ministry changes after this. It becomes more formal and more open. The disciples are called to full time ministry. This escalation of Christ’s ministry happens at the time that John the Baptist is arrested by King Herod. So Christ and John are not competing with one another. It is only during those very early months, before Jesus ministry hits its full stride that they are both out there. But then we are told that John during that time was preaching in the desert of Judea, near some springs of water. Jesus was in Galilee and Jerusalem.

What was the relationship between Jesus and His disciples? It probably varied. Philip and Bartholomew come from Cana. They are not part of the group of fishermen. They probably first met Jesus during the early days of His ministry. But John and James are cousins of Jesus, as is likely the case also with the other James and the other Judas, who is sometimes called Thaddeus. For them, the surprise was realizing that one of their own was a prophet and perhaps the Messiah. Peter and Andrew, as business partners of James and John, likely also had previously met Jesus. The moments where Jesus turns to individuals and says to them “follow me” is almost assuredly not the first time that they had met.

Jesus began to preach. His message really is a continuation of John’s message - repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Only now it is really at hand, right now. What is interesting is that Jesus didn’t baptize anyone. In some other places in the Gospels, we see that his disciples baptized people, but Jesus does not. Since many of Jesus disciples are also former disciples of John, it is not surprising that they continued to baptize.

Why was it important that people repent? Because God was among them. Only the repentant would survive the presence of God. We must remember that Christ was the one who appeared to Isaiah in the Holy Place of the temple. Christ was the one who spoke from the top of Mount Sinai and so forth. Just because they couldn’t see the glory, doesn’t mean that the danger of Christ’s presence was any less. And indeed later in the Gospels we see Christ placing curses on the cities of Galilee for their rejection of Him.

As Christ began to preach, His fame quickly spread. It says in our text that people came from every direction to hear Him. The places that are described would suggest that His fame, in these early days extended about one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles. In addition to preaching, Christ healed every kind of disease.

Some believed, but eventually, as we know, many rejected Christ. I have to wonder how many of us would have likewise rejected Christ if had seen and heard Him in person. I’m glad for myself, that I will never have to find out. It is so much better to be living in this end of history. But just because we ourselves might have rejected Christ, does that excuse the people of Christ’s day? No. Not at all. They saw the light. What was that light? Christ’s words and deeds. They saw the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers cleansed, the lame walk, and so forth. No one in the history of Israel had every done the works that Christ did. Now you might say, but Old Testament prophets performed miracles. But not like this they didn’t. Oh, they did a miracle here and there. Probably Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Daniel are associated with the greatest number of miracles. But Christ probably performed more miracles in a typical day of His ministry than all the Old Testament prophets put together did in their entire ministries. This was dramatic. This was powerful.

Another point that must be made here is that Christ both preached and performed miracles by His own authority. He would say things like; I tell you, rise and walk. This was wholly different from the prophets. I think of Elijah raising the son of the Widow of Zaraphath. Elijah lays himself upon the body of the boy and prays to God. He doesn’t command God. He approaches God as a beggar, begging for the life the child. Jesus doesn’t beg. He commands. He commands the demons, the diseases, the deformities and they obey Him. Seeing all this, and seeing the attitude of Christ, the people should have believed. But many did not. This goes to the nature of faith and unbelief. True faith is rational. It is based upon revealed facts. It is unbelief that is, in the end, irrational. And of course the final sign that ought have brought all men to their knees in fear and repentance is the resurrection. For indeed, what other man laid down His life and took it up again? I would suggest that it is indeed rational to place our trust in the One Man who did indeed lay down His life and take it up again. But yet, many do not believe.

Our text is operating on two levels. First, in terms of the season. It speaks of Christ as God. Remember that the theme of Epiphany is that a man - Jesus of Nazareth - is revealed to be God. But it is also a text about faith. This is a time of sifting. You have those who are curious and you have those who are hitching their horse to the wagon. But you also, under the surface, have those who are starting to question and reject Jesus. Christ is starting the sorting process that John the Baptist warned was coming.

Faith as we noted is based upon knowledge and fact. God does not require an irrational leap. Yet, by our very natures, we resist, we reject. We are born in trespasses and sin, enemies of God. How does God respond? He overwhelms us with the facts. He gives us so many facts that there is no rational way to resist. Then the Holy Spirit works in the hearts men, so that the facts go from simple academic knowledge to trust. For faith in the end is trust. If I am in an airplane and the engines have failed, and there is a parachute, I can crash and burn or I can trust in the parachute. Sadly, many become so fearful that they cling to doom.

It is often said that we are saved by faith. That is correct only to a point. It is really by means of faith. Faith does not cause our salvation. That would place salvation within us rather than in Christ. Rather, faith is the means, the connection, the wire. The cause is the Grace of God. Christ saves us. It’s that simple. In fact, by His death, He has paid the price of all sins - the sins of every human being. Faith in Christ connects us to that reality. So we are right to say that without faith, we cannot be saved. Our trust must always be in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our trust is in a real human being, who died on a certain day, on a real wooden cross, in a real place. Our trust is in those facts. But faith is more than this. For in faith we also understand that this man is God. We understand that His death is for us.

Christ came, called His disciples and began to preach and perform miracles. He did these things as signs to show the world that God was among them in the flesh. Some believed. Some did not. And so for us today. Do we see the signs? Do we see Christ present among us, raising us from the dead in the waters of Baptism, feeding us with His supper, and speaking His Word of forgiveness? Or are we deaf as the proverbial post to God? We have no excuse. We have the signs. We have all the signs we need in the Word - signs that point us to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Newsletter February 2011

From the Disk of the Pastor February 2011

Dear Friends in Christ,
Heresy. Blasphemy. These are terms that we hear on a regular basis. Do we know what they mean? Do we understand how important that they are? Sadly, many today don’t know. And some even think that these are terms that are outdated. They no longer apply. These are words from the past. We must not think this way.

Heresy is teaching doctrines in the church that are contrary to the Bible. We believe that the Bible is, in its entirety, the Word of God. We believe that it contains all that God has revealed and all that we need to know to trust in God and be saved. We call this the Sufficiency of Scripture. We also believe that the Bible is sufficiently clear in its major teachings that a unified body of doctrine can be drawn from Scripture to which all Christians are to subscribe. This is not a new idea. This is exactly what the Church did in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea when they wrote the Nicene Creed. Scripture is clear in itself. We don’t need an authoritative group of church leaders to interpret it for us. Rome teaches falsely that the Bible is incomprehensible to ordinary men thus can we only get it right when the church tells us the correct meaning.

Blasphemy is insulting God. The teaching of heresy is one of many forms of Blasphemy we see in our world. It is perhaps the most outrageous because the perpetrators are inside the church.

What is at stake? Eternal salvation. All false doctrine has the ability to destroy faith. Often it makes people resistant to the Word and the correct doctrines drawn from the Word. This was Freidrich Wyneken’s complaint about the revival preachers, at the time of the founding of the synod. They taught their heresy, then left. When honest preachers came the people wouldn’t listen to them or the truth of God’s Word. The people just wanted a bigger show.

In the fourth century a British monk by the name of Pelagius taught a terrible heresy. He said that we save ourselves by our own works. Christ didn’t save us by His death on the cross. St. Augustine poured out a great deal of ink refuting this terrible heresy. Those that teach work-righteousness are called Pelagians.

Rome co-mingles grace, faith, and works. It’s not the crass work-righteousness of Pelagius. Works can only be done by grace, for example. We call this semi-Pelagianism. It is heresy and has caused many to fall from Christ. But when push come to shove, in the Roman system, grace is the key component. One can see this in their Last Rites when they place a crucifix on the chest of the dying and say place all your trust here. That’s something a Lutheran would do.

On the other hand, American mega church evangelicalism is totally Pelagian, that is 100% works-righteous. I’m talking here about Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and numerous others. If you listen to their sermons you never hear about Christ, His substitutionary death, forgiveness of sins or anything like that. You will hear constantly about what you are supposed to do. This is law, not Gospel. In many cases these “churches” have even become gnostic - that is, that they over spiritualize the Christian faith. They deny that Christ was really a man at all. They deny the resurrection of the body. Because of course, such “churches” would teach that the body is evil, never mind that God created our bodies and saw that it was good.

Many of these false preachers are on television. I would encourage you to avoid them. Don’t watch them. There are a few that are reasonably sound. I think Coral Ridge is replaying old sermons by the late D. James Kennedy. While not in perfect agreement with us, he almost always clearly stated that our salvation is a gift of God, in Christ.

Sadly, many in our church body want to copy these false teachers. We must not fall into that trap. They have full buildings for a time. But it rarely lasts more than a few years. And the people there, for the most part, are on their way to hell. Why? Because they’re not hearing that Christ died for their sins. They’re constantly being told to trust in themselves and their own works. God is not blessing their ministries. They are simply confirming the lost in their unbelief.

We must cling to sound doctrine. Thankfully, as a confessional church, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We have generations of brilliant Christian thinkers who have gone before us. We have the Lutheran Confessions collected in the Book of Concord. We contend that they perfectly reflect the teachings of the Holy Scripture. We have the writings of the ancient fathers like Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom and others. We have the great Lutheran theologians like Gerhard, Calov, Sasse, Preus and so forth. All of these help us to more fully understand the Scriptures, as God has set them forth. This is not a small matter. False doctrine sends people to hell. Right doctrine - orthodoxy - shows us how Christ carries us into His eternal house, through Word and Sacrament.
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 January 29-30, 2011

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany
January 29-30, 2011
Text: John 1:29-42a

Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been the plot of many stories. There are many variations. A man is killed and then suddenly returns. In some cases the man is literally raised from the dead. In others, he was just thought to have been killed. In still others it is another man who just happens to look exactly like the dead man. The variations are endless. But there is inevitably a scene where a person knew the dead man and, upon seeing the living man, asks, are you real, are you flesh, or are you a ghost? Sometimes a movie leaves the question unanswered. You never do find out if the person is real or something else. I think for example of the Clint Eastwood movie “Pale Rider”.

Many throughout the years have questioned if Jesus was real was something else. Was He a man? And if He really was a man, why would God lower Himself to be one of us? Many false teachings about the humanity of Christ developed. There were those who wanted to say that Jesus wasn’t really a man. He just appeared as a man. Or that the God part wasn’t with Him His whole life. All of this comes from what the Germans call Schopsfergessenheit. You didn’t know you were going to get a German lesson, did you? Schopsfergessenheit - creation forgetting. In fact one of the ancient heresies, called Gnosticism, actually taught that the devil made the world and human beings. The flesh was just a trap for the soul. The flesh was evil and the spiritual, the soul, was inherently good. But God did create the physical universe. God did create man. He created man in His own image, and then saw that it was good. So on one level, it is incredible that God would become a man. But on another, He is simply entering into the world He Himself created. Christ Himself is the creator. He is entering into that creation which He declared to be good, in order that it might again be good.

King Solomon observed that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly, many of the same heresies are coming right back today. The so called emergent church movement is almost entirely gnostic. Who are these guys? They are mega church guys that are speaking at the big evangelical conferences - Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and numerous others. Even more sad is the fact that The Ally, a mission in the Woodbury area, started by a former vice president of the Missouri Synod, was created specifically to copy these guys. And why is this a problem? Because, as St. John Chrysostom stated, “What God has not assumed, He has not redeemed.” If Christ was not a man, we are not redeemed. We are still in our sin. We are still condemned to hell.

The season of Epiphany is a great counter to this heresy, this deadly false teaching. It is a season dedicated to the proposition that a man was revealed to be God. This man was Jesus of Nazareth, or in the Aramaic that He would have heard daily - Yeshua Honosri. He was born near the beginning of the year 4 B.C. and died on April 3, 33 A.D.

John the Baptist pulled no punches. John saw Jesus after Jesus had returned from His temptation in the wilderness. He immediately pointed to Jesus and declared that He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Only God can remove sin. To call Jesus the Lamb of God is to call Him God. But John is not done. In verse 30 we read something curious. After me comes a Man... who was before me. The statement can be taken a number of ways. But the nub of it is that Jesus, who is six months or so younger than John, existed before John. John clearly calls Jesus a Man. So this ought not be in dispute. But what John here is again saying is that this Man is God. He has existed from all eternity. That’s how He had existed before John, even though He was younger than John. John then goes on to call Jesus the Son of God. Son of God is a very specific title. It again clearly shows that John considered Jesus to be God. So what John is saying is that this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is God.

Let’s take a little side excursion here. What does it mean that Christ is the Son of God? We don’t have this concept in our culture. Sonship for us is little more than a biological reality. Our laws distinguish little between son and daughters. But that was not the case in the first century. To be a son had very special meaning. And in most cases, men has sons, but one, normally the oldest, was the son. Jacob had twelve sons, but Judah, son number four, was the son of Jacob. What does that mean. It means he was the heir of his father. He received from Jacob the promise of the Messiah. In much the same way, though David had many sons, Solomon was the son of David. Jesus is a royal Son. He is the crown prince, the heir to everything that belongs to His Father. In the ancient world, crown princes were expected to go out and fight on behalf of their fathers. They were expected to be generals and leaders. John by identifying Christ as the Son of God, is saying that the Crown Prince of Heaven has stepped onto the battle field. Christ has come to fight His Father’s battles.

John continues to point to Jesus as God. He even directs his disciples to follow after Jesus. In this case, one these two disciples was Andrew, who immediately went and found his brother Simon, whom Christ would call Peter. The other disciple was perhaps the Apostle John. That would explain how John knew about these events. But the text does not state this, so we cannot be certain.

We live at a time when many want to deny that God became flesh and dwelt among man, as one of us. Yet, as we see from our text, Christ is God and man. This is crucial for us, as Christ came to die for our sins. He had to be one of us to do that. He had to be a man. And indeed, Scripture clearly teaches that this is the case. Like always, the correct, the orthodox, doctrine always points to our salvation as a free gift from God. The false doctrine, the heresy, points us to ourselves and our own works. The false doctrine denies what Christ has done for us. Considering that it is our eternal salvation that is at stake, it is important to get this right. Jesus Christ became a man, and as one of us, died on the cross for our salvation. We rise to life just as Christ rose from the grave. That’s why we must get this right.

Sermon for January 22-23, 2011

Life Sunday
January 22-23, 2011
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Dear Friends in Christ,
Life Sunday comprises a number of things that are hard to compact into a sermon. First you have the reality of sin. In our world today this must be explained, it cannot be assumed that people understand what sin is. Then you have the whole business of repentance and forgiveness. Then we have role of the Christian in society and the doctrine of the two kingdoms. Each of these could encompass several hours of study. They are all, difficult to express and prone to much error. But we do not have hours today. So we will press on and see if we can’t digest this all successfully.

Jeremiah was a prophet sent to give a warning. In chapter 4 for example we find the prophecy of the coming of the Babylonians. Jeremiah warns that those who say all is well are false prophets who stand under God’s wrath. We must take those words to heart today as well. God is the author of life. He creates each human being in His own image. Even after the flood, God tells Noah that man is forbidden to kill man, because man is created in God’s image. In this sense the image of God continues in man after the fall into sin. That life begins when God creates it, in the womb of the mother. That child, from the moment of conception exists in the image of God. It exists because God created that life for a purpose known only to him. My sister Sandy lived just 10 painful years, before succumbing pneumonia and emphysema caused by Cystic Fibrosis. I cannot say what God intended for her life. But she lived the years God gave her. His purpose was fulfilled. He brought into this world and He took her out of it. That is the way God intends it. Abortion, on the other hand, is man taking a life and ending it before God’s time. It is in short, a form of murder, just as much as what Jared Loughner did in Tucson. We don’t want to deal with that reality, but that is what is. Just because our countries make it legal, doesn’t make it right. Fornication is legal as well. That is not right either.

In our society, many other sins are under attack. We see a full frontal assault being waged against those who would dare to call homosexuality a sin. But we dare not change the word of God. Both Old and New Testament speak of homosexuality as sinful.
One might look to Romans 1: “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27)

One of the common errors of our day is see all sins the same. Sadly, even our catechism fosters this idea. They are all the same in that they destroy faith and lead to damnation. This is true. But their earthly consequences are not equal. Some sins are according to nature and other sins are contrary to nature. The ones that are contrary to nature are the more devastating. Women are hard wired to be mothers. It is natural that they desire children and have great love for their children, that they protect their children. Abortion violates that very nature. Many of the women who have abortions are devastated by it. They live a life of horrible pain. Guilt and despondency from abortion destroys a vast number of lives in the United State each year.

Homosexuality is part and parcel of the culture of death in two ways. First, it is a rejection of our God given procreative function. God commands humanity to this day, to be fruitful and multiply. We have lived far too long the shadow the myth of over population. Obviously two men or two women can’t make a baby. Secondly, homosexuality greatly reduces life expectancy. A study collected data from obituaries in the Homosexual Times, a Washington D.C. gay newspaper. They found that male homosexuals who did not die of A.I.D.S. had and average age at death of about 41. Those who did die of A.I.D.S. had and average age at death of about 37. The age of heterosexuals who had obituaries in the same news paper was about 72. And of course if we broaden that to general national averages, life expectancy is about 80. So homosexuality in males cuts life about in half. As one writer grimly quipped, homosexuality is not a life style, it’s a death style. Perhaps God knew some things when He said that homosexuality is a sin.

So, how does the Church respond to individuals committing these sins? Pastorally. Now what does that mean? It means using the tools God has given us. It also means treating one sinner at a time. One might need God’s law rammed down their throat. The next might need to be ever so gently nudged by the law over a period of time. But as we know, no one is saved by the power of the law. The law cannot save. It condemns us all. It always accuses us of our sins. So the most the law can do is show the sin and teach us what God’s will is. The real power to deal with this comes in Holy Absolution. The law is a tool to bring a person to the point where they confess their sins. With confession ought to come a desire to amend our sinful lives. This is true for all of us, for all sins. But we have no power, on our own, to do this. Christ forgives us our sins. This is declared in the Absolution spoken by the pastor. Particularly in private confession, where a particular sin is absolved, this can be a powerful tool. We know with absolute certainty that the sin is gone, forever. It has been forgiven, on earth and in heaven, before the Church and before Christ. Then with the sin behind us, Christ living in us, empowers us to amend our lives. What do we do when the same person comes back with the same sin. We do it all over again. Some, though they hate their sins and greatly desire to amend their lives, can never do it. Some we may need to offer greater assistance and counsel. But Absolution is never denied because a sin was repeated. It is only denied when people are unrepentant. The Absolution is God’s gift, given to the Church, to deal with abortion, homosexuality and all the sins of the culture of death.

The Church exists to preach God’s law and Gospel to sinners. We are here to convict hearts and absolve sins. We are not here to change the world. But the individual Christian is to speak and act for that which is just and right. We are to take our understanding of right and wrong into the public square. In our society we have been given a sacred trust in the right to vote. As Christians we should consider well the position of the candidates on a whole list of issues. Life issues are among the most important, for they have an effect on so many other matters. For too long life issues flew under the radar. Did you know that every president from Herbert Hoover through Jimmy Carter, with the possible exception of John Kennedy, was pro abortion? George H. W. Bush was a pro abortion activist in congress who suddenly become pro life to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate. Both Bush wives were pro abortion. Who knows what influence they had. That’s how we got where are today. Likewise, with the matter of homosexuality. We don’t want rampant discrimination or any such thing. But we also don’t want laws that amount to societal approval either. Nor can we accept laws that would muzzle the church or the church’s military chaplains. If this were to come pass, as it has in Canada and several European countries, civil disobedience would be required of us.

We live in a time when the culture of death has grown large around us. We must speak to it. Yet, we must speak as the Church. We must speak law and Gospel. As the Church, we seek repentance and Absolution. We seek to make people citizens of heaven. As individual citizens who have many rights in this society, we seek use that power to select leaders who embrace life and reject death. And yet, as we do this, we must remember that Christ died for all sins, even these. Even mass murderers sometimes later come to faith in Christ and end up in heaven. And that should be our most important desire for those caught up in the culture of death.

Sermon for January 15-16, 2011

The First Sunday After the Epiphany - The Baptism of Our Lord
January 15-16, 2011
Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
The Baptism of our Lord is one of the two events that frame the season of Epiphany. The other is the Transfiguration. This is a season that is needed more than ever. For is a season that is dedicated to the proposition that a man if revealed to be God. In this it is the opposite if the Christmas, the season that precedes it. For Christmas is dedicated to the proposition that God is revealed to be a man. The coming of the Magi, serves as the hinge. They mark then end of the time when we focus on God becoming flesh. They focus us on the idea of this infant as King. And this sets the stage for Christ’s public ministry in which He revealed as fact all that the shepherds and Magi had seen and proclaimed.

Matthew records a curious exchange between Jesus and John. John doesn’t want to baptize Jesus. In fact he suggests that he cannot baptize Jesus. This goes to the relationship of the two men. They were cousins. We don’t know what degree of cousins, but probably second or third cousins. Their mothers were cousins, so they were not first cousins. John knew who Jesus was. He had known this from infancy. He is a prophet. The Holy Spirit had revealed this to John. Beyond this, we don’t know a great deal. Jesus would have likely been disciples to a rabbi. Perhaps that was John. It would seem most likely. In the Gospel of John, the Baptist states that One who comes after him is greater than him. John could be making a reference to Jesus being one of his disciples. But the reference is not clear and could be taken more than one way. In any event, Matthew makes it clear that these two men knew one another. John knew that this was the Christ. He knew that this was Holy God. He knew that this was the One who would unleash the fire of the Holy Spirit to purify the believers and consume the unbelievers. This is why John said that Jesus should baptize him. In this John is saying that He is a sinner who also had to be made holy. He is also saying that Jesus is the One who make him holy. Yet, Jesus is asking to be baptized by John.

What is Baptism? Is this the same as Baptism today? Baptism is simply a ritually washing. This is the meaning of the word. The Jews Baptized all sorts of things including animals. It is not a literal washing. It is a symbolic washing. Now we want to dance around that word symbolic very carefully. In this case we are talking about a symbol that conveys what it symbolizes. We could call this an empowered symbol. So it is not a literal washing but a ritual where water is applied to something. This symbolizes that it is being washed clean in some deeper way. And in baptism, there is a very real, deeper washing. Human baptism was common among the Jews. It was normally done when a pagan converted to Judaism. They were said to be reborn. Water is understood to symbolize the womb. They often took a new name - a Jewish name. This has created no end of confusion for us today. Often when we read about people in this era, men with Greek names were born Jews and men with Jewish names were converts! They were baptized because this was understood to show that God now had washed them clean. They are washed and reborn to now live in the presence of God.

Baptism always carried with it the idea of being washed clean of sin. So Baptism was used in another way. It was often used as a ritual of repentance. When one had committed some terrible sin, they would be baptized for repentance. This would show that they were again clean before God.

Now Christ is God. He is Holy. He is sinless. So to what is Christ being reborn? He is being reborn as a sinner. It is just as St. Paul explains: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Christ, at His Baptism, is beginning His work of redemption by taking our sins upon Himself. In this way, all righteousness would be fulfilled. We would be counted as righteous before God’s judgement, because Christ took our sins upon Himself and paid the price of those sins. And what do we hear when Christ comes out of the water? “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It pleases God the Father that the Son has taken our sins upon Himself. The Trinity speaks and acts in total unity.

This then for us, means that we can trust in our Baptism. We can take comfort in our Baptism. One of the problems for modern Christians is that we reduce our trust in God to vague and nebulous forms. We have sort of a general trust that isn’t very specific or and does mean very much. Rather, we are to place our trust in the things that God gives us. One of those things is Baptism. In the water, we are united with Christ. We come out of the water alive and clean, because Christ came out covered with our dirt, and died in our place. Baptism alone accomplishes this great exchange of places. This is why we clearly teach that one cannot be saved apart from baptism. There might be the odd occasion where someone dies before they are baptized. And certainly we would trust in the grace of God that they are indeed saved. But one cannot reject Baptism and be saved. So one can be can be saved before they are Baptized, but they cannot be saved outside of Baptism. Pastor Ron Mueller and I have sometimes spoken in this way. Some things are necessary and some things absolutely necessary. Baptism is necessary for salvation. On the other hand, Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, would be examples of something that is absolutely necessary for salvation. Since Baptism is a direct act of Christ, wherein He gets right into the water with us, we can and must trust in these holy waters. Here in the water, is Salvation. We need look no further than that.

Christ came to John to be Baptized. He entered the Jordan River to take our sins upon Himself. He makes Himself the scapegoat for our sins. Then, out in the wilderness He declares His power to overcome them. In this we can place our trust. For Christ, in entering the water, makes it a holy water that now cleanses us from sin. It does this not just once, but it is an ongoing flood of cleansing that makes us pure and holy each and every day. In this way Baptism becomes one of the physical, tangible means through which God acts. It becomes a place where we can trust. We can’t look up into the heavens. But we can, each day, look into the water, and there see Christ, our Savior.

Newsletter January 2011

From the Disk of the Pastor January 2011

Dear Friends in Christ,
Jesus said, “Martha, Martha you are anxious and troubled about many things...” They are familiar words. And indeed this was in many ways a wary Christmas, and a scary new year. We are troubled by many things. We have a weak president. His weakness continues to get us into ever greater problems. The economy is in shambles, unemployment and gasoline prices both keep rising, government spending is spinning out of control, and gross immorality is being promoted on official levels. Conflict drags on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and Korea remain volatile. For all that we know, 2011 could be the first year of World War III. We have in place the kind of weak leadership, in all too many places, that leads to conflicts. Many of us also are struggling on a personal level with finances, health, and other matters.

In addition to all this, there is rising persecution of Christian beliefs in our own country, which in theory is supposed to allow freedom of religious teaching and practice. With the laws passed regarding homosexuals in the military it is unclear if chaplains will still be allowed to teach what the Bible says. The LCMS, Roman Catholic Church, and numerous other bodies may be forced to withdraw their chaplains from the military. The ultimate goal of homosexual activists is to make it illegal for anyone, anywhere, to say that homosexuality is a sin. They have achieved this in Canada and yes, pastors have been fined and put in jail for teaching the Word of God. In Europe this is pretty standard in most countries, including historically Lutheran countries. In fact men have even faced reprisals for publically opposing women’s ordination in some Scandinavian countries.

So we are living in a Martha time. It is time when things are not good. It is a time when there is much fear. Consider what a major war would mean. And do not do this in general terms. Think of one person, perhaps a young person at church, a grandchild, child, so forth. It’s easy for me because I can think of those I’ve recently confirmed. That one person, if they are healthy, would have to go war. There would be no choice. While war is a necessary thing in a sin filled world, we don’t want war. We don’t want that young person to have to go to war. We don’t want them injured or killed. And we don’ t want them to have to kill others. Even though it might be a soldier’s office before God to kill the enemy, it is still a terrible thing.

Christ has something to say to us. It is just what He said to Martha. There is one thing needful. That one thing is the Word of God. God’s Word speaks to us in all times, all situations. He reminds us in His Word that He is genuinely in control. In II Kings 6 a young man thought they were about to be overwhelmed by the enemy. But then his eyes were opened and he saw that there was a host of angels between them and the enemy. We also need to be ever reminded of this. Whatever this year brings, Christ and His hosts are with us. We learn that in God’s Word. So this year, 2011, above all else needs to be a year of God’s Word. That, for us, is the one thing needful.
Rev. Jody 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.