Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Is Reformation Necessary?

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Simon and Jude, Apostles
October 28, 2012
Today we celebrate as Reformation Day. The Reformation is a big deal to us. But why? In a sense, the Reformation is an odd thing. The Holy Christian Church is truly the one, universal Church. Why is it that some church bodies have a celebration of reformation while others don’t? That doesn’t seem to speak very well to unity in the Church. We wholeheartedly celebrate the unity of the Christian Church even as we celebrate the Reformation. So why is reformation necessary? Perhaps one way to look at this is to see what Mark is doing in the Gospel reading.

He starts off by saying that Jesus went to Jericho. In the very next sentence he tells us an event that occurred when Jesus was leaving Jericho. Wouldn’t you like to know what happened while Jesus was in the town? What we know is that we don’t need to know. We need to know what happened as He was leaving the town. The reason Mark tells it is because he is delivering Jesus to you. You need to know what occurred with Bartimaeus because that’s how Mark is delivering Jesus to you. And that’s what the Church does.

The Holy Christian Church delivers Jesus to people. When it doesn’t do that there’s something wrong. That’s why we have the Reformation. The Reformers weren’t saying that the Holy Christian Church was in error. Here is where we agree with all those who say that the Church doesn’t need reformation. The problem isn’t with the Church but with the people in it. In His infinite wisdom God chose to make up His holy, pure, universal Church with sinners. That’s what the Reformation was about, not attacking the Church, but rather the teachings that people in the Church were delivering to the people of God that directed them not toward God but toward themselves. The Church delivers Christ to people. When those within the Church deliver something else to them there’s a serious need for reformation.

The Holy Christian Church is not merely an organization. The Church is a living entity, the Communion of Saints. The Church is where we get the forgiveness of sins. This is not done generally but specifically. Mark tells us of Jesus moving out of Jericho with a great crowd. But it wasn’t the crowd Mark was interested in, it was this one particular individual who found himself on the side of the road. He was blind but could hear very well that Jesus was about to move on away from him. So he cried out.

What is it that the Church teaches us about who you are? You are dead in your sins. You are laying on the side of the road, blind and unable to get out of your condition. What is it that prompted Bartimaeus to cry out to Jesus? Was there something within him that moved him to approach Jesus? This is a remarkably frequent understanding of how one comes into a relationship with God. You must cry out to him. You must make the first move and then He will come to you.

What does Mark show us, though? Jesus was the one who came to Jericho. It’s very possible Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus before Jesus even came to Jericho. It’s also possible in the time, whether brief or a few days, that Jesus was in Jericho that word got around about this man who came into town with a large crowd on His heels. That Bartimaeus cried to Him as the Son of David shows us that Bartimaeus knew who He was. Even before Jesus passed by Bartimaeus Bartimaeus knew who this man was; the Son of David, the Messiah. This is how faith comes to a person, through the Word getting out and by hearing that Word. Even before Jesus passed by Bartimaeus Bartimaeus had heard. He had received the message that Jesus, the Savior, was here.

But he was laying there. Would he miss out? The cry of faith prevented that. He cried out to Jesus and even so he still seemed to be prevented from receiving from Jesus the help he needed. The crowd rebuked him. You need to stay silent. Here in this detail also Mark is showing us how he is delivering Jesus to you. The Word rings out and cannot be silenced. At the same time, the cry that goes out to God for mercy will be attempted by many to be squelched. The crowd wanted to leave Bartimaeus to his own wretched state. They tried to silence him.

What does faith do in this circumstance? It cries out all the more. It is fixed on Jesus, not on the pressing cries of silence. Jesus hears this cry. When all seems to go against you you cry out all the more to Jesus. He hears this and responds to it. That’s exactly what He did with Bartimaeus. “And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.’” Jesus called to that man in His wretched state. He didn’t demand anything of him in order be freed from his wretched state. He simply called him. He met Bartimaeus where he was at.

And so He does with you. The crowd that tried to silence him now spoke words that should remind you of the importance of reformation and why it is always necessary: “Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.” This is the message the Church must always make known. Take heart. Get up. He is calling you. When those in the Church tell you of what you must do in order to gain God’s favor reformation is needed. When those in the Church tell you that you aren’t in fact in a wretched state, that you aren’t by nature sinful and unclean, reformation is of utmost importance. When those in the Church tell you that you must be the one to come to God in order for Him to come to you, reformation is the order of the day. This is shown when Mark tells us what Jesus did for the man and what He said to him.

First, what did the man do when he heard the message that Jesus was calling him? “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” This is a picture of repentance. Repentance is so misunderstood, which is one of the reasons the Reformation happened and one of the reasons reformation continues to be necessary. Repentance is the work of God. We think of it as our work because we are the ones who turn, we repent. But when you repent you are not producing anything. And how could you? You are by nature sinful and unclean. How could you produce and accomplish the good work of repentance? You couldn’t just as Bartimaeus couldn’t. He was blind even as you are. Even though your eyes see you can’t find your way to heaven any more than Bartimaeus could have. When you throw off the cloak of your sinful nature and leave it behind and spring up and come to Jesus, this is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. Bartimaeus was given this ability to do this by Jesus Himself when He called Bartimaeus.

What did Jesus ask Him? And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Notice these words of Jesus to Bartimaeus. They are to Bartimaeus. There’s a throng around Him, there are multitudes of others who are in need, and yet Jesus’ words to this man are to this man specifically. “What do you want Me to do for you?” This is at the heart of the Reformation and of reformation as it continues in the Church. The ‘for you’ of the Gospel. Jesus died for the world and He died for you. Who is the one doing the for you? It is Jesus. The Reformers saw that there was entirely too much focus on what we must do to appease God and the ‘for you’ of the Gospel was getting pushed to the back. “What do you want Me to do for you?” The Gospel is always what Christ does for you and never what you do or must do for Him.

Because the Church is made up of sinners and sinners always carry around their sinful flesh it’s natural for us to take the words of Scripture and gravitate toward those words that seem to indicate that we must make some effort toward God in order to be saved. Bartimaeus cried out; Bartimaeus threw his cloak down and went to Jesus. Bartimaeus had faith. There’s no doubt these describe action on the part of Bartimaeus, a human and a sinner just like you and I are. The question is, how was he able to accomplish these actions? Of his own power? Of his own will? This is what many in the Church teach and this is the reason why reformation is still necessary.

Mark gives Bartimaeus’ answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Faith. When we confess the faith in the Creed, what do we do? We say, “I believe.” I believe in God, the Father Almighty. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I believe in the Holy Spirit. This is faith. When you believe in God, in salvation in Christ alone. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said to Bartimaeus that he had faith.

This is all well and good, but it’s so easily misunderstood by people in the Church. Why that is is because we’re all sinners. Sinners have their focus on themselves. So when the Word of God talks about us having faith, we jump up, ready to please God, and say, “Yes, I have faith! I believe in Jesus.” This is the kind of thing the Reformation sought to expose for what it is: idolatry. The Church exists to point people outside of themselves, not within themselves. You are not to come up with faith. Look to God for that. He is the one who gives you the very faith required of you.

The First Commandment demands it: You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should, fear, love, and trust in God above all things. So there you go, do that and your golden. The problem is when people in the Church actually impress that on people as if that’s something they can actually do! Try it. You will fail. You will not get pretty close, or do pretty well, or make a good effort of it. You will fail. And you will fail miserably. Because you are a poor, miserable sinner.

You must have faith but you do not have it. So how it is that you believe? You have faith, how? What do we confess in the meaning of the Third Article of the Creed? I believe that I cannot believe. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” This is what the Reformation is all about. It’s what the daily Christian life is all about. Jesus is delivered to you, you don’t go after Him.

When Jesus gave sight to Bartimaeus he followed Jesus on the way. Jesus was going the way of the cross. Jesus has since gone that way. He went to the cross. He accomplished salvation there, for the world, for you. He doesn’t go that way again, but the Church continues to go back to it, constantly proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners, for people in the Church and out. For everyone and for you. He still makes His way but it is not the way of the cross but rather is the way of being delivered directly to you in the Church. In the proclaimed Gospel He is delivered to you. In your Baptism He is delivered to you. In His Holy Supper He is delivered to you. Sinners are the ones who hear the Gospel proclaimed and who are Baptized and who eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all of their sins.

Reformation is always necessary because we are always in need of forgiveness. The unity of the Holy Christian Church is found not in Christians coming together and feeling good about each other or putting aside differences but rather in the observance and celebration of those means in which Jesus is delivered to them. Reformation is necessary because God loves you too much to leave you in your wretched state and so He calls you, He tells you to take heart, He delivers Jesus to you. Amen.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

In Body and Soul, Now and Forever

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2012
What do all these men have in common: Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Job? They were all patriarchs of the faith. They are paragons of faith. As the saints of old did, we look to these men as fathers in the faith; our Lord points us to them as examples of being His children. There were others in the Old Testament who are lifted up as saints as well that we should give thanks to God for: Hannah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Joshua, and countless others. These saints don’t quite have the status of those in the first list. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Job, there is one thing they have in common that at least in part accounts for that—they were fabulously wealthy. These men had it all. They were men in powerful positions, men who were highly honored, and along with that status, men of immense wealth. Why is this? Was there something special about them? Did they have stronger faith in God than most others?

There is an aspect of faith and the Christian life that there are strong Christians and weak Christians. Some are strong in their faith and others are struggling. Yet faith is faith. You either have it or you don’t. Weak or strong, a lot or a little, if you have faith you have faith. In terms of every human being being born in sin there was nothing more righteous about Abraham and David than there was about Hannah or Jeremiah or your average believer in God in the Old Testament. We, like they were, are saved solely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not our own.

But think about those men the Bible holds up as saints par excellence. Is it just a coincidence that they were wealthy beyond compare? Or is there no correlation to their having extraordinary wealth and their being in a category unlike every other believer in God in the Old Testament?

The disciples in the Gospel reading may very well have been thinking along these lines. A couple of these men Jesus called to be His apostles actually had wealth of their own when Jesus called them. Even so, their wealth in no way compared to the likes of Abraham or King David. Most likely, it didn’t come close to the man who had just walked away from Jesus in great sadness because he had great wealth. What prompted this sadness was Jesus’ call to him to sell all he had and follow Him. Now Jesus is telling His disciples that it’s nearly impossible for a rich person to get into heaven. Accurate or not, in the minds of the disciples there likely was a direct correlation between the riches of Abraham, David, and company and their status as saints par excellence; as paragons of the faith. Now this wealthy, upstanding follower of God comes to Jesus and upon leaving Jesus Jesus declares to the disciples that it’s nearly impossible for the wealthy to enter into eternal life? The disciples were seeing a major disconnect with what they saw the Old Testament teaching them and what Jesus now was teaching them.

They were astonished at Jesus’ words. If what you’re saying is true, Jesus, then who can be saved? It wasn’t that they thought that these men were wealthy and therefore God blessed them with eternal life. It was the notion that these men were men of great faith, ones who obeyed the Law of God, and therefore God rewarded them and blessed them. There’s no more obvious way of seeing this than of being endowed with fabulous wealth. The man who came up to Jesus was so endowed and so when he in all sincerity responded to Jesus that he had kept the commandments of God from his youth the disciples were not surprised. Here was a man who was abundantly blessed with wealth. And of course, he was an outstanding example himself of what a believer in God should be.

If we’re looking for resolution from Jesus on this matter of the correlation between wealth and being blessed by God then we’ll likely be disappointed. Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question of who can be saved is simply, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” They’re thinking, if this man has little hope of salvation, what hope do the rest of us have? And perhaps that’s what prompted Peter’s rationale to Jesus: “See, we have left everything and followed you.” We may not be wealthy, we may not be in the same league as Abraham and David and the rich man who just walked away, but we have given up all we have. You just called that man to sell all he had and follow you, and we have done something of the sort. We’ve put everything of value to us behind us and have put you in front of us so that we may live our lives in submission to you.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Jesus had made clear to them how someone, anyone, everyone, can be saved—with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. Salvation is in God alone. With you, dear disciples, with that man who just walked away, with Abraham, and David, and Moses, and everyone. There are no special blessings upon people because they are in any way more righteous or better or good in the sight of God. Salvation is in what God accomplishes alone. If only the disciples had realized that the way God does this was in the person who was standing before them telling them all of this. They would come in time to see this and believe it. For now they were as puzzled as ever, still caught up in their notions that they somehow had to do something, or live a certain way, or give up something, or accomplish certain good works, in order to gain salvation. This is exactly what the rich man had thought and he went away sad because he didn’t want to give up what he had in order to gain salvation. He didn’t see that salvation is by grace, not by doing something.

We spend far too much time quantifying things, far too much effort trying to determine what effort we must exert, far too much rationalizing what we have done that should matter as we stand before God. We are so much like the rich man. We are far too much like the disciples. For the record, we are so similar to Abraham, and Moses, and David, and all those men of renown who seem on such a higher plane than us. The news flash from Jesus is that we are all the same. We are in the same boat with every other person. There is no one who deserves anything from God, in this life or in eternity.

Thankfully, His news flash doesn’t end there. His main thing He has come to bring is Himself, and with Him you get it all. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” These are remarkable words from God Himself, God in the flesh. He laid aside His glory to serve. He came not just to help but to accomplish. His serving took the form of suffering in the place of every person, high status or low. The call He gives to each of His children is that, yes, when the rubber hits the road, God comes before your mom and dad, your brother and sister, your valuables, your life. If you hold on to those with the notion that you truly can’t live without them you have already lost them because you can’t hang on to them for eternity.

We truly leave all and cling to Christ alone. That’s a stunning statement, but not so much in comparison with what He says comes next. What we leave behind is everything we have. What we get in return is so much more. His words are clear, we do not live in this life waiting for the all the blessings to come to us in heaven. Even now He blesses us. We “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” When you are in the Church, you are in a new family, God’s family. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are your spiritual family, but you don’t have to wait until heaven to receive this gift from God.

The blessing upon receiving the Lord’s Supper captures this nicely: The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual meal, no doubt. But its blessings are for your body and soul. Not just your soul, your body as well. His blessings to you are not just for the life to come but also for now in this time. He blesses you in body and soul, now and forever. Amen.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Commemoration of Luke, Evangelist

St. Luke, the beloved physician referred to by St. Paul (Colossians 4:14), presents us with Jesus, whose blood provides the medicine of immortality. As his traveling companion, Paul claimed Luke’s Gospel as his own for its healing of souls (Eusebius). Luke traveled with Paul during the second missionary journey, joining him after Paul received his Macedonian call to bring the Gospel to Europe (Acts 16:10–17). Luke most likely stayed behind in Philippi for seven years, rejoining Paul at the end of the third missionary journey in Macedonia. He traveled with Paul to Troas, Jerusalem, and Caesarea, where Paul was imprisoned for two years (Acts 20:5–21:18). While in Caesarea, Luke may have researched material that he used in his Gospel. Afterward, Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:1–28:16). Especially beloved in Luke’s Gospel are the stories of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), and the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). Only Luke provides a detailed account of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:1–20) and the canticles of Mary (Luke 1:46–55), of Zechariah (Luke 1:68–79), and of Simeon (Luke 2:29–32). To show how Christ continued His work in the Early Church through the apostles, Luke also penned the Acts of the Apostles. More than one-third of the New Testament comes from the hand of the evangelist Luke. [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008). Treasury of Daily Prayer. Concordia Publishing House. ]

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul.  Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Commemoration of Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ's bodily presence in the Lord's Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church. [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, we praise Your name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr. He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jesus Loves You. How Does He Love You?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2012
If it were enough to say that Jesus loves you every sermon would need only be as long as it takes to state that fact. And maybe some people would be happy about that. It can be tough to listen to sermons week after week as they unpack the message of Jesus’ love for people. If all we needed was to know the fact that God loves us His message to us wouldn’t have needed to be in form of the Bible. A post-it note from heaven or a text message from God would have been sufficient: Dear people whom I have created, I love you.

There’s one problem with this: it’s not true. It’s not actual real true love. If God truly loved us He wouldn’t just tell us that. Love is not simply stated, it is acted upon. It’s not really just showing love either. It’s actually loving the person. You can tell someone you love them. You can even give them signs of your professed love for them. But to actually love them, well, that must come from actually loving them.

The only way that is done is to put yourself in the background and the other person in the foreground. True love sacrifices for the other person. Actual, real love serves the other person when there is absolutely no reason on the part of the person for being loved. If you tell someone you love them but you don’t actually love them you are not actually loving them. You may be able in some way to explain it as something good, but it’s not love.

In the Gospel reading there’s a man who comes up to Jesus and we learn what exactly God means, not what it means when He says He loves us, but what it means that He actually loves us. Jesus was continuing on a journey. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John there are recorded many instances of Jesus teaching and preaching, of healing and helping, of interacting with people, and here is one of those. It seems a bit as if the world has stopped because Jesus is intent on continuing His journey. His journey is a goal that this man and pretty much everyone else is oblivious to. The disciples should know at this point but they are a lot like we are and do not have a clue as to what Jesus is actually up to when He does what He does. Here in today’s Gospel reading when He is continuing on on His journey it’s not that He’s just saying, “Okay, time to go somewhere else and do more ministry.” He’s making His way to the cross. He knows where He’s going and this is the context of His love for this man when it appears that the man is detracting Jesus from His journey to the cross. But no, Jesus loves this man and so He stops just as He’s ready to resume His journey to the cross.

In our English language the word ‘love’ is used in so many ways it may seem a clash of our understanding in how it is that Jesus loved this man when we see how He responded to him. The man runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him, and asks his question. Even in his question we see what would seem to be respect for Jesus, calling Jesus ‘Good teacher’. Jesus seems to take him to task for addressing Him that way: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” But giving no chance to respond to that Jesus then goes into His list of things the man requests: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

It’s not until the man responds to this that Mark tells us that Jesus loved this man. But we don’t need to be told this to know that Jesus loved him. We know this because of what Mark has already told us. Jesus was on His journey to the cross. He was making His way to the place where He would suffer and die for this man’s sin. That’s not how much Jesus loved him it’s simply how He loved him. The man came to Jesus asking Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. The word ‘inherit’ in the original is probably better understood as “How can I come to share in eternal life?” What can I do so that I am in possession of eternal life?

The great irony here that was lost on him but not on Jesus was that there was nothing he could do but he was asking the person who was heading to the place where He Himself would be accomplishing what was needed for this man to be in full possession of eternal life. He was asking this ‘good teacher’ not realizing he was asking the very God of heaven who came to earth so that the man could gain heaven. This is how Jesus loved this man. This shows that Jesus truly loved this man. He was attempting to gain heaven through the Law while Jesus was journeying to the place where He would deliver this man from the Law. He was seeking heaven by what he could do when he was talking to the person who would give him heaven purely by grace, not by anything he would do but rather by what Jesus Himself would do.

But putting the best construction on things, the man was likely sincere in his declaration to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Jesus had just rattled off the entire Second Table of the Law, the Fourth Commandment, the Fifth Commandment, and so on, all the way through the Tenth Commandment. Haven’t murdered anyone. Haven’t been unfaithful to my wife. Haven’t stolen anything. Etc. And this guy probably was a very good guy. He was probably the kind of guy you would want for a neighbor. So in all sincerity he could say to Jesus, “Jesus, I know about the commandments. I’ve been keeping them. There’s got to be more. What am I still missing?”

This is where Mark inserts his comment that Jesus looked at this man and loved him. The question for us today is, how did Jesus love him? Well, Mark answers that: Jesus said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus could have pointed out to the man that he had in fact not kept all those commandments he had been certain he had kept. Jesus could have pointed out to him that there was that whole other table of the Law, the First Table, with essential things such as having no other gods and not misusing the name of the Lord God and remembering the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. But Jesus truly loved this man. He wasn’t going to play games with him. He wasn’t going to get into an argument with him or even a friendly philosophical discussion with him.

He was going to love him. And if you want to know how Jesus loves a person look at what Jesus said to the man: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” How does Jesus love people? How does He love you? It’s easy for us as Christians to go straight to the cross, it’s there where Jesus loves us. It’s there where He shows His love and demonstrates His love. That’s true. There’s no doubt about it, at the cross you see Jesus’ love being carried out. So when we talk about how Jesus loves, yes, we go to the cross.

I guess the question becomes, how do we go about going to the cross? Jesus answers that as well. As we saw, Mark was telling us that Jesus was heading that way. He was on His way to the cross. Along the way He didn’t put blinders on. He didn’t stop people short, “Sorry, no time for teaching or miracles, on My way to the cross where I will accomplish salvation for all of you.” In this particular instance He shows us how all-encompassing His love for us actually is. When the guy says that he has kept all the commandments from His youth, one gets the sense that there must be something more. In his confidence of keeping the commandments he is far from confident that he has done all that is needed. It happens that even what he has claimed isn’t that case. Far from showing us how good of a standing we have with God, the Ten Commandments show us how far we have fallen short of what God wills.

The statement the man makes is true only if it is spoken by the man he is speaking to. This is how God loves us, He in fact has kept all these commandments from His youth. He alone has accomplished all that the Law requires, knowing that we have not. Before bringing us to the cross Jesus must first shatter any illusions we have that we can somehow do something or be a certain way in order to obtain eternal life. If this doesn’t seem like love it’s because to our sinful flesh it’s an assault on us. But that is the very thing that shows us that this is true love from Jesus. He assaults our sinful flesh so that it doesn’t end up winning out over us and we end up in eternal death.

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” To this man before him, Jesus was showing him that he really had nothing. All his possessions would come to nothing. Treasure in heaven not only surpasses all earthly treasure it lasts forever. Jesus didn’t want this guy’s money. He didn’t even want him not to have it. What Jesus wanted was the man. He loved him so much that He would do whatever was necessary to save the man. The man couldn’t be saved if he got in the way. His basic problem, his sin that got in the way of him being in possession of eternal life, was not money, or even greed, or arrogance. His basic problem was breaking the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. Jesus needed to lead this man to the cross. To do that He had to show him his need for the cross.

You know Jesus loves you. How He loves you is by accomplishing everything needed for you to share in eternal life. You don’t need to wonder if there is ever more to be done or if you have done enough. He has kept every commandment you have failed to and has suffered in your place for those very failings and faults. This is how He loves you. He goes to the cross. He brings you along with Him in Baptism where you are crucified with Him and you are given eternal life. Amen.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Commemoration of Philip, Deacon

Philip, also called the Evangelist (Acts 21:8), was one of the seven men appointed to assist in the work of the twelve Apostles and of the rapidly growing early church by overseeing the distribution of food to the poor (6:1–6). Following the martyrdom of Stephen, Philip proclaimed the Gospel in Samaria and led Simon the Sorcerer to become a believer in Christ (8:4–13). He was also instrumental in bringing about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26–39), through whom Philip became indirectly responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people on the continent of Africa. In the town of Caesarea he was host for several days to the Apostle Paul, who stopped there on his last journey to Jerusalem (21:8–15). [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, we give thanks to You for Your servant Philip the Deacon. You called him to preach the Gospel to the peoples of Samaria and Ethiopia. Raise up in this and every land messengers of Your kingdom, that Your Church may proclaim the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Commemoration of Abraham, Patriarch

Abraham (known early in his life as Abram) was called by God to become the father of a great nation (Genesis 12). At the age of 75 and in obedience to God's command, he, his wife Sarah, and his nephew Lot moved southwest from the town of Haran to the land of Canaan. There God established a covenant with Abraham (15:18), promising the land of Canaan to his descendants. At the age of 100 Abraham and Sarah were finally blessed with Isaac, the son long promised to them by God. Abraham demonstrated supreme obedience when God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. God spared the young man's life only at the last moment and provided a ram as a substitute offering (22:1–19). Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased earlier as a burial site for Sarah. He is especially honored as the first of the three great Old Testament Patriarchs—and for his “righteousness before God through faith” (Romans 4:1–12). [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Lord God, heavenly Father, You promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, You led him to the land of Canaan, and You sealed Your covenant with him by the shedding of blood. May we see in Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, the promise of the new covenant of Your Holy Church, sealed with Jesus' blood on the cross and given to us now in the cup of the new testament; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ready, Aim… Engage!

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Pastor
October 7, 2012
The writer of the book of Hebrews gives this warning in today’s Epistle reading: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” When he was the dean of Duke University Chapel, William Willimon on one occasion got up into the pulpit said something along the lines of, “We now do something not often done today, we go to ancient book and read from it.” While there are brilliant people in the world and profound insights are put forth in our day and age, when we gather here we do something that the culture often ignores—we read from an ancient book.

That’s what Pastor Willimon was there for for those students. It’s what the Church continues to be for for us. Each Sunday we go to an ancient book and hear from it. The Bible is thought by some to be just another ancient book with no more relevance to us today than any other ancient book. We know differently. We hear the words from the Bible as the very word of God. The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us plainly, we need to pay attention, note how he says it, to what we have heard. Not what was written, not even what was spoken—what was heard. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. The Holy Spirit brings faith to us through this act that is really not an act on our part at all, for we are the receivers. He is the giver, the one doing the action. He does it by speaking. We hear the Word of God. We must continue to do so or we will drift away from it.

So if the world thinks us foolish in hearing the Word of God proclaimed, we will continue to revel in our foolishness and hear what He proclaims to us. Today’s Gospel reading is an important confluence of teachings that speaks to each of us here today, to how we interact with the culture, and to how we are taught by our Lord Himself that doctrine is not doctrine for doctrine’s sake but rather that it all works together in a holistic way. Specific doctrines do not stand on their own but interact with each other.

The best way to hear our Lord is to submit to Him and take His words to heart. The Pharisees came to Jesus in the opposite way. They wanted to trap Him. So many people in the world come at Jesus already with their minds made up that He’s wrong. To those people Jesus will do what is necessary to call them to repentance. So Jesus’ answer to them is not what we might expect. He directs them to the Bible, yes, but in such a way in which they think that they have been successful, where they can use the Bible to back up what they want.

The Pharisees test Jesus on the matter of divorce. It so happens that an allowance for divorce is in there. That is, the Bible. There you go, Jesus, we got You. If You say divorce is wrong, well, You’re going against the Word of God, aren’t You? And if you say it’s right, well, you’re just giving a green light to married couples to ditch each other at their convenience. So we gotcha. They quote the relevant passage, the one Jesus asks them about, and it’s clearly there before Jesus: the Scriptures say that you can divorce.

Now Jesus shows them how to rightly interpret the Scriptures. It’s true it says that, right there in the Bible. But look again at what today’s Old Testament reading is from. It’s from Genesis, not Deuteronomy, where the Pharisees quoted from. It’s from Genesis, where Jesus quoted from. These two aren’t in contradiction of each other, they’re both fully the Word of God. But why did Moses allow for divorce? Because of your hardness of heart. That’s what Jesus says to the Pharisees. Because of your hardness of heart. Not, “Well, you see Moses did that because of the Israelites’ hardness of heart.” It is yours and that is what you rest on.

Not on the creation and design of marriage in the first place which God gave to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. This is what Jesus quotes from Genesis: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That was the quotation from Genesis, now listen to what Jesus says in regard to this: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” That’s quite a bit different than allowing for divorce. God created marriage for our blessing, how dare we go against His design and will by separating what He has joined together.

Here is where we learn how this ancient book speaks to us today; to us as well as the culture. These are the kinds of things that many in the culture and many of us won’t want to hear. One way to deal with this would be to not deal with it so as not to turn people away. A much better way though is to deal with it in a way in which we can show people that God’s way is a truly great way. Today’s Gospel reading deals with at least two major issues the culture is dealing with, marriage and family. The Gospel reading also deals with at least two major issues that the Church is dealing with and that it should engage the culture with, the Word of God and Baptism.

The Pharisees started this whole thing off by asking Jesus about divorce. After their exchange with Jesus the disciples follow up on the matter, asking Him about it. The difference is that the Pharisees asked Jesus about it for the purpose of testing Him, to try to trap Him in His words. The disciples simply asked. There are many people in the culture who will come at us as the Pharisees did Jesus. But there are also those who have all kinds of questions as the disciples did. Notice how Jesus’ response was different to each group. It’s not that His answer was different. But the way He responded was in correlation to how they approached Him in asking Him.

We need to do so as the writer of Hebrews exhorts, to pay attention to what we have heard. We need to do so as the disciples did, asking our questions of the Lord and seeking what He gives us rather than having our minds made up at the outset.

Too often the culture will come at the Christian Church in this way. Too often our response is something along the lines of “ready, aim, fire!” We set our sights on those who attack marriage as being one man and one woman, as God designed it, and we fire away. You can be totally right in what you say, but so often what you say is not heard because of how it’s said. Rather than firing away at the culture, it’s often better to engage the culture. Instead of “ready, aim, fire!”, we should make much more of an effort of “ready, aim, engage!”

We’ve already seen how to be ready. We pay closer attention to what we have heard. We need to be in the Word ourselves, we need to hear it proclaimed, we need to receive our Lord’s gifts in His Holy Supper. It’s so easy for us to condemn the culture when our own house often is not in order. While we lament the breakdown in society of marriage as one man and woman and the belittling of the importance of family, how are we treating one another in our own households? Do we cherish our own spouse? Do we honor our own father and mother? Do we treat our children, our siblings, our spouses with respect and love and honor? Do we seek to serve each other in our home? Are we content and grateful for the spouse and children and siblings God has given us or do we covet what others have?

God gets us ready by first taking aim at us. He does that with His Law and you can see that in how Jesus addresses the Pharisees. If you want to live by the Law then that is what you will get from Jesus. And His Law will point out to you your hardness of heart. You can see it in His indignance with the disciples as they attempted to prevent the children from coming to Him. The Hammer of God’s Law swings down hard and woe to us if we only see it as needing to come down hard on the culture. We must first get our own house in order, we first must be the ones to repent. In this we then hear and pay attention to the light as a feather yoke He places upon us, the glorious Gospel. The forgiveness of every sin we commit against our family and against those in the world. He forgives, period. Of our sins, of our sinfulness.

He then prepares us for engaging the culture. This is where the ‘aim’ in ready, aim, engage comes in. Simply speaking the truth to the culture doesn’t necessarily do the trick. We need to aim at the culture, not for the purpose of blasting away at it but for the purpose of applying Law and Gospel to the specific things they say and the specific struggles they have with the teaching of the Word of God. Do they have honest questions or concerns? Firing away at them with condemnations and proclamations of pure doctrine wouldn’t exactly put them in a mood to listen to that pure doctrine. Are they simply confused because they have heard well meaning Christians explain the truth of God’s Word in a way that wasn’t clear or that was inaccurate? Blasting them out for their misconceptions wouldn’t exactly put them in the mindset of wanting to hear what God’s Word really has to say. Are they indeed antagonistic? Perhaps patiently and calmly responding to them will get their attention more so than ourselves going for the jugular. The aim part takes work. It means listening to others and recognizing what they say and acknowledging its importance to them.

This leads into the third part, engaging them. Instead of firing way at the culture we can engage the culture. We have something to offer them they can’t get from the culture! Whatever people think of the Word of God it speaks to every human and their deepest needs. When we are treating our own family members with love and honor people notice that and we are able to show them the blessings God has intended in marriage and family. When we sin against one another we can also show the blessings that come from confessing our sins to each other and forgiving each other.

It may seem like what Mark tells us next in the Gospel reading is a different topic but it’s really what flows out of marriage. When people were bringing children to Jesus they were doing what is characteristic of what happens in the Church. We are brought to the Lord. That is, we don’t come to Him of our own accord. This happens in Baptism. In Baptism we are blessed by Jesus and given the Kingdom of God. This is why it’s so important that, even as we take care of our children from the moment they are born and give to them what they need, we also give to them what they need spiritually. We bring our children to Jesus when we bring them to be Baptized. Just as babies are in need of physical care from the moment they’re born, so are they in need of spiritual care from the moment they’re born. That’s why we bring them to Jesus to be Baptized.

Just as our Lord has engaged us we are then set to go engage the culture. Just as our Lord came to us as a servant, even suffering and dying for us, we’re equipped to go to those in society with all their questions and problems and engage them with the Gospel. Just as we have been brought to our Lord in Baptism we can bring the Gospel to those in the culture. Ready, aim, engage! Amen.


Commemoration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Pastor

Moving from the Old World to the New, Muhlenberg established the shape of Lutheran parishes for America during a 45-year ministry in Pennsylvania. Born at Einbeck, Germany, in 1711, he came to the American colonies in 1742. A tireless traveler, Muhlenberg helped to found many Lutheran congregations and was the guiding force behind the first American Lutheran synod, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, founded in 1748. He valued the role of music in Lutheran worship (often serving as his own organist) and was also the guiding force in preparing the first American Lutheran liturgy (also in 1748). Muhlenberg is remembered as a church leader, a journalist, a liturgist, and—above all—a pastor to the congregation in his charge. He died in 1787, leaving behind a large extended family and a lasting heritage: American Lutheranism. [Commission on Worship of the The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd of Your people, we give You thanks for Your servant Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who was faithful in the care and nurture of the flock entrusted to his care. So they may follow his example and the teaching of his holy life, give strength to pastors today who shepherd Your flock so that, by Your grace, Your people may grow into the fullness of life intended for them in paradise; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Daily Prayer: Learning to Hear

We first said of daily prayer simply that it is a daily thing. We talked of reading, and praying, the Psalms. We talked of how we can never exhaust what we need to learn of prayer than from the Lord’s Prayer and praying the Lord’s Prayer.

From this is the next thing we need to learn in daily prayer: hearing. Learn to be a hearer. Learn to listen. Learn not just to go at the Word and understand it but first of all to hear it and let it speak to you. When you read the Psalms learn also to hear them and to pray them. God is giving you what to hear and take to heart. Pray back to Him what He has spoken to you. In the Lord’s Prayer we have the same thing. For people like me who have been praying the Lord’s Prayer our whole life, it’s easy to speak it and not pray it in a way in which it is taken to heart. Before praying it, hear it. Listen to what your Lord is giving you to pray for.

There are many things getting in the way of us being hearers of God’s Word. In the worship service there are distractions. Even having the Readings printed out in the bulletin can get in the way of hearing the Word being read. Hearing takes concentration. Especially for those of us whose minds easily wander, it takes effort to listen.

But the main thing about being a hearer of the Word of God is not simply to listen intently. The main thing is to hear. That is, to be a recipient of the Word. As Romans 10 says, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. One can listen intently, and even comprehend perfectly, and nevertheless not be a hearer of the Word. Daily prayer flows out of hearing. Learn to be a hearer. Pray your Lord to give you ears to hear. That is, to hear with the ears of faith. He gives, you receive. He is the active agent, you are the passive recipient. Now you are in the position to pray.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Daily Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer

The first thing to say about daily prayer is to do it each day. Since we’ve already said that, the second thing perhaps to say is what the disciples said to the Lord: “Lord, teach us to pray.” And the thing that goes along with that is to do what our Lord has given us to do: pray the prayer He has taught us. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that encompasses everything for which we need to pray. There is nothing we need to pray for that is not addressed in the prayer our Lord has given us to pray.

Some people want to pray ‘from the heart’. It certainly is a good thing to do this and we are even given the invitation to do so by our Lord. There’s nothing in our heart we should keep from God. He knows what’s in our heart anyway, we certainly should lift it all up to Him in prayer. Praying from the heart, though, doesn’t have to mean praying only what we feel or think every time we pray. Praying what is on our Lord’s heart directs us in our praying from our own heart. We know the heart of God. He has shown us in His perfect prayer. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer He molds our heart to be as one with His.

Daily prayer is daily. It is also praying for what what our Lord desires us to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer we know what this is. Pray it. Meditate upon it. Thank God for it. Pray it by yourself. Pray it with your brother and sister Christians. Pray it with your family. If you don’t know what to pray for then you can know that you actually do know, as your Lord has shown you in His holy prayer.