Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Contentment is the secret of happiness. So said Prof. Marquart. This coming Sunday's pericopes warn against covetousness. The opposite of covetousness is contentment. We fallen humans are rarely content. I almost want to say never content, for it is impossible for this sinful flesh to ever be completely content with what it has been given. But God is good. He blesses us anyway. And sometimes we do have glimpses, all-too-fleeting though they be, of what it feels like to be content.

So here I am in the Pacific Northwest, my home stomping grounds, and if you've ever been to the Pacific Northwest, you know that the plentiful mountains flow with microbrewed milk and honey. Thus it was that my extended family and I found ourselves at the Oregon Brewers Festival at Portland's Waterfront Park on Sunday afternoon. It was a mild Portland afternoon, partly cloudy, not too hot, not too cold. I sat there with a frothy mug of ice cold pilsner, people watching, with the Willamette River in the background, and enjoying the company of my wife and the family we don't see nearly enough. There it was... contentment. I wanted nothing else. Life was as perfect as ever it could be. I could have sat there forever.

But contentment doesn't last long. Not this side of heaven and the eschaton. You see, on either side of the park during Brew Fest, there is a veritable forest of Honey Buckets, and they are not there without reason. The moment had passed. The pilsner had run its course. It was time to come back to earth. But for a short time, through a mirror darkly, I had a glimpse of the way things should be. As Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It is one of the few theological statements that old Ben got right. Thanks be to God for His love and for an afternoon that I will not soon forget.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


We're off to the great Pacific Northwest for two weeks to see family and enjoy our home turf. As a result, this blog will also be taking a vacation for a couple of weeks (as if it is updated on a regular basis anyway!). The Lord's blessings.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 15, 2007
Text: Luke 10:25-37

If you want to live by the Law, you have to do the whole thing, and do it perfectly. St. James said, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10; ESV). If you’re seeking salvation by works, you’re sunk from the very beginning. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). You cannot justify yourself before God. If you want to try, go ahead, but be forewarned: the standard of righteousness is none other than God Himself. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). God is perfect in His holiness. A keeping of the Law which leads to life must be perfect, as God is perfect… holy, as God is holy.

The whole Law is summed up in this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). If you do this, you will live (v. 28). The lawyer knew that. He desired to justify himself. He desired to live by the Law. He wanted to earn salvation by his own efforts. So he decided to put Jesus to the test. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25; emphasis added). Jesus gave a Law answer to a Law question. If you want to justify yourself, you must fulfill the Law. You must love God with your entire being, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The lawyer thought he could do it. As a matter of fact, he thought he had done it. But Jesus has a way of humbling us in our self-righteousness. The lawyer sought to justify himself, and asked, “who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). Jesus, Who always knows what is in the heart of a man, told the story of the Good Samaritan. You all know the story. A man on a journey between Jerusalem and Jericho is brutally beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest and a Levite, both supposedly “holy” men, pass by on the other side without aiding the wounded, not wanting the beaten and possibly dead man to make them unclean. Then along comes a Samaritan, who sees the man lying, beaten and bloodied, on the side of the road, and has compassion on him. This is true mercy in action. The Samaritan interrupts his trip to tend the wounded. He binds the wounds and pours on oil and wine to disinfect them. Then he takes the man to an inn and pays the innkeeper to take care of him, promising to return with even more money for the man’s care. He does not expect repayment. He does not expect even so much as a thank you. The Samaritan saw a man in need of help, and he had compassion. Now, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three,” the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan, “do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). The answer is quite clear to us, and it was clear to the lawyer. “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37). The Samaritan was the neighbor.

Now, you have to understand, Jews hate Samaritans. Samaritans were the descendents of the northern tribes of Israel who survived the exile to Assyria, and who, among many other grievous offenses, built a temple on Mt. Gerizim to compete with the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Faithful Jews hated Samaritans even more than they hated outright pagans. So when Jesus brought the lawyer to the conclusion that the Samaritan was a good neighbor, and the priest and Levite were not, this was a very offensive thing. This divide also teaches us a great deal about the character of the Samaritan’s mercy. It would have been just as distasteful for an average Samaritan to give aid to a Jew. But the Samaritan in our text does not take this into account. Rather, he has compassion, and freely helps the man in need. This was, indeed, a very difficult parable for the lawyer to swallow. He thought he had fulfilled the law. He thought he could justify himself. But he could not love as the Samaritan loved. Nor could he love the Samaritan. He could not go and do likewise, as Jesus said (v. 37). He could not be saved by his works.

We Lutherans know exactly where the lawyer went wrong. He should not have been trusting in his own works, but in the work of Christ for his salvation. But we are often just as guilty of self-righteousness as the lawyer is in this regard. The evidence is in the way we typically interpret the parable of the Good Samaritan. We often put ourselves in the place of the Samaritan. Of course, we would help if we came across a wounded man. We thank God that we are not like the priest or the Levite, who pass by on the other side, and fail to have mercy because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. When we read the parable of the Good Samaritan in this way, the story becomes nothing more than a fable with a good moral. When we see someone stranded on the side of the road, we should pull over and help. We should be Good Samaritans.

But, dear friends, the parable means so much more than this. If you put yourself in the place of the Good Samaritan, you have completely misinterpreted the story. You are not the Good Samaritan. You are the wounded man lying on the side of the road, broken, bleeding, and on the point of death. You can do nothing to save yourself. The Law cannot help you. It passes by on the other side. It cannot be dirtied by the blood and gore of your sin. But Jesus can. He is the Good Samaritan. Though He is despised by you and your people, He comes to your rescue anyway. Though you have in no way deserved His mercy, He has compassion on you, and cleans and bandages your wounds. You cannot repay Him. Your money has been stolen. Your innocence and good works have been stolen by sin. You cannot even open your mouth to thank Him. You are as good as dead. But He helps you anyway, out of His pure grace. He puts you on His own donkey and brings you to the inn of His Church, a hospital for sinners just like you. He charges His innkeepers, the Christian pastors, to tend your wounds and take care of you. They will do so in His stead. They will continue to pour oil and wine on your wounds as you receive the Holy Sacrament. They will tell you of the Good Samaritan Who so graciously rescued you and generously provided for your needs. And the Good Samaritan, Jesus, promises to return, finally, and see to your healing Himself. When He comes, He will take your hand and raise you out of your sickbed, out of the grave, for He is risen from the dead, from the death He died for you, for your forgiveness, and He has the power over life and death.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan. And it is because He has first done all this for you that you can go and do likewise. The lawyer had no power to go and do likewise, because he refused the care of Jesus, the Good Samaritan. But not so you. You have received His care. You have been rescued. You have been shown mercy. Now you can show mercy to others.

Notice the order here. We can only go and do likewise because He has first come and done to us. First comes justification; then, and only then, sanctification. First Jesus shows us mercy, then we show mercy to others. Good works are not the cause of salvation, but are a result of our salvation. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “And let us not grow weary of doing good… as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9, 10). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

The Christian life is a life marked by mercy. It is marked by the mercy our Lord has had on us by becoming one with our flesh, paying the penalty for our sins, and earning us eternal life. And it is marked by the mercy of Christ reflected in His saints. You are called to be merciful. You are called to go and do likewise. You cannot do so by your own power, but you can because of Christ. The Father has pronounced you righteous on account of Christ. The Holy Spirit actually makes you righteous in Christ. He makes you merciful in Christ, our merciful Lord. Jesus is our Good Samaritan. Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Jesus did. He is your neighbor. He has had mercy on you. Go and do likewise.

If you want to live by the Law, you have to do the whole thing perfectly. You cannot fail in even one point. But you have failed. Nonetheless, the Lord has had mercy upon you and forgiven you all your sins. Jesus is the One Who has fulfilled the whole Law perfectly. He has never failed in even one point. He did this in your place. He binds the wounds of your sin with His perfect righteousness. Now, in Christ, you are holy, as the Lord your God is holy. Now you measure up to God’s standard of perfection, not by your works, but by the work of Jesus Christ. He is both God and Man, and you are baptized into Him, and He dwells in you. Therefore when God looks at you, He sees Jesus, and counts you as righteous. When your neighbor looks at you, he likewise sees Jesus, and finds mercy. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Defining Terms

Dr. Scaer always said about his tests on the Latin terms in Pieper, “If you know the terms, you know the theology.” Defining our terms is so important in articles of faith. Sincere Christians often wonder why we Lutherans (especially pastors) are so picky about the use of words. So words like “ministry,” “fellowship,” “decision,” “witness,” “mission,” etc., all have a host of meanings in theology, largely due to sloppy useage on the part of well-meaning Christians. When these same Christians are corrected by pastors (or others) who have a concern for the proper use of terms in theology, they accuse their pastors of splitting hairs.

But here’s the thing. Words are important. Especially in theology. Luther knew this. That’s why he spends so much time in his “Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans” just defining terms. “To begin with we must have knowledge of its language and know what St. Paul means by the words, law, sin, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit, etc., otherwise no reading of it has any value.”[1]

Melanchthon, who took over Luther’s responsibility for lecturing on Romans at the University of Wittenberg in 1519, takes his cue from his predecessor: “In this matter there is need also for this diligence, that they give heed to what in the sacred writings these words truly and properly mean: faith, justification, righteousness, sin, Law, Gospel.”[2] Melanchthon’s concern for defining terms was actually very practical. “The church unlearned its language among monks and other unlearned persons and positively, as Tyndar says to Menelaus in Euripides [Orestes, line 485]: ‘You have become barbarous, being a long time among barbarians.’ Thus the long servitude of the church with the monks changed the language. Nor is it easy to restore the true meanings, for the power of custom is great. The deceivers, Mensinger and Cochlaeus, scourge me about the word faith, likewise about the word justification, and they have gone completely astray. And some other person, whose authority in the state is great, argues with me whether faith signifies trust in mercy. Who would not deplore the darkness in the church? So great has been the carelessness of the bishops and teachers that they have forgotten the meaning of the words which they have in their mouths daily. When the meanings have been changed, also the things themselves have been lost, and many kinds of insane ideas have followed.”[3]

“When the meanings have been changed, also the things themselves have been lost.” This is a sober warning for the Church today. Dear Christians, your pastors are not splitting hairs when they are picky about language and the use of words. But the very Christian faith hangs on the clarity of words. It has always been so. Is Christ of the same substance or of like substance with the Father? Is it the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, or a symbol of the body and blood? Did God really say…?

We are beginning a study of Romans here at Epiphany in a few weeks. It has been my custom since arriving to begin each new Bible study by defining theological terms and establishing a common theological language. I stand on the shoulders of Luther and Melanchthon in following this procedure. And it is so important. If you understand the terms, you understand the theology. If you misunderstand or redefine the terms, you make a mess of things. And we should all heed another warning from the pen of Melanchthon, this time from the Apology: “Nothing can be said so carefully that it can avoid misrepresentation.”[4] This goes for our terms as well as for our arguments.

Incidentally, Issue 27 of Good News (“Go Therefore… Teaching”) was all about defining key theological terms. I highly recommend this magazine, and especially this issue, to our laity.

[1] Martin Luther, “Preface,” Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Kregal, 1954/76) p. xiii.
[2] Philip Melanchthon, Commentary on Romans, Fred Kramer, Trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) p. 14.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Apol. VII/VIII:2 (Tappert).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 8, 2007
Text: Luke 10:1-20

We’re always very impressed with our work for the Kingdom of God. It’s human nature… or at least it’s fallen human nature, to be impressed with our own good works, especially when they’re done for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Of course, our Lord has called every Christian to work for His Kingdom. There’s no question about that. And it is certain that we should rejoice in what the Lord does in us and through us. But there is a fine line, is there not, between rejoicing in what the Lord does in and through us, and rejoicing in our own accomplishments? Whenever we look at our own good works: all that we do for the Church, all the Christian organizations and activities we’re involved in, all the people we’ve helped, we lose focus on what our Lord does for us. And it is what our Lord does for us that really matters: fulfilling the Law in our place, dying on the cross for our forgiveness, being raised again for our justification, sustaining us through His Word and Sacrament, interceding on our behalf before the Father. Salvation is not by our works for God, but by God’s work for us in Christ. So “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (Luke 10:17; ESV). They were impressed with their work for the Lord. Therefore Jesus had to refocus them. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).

Even the evil spirits, demons, were obeying the seventy-two disciples whom Jesus had sent out to preach the Gospel. It didn’t take long for the disciples’ rejoicing in God to turn into spiritual pride, rejoicing in the self. “Do not rejoice that the spirits obey you,” says Jesus. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. You have only done what I have called you to do. You would not be able to do it if I had not called you to do it and given you the authority to do it. Don’t be impressed with yourselves. Give thanks to God that you yourselves have been saved from the devil’s grasp.”

Spiritual pride can wreak havoc on the Christian’s soul. We all have it. You have it. I have it. We’re proud of ourselves. And this is idolatry. We put ourselves in the place of God when we take pride in our own good works. We take our eyes off of Jesus and His cross and look at our own good works. We see what the Lord is graciously doing in us and through us, and then gladly take the credit for it ourselves. This, dear friends, can kill faith. It can rob us of our salvation. Because we are not saved by our works, but by Christ alone. Spiritual pride is a dangerous thing.

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2). Like the seventy-two, whom the Lord is addressing with these words, we hear about the plentiful harvest and the labor shortage and set off to serve the Lord. Of itself, this is a good thing. We should want to serve the Lord. We should want to labor in His harvest field. But let’s not be too hasty about setting off to serve with our own agenda. We often hear these words and eagerly step up to the plate, singing, “here am I, send me, send me,” but we want to go on our own conditions. We want to serve where we want to serve, and not necessarily where God has called us. So we end up with everyone thinking they’re a minister and nobody listening to those who are called by God to preach the Word. We end up with pastors who put guilt trips on their sheep because of all the lost who haven’t come to believe the Gospel. We end up with Christians who blame their pastors because the congregation isn’t growing. We end up with pastors who blame themselves because the congregation isn’t growing, and so they forsake their fidelity to biblical doctrine and consider no gimmick beneath them and our Lord’s Church if it boosts those attendance numbers and the bottom line of the Sunday offering. This, again, is spiritual pride. It is idolatry. Repent.
You are not called to be a minister. You are called to be a hearer. And you are called to many other vocations in which you confess Christ to your neighbor. You are called to be fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and members of Epiphany and citizens of the United States, or in at least one case, Canada. You are called to work at a grocery store or drive bulldozers or raise crops or be a homemaker or teach high school orchestra. This is where you serve in the Lord’s Kingdom. This is where He has called you. This is what He has given you to do. Nor has He called you to grow the Church. Incidentally, He hasn’t called me to grow it either. That’s His job. He calls us to be faithful. He calls you to your vocations, and He calls me to mine. It is my vocation to be your pastor. It is my vocation to preach the Word. It is your vocation to hear. It is our vocation together to receive the salvation of the Lord. And it is our vocation together to confess Christ to the world. But we leave the results to Him.

If the Lord blesses us with a congregation bursting at the seams for all the new members, and if He blesses us with unlimited cash flow to work for His Kingdom, all thanks and praise be to Him. He gets the credit because He produces the growth. We are only unworthy servants who have done our duty. Do not rejoice in this, that your work for the Lord produced measurable results, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Sometimes the Church does not grow. Sometimes the demons do not submit. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2). We often stop there, as if that were the whole story. But Jesus continues, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (v. 3). In other words, some of you won’t come back. So don’t be impressed when the demons submit. And don’t be surprised when they don’t submit. Don’t be impressed with yourselves when the Church grows. And don’t be surprised when it declines. Here’s the thing: You aren’t called to produce results. You’re called to be faithful, even if that means your death. You are lambs among wolves. Some of you will be devoured. You will have to suffer. There’s no such thing as clown ministry. There is only the ministry of the cross. The faithful Christian will always be under the cross. The preaching of Christ will be rejected, along with the people who proclaim it. Cities like Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon, and Capernaum, will be unrepentant. But keep confessing Christ. Pastors should keep preaching. Christians should keep confessing. Be faithful unto death. And do not rejoice that the demons submit to you, but that your names are written in heaven. Do not rejoice in your works, but rejoice in the work of Jesus.

For He is ever faithful. He is the Lord of the harvest, Who gave His very life and suffered all hell for His people. He calls workers to His harvest field. He calls some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11), and He calls you to your place in life. These are the workers in His harvest field, each called to a specific office and task, whatever that happens to be. And this is all very sacramental, because He is working through means, through you in your vocation, to serve your neighbor, and even call your neighbor to faith. The Lord is the One Who does it. He is answering the prayer of His Church to send out laborers into the harvest as He calls me to be your pastor and you to serve in your vocations. We may never see the results of our labors. Sometimes we will, but most of the time we will not. In fact, much of the time it will appear that our labor is in vain. But it doesn’t matter. We let God worry about the results. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven. They are written in the blood-red ink that flows from our Lord’s wounds. And we know that the labor is not in vain, even when it appears to be, because God, Who is faithful, has promised His Word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish that which He desires (Is. 55:11).

This is a very freeing thing. The Lord will always accomplish what He desires. You don’t have to worry about it. Just be faithful in that to which He has called you. And when you are unfaithful, repent and believe the Good News: You are forgiven on account of Christ. He has taken your sin and unfaithfulness to the cross with Him. He sustains you in your vocation. He speaks His Word to you and through you. He feeds you with His body and blood. He washes away your transgressions. He heals you and restores you. This is your reason to rejoice. We don’t rejoice in our works, but in Jesus’ work. “(F)ar be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Rejoice in the cross. Rejoice, for your names have been written in heaven, and God’s Name has been written upon you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future

Pastor’s Window on July, 2007

Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future

Beloved in the Lord,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year now since I was ordained and installed as your pastor. Time flies when you’re having fun! What a blessing and privilege it has been to serve as your pastor over the past year. Thank you. There is nothing I would rather do with my life. I thank God for you, His people, whom He has created and redeemed. And I thank Him for using me, His unworthy servant, as His undershepherd in this place.

This one-year anniversary provides a good opportunity to reflect back on the year past and share with you my vision for Epiphany’s future. We have much about which to rejoice here at Epiphany. The Lord has been good to us. He has blessed us with a hunger for His Word, a rich sacramental life, and sincere love and care for one another. He has given us the desire to be faithful in both doctrine and mission, uncompromising when it comes to our Lutheran identity, seeking to boldly proclaim the Gospel to a world lost in sin and death. We give thanks to God for the many Bible study opportunities offered at Epiphany, our Sunday School, VBS, choir, Wednesday night suppers, food truck, youth group, Adult Information Class (AIC), youth catechism class, LWML, and the list could go on and on. This is the Lord’s work in us. Not unto us be the glory, but unto the Lord our God may all glory be given. For all that we have is a gift from Him.

My prayer is that we continue in our commitment to authentic Lutheran doctrine/practice and mission. The two go hand in hand. They are inseparable. As a result, my vision for the future of Epiphany emphasizes both.

Doctrine/Practice: The people of Epiphany have a strong desire to know what it means to be Lutheran. Our doctrine is what provides us with our Lutheran identity, and our practice is that doctrine and identity manifesting itself in the life of the congregation. My goals in the area of doctrine include: 1. More faithful church attendance… Be in church every Sunday to receive the Word of life and the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood (see next month’s article on the importance of church attendance). 2. Increased attendance at Bible studies. If you do not currently attend one of Epiphany’s Bible studies, consider joining one. You can only be strengthened by attending. Come and grow in the knowledge of God’s Word with us. 3. Knowledge and appreciation of the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord. These documents are the Lutheran confession of Scriptural doctrine written on paper for the whole world to read. We have already begun to explore our Lutheran Confessions with our emphasis on Luther’s Small Catechism, one of the confessional documents. 4. Greater appreciation for the sacramental/liturgical life of the Church. The liturgy is primarily sacramental: God giving His gifts to us in Baptism, preaching, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Only then is it sacrificial: Our response of praise and thanksgiving. Epiphany has carved a niche for herself as a sacramental and liturgical congregation. Let’s grow in our knowledge of why we do the things we do, and practice doing them well. 5. One particular emphasis in the coming year will be the theology of mercy. Our Lord is merciful to us in forgiving us all our sins. He now lives within us and uses us as His hands of mercy to the world. This leads us to our second emphasis…

Mission/Evangelism: Mission and evangelism proceed from our doctrine and practice. As one former LCMS president put it: “Get the message right, Missouri! Get the message out, Missouri!” Right doctrine always leads to mission and evangelism. The two are inseparable. Our mission paradigm is provided by Jesus Himself: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20; ESV). How do you make disciples? Baptizing and teaching! Some of my goals for Epiphany in the area of mission/evangelism include: 1. Expanding our Adult Information Class (AIC) by including it as a budget line item next year and getting the word out into our community. The AIC provides a non-threatening, no-obligation opportunity for members of the community (and members of the congregation!) to learn about the Christian Faith (teaching) free of charge, and may lead to membership (Baptism). 2. We need to start thinking about a pre-school. Our district president/bishop fully supports the establishing of a pre-school at Epiphany. A Lutheran pre-school is a place where the little lambs of our Good Shepherd are cared for body and soul. Their minds are molded by the Holy Scriptures and God’s good gifts in creation (teaching). In many cases, the teaching of Holy Baptism leads the children, and quite often their parents, to desire Baptism and church membership. 3. Invite your friends and neighbors to church! Especially if they don’t currently have a church. That’s one of the most effective ways our congregation can grow as the Holy Spirit works through His Word. Give it a try. 4. Increased visibility and participation in our local community. We already do some of this with our food truck and parade float. In October we will be participating in the Wayland Expo. Let’s be thinking about more ways we can contribute to our community. 5. Increased awareness and support of our global mission. Jesus said to His apostles, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our mission begins in Dorr, Michigan, but it does not end there. We should devote our resources to proclaiming the Gospel both locally and to the ends of the earth.

Much more could be said about my vision for Epiphany’s future, but space does not permit. This is only the beginning. May God continue to grant us faithfulness as His people in this place. Pray for your congregation. Participate in the life of your congregation. And please continue to pray for me.

“Almighty God, grant to Your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Collect for the Church, LSB p. 305).

Pastor Krenz

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Not By My Own Efforts

I thank You, my dear God, that I have learned not to begin faith by my own efforts, nor attempt to destroy my sin with my own repentance. I might do this before men and be accepted by the world and its judges. But with You, O God, there is an eternal wrath, which I cannot satisfy, and before it I must despair. Therefore I thank You that Another has seized and carried my sins and has made atonement for them. With joy I wish to believe this. It seems so very right and comforting to me. But I cannot persuade myself to believe it, and I find no power in me to convince myself. I cannot comprehend it as I ought. Lord, lead me. Help me. Amen. (Martin Luther, 1483-1546).

Quoted from the devotion for Tuesday, Pentecost 5, in The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 2004) p. 287.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 1, 2007
Text: Luke 9:51-62

Do you have what it takes to journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem and the cross? Have you set your face to go toward the cross and suffering? That’s what following Jesus means, you know. The cross and suffering. Jesus bids us deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him. He doesn’t promise us a bed of roses as Christians. In fact, life is anything but rosy, save for the rose red blood of the cross. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. That means so much more than just a determination to go to the city. It means that He was totally focused on His divine mission to save all humanity from sin by dying for us… for you, for me, for our forgiveness. The cross was His goal, and no temptation could hinder Him. Furthermore, all who would follow Him must go His way, the way of the cross. So do you have what it takes?

Three men in the Gospel lesson thought they did. But they wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. The first said, “‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57-58; ESV). The point here is that Jesus has no abiding city in this world. His Kingdom is not of this world, but of heaven. His citizenship is in heaven. So also those who follow Him. Jesus’ disciples have no abiding city in this world, either. Their citizenship is in heaven, as well. They are in the world, but they are not of the world. So if they wish to keep their allegiance to worldly things, to have a home here in this world, they cannot follow Jesus. Jesus has no place to lay His head. He is homeless in this world. But that’s okay. He has a home in heaven. And all who follow Him likewise have an eternal home there with Him, even though they have no home here in the world.

Jesus said to the second man, “Follow me” (v. 59). But this second man had another allegiance, even a good one… He wanted to wait until his father died before he left all to follow Jesus. He was just trying to obey the 4th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” Surely Jesus would understand. His father needed support. But not even family loyalty should get in the way of following Jesus. Jesus said to the man, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). There is a play on words here. Jesus is saying to the man, let the spiritually dead burry the physically dead. The spiritually dead can worry about earthly things like that. But those who are alive in Christ are called to follow Him, to be His disciples and confessors of His Kingdom, whatever the cost. When Jesus calls, all must be dropped. Confessing Christ is a higher calling even than fulfilling the 4th Commandment. When there is a conflict between the two, we must obey God rather than men.

The third man said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (v. 61). This doesn’t seem like such a terrible request. It’s the polite thing to do to say goodbye when leaving on a journey. But Jesus responds, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). The message is clear. If one is plowing and looks back, he will veer off course. The furrows will not be straight. The disciple of Jesus must, like Jesus, set his face toward the goal. He must go the way of the cross in a straight line. Nothing can distract him from his journey. Not even loved ones back home.

So do you have what it takes to follow Jesus? We don’t know whether the three men in our text answered Jesus’ call. But it ultimately doesn’t matter. Luke writes this account in such a way that the question is directed at the hearer… at you. Are you so attached to the things of this world that you are unwilling to give up all to follow Jesus? Do you seek a home in this world rather than in heaven? What about family loyalty? Are you willing to follow Jesus even at the cost of your family? For example, it’s easy to condemn abortion until it’s your daughter who has one. It’s easy to condemn homosexuality until your brother comes out of the closet. It’s easy to condemn the sins of others until those others are those closest to you, and especially when you, yourself, are plagued by those sins. But you can only follow Jesus on His terms, not your own. Will you leave all and follow Him? Will you confess Jesus, even when the truth divides father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law? Do you have what it takes?

The answer is no. Not on your own. You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, or come to Him. You cannot by your own reason or strength follow Jesus. Your flesh is too weak. It is fallen. It is sinful. It is dead. So the Holy Spirit must do it for you. He must bring you to life. He must bring you to faith. He must set you on the road. You can only follow Jesus because He grants it to you. Jesus’ answers to the three men in our text are difficult to swallow. They’re meant to be. They’re meant to show us the high cost of following Jesus. They’re meant to show us the necessity of setting our faces toward the cross and suffering. And they’re meant to show us that we can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t even begin to do it. God must do it for us. He must do it to us. He must convert us. We don’t choose Him. He chooses us. He brings us to faith. He sets us on the road, following Jesus. He gives us the resolution to set our face toward the cross and suffering. And here’s the kicker. He gives us the cross, as well. We don’t have to seek the cross. We don’t have to invent ways to suffer. The cross will find us. God will provide it. It will seem evil to us, but God will use it for our good. This is God’s discipline. The cross is a refining fire. But along with the cross, He will provide a way out. He Himself is the relief.

The cross is meant to purify our faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). It is also meant to drive us to Jesus, Who alone is our rest and salvation. We have no place to lay our head in this world. So we lay our heads on Jesus’ breast. Our faith is so easily choked by worldly cares and concerns. But the Holy Spirit sustains us in the true faith by Word and Sacrament, so that our attention is directed to that which really matters: Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the eternal Kingdom of God. It is so tempting to look back to the fleshpots of Egypt when we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness. But the Holy Spirit keeps us focused on the Promised Land, again, by means of His Word and Sacrament. Our wandering in the wilderness, our bearing of the cross, is a time of preparation, a purging of our misdirected faith in ourselves and the things of this world. And it is a time of redirection, as we are driven to our merciful Lord Jesus for help and salvation.

You don’t have what it takes to follow Jesus on your own. If you think you do, the Law of God will quickly humble you, just like it did the three men in our text. You don’t have what it takes. So God gives it to you. He begins by killing you. He drowns you. And when you’re dead, He raises you back to life. That’s Baptism. And then He sustains that Baptismal life. He reminds you that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You live by the Word. You live by the Word revealed in the Holy Scriptures and preached to you today. And you live by the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the Holy Scriptures testify. By His stripes you are healed. Because of His death, you are brought to new life. He nourishes you, body and soul, in that new life with His very body and blood. He forgives you all your sins. He gives you His righteousness. And this is very important. Because He gives you His righteousness, you now stand before God as one who does have what it takes to follow Jesus. It is not by your works, but by Jesus’ works. He set His face to go to Jerusalem and the cross. And He gives you His substitutionary determination, so that when God looks at you, He sees the obedience of His beloved Son.

This is great comfort for us when we have to bear the holy cross. We know we don’t have what it takes. But our Lord does. And He generously gives His righteousness, the whole lot of it, to those who believe in Him. He gives it to you. You are not alone. Your Lord Jesus died for you. He suffered the cross for you. Our crosses do not even begin to compare with His. And we know that He bears our crosses with us. The cross leads us to rely on Jesus, rather than on the things of this world. He is our rest. He is our peace. He is our home.

So do you have what it takes to follow Jesus? On your own, outside of Him, the answer is no. But in Him the answer is a resounding yes. You have what it takes because He gives it to you. He set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross for you. And after three days, the Father raised Him from the dead. Now no matter what crosses you have to bear in this life, you can bear them confidently, knowing your rest is in Jesus, and that the resurrection awaits. All thanks and praise be to our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.