Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 30, 2007
Text: Luke 16:19-31

“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31; ESV). Our blessed Lord has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. They are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). We diligently search the Scriptures, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting them, because we think that in them we have eternal life. These are they which testify of our Savior (John 5:39). Indeed, “one cannot deal with God or grasp him except through the Word. Therefore justification takes place through the Word, as Paul says (Rom. 1:16), ‘The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith,’ and (Rom. 10:17), ‘Faith comes from what is heard.’”[1] If, then, you do not believe the Scriptures; if you do not heed Moses and the prophets, the apostles and evangelists, neither will you be convinced if someone rises from the dead.

We always want something more than the Scriptures. We always want some better assurance. We always want more than God has given us. The devil whispers to us, “If you are the sons of God, if God really loves you as much as He says He does, then He should prove it. He should grant you unlimited bread, a sumptuous feast everyday. He should fulfill your every desire. Health, wealth, and prosperity should be in the palms of your hands.” In other words, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh would have you believe you should be like the rich man in our text. You should be at the table with him. God should reward your loyalty. He should rain down the choicest of material blessings on His own. But this is so often not the case. So often God’s people are poor in this life. So often God’s people suffer illness and injury in this life. So often God’s people suffer failure in their own eyes and in the eyes of others in this life. Beloved, this is not apparent to our earthly, physical eyes, but God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). It is also not apparent to our earthly, physical eyes, that so often unrighteous mammon, worldly wealth, can be a curse, not a blessing.

Consider the rich man. There is nothing wrong with feasting, particularly on special occasions, but the rich man in our text feasted sumptuously and excessively everyday, without any thought or care for his neighbor. He dressed in the finest apparel, the color and cloth of royalty, purple and fine linen. It is not that the man’s wealth was a sin in and of itself. It is what the man chose to do, or rather, not do, with the earthly possessions he had been given. He chose not to have mercy. He did not use his unrighteous mammon to make friends (Luke 16:9). In fact, he rejected his neighbor Lazarus in the moment of Lazarus’ greatest need. He would not spare even the crumbs of his table for the poor, leprous beggar. The rich man was like the Pharisees Jesus described in last week’s Gospel lesson (Luke 16:1-13), those who were morally upright in the eyes of others, as undoubtedly the rich man was, but who were lovers of money, and failed to heed the admonition of Jesus, “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 13). The rich man was counting on his outward righteousness to be saved. But money, wealth, was the idol of his heart. The rich man died and went to hell. He was in anguish in the fire that is not quenched, where the worm is not destroyed. He did not heed the Holy Scriptures. Neither would he be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

This is what is so absurd about our desire to be like the rich man. We, too, covet worldly wealth. We think we want to live like the rich man. We want what God has not given us. We are jealous that God has not given us these things. If He really loved us, He would give us what we desire. But if God has not blessed you with worldly wealth, it is because He is merciful. “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (18:25). The rich man went to hell. God has spared you this temptation. Repent of your covetousness and dissatisfaction. God is good, and He has been good to you. Repent. Do not be like the rich man. If God has blessed you with excessive wealth, use it now, to make friends for yourselves, so that when our Lord returns and worldly wealth fails, the poor will receive you into their eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9). Have mercy now, remembering that insofar as you do it to one of the least of these, you do it unto Jesus (Matt. 25:40). And if you are poor, rejoice, for you are blessed. Believe in Jesus who became poor for your sake, so that the very Kingdom of God might be yours (Luke 6:20).

Do not be like the rich man, living luxuriously with no eye on the future or the plight of others. Rather, consider Lazarus. We do not want to be like him, but we should. For though he is poor in the eyes of the world, he is truly rich. He is rich in God. He does not count on worldly wealth. He has none. He makes no claim of any righteousness of his own. He casts himself on the mercy of God. He believes Moses and the Prophets, the Scriptures which testify of Jesus. He trusts Jesus. So even as he sits at the feet of the rich man, with his empty and aching belly, the dogs licking his burning sores, he is rich. He is rich, and the rich man is poor. It is a great reversal. And God uses even the weakness of Lazarus for his good. Lazarus also dies, and God uses his death to deliver him into life. The holy angels usher Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom, which is to say, heaven. Lazarus believed the Scriptures, and trusted the One Who rose from the dead, and Who in fact conquered death forever.

Jesus became poor that Lazarus might become rich. Jesus became poor that you might become rich. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross, paying on our behalf the just penalty for our sins. He rested in the grave, becoming our Sabbath rest. He rose from the dead, triumphant over the grave. Sin is vanquished. The devil can no longer accuse us. Death no longer has any power over us. And in Holy Baptism, all the righteousness of Jesus’ perfect fulfilling of the Law is credited to our account. That’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News of Jesus Christ that is for all people. It is to this great truth that all the Holy Scriptures testify. It is for this reason they have been given. They testify of the One Who has risen from the dead.

So be like Lazarus. Believe the Holy Scriptures. For if you don’t believe the Holy Scriptures, you will never be convinced by any miracle, not even if someone rises from the dead. The rich man thought His brothers would believe if only Lazarus went to them from the dead to warn them. No dice, said Father Abraham. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). But the sons of this world will never believe if they don’t believe the Scriptures. They will not even believe if someone should rise from the dead. They do not believe even though One has risen from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no need to look for more than God has given you. There is no need to look for more than the Holy Scriptures. You “have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). The Word written on the pages of Scripture gives you the Word enfleshed in the person of Jesus. In the Scriptures, you have all the assurance you need. Don’t look for grandiose miracles or money or possessions for assurance. These things are deceiving. They tempt you to avert your eyes from Jesus and His righteousness. They tempt you to think of yourself more highly than you ought. Don’t look to these things. Look to Jesus and His Word. He loves you. He makes this abundantly clear in His Word to you. He loves you with an everlasting love. He woos you with the sound of His voice. He bathes you in His cool baptismal waters. He throws you a feast far more sumptuous than that which earthly wealth can provide. He feeds you the fare of God’s Kingdom, His very body and blood, the very same given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. It is the tangible Word of our risen Lord. The holy angels are present to usher you forward this morning for a foretaste of the feast to come, just as they will be present on the day they carry you to Abraham’s side, to bask in the glory of the Father. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Apol. IV:67, Tappert, p. 116.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 23, 2007
Text: Luke 16:1-15

The parable of the dishonest manager or steward has always presented some difficulty in terms of interpretation. The difficulty is this: Jesus commends the dishonest manager. He commends him for his shrewdness. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8; ESV). What does Jesus mean by that? The dishonest manager knew to use earthly wealth in order to gain friends for himself. He dealt shrewdly. Now here’s the point: If the sons of this world, like the dishonest manager, know how to use worldly wealth to their temporal advantage, how much more should the sons of light know how to use temporal things like worldly wealth to their eternal advantage, to the glory of God, and particularly in service to the neighbor? Be shrewd, wise, with what God gives you in this life. “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (vv. 11-12).

So the question is this: How can we be shrewd with our money and possessions? Before we answer that question directly, let’s take a look at the case of the dishonest manager. He had been caught red handed. He didn’t even deny the charges against him. He had been unfaithful to his master, “wasting his master’s possessions” (v. 1). He had enjoyed the full trust of his master, but now he had broken that trust. Now his master had called him to account. “Get the books in order! Here’s an empty box. Clean out your desk. You can no longer be manager.” The now ex-manager had to do some quick thinking. He suddenly found himself unemployed, and justifiably so. What was he to do? A job at McDonald’s was beneath him. He didn’t have the fortitude for manual labor. “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (v. 3). No, this situation called for a little shrewdness. The manager had a little time before he had to clear out. He had to get those books in order. And since he had already been fired, he might as well do some creative accounting and earn himself the loyalty of the locals. So he brings in his master’s debtors. He has the first one cut his debt in half. He has the second one cut his debt by 20%. What a deal! I wish my student loan company would just forgive half of my debt! Perhaps I need to pray that a dishonest manager takes over at ACS (I’m just kidding by the way).

How do you suppose the debtors regarded the manager after this? We can only imagine that the dishonest manager was wildly popular among the debtors, and that he had endeared himself to them to such an extent that they would take him into their homes when he had no home of his own. And we know from the text that this was precisely his purpose. Now there are two ways that we can look at this debt relief. Either the manager cheated his master out of the money he forgave, or perhaps more likely, he lopped off his commission from the bill. But either way, the manager did the debtors a tremendous favor in forgiving such a significant amount of debt. We’re talking about a lot of money’s worth of goods, here. And the irony is this… When the master sees what the manager has done, he commends him! Because while the manager looks good in the eyes of the debtors, so does the master for whom he works. The debtors are now not only loyal to the manager, but also to the master whom he represents. That’s just good business, friends. That’s how you bring customers back. The manager had dealt shrewdly, and he was commended. He may even have been allowed to keep his job. The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

But the sons of light should be shrewd, too. This takes us back to our original question: How? How are we to be shrewd, like the dishonest manager? What is it that our Lord commends? It is surely not the dishonesty. No, don’t misunderstand our Lord. We are not to be dishonest. But it is this idea of using worldly wealth with an eye to the future. Not just the coming years, but eternity. The dishonest manager was looking toward the future when he modified the accounts of the debtors. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses” (v. 4). So you also should be looking to the future, particularly, your eternal future. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v. 9). What does this mean? Quite simply this: Love and serve your neighbor, give your wealth for your neighbor’s benefit, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Your Lord gave everything for you. He didn’t just forgive a part of your debt. He forgave the whole thing. He is NOT the dishonest manager in the parable. He doesn’t just give you a little grace in order to gain your loyalty. He gives you all of His grace in order to purchase your entire being for Himself. He loves you that much. He gives His very life for you, that your life might be His own possession. He sheds His lifeblood for your forgiveness. He imparts His Spirit and faith to you. He gives you eternal life and salvation. He frees you from your bondage to sin, death, and the devil. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

So now you’re free. You’re free to NOT be like those wretches Amos describes, those who “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end,” who “buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat” (Amos 8:4, 6). That was your former way of life, when you were under sin. But now you are under grace. Now you are free of sin’s tyranny. That’s not who you are anymore now that you are baptized into Christ. Now you are free to serve the neighbor with all that belongs to you, and with your very self. Remember, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). If money is your god, you will be like the people in Amos. But if Jesus is your God, you will be merciful, as He is merciful, for He desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13). Mercy is, in fact, a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Be merciful to your neighbor. Support your neighbor in every physical need. Give him your money if he needs it. Give him the shirt off your back if he needs it. Because every good and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). So it is not yours to do with as you please. It belongs to God. He has given it to you to use for the benefit of your neighbor. He has given it to you to manage, for you to be a steward. Take a cue here from the dishonest manager. Use what God has given you so that your treasure will be in heaven. And remember that Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Make friends with worldly wealth by having mercy, and your works will follow you. Those whom you help with your gifts will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. And they will testify of your good works when our Lord judges the living and the dead.

Jesus commends the dishonest steward for his shrewdness. Be shrewd. Be wise. Be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). But most of all, believe the Gospel. For the Gospel is able to make you wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). The Gospel tells you about Christ. In fact, it does more than tell you about Him, it gives you Christ. It gives you His mercy. For it is only as you rest in His mercy, saved by grace alone without works, that you are able to show mercy to your neighbor and do good works for his benefit. It is only in the mercy of Christ that you find forgiveness for all your sins, and the strength to forgive others. It is only in the mercy of Christ that you receive eternal life, and the ability to live for others. He imparts His mercy to you here in the Church. He imparts it to you today, here, even now in this very place as He cancels all your debts. Sit down quickly, take your bill, and write “paid in full by the blood of Jesus.” Come and receive Jesus’ blood in the chalice. Go in peace and joy, canceling the debts of others by proclaiming forgiveness in Jesus, and forgiving their trespasses against you in Jesus’ Name. This is your privilege as sons of light. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Elements of Religion

I recently read through the Repristination Press edition of Henry Eyster Jacobs’ Elements of Religion. It was the last installment of my summer reading list (sadly, I never get through the whole list). The book does have its eccentricities, but what I appreciate about it is that it takes articles of doctrine and boils them down to 5 to 15 minute readings in (mostly) simple language that lay people can understand. For that reason, I think a modern book like this would serve the Church well. I’m not envisioning just a little handbook on doctrine, but really a devotional book that leads our people to meditate on the articles of the Christian faith in such a way that they see doctrine as anything but dry and cold (ala “dead orthodoxy,” which, as Marquart would point out, is a contradiction in terms). I guess now that I think about it, I’m just describing the Small Catechism. But perhaps we could use a little loci theologici divided up into short readings that are easy to understand for the laity, which might also help us fight this insane notion that doctrine has little if anything to do with the life of the Church. Is there such a book out there that I’ve missed?

(Incidentally, another book I highly recommend in this regard is The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism, available from Concordia Publishing House. But what I'm asking about is somethign similar in format to Jacobs' Elements of Religion, only written from a Missourian perspective with today's readers in mind.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Marriage as Confession of Christ

Here's the last paragraph of a wedding sermon preached by my dear friend, the Rev. Timothy Winterstein (aka the North Prarie Pastor). You can read the whole sermon (which I highly recommend) at <http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/klawittercrotteau-wedding/#more-33>:

Here is both the burden and the joy of marriage. In bringing you together, God has not brought you together only for yourselves. All of these people gathered here as witnesses are evidence of that. What was not needed in the Garden of Eden and what will not be needed in the resurrection is so deeply needed in this sin-sick world: two people who are willing to show the world, lost in its fascination with adultery, extra-marital sex, pornography, and divorce, that there is a God who has something better in mind. There is a God who has given so deeply of Himself, that it cost Him His only-begotten Son. There is a God who became man in order that we might know how incredibly and unimaginably much He loves His creation, including you. In your most profound struggles as husband and wife, you will show the world by your forgiveness of one another that our stubborn sinfulness can never cause God to stop loving and being willing to forgive us. God will never divorce us. Never. In your happiest and most joyful times, you will show the world by your willing sacrifice and submission to each other, and to Christ above all, that God in Christ willingly submitted to humiliation on a cross and sacrificed Himself on our behalf. As you pray together, read the Word of God together, serve God’s people together, receive Christ’s Body and Blood together, and, God willing, bring children into this world together, God’s immense, never-ending love for you in Christ Jesus will make you, often in spite of yourselves, to be the image of that love that God intends. And, in God’s grace, you will continue to be that image until you both experience that glorious day of resurrection for which we all are waiting. There will be no divorce then. Christ the Bridegroom will permanently unite Himself with His Bride the Church, and nothing can put asunder what God has joined together.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 16, 2007
Text: Luke 15:1-10

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15; ESV). Every one of us in this church building this morning should be nodding in assent and yielding our hearty “yea and amen” to this statement. We are sinners. We have sinned against our Lord in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole hearts. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have had other gods. We have not been faithful in our devotion to His Word and teaching. We have not honored our parents. We have hated. We have lusted. We have coveted. We have been negligent at home and at work. We have wasted God’s good gifts and been ungrateful. Yes, each one of us can say of himself or herself, I am the chief of sinners. It is a saying that is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.

But “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me” (LSB 611:1). This, also, is a trustworthy saying and deserving of full acceptance, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” even the chief of sinners, the foremost, even me. Yes, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners like you and me. That is the reason for Christmas. That is the content of Good Friday and Easter and all of the Church festivals that mark the saving acts of our Lord. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). Christ Jesus came to seek and save sinners. So it should not surprise us that here He is in the Gospel lesson attracting that very crowd. “Now the tax collectors and sinners,” the despised of Israel, “were all drawing near to hear him” (Luke 15:1). Also not surprising is that this caused no small amount of consternation among the Pharisees. “(T)he Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (v. 2). But these tax collectors and sinners knew something about Jesus’ mission and purpose that the Pharisees and scribes did not. Jesus came to seek sinners in need of a Savior. So they came in repentance to hear Him, to hear His Word, and to be forgiven of their sins.

This is lost on the Pharisees, so Jesus tells a number of parables to illustrate this point, two of which we have in our Gospel lesson this morning: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. In the parable of the lost sheep (vv. 3-7), Jesus points out that a shepherd with a hundred sheep is responsible for every last one of them. So when one of the sheep wanders off, the shepherd has the responsibility to leave the 99 that have not wandered off and seek and save the drifter. The parable of the lost coin is like unto it. The woman who has ten silver coins, if she looses one, still seeks diligently until she finds it. And when the lost sheep and the lost coin are found, there is much rejoicing. That which was lost has been restored. Thanks be to God! Let’s celebrate with a meal!

Now here’s the rub. The Pharisees have been unfaithful shepherds. They are charged with tending the spiritual flock of Israel. But they don’t care about the lost. They despise the lost. They despise the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus is always hanging around. Jesus points out that real shepherds love their sheep so much that they always seek and rescue those who have gone astray. So Who is the Shepherd who always seeks the erring.? You know the answer. It is Jesus, your Good Shepherd. He is ever faithful. He has come to seek and save sinners. All heaven rejoices. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7).

Oh, but there’s another rub against the Pharisees. They know that Jesus is talking about them. They are the 99 who think they need no repentance. But they know that Jesus thinks otherwise. Jesus teaches that all people need to repent. All are sinners. All have turned aside; all alike have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom. 3:12). That means the self-righteous Pharisees, too. The tax collectors and sinners know their need for repentance. The Pharisees are blind to that need. They cannot accept it. The tax collectors and sinners go home justified, righteous, forgiven, found. Therefore there is more rejoicing over one tax collector or sinner who repents, than over 99 Pharisees who have outward righteousness but inwardly are full of death, like whitewashed tombs; who reject Jesus and His righteousness, because they would rather plead their own righteousness before God. The parables in our text this morning are not only comforting for tax collectors and sinners who have come in repentance to be found by Jesus. They are also calls for the Pharisees to repent and receive in faith the salvation God has given them in Jesus Christ.

The call to repentance is issued to you this morning, as well, whoever you are. If you are a wandering sheep in need of finding and rescuing, have no fear. Jesus finds you, sinner that you are, and brings you back to His fold, where there is much rejoicing. He washes your wounds in His baptismal waters. He speaks His tender Word in your ear. He throws a feast to celebrate your safe return. If you are a proud Pharisee, trusting in your own righteousness, pointing out the specks in the eyes of others but failing to see the log in your own eye, repent. For Jesus is here for you, as well. Come like a tax collector and a sinner to hear Jesus. He also seeks you who are Pharisees, who do not know you are sinners, who do not know your great need for repentance, who do not know your great need for the Savior. He calls you, too, to cast off your own righteousness and put on His righteousness, the robes He gives you in Holy Baptism, the robes washed white in His blood. There is forgiveness with Him. Do not reject Him. Cling to Him. The Promise is for you and your children. You may not know it, but you, too, are lost and in need of rescue. And here is Jesus to take you in His arms, hoist you over His shoulders, and bring you back into the fold where there is great rejoicing.

Jesus has come to seek and to save what was lost. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, finds the lost sheep, and there is much rejoicing in heaven. And so we come to the second parable. It is the woman with ten silver coins. She has lost one. The woman is the Holy Church, and she is searching for her coin of salvation, the payment for her sins. She needs a light. She lights the lamp of the Word and searches diligently. Her light is the Word that speaks of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and His death on the cross. That is the payment for her sins. Jesus has made full atonement for her. Tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and scribes alike come to the light of the Word to hear Jesus and His Word of forgiveness and salvation. There is healing there for the wounded sheep. There is payment for sin. It is yours. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ. “Rejoice with me” (Luke 15:9). Come and celebrate. Mother Church cannot hold back her joy. She must share the Good News with all. So she proclaims the salvation of Christ to all of the lost sinners in this world. She brings them into her house to bask in the light of the lamp, the Word of God, and behold the salvation of Jesus. The angels look on in wonder and joy. There is much rejoicing, indeed.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came into the world to save you. He came into the world to save me. He came into the world to save all people. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek you. And when He finds you, He takes you in His healing arms and brings you to His feast. Jesus sinners doeth receive. He receives them and eats with them. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. He anoints your head with oil. Your cup runneth over. Jesus receives sinners and eats with them today, here, in this place, at the feast of celebration. Salvation is as tangible as bread and wine. The table is set. Let us sing our hosannas to the Son of David, and come to the feast of our Good Shepherd. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 9, 2007
Mission Festival, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wauneta, NE
Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14 (LW series C)

It is a rather happy coincidence that the Gospel lesson appointed for today has a beautiful admonition for the mission of the Church: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14; ESV). Now what does this have to do with missions? Jesus is not just speaking here about dinner parties. He is speaking about the ultimate dinner party, the end time feast, the foretaste of which we enjoy every time we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. And you get to invite people to that end time feast. You, yourself, are already invited by virtue of your baptism. Now you, as congregation and pastor, have the joy of inviting others by proclaiming the salvation of our Lord to a world lost in sin. You have the great privilege of being the people of God in this place, confessing Christ in your daily lives to those whom the Lord places in your path, providing for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments here at church, and aiding your brothers and sisters throughout the world in their confession of Christ. It is a marvelous privilege to invite people from all walks of life to the great end time feast of our Lord Jesus.

So who should you invite? All people. But didn’t Jesus say, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors?” That can’t be right. Aren’t we supposed to invite our friends and relatives and neighbors to believe in Christ? Well, yes, of course. But don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Even if this parable were about regular old dinner parties, Jesus isn’t telling you never to entertain your loved ones. If that’s what He is saying, we’re all in trouble. Rather, Jesus is using a typical Hebrew manner of speaking wherein He overstates the case to emphasize the point. Don’t confine the invitation to your own comfortable cliques. The Gospel doesn’t work that way. It’s not just for the privileged few. It’s for everybody. It’s especially for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;” it’s for the least of these.

The Pharisees were pretty particular about who they invited to banquets. They only invited the honorable. They only invited their own. The Gospel lesson this morning takes place in the context of a dinner party thrown by a certain, well-respected ruler of the Pharisees. His guests are only other Pharisees and the Rabbi, Jesus (and Him they had invited only so that they could watch Him carefully [v.1]). The reason the Pharisees are so selective in the company they keep at table is simple: Pride. The Pharisees are proud. They have a reputation to watch out for. Their table is not for the outcasts of society. It is for the pillars. There is no room for the poor, the crippled, the blind, or the lame at this table, and certainly not the tax-collectors and sinners with whom Jesus has a reputation of eating and drinking. The Pharisees barely have room for one another. Jesus watches with interest as they jostle for the places of honor.

But here’s the thing: in the Kingdom of God, the world’s idea of honor is turned on its head. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 11). The Pharisees are jostling for honor, but Jesus humbles them with the Law. We often miss the striking rebuke of the parable Jesus tells here. The seats at the table are still cold when Jesus begins, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (vv. 8-9). I noticed, says Jesus, how you were all competing for the best seats in the house. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Show a little humility. “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (v. 10). And then Jesus says to the ruler of the Pharisees, “You really shouldn’t have invited all these friends of yours in the first place. You are really the one hanging out with the wrong crowd. Instead, you should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you would have been repaid in the resurrection. The exalted are humbled and the humbled are exalted. The Law of God put the proud Pharisees to shame. But the Gospel exalted those of low degree, the least of the world, those who can make no claims of worthiness for themselves but must rely on the mercy of Another.

So that’s who you should invite to the end time feast, the lowest and the least, sinners in need of a Savior. But how do you invite them? How do you go about mission work? It’s strange how we Christians have resorted to all sorts of programs and gimmicks for the purpose of “growing the Church.” It’s strange because Jesus has told us exactly how to make disciples of all nations. He says in the last chapter of Matthew, “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” (28:19-20). How do you make disciples? By baptizing and teaching. It’s really that simple. And the Holy Spirit is the One responsible for the conversion. Not you. Not me. Not Pastor Wellman. The Holy Spirit, working through Baptism and teaching. Sometimes people reject that invitation. Sometimes the Church doesn’t get any bigger. That’s okay. Don’t be discouraged. Keep on baptizing and teaching. Let the Holy Spirit worry about conversions. God’s Word never returns to Him without accomplishing all that He desires.

That’s why your work of supporting seminary students is so important. Our God is such a giving and gracious God that He always gives us the means to be faithful to His mission. All are called to confess Christ in their daily lives. That’s your job as the Priesthood of all Believers. But not all are called to preach. The Lord has left us with a means for the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the Office of the Holy Ministry. The Priesthood of all Believers and the Office of the Holy Ministry are not opposed to one another. There is not one without the other. They are interdependent. The minister is called to preach and the people are called to obey the preaching. The minister is called to baptize and teach and the people are called to provide for the baptizing and the teaching and be the recipients of these things themselves. That’s mission work. You provide for the baptizing and teaching of many when you support seminary students. I have benefited from your generosity in the Lord, and I thank you. You have committed yourselves to help others, as well. As a result, you will never know the work the Lord accomplishes through the pastors you help educate, at least not in this life, at least not until the resurrection of the just.

Baptizing and teaching, that’s how you invite others to the end time feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. And you don’t worry about the company you keep when you’re making these invitations. Your invitations should be as open and free as our Lord’s. You don’t invite only the honorable of the world. You don’t play favorites. You don’t invite only those you know will bolster the bottom line of the Sunday morning offering. You invite sinners. You invite tax-collectors and sinners. You invite sinners just like you, who are in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ, remembering that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

As I said, this invitation is for you, as well. It is yours in Baptism. When you have been humbled by the Law of God, brought to repentance for your sin, Christ is here for you, to wash your wounds in His baptismal waters and speak His healing Word over you. And then He invites you to His Table. He always invites the least of these. He always invites tax-collectors and sinners. He never invites self-righteous and proud Pharisees. He always invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; those who make no pretense of any righteousness of their own. He invites you. And He feeds you His very Body and Blood. He gives you His unending gifts: the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, His own righteousness, peace with God, and every grace and blessing.

This is, after all, the same Lord Jesus Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). This is the same Jesus who said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He came to serve you by fulfilling the Law for you, in your place, and paying the penalty of your sins in His death on the cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). The exalted will be humbled and the humbled will be exalted. God did not leave His Son in the humility of death. Death could not hold our Lord Jesus. The Father raised Him from the dead for the world’s justification, for your justification and mine, which is to say that in raising Jesus from the dead, God pronounced the whole world righteous. He exalted Jesus to His own right hand. And in so doing, He exalted you, for you are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection. You have put on Christ. You are God’s beloved sons. You have a seat at His banquet Table. You are His honored guests.

Our Lord is returning soon to take us to this eternal end time feast in His Father’s Kingdom. But as I mentioned at the very beginning of this sermon, we have a foretaste right here and now every time we gather around the altar. So even though we can’t see the great feast to come with our physical eyes, we even now enjoy its many benefits, hidden under bread and wine. This meal is meant to be shared. So we invite others, including and especially the least among us. We invite them by baptizing and teaching. And the Lord has promised to bless this invitation. Just imagine that Day when we shall be greatly rewarded when we meet those whom we have invited face to face in the resurrection of the just. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Theology for Mercy

Pastor’s Window on September, 2007

Theology for Mercy[1]

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36; ESV). “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our God commands us to be merciful to the neighbor, and He provides us with the foundation for our mercy. The mercy and love we show to the neighbor is grounded in and proceeds from our Lord’s mercy to and love for us. Our God is a God of mercy. “For the Lord your God is a merciful God” (Deut. 4:31). “(T)he Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Therefore we, who are baptized into the Name of our merciful Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will also be His hands of mercy to a world in need of Divine compassion. Faith is always active in love. “O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.”[2]

Love for the neighbor proceeds from the perfect love of the Holy Trinity. “The Son is begotten of the Father from eternity. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Such begetting and procession are Trinitarian acts of love expressing the communality of God.”[3] This Trinitarian love expresses itself to man in the incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ. “In Christ the Eternal God became man. Such identity occurred that Christ might have mercy upon His ‘brothers’ (Heb. 2:17). Christian service of the neighbor finds its source, motivation, and example in Christ’s incarnate, redeeming, atoning, active love (Phil. 2:1-11).”[4] Jesus took on our flesh, that in mercy, He might live a righteous life in our place and die for our sins. As those baptized into His death and resurrection, we find our identity in Him, and are “little Christs” (a term coined by Luther) to our neighbor by showing mercy. Again, we serve as His hands of mercy to our neighbor. All of our acts of mercy and love for the neighbor, including feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner, confessing Christ to those who need to hear of Him, etc., all proceed from our new identity in Christ. “We love, because He first loved us.”

As Christians, we have a vocation of mercy. This vocation is both individual and corporate. We are called as individuals to show mercy at every opportunity. Whenever we find a neighbor in need, we should provide whatever help we can. We are all so blessed by God with more than we need for the support of our bodies. God blesses us with excess so that we can turn around and give it away, give it to our neighbor who is in need. Our mercy should extend first to our fellow believers in Christ, and then to every neighbor in need. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). And all that applies to us as individuals applies also to the Church corporately! The Church should be a place of mercy! When someone has a legitimate need, they should always be able to come to their Father’s house and find mercy.

In recent months we have been emphasizing the theology of mercy in the life of our congregation. You’ve probably noticed the emphasis in sermons and Bible class (especially the recent presentation by the Rev. Christopher Raffa on his participation in the LCMS World Relife/Human Care’s Mercy Mission Expedition to Madagascar), as well as in these newsletter articles. Our congregation’s life of mercy expresses itself in our commitments to Project Hope, the food truck, and our community meals. The elders and I have been discussing how we can best put our Good Samaritan fund to work for our corporate life of mercy. If you would like to help our congregation and/or Synod in her vocation of mercy, perhaps as a volunteer or with a financial contribution, please talk to me. And please support our corporate life of mercy with your prayers. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Pastor Krenz

[1] Title taken from the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, Theology for Mercy (St. Louis: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2004). This booklet serves as the foundation for this newsletter article.
[2] Martin Luther, “Preface to Romans.”
[3] Harrison, p. 3.
[4] Ibid.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 2, 2007
Text: Luke 14:1-14

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; ESV). Right on, Jesus! There is nothing we despise more than someone who is arrogant, cocky, who exalts himself. We love to see those who are self-absorbed knocked down a peg. Pride is among the ugliest of fashion accessories. Of course, the problem with pride is that the person who wears it on his sleeve is almost always unaware of it. And so it comes about that the finger of the Law is pointing at you and me as much as it points at the Pharisees this morning. For in our condemnation of the arrogant, our own arrogance is exposed. We are more humble than they are, we think. Oops. Our pride has just been exposed. There we go again, exalting ourselves. Repent.

Self-exaltation is a universal symptom of original sin. We see this in the behavior of the Pharisees in our text. The host, himself a prominent Pharisee, had invited his friends, who were also Pharisees, to the Sabbath feast. This was the only sort of company he would keep. Anyone else would be beneath him. Oh, he did invite one other dinner guest, Jesus, though his purpose may not have been altogether sincere. The Pharisee had invited Jesus in order to watch him carefully. By now Jesus had a reputation of keeping company with the wrong crowed, eating, and even, perish the thought (!), drinking with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus was supposed to be a Rabbi! He was a liability to Jewish orthodoxy, as far as the Pharisees were concerned. So they were keeping their eyes on Him to see what He would do next.

And then it happened. You could cut the tension at the table with a knife. A man with dropsy, a swelling of tissue where abnormal amounts of liquid has accumulated, today known as edema, came wandering into the dinner party looking for healing. He had come to the right place. There sat the Great Physician, Jesus. There was only one problem. It was the Sabbath. And healing is work. No work on the Sabbath! This was a basic 3rd Commandment issue. And anyway, this guy with dropsy was unclean. He didn’t belong at the dinner party. “Let’s just ignore him, Jesus. He is beneath us.”

Jesus would not ignore the man in need, however. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” asked Jesus (v. 3). It was a rhetorical question. “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (v. 5). Everyone at the table knew the answer. They could not object. Jesus had bested them once again. Needless to say, Jesus took the man to Himself and healed Him. Our healing Lord is also Lord of the Sabbath. How could He do otherwise?

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Notice the contrast between the Pharisees and the man with dropsy. The Pharisees did not have room for the man with dropsy at their table. In fact, they barely had room for each other. Jesus had watched with interest as the Pharisees came to table and jostled for the places of honor. The man with dropsy did not even come to the table. He waited patiently for Jesus’ healing. The Pharisees, in their pride did not even want healing from Jesus. But the man with dropsy endured their shunning, making no pretense about his own worthiness as he waited on Jesus. As a result, the Pharisees were not healed. They were not forgiven. They were not exalted. Jesus gave them the Law to humble them. But the man with dropsy was healed. He was made whole. He went away justified. The exalted are humbled and the humbled are exalted.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (vv. 8-9). Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought. Show a little humility. “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you” (v. 10). It’s true, what we heard in Proverbs, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov. 25:6-7).

But don’t just act the part. All false humility is sinful pride. We’re all guilty of this. We shy away from compliments because we know it makes us look even better. We tell our stories so that our audience is sympathetic to us. We position ourselves so that we have an edge over others, so that others will take notice of us, perhaps even praising us for our humility. There is no pure motive for anything that we do. Repent.

Repentance is the substance of true humility. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh all tell us to exalt ourselves. The Law of God, however, humbles us. Repent. Be humbled. Then you will truly be exalted. God will exalt you. You will be exalted in Jesus.

Jesus’ lesson about humility is really about Himself first of all. It was Jesus, after all, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus was humbled for us men and for our salvation. He died the death that we deserved. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In Him, we have forgiveness and life. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9-11). God raised His crucified Son from the dead for the world’s justification, and has exalted Him to His right hand in the highest heaven. The exalted are humbled and the humbled are exalted.

Those who are baptized into Christ look like Him. We are baptized into His death and resurrection. We come in humility and repentance. We die to ourselves to be raised to new life in Christ. Confess your sins and receive Jesus’ absolution. Do not exalt yourselves. Let Jesus exalt you with His forgiveness and salvation. Don’t refuse Him in your pride. Receive Him as the Physician of your soul. He longs to heal you, just as He healed the man with dropsy. And He longs to have you feast at His Table.

Pharisees are not invited to the Table of the Lord. This Table is for tax-collectors and sinners. It is for men with dropsy. It is for you and for me. When Jesus throws a feast, He invites “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). He invites sinners who have been humbled by the Law and need the healing of the Gospel. He invites you to feast on His sumptuous fare, His very body and blood. You cannot pay Him back. He doesn’t want you to. He will be repaid in the resurrection, when He receives you whole again to Himself. But He does want you to go and do likewise, having mercy on your neighbor, inviting those who cannot repay you… For example, the children who look to Him with simple trust in His mercy, who are beginning Sunday School again this morning. He wants you to do this, not because you have to do so to be saved, but because you have been saved and you are now His hands in the world. And you, too, will be rewarded in the resurrection of the just (v. 14).

In the mean time, Jesus exalts you today. He invites you to His feast. Here is healing for all who are broken by sin. Here is forgiveness for pride and every other evil. Come in repentance and faith. There is no more exalted place than that which our Lord provides this morning. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Yoke of the Office

Being a pastor is hard. Not just hard work (although it is that, or at least it should be), but hard spiritually, hard emotionally... it's just hard. Now, I'm not whining, mind you. What do you expect from an office under the cross? They don't call it a yoke for nothing! But here's the thing: It's hard dealing with sin and sinners. And that's exactly what the pastoral office is. It's an office dealing with sin and sinners. It's all about retaining and forgiving the sins of sinners (John 20:22-23). And it's even harder to be in that office when you, yourself, are a sinner in need of that forgiveness.

It's hard to tell people things they don't want to hear. It's hard to preach the Law. We always want to skip the Law, excuse sin, and jump right to the Gospel. But such gospel is really no Gospel at all. That's hard. It's hard to be faithful. It will get you the cross everytime. Men will crucify you when you speak the truth in love. They will hate you on account of Jesus' Name. Your own familiar friends will desert you and betray you. A father will be against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. I always wonder what it did to Jesus in John 6 when He spoke the truth, and many of His disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (v. 60; ESV). And "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him" (v. 66). That's the yoke a pastor bears, too.

But the thing about the office is that it's above, and in a sense, removed from the individual bearing it. When the pastor speaks a hard Word of the Lord, and that Word is rejected, the individual in office only bears the rejection by consequence. It's really the Word that is rejected. And the irony of the cross is, it's an honor to be rejected with the Word. That's not the way the world thinks, but it's the theology of the cross. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12). This is the Gospel of our Lord. Praise to Thee, O Christ!

Of course, what is true of the Office is true of all Christians when they are called upon to be faithful. And the promise is the same. They are blessed. They are blessed because they are baptized into Christ, the Crucified, and have the honor of being rejected with Him. Being a Christian is messy. Being a Christian pastor is even messier. I once read a very partisan sermon against the so-called "purity cult" in the LCMS (of which I, apparently, am a part... another slur that I would contend is a "blessing"), the premise being that we members of the "purity cult" couldn't handle the messiness of being a Christian, and didn't believe in the Christ who comes in the midst of our messiness and takes our mess upon Himself. To that preacher I must respond, Friend, you can't be a faithful pastor and not be messy. You can't be a faithful pastor and not know that Christ comes into our mess as one of us, only without His own mess of sin, and takes our mess upon Himself. But He doesn't just come to play in the mud with us. He comes to clean us up. And as another preacher once put it (this one with whom I wholeheartedly agree), "Scrubbing is always near violence. That is why dogs and small children don't like baths." That's the theology of the cross. It's not pleasant. But it is good. And it is necessary.

The answer to the cross is the cross of Christ. Jesus comes into our mess to pull us out of it and clean us up with forgiveness and new life. It isn't pleasant because we're comfortable in our mess. That's why it's hard to be a pastor. We're Jesus' hands in the world, pulling sinners out of their mess and scrubbing them. Some will reject that. But not all will. The Holy Spirit has His hand in this. Not all left Jesus when He spoke His hard Word in John 6. Not all leave Jesus when He speaks His hard Word today in preaching. The Holy Spirit works faith when and where He wills in those who hear the Gospel. So though being a pastor is hard, it is the best job in the world, and carries with it as much joy as sorrow, a great blessedness, a real blessedness (as opposed to the fake blessedness of the theology of glory), a blessedness that is by grace alone. It is a blessedness in forgiving sinners. It is a blessedness in being forgiven as a sinner (that's why every pastor should have a father-confessor). This blessedness is cruce tectum, hidden under the cross. It is already ours, but it is not yet apparent. But it is real. It is as tangible as water, bread, and wine. It is seen by eyes of faith.