Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2007
Text: Revelation 14:6-7

Beloved, Christ is in the midst of His Church, right where He promised to be. That is the context of our reading from Revelation (14:6-7). St. John writes, “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v. 1; ESV). Mount Zion stands for the Church. The Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:12), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), stands in the midst of His 144,000, a symbolic number which stands for all those who believe in Christ and are baptized into His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Lamb is mortally wounded, yet alive. He died, and behold, He lives forevermore, and has the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. He is here this morning in the midst of His Church, in the midst of the Baptized, speaking His Word, calling to repentance, speaking His absolution, and nourishing His people with His body and blood.

It is His angel who goes out with the eternal Gospel. The angel is charged with proclaiming Jesus’ Word to all “those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (14:6). The content of his message should be the content of all Christian preaching: repentance and faith. Repent and believe the good news. Repent of the sins that so easily entangle you. Turn away from them. Look to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He has redeemed you for Himself. He has forgiven all of your sins. He alone can save you. You cannot save yourself. Repent of your attempts to be righteous on your own. Jesus gives you His righteousness. Believe it and it is yours. Trust Jesus, for He gave Himself into death for you, and now lives forevermore as your risen Lord.

That is the message the angel was charged to proclaim. “And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (v. 7). Fear God, because you have sinned, and the judgment of God is coming swiftly. He is sending His Son Jesus to judge the quick and the dead. The hour has come. Repent of your sin. Repent of your self-righteousness. You cannot plead your own case before the judgment seat of God. Have more fear of your God than that! Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if it is to please God (Matt. 5:20). In other words, it must be righteousness of the heart. And you don’t have that. As good as your outward works may or may not be, your heart is black and dead with sin. You know it. Don’t try to wiggle out of it. God will not excuse you if you try to cover up the truth. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). You have no righteousness of your own. So your righteousness must come from outside of you. It must come from Someone else. And this is the eternal Gospel. It comes from Jesus. Jesus gives you His righteousness. His heart is perfectly clean and righteous. He has fulfilled the Law for you. You are saved by His works, not your own. You don’t deserve it, but He gives it to you anyway. This is what is meant by the term “grace.” It is God’s unmerited favor and kindness. And it is only when this righteousness of Christ is given to you by grace, received by faith, that you can come to give God the glory due Him and worship the Maker of heaven and earth.

The angel calls sinners to repent, to believe the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, and to give God His proper worship. That is the message of Jesus. That is the message of the Apostles and Prophets in the Holy Scriptures. That is the message of the Church. And that is the message of the Reformation. The risen Lord Jesus declared that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations” (Luke 24:47). The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] Repentance is God’s action in you, and it begins the moment His Holy Spirit brings you to sorrow over your sins. This results from the preaching of the Law. But that is not yet the whole Christian message. The preaching of the Law, “Fear God, because the hour of His judgment has come,” has the goal of preparing you for, and driving you to, the eternal Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, along with life and salvation, Christ’s own righteousness, peace with God, a loving Father, the Holy Spirit, and the promise of resurrection. This Gospel produces faith and is received by faith. It is the root and cause of our worship of God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Notice the order here. The preaching of the Word produces repentance and faith in the Gospel, which then brings forth our worship and praise and other good works. Worship and good works are a result of salvation, but they are by no means the cause of it.

Martin Luther and the other Lutheran reformers sought to correct an abuse that had taken hold of the Medieval Church. That abuse was a total reversal of the order of salvation and good works. Somehow the idea crept into the Church that salvation and the right worship of God are necessary in order to be saved. Worship and works were put before salvation as a condition. Righteousness was to be found within man. But this is precisely the opposite of the Christian proclamation that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without works. It is natural for us in our fallen condition to think that we have to be saved by some righteousness of our own, by works. And that is why every religion with the exception of Christianity proclaims salvation by works of the law. But the Good News of the sin atoning work of Christ Jesus is that our works play no part in our salvation. We are saved by the work of Christ alone. That salvation comes to us by faith. Jesus has set us free from the tyranny of the Law. “(I)f the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). You are free from the requirement of fulfilling the Law for salvation. Jesus has fulfilled it for you. He gives you His righteousness. It is His free gift. Now, as a result, you will want to do good works that glorify God and serve the neighbor. Now you will want to worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.

Martin Luther preached this very Gospel to a Church and world that needed to repent of its system of self-righteousness and self-salvation, and be renewed in Christ Jesus. But it wasn’t just the Church and world of the 16th Century that needed to hear the eternal Gospel. It is also this Church and this world, here and now, today. It is the Church and world of all times. The Church of the Reformation, the heirs of Martin Luther, still has a message from God to proclaim. We still have the privilege of preaching the eternal Gospel. It is summed up so well by Paul in our epistle lesson: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:21-22, 28). This message is for you and it is for all people. You don’t have to work for salvation! Jesus has already earned it for you! Believe it and it is yours!

Christ Jesus stands in the midst of His Church this morning and always, doling out the free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by His death on the cross. He is right where He promised He would be for you: in the eternal Gospel, delivered to you in Scripture and preaching, Baptism and absolution, and the Holy Supper of His body and blood. The Lord Jesus has sent out His angel, His messenger, to call on all the people of the earth to fear God, repent, and come to the place of worship, the Church, to receive eternal life. For it is here, where Christ is with His gifts, that broken sinners are made whole, the dead are raised to new life, the blind are made to see, and the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity. It is here that the saints worship in spirit and in truth. It is here that the Son of God says to you, “Go in peace, you are free.” And “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Ninety-Five Theses, Luther’s Works, 55 vols., Harold J. Grimm and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957) 31:25.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

California Fires

I encourage all of the members of Epiphany and any other readers of this blog to please consider making an immediate and sacrficial gift to LCMS World Relief and Human Care for the purpose of aiding those suffering from the fires in Southern California. Our prayers are with the firefighters, those who have lost homes and in many cases all their earthly possessions, and especially with those who have lost loved ones. To make a donation, send a check to LCMS World Relief, PO Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-9810, or call toll-free, 1-888-930-4438.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C)
October 21, 2007
Text: Luke 18:1-8

Beloved in Christ, the time between our Lord’s first and second coming, which is to say, the time of the New Testament, is, in truth, short. But to the faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, it can seem so long. It can seem so long to the faithful disciple of the Lord who is awaiting deliverance from a fallen world, deliverance from sin, deliverance from death, deliverance from temptation and suffering. It can seem so long when one has to wrestle with all the consequences of the fall: cancer, heart disease, addiction, terrorism, violence, loneliness, depression, just to name a few. Yes, the time is short, but it can seem so long. And it is so hard to wait. “Nonetheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8; ESV). Will He find those who cast aside their itching ears to embrace His sound biblical doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3)? Will He find those who remain in the Church despite persecution from the world and temptation from the devil? Will He find those who continue to pray, “Thy Kingdom come?”

The old cliché says that prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian’s faith. There is actually a great deal of truth to that. If you want to take the pulse of your faith, look at your prayer life. Do you pray often? Do you pray at all? It is the task of faithful disciples to pray continually until the Day of our Lord’s reappearing, the Day of our deliverance. The parable our Lord tells in the Gospel lesson this morning is meant to encourage us to pray continually and to pray boldly. “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). That is the task of the Christian, to pray and believe in these gray and latter days. Pray without ceasing, says St. Paul (1 Thess. 5:17). The Christian is to pray for himself and others, for the Church, for the preaching of the Word, and the propagation of the faith. He is to pray for the government and all who are in authority, for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger living among us, for the sick and those in prison, for those trapped by sin and those who err and are estranged from the Church, for the homebound and those who travel, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, for protection from all calamity by wind, fire, and water, and most of all that our Lord would come and deliver us. In other words, the daily prayer of the Christian is “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But we so easily become weary of prayer. We so easily tire of asking God for help and deliverance when He seems to be hidden, or perhaps not even listening. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). We often feel like Jacob, wrestling with God for His blessing. And it often seems that God wounds us before He lets us go (Gen. 32:22-30). He takes so long to answer. In the mean time, the cancer progresses, the loved one dies, Osama continues to wander free.

Beloved, don’t lose heart. We do well to learn from the widow in Jesus’ parable. She knew that the unrighteous judge did not fear God nor respect man. And she knew that as a widow in the ancient world, she had no social standing. It was inappropriate for her to ask for justice from this judge. But she asked anyway. And though the judge refused to give her the time of day, refused to grant her petitions, she continued to persistently ask. Everyday she plead before the judge, “Give me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). Now, even though the judge did not care for this widow, and even though the judge did not care about the commandments of God or the welfare of other men, he did have a reputation to watch out for. And lest his reputation be besmirched by the continual pleadings of this widow, and because she continued to pester him, he granted her petition. So do not let the point be lost on you. If the unrighteous judge answered the petitions of the persistent widow, how much more will God, who is righteous and just, ever-faithful and merciful, longsuffering and loving, how much more will He grant the petitions of “his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (v. 7). Of course, the answer is that God will most certainly grant the petitions of those who cry to Him for deliverance day and night. God has a reputation to watch out for, after all. He has given His promise. He is always faithful to His Word. God promises justice and deliverance for His people. Furthermore, Jesus promises “he will give justice to them speedily” (v. 8).

But why, then, does it seem like it takes so long for God to deliver? Dear friend, it is because you are looking in the wrong place. Jesus already has delivered you from all that troubles you in this fallen world. Deliverance for the widow and for the disciples and for you and for me came shortly after Jesus spoke this parable, as He entered Jerusalem to be our paschal Lamb. Your deliverance came in the form of the cross and suffering. Your deliverance came through the blood of God’s Son, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. That is the deliverance you need. That is the deliverance for which you yearn. And it is yours, freely, for Christ’s sake. In this life, though, it is hidden under the suffering of Christ’s holy people. It is yours now, but it is hidden. But the day is coming when our Lord will return, and that which is hidden will be brought to light. Just as your deliverance was hidden under Christ’s crucifixion, so it is made manifest in His resurrection. Jesus has conquered sin, death, hell, the devil, cancer, heart disease, terrorism, and every other evil. And though you have to suffer now, for a little while, the time is short. Jesus is coming again. In the mean time pray, and do not lose heart. Believe, trust in Christ, for your vindication is coming. Continue to wrestle. God will bless you. He has promised it. And the crosses you bear now are not even worth comparing to the blessing He gives you in Christ.

Our Lord has not left us without a means for strength and perseverance in prayer. He has given us the Word, the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures inform our prayers. They are God’s part of the conversation. There is no prayer without the Scriptures. The Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). God speaks to us, and then we speak back to God what He has first spoken. God has provided for the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the Word in visible form, the holy Sacraments, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means by which we are strengthened to continue praying and believing without losing heart. These are the divine promises that assure us of an answer to prayer. These means keep our heart beating strong and steady. They teach us how to pray and open our lips to show forth God’s praise (Ps. 51:15).

So always pray and do not lose heart. Set aside regular times for prayer everyday. Pray, of course, whenever the Church comes together for that purpose. But pray also at home and at work and in the car and on vacation. Set aside time for formal prayer, remembering too that you can pray to God whenever and wherever you find yourself in need. Call upon God’s Name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. And if ever you do not know what to pray, use the words God has given you in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Psalms, and the words of your fellow saints, such as those you find in the Catechism and hymnal. Pray Luther’s morning and evening prayers, and his prayers at meal times, which are well worth memorizing. They can be found in the Small Catechism. Pray the collect printed every week in your bulletin. Pray the prayers in the front cover of your hymnal, and those found in the section titled “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings.” Sing the hymns. Check out a copy of the Lutheran Book of Prayer. Use Portals of Prayer. But whatever you do, pray. Our Lord commands it. And He invites you to make use of this enduring gift. For God has promised to hear and answer. And whatever the answer is to your particular petition, be it “yes,” “no,” or “wait,” you know that the ultimate answer is Jesus Christ on the cross. For on account of the sin-atoning work of Jesus, you have a loving Father, who wants to hear you, and has promised to give you every grace and blessing according to His good will and in His time.

Jesus bids His Church to always pray and not lose heart. That is our task until the Lord returns and all that is wrong in the world is made right again. In the mean time, you have heard God’s gracious promises in Christ. The Son of Man finds faith on earth in the Holy Church, where His promises are freely offered. Come and collect them. Come and receive His body and blood in the Supper. It is the answer to your prayers. For whatever troubles you, here is the medicine of immortality. Here you have a glimpse of the deliverance which is now hidden under the cross and suffering. Here you have a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. And here your prayers are united with those of angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven and all the saints in every place. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Surprised by Theology

Sometimes the best you can hope for at a pastors' conference is a little collegiality (hopefully) among brothers in ministry and a free afternoon to catch up on reading or golf or whatever you do, as well as the satisfaction of knowing you've done your duty as a churchman. But sometimes there is a surprise in store for the theology-hungry pastor. I just returned from the English District Lake Erie Regional Pastors' Conference in Port Clinton, OH. Actually, this is my second regional conference, and the speakers at both have been good. But this year we had Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey, author, speaker, and professor of Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. His lectures were fabulous. I had heard of Dr. Bailey before, but was rather ignorant of his work. Now I'm a big fan. There were several moments in particular where the Holy Scriptures were opened up to me in a new way. Take, for example, the structural connection between the 23rd Psalm, the shepherd prophecies in Jer. 23 and Ez. 43, and the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. I can't summarize it all here, but I highly encourage you to check out Bailey's books. I'm not convinced of his every assertion (especially when his Calvinist bias betrays itself... but then again, we should expect a Calvinist to be Calvinist as much as we expect a Lutheran to be Lutheran), but his ability to see the intertextuality of various passages, particularly with regard to the difficult parables of Jesus, are well worth the time and expense of delving into his books. I picked up The Cross and the Prodigal at the conference. I look forward to immersing myself.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
October 14, 2007
Text: Luke 17:11-19

Worship is a confession of faith. When the Samaritan returned to Jesus, having been cleansed of his leprosy, he confessed a profound truth. Jesus is God in the flesh. Luke recounts, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:15-16; ESV). The Samaritan saw no separation between his worship of God and his worship of Jesus. He was worshiping the Father who sent Jesus. He was worshiping Jesus who is the Son of God. He was worshiping the One who has mercy and gives salvation. Such worship is a confession of faith.

Lack of worship is the opposite of confessing the faith. It is a confession that one does not have faith. The nine Jews, who should have recognized the Messiah, did not return to give worship. They accepted the cleansing of their leprosy. But they would not accept the One who cleansed them. They would not accept their cleansing from sin. They did not recognize the divinity of Jesus. They did not recognize the Son of God, sent from the Father. Therefore neither did they return glorifying God, giving thanks to Jesus. Their lack of worship betrays their lack of faith.

Faith is the receiving hand of salvation. Thanksgiving and worship are the fruits of faith. Faith lives and breathes in thankful devotion to God. Notice how good Jesus is. He cleanses all ten lepers without exception. He has mercy on all. He cannot do otherwise. But only one returns in faith. He is not one of the Jews. He is a Samaritan. He is the least among the ten, a foreigner. But he believes in Jesus. And he returns to the Son of God and prostrates himself in worship, glorifying and giving thanks.

But notice the order here. First Jesus has mercy. First He cleanses those who are unclean. All of them. Then faith results. Faith comes after mercy. Faith is the gift of God given in mercy. It is also the God-given instrument by which we receive God’s mercy. And only then, after God has first given so much to us, along with the faith to receive it, come thanksgiving and worship. God gives. We receive. Then we respond. This is the pattern of the Christian life. This is the pattern of the life of faith. This is the pattern of life for those baptized into Christ.

Not all come to faith, it is true. In this case, only one out of ten comes to faith. The other nine do not. They do not believe, therefore they do not worship. Worship is a confession of faith. Therefore one cannot worship if one does not have faith. Worship is always a fruit of faith, a response to mercy. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (v. 17). But this foreigner, this Samaritan, recognized the place of mercy; namely, where God dwells with men. And God dwells with men in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus therefore said to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (v. 19). The Samaritan received so much more than cleansing from leprosy that day. He received the cleansing of body and soul. He received salvation. Faith had truly made him well. It had made him right. It had made him right with God. Jesus took away the sickness of leprosy, and Jesus took away the sickness of sin. That is the ultimate cause for thanksgiving and worship.

And that cleansing is the cause for our thanksgiving and worship. Jesus cleansed the whole world in His sacrificial death on the cross. Not one person in the whole history of the world is an exception to this cleansing. Jesus offered the sacrifice that made the unclean clean again. The sacrifice was His life, His very body and blood. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It is not just for some people that Christ died. It is for all people. But not all receive this salvation in faith. Faith is the instrument that receives. Christ died for all, but not all believe and receive His salvation. This is the great tragedy that anyone should ever have to go to hell. All sins of all people are forgiven in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. But only faith receives the benefits of that forgiveness and salvation. Believe the promises of God, and you possess every one of them. Don’t believe the promises, particularly the promise of God’s forgiveness and love for you in Jesus Christ, and you do not have it. You can walk away, like the nine lepers, not believing in the One who has given you every grace and blessing. And if that is the case, you have rejected the Lord of life and the salvation He gives. You will go to hell, but it is your own fault, not God’s. God wanted to save you. He is faithful, even when you are not. As St. Paul writes in the epistle lesson, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). If you are condemned, it is because you don’t want God’s salvation. You don’t want Jesus. You may walk away with some of God’s temporal blessings, as the lepers walked away cleansed of leprosy, but you will walk away having forfeited your eternal salvation.

But you are here this morning worshiping Jesus. And worship is the fruit of faith. You are here calling upon Jesus to have mercy. He hears your cries. He does have mercy. He washes your wounds. He forgives all your sins. He speaks you righteous. He takes your sicknesses upon Himself. He gives you the medicine of immortality, which is His very body and blood. You believe in Him. You trust Him. You respond in thanksgiving and worship. Such thanksgiving and worship are the fruits of God-given faith. You have returned to behold your crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, and to give Him thanks. This is the precious work of the Holy Spirit within you. Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well. Rise and go your way singing the praises of God, giving thanks and worshiping, confessing Christ in all you do and say, forgiving and serving your neighbor in love. That is the pattern of your life in Christ. He has mercy on you. You receive His mercy in faith. Faith responds with thanksgiving and worship.

This puts our worship into perspective. The introduction to our old hymnal, Lutheran Worship, states it so well: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise… Saying back to [God] what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure… The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.”[1] Our various callings in life as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, pastor and parishioners, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, are contexts in which we take our worship into the week, giving thanks to God by serving our neighbor. This is faith in action. In our worship and in our vocations, we return to God to give thanks for what He has so freely given to us in Christ, our very salvation.

This also puts the work of groups like the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) in perspective. The good work of the LWML is the response of faith to God’s mercy in Christ. The dear women of this congregation have been blessed with a living and active faith in the Savior who has cleansed them from sin. So in turn they are a blessing to all of us in their work for the Lord and for the Church. They do this work out of thanksgiving to God for His mercy in Christ. It is a confession of their faith. They are a city on a hill giving light to all around it (Matt. 5:14). We see their good works and glorify our Father in heaven (v. 16).

True Christian worship confesses God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation that comes alone through Him. He is merciful. Mercy produces faith. Faith gives birth to worship and thanksgiving. This morning the faithful of Epiphany Lutheran Church are doing what the faithful do best: Receiving. Receiving mercy from God in Christ. Receiving it in faith. Beloved, you know the place of mercy. It is the place where God dwells with men, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus dwells with us in the Church as both God and Man. He who gave His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51) now gives His very body and blood for us to eat and to drink. Come, then, in faith. The Father has sent His Spirit to give you this faith in the Son. And the Son, Jesus, says to you this morning, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Worship (St. Louis: Concordia, 1982) p. 6.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
October 7, 2007
Text: Luke 17:1-10

Temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks… These things are inevitable, even for Christians, perhaps especially for Christians. Our Lord has promised them. Things that lead us to sin and even, in the worst-case scenario, tempt us to forsake the holy Christian faith are bound to plague us as Christians. Therefore our daily prayer is “Lead us not into Temptation.” God tempts no one. But the devil tempts. The world tempts. Our own sinful flesh tempts. These things tempt us to forsake our first love. And God allows these temptations and scandals to refine our faith, as a fire refines gold. So temptations will come. Therefore “Pay attention to yourselves!” (Luke 17:3; ESV). Watch out! “(W)oe to the one through whom (these temptations) come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (vv. 1-2). Temptations will come, but don’t be their cause. Don’t be the stumbling block over which one of these little ones, which is to say, a fellow believer, falls into apostasy.

It is not easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus promises temptation, scandal, the cross and suffering. The devil does not want you to be a follower of Jesus. He shoots his flaming darts at you (Eph. 6:16). He is a roaring lion seeking to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). He wants to bring you with him into hell. He uses all the enticements that the world can throw at you. Money, sex, power, possessions, all of the things the world runs after. He takes God’s good gifts and skews them, twists them, distorts them, so that their abuse is more appealing than the proper use God intended for them. Your sinful flesh is all too willing to give in to these temptations. And the devil is all too ready not only to lead you into manifest sin, but also to cause you to doubt God, to doubt His love for you in Christ, to doubt the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness you have in Christ, to doubt and so to forsake the Christian faith. The world encourages you to doubt as well. “You don’t really believe all that mythical stuff about a 6 day creation, do you? Every intelligent person knows evolution is true. You don’t really believe Jesus is God, do you? Or that He was born of a Virgin? Impossible! Or that He rose from the dead? Ridiculous!” Such is the verdict of the unbelieving world. And our sinful flesh is all too willing to listen. Especially when not listening to the world brings persecution, violence, and even death.

Repent. Temptations will come. But do not let them trouble you. Do as the disciples did. They bid the Lord Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:6). Such should be our prayer as well. “Lord, increase our faith!” For only God can increase it. Only God can create faith in the first place. Faith is not our work. It is the gift of God. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Small Catechism, Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed). Only God can create, sustain, and protect our faith in the day of temptation. So we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (Small Catechism, The Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).

“Lord, increase our faith! Lead us not into temptation!” There is help in every time of temptation with the Lord. He gives us faith by the power of His Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson what the life of faith looks like. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (v. 6). God-given faith does great things, even when it is weak and small like a mustard seed. Of course here we always need to emphasize the fact that if it is not the Lord’s will that you uproot the mulberry tree and plant it in the sea, or move the mountain, then you will not be able to do it, so don’t put the Lord to the test. The point is, though, that God-given faith does great things, like forgive our brother’s or sister’s trespasses when they sin against us, speak God’s forgiving Word of comfort in Christ when they are burdened by the guilt of sin, believe in Christ in spite of the temptations from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, do our Christian duty even when the rewards are not apparent and even when we are persecuted for our faithfulness. Faith that you create within yourself cannot do these things. But God-given faith can and does do them. Lord, increase our faith!

God-given faith even does hard things like rebuke the brother who sins and forgive him when he repents. This miracle is even greater than commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the midst of the sea. It is greater because it is harder. It is not easy to confront a Christian brother or sister who has sinned. It is not easy to tell them what they have done or are doing is not God pleasing, that it is an offense against God’s commandments. But God-given faith speaks hard words in love and gentleness. It is not easy to forgive a brother or sister who has sinned, especially when that sin is against you. Yet that is what God-given faith does. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (vv. 3-4). This is a great miracle, for when you forgive the brother or sister who sins against you, you do what Jesus does. You release that brother from his sins. You declare that there is no punishment, no retribution, no grudge. You make peace. You reconcile. These are the things Jesus does for you, and so He gives you power in God-given faith to do them for your neighbor.

Yes, there is great power in God-given faith. But don’t let that go to your head. In faith you will do great things, but this is your duty as a Christian. In faith you will also be a humble slave of Christ. Learn this lesson from experience. Slaves serve their masters. Masters do not serve their slaves. The master does not invite his slave to sit and eat when he comes in from a hard day of plowing or shepherding. Rather, when the slave comes in from his duties, he must first prepare supper for the master, and then when the master is satisfied, the slave may eat. The master does not thank the slave, for the slave has only done his duty. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (v. 10). Be humble, like a slave. Humiliate yourself to forgive others. Humiliate yourself to serve others. Give all glory to God, as a good servant of the Master.

But here’s the irony. Jesus is our Master, yet He is among us as One Who serves (Luke 22:27). He gives us faith by serving us. He gives us faith by drawing us a bath. He calls us, unworthy servants that we are, in from the field and serves us a Meal. He calls us brothers, for He has taken on our flesh. He is our faithful High Priest Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). We don’t deserve it. We have only done our duty. In fact, we haven’t even done our duty. We are sinners. We have been unfaithful. But the Master loves us. Jesus forgives us and serves us anyway. There is no limit to His forgiveness. He forgives us even when we sin against Him seven times a day. He forgives us even when we sin against Him much more than seven times a day. He forgives us and He releases us. He releases us from our bondage to sin and death. He releases us from our bondage to the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He releases us and gives us power to overcome temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks. And He promises us His good Spirit to give us faith, sustain us, and keep us. There will be temptations. There will be trials to purify our faith. Our Lord has promised them. But on account of Christ, we have a loving Father who also promises that all these things will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Lord, increase our faith! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 01, 2007

When Your Brother or Sister Sins Against You

Pastor’s Window on October, 2007

When Your Brother or Sister Sins Against You

Beloved in Christ,

It happens even in the Holy Christian Church. Someone says something or does something that is offensive to another Christian brother or sister, and there is division and strife. The old sinful flesh, which has been put to death in Holy Baptism, still clings to us, and as long as we allow it to master us, it tempts us to obsess over the other person’s sins. So what is a Christian to do when sinned against by a Christian brother or sister?

First of all, don’t let the sins of others eat at you. It is sinful to obsess over the sins of others. When you find yourself obsessing over the sins and faults of others, real or imagined, repent. There is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And remember that that Word of Gospel applies both to you and to the brother or sister in question. You are forgiven in Christ for obsessing over another’s sin. And your brother or sister is forgiven in Christ for the sin perpetrated against you. Since that is so… since you have been freely forgiven of all your sins by the blood of Christ Jesus, and since your neighbor likewise has been forgiven, how can you not also freely forgive? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Secondly, when a brother or sister sins against you, do not go and tell others. Go directly to that brother or sister and talk with them. Seek reconciliation one on one. There is no need to bring others along unless the offender refuses to repent after your persistent attempts at reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17). This direct contact with the person in question is important for several reasons. For one, you might be mistaken about the motives and actions of the one who offended you. You may actually be sinning against them by thinking evil of them in your heart, when they did not, in fact, sin against you. You also have a responsibility under the 8th Commandment to protect your neighbor’s good name and reputation. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (Luther’s Small Catechism). An older translation of the Catechism says we should “put the best construction on everything.” That means that even if we think our neighbor has sinned against us, we should give them every benefit of the doubt that they did not mean to do it, did not realize they did it, and would never have done it if they knew it would bring us pain. We should defend our neighbor at all costs, always assuming and speaking only the best of him.

For this reason, we teach children not to tattle on their peers. Tattling, gossip, and slander always result in damage, even when the information imparted is true. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8; ESV). The reason is this: A person is only as good as his name in the eyes of others. When you tear down a person’s reputation, you are tearing down that person. And this is grave sin. It is murder of a person’s reputation. Every last one of us is guilty of this sin. We assume the worst about someone who has sinned against us (at least from our perspective) and we publish the incident by talking behind the person’s back. Every last one of us needs to repent. You do and I do. (Let me be the first to say that I am sorry if I have ever done this to any of you. I repent.) And then let us turn to Jesus and receive His mercy and forgiveness. He is longsuffering and abounding in love. There is always forgiveness for sinners in Him. So we too will gladly forgive one another and speak well of each other.

Epiphany Lutheran Church is a close-knit congregational family. We live life together as those forgiven and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ. So we also live in love, service, and forgiveness toward one another. We are all sinners, and wherever two sinners are gathered together, there will be sin against one another. Thus there will be sin and offense and division and strife even in this community of faith. But wherever two forgiven sinners are gathered together, there will also be forgiveness of one another. This forgiveness flows from Christ and through us to our neighbor. So what should you do if your brother or sister sins against you? Forgive them, unconditionally and completely. And live in the unconditional and complete forgiveness that your Lord Jesus won for you on the cross.

Pastor Krenz