Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
Text: Matt. 10:34-42

The grace of God in Jesus Christ is free, but being a disciple of Jesus Christ is costly. You’ve heard me say this many times as your pastor, and I’m probably not the first pastor you’ve heard it from, and hopefully every other Lutheran pastor you run into will tell you the same thing. Grace is God’s free gift to you in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to work for it. You can’t earn it. It has nothing to do with your own merits or good works. The very definition of grace is God’s underserved favor, His unmerited love. And you are saved by grace alone through faith alone without works, so salvation itself is free. But that doesn’t mean it won’t cost you to be a disciple in this earthly life. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to be a disciple of the Savior. And Jesus has warned you ahead of time. That has been our theme for the past couple of weeks and this week, as Jesus warns His disciples, His twelve apostles in particular, and through them, the whole Church, that discipleship is not easy. You will be rejected. You will be hated by all for His Name’s sake (Matt. 10:22). You may even have to suffer the loss of all earthly possessions, prison, death, betrayal by friends and family. It is enough for you that you are like your Teacher, your Master, Jesus, who likewise suffered all these things for you. Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul (v. 28). Even the hairs of your head are all numbered (v. 30). God will preserve you in the time of persecution. But there will be persecution. Grace is free, but discipleship comes at a cost. So it is that Jesus says this morning, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (v. 39; ESV).

Jesus exhorts us this morning to take up our cross and follow Him (v. 38). That’s what disciples do… they follow their teacher and they do the things that their teacher does. A disciple is one who follows his teacher or master wherever he goes. Jesus goes the way of the cross, so the disciple must also go that way. Jesus takes up His cross, so the disciples should likewise take up theirs. If Jesus suffers, the disciples should expect to suffer. If Jesus is persecuted, the disciples should expect to be persecuted. If Jesus bears a cross, so also the disciples should expect to bear crosses of their own. Jesus bears the cross for the forgiveness and life of His disciples, winning for them the free grace of God. Disciples bear the cross, not for their own salvation, but because God is allowing them to undergo trials and afflictions for the purpose of forming the disciples, molding them into the image of Jesus, their Master, by crucifying the old sinful flesh that the new man might arise, bringing us to despair over our own ability to deliver ourselves so that we cling to God by faith in His Son Jesus Christ for deliverance from sin, death, and the devil.

So if you want to be a disciple of Jesus, and you are such a disciple if you believe in Him, then you must expect to suffer. You must expect Him to call upon you to take up your cross and follow Him. Jesus identifies a particular cross in our text this morning, that of division in the family on account of His Name. It is hard to imagine a more painful cross to bear, than when those closest to us, those we love so dearly, reject us or even betray us on account of Jesus Christ. This division can take many forms. Maybe there is someone in your family who is scandalized by Jesus, and hates it when you talk about your faith in Him. Even more, that person hates it when you continually urge him or her to go to church and receive the gifts of forgiveness and life that Christ so longs to give. Or perhaps you have a family member who is living in some manifest sin, and if you mention anything about it, if you urge that family member to repent and mend his ways, you know that he will reject you. But of course, to remain silent is to sacrifice perhaps that loved one’s very salvation for the sake of temporary, earthly peace, which, by the way, is not real love. And that’s the hard part: Love, real love, Christian love, demands that you make your good confession of Christ even when you know it will cause strife between you and a family member or friend. And so it is in this sense that Jesus speaks His very hard Word: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (v. 34).

Of course, Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). When Jesus was born, the angel and the host of heaven sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Jesus does bring peace, but it’s not a temporal, earthly peace. Jesus brings peace with God, and along with that peace of conscience and heart, because all sin and its guilt is wiped out by Jesus’ sacrificial death. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). And there is even a sense in which this peace is true of relationships: that is to say, relationships between Christians. Those who have been forgiven of all sin and given peace with God freely on account of Christ will not withhold that forgiveness from others, and so when two Christians have a conflict, the peace of Christ should reign and that conflict should be resolved with mutual forgiveness, patience, and love. St. Paul urges Christians to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). But in terms of relationships with non-Christians, there you cannot expect peace. You should extend that hand of peace, of course. But when you confess Christ and speak the truth in love, you can expect rejection and hatred, even from family members: a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Matt. 10:35). You should expect it because Jesus Himself suffered it. His own family forsook Him during His earthly ministry. Not even Jesus’ brothers believed in Him until after the resurrection (John7:5). His family was embarrassed by Him. So if you have suffered division in the family on account of Jesus, you have not suffered anything Jesus has not suffered Himself.

Now this division that happens within the family is very particular. It is that division caused by the Name of Christ. Remember that. We’re not talking about a daughter-in-law who just doesn’t see eye to eye with her mother-in-law in terms of raising her family or keeping her house, in the fashion of Everybody Loves Raymond. We’re not talking about a son who just doesn’t get along with his father, seeing his father’s rules as too burdensome, unreasonable, and believing that his father just “doesn’t get him.” Such divisions are sinful. If you are divided from a family member for any earthly reason, you will not find solace in our text. Repent and be reconciled. Receive the forgiveness of Jesus and the forgiveness of that family member. But if a family member shuns you because of your confession of Christ, because you’ve urged that family member to believe in Christ and come to church, because you’ve confronted that family member over a particular sin, then that is your cross to bear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38). Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Lose your life here on earth. Crucify the flesh. Do not give in to the temptation to pursue earthly, temporal peace at all costs, including the denial of Jesus. Rather, accept the cost of being Jesus’ disciple. Because Jesus is your life. Whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it abundant and eternal in His Savior.

In the meantime, you will not be without family, even if all your blood relations forsake you. Even if you are the only Christian among all your relatives, and all forsake you because of Christ, you have a family here in the Church. Whoever receives a Christian receives a Christian’s reward. Jesus said to His apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (v. 40). The promise to the apostles was that whoever heard their Word and received them into their homes were in actuality doing these things for Jesus, and so received the Father who sent Him and the Spirit whom Father and Son impart. And the same is true of all Christians. Whoever receives a Christian because he is a Christian receives the reward of a Christian. Because the whole Church is a family, with one Father, one Savior, united in one Spirit. And of course, your Brother, Jesus Christ, is with you always, even to the very end of the age. He is with you to forgive you for all those times you have forsaken Him in the interests of earthly peace with family members. He is with you to forgive you for all those times you have refused His free grace on account of the cost of discipleship. He is with you to forgive you all your sins, wash them away, and strengthen you with His Word and His Sacraments to take up your cross daily and follow Him all the way to Golgotha and beyond. In Him you have life. He is your life. In Him, you will by no means lose your reward. He has already given you salvation freely, by His blood. Now any costs you accrue as a result of that salvation, as a result of your discipleship, will be rewarded not only in this earthly life, but in heaven and in the resurrection.

This Sunday is also the commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. These two great apostles lost their lives for Jesus’ sake, and so found them in Christ. Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded, both in Rome, during the persecution of emperor Nero. And certainly during their earthly lives, Peter and Paul gave up all for the sake of Christ. They gave up their earthly possessions, they suffered imprisonment, and undoubtedly, many of their loved ones forsook them on account of their good confession. Ultimately, they suffered martyr’s deaths. Let them be examples to us. But even more, let us believe their message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for which they died. True peace is peace with God. It is eternal peace, the peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord, who suffered all for us, died for us on the cross, for our forgiveness, and was raised again for our justification. Whatever we suffer now is nothing in comparison with the glory to be revealed in us, and the marvelous gifts of life and salvation that flow to us freely in His blood. So fight the good fight. Do not give up. Your reward is in heaven. Jesus is your peace, your life, your salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 22, 2008
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33

“(Y)ou will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10: 22; ESV). That’s a promise straight from the mouth of Jesus. None of us likes to be hated. We’d much rather be liked by all, held in high esteem, respected, honored. But if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you have to expect to be hated. That’s hard. I confess to you, dear brothers and sisters, that as a pastor, I would much rather do whatever it takes to be liked, to please everyone, never rock the boat, never say or do things that might offend, or with which someone may disagree. It’s much harder to be faithful, speak the Word of Christ faithfully, even when it’s not popular, perhaps even have to suffer for it. And I suspect in every congregation there are lay people who would say to me, “We’d rather you didn’t speak such hard things, Pastor. Just be kind, winsome, and tell us what we want to hear on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, leave us alone.” But you know, and I know that Christ our Lord has not called me to that kind of milquetoast ministry. And you know, and I know, that that is not the kind of ministry you need. Therefore you and I both need to repent. For you need the often displeasing, rock the boat, offensive, disagreeable Word of Jesus Christ.

And so does the whole world. It’s the only thing that can lead them to salvation. So you can expect to be hated, hated by all, for the Name of Jesus Christ. If you’re being faithful to Christ and His Word, the world will take offense, and you will bear the brunt of their hatred. And sometimes this will hurt more than others, because sometimes those we deeply love will be the ones who hate us for our good confession. Sometimes friends and family members will despise and persecute us for what we believe and confess. Jesus declares, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (v. 21). Now, here in the United States we are blessed with great religious freedom, and certainly no one here has had to suffer death at the hands of their loved ones on account of their faith, at least not with the official sanction of the authorities. But understand that historically, Christians have had to face precisely this persecution, even being martyred for the faith, and it is true, often at the hands of loved ones who turned out to be Judases. This was true in the Old Testament as much as it is in the New. Consider the prophet Jeremiah, who writes in our Old Testament lesson, “I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! ‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him’” (Jer. 20:10). And even though persecution unto death is not the norm in United States, it is very much the reality in other nations of the world even today. This is true especially in Islamic nations where it is illegal to evangelize in the Name of Christ. The public confession of Christ can and often does lead to imprisonment and death. And at the very least, if a Muslim converts to Christianity in one of these countries, they will be disowned by their family and exiled from their home. Brother will rise against brother, father against child, child against parents. Jesus predicts it, and how true it is.

At this point you have haven’t been called to shed blood for the sake of Christ. But you do know what it is to be hated by all for His Name’s sake. Even in this country where we enjoy unprecedented religious freedom, being Christian is not popular, at least not if you want to be faithful to Christ and His Word. You know that your stance against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and physician assisted suicide, your insistence that sex is meant for marriage between and man and a woman who are married to one another, that therefore homosexuality and sex before and outside of marriage is wrong, you know that such notions are unpopular in today’s society, that you are ridiculed for your archaic notions of right and wrong. But most of all, the fact that you say Jesus is the only way to salvation, that you must be a Christian to be saved, has earned you the ire, the hatred, of the world. How intolerant of you! So today’s text has a lot to say to you this morning. You will be hated by all on account of Jesus’ Name and His Gospel.

But do not fear. “(T)he one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). God is with you, to strengthen you and to help you, to uphold you in the day of trouble. He is your sufficiency, and He fights for you. In the face of persecution, the prophet Jeremiah writes, “But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11). Don’t fear those who persecute you. We must not fear men more than we fear God. To do so is to break the First Commandment by making gods out of human beings. Rather we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things, including all people, even our loved ones, even our brothers and sisters, our children, our dearest friends, our parents, our spouses. Even these good gifts of God, these wonderful relationships that God gives us, can become idols to us if we choose them over God, if we fear the opinions of our loved ones more than we fear the commandments of God. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is our God, and no one else should take His place, no matter how much we may love the person who wants to get in the way of our faith and our relationship to God. As much as we love our family, our friends, our spouses, we must fear and love God more, and trust Him above all else.

If it is true of our loved ones, that we should fear God more than we fear them, then it is certainly true of others who want to persecute us. Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Have you ever wondered if someday God will call upon you to suffer physical persecution for your confession of Christ? Again, this is the historical precedent in the Christian Church. What would you do? Are you willing to suffer the loss of all earthly goods, imprisonment, torture, death for the sake of Christ and His Name? What if that day comes? It could, you know. Well, if that day comes, again, remember that Christ is your sufficiency and strength. God has not abandoned you. He is with you and He will deliver you. Remember that Jesus suffered all these forms of persecution for you. He lost all earthly possessions for you. He was arrested for you, tortured for you, crucified for you, and died for you. He did all this even though you are a sinner, one born blind, dead, and an enemy of God and His Son. That’s how God revealed His great love for you, that while you were still a poor miserable sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He did this for your forgiveness, to reconcile you to God, to pay your debt to God, to release you from Satan’s chains and a certain eternity in hell. And Christ is risen! He’s conquered death! He’s conquered the devil! He’s conquered hell! Heaven awaits you!

So don’t fear men. You have nothing to fear from them. The worst they can do is kill your body. They cannot kill your soul. God can destroy both your soul and your body in hell, but He does not. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem you to Himself. So don’t reject Him in fear of men and go to hell anyway. That would be tragic. Jesus says, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Rather, believe in God. Trust Jesus. Your reward is with Him. He has delivered you from the things that can really harm you. Don’t worry about others, what they think, whether they like you or hate you, or what they might do to you. Justice comes in the end. All will be brought to light. “(N)othing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known” (v. 26). In the end it will be clear to all that you are in the right, that you suffered unjustly, and those who persecuted you, if they did not repent in this earthly life, will receive their judgment when Christ comes again.

In the meantime, it is enough that you are like your Teacher, your Master, Jesus. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (v. 25). If they persecuted Jesus, they will certainly persecute you. The “they” in this verse is the unbelieving world. But do not be discouraged. Count it an honor to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ. Your very suffering is a confession of faith. It is a confession of the Lord Jesus who suffered for you. And it is a great privilege.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). Confessing Christ will bring the hatred of the world down upon you, but so what?! Christ promises that even the hairs of your head are all numbered. In other words, God loves you, and nothing can happen to you without His permission, and everything He permits is for your good. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father’s permission. If He so loves and cares for the sparrows, how much more you, who are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:28-29, 31)? And you have Christ’s sure promise, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (v. 32). That is to say that on the Last Day, Jesus will point to you and say to His Father, “This one is mine. This one confessed me before men. Come, dear child, and receive the inheritance prepared for you before the world began.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 15, 1008
Text: Matt. 9:35-10:20

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; ESV). Sheep need a shepherd. Without a shepherd, the sheep are liable to graze upon poison plants, or starve for lack of good food, or be so intent upon their grazing that they wander right into the clutches of a robber or a wolf. Sheep need a shepherd to protect them from harm, and lead them to what is good. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). A good shepherd will give his all, even his very life, for the protection of his beloved sheep. That is the kind of Shepherd Jesus is for you and for me. He did give His life for us, for our forgiveness and life. Such compassion does Jesus have for His people, harassed and helpless as we are, that He cannot help but be such a Shepherd for us.

Jesus knows that His flock, the holy Christian Church, needs shepherding. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd. And yet since His ascension into heaven, even though He is truly present with us as both God and man, we cannot see Him with our eyes. So Jesus, again, in His compassion for the harassed and helpless sheep of His fold, has appointed undershepherds to tend the flock. In our text, no sooner had Jesus commanded His disciples, all those who were following Him, to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38), than He called twelve of those disciples to be His apostles, His “sent ones,” as the word apostle literally means, His undershepherds, those who were to speak His Word and be the twelve new patriarchs of the new, spiritual Israel, the New Testament Church. He called the Twelve and gave them the authority to speak His Word and do His works (10:1). All that these apostles did was to be in the stead and by the authority of Christ. They would be His mouthpiece and His hands in the world. Whatever they said in the office of apostle would be Christ’s own Word, so that when the apostles dealt with the flock, it would be just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ, our dear Lord dealt with the flock Himself. And certainly these Twelve apostles had spectacular gifts to back up their claims. Jesus gave them authority to cast out demons and to heal every kind of dread disease and affliction. These powerful gifts not only gave legitimacy to the apostles’ ministry, they were a continuation of the very things Jesus had been doing in His earthly ministry, as our Gospel lesson begins, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (9:35). This is the ministry to which the apostles were called.

Jesus gives the apostles some marching orders. In this beginning part of their ministry, they are not to go to the Gentiles, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5). Later Jesus will command the apostles, and by extension, the Christian Church, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20), but for now, the disciples were to concentrate their efforts on their Jewish brothers and sisters. And the apostles were given a specific message to proclaim: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7). It is the same message John the Baptist preached in preparation for Jesus’ ministry, and the message of Jesus Himself, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). And it is this very message that Christian pastors and the Holy Christian Church of all times and places are called upon to proclaim: Jesus is here with forgiveness and life! Repent of your sins, and believe the good news!

As an aid to this preaching, the apostles were to do the spectacular miracles of healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. Now these were gifts unique the apostles, and nowhere do the Scriptures promise these gifts would continue among Christians, but again, these gifts were given to the apostles to show that their ministry was the very ministry of Christ Jesus Himself, carried out by their hands. They were His undershepherds, servants of the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally Jesus told His disciples, “You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food” (10:8-9). In other words, the apostles were not to worry about earthly possessions. They were not to work for a wage. They were not to worry about whether they had saved up enough money before their journey began. Rather, the people of God were to take care of them, provide them with whatever happened to be needed; if money, then money; if food, then food; if clothing, then clothing; for the laborer deserves his food. Such grateful sheep provide for Christ’s undershepherds as those who receive and listen to their word. Of such our Lord commands, “if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it” (v. 13). Stay awhile, preach the Word, teach, baptize, administer the Sacrament, do the work I have called you to do among the people. But if the people refuse to hear the Word or receive it, leave the house, leave the town, and shake the dust off your heals as you go, as a testimony of the divine judgment they face.

And here’s the thing the apostles were to keep in mind: They should expect persecution and hatred. They should expect to be rejected as the undershepherds of Christ by the same people who reject Christ as the Chief Shepherd. For the apostles themselves are sheep, and they, too, need protection from the wolves. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (v. 16), says Jesus. “Be smart about your ministry, avoid persecution when you can do so in good conscience, but when the time comes, suffer as an innocent dove in the hands of a predator. For your reward is not in this earthly life. Let them drag you before their courts and synagogues and governors and kings. Just be faithful in your confession. Just trust Me. I am with you. Don’t be anxious about what you’re going to say, because I will give you My Holy Spirit, who will teach you what you are to say.” “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (v. 20). And a few verses beyond our text, Jesus promises, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22). The one who remains in the faith and confession of Jesus even unto death will have His reward in the life to come.

Well, even though these verses are addressed to the apostles and talk about a lot of things that are unique to the apostles’ situation, it’s not hard to make the connection with the modern day successors of the apostles, the Christian pastors. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” Christian pastors are charged with shepherding the flock of the Holy Christian Church under the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. For the sheep need a shepherd. You, dearly beloved, need a shepherd. Jesus is your Good Shepherd, but you can’t see Him with your eyes, even though He is with you always. So Christ has given the Office of the Holy Ministry among you. He’s called a man, several men, in fact, through the course of time, from among you, the royal priesthood, to be His undershepherds in this place. They are ordinary men… I am an ordinary man, no less sinful than you are, no less in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, and certainly not worthy of any greater status before God. But by God’s gracious working, He has given you to me as my flock, and me to you as your shepherd. He has called an ordinary man, through you, the Church, to this office and work, to speak His Word and do His ministry in this place, to forgive the sins of the repentant and retain the sins of the unrepentant as long as they do not repent, to preach, to teach, to baptize, to administer the Sacrament, to warn against false doctrine, to visit the sick and the suffering, to counsel, and to pray. What an incredible gift! And here’s the promise: “The one who hears you hears me,” says Jesus to His apostles (Luke 10:16). That is to say that we should be certain “that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command,” regardless of who they are, and even if we find out later that they are evil, their dealings with us according to God’s Word are “just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”[1] You can be sure of this because of the Word and promise of Christ, because it is Christ who called the man and charged him with His ministry, it is Christ who does the ministry through the man He has called, and it is Christ who answers the prayers of the faithful to send out laborers into His harvest field. And so you can be sure of another thing: When your pastor declares to you, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins,” your sins are indeed forgiven. Eternal life and salvation are yours. All the benefits of the risen Christ’s cross and death are yours. For it is really Christ who forgives you.

It is Jesus’ great compassion that led Him to institute the Office of the Holy Ministry and give first apostles, and then their successors, pastors, to His Holy Christian Church. For we are harassed and helpless in this world, as sheep without a shepherd, under assault night and day by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. But Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He loves us, and does not leave us helpless. He comes to us, and in a very unexpected way… through the ministry of the Word. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Comfort via Martin Chemnitz

This is our greatest comfort. For because of His deity He can save us, and because of His humanity, with which He suffered and was tempted, He can show compassion for us. He shows before the face of God the wounds that He received for our redemption. He loves and cares for us because He has bought us at so great a price and has given His life for us. "And no one hates his own flesh." [Eph. 5:29]

~ The Two Natures in Christ, J. A. O. Preus, trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971) pp. 337-38.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What Does a Pastor Do the Rest of the Week?

Pastor’s Window for June 2008

What Does a Pastor Do the Rest of the Week?

Beloved in the Lord,

Since I only see most of you once or twice a week, primarily on Sunday mornings, you may wonder what I do with the rest of the time. I confess that when I was a layman, particularly when I was a kid, before I began my studies for the Holy Ministry, I wondered about that myself. And of course, there is the old joke that the pastor should have plenty of time since he only works on Sunday mornings (if only that were true!). This article is only about my pastoral schedule. I’m sure there are many other pastors who do other things and who order their schedules much more efficiently. You all know my Sunday schedule, but what do I do the rest of the week?

During the “work week” (Tuesday through Saturday) my day begins at 6 am. I prefer 6:30, but Madelyn insists on 6. By 7:30 I’m out the door for my ethics class at West Michigan Lutheran High School, a class that is coming to an end as you receive this newsletter. While I’m up in the Kentwood/Grand Rapids area, I often make hospital and shut-in calls. I usually make 2 or 3 calls per week, depending on the week. This includes a lot of time on the road. On Tuesday mornings after class, I get together with some of the Grand Rapids area pastors for a study of one of the New Testament readings for the upcoming Sunday. We study these readings in Greek. It is an honor to sit at the feet of these wiser and more experienced pastors, and very valuable for sermon preparation. If I’m not making a call or attending the pastors’ study, I get back to the church between 9:30 and 10. When I get back to the church, I usually pray Matins (p. 219 in LSB), or if there is not enough time in the morning, for example on Wednesdays when we have our 10:30 Bible Class or when someone stops in to chat, I pray Vespers in the afternoon (p. 229 in LSB). The prayer services are called “The Offices.” I use the daily office to structure my devotional reading and prayers for the sick and the suffering among us, for our congregation and the whole Holy Christian Church, for other pastors, for missions, for our nation and our authorities, our military, and our world. I often pray the same prayers we pray together on Sunday morning, in addition to other collects and prayers. During this devotional time I also pray for each member of our congregation by name.

By then it’s usually lunchtime, and while I’m eating I do some miscellaneous reading and studying. Afternoons often include another shut-in call closer to home, but are primarily dedicated to study and meditation on the sermon for the upcoming week, as well as the actual writing of the sermon. Each week I print out the readings and collect for the upcoming Sunday for study and meditation each day. In preparation I read books and commentaries and sermons by other pastors on the text. Afternoons are also spent in preparation for Bible classes, service planning, and writing newsletter articles like this one, as well as other projects for which it is difficult to make time. In the early afternoon I try to make time for exercise at least 3 days a week (I always take study material with me), and be home in time for dinner and family devotions. Often I take some work home with me in the evenings. Wednesdays are a whole different animal, with Catechism class at 4:45, community supper at 6, and Bible Study/Eucharist at 7 (I’m thankful for the summer break, though I’ll miss each of these activities). This doesn’t take into account preparations for special services in Lent and Advent and midweek festivals like Ascension, nor our Adult Information Class held each Fall, meetings, calls on members, and the daily tasks of office administration. I wish I could say things always work out according to schedule, but they never do. Every week something comes up that requires a tweaking of the schedule. Saturday usually ends up being a catch up day for all that didn’t get done on the weekdays. And Summer ends up being the catch up season for all that didn’t get done the rest of the year.

What is great about this schedule, as you can see, is that my week is consumed with the Word of God and prayer, and I even get to receive Holy Communion several times a week. I’ll write more about this next month on the basis of what the Twelve Apostles said of their ministry: “we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4; ESV).

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 8, 2008
Text: Matt. 9:9-13

Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. So if you believe you are without sin, or that what little sin you have does not exclude you from the Kingdom of God, or that you have any righteousness whatsoever in and of yourself, don’t expect a place at Jesus’ Table. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12, 13; ESV). Jesus comes to call tax collectors and sinners like Matthew into His fellowship. He comes to heal those who are sick unto death with sin. He comes to call those who, in repentance, say of themselves, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment” (LSB, p. 184). “Go and learn what this means,” says Jesus. “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). Jesus desires to have mercy on you, to save you, without works of your own, by grace, through faith, which receives all the benefits of the salvation won by our Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice on the cross and in His victorious resurrection from the dead.

But if you are to receive Jesus’ mercy, which He so freely extends to you, you must know that you are a sinner in need of that mercy. Who are the tax collectors and sinners in our text? They are the despised and rejected among the Jews of Jesus’ day. They are despised and rejected because they are notorious for their lack of scruples. Not only do they fail to uphold the Law of Moses to the degree of the Pharisees. They grossly transgress that Law. And these are the type with which Jesus feasts at Matthew’s table. Undoubtedly the company would have included other tax collectors, Matthew’s colleagues. Such tax collectors were despised because, first of all, no one likes to pay taxes… even we can identify with that… and secondly these tax collectors would routinely take more money from the individuals being taxed than was required. Whatever extra the tax collector collected was his to keep. But also gathered around Matthew’s table were those termed “sinners.” Who are they? Perhaps, or even probably, this number would have included prostitutes. Maybe it included some dishonest businessmen, or known adulterers. At any rate, it was not respectable company. And there is Jesus in the midst of them, treating them as the objects of His favor. This infuriated the Pharisees who looked on in disgust. They didn’t have the guts to confront Jesus directly, but they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 11).

Now, one thing we must be clear about, and perhaps this was misunderstood among the Pharisees… Jesus does not condone the sin of the sinners gathered around the table. Jesus does not pretend that the sin is okay. If there’s one thing we know about Jesus, it’s that He is not afraid of offending people when the time comes to speak the truth. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He was very pointed in His speaking the Law to her: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). “You are living in sin. What you are doing is shameful. This should not be.” When a woman was caught in adultery and the scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone her, Jesus said He would not condemn her, but He also told her to “go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). And certainly such mercy on the part of Jesus will lead the one receiving His mercy to repentance, as was the case with Zacchaeus, another notorious tax collector, in fact, a chief tax collector. When our Lord came and ate with Zacchaeus and his friends, again, tax collectors and sinners, Zacchaeus was so overcome by our Lord’s mercy that he declared in the presence of all, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). These good works were not done by Zacchaeus in order to earn our Lord’s mercy, but in joyful response, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, and as a mark of repentance. Such good works, such sacrifices, are a result of the mercy and salvation Jesus has already freely given. So Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (v. 9). Jesus desires mercy, and not sacrifice. He desires to have mercy. The sacrifice on the part of those who receive His mercy comes as a result of that mercy. It is the forsaking of sin and the serving of the neighbor in love. That’s the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jesus does not condone sin, He forgives it, and as the great Physician of souls, He heals the sinner, and makes the sinner righteous with His own righteousness.

So who are the tax collectors and sinners of our day? They aren’t just IRS employees. And who are the Pharisees, for that matter? The answer to both questions is you and me and all people. For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). None of us, not one, deserves to sit at the table of Jesus and eat with Him. But we, each one of us, are certainly the lost that He has come to seek and save, the sinners He has come to call, the sick in need of our Great Physician. It isn’t the righteous who need Jesus, but sinners. And yet, there is a little Pharisee in each one of us, who may piously say he is unworthy, but in his heart believes he is more worthy than others, and brings at least a little righteousness of his own to the table. This Pharisee likes to give lip service to the idea that salvation is by grace alone without works, but he doesn’t really believe it. And this little Pharisee is named Adam, and he needs to be drowned each day in the waters of Baptism. He needs to be drowned because Jesus doesn’t want the righteousness you bring to the table. That kind of righteousness is filthy rags (Is. 64:6). No, Jesus wants you to come to the table as the sinner that you are, so that He can forgive you. He wants you to come in repentance, believing that He is able and willing to give you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, all the things He won for you in His death on the cross, and in His resurrection. Thus he is truly worthy and well prepared to come to the table of Jesus who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts them, whether it is because he believes Christ to be a liar, or believes he does not need the forgiveness Christ offers, is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe. This is the great paradox: Those who think they are worthy, are not. But those who know they are unworthy, such tax collectors and sinners, are the very folks with whom Jesus wants to dine, and for whom Jesus prepares a feast, a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, the Supper of His body and blood.

Jesus eats with sinners. Don’t let the little Pharisee in you be offended at that. You are the sinner Jesus wants to eat with. You are the sinner Jesus wants to feed. You are the sinner Jesus wants to fill with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are the sinner Jesus loves, and gave His life for, to whom He gives His own righteousness and eternal life. The Lord’s Supper is for sinners, and sinners only. The Lord’s Supper is for you. And look what Jesus does with the tax collectors and sinners He gathers to Himself: There’s Matthew, Levi, as he’s also known, sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus just walks right up to Him and says, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9). And then Jesus comes into Matthew’s home and eats with Him, and makes Matthew into the great apostle and evangelist whose Gospel we Christians meditate upon every day. Matthew doesn’t earn any of this by his sacrifices and good works. Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus has mercy on Matthew. As the Great Physician, He heals Matthew. He heals Matthew from the sickness of sin. And there is always a place at the table for Matthew, who even now joins us at the Lord’s table from the other side of the veil. And so there is always a place for you. For every sinner there is a place at our Lord’s table.

If you are a visitor who has not been instructed in Lutheran doctrine and therefore cannot join us at the altar this morning, come and talk to me, because we want you here in the fellowship of this altar. Come and be instructed, because we have a place for you, or better, the Lord has a place for you at His table. And you who are instructed, who receive the Lord’s Supper here week after week, isn’t it amazing what we sinners get to receive here?! The Lord Jesus, very God of very God, but who has taken on our flesh, is here among us as both Host and Food, and He actually places His true body and blood, the very same body and blood given and shed for us on the cross, into our mouths, into the mouths of sinners, making sinners righteous. Jesus eats with sinners. Therefore come to the table this morning, with all your sins, with all your shame, with all your unworthiness, come and be forgiven. Jesus is here. The Supper is ready. In His mercy, Jesus desires to feed us with His own sacrifice, that of His body and blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 1, 2008
Text: Matt. 7:15-29

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21; ESV). If Oprah heard Jesus talking like this, she’d have a conniption. And the truth is, you and I are a little embarrassed by Jesus’ words, because, to speak plainly, Jesus is saying here, asserting, with authority no less, that there are people who claim to be Christians, who look like Christians, maybe even have Christian “ministries,” who do all sorts of good works, who will nonetheless go to hell when they die. And that kind of teaching just rubs us the wrong way. You see, we are all products, to one degree or another, of our relativistic, politically correct culture. How dare you say that someone’s belief system is wrong… that their belief system will even send them to hell! It’s mean, it’s insensitive, and worst of all, it’s intolerant. And we simply cannot tolerate intolerance. We don’t really like what Jesus says here. We just don’t like to think about hell as a real place where real people go… Well, maybe hell is fitting for Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler, but certainly not someone who says, “Lord, Lord,” especially not when that person may be sincere!

Repent. Jesus is warning you about a real spiritual danger. There are false prophets out there, seeking to lead you to hell with them, and guess what, they look exactly like Christians. “Beware of false prophets,” says Jesus, “who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v. 15). That means that the wolves come dressed as Christians, Christian pastors, or spiritual leaders. The idea here is that they blend in with the sheep so no one notices there is a predator in the fold. And even when the fellow sheep notice one or two of their compatriots has been gobbled up, well, we can’t say anything because the wolf claims to be a sheep, and we dare not question his belief system. Do you see the absurdity of what our old Adam and his boss, the devil, want us to believe about the wolves? But the truth is that wolves are dangerous, whether you want to believe it or not, regardless of who they claim to be and how they’re dressed. Wolves kill sheep, dear brothers and sisters. So you have to beware. Jesus has warned you. You need to know that wolves host television programs on your favorite Christian channel and publish books that stock the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. Some of them are even sincere, although they are sincerely wrong. You have to beware, be on your guard, be discerning, because false prophets are real. They say, “Lord, Lord.” They drag the Name of Jesus Christ into their false prophecies and make it all look very Christian. They even do miracles, but they are workers of lawlessness. They are bad trees who produce bad fruit. They do not do the will of the Father.

And what is the will of the Father? Since Jesus is talking about teaching, we know that one who does the will of the Father is a person who believes what Jesus teaches, lives by the Word of Jesus, and any teaching he does is faithful to that Word of Jesus. “You will recognize them by their fruits” (v. 16). You will know whether a prophet is a good or a bad tree based on the quality of fruit produced. Is the prophet’s teaching in line with what you have come to know from Jesus’ Word? Is the prophet faithful in word and deed to all things whatsoever Jesus has taught (Matt. 28:20)? Be like the Bereans in Acts, who upon hearing Paul and Silas preach, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Test the prophets over against the Scriptures. Test especially your own pastor’s teaching over against the Scriptures. Flee false doctrine. Receive true Scriptural teaching with all eagerness and be united in heart and mind with those who are gathered around the preaching of the Word in all its truth and purity, and the rightly administered sacraments.

Jesus’ teaching about false prophets is really a Second Commandment issue. Here the Lord commands, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”[1] Those who say “Lord, Lord,” when teaching false doctrine are lying and deceiving by the Name of Jesus. But those who teach the true Scriptural doctrine in the Lord’s Name are the ones who call upon His Name in every trouble and use it to pray, praise, and give thanks. The Christian Church must always be on her guard against false prophets, and Christian pastors must always be on their guard, lest they knowingly or unknowingly become false prophets. That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” God’s Name is holy in itself, even without our prayer, but we pray that it would be kept holy among us, that we would not misuse it to lie or deceive or teach false doctrine, but that we would use it properly in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and in the teaching of pure doctrine. “How is God’s name kept holy?” Luther asks in the Small Catechism. “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. Deliver us from hearing, believing, or teaching the doctrine of wolves! Don’t let the wolves gobble us up! Send us the Good Shepherd to deliver us!

God has heard your prayers. He has sent His Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to lay down His life for the sheep. His blood covers all your sins, even the sins of misbelief, even the sins of tolerance of false doctrine, even your failure to beware. All these things are forgiven. Christ Jesus has paid your debt in full on the cross. You can believe what He teaches you because He was faithful all the way to death on your behalf. And His resurrection gives you new life and the promise of your own resurrection from the dead, and that of your loved ones who have died in Christ, on the Last Day. Our risen and ascended Lord Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father where He is always interceding for us, praying for us, that we not be led astray by false prophets and their false teaching, that we not be eaten by the wolves. And though this Lord Jesus is in heaven, He is also with us, to the very end of the age, granting us faith and strengthening that faith in His Holy Word and the Supper of His body and blood. Through these means He pours out His Holy Spirit upon us. Through these means the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us. He reminds us of all the things Jesus taught. He keeps us firm in the one true faith. And when sin leads us to doubt, when a false prophet catches our ear, the Holy Spirit is there to call us back to the faith given us in Baptism and the Word.

The one who hears the Word of Jesus, keeps it, believes it, knows it to be the source of his very life, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:25). Such a man is steadfast, immoveable, for God keeps him by His Word. Let the wolves huff, and puff, and try to blow such a house down. The winds of false doctrine are no match for the solid rock of the Word. But again, be warned. The one who hears the Word of Jesus, but rejects it, follows the false prophets, seeks a doctrine that scratches itching ears, is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. Again, “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (v. 27). A house that is not built on the Word cannot stand. All other ground is sinking sand. So much of what parades around as Christian teaching is really bad fruit from a bad tree, the false doctrine of false prophets. Jesus warns you about these things because He loves you. And this warning, too, is a part of the solid rock of Jesus’ Word.

No, it’s not nice to point out that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will be in heaven. It’s not sensitive or politically correct by Oprah’s or our culture’s standards. It is certainly intolerant of the preaching of false doctrine. But it is the truth. The promise, though, is that Jesus will keep you in the truth by His Word and Spirit. And it is that Word and Spirit that He pours out upon you here and now in His holy Church and every time you come into contact with His means of grace in preaching and Scripture, Baptism and the Supper. In these means the very righteousness of God is given to you, received by God-given faith. You are justified by God’s grace as a gift, redeemed by Christ to be God’s own, covered with His blood. So store up these words of Jesus. They are the source of your life in Him. Store up these words of Jesus, “bind them as a sign on your hand… as frontlets between your eyes… teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise… write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 11:18-20). The Word of Jesus protects you from the wolves and helps you to recognize them, even when they’re dressed as sheep. The Word of Jesus is the rock solid foundation for your spiritual house that leaves the wolves to howl outside. The Word of Jesus exposes the difference between those who call, “Lord, Lord,” but believe and teach only false things in His Name, and those who call upon the Name of the Lord, believing, teaching, and confessing only His pure Word. Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).