Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No Internet...

We're moving (a whole mile + from our old apartment), so we don't have the internet at home right now. At the same time, the internet at the church decided not to work. We're finally back online at the church. So below are the last couple of sermons that haven't been posted, in case there are any interested readers. And not that I'm very good at posting other things anyway, but I will try to post a few non-sermon items from time to time.

God bless!

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
September 28, 2008
Text: Matt. 21:23-32

Beloved in the Lord, the question posed by the chief priests and elders of the people in this morning’s Gospel lesson is crucial. They asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matt. 21:23; ESV). This is Tuesday of Holy Week, four days before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus has just triumphantly paraded into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” (v. 9). Jesus has just cleansed the Temple, overturning the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, declaring, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (v. 13). Jesus acts like He’s God! He receives the praises of the people. He acts like He owns the Temple. He does miracles. He teaches with divine authority. The question is crucial: By what authority does He do these things? Who gave Him such authority? What gives Jesus the right to claim this authority for Himself?

You may take it for granted that the answer to this question is obvious: God the Father gives Jesus this authority. But this answer is not obvious to the world. You see this every time the world asks questions like, “What gives the Church the authority to proclaim what is right and what is wrong? What gives the Church the authority to condemn abortion as murder? What gives the Church the authority to declare homosexuality sinful? What gives the Church the authority to declare to the rest of us that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and that this did not come about through the process of evolution over billions of years? And above all else, what gives the Church the authority to declare that salvation is only given through Jesus Christ, that Christianity is the only true and right religion? Where does the Church get such authority?” And what the world is really asking is, “Who gave Jesus authority over my life?” Along with the individual freedoms we so dearly value in our society, can come a feeling of entitlement to self-rule, self-authority, or self-authorization… what is called in ethics, autonomy. Literally, the word autonomy means a law unto one’s self. Well, since we’ve convinced ourselves that we are autonomous, what does this Jesus guy think He’s doing intruding on our own self-authorization with what He thinks is His authority? So you see, this question posed by the chief priests and elders, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority,” is crucial for the world. And the world typically answers the question this way: Jesus has no such authority. Jesus should be silent. Jesus should stay in that box we’ve created for Him so that we can trot Him out on our own terms to prove whatever self-serving, politically correct point we want to make on any given occasion, and then He can be shut right back up in the box until next time. But rest assured that one day it will become quite clear to all people, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus has all the authority of the Triune God to do these things. Indeed, on Judgment Day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

But even for believing Christians, this question of authority is crucial. It is crucial for you. You ought to be asking this question. By what authority does Jesus do these things? Because if Jesus is not doing these things with the authority of God, your faith is futile. How will you know, then? How will you answer this question? God will answer it for you. Look in His Word. There His Holy Spirit will testify with your spirit that His Word is truth, and Jesus is Lord. Not only is this so, but He is your Savior. He is given the authority, authorized by God, to be so. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, for you. That God has raised Him from the dead, highly exalted Him, placed Him at His own right hand, and given Him the Name that is above every Name, this is just proof positive that God Himself gave Jesus the authority to do and teach the things that He does, and most especially that God has given Jesus the authority to atone for your sins. And this is so important for you, because if Jesus really does have this authority from God (and He does!), then when He says your sins are forgiven, even if it be through a man He has authorized to say so, namely, your pastor, then your sins are, in fact, forgiven. When He covers you with His precious blood, you are redeemed. When you are washed clean in Baptism, all your sins are wiped away. When you receive the bread of life that is His body, and drink of the overflowing cup of mercy that is His blood, you receive once again forgiveness of all your sins, eternal life and salvation, and strength from the Lord to live as God’s child, in love and service to the neighbor, and to do battle with the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. If Jesus really does have this authority from God (and He does!), then all His promises are true, and His authoritative Word accomplishes what it says. You are forgiven. You are saved. You have eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord. The authority of God makes it your reality.

When the chief priests and elders ask the question of authority, Jesus says, in essence, “I’ll make you a deal here. I’ll answer your question if first you answer mine. The baptism of John, where did it come from? From heaven or from man?” (Matt. 21:25). Now here’s the thing. If you know where Jesus gets His authority, you know where John gets the authority to baptize, and vice versa. John and Jesus get their authority from heaven, from God. Why can’t the chief priests and elders answer this question? Because they don’t believe. They don’t believe that it is possible that Jesus gets His authority from God. And since John so clearly testified that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world, the chief priests and elders do not believe John’s baptism came from God, either. But they dare not say it came from men, because the people regard John as a prophet. They would have a religious riot on their hands if they said such a thing. So they can’t answer the question. But you can. John’s baptism comes from heaven, from God. And so does Jesus’ authority.

The difficulty with the chief priests and elders is that they are the ones acting outside their authority. They know it, and this is why they ask the question of Jesus. Oh, they did have authority. They were the teachers of Israel, the religious leaders of the people of God. But they weren’t doing what they were authorized to do, namely, teach Israel about the Messiah, who, in fact, is standing before them in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, they were doing what they did not have authority to do, namely, deny Jesus, call His authority into question, slander Him, and ultimately, have Him put to death. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of these leaders by means of a parable. A man had two sons. He goes to the first and tells him to go work in his vineyard. The son says no, but then goes and does it anyway. The father goes to the second son and tells him to go work in his vineyard. The second son says, “Yes, sir!” but then fails to go and do what his father asks of him. Both sons are given authority by the father to go and work in the vineyard. They are not authorized to do anything else. Now, which son did the will of the father?

With this question, Jesus nails the chief priests and elders to the wall, for Jesus makes it very clear that they are the second son. They give lip service to God, our heavenly Father, and the thing He has authorized them to do. But they don’t do it. And now here’s the clincher. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are the first son. It is true, they originally refuse the Father’s authorization. They don’t want to serve Him. Instead they serve sin. But then something happens. John preaches, as God has authorized him to do. John tells them to prepare the way of the Lord. The Word is effective and powerful. The tax collectors and prostitutes repent. They come to faith. They confess their sins and are baptized. They go out and work in the vineyard. They recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They trust in Him for forgiveness. So the tax collectors and sinners, those who believed John’s testimony and the preaching of Jesus, enter the Kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders, unless they repent, do not. So which son in the parable did the will of the father? The chief priests and elders condemn themselves when they rightly answer, “The first.” The tax collectors and sinners do the will of the Father while the chief priests and elders do not.

Now here’s the point of the parable for you. Do not be self-righteous, like the chief priests and elders. Don’t think you’re too good for God to condemn you. Don’t just pay lip service to God by creating a religious image of yourself before others, while in your heart you agree with the world, that this Jesus guy really has no authority over us, that we can do whatever we want and believe whatever we want. Rather, be like the tax collectors and prostitutes. Repent. Confess your sins. Confess that you cannot save yourself. Cast yourself on the mercy of Christ. Hide yourself in His wounds. For Jesus has come not to call the righteous, those who believe they are good enough on their own to be saved, but sinners… sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, sinners like you and me.

And Jesus has the authority to call us. He has all the authority of the Triune God to call us out of sin and death and hell to be His own, to follow Him, to be His disciples. Which is what it means to be a Christian. It means sitting at His feet and learning from Him, for He has the authority to be our divine Teacher. It means living not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. It means being cleansed by Him in Baptism and absolution, receiving His gifts in the Supper, for He has all authority to wash and feed us. In fact, as Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). And He is the Author of life (Acts 3:15), and the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). All of this is to say, Jesus receives His authority from God. He receives all His authority because He is God. He is God in the flesh, God united with our humanity, God come to redeem humanity in His own body. So He has all the authority to say to you this morning, “Come! Come, you tax collectors and prostitutes! Come, you sinners! Come into the Kingdom prepared for you by my Father. For I have washed your sins away. You are righteous. You are clean. I have made it so at the price of my own blood.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
September 21, 2008
Text: Matt. 9:9-13

This morning we give thanks and praise to God for the blessed apostle and evangelist, St. Matthew. As apostle, literally “sent one,” of our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Matthew is a gift from the Savior who “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” for the equipping of the saints, which is to say you and all who are in Christ Jesus, for the work of ministry to you and all who are in Christ Jesus, for building up the body of Christ, again, all of you who are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:11-12; ESV). Our Lord Jesus gave St. Matthew to the Church so that we could attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (v. 13). In other words, He gave St. Matthew for the sake of the Gospel. And for this reason He chose St. Matthew not only to serve as one of the Twelve, the blessed apostles upon whose doctrine the Church is built, but also as an evangelist, one of the four Gospel writers, so that from the time of St. Matthew right up through the present the Church has cherished and been nourished by the book that bears his name, a book that is, in fact, in many ways foundational for the whole New Testament.

So this morning, we give thanks and praise to God for the blessed apostle and evangelist St. Matthew as a gift of the Gospel, a gift of Jesus Christ Himself. This is good and right. Lutherans have always held the saints in high esteem, honored them and been strengthened in faith and good works by their example. Thus we confess in the Augsburg Confession, “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling.”[1] Now don’t confuse this with the way other churches regard the saints. This is far different than, for example, the Roman Catholic cult of the saints. As Lutherans, we maintain that we should never pray to the saints, or invoke them, or trust in their merits in any way for our salvation. In fact, we affirm that the saints were sinners in their earthly lives, just like we are. And we also affirm that in truth, a saint is broadly speaking anyone who is a Christian, who is in Christ, and in this sense you are as much a saint as St. Matthew. St. Matthew is in no way saved by his works any more than you are. Both you and St. Matthew stand as saints before God by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

But in a narrower sense of the word “saint,” we do regard certain heroes and heroines of the faith from the Scriptures and Church history as worthy of our special honor. This may be because they led an exceptionally holy life, at least outwardly, and in this way serve as examples to us. It may be because they persevered in the faith of Jesus Christ under great trial and tribulation, perhaps enduring severe persecution, and perhaps even dying a martyr’s death. Tradition says, for example, that St. Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia for his confession of Christ. It is often the case that we honor a saint because of what they have written, or because of the way in which God has used that saint for the building and strengthening of the Church. Both of these are the case with St. Matthew. He left us with the beautiful, precious Gospel that bears his name, telling us of the life of our Lord Jesus, that perfect life that He lived in our place, fulfilling the Law for us before God; His sin-atoning death on Calvary for our forgiveness; and His victorious resurrection, wherein He has conquered death forever and gives us new life. And though we know little about St. Matthew from the Holy Scriptures, other than that he was formerly a tax collector, also known by the Hebrew name Levi, and the circumstances surrounding his call, we can conclude from tradition and plain reason that God used St. Matthew to accomplish great things for His Kingdom. Tradition is certainly fallible, but it can give us a good idea of the history of the Church, and even aid our faith as we remember the saints for our encouragement and as examples. Listen to this beautiful description of St. Matthew’s writing and work among his own Jewish people from a book called Voices of the Martyrs:

"Matthew remained a son of Abraham. His Gospel is filled with notes and
highlights designed to clarify for the chosen people that their Messiah had
come. One of the persistent ancient traditions about Matthew is that he was
the only Gospel author to write his account of Jesus’ life in Hebrew.

"Given Matthew’s passion to reach Israelites with the good news about their
Messiah, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover various traditions about
Matthew’s ministry among the widely scattered communities of Jews
throughout the Roman Empire. As an itinerant missionary, it’s quite possible
that Matthew visited many locations. Matthew’s apostolic assignment was
to Ethiopia… where he was beheaded while carrying out Jesus’ commission
to reach the world."[2]

St. Matthew was a martyr for our Lord Jesus Christ. The word “martyr” literally means witness, but it has come to be associated especially with those who shed their blood on account of their confession of Christ, and this is certainly the case with St. Matthew, who boldly confessed Christ in spite of the bodily consequences. But St. Matthew is a martyr, a witness, in so many ways, chief among them, that he is the writer, verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. If this were all we had as evidence of the gift God has given us in St. Matthew, it would be enough for our unending praise and thanksgiving, for by means of this precious book of Scripture the Holy Spirit has called many sinners out of their bondage to sin, death, and the devil, to a saving and living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And by means of this Gospel the Holy Spirit has sustained and strengthened the faith of many Christians, including you and me. The Gospel according to St. Matthew has been called the Catechism of the Jews, originally written for a Jewish audience, but it is also a Catechism for the Gentiles, you and me, for it tells us all that we need to know and believe about Jesus Christ for salvation.

One of those things, those very important catechetical points that Matthew makes in his Gospel, is that Jesus came to call sinners. Jesus came as the Great Physician to heal those who are sick with sin. He proves it by calling Matthew to follow Him, calling Him to faith, to be His disciple, to be an apostle, to be an evangelist. Matthew, a despised tax collector, called to be one of the Twelve great apostles of the Holy Christian Church! Now it’s not a sin in and of itself to be a tax collector, understand. IRS agents are no more sinful than you and I. But it was quite common in the ancient world for tax collectors to collect more than necessary in order to pad their own pockets. And herein lies the sin. Needless to say, tax collectors were despised by the people for this practice, even the innocent ones. But Jesus, in His grace, in His mercy, calls Matthew. He calls him out of sin. He calls him out of the tax office. He has another vocation in mind for Matthew, that of Apostle. And then He goes to eat at Matthew’s house. He reclines there at the table with many other tax collectors and sinners, real undesirables, disreputable and unsuitable for polite company, prostitutes for example. He eats with them and converses with them and calls them to repentance and faith and a relationship with Him. Jesus has come to heal them from their sin-sickness. The Pharisees are very upset about this. How can Jesus act this way? How can He associate with these people? And He calls Himself a good Jew, a Rabbi even! But they just don’t get it. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus comes to you this morning, wherever you are, in whatever vocation, and calls you through the pen of the blessed Apostle, St. Matthew, “Follow me” (v. 9). Are you trapped by sin? Jesus has come for you, to heal you. He says to you, “Follow me.” Do you believe your sin is too great to be forgiven? Jesus has come for you, to give you the healing balm of His Gospel. He says to you, “Follow me.” Are you carrying a burden of guilt or shame? Jesus has come for you, to carry your burden all the way to the cross. He says to you, “Follow me.” Whatever your circumstance, whatever your lot in life, whatever your vocation, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, Jesus says to you, “Follow me. I know the way out of sin and death. I will carry you out. The devil cannot harm you anymore. I have conquered him.” Jesus calls you out of your former bondage, to faith and new life in Him. And then He eats with you. He invites you to His own gracious meal, the Holy Supper of His body and blood. Jesus sinners doth receive. He forgives you all your sins. He pours out His gifts upon you in Word and Sacrament. This morning we thank and praise Him especially for the gifts He pours out by His Word recorded by St. Matthew, and for this blessed saint who serves to strengthen our faith by demonstrating the grace he himself received from God, and as an example to us to spur us on toward good works. May God ever keep us in the faith of St. Matthew, and may He bring us also to the beatific vision of Christ that St. Matthew enjoys even now in heaven, and may He finally, on that Last glorious Day, raise us bodily along with St. Matthew, in the resurrection that St. Matthew so faithfully proclaimed. God is faithful. He will surely do it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC XXI:1, Tappert, p. 46.
[2] Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (The Voice of the Martyrs, 2007) p. 12.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
September 14, 2008
Text: Matt. 18:21-35

Forgiving someone who has wronged you is among the most demanding, difficult, and painful aspects of the Christian life. To forgive someone who has wronged you is to die to yourself, to take it on the chin, to turn the other cheek, to forego your own rights in the interests of others. And this is why we pray so earnestly in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s not as though we are asking God to forgive us because we do so well at forgiving others. We don’t. The fact is, we do not have the power or ability within us to forgive others as we should. The source of such forgiveness must come from outside of us. So when we pray in this petition that God would forgive as we forgive others, we’re not only asking forgiveness for ourselves, but His help in forgiving those who have wronged us. And so also we confess that because our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, because we are forgiven, because Jesus has fully paid our debt to God, it is on this basis, and this basis alone, that we are free to forgive our neighbor, and even love him.

But this forgiveness is always a struggle in this life. And in our sinful flesh, we always want to put limits on the extent of our forgiveness. We always want to qualify our forgiveness. “I’ll forgive, but I can’t forget.” Or, “How can I forgive someone who has sinned against me so many times?” Or, “This person has certainly not earned my forgiveness.” We like to be known as forgiving people, but there is always a boundary beyond which we are not willing to cross. And so we look like Peter in our Gospel lesson. Peter thinks he’s being awfully generous when he says, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:21; ESV). Now, we have to admit that if our brother sins against us seven times, and we forgive him seven times, that sounds pretty generous to us, too. After all, it’s not only baseball that operates on a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, and seven times is much more generous than that. But our Lord has a way of pointing out that our idea of generosity is hardly a drop in the ocean compared with the generosity to which He is calling us. He is calling us to be generous as He is generous, to forgive as He forgives. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (v. 22). And no, He doesn’t mean 490 strikes and you’re out. He means perfectly perfect forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that God, in Christ has given us. It is without limit. It is without qualification. It is the kind of forgiveness that led Christ to die to Himself, die on a cross, for the sins of the whole world, for your sin and mine. As a Christian, you are called to be a “little Christ” in the world, forgiving your neighbor’s sins as you have been forgiven, loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, dying to yourself, and if necessary, literally dying for the one who sins against you.

We forgive because God has first forgiven us. He doesn’t stop at three times, or seven times, or 490 times. His forgiveness is unlimited. We simply pass on what we have been given in Christ. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the unmerciful servant. It seems the king is balancing his budget, and he’s calling his debtors to account. One of his servants has an astronomical debt, ten thousand talents. It’s difficult to translate that into today’s money, but to give you some idea, let’s say a talent, which is a measure of silver, is worth about 15 years of servant’s wages. That means that for this servant to pay off his debt to the king, he would have to work roughly 667 years, and that’s if there’s no interest on the debt, which is hardly imaginable. In other words, this servant’s debt is impossible for him to pay off. The king therefore threatens to throw the servant and his family into prison. But the servant begs for mercy. Now, the silly thing is that the servant says to the king, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (v. 26). It’s obvious that the servant cannot possibly make good on such a promise. It’s sort of like how our sinful flesh thinks it can pay off God with our good works… It’s a ridiculous thought! This servant deserves prison just like you and I deserve hell. But the king does something that no one expects. The king has mercy. He doesn’t ask the servant to pay what he owes. He doesn’t even ask him to pay what he can. He forgives the whole debt! It has nothing to do with the servant’s worthiness. There is no worthiness in the servant. He’s a rascal! The forgiveness has everything to do with the gracious heart of the king. He forgives because he is merciful. And so God is to us. He forgives because He is gracious and merciful, because He loves us, and so He sent His Son for us.

That’s how we should forgive the neighbor who sins against us. But aren’t we often just like the servant from the parable? After being forgiven so much, an unimaginable amount of sin, we go quibble with our fellow servants over trivial offenses. The servant in our text goes out and finds another servant who owes him a little money, pocket change really in comparison with his own debt, a hundred denarii. Again, it’s hard to translate into today’s money, but we’re talking a couple thousand bucks at most! This is more than payable over time, and the debtor promises the servant that he will pay him back. But instead of having mercy, instead of forgiving the debt as he had been forgiven, instead of even setting up a payment plan, the servant had his fellow servant put in prison until he paid the last penny. Now what do you suppose the king did when he heard of this abominable injustice? He grabbed the wicked servant and threw him in prison for the rest of his life! Hurray, we think! Way to go, king! Justice is served! But brothers and sisters, you are the wicked servant. When you have failed to forgive as you have been forgiven, you are doing just what the wicked servant did. And this is a warning for you. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35). Only the prison is hell. Repent.

Again, this is why we pray so earnestly for help in forgiving our neighbor’s trespasses. Because we can’t do it on our own. The source of such forgiveness must be the forgiveness we receive in Christ Jesus. His forgiveness alone is perfect. His forgiveness covers even our lack of forgiveness. He dies on the cross for our forgiveness because we are unforgiving. “The Lord is merciful and gracious” even when we are not. He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” even when we are not. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:8-12). Not only so, but he gives us the power and ability to do likewise for our neighbor, granted, imperfectly in this life, but perfectly in heaven. That is to say He gives us His Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us, makes us holy, helps us in our weakness, prays for us in our sin, and gives us power to lead the new life that is ours in Christ. Only one who has the Holy Spirit can forgive as God in Christ forgives. And God has poured out His Holy Spirit upon you in abundance, indeed, does so every time you hear His Word and receive the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. The Holy Spirit is yours in Baptism, and you are His. So do not believe Satan’s lie that forgiveness is too hard. When the Holy Spirit reminds you of all that God in Christ has forgiven you, an unimaginable amount of sin, you have the power to turn to your neighbor and forgive what, in comparison with your debt to God, is nothing.

And you also have God’s promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), including your neighbor’s trespasses against you. With Joseph in our Old Testament reading, you can say to those who sin against you, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). And so as Joseph did, you can comfort your neighbor and speak kindly to him (v. 21). In fact, when your neighbor sins against you, the very best thing you can do, both for you and for him is to forgive him. It is good for you, because it takes a great weight off your shoulders. You no longer have to carry around your neighbor’s sin. You no longer have to live with that grudge gnawing at your heart. And it is good for your neighbor, because it will have done one of two things: Either you will have gained your brother (c.f. Matt. 18:15 ff.), leading him to repent of his sins and receive the forgiveness and life of Jesus Christ, or you will have heaped burning coals on his head, in which case God will take care of meeting out justice. Either way, holding on to your grudge will help neither you nor your neighbor. In fact, obstinately refusing to forgive him will do untold damage to you, not only in terms of stress in this life, but remember that warning Jesus gives at the end of the parable: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).

Thanks be to God for the forgiveness He so freely and generously bestows on us in Christ Jesus, without any merit or worthiness in us, out of pure grace and mercy. And thanks be to God we don’t have to live life holding on to grudges against our brothers and sisters who sin against us. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. God’s forgiveness in Christ flows through us to our neighbors. And so we live out our faith in relationship to others. What God gives us we give to others. We live for God by living for others. We worship God when we forgive and love and serve our neighbor. Every Sunday we kneel together before the Lord’s altar with those who have sinned against us, sinners just like us, receiving together the forgiveness we all so desperately need from Christ, sharing that forgiveness with those kneeling next to us. And then we take that forgiveness into the world. Forgiving one who has sinned against us is hard. But here God generously doles out His gifts and His Spirit. These strengthen us and enable us to do what is impossible on our own. We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God’s answer is always, yes, you are forgiven dear child. I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Loving the Neighbor Who Has Wronged You

A hard word from Walther this morning, but it fits in so well with the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday (Matt. 18:21-35):

The Christian "must learn to endure ingratitude and not allow his love to grow cold on account of it. He must keep a heart full of love toward those who offend and provoke him - even those who have done flagrant wrong to him, hated him, and persecuted him."

From C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 749.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
September 7, 2008
Text: Matt. 18:1-20

On this Rally Sunday, Jesus bids us all once again become little children before God. He bids us humble ourselves and sit at the feet of our Teacher and Savior to learn the way to eternal life, to learn of the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), our Lord Jesus Christ. As a little child trusts his or her parents in every need, and believes their word, so the child of God is to trust absolutely in God for every need, and believe every Word that He imparts. Beloved in the Lord, humble yourselves before God, cast off your sinful pride, and become once again little children sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ, acknowledging your situation of helplessness and absolute dependence, trusting that God wants the best for you and will provide for your every need, including your need for salvation from sin. Do not seek for greatness here on earth, or in the kingdom of heaven, as the apostles do in our Gospel lesson. Rather, turn and become like a child, repent of your selfishness, humble yourself. And I would suggest that you humble yourself in a very concrete way this morning. On this Rally Sunday, examine yourself, and root out whatever has separated you from your Father. Have you been away from church for the summer, taken a vacation from Christianity, been more engaged with the things of this world than with the holy things of God? Repent, humble yourself, and return to your Father’s house to receive His unending gifts in Christ Jesus. Have you been away from Bible class, thinking you don’t need it, that a few months away from the study of the Scriptures will not harm you? Repent, humble yourself, and submit once again to your heavenly Teacher as He leads you in the way of salvation. Have you neglected individual and family devotions and prayers? Have you been distracted over the summer, and given little thought to God’s Word? Have you been negligent in leading your children spiritually and setting a good example to your fellow Christians? Repent, humble yourself, and become once again little children before God.

Jesus is teaching the children of God this morning how to be children before Him, as He has called you to be. And so also He reminds us of our responsibilities to our children and to all who believe in Him with childlike faith. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,” says Jesus, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6; ESV). God has placed every one of us into relationships, vocations, in which we are responsible for our brothers and sisters, both physically and spiritually. Whatever you do for a little child, or for anyone who believes in Jesus, you do for Jesus Himself. When you receive a child in Jesus’ Name, you actually receive Jesus. And this has special import for the parents here this morning. Jesus has given you your children to care for, again, physically and spiritually. You are charged to feed them and clothe them and shelter them and provide for every physical need. But love demands yet more. You are also charged to feed them spiritually. To bring them to church and Sunday School, to teach the Scriptures and the Catechism at home, to pray for and with your children, and instill in them from the earliest age a love for their Lord Jesus that trusts in Him alone for salvation and every grace and blessing. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

This is so important because we know that the world offers so many temptations to our young people. Jesus says, “it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matt. 18:7). Temptations will come. They are even necessary, says Jesus. And they are many. The world tempts with mind-altering substances, open rebellion against authority, and a poison psychology of self-esteem that teaches our children to focus only on themselves. Our culture is especially obsessed with sexual sin. Promiscuity is everywhere, in music and movies and on the television programs piped right into your living room. Chastity is laughable, especially when it is connected with Christianity. Homosexuality has not only become an acceptable lifestyle, in many circles it is deemed preferable. Pre-marital sex is expected and even encouraged. Living together outside of marriage is normal. You see how the devil has skewed our Lord’s commands? You must teach your children how to deal with these temptations. It is unacceptable to simply shut off the television and radio and pretend that these temptations aren’t out there. Your children will encounter these things, no matter how you try to shield them. Temptations must come, says Jesus. He has given you as parents (or grandparents, or aunts, or uncles, or Godparents, or even simply as Christian role models) to your children to teach them the difference between right and wrong, what God’s Word has to say on the particular issue, and to give them the tools to make the right decisions and live as the Baptized children of God they are. Remind them who they are and Whose they are. Remind them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, one who belongs to God as a beloved child. Where the children, or any other Christian, have fallen, restore them. First admonish them privately. Then bring another brother, then two or three witnesses, and then the Church (vv. 15-17). The goal is the forgiveness of that child’s sins. That is, in fact, the goal of raising your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, that they may know they are forgiven children of God. That is what it means to receive a child in the Name of Jesus.

You do this by teaching the children. Do family devotions. Pray together at the table, when you wake up, and before you go to bed. Read the Scriptures as a family. And also set a good example. Bring your own flesh into subjection. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (vv. 8-9). That doesn’t mean to literally mutilate yourself, but crucify your sinful flesh. Recognize that the organ that really needs to be cut out is your heart, through repentance. Turn, and become as little children, trusting God and believing His Word. Jesus cleanses you by His blood. He died for your forgiveness. He is risen for your justification. Turn from your sinful flesh and be an example to your children and to other dear Christians who believe in Jesus as little children.

Do not despise these little ones. Your Father does not will that even one of them should perish (v. 14). Do not neglect their spiritual life. Do not be the parent who brings your children to be baptized, but after that refuses them the gifts of Christ by not going to church. Neither be the parent who brings their children to church and Sunday School, but in the home contradicts everything taught there by leading a manifestly sinful life. When you sleep in on Sunday morning, or schedule other activities at that time… when you neglect the holy things of God, your children are watching and learning. So also, though, when you make church and Sunday School and Bible class a priority, your children are watching and learning. It is an awesome and fearful responsibility the Lord has given you. Bring your children and seat them at the feet of Jesus.

And for those of you who do not have children, or perhaps who are children yourselves, pray for the children of the Church. Pray for our Sunday School. Pray for our Catechism students. You also have a responsibility to them. Pray for them and set an example for them. Love them and admonish them and forgive them. Whether or not you are related by blood, you belong to the same spiritually family, the family of the Baptized. Parents and non-parents alike receive the children of God in Jesus’ Name, and impart the Holy Christian faith.

For many of you, by God’s grace, also had parents who taught you the faith, and for that reason you are here this morning. Others of you had parents who set a bad example for you, who did not teach the faith, and by grace, in spite of your parents, the Holy Spirit has brought you nonetheless to faith in the Lord Jesus and brought you into His Church. Those who receive generously the heritage of the Lord also give it in like manner. And receive you have. Like a tender shepherd, Jesus has come to seek and to save you, who were lost in your sin, captive to death. He is the one who humbles Himself perfectly as an obedient child of the Father, humbles Himself to death on the cross, to save you, to forgive you, to make you His own. He is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and through Him you also gain entrance into that kingdom. For He bestows His Name upon you. His humility is credited to your account. Where you have failed, He forgives you and gives you His perfection. Where you have failed to be good parents, good children, good Christians, He has forgiven and restored you. He declares you innocent. He washes you clean. He purifies your lips and gives you a new heart. He dwells with you and in you, really and truly, gaining entrance through your ear with His holy Word, through your mouth with His body and blood. And He is your sufficiency. How are you to fulfill your vocation as parent? Be in the Word. Make use of the Sacrament. Receive the gifts of Christ. These sustain and strengthen you. How are you to be as a little child before God? Acknowledge that you are helpless and wholly dependent upon Jesus Christ. He will give you His Holy Spirit. He will make you a child of the Father.

In this way Jesus gives you new life and new power to commit once again this Sunday to come to church, to come to Bible class, to makes sure your children are in church and in Sunday School, receiving the gifts of Christ. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Ps. 127:3). How can we not pass on the heritage of faith and salvation to the children who are our heritage? How can we not turn and become again children of God receiving the heritage He gives us so freely in Christ Jesus? You are precious to the Lord, and so are your children. You are so precious to Him, that our Lord Jesus shed His holy, precious blood for you. Let us then learn of Him, our Teacher, our Salvation, our very Life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Baby's Smile

When you walk into a room and your baby smiles up at you and waves her arms up and down in excitement, it adds years to your life.

I will never understand abortion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Importance of Bible Class

Pastor’s Window for September 2008

The Importance of Bible Class

Beloved in the Lord,

St. Peter ends his second epistle with these words: “You therefore, beloved… take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18; ESV). St. Peter is warning us against falling into false doctrine and manifest sin. In fact, that is the purpose of his letter, to warn against false teachers who lead us to believe false doctrine and lead ungodly lives. And Peter tells us how we can avoid falling into the traps set by these false teachers… by growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

How do we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord? As Lutherans, we learned the answer in Catechism class: The means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments! This especially takes place in the Divine Service in remembrance of our Baptism, the Absolution, Scripture readings and sermon, the Lord’s Supper, and throughout our hymns and liturgy. It also takes place in our individual and family Scripture readings, devotions, and prayers. But there is another component of our growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, available to us several times throughout the week, and this is a component we often neglect. That component is Bible class, the study of God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures.

September is a month of new beginnings, much like the New Year. September signals the end of the lazy, hazy days of Summer as the kids go back to school and we get back into the routine of shuffling the family back and forth to sporting events and meetings and plays and recitals and any number of other activities. All of the things we had a “break” from over the Summer start up again. The same is true for the routine here at Epiphany. So my suggestion is this: As you are getting back into the swing of things this September, make a commitment to take advantage of our Bible class opportunities so that you can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If you haven’t typically attended one of our Bible classes, or if you haven’t been active in Bible class over the Summer, September is a great time to start.

We are blessed with a number of opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bible classes here at Epiphany. Our Sunday morning Bible class continues to study Romans. We often get off track, but have some great discussions along the way. Adults set an example for the Sunday School children as they attend adult Bible class during the Sunday School hour. Our Wednesday morning Bible class (10:30 am) is studying the differences between Christianity and false religions, and how Christians should respond to those false religions. On Tuesday, Sept. 9th, at 7 pm, our Adult Information Class (AIC) starts up. Come and review the basics of the Christian faith. Bring a friend! The members are also always welcome to attend our youth Catechism class on Wednesdays at 4:45, beginning September 10th. Our full Wednesday evening routine begins on the 10th as well, with Supper at 6, followed by a study of the previous Sunday’s epistle lesson and the Eucharist at 7. Men have an opportunity to gather for fellowship and study one Saturday every month at the Men’s Breakfast (watch your calendars for dates). And this year we have the privilege of hosting a Spiritual Renewal Retreat on Christian Prayer, held jointly with our sister congregation, Good Shepherd in Middleville. The retreat, also called the St. James Conference (the feast of St. James, the Brother of Jesus, falls on October 23rd), will be an all day event, beginning at 8:30 am on Saturday, October 25th.

I strongly encourage every member to take advantage of at least one of our Bible study opportunities. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need it. You do. False teachers are everywhere, all-too-ready to suck you in, and of course, your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). Bible study is one of the ways you grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that you will recognize the traps placed by the enemy, avoid them, and walk in the truth of God’s Word.

Pastor Krenz

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A New Beginning...

A great article in the latest issue of Pastoral Notes from Doxology, http://community.icontact.com/p/doxology/newsletters/issue3/posts/doxology-pastoral-notes-september-2008, written by Dr. Beverly Yahnke. Dr. Yahnke writes about the stress a lot of pastors are under as activities begin again in the Fall. I found it helpful. Thanks to Pastor David Fleming for sending it my way, and thanks to Dr. Yahnke for a great article.