Cruce Tectum

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

Name:
Location: Dorr, Michigan

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wenthe on Isaiah

Dr. Wenthe has a way of describing the Scriptures that never fails to tantalize. Here is a gem from his essay, "The Rich Monotheism of Isaiah as Christological Resource" (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 1, Jan. 2007, p. 60... I've been catching up on the CTQ and other theological journals on my vacation!):

In these sixty-six chapters the character of God takes on dimensions of personality and community that are nonetheless one. This dense portrait of the God who stands utterly alone and without peer is the very heart of God's revelation. It is at the same time mysterious and beautiful. It requires a certain humility to be read rightly; no single attribute and action can be weighted at the expense of the others. One is placed in the position of simply receiving and beholding the wonder of such an exclusive and simultaneously profound God.

In such a context, Isaiah's portrait of God provides content for a truly textual Christology. Or, perhaps a more appropriate analogy would view the prophet as weaving a rich tapestry that displays the contours of God's work in such a way that the work of God, the presence of God's Spirit, and the face of Christ can all be distinguished.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Vacation...

It's been a good three days, the first three of our vacation. Like so many Americans, we're staying local due to the price of gas. But we've had a blast being tourists at home. Of course we miss going home to our family in the Pacific Northwest, but we've been making the best of it. We've been out in the sun and on our feet a lot. Thursday we played around in Grand Rapids, Friday we hit the thrift stores and ended the day with blue grass music in the park with our good friends, the Roemkes, and today we went to the Byron Days festival in Byron Center where we were treated to a fantastic farmer's market and some good Irish music in their park. The Irish band had the best hurdy-gurdy player we've ever heard (he was the only hurdy-gurdy player we've ever heard... yes, a "hurdy-gurdy" is really an instrument... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurdy_gurdy). We'll probably end the day with ice cream. We have needed this time together. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
July 20, 2008
Text: Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Rom. 8:18-27

The earth was made for the saints. The universe was created for our benefit. It is a gift of God to His people. When God made the earth and the universe and all that is in it, He made it perfect. But when all mankind fell in Adam’s fall, the creation itself was subjected to futility (Rom. 8:20). The creation was made for perfection. So also mankind was made for perfection. But sin ruined it all. The moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they fell into sin and death, and dragged all of creation down with them. Ever since, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22; ESV). The creation groans because it is the innocent victim of man’s sin. But there is good news. The creation will be delivered from this fallen state, when our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ returns again in glory. And in the mean time, the fallen creation is sustained because God is merciful, and wants sinners to repent. He desires to make more and more sons of God in this world as His Spirit takes possession of them by means of the Word and brings them into the death and resurrection of Christ by Baptism. God preserves the fallen creation to give time for repentance. God preserves the fallen creation to give time for conversion. But the time of grace will come to an end. On the Last Day, Jesus will return and divide the people of the world between the causes of sin and all law-breakers on the one hand, and the righteous sons of God, those of whom the Holy Spirit has taken possession, on the other. The causes of sin and the law-breakers, the sons of the wicked one, will be thrown “into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:42-43).

Until then, both groups live together in the world. Jesus compares the world to a field. The farmer sows good seed in his field, intending to grow a healthy crop of wheat. The farmer is the Son of Man. The wheat are the children of God. But an enemy, the devil, comes along and sows bad seed in amongst the wheat. These grow up into weeds. The weeds are the causes of sin and all law-breakers, the sons of the wicked one. The thing is, though, these weeds aren’t just any weeds. They are tares, or darnel, zizania in Greek, and this kind of weed looks exactly like wheat. It only begins to look different after it starts producing grain. Unlike the wheat, the tares produce a black, poisonous grain. But until that grain is produced, the two look the same. Thus when the servants come and ask the farmer if he wants them to pull up the weeds, he rightly says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (v. 30). Only at the end, at the harvest, the Last Day, will the difference between the wheat and the weeds be apparent. And then the reapers, the holy angels, will divide the two, casting the weeds into the furnace of hell, but gathering the wheat into the barn of the kingdom of heaven.

Beloved, you are in the world, but not of the world. So don’t be deceived. The enemy, the devil, is always trying to damage and destroy the field with his bad seed. There are both weeds and wheat all around, and many times it can be impossible for us to tell the difference. Some people are obviously non-Christians. They wear their unbelief on their sleeve. Perhaps they are adherents of another religion or maybe they have no particular religion at all. These should ever be the objects of our mission and evangelism and prayers. But others are harder to tell. The plain and simple fact is that there are always hypocrites in our Lord’s Church, which also is in the world, but not of the world. A hypocrite is not one of these obvious unbelievers. A hypocrite is someone who claims to be something he is not, or claims to believe something that he does not believe in his heart. In the Christian Church, a hypocrite is someone who claims to be a Christian, and very often looks like a very faithful Christian, but in his heart believes none of it. And the difficulty is that you can’t look into another person’s heart. Only God and the hypocrite can see the hypocrisy, unless the hypocrite slips into some manifest sin or false belief. Otherwise the hypocrite appears to be virtuous, perhaps attends church services regularly, talks a good talk, and outwardly walks a good walk. But in the harvest on the Last Day, it will be apparent that that person is full of poisonous black grain, that he is a weed, and no true wheat.

But that’s at the harvest. In the meantime, the Lord doesn’t ask you to go pulling up weeds. He doesn’t want you to go on a hypocrite hunt. Remember, you can’t tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat! The farmer specifically commands his servants not to pull up the weeds, but rather let them grow together with the wheat until the harvest. Then the reapers will come and divide the two. In other words, God specifically commands His Christians not to try to find out who the hypocrites are lest they pull out some wheat with the weeds. Leave that job for the angels on the Last Day. On that day every hypocrite will be exposed. If you jump the gun and start weeding out hypocrites now, the difficulty is that you may falsely accuse some who are real Christians, and so lead them through a great deal of tribulation and maybe even make shipwreck of their faith. And you may also get in the way of God’s miraculously turning weeds into wheat. How do you know that God isn’t working in that hypocrite every time he comes to church, working through the Word, imparting His Spirit, so that in the end the hypocrite will be converted? After all, as we heard last week, the Word of God never returns to Him empty, but always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it (Is. 55:11).

Actually, the farmer tells his servants to treat the weeds just like the wheat. You are to treat the hypocrites just like Christians, because again, you don’t know who is a hypocrite and who is not. You are to let God make that judgment. You just assume, out of love, that if your neighbor professes the holy Christian faith, he is a Christian. You can only take his word for it, just as he can only take your word for it. You believe that I am a Christian and I believe that you are a Christian because that is what Christian charity demands. We take each other at each one’s word. Now this is not to say that we aren’t on our guard against false doctrine or unchristian preaching or manifest sin. When a person starts to preach false doctrine or gives himself over to manifest sin, he is not a hypocrite anymore, but has become one of the obvious non-Christians, and this no matter how loudly and persistently he insists he is a Christian. At that point we should treat him as a non-Christian, which again, means not to shun him, but that he is the object of our mission and evangelism and prayers.

Well, whether the weeds are obvious or whether they are hidden amongst the wheat, the goal is always the conversion of the weed into wheat. The goal is always repentance and faith. This is something only God can do, and it is His will to do it. He does it through His Word, as His Holy Spirit makes children of God out of children of the wicked one. Christ died for the forgiveness of the weeds as well as the wheat. Christ died for every obvious non-Christian, for every hypocrite, as well as for the faithful in the Christian church. And the fact is that even the faithful in the Christian Church were once weeds. You were once a weed. You were born an unbeliever. You were once a child of the wicked one. It was not until the Holy Spirit turned you into wheat through Baptism or the preaching of the Word that you ceased to be a weed. This is all by God’s pure grace. And this has been accomplished in you because God preserved the fallen world so that the Holy Spirit could have His way with you, that you would come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, that you would become God’s own child.

But now you have the burden of knowing that not everyone is wheat like you are. You dare not make this a matter of pride, as if you are better than the weeds. In fact, you must watch, lest Satan trap you in sin and unbelief, and you fall from faith and become a weed again. Remember, it is by God’s grace in Christ, without works, that you are wheat and not a weed. And so you are moved with compassion for the weeds. You pray for them. You confess Christ to them, even when it means the weeds reject you and persecute you. You speak God’s Word about the Savior to them because you know that God is always ready to receive a repentant sinner, to make him into wheat. You know that Jesus shed his blood, not only for you, but for those weeds. You long for the weeds to be saved.

But you also long for deliverance. Thus you groan along with the fallen creation. St. Paul writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:23-24). You long to be delivered from the old Adam who still hangs about your necks. Though you are thankful that the Lord preserves the fallen creation for the sake of those who have yet to repent and come to faith, you also long for that day when you can cast off the effects of the fall from your flesh, in the resurrection, when your body, too, will be perfected along with your soul. Then there will be no more sin. Then there will be no more temptation. Then there will be no more weeds. Then the righteous, which is to say those made righteous by God, justified by faith in Christ Jesus, given Christ’s own righteousness, will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Your deliverance is coming. The creation will be restored. You will be restored. The earth and the universe, originally made perfect for your benefit, will be created anew, just as you are. In the mean time the Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you with groans that words cannot express (v. 26). The Day is coming. The Spirit preserves you in the faith until that Day. Christ is your deliverance. Therefore remember that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
July 13, 2008
Text: Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23

Jesus is careless when it comes to sowing His seed. The seed is His Word, and He sows it haphazardly, without regard to the quality of the soil. He even sows upon the path, and upon the rocky ground, and among the thorns, which is to say, He sows His Word in hearts that He knows will not receive it, or may receive it immediately with joy, but eventually reject it. And this is just another splendid example of Jesus’ mercy and His love. In His mercy and love, He is generous with the seed of His Word, generous to a fault! He does not desire the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11). He desires repentance and faith. And these only come about by the Word. So Jesus sows, generously, recklessly, not just on the good soil, but on all the soil, trusting the promise of His Father, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11; ESV). Jesus knows that the seed of the Word will always produce a crop, will always do what God intends, for it is living and active. The Word of God is never empty or meaningless, even if it appears to be so to our fallen eyes. The Word is performative. It always does what it says. And this same Word of God is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Through the Word the Holy Spirit conquers hearts. Through the Word the Holy Spirit admonishes, converts, strengthens, preserves His people in the faith. Through the Word the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. So the Church of the Augsburg Confession has always confessed on the basis of the Scriptures that through His holy Word, and the visible manifestations of that Word, the Sacraments, God “gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”[1]

That is why Jesus is so reckless in His sowing. The Word brings the Holy Spirit, who works faith. Notice, this doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the Word comes to faith. The Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. And ultimately, we can’t answer that question that has dogged Christians for centuries, “Why do some believe, and others not? Why are some saved, and others not?” All we can say is what the Scriptures say, that if you come to faith, God gets all the credit, all the glory, because this is the Holy Spirit working through the Word. But if you do not come to faith, or if you lose your faith and find yourself in hell in the end, this is your own fault. The Scriptures nowhere state that God eternally predestines some to hell. He only predestines to heaven, and this on account of Christ. It’s not His fault when some are damned. He does not desire their eternal death, but that they repent, turn from their evil ways and live. Nor is there anything in any man, woman, or child that makes that person worthy of faith and salvation, and certainly not more worthy of salvation than their lost neighbor. No one, in and of themselves, is good soil. It is by God’s pure grace, and in His unsearchable wisdom, that He calls you to faith by His Holy Spirit, that the seed of His Word takes root in you and grows and brings forth much fruit. And this is cause for you to give thanks and rejoice and bask in the pure mercy of God.

So how is man at fault if he is lost? The soils in the parable are the hearts of men. The seed that falls upon the path is immediately devoured by birds. When the seed of the Word falls upon the hearts of men who do not understand, do not perceive the powerful Word that Jesus has sown so generously, the evil one, the enemy, the devil, comes along and snatches away what has been sown in the heart (Matt. 13:4, 19). These are people who immediately dismiss the Word of God, reject it, have no room even to consider Jesus. Their hearts and minds and ears are closed. So Satan makes quick work of snatching the Word away so that the heart can continue in unbelief.

Jesus also sows on the rocky ground. This is a different type of soil. Here the Word is sown and the seed immediately germinates. A plant springs to life. But there is no room for a root system. When the sun rises, it scorches the plant, so that it withers away into nothing (vv. 5-6, 20-21). These are people who hear the Word with great joy in the beginning. They are among the most zealous for the faith at first. But Christianity is just a novelty for them, soon to be cast aside. They are enthusiastic in the beginning, but they have no root. Perhaps they have a real faith in the beginning, but that faith is not nourished by the Word and the sacraments, and so it is very weak. Or perhaps they ultimately trust in themselves and not in Jesus Christ. Perhaps they have put their faith, not in Jesus, but in their faith. Faith in faith is no faith at all, because then faith becomes a work on our part. Such faith does not stand the test of time and trial. When tribulation or persecution come on account of the Word, when it’s no longer easy or fun to follow Jesus, when Jesus demands that His disciple take up his cross and follow all the way to Golgotha, such faith withers and dies.

Likewise, Jesus sows among the thorns. The thorns are the worries, the cares, the stuff of this world. The thorns are the temporary things that people so often treat as eternal (vv. 7, 22). These things may even be good gifts of God, but how easily they become idols, be they money, job, food, sex, alcohol, even friends and family members, spouses and children. Such people may hear the Word, even come to church, but the thorns choke the Word, and destroy faith. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches can be deadly to faith, because things so easily become our gods. Human nature is so easily led astray to worship the creature rather than the Creator, the gift rather than the Giver. Lord, spare us from this.

Finally, though, Jesus does sow much seed on the good ground. The Word falls upon such soil and grows up into a strong plant, producing grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. These are those who hear and understand and believe the Word of God, and produce much fruit (vv. 8, 23). They not only come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, they produce the works of sanctification. They love and serve their neighbor. They give all glory to God. They confess Christ to the world, never taking into account the personal cost of being Jesus’ disciples. They are shining examples to the rest of us. Their results may vary. Some produce fruit a hundredfold, some only sixty or thirty, but they all produce. Oh, how blessed they are, for this comes about by the Holy Spirit working faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. The miracle of faith has been performed. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.

It is always the temptation for us in the Church, though, to read this parable and immediately say within ourselves, “Aha, I’m the good soil! The seed of the Word has been cast, and found a good, rich, fertilized soil in my heart.” The hard truth is, though, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that at any time in our lives, you and I are each one of the soils. For is it not true that often the Word has been preached to you, but your ears and mind and heart have been closed? Maybe it’s because you don’t like the pastor, or you’re mad at your fellow church members, or you just don’t like the message. Repent. And isn’t it true that you’ve often heard the Word with great joy, but then some particular temptation or trial has led you to forsake that Word and the Sower, Jesus, because it’s just too hard to be His disciple? You don’t want to take up your cross and follow Him. He demands too much. Repent. And isn’t it true that the things in this life have become your idols; that you’ve feared, loved, and trusted in other things more than you fear, love, and trust in God; that the worries and cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches has choked the Word and made your heart unfruitful? Repent.

God alone makes good soil. He does this, ironically, by casting the seed of the Word on it, so the Holy Spirit can have His way with your heart. Jesus tills the soil, pulls up the weeds and the rocks and the thorns, plants the seed of His Word, waters it, fertilizes it, tends it. After all, what else is the confession of sins, both at the beginning of the Divine Service, and in private confession and absolution, but the offering up of our weeds and rocks and thorns for Jesus to pull out? And what is the absolution, the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus taking our weeds, our rocks, our thorns, our very sins away? The Law of God shows us that the soil of our hearts is not good. It is rocky and thorny and the evil one steals away the seed. But the Gospel gives us the death of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy, precious blood to wash away all our sins. In the Gospel God makes good soil out of us. So don’t be arrogant, thinking you are the good soil and all those other people are the bad soils. Instead, trust that God will make good soil out of you, that He will take your heart of stone and give you a believing, beating heart of flesh, sanctified by the Spirit, that you may produce fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. For He has forgiven you all your sins in Christ Jesus, including your closed ears, mind, and heart; your aversion to the cross and tribulation; and your idolizing of the things of this world. All these things have been wiped out in Christ. And so as God says through the Prophet Isaiah this morning, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Is. 55:13).

In the midst of thorns and thistles and rocks and briers and all manner of weeds, God has planted His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh, who was planted as a seed in the womb of the virgin Mary, who grew up before the Lord as a tender shoot out of the stump of Jesse, to be nailed to the tree of the cross for the sins of the whole world. That includes your sins, and mine. Yet in His death He has yielded up fruit that cannot be quantified, not just thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold, but infinite. And He showers His bounty upon us. Just as He generously scatters the seed of His Word, so our crucified and risen Lord Jesus generously showers His gifts upon us. He even sets a Table before us this morning, bread and wine that are, in fact, His body and His blood, the Word made flesh offering again His Word attached to a tangible sign, the living promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who believe it. In the Word and in the Supper He’s tending the soil, brothers and sisters. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. He who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, let him come, eat, and drink, and receive the righteousness of Christ. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish all for which God sent it. That is the promise and the reality in Christ. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC V (Tappert, p. 31).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marriage Comes From God

As I continue to revel in the post-anniversary glow, a line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell" comes to mind: "It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love" (from Letters and Papers from Prison [New York: Touchstone, 1997] p. 43). The idea here is that marriage comes from God. It is His institution, and therefore has an objective character that rises above fickle human love.

The paragraph following that line is great, too:

God makes your marriage indissoluble. 'What therefore God has joined together, let no man put assunder' (Matt. 19:6). God joins you together in marriage; it is his act, not yours. Do not confound your love for one another with God. God makes your marriage indissoluble, and protects it from every danger that may threaten it from within and without; he wills to be the guarantor of its indissolubility. It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together; indeed, anyone who knows that may say confidently: What God has joined together, can no man put assunder. Free from all the anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other till death.

Thus far Bonhoeffer. Again, thanks be to God for my wife and the marriage He has given us. May the blood of Jesus Christ that has washed us clean of all sin, also strengthen us to forgive one another and grow in love and service to one another, trusting that God will sustain us even when our love is weak.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

On the Day of a Wedding Anniversary

Today I give thanks for my dear wife as we celebrate our third wedding anniversary. The 1951 Lutheran Book of Prayer (pp. 134-35) has this beautiful prayer on the day of a wedding anniversary:

Gracious and good Lord, today our happy hearts praise Thee as we observe again the anniversary of our wedded bliss. Thy presence in our home and lives has been a benediction which has made us a happy couple. Accept our thanks and the acknowledgements of our hearts as we come before Thee in prayer. We bow to receive from Thy bountiful hands the blessings of Thy grace.

Grant that the years which lie ahead may be enriched with the graces of Thy Holy Spirit, contentment, love, kindness, thoughtfulness, and joy.

Keep us steadfast in faith, loyal and devoted to Thee and to each other, consecrating our lives and services to Thy glorious name.

If it be that trials and sorrows come into our lives, be Thou with us with Thy helping and almighty hand that we be not crushed under the load nor doubt Thy power to help.

Today, then, be with us in Thy grace, forgiving our sins and filling our hearts with peace. Grant that the joys of the day be hallowed by Thy gracious approval, through Jesus Christ, our eternal Redeemer. Amen.

Higher Things

Many thanks to the Higher Things youth organization for great "Amen" conference this year in St. Louis (Thanks for the conferences in Stanton and Irvine as well... our kids attended the St. Louis conference). This is the first year we've been able to send a group from Epiphany, and I am amazed at the new appreciation our kids have for Lutheranism and especially the liturgy. One of the things that stood out for me in the Higher Things promotional DVD was a pastor who said he could trust that his students would hear the same things he taught them in Catechism class when they attended a Higher Things conference. That has proven so true! What a great resource for the Church!

I've heard rumors that some of the powers that be in the Missouri Synod are unhappy with Higher Things. I pray this is not true. How could the powers that be in a confessional Lutheran church body ever be unhappy with an organization that makes confessional Lutherans out of our youth?!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
July 6, 2008
Text: Matt. 11:25-30

We human beings are restless, every one of us. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You’ve undoubtedly experienced this restlessness at one time or another in your life. Maybe you’re experiencing it now. By restlessness, I mean the feeling of uneasiness that accompanies the knowledge that all is not well. There is a big, gaping hole in every heart of flesh, and we yearn to fill it. Every human being since Adam, including you and me, is born with this birth defect. We need something to fill us, to fulfill us. We’re just not sure what that something is. So we try to fill ourselves with the things and the pleasures of this life. That ever-present lust for more stuff or more money comes as a result of our seeking to fill that hole. Our culture’s obsession with casual sex is an indicator of that hole in the human heart. We substitute sex for love, and so think we will be fulfilled. Gluttony, drug and alcohol abuse, and any of the addictions that enslave us are attempts to fill that hole. And of course, none of these things does the job. None of these things lives up to their promise to fill us and fulfill us. They may give us the momentary illusion of rest and fulfillment, but in the end, we’re still the same restless human beings with the same gaping hole in our hearts. And the truth is that all of these things ultimately lead to death.

This hole we need to fill is a symptom of a dread disease, the disease of sin. Sin has separated us from God. It has driven a wedge between us and God, created a chasm between us and God. It has made us, in fact, blind, dead, and enemies of God by birth. The hole in our hearts is a God-shaped hole, and only God Himself can fill it. So we are restless, searching for God, searching for a way to heal the breach in our relationship to God. That is why there are so many religions in the world. Man knows by nature that he needs God. There are very few true atheists, if any. My guess is that every atheist is lying both to himself and to the world. Deep down, even the atheist knows there is a God, and that that God will judge him in the end. But the denial of God gives the atheist the illusion, at least from time to time, that he is no longer restless. Still, deep in his heart, the atheist has to wonder if this earthly life is really all there is. You see, human beings are religious by nature. Notice, not Christian by nature, for Christianity is anything but natural to fallen man, but religious by nature. Again, man knows that he needs God. St. Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20; ESV). So also the writer to the Hebrews, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). The very creation is proof that there is a creator. So there are any number of religions in the world that attempt to explain who that god is and how we, who are separated from him, can once again gain his favor, come into his good graces, and thus stand before him in the judgment. Man knows this by nature. Man knows he needs God. Man knows that he is separated from God. Man knows that God will judge him in the end. Therefore man is restless. St. Augustine wrote, “our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

Jesus knows that we are restless. So He invites us this morning, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). All the religions in the world, save one, tell you that you have to earn your rest by your own good works. Well, where’s the rest in that?! All religions, save one, are therefore inadequate. But Christianity does not bid you to earn your rest. Christianity bids you receive your rest from Jesus Christ. Jesus earns your rest. Jesus gives you rest freely. Jesus knows our need for God. He is God in the flesh, the incarnate Son of God, who reveals the Father to us and restores us once again to a relationship with God by wiping out our sins on the cross. In this way we can stand before God in the judgment as perfectly righteous, not with our own righteousness, but with the righteousness of Christ. We can face the judgment confidently, knowing we are covered by Jesus’ blood. For the Son has revealed the Father to us as a loving God who gave His only Son for our redemption. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (v. 27). The great and blessed mystery is that the Son has chosen to reveal the Father to you, even while you were lost in sin. He doesn’t reveal the Father in wrath or judgment. He reveals the Father in love as your Father, as the Father who loved the world, including you, in this way, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

That is the cure for your restlessness. The cure is Jesus and the rest and forgiveness and salvation that He has procured for you by His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. The cure is the rest and forgiveness and salvation that Jesus brings to you this morning and always through His holy Word and blessed Sacraments. The cure for your restlessness is where Jesus meets you with His abundant gifts in the means of grace. The cure for your restlessness is in this sermon and all Christian preaching; in the Absolution pronounced upon you each Sunday and whenever you come to confession, where all your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; it is in every remembrance of your Baptism where all your sins were washed away, you were cleansed and made God’s own child, and incorporated into the death and resurrection of Jesus; and this cure for your restlessness is placed on your tongue as powerful medicine every time you eat and drink Jesus’ true body and blood in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. So, too, this cure for your restlessness is available to you every day in your home Bible reading and devotions. This cure is given to you in Sunday School and in Bible classes throughout the week. Are you restless? I know you are because I’m made of the same flesh you are. Adam is our common father. I know you’re restless because I know you’re a sinner, that you are infected with original sin, that you commit all manner of actual sins and that these sins wreak havoc in your life and cause you all sorts of difficulties. I know this because the same is true for me. But here’s the good news. Jesus died for you. Jesus died for me. He suffered all hell for you and for me on the cross, the punishment we deserved. As a result, all our sins have been forgiven, our rest has been won. Yet Jesus is not dead! He is risen, just as He said, and even now sits at the right hand of God where He ever intercedes for us and continues to reveal the Father to us, again, by means of His Word and Sacraments.

Rest. You have it in Jesus Christ. Bring all your burdens and cares and woes, along with all of your sins, and place them at Jesus’ feet. For “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). Commit all to God in prayer, trusting that He will take care of you for Jesus’ sake, and then receive rest in Jesus Christ through His living and active Word. This is not to say, though, that you won’t continue to face trials and tribulations in this life. The Gospel lessons from the last few weeks bear witness to that. You will have to face persecution, even on the part of loved ones. You will have to deal with sickness and injury and death. You will face the loss of possessions, perhaps even suffer imprisonment, and martyrdom. And of course, in the flesh you have to continue to deal with sin, as St. Paul points out in our epistle lesson (Rom. 7:14-25a). Jesus is honest about the struggles you will have in this life, even as you follow Him as His disciple. He urges you, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me” (Matt. 11:29). There is a yoke to be borne, the yoke of the cross. Yet He promises, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv. 29-30). The great promise for you is that when you have to take up your cross and follow Jesus, when you bear persecution, loss, sickness, suffering, death, and that ever present battle with sin, Jesus bears you. No matter how heavy your burden, Jesus is gladly burdened with you. He carries you in the palm of His pierced hand. So in the end, nothing can harm you. Nothing. If you are with Jesus, your rest is eternal. In the end, He banishes your restlessness, because He has defeated sin, He conquered death in His resurrection, and hell has no claim on you, because Jesus has bought you with His own blood. “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4)!

Jesus fills the hole in your heart. Jesus alone can fill the God-shaped hole in the human heart. Because He doesn’t just provide temporary relief of the symptom. He’s not just a temporary fix for the restlessness. He obliterates the disease. He obliterates sin. And He continues to care for you and treat you with the medicine of immortality in His Word and Sacrament, preserving you for that day when you will be free of all restlessness, at His coming again in glory. You no longer need to seek rest in the things that lead to death. Your rest is given you eternally by the Lord of life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions, Henry Chadwick, Trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) p. 3.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

We Will Devote Ourselves to Prayer and the Ministry of the Word

Pastor’s Window for July 2008

We Will Devote Ourselves to Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4)

Beloved in the Lord,

The Office of the Holy Ministry is often called the “Ministry of the Word,” because a Christian pastor’s ministry is consumed by the Word of God. He studies the Word, God’s holy Law and Gospel, and then applies it to the lives of his sheep as each has need in their particular circumstances. To one, a warning word of God’s Law may be demanded in the interests of calling a secure sinner to repentance. To another who may be suffering under the weight and burden of sin, God’s Gospel of forgiveness in Christ, His holy absolution, must be spoken. To still another, a word of pastoral counsel and exhortation may be in order. To yet another, a word of comfort in affliction or loss is demanded. In everything, the ministry is about Word and Sacrament, applying the forgiveness of sins. A pastor is in the business of forgiving sins in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that takes place through the Word. So everything a pastor does as pastor – whether it be preaching or teaching, baptizing or administering the Lord’s Supper, hearing confessions and absolving sins, visiting the sick and shut-in, calling on members, etc., etc. – is part of “handling the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) for the purpose of forgiving sins.

That is why pastors spend so much time studying. That is why congregations usually provide their pastors with a “study.” I often refer to the room you have given me to work in as my “office,” but it is more proper to refer to it as a study, because it is the workshop where I handle the Word of Truth for the purpose of applying it to your life and forgiving your sins. The pastor’s study is a very “booky” place. All the books are about handling the Word of Truth. A lot of reading and writing and reflection go on in the pastor’s study. This is where the sermons are crafted, the Bible studies are put together, the services of God’s house are planned, the future of our life together as a congregation is envisioned. Here the pastor is devoted to the Word of God and prayer. As I mentioned last month, I pray at least one of the daily offices, either Matins or Vespers, each day, either in my study or in the sanctuary (if you ever walk in and hear me singing away, now you know what’s going on!). The pastor’s study is a place of devotion and prayer. One of the questions asked of a pastor at his ordination is, “Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?” (Lutheran Service Book Agenda [St. Louis: Concordia, 2006] p. 166). I answered in the affirmative (you heard me that day), and I take that promise very seriously. In addition to my daily devotions, I pray for each member of our congregation by name. That is a very important privilege and duty of the pastoral office, and hopefully a comfort to you, to know that your pastor prays for you.

But the pastor’s study is not just a place for the pastor’s private meditation. It is also a place where you can go when you need the Word of God and prayer. When you need to talk to your pastor, the study is often where we meet. When you need the Word of the Lord applied to you in a very specific way, you can always come to my study. When you need a specific prayer said for and with you, the door is always open for you. Your pastor is not a monk secluded in a monastery. The study is for you as much as it is for the pastor. His handling of the Word of Truth is for your sake. And sometimes you need that Word of Truth in a specific way, and whenever that is the case, you are invited into the study, a place you can always speak in confidence, where you can always find the Word of God and prayer, where your sins will be forgiven. (As an important side note, private confession and absolution, which usually takes place in the sanctuary, also offers a wonderful opportunity to have the Word of God applied in a very specific way, and Christ’s forgiveness applied to specific sins. Confession and Absolution are always available to you… See the What About… Confession and Absolution brochure in the narthex rack).

Of course, the ministry isn’t all reading, writing, and studying, and hopefully that was apparent in last month’s Pastor’s Window. A great deal of my time is spent teaching or on the road making visits. These activities, too, are consumed with the Word and the forgiveness of sins. But hopefully this article gives you a little more insight into what it means to be and/or have a pastor, particularly into your pastor’s study and meditation. I give thanks to God for the joy and blessing of being your pastor for the past two years. May He grant us continued peace, strength, and growth in our fellowship together around the holy Word and Sacraments.

Pastor Krenz

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Congratulations to Issues, Etc.

A belated congratulations to the Rev. Todd Wilken and Mr. Jeff Schwarz on their return to radio. The premier of the new Issues, Etc. program was delightful. I'm looking forward to many more quality programs that are Christ-centered and cross-focussed. Thank you, dear brothers.

If you haven't heard (and you probably have heard if you read Lutheran blogs), Issues, Etc. is back! You can listen to it at www.issuesetc.org or www.piratechristianradio.com.