Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
August 31, 2008
Text: Matt. 16:21-28

How true it is what the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Is. 55:8; ESV). Jesus makes this point crystal clear in the Gospel lesson this morning. The way of God is the way of the cross. It is an utter mystery to us that God chooses to deliver the world from sin, Satan, and death by giving His own Son over to the death of the cross. Fast on the heals of Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), Jesus “From that time… began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). It is a divine necessity that Jesus die a shameful death in the place of shameful sinners, at the hands of the religious establishment no less. This for the forgiveness of sins, your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world. God’s victory will be in death. Resurrection will come after crucifixion. It is necessary for God’s justice and wrath against sin to be reconciled with his love for sinners. And this happens only on the cross of Christ. There is no other way. You can’t pay for your sins, nor can I for mine. Even St. Peter and the other apostles cannot pay for their own sins. Jesus pays for them on the cross. Jesus satisfies God’s justice. In His death, Jesus wins salvation for us, everlasting life. And though Jesus’ death is the point of intersection between God’s justice and love, death is not the end of the story. Christ is risen, victorious over the grave, and you are justified, guaranteed a part in the resurrection of all flesh. The ways of God always have a happy ending in Christ Jesus. But until the end, there is the cross.

Contrast this with the ways of man. Man wants a happy life through and through, without suffering, without pain, without persecution and death. That is why the whole world celebrates Easter (albeit without understanding), but they do not observe Lent and Holy Week. The world does not want a crucified Jesus and it does not want to have to bear the cross with patience. And what is true of the world is also true of Christians in the flesh. Peter is the perfect illustration of this. Peter cannot bear even to hear our Lord’s Passion prediction. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). The cross is unacceptable for the Christ, the Son of the living God, or so Peter thinks. But Peter doesn’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of man. And so he is a hindrance to his Lord Jesus and the divine saving mission for which Jesus was sent. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (v. 23). The biting rebuke shocks us every time we hear it. Peter has just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God! Sure, he may be mistaken when he denies the necessity of the cross, but his heart is in the right place. He’s speaking out of love. And yet, that is just how Satan works. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old cliché goes. Satan is twisting Peter’s good intentions, his love, his very faith, with the lie, the false doctrine, that the glory of God can be attained without the cross. Peter is standing between Jesus and the holy cross, trying to divert Jesus, thwart his mission of salvation, and Satan is the instigator. With his rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is reminding Peter that he is not where he belongs. As long as Peter stands between Jesus and the cross, and as long as Peter resists the cross, he is no disciple of Jesus. He is a disciple of Satan. Anyone who wishes to be a disciples of Jesus Christ must get behind Him, deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus to Golgotha. Jesus’ rebuke is a call to repentance.

To be a disciple of Jesus means the cross now, glory in the end. It is to die now for the sake of Christ, to die to the self, to crucify the flesh, and if necessary, to die physically for Christ and His Gospel. And in this way Christ gives His disciples true life in God. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (vv. 24-25). To be a disciple of Christ means to bear the cross in this life, all the sufferings and temptations and trials of this life, with patience and faith, following the One who has trod this road before, for our sake, for our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever seeks only pleasure and comfort for himself in this life forfeits his inheritance in the life of Christ Jesus. What is this earthly life, after all, but a drop in the bucket of eternity? What is earthly wealth when it cannot buy happiness or peace with God, and when you die its benefits are passed to someone else? What is earthly pleasure and comfort if their pursuit means an eternity of torment in hell? “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (v. 26). Even if it were possible for one man to gain the wealth and prosperity of the whole world, it would not be enough to pay off God. The cross of Christ alone is sufficient for our redemption. Have you sought the things of this world without a care for eternal life? Have you been thinking the thoughts of men and not of God? Have you been offended at the cross of Christ and refused to bear the cross He has laid on you? Repent.

Beloved, do not make a permanent residence in this world. We are but strangers here, in the world but not of the world. Do not make earthly pleasure and comfort your goal. Remember that this earthly life is but a breath. Be concerned for eternity. Trust in Jesus Christ alone, and Him crucified for your salvation, and then gladly bear whatever cross He lays upon you. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. When you seek any other road than the road of the cross, when you refuse to suffer for and with Jesus Christ, who alone won your salvation on His cross, when you seek glory now, your best life now, health, wealth, and prosperity now, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. Get behind Jesus where you belong. That’s the only place for His disciples. Repent of your selfish quest for glory. Follow Jesus to the cross. Die to yourself. Crucify your flesh. Crucify your sinful, selfish desires. Do not live for yourself. Live for Christ. Live for your neighbor. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). For Christ has wiped out your sins on His cross. He is risen for your justification. He has given you new life. For as many of you as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You died with Him, and so now you live with Him. His death and resurrection are your own. And now in this earthly life, He bids you bear the cross for your own good. “The cross is God’s bell by which He calls us to prayer… The crosses of Christians are the cords of God’s love by which He draws us closer to Himself.”[1] With the cross, Jesus is conforming you to His own image, the image of the crucified Son of God. He is rooting out all that is evil from you. He is putting your sinful flesh to death that you might live with Him eternally. He is driving you to despair of yourself and your own good works, to despair of your idols, whatever you fear, love, and trust the most, be they people or things. He is driving you to trust in Him alone for righteousness, salvation, and eternal life. He is driving you to pray, to cast yourself on His mercy, to hide yourself in His wounds, and so to live in Him.

Christ’s victory comes through suffering and the cross. These are the things of God. They do not make sense to us, for they are the opposite of the things of man. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. But His thoughts and ways are better. Our thoughts and ways lead to death. His thoughts and ways lead to life. For the Son of Man is coming again. He is coming with His holy angels in the glory of His Father. He is coming to judge, and He will repay each man according to His deeds. But for those who are in Christ, their sins will not be part of the record. For those who are in Christ, who have died with Him and live with Him, only Christ’s deeds count, His perfect life lived in obedience to God’s Law, His death for our sin, His resurrection. So you are pronounced innocent, justified, righteous. Then will come the glory. God’s ways always have a happy ending for those who are in Christ. Now you bear the cross. But in heaven and in the resurrection your cross will be exchanged for the glory and splendor of the Church Triumphant.

The apostles get a glimpse of this glory, the beginning of Christ’s victory before they taste death. It is true, they die before they see Jesus’ second coming. But Peter, James, and John see Christ transfigured before them on the mountain in the very next chapter of Matthew. John is present as Jesus is lifted up and enthroned on the cross, His glory hidden in death, ushering in His Kingdom. All of the apostles, save Judas, witness the risen Christ, the King returned in triumph over His enemies, sin, Satan, and the grave. And some of the apostles witness the beginning of Christ’s judgment as Jerusalem is destroyed in AD 70, an event that Jesus prophesied as a type of His return in judgment in the end (cf. Matt. 24). These glimpses sustain the apostles as they live their lives under the cross. And you, also, are not left without glimpses. Your glimpses of Christ’s glory are given in the preaching of His Word, and in a very real and significant way in the Supper of His risen body and blood. There you receive a foretaste of the feast to come, a glimpse of the eternal glory He keeps for you in heaven. The Lord’s Supper is heaven on earth as you sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and are seated at the Table of the King. This gives you strength to bear the cross now as you live your life on this earth. It gives you the power to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. For the Lord’s Supper is the tangible promise that the cross is not the end. Christ is risen. And He will call you out of the grave when He comes with His angels in the glory of His Father. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quotations and Illustrations for Sermons (St. Louis: Concordia, 1951) p. 76.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Confession and Absolution

From the North Prairie Pastor, http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/#more-172:

If Satan is after you particularly hard, if you can feel his breath as he roars his blasphemies in your ears, if you are falling under the weight of the world, if you wear your own flesh like a ball and chain, then come and compel me to give you the forgiveness of your Lord: “Pastor, please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will…I, a poor sinner, plead guilty of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and my prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin” (LSB 292). This is the constant confession of the members of Christ’s Body. Remember, to confess means “to say the same.” To confess your sin is to say the same thing that God says about it: that it is damnable and that it has separated you from God and from your neighbor. And I, as your pastor, confess to you what God says about you in Jesus Christ: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace” (LSB 293).

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

I would like to commend to you the Rev. Matthew Harrison's new blog, Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison, http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
August 24, 2008
Text: Matt. 16:13-20

What precisely is it that Jesus calls the rock upon which He will build His Church in our text? This question has been the source of much debate and even division in the Christian Church for centuries. What, or who, is the rock? The Church of Rome, of course, maintains that the rock is Peter, that the Church is built upon St. Peter, the first pope, and his successors in the papacy. Lutherans and other Christians respond that the rock is not, in fact, Peter, but rather Peter’s confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This confession is the sum and substance of Peter’s apostolic ministry, and that of the other apostles, and every Christian pastor since. It is the sum and substance of the apostolic Scriptures. And it is the sum and substance of the confession of the holy Christian Church. It is, in fact, the very foundation of the Church, as St. Paul says, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

So is the rock Peter, or is it his confession? Who is right, and why does it matter? Well first, it matters because Jesus says “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18; ESV [emphasis added]). It matters what the rock is, what serves as the foundation, so that we know the Church is protected against the very gates of hell. Do we put our faith in Peter, or do we put our faith in the Word revealed to Peter by the Father? So again, the question is, what is the rock? Is it Peter, or his confession? This is how the Lutheran Confessions answer this question:

"As to this statement, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), it is
certain that the church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry
of the confession which Peter made when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the
Son of God. Therefore Christ addresses Peter as a minister and says, “On this
rock,” that is, on this ministry… Nor is this ministry valid because of any
individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ."[1]

In other words, even a person of such biblical significance and stature as St. Peter, without argument the foremost apostle, is too small a rock in which to base our confidence. Rather, the Church’s confidence that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her is made certain by the same Word of God revealed to Peter by the Father, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, come to save His people.

It is true that the name Peter, petros in Greek, means rock, and here Jesus gives Simon, the son of Jonah, the name “Peter.” Jesus makes a stunning play on words here, “I tell you, you are Peter, the rock-man, and on this rock I will build my Church.” But Jesus uses two related, yet different words for rock. He calls Peter “petros,” which means a detached rock, or a boulder. Then he calls the rock upon which the church is built “petra,” something more like a rock-cliff.[2] Beloved members of the holy Christian Church, you aren’t built on a boulder. Boulders don’t make good foundations. You are built on a solid slab of stone. Peter, the rock-man, is named after the rock of his confession, the Word revealed to him by the Father. Peter himself is built on that rock. And in this sense, you are all Peters as well. For you, also, are built upon the confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And this is why Peter’s confession is so important: On the basis of this confession, Jesus promises His apostles and His Church, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). That is to say, since it is true that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then it is also true that He has authority on earth to forgive sins. In fact, that’s why the Son of God took on our human flesh, to fulfill God’s Law for us, to die for our sins, to rise again for our justification and the promise of our own resurrection from the dead, to absolve the world of sin. And since Jesus, as Son of the living God, has this authority to forgive sins, He can also exercise this authority through His Church, particularly through the called ministers of His Church, so that when I say to you in private absolution, or as I did this morning at the beginning of the service, “I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit” (LSB, p. 185), you can know with absolute certainty that these words have all the authority and weight of the eternal Son of God behind them. That is what we confess in the Catechism: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”[3] In fact, when a pastor pronounces absolution, the eternal Son of God is really the one forgiving you. I’m just His mouthpiece. I’m just another Peter, one who has been given words to say by the Father. By God’s grace I am given the same confession as that of Simon Peter, and so are you. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to us. We didn’t come up with this confession by our own human reason, anymore than Peter did. Our fallen human nature would never come up with the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, by itself. The Father has revealed this to us, through His Son, His eternal Word, by the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul reminds us that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit gives faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God, the Christ come to save us, and the Holy Spirit leads us to confess this.

This is really quite miraculous, though, considering that the world of which we were once a part and in which we still live utterly rejects this confession of Christ. Jesus asks two questions in our Gospel lesson. First, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13), and second, “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). And here Jesus is making a distinction between a true confession of faith and the false confessions of the world. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? What does the world think of Jesus? They say all sorts of nice things about Him. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14). Some say Jesus is a good teacher, an example, a role model, a revolutionary, a teacher of good morals. And in some sense, all of this is true. But it is not the Christian confession of faith. The Christian confession of faith is that revelation given by the Father to Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And as we saw, that confession makes all the difference when it comes to our salvation. If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and He is, then your sins are forgiven. You are saved. The Father loves you. He gave His Son to die for you. He will give you eternal life. He will raise you from the dead.

After Peter made his spectacular confession of Christ, the sum and substance of apostolic preaching, the foundation upon which Jesus builds His Church, Jesus “strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (v. 20). Note well that this command is NOT given to you. The disciples were to keep their confession hush-hush until after the resurrection. But now that Christ is risen, you are called to tell everyone you know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are called upon to confess Christ to your friends and family and neighbors and the world. You are called upon to confess Christ, even if it brings persecution and death. Because Jesus is the Son of the living God, and He will not leave you in death. He will raise your mortal body immortal in the resurrection of the dead. Confess Christ in your words and in your lives. As Paul writes in our Epistle, “by the mercies of God… present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). You can do so because you are no longer conformed to this world, but God has transformed you by the renewing of your mind so that you now can discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (v. 2). You are blessed, for the Father has revealed the Son to you by the working of His Spirit. He has called you into His Church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. In this Christian Church God is daily and richly forgiving you all your sins. And you have the certain promise of Christ regarding the Church, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. All praise and thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Tr. 25-26. Tappert, p. 324.

[2] For the difference between petros and petra, see R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932) p. 605.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
August 17, 2008
Text: Matt. 15:21-28

Beloved in the Lord, learn of the Canaanite woman how to believe and how to pray. For prayer is the breath of faith. In our Gospel lesson, the Canaanite woman does not leave Jesus alone for a second, but is constantly pleading with Him to heal her daughter who is severely oppressed by a demon. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David… Lord, help me” she cries (Matt. 15:22, 25; ESV). She petitions the Lord so earnestly because she knows that Jesus alone can help. At the Word of Jesus, the demon will depart. If there is any hope for this woman’s daughter, Jesus is that hope. So even as Jesus ignores her, and as His disciples beg Him to send this dirty Canaanite “dog” away, the woman pleads. She hounds Jesus. She holds Him to His Word. She reminds Him of His promises. And that is tenacious faith at work. Learn from the Canaanite woman: Even when God is seemingly silent in your affliction, even when God seems to have abandoned you, believe and pray. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David… Lord, help me.”

Why is it that Jesus ignores the persistent pleas of the Canaanite woman? Doesn’t He want to help? Is He really without compassion? Are we not dealing with the same God who said, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15)? After all, this woman is not just asking for trivial things like help finding her keys. She is not being greedy… It’s not like she’s asking to win the lottery. And why isn’t Jesus rebuking the heard-heartedness of His disciples?

Actually, though, Jesus and His disciples are acting just like we should expect good Jews to act around a Canaanite woman. In the world of Jesus and the disciples, this woman has two strikes against her. A woman is never supposed to approach a strange man. And Canaanites are dirty to Jews, not to be associated with. Not very politically correct, I know, but remember, the Canaanites were the folks the Israelites dispossessed when they came into the Promised Land, and the Canaanites were responsible for leading the Israelites into all manner of sin and idolatry. So Jesus and the disciples are just being good Jews when they ignore the Canaanite woman. The disciples were not just annoyed, they were probably embarrassed by her socially inappropriate behavior, and begged Jesus to send her away to bring an end to the uncomfortable situation. And this is why when Jesus finally does respond to the woman, he calls her a dog. She is not of the house of Israel. She does not belong to the children of God. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). It is not right to give the gifts that rightly belong to the Israelites to a Canaanite woman.

Now, it’s not as though Jesus is really a racist. Of course He cares about this woman and her daughter and all the Canaanites and every nation, tribe, people, and language. And this congregation here in Dorr, Michigan, is made up of Gentiles, non-Jews, “dogs,” a testimony to God’s grace to all people in sending His Spirit to gather His elect from all nations. So again, why does Jesus ignore and finally rebuke this woman? He is laying a cross on her. He is laying a cross on her to strengthen her faith by driving her to seek all the more persistently His mercy, His help, His deliverance. He is driving her to trust in Him and pray to Him even when He is silent, even when He rebukes her. And this Canaanite woman is a great example to us, for even when Jesus rebukes her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” faith responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27). “Indeed, Lord, I am unworthy. I am a dog.” It is a confession of sin. There is no argument. Jesus is right. The woman does not deserve anything from the hand of the Lord. “But Jesus, you promised. You promised deliverance from the devil and his minions. I may be a dog, but you came to deliver me. And all I need is a crumb. All I need is a Word, and the demon will depart, and my daughter will be healed.” That’s the prayer of faith. It is brutally honest. It relies totally on the Word of God alone. It does not bring any righteousness of its own to the table, but casts itself on the mercy of Christ. And such faith is not unfounded. “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (v. 28). Jesus spoke a Word and the demon departed. And the woman went home justified, perhaps a Canaanite in the flesh, but a true member of the spiritual house of Israel.

We often pray to God in the midst of trial and tribulation, and it seems as though God is ignoring us, or worse, rebuking us. Why is that? Doesn’t God want to help? Is He really without compassion? Of course, the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer and die for your sins cannot be without compassion. The God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer all hell in your place must love you with an incomprehensible love. The God who punished His own Son to satisfy His justice, forgive your iniquities, and give you eternal salvation, the God who raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead to give you eternal life and the assurance of your own resurrection, this God will surely help you. But He will do so in a hidden way. He will do so in a way that is hidden under the cross and suffering. He will lay this cross on you in order to drive you ever deeper into His mercy in Christ Jesus, so that you do not rely on yourself or anyone or anything else in the world for help and salvation, but cast yourself on Him alone. He wants you to pray persistently. He wants you to acknowledge your unworthiness, to confess your sins, to realize that you bring nothing to the table when it comes to salvation. He wants you to put all your confidence in Him alone. When it seems like God is ignoring you or even rebuking you, He is really teaching you. Believe anyway. Pray all the more. Hold God to His Word. He will always deliver you.

But sometimes He won’t deliver you in the way you desire or expect. God always answers our prayers, but He doesn’t answer our prayers on our terms. God answers our prayers on His terms. This is where faith must confess that the will of God is always good, always better than our will, and always beyond our comprehension. Faith must recognize and confess that when we don’t get exactly what we want, when we want it, the way we want it, God isn’t answering our prayers with a “no,” but His “yes” is so much better than we could ever think or imagine. Maybe you prayed for help finding your car keys, and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that, but instead of revealing your car keys to you, God taught you patience. Maybe you prayed to win the lottery, and instead of material wealth, God is giving you all the riches of heaven. Maybe you’ve been battling cancer and praying again and again for God to heal you, and instead of healing your body now, He will allow you to die and receive the abundant life of the beatific vision in heaven, and in the end, the cancer-free resurrection of your body. God’s “yes” is always better than that for which we pray. But He always helps. He always has mercy. He always answers prayer. He promised. Learn from the Canaanite woman. Hold God to His Word. Call upon Him in the day of trouble. He will deliver you, and you will glorify Him.

The plain and simple truth is that Jesus always gives you so much more, infinitely more, than you ask. He delivers you from death, hell, and the devil, forgives your sins, gives you His righteousness, eternal life, and salvation. He cleans you up in Baptism and seats you for the feast at the King’s Table. He brings Jews and Gentiles, Canaanites and sinners together as His new spiritual Israel, the Holy Christian Church. He gives you a family, the Christian family, a place to belong, a place to love and be loved, a place filled with brothers and sisters who have also been the recipients of God’s mercy in Christ. And He has promised always to hear the prayers of His people. “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Learn of the Canaanite woman. Believe. Pray. Hold God to His Word. He is faithful. He will surely do what He has promised. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
August 10, 2008
Text: Matt. 14:22-33

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is not just a mere man. He is God in human flesh. That is why Jesus, unlike any other human being, can walk on water. That is why Jesus, by the power of His Word, can command Peter to walk on water. That is why Jesus can still a horrific storm on the Sea of Galilee. Even the wind and the waves obey Him, for He is their Creator. And that is why Jesus does not reject the worship of the disciples in the boat as they declare, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33; ESV). The reason Jesus pushes the disciples to cross the sea before Him after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand we heard about last week, is twofold. First, Jesus wants some time alone to commune with His Father in prayer, and that is an important example for us, that we also should seek to commune with the Father in prayer each day, and also a reminder for us that Jesus is even now ever interceding before the Father on our behalf. And second, Jesus wants there to be no doubt in the minds and hearts of His disciples, and in our minds and hearts, that He is the eternal Son of God. It is this second point on which we meditate today. Jesus wants the apostles and us to know without a doubt that He is the eternal Son of God. He knows all along what He is about to do. He will walk to the disciples on the sea. He will walk on the stormy sea to His disciples in their wind-blown, wave-tossed boat. He will come to His disciples in the midst of their fear and their doubt. He will allay their fears and alleviate their doubt. He will save them. He will save Peter from sinking. He will save the disciples from the peril of the sea. And He will save all from the spiritual peril of unbelief. Jesus gives and strengthens faith in Him. He wants no doubt about His identity. Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

And this is important because if Jesus is the Son of God, He is able to do what He wills, and His will is to save you. His will is to save you from sin, death, hell and the devil, and all their servants that swirl around you like a stormy sea, threatening to swallow you up. His will is to save you, and the good news is that He has already done so by His innocent suffering and death on the cross, the full payment for all of your sins and the ransom price for your body and soul, and by His victorious resurrection wherein He has conquered death forever, for you and all people.

The lesson we learn from St. Matthew’s account of this miracle, is that the same Jesus who walked on water and bid Peter do the same, the same Jesus who saved Peter from sinking, the same Jesus who stilled the storm immediately upon entering the boat, that same Jesus saves you from sinking in the misery of your sin and death. That’s the point Jesus wants to make absolutely clear to His disciples and to us as He walks on the water. Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord of the sea and all of creation, come to redeem His creation. The same hand that reached out to grab Peter and save him from certain death is the hand that gave bread and wine, His true body and blood, in the upper room to the apostles, and even now to us. It is the same hand that was extended in love for all humanity and nailed to the cross to save us from our sins. Just as Jesus pulled Peter out of certain death in a watery grave, so Jesus pulls us out of certain eternal death, which is the wages of sin. He does this by means of Baptism, drowns us in the baptismal waters and pulls us out again for new life in Him. And in this way you are sealed for the Day of His coming again. The same hand that pulled Peter out of the stormy sea, the same hand that was nailed to the tree for your sins, will pull you out of the grave, in the resurrection of all flesh.[1]

That is why Peter calls out, “Lord, save me” (v. 30), when he begins to sink. This is the prayer of faith. Peter knows that only One can save him, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the very Son of God. It is true that Peter’s faith is weak. Jesus even says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v. 31). But it is not fair to say that Peter had no faith. In fact, Peter knew that if it was Jesus walking on the water, and not a ghost (of course there is no such thing as ghosts, but the disciples, like so many of their age, were very superstitious)… Peter knew that if it was Jesus walking on the water, Jesus could speak a word, and Peter, too, would be able to hop out of the boat and walk to Jesus as if he were on solid ground. That’s faith! And Peter did walk on water! In fact, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, there was no problem. But then Peter got distracted. The wind and the waves caught his attention. His fear got the best of him. He took his eyes off of Jesus. He forgot that it was only by Jesus’ Word that he could walk on water. And he began to sink. Down he went. He was about to be swallowed by the sea. Gasping, he cried to the only One who could help, “Lord, save me.” Again, that’s faith. It was a desperate cry to the Son of God. And “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt,” why did you get distracted, why did you take your eyes off of me? Then Jesus ushered Peter back to the boat. And immediately as Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat, the wind ceased. There was an immediate calm. Lesson learned. Peter and the other disciples did the only thing there was left to do. They fell down and worshiped Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).

Jesus has not called you to walk on water. Maybe you’ve tried it in the swimming pool when you thought no one was looking. But I guarantee you sank like a rock. You see, the command to walk on water was only for Peter, not for you, not for me, not even for the other disciples in the boat. But Jesus does call you to walk as the baptized, as those He’s pulled out of the water, in a world full of sin and death. And this can be just as complicated as walking on a stormy sea. As you do, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). But remember also that as you walk in the midst of sin and death, you will often be “of little faith,” just like Peter was. As long as you are in the flesh, you will be distracted by sin and temptation and the cares of this world. And you will start to sink. You will start to sink into certain spiritual death. In those times, cry to the only One who can help. Cry to Jesus. Cry out with St. Peter, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus will. Jesus will save you. Because Jesus is ever faithful and patient with those of little faith. He is ever faithful to you. He is ever patient with you. This is not to say that you won’t suffer the consequences of sin as long as you are in this fallen world. You still have to bear the cross. You might still have to suffer with cancer or the loss of a loved one, with unemployment, foreclosure, or bankruptcy, with a broken marriage or a rebellious child. That stuff is not the sea Jesus pulls you out of. The sea Jesus pulls you out of is sin and death. Sin’s consequences in this life are the wind that distracts you from keeping your eyes on Him. But none of that stuff can ultimately hurt you. Because when Jesus pulls you out of death, you have the promise that in the end, He will make all that is wrong, right again. In the end, He will calm the storm. He can do it, because He is the Son of God.

And that is the point He is making to Peter, and to the other disciples, and to us, as He walks on the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is the Son of God. There is nothing left for those who have been rescued by Jesus from certain death, than to fall down and worship Him, and confess with the first disciples, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” That is to say, there is nothing left to do but believe, and believing, confess (cf. Rom. 10:9-10) and rejoice. That is what we are doing here this morning. We don’t worship Jesus to gain His favor. We don’t worship Jesus to secure a spot for ourselves in heaven. We can’t pull ourselves out of the sea of sin and death. Jesus pulls us out. Jesus saves us. Jesus secures us a place in heaven. He does this without any merit or worthiness in us. He does it by His perfect life, by His sin-atoning death, by His victorious resurrection. He baptizes us into His death and resurrection. He pronounces us righteous with His own righteousness in His Holy Word. He gives us to eat and drink of His crucified and resurrected body and blood in the Holy Supper, thus strengthening us for our walk in this fallen world. He is always calling us to keep our eyes fixed on Him. For He is the Son of God. He is able to do what He wills. And He wills to save you, to save me, to bring us into fellowship with the Father by the power of the Spirit, to grant us eternal life. True Christian worship is simply to receive these gifts, this rescue, this new life, and receiving, confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and rejoice in this truth. The Church prays in her worship, “Lord, save me.” Christians pray in their daily lives in the midst of trial and temptation, “Lord, save me.” That is the prayer of faith. And the Son of God grasps the Church, grasps you, with His saving hand. He pulls you out of the water. He pulls you out of sin. He pulls you out of death. There is nothing left to do but confess: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] See William Cwirla’s sermon on this text, http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/The%20Sermonator/SeriesA/12pentecostA.html.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Book of Concord and Why You Should Read It

Pastor’s Window for August 2008

The Book of Concord and Why You Should Read It

Beloved in the Lord,

Hopefully you’ve been reading and meditating on the Book of Concord readings included in your bulletin each week. These come to us from the Book of Concord website, www.bookofconcord.org, where you can read the entire Book of Concord, along with background information, some great Lutheran resources, a blog devoted to the Book of Concord, as well as finding links to Lutheran sermons and a daily devotion called “Five Minutes with Luther.” I highly recommend this website and encourage you to check it out.

The Book of Concord is also known as the Lutheran Confessions, or the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Published as a collection in 1580, it contains the three ecumenical creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), the Augsburg Confession (written in 1530) and its Apology (defense) (1531), the Smalcald Articles (1537), the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms (1529), and the Formula of Concord (1577). Together these writings, known as symbols, tell us what it means to be Lutheran.

The Lutheran Confessions are not the Bible. No one claims that they are. The Holy Scriptures alone are the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the sole rule and norm of our doctrine and life. But as Lutherans, we believe the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord are the correct “summary and explanation” of the Scriptures. This is what the Rev. Paul McCain writes in the frequently asked questions section of the Book of Concord site: “Since we have the Bible, why do we have the Book of Concord? The Lutheran Confessions are a summary and explanation of the Bible. They are not placed over the Bible. They do not take the place of the Bible. The Book of Concord is how Lutherans are able to say, together, as a church, ‘This is what we believe. This is what we teach. This is what we confess.’ The reason we have the Book of Concord is because of how highly we value correct teaching and preaching of God's Word.”

So why should you read the Book of Concord? There are many reasons. Here are at least five:

1. If you’re a Lutheran, the Lutheran Confessions are your confessions. The Lutheran Confessions tell us what it means to be Lutheran. At the very least, you should know the Small Catechism and be familiar with the Large Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. We include the weekly Book of Concord readings with the hope of familiarizing you with these confessions.

2. You should read these confessions precisely because they are the correct “summary and explanation” of the Scriptures. They will help you grow in your knowledge and understanding of Scripture and strengthen your faith. The Lutheran Confessions can be prayed and read devotionally.

3. The Lutheran Confessions unite us to our fathers in the faith throughout history, including the Reformation and the Early Church. The Early Church fathers wrote the creeds, and our Reformation fathers wrote the rest of the confessions. The Reformation fathers also made use of many of the Early Church’s writings. In other words, the Lutheran Confessions show us to be an authentic catholic church body, solidly grounded in the Holy Scriptures and one with the one holy Christian (or catholic) and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed.

4. The Lutheran Confessions promote the unity of the Christian Church. The word “concord” means “harmony.” The Book of Concord was compiled as a collection of confessions around which Christendom could be united. If anyone confesses the Christian faith as we confess it in the Book of Concord, we consider him one with us. The Book of Concord also serves as a piece for doctrinal discussion with other church bodies. These church bodies know where we stand on the basis of the Lutheran Confessions, and what we require for altar and pulpit fellowship.

5. The Lutheran Confessions proclaim Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2). They proclaim above all else the chief doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the Christian Church: justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the chief reason you should read the Lutheran Confessions.

We will continue reading and studying these confessions together in Bible classes and in the weekly bulletin. I encourage you to read them at home as well. We can only be strengthened as we use them to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and what it means to be a Lutheran.

Pastor Krenz