Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 26, 2008
Text: Matt. 11:12-19

Christianity is dangerous. That is what many are saying in this post-Christian, perhaps even anti-Christian society in which we live. And maybe they’re right! At least in this sense: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12; ESV). Now, I’m certainly not saying that Christianity is dangerous in the same way that, say, radical Islam is dangerous. This isn’t politically correct to say, but there is a reason that Christians are not usually profiled as suspected terrorists. Christianity is certainly not a violent religion, certainly not in the sense that we preach violence, or encourage our members to engage in violence. As a matter of fact, it should go without saying, that to engage in violence in the Name of Jesus Christ is a sin. Don’t go bombing abortion clinics. Don’t kill people who are outside the faith or who oppose the faith. Under no circumstances should you engage in violence in your zeal for the Lord. You have no command from the Lord to do that. In fact, you are commanded not to murder. But violence does accompany Christianity in this way: Christians will always be persecuted for the sake of Jesus and His Word. Don’t let the relative peace with which we practice our Christian religion in America fool you. If you confess the holy Christian faith, you should expect to be persecuted. If you are not persecuted, blessed be the Lord. He has spared you. But you should always be willing to suffer humiliation, the loss of all possessions, and even to shed your blood for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Word.

John the Baptist is a good example. He lost his head for the Lord, literally. Because of his faithful confession of Jesus Christ, and his insistence that the Law of God against adultery applied even to kings like Herod, John was beheaded, and his head awarded on a silver platter to Herodias’ daughter for her seductive dance before Herod and his guests. John did not fear to testify to the truth before kings, and so he has a martyr’s reward. In losing his life, he gained it, for dying to himself and dying literally as a martyr, he received the life of Jesus Christ, life eternal and abundant, the life that is given alone by faith.

Of course Jesus is the ultimate example of the truth that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. For Jesus, being true God in the flesh, suffered violence at the hands of all humanity, for the sake of all humanity, in the place of all humanity, for the forgiveness of all the sins of all humanity, that all men might be saved. Our Lord Jesus suffered the violence of the cross, for you, for me, for all people, the perfect payment for sin, accomplishing in His crucified body the reconciliation of God and men. John is a type, or foreshadowing, of Jesus Christ, in losing his life as a martyr. So also all the prophets who lost their lives or suffered violence on account of God’s Word were types of Christ. For violence is always done to those who speak the truth.

And just as the prophets who came before Jesus were types of His suffering and death, so all Christian martyrs who have come after Him bear testimony with their very blood to His death on our behalf. That is to say, in suffering and the cross, they are conformed to the image of Christ Jesus. The disciples of Jesus Christ look like Him: Crucified. Tradition records that all of the apostles save the Apostle John suffered a martyr’s death. And even though St. John, according to tradition, did not die a martyr’s death, he assuredly suffered for preaching the truth.

So also on this Sunday of the Reformation, we remember Martin Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers who confessed the truth of the Gospel on pain of death. They boldly confessed over against the Medieval Roman Church that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, without works of the Law. And though Luther did not die a martyr’s death, he assuredly lived under the daily threat of such death, and suffered much, including excommunication, the condemnation of the empire, and exile, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Many of those who stood with Luther did die a martyr’s death. Luther even wrote a hymn about two of them, the first two Lutheran martyrs, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch who were burned at the stake in the market place in Brussels on July 1, 1523. The hymn is called, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun,” and in this hymn Luther sang of the victory of the martyrs who passed through the valley of the shadow of death and remained faithful unto the end. “A new song here shall be begun – The Lord God help our singing! Of what our God himself hath done, Praise, honor to him bringing. At Brussels in the Netherlands By two boys, martyrs youthful He showed the wonders of his hands, Whom he with favor truthful So richly hath adorned.”[1]

Yes, Luther sings of the victory of the martyrs. For not only have they been conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ; not only have they persevered in the faith under great persecution; the report of their faithfulness has also spread throughout the world as a testimony to the truth. The word “martyr” literally means “witness,” and has come to be associated with those who shed their blood for a cause, and in the Christian Church, for those who shed their blood for the sake of Jesus Christ. Witnesses testify. They are called upon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In shedding their blood for Jesus Christ, Christian martyrs testify to the truth of the Gospel. Their death is a sermon written in blood. So Luther can sing of the two boys burned at the stake: “Leave off their ashes never will; Into all lands they scatter; Stream, hole, ditch, grave – nought keeps them still With shame the foe they spatter. Those whom in life with bloody hand He drove to silence triple, When dead, he them in every land, In tongues of every people, Must hear go gladly singing.” [2]

What we encounter here, beloved, is the cost and reward of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Christian Church will never please the world. John didn’t please them. He “came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’” (Matt. 11:18). Neither did Jesus please them. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (v. 19). The world will never be a friend to the holy Christian Church. Thus following Jesus will always lead to the cross and suffering. It certainly requires dying to self. It may even require you to literally shed your blood for Jesus. But in so losing your life, you will find it. Let us never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His cross. Let us never be ashamed of His Word. Let us never be ashamed of those who have shed their blood for His sake. Even in the face of persecution, as for instance has broken out in India over the past few weeks, where many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have lost all earthly possessions, had to leave their homes and communities, been burned out of their own church, and where many have been killed… even in the face of such persecution, let us never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And, beloved, even if the peaceful practice of our religion here in the United States comes to a violent end, we need never lose heart. If we face persecution, and if we are ever called upon to shed our blood for Jesus Christ, we can consider it a great blessing… a victory, even. For God will strengthen us. In His mercy, God will preserve us. He will preserve us in the one true faith and conform us to the image of His Son, the Crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ. And our testimony to the Gospel will be scattered to the four winds and carried all over the earth, just as all the martyrs who have gone before. Our death will testify to the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world, and to His victory over death in the resurrection.

Violence always follows the truth, and in this sense it is quite true that Christianity is dangerous. It is dangerous to its own adherents, because as disciples of Jesus Christ, you are called to suffer, even the loss of life, for the Gospel. But after all, what is the loss of life, when Christ is risen, and can and will raise you from the dead? So we confess this faith, we confess Jesus Christ along with Martin Luther and the Reformers, the apostles and prophets, John the Baptist, and all the martyrs. We confess “that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”[3] Christianity may be dangerous, but there is no greater danger than the eternal danger of being outside of Christ Jesus. And there is no greater security than the blessed reality of all that our Lord gives us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife… though these all be gone, the victory has been won! The Kingdom ours remaineth! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun,” Luther’s Works, 55 vols., Ulrich S. Leupold and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1956) 53:214.
[2] Ibid, p. 216.
[3] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spiritual Renewal Retreat/St. James Conference

Spiritual Renewal Retreat/St. James Conference
Matins
October 25, 2008
Text: Psalm 133

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1; ESV). Beloved, one mark of our unity as members of the Holy Christian Church, the one body of Jesus Christ, is our life of worship together. That is why historically the Lutheran Church has always been a liturgical church. In other words, we use the historic liturgies of the Church in the Divine Service and in our prayer offices because these unite us with our fathers in the faith who used them before us, and with Christians throughout the world even now, as well as with those who will come after us and continue to use the historic liturgies of the Church.

The liturgy also unites us doctrinally. Prosper of Aquitaine, a fifth century Church father, wrote: “lex orandi, lex credendi,” “The rule of praying is the rule of believing.” In other words, our worship reflects and shapes our doctrine, and our doctrine shapes and reflects our worship. How true this maxim is! If the liturgy of the Church faithfully expresses and teaches right doctrine, Law and Gospel, justification and sanctification, as the liturgical forms we Lutherans have inherited do; if the liturgy gives us Christ Crucified and His Holy Word, unencumbered by any human invention that detracts from the Gospel; if the liturgy serves as the setting for the precious jewels of Word and Sacrament, then Christians are fed by God Himself. The liturgy guards the doctrine of the Church from false teaching. When a pastor teaches false doctrine, or perhaps doesn’t preach the full counsel of God, the liturgy faithfully presents what is missing. What is deficient in the preacher is made up in the liturgy. Many Christians have been preserved in the one true faith of Jesus Christ in spite of the false teaching of their pastor because the liturgy has been a constant, feeding them and nourishing them with the wholesome food of the Word of God.

When we gather as Christians to sing and pray the liturgy, we are singing and praying the very Word of God. In the liturgy, God speaks, and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Then we say back to God what He has first said to us.[1] We also confess the faith to one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). In other words, in the liturgy, in many cases directly quoted from the Scriptures, God bestows Christ and the Holy Spirit on His people. He forgives your sins. He washes you clean. He pronounces you righteous. He names you with His Name. He speaks His very Word into your ear and heart. He feeds you with the body and blood of Christ, the very same body and blood given and shed for you on Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins. He strengthens you for your baptismal life. He blesses you. And He brings forth in you sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, which begin here in the Church, but continue throughout the week in your daily vocation. In short, the liturgy provides the context in which you encounter the living God, and find Him to be gracious. And so you are empowered by that same God to be gracious to others, to dwell with your brothers and sisters in Christ in unity, which is good and pleasant. As the Psalm points out, such unity is always based in the gracious activity of God: “For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Ps. 133:3).

At this conference, you will hear us make a number of suggestions for your personal prayer life and our corporate prayer life together. Many of them you may take or leave. Please understand that there is great freedom here. There is not necessarily one right way to do it. One person may make the sign of the cross, another may not, but we all remember our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. One person may use icons in their devotional life, another may not, but we all recognize that whatever visually aids our devotional life is permissible and good, as long as it does not detract from the Gospel. One person may use the rites in the hymnal for individual and family devotions, and another may not, but we all recognize that these are fantastic resources passed down through the generations for our spiritual edification. And corporately, one may prefer Divine Service Three, and another Divine Service Two from Lutheran Service Book, but we all recognize that Christ gives His gifts equally in each of these services, and out of love for our brothers and sisters, we die to our own selfish preferences and unite ourselves to the Body of Christ in her worship. We dwell together in unity, a unity given by Christ Himself. And whatever we do for our personal devotions, whatever Divine Service we use in corporate worship, we gather before the throne of God as one Body, the Body of Christ, forgiven and redeemed, to receive His gifts, and join in His unending worship “with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” This is good and pleasant, a unity that is unshaken and unshakeable. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] See the marvelous Introduction to Lutheran Worship (St. Louis: Cocnordia, 1982) pp. 6-7.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (A)
October 19, 2008
Text: Matt. 22:15-22

Beloved in the Lord, our God rules all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. He is God of all that exists, the entire universe, even of the powers that are hostile toward Him, even of unbelievers, even of the devil. For all belong to His Kingdom of Power. God rules over a three-fold Kingdom, the Kingdom of Power which I just described, the Kingdom of Grace, which consists of the members of the holy Christian Church who are still on earth, and the Kingdom of Glory, which consists of the members of the holy Christian Church who are in heaven. In each component of His three-fold Kingdom, Power, Grace, and Glory, God rules all things for the benefit of His believers, of His children, of those who are in Christ. Which is to say, He rules all things for your benefit.

This is true on earth as much as it is in heaven. Despite all appearance perhaps to the contrary, God rules this earth and all the people of the earth. The devil may think he rules, and certainly there is a sense in which he is called “the prince of this world” (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). But in reality, the Ruler of all things is God. And God rules the earth in two ways, through what theology calls the two realms, or again, two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God’s right hand, and the Kingdom of God’s left hand. The Kingdom of God’s right hand is the Christian Church, operative in the Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of Glory. In this Kingdom, God rules solely by His Word. In this Kingdom, God seeks the hearts of men, that they believe in Him, receive the salvation of His crucified and risen Son Jesus Christ, and serve Him with a willing heart, out of love for the God who created, redeemed, and sanctified them. The Kingdom of God’s left hand, however, is the civil realm, civil authority, civil government, operative in God’s Kingdom of Power. And in this Kingdom, God rules by the sword. In this Kingdom, God rules through the authorities that He Himself has established to curb sin, reward good behavior, and otherwise order society. St. Paul describes this well in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s instrument for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (vv. 1-4; ESV). St. Paul then goes on to remind us that this is why we pay taxes, “for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (vv. 6-7). Fulfill your Fourth Commandment duty, a duty not only to parents but to all who are in authority: “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”[1]

In Romans 13, St. Paul is essentially preaching a sermon on the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). In other words, recognize that the Kingdom of God is not opposed to civil rule. God works through civil rulers for the benefit of His people on earth. This is part of His Kingdom of Power. This is the Kingdom of God’s left hand. Now, the point should not be lost on us. We owe our government obedience, respect, and frankly, our tax dollars. We ought to render to our government the things that belong to our government, whether that be taxes or revenue, obedience to the laws of the land, or honor and respect for those who are in authority over us. This is the case, in fact, whether your guy wins the election in November or not. You owe whoever takes the oath of office honor and respect and obedience as the ruler God has placed over you. Remember that God uses even unbelieving rulers as ministers for our good, just as He used Cyrus for the good of Israel, as He says in our Old Testament lesson (Is. 45:1-7)

As Christians, we have a very special and important service to render to our civil government. We are royal priests of God, called to be a Kingdom of priests before our God, the priesthood of the baptized. And so we are called to pray for our government, as St. Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). So also, as royal priests, we are called to inform the government concerning God’s will on whatever issue to which the Word of God speaks. We owe it to the government to uphold marriage as a sacred institution, instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Eden, the most basic building block of our society, to be entered into by one man and one woman for life. We owe it to the government to warn against the murderous practices of abortion and physician assisted suicide, and now embryonic stem cell research, which means the destruction of tiny unborn babies, sacrificed to the false god of medical research. You will be called upon this November to vote on an initiative that would allow unrestricted research to be done on human embryos, which means their destruction in the process. This would be written into Michigan’s state constitution. You owe it to your government, your state, your country, and your tiniest neighbors to vigorously oppose such wickedness. This is also why the Christian must vote if at all possible. It is our responsibility as priests of God who are in the world, but not of the world. We owe it to the government to speak to any and every moral issue. To say that we should not legislate morality is a ridiculous proposal. Laws against murder, against stealing, against rape, are all the result of moral legislation. Therefore to remain silent on a moral issue, like that of abortion just as an example, is to commit the same sin as the Germans who remained silent during the Holocaust, or the Russians who remained silent as Stalin sent millions to their death for criticizing his regime, or the Iraqis who remained silent as Saddam Hussein gassed his own subjects and committed atrocious crimes against humanity in his lust for power and influence. And we must remember that while we are to obey the government in every circumstance, there is one exception to that rule. When the will of the government comes into conflict with the will of God, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), and this no matter what the consequences. For whenever a civil ruler acts contrary to God’s will, asks us to sin, or leads the nation into national sin, he is acting outside of his vocation, outside of the office to which God has called him, and that ruler should not be obeyed. Let them take all our earthly possessions. Let them put us in prison. Let them put us to death. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Render, therefore, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s does not prevent you from rendering to God the things that are God’s, as long as Caesar is not commanding you to sin. So what is it you owe to God? Your very self. For He has created you, and He has redeemed you with the blood of His own Son. He has sanctified you with His Holy Spirit. And all of this, out of His pure grace. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die a horrible death on the cross in payment for your sin and the sins of all people. He graciously forgives you all your sins for Jesus' sake. He loves you and makes you His own child in Holy Baptism. He speaks His tender Word to you and nourishes you with the Supper of His Son’s body and blood. Therefore render to God the things that are God’s: a holy life lived sacrificially for His glory and for the good of your neighbor, the confession of Christ to the world no matter what the consequences, adherence to His pure doctrine and the right use of the sacraments, and the support of His holy Church through your offerings, your time, and your talents. Live faithfully in the vocations in which God has placed you, every relationship you have to others. Be faithful spouses, parents, children, students, citizens, members of the congregation, friends, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. Run for public office if you have the God-given ability required for the job. Participate in society as priests of God, the priests God has called you to be. That is rendering to God the things that are God’s. And you do this not in order to be saved. God gives you all that is necessary to be saved in Christ Jesus. You are already saved, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, without works. But you do these things now as a result of that salvation, as your sacrifice of thanksgiving.

You also do these things, dear brothers and sisters, because you recognize the grace of God in His First Article gifts, which is to say, you recognize that all that we have, all that is good, material and spiritual, is from God, given freely, as a gift of His grace. Indeed, every good gift, and every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). You recognize that God has placed us in this world and given us all that we need for the support of this body and life. You recognize this and you give thanks. And you pray that as one redeemed by the blood of Christ, God would make you a faithful steward of His gifts. For He rules all things for our benefit. This is true not only of the Kingdom of God’s right hand, His holy Church, but also of the Kingdom of God’s left hand, the civil realm. And to confess that truth, in spite of all that is wrong with the world, in spite of all the things you see on the evening news, in spite of the stock market and high gas prices and especially our national sins with regard to the sanctity of life and marriage… to confess the truth that God rules all thing for our benefit, is to live by faith. God ever keep us in that faith, the one true faith of Jesus Christ. And God make us faithful stewards of all the good gifts of His creation. And finally, God make us faithful and obedient citizens, roayal priests of God who are not of the world, but certainly live in the world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 18, 2008

LWML Fall Rally

LWML Fall Rally – Epiphany Lutheran Church
October 18, 2008

Text: Psalm 65:1, 9-13: Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed… You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy (ESV).

Dear friends in Christ, the life of the Christian is a life lived in thanksgiving to God. That is, in fact, the only posture we can take before God in response to His gifts. For every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). All good comes from God. And in no respect can we repay Him. All that we have is free gift from our ever-giving God. And a gift, by nature, cannot be repaid, or it ceases to be a gift. All we can do is give thanks and praise.

This is preeminently true, of course, in matters of salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing you bring to the table when it comes to reconciliation with God. You cannot justify yourself. You have no righteousness of your own. You are a sinner, through and through, and all you have is sin. So God sends His Son Jesus Christ for your sake, to bear your sin, to pay the penalty of your sin on the cross, so that you are forgiven and redeemed. And Christ is risen, conquering death for you and sealing your justification before God. You now have peace with God and eternal life and the joy of your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. All of these things God gives to you in the precious means of grace: in Baptism, in the Word, in the Lord’s Supper. All of this is pure gift, and God is the Giver. You are the receiver. All you can do is give thanks and praise.

But God doesn’t only give spiritual things, although these spiritual things are certainly the most important of His gifts. God has created us and all creatures. He gives us our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason, and all our senses, and He still takes care of them. He also gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all we have, all that we need to support this body and life. And He protects us. He sends His holy angels, and He Himself places His protecting hand over us. He defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil. Now, we are certainly not worthy of any of this. We certainly haven’t earned it. Remember, all we bring to the table are sins to be forgiven. But we confess with Luther in the Small Catechism, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”[1]

When God gives His gifts, all we can do is give thanks and praise. That is the only posture we can take before our giving God in response to His gifts, a humble posture of thanksgiving. But we can take another posture before our neighbor. Because God has already given us so much, materially and spiritually, out of thanksgiving to God we can turn to our neighbor and provide for his material and spiritual needs. God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. Our neighbor needs to hear of God’s love for him in Christ Jesus, of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that is his is Christ Jesus. And our neighbor needs to be fed and clothed and sheltered, and in short, helped in every physical need. God is so generous with His gifts that there is not only enough for you, there is also enough for you to give to your neighbor. And in this way you become a little Christ to your neighbor. You give yourself for the sake of your neighbor, as Christ has given Himself for you. That is why the work of the LWML is so important. That is why the work of Second Harvest Gleaners, and Project Hope, and the Concordia Theological Seminary Food Co-op is so important, and why we’ve gathered together today to hear about these things and donate toward these causes. Because in our posture of thanksgiving toward our ever-giving God, we are placed in a posture of giving toward our neighbor in need. The gifts of God overflow toward us. We praise Him best when we direct the overflow to our neighbor, resting in the promise that salvation is ours freely in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (A)
October 12, 2008
Text: Matt. 22:1-14

The Lord has prepared a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Behold, our cup overflows (Ps. 23:5). God, the King of all creation, has bid us come to the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is His holy Bride. And you and I are blessed to be members of the one, holy, Christian Church. We are members of the Church by virtue of our Baptism into Christ, and the wedding garment that God Himself has given us is faith in His Son. The Lord Jesus Christ so loves His Bride, His Church, that He gave Himself up for her, gave Himself into death on the cross for her, shedding His holy, precious blood, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27; ESV). Beloved, God has invited you to the wedding feast. He has, in fact, invited you to be the holy Bride of Jesus Christ. He bids you come here to the Church, where the feast begins, and to the great wedding feast on the Last Day to process as “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). O, what grace! God calls sinners and joins them with His Son. The Son becomes one flesh with humanity, that humanity might be one with God. The Church is now bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. God puts His new Adam, Jesus Christ, into the deep sleep of death, and opens His side with a spear. From His riven side flow blood and water, from which the holy Bride of Christ, the Christian Church, is formed. And so you are born in baptismal water and nourished with the holy blood of Christ. So do not refuse this precious invitation. The Lord of hosts prepares “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined” (Is. 25:6). The feast of salvation and eternal life, of heaven and the resurrection, this feast is for you.

But not everyone accepts the invitation. Not everyone comes at the Lord’s bidding. The Lord has prepared a great feast, and He sends out His servants, the prophets, the apostles, the ministers of the Gospel, who deliver the invitation even today in your hearing. Come to the feast! But many believe they have something better to do. “(O)ne went to his farm, another to his business” (Matt. 22:5). One went off to the lake for three months and didn’t have time for God’s Word. One was too sleepy on Sunday morning to give the invitation any heed. One thought to himself, “there will always be other banquets. I will wait for another one, when it’s more convenient. I’m too preoccupied at the moment.” Repent. Dear friends in Christ, this isn’t just any invitation… This is the King! This is God!! You don’t refuse God!! And yet we’re so good at convincing ourselves we don’t need to take the invitation seriously, or that there are more important, or at least more entertaining things to do. Repent.

Still, the Lord sends out His messengers. “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast” (v. 4). It is a sign of God’s grace that again and again He sends out His servants to call ungrateful sinners to the wedding feast. In His grace, God preserves the world, as wicked as it is, extending the time of grace so that all receive the invitation, so that all are without excuse. But there is an end to the time of grace. For the unconverted, the time of grace ends at that person’s death, or when the Lord returns on the Last Day. After that, it is too late. There is no more time for repentance. No more invitations are issued. No more messengers are sent. For those who reject the Lord’s invitation out of hand, there is a judgment. The judgment is eternal death in hell. God sends the invitation now, in this earthly life. That is why it is so important that those who are already at the feast support the mission work of the Church, the messengers God sends. That is why the work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, whom we celebrate this morning, is so important. Because through those messengers, pastors and missionaries, and through the Word spoken by each of us present this morning, God sends out His invitation: Come to the wedding feast!

So great is His grace, He keeps sending His messengers. “‘Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests” (vv. 9-10), filled with tax collectors and prostitutes and other notorious sinners, filled not only with Jews, but also with Gentiles, sinners from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Whoever recognizes his unworthiness is welcome at the feast, called by God Himself. And when that guest arrives, God cleans him head to toe, forgives him his sins, anoints his head with oil, and puts the best robe on him, the royal wedding garment of faith.

But there is yet a second warning for us in this parable. As the King enters the wedding hall to enjoy the festivities with His guests, He notices a man who has no wedding garment. In other words, this man was certainly invited, and when he arrived, he was certainly washed and clothed in the King’s wedding garment. But He cast off that wedding garment. He wanted to enjoy the wedding on his own terms. He did not want the garment provided by the King. He preferred to insult the King by wearing his own clothes. Beloved, this is what we do when we seek to enter the Kingdom of God on our own terms, when after Baptism we throw away our God-given faith in Jesus Christ alone for a faith of our own manufacturing. This is what we do when we seek to wear robes of our own righteousness, rather than being clothed with the righteousness of Christ alone. We cast off faith in Him for a sham religion. Take heed, and repent. The King says to that man, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (v. 12). And the man has no answer. He is speechless. For all we have to plead before God is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the righteousness that is ours by faith. What happens to the man who has no faith, and thus has no righteousness? The King says to His servants, “‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (vv. 13-14). The man without a wedding garment, the man who has cast off faith in Jesus Christ, who has cast off the very righteousness of Christ, that man is cast into hell with the devil and his evil angels. So you see, beloved, that it is possible to believe at first, and then lose your faith. Watch and pray, therefore. And even more, look to Jesus. For He alone can preserve you. He preserves you with His good Spirit, by means of His Word and His Sacraments.

The joy of this parable is that the Lord calls you, “Come to the wedding feast!” All is ready, and all is for you. And you receive a foretaste of this great wedding feast each time you hear the Word, each time you remember your baptism, each time your sins are forgiven, and of course (who could miss this connection?), you receive a foretaste of this great wedding feast each time you feast on the Lord’s true body and blood in His Supper. The Lord sustains you through these means, so that you persevere, so that you do not cast off faith and the righteousness of Christ, so that you are able to do in all circumstances as Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).

You can rejoice because God loves you. He loves you enough to betroth you to His Son. He loves you enough to give His only Son into death for your forgiveness. But He has not left you a widow. He has also raised His Son from the dead, the seal of your justification. And so it is the wedding of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to His holy Bride, the Christian Church, that we celebrate this morning and each time we come together for the Divine Service, and that we will celebrate in full on that great resurrection Dawn of the Last Day. The Lord has prepared a Table before us. He has clothed us in the garments of salvation. He has covered us with the robe of righteousness. He has adorned us with jewels (cf. Is. 61:10). Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell as the holy Bride of Christ in the house of the Lord forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (A)
October 5, 2008
Text: Is. 5:1-7; Matt. 22:33-46

The chief priests and Pharisees had greatly mismanaged the things of God with which they had been entrusted. They were the spiritual leaders of Israel, and God had entrusted His people into their care. But these spiritual leaders had failed in one important point, the most important point… They had not pointed the people, Israel, to God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. And so we have here one more example of the rebelliousness of God’s chosen people, and one more example of God’s longsuffering with them, as Jesus calls them once again to repentance and faith in the one true God.

Israel is God’s vineyard. He loves His vineyard, so much so that He even writes a song about it by the pen of His prophet, Isaiah: “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes… for the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Is. 5:1-2, 7; ESV). So greatly does the Lord God love His vineyard, Israel, that He plants it in a very fertile land where grapes can hardly help but grow. He removes every impurity, every stone, and plants the choicest of vines. He protects His vineyard against every enemy from without, any person or animal that might harm the vineyard or steal its fruit. And all He asks of the vineyard is that it do what comes naturally to a vineyard, produce grapes… grapes that God can take and make into delicious wine. In other words, God is looking for faith and obedience on the part of His people Israel, His beloved vineyard. But something goes desperately wrong. While God looks for choice grapes, His vineyard yields only wild grapes, unusable grapes. But what more could God have done for His vineyard? He planted only the choicest vines in the most fertile soil. He protected it from within and without. No more favorable growing condition is to be found. “(H)e looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (v. 7). “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard,” says the Lord God. “I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (vv. 5-6). God will remove every protection. He will remove every blessing. If the vineyard will not produce grapes, God will tear it apart in judgment. We know the story of Israel, how God led them out of Egypt with His righteous right hand and planted them in the Promised Land, driving out the Canaanites before them. Not by their might did they come into possession of this land. They were cowards in the wilderness. No, God alone planted them in Canaan. Yet time and time again, Israel rebelled against God. Time and time again, God sent His prophets to Israel. And His prophets were shamefully mistreated and killed. The people did not heed the Lord’s warning. They did not repent. No one can blame God if He obliterates His vineyard. But so great is His love for His vineyard, even though all the prophets have been shamefully mistreated and even killed, God says to Himself, “I will send my Son.” And of course, we know what happens next. The chief priests and Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel, deliver the Son over to death. They stir up the people before Pontius Pilate. “Crucify Him!” they cry. And they take Jesus outside of the city, outside of the vineyard, and they put Him to death.

Jesus’ parable in our Gospel lesson this morning is nothing less than a description of Israel’s history. The prophets are the servants whom the owner of the vineyard sends to the wicked tenants to gather His fruit. The wicked tenants are the spiritual leaders of Israel who mismanage and make shipwreck of the things of God with which they are entrusted. And these wicked tenants beat and kill and stone the prophets sent to them. It’s enough to make you weep. In fact, Jesus did weep over His vineyard, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37). No one could blame God if in His justice He had wiped these wicked, murderous tenants off the face of the earth. But instead God does something unimaginable. He sends His Son! He sends Jesus! And even more unimaginable, He does this knowing the outcome. He knows, in contrast to the owner in the parable, that the wicked tenants will not respect His Son, as they should. He knows that they will throw Him out of the vineyard and put Him to death. The Son knows this, as well. Yet Father and Son are perfectly willing. For they love the vineyard. And mystery of mysteries, they love even the wicked tenants, and desire that the wicked tenants repent.

What wondrous love is this? “O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy, That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!… For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed, He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath” (LSB 544:1, 5).

There is a judgment for the wicked tenants, however, when even after the Father sends His Son they do not repent. “‘When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’… ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons’” (Matt. 21:40-41). The judgment is this: the wicked tenants are cast out. The chief priests and Pharisees are no longer the shepherds of God’s flock. In fact, the vineyard has been given to others. The people of Israel are no longer God’s chosen nation. The Gentiles have been brought into God’s vineyard, you and I, made into the new spiritual Israel, the holy Christian Church. But take warning from the parable. If God has so dealt with His chosen people Israel, casting out the tenants and delivering the nation to judgment, how will He deal with us if we are unfaithful? The stone rejected by Israel is the cornerstone of the New Testament Church, even Jesus Christ. But He is still a stone. Anyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush Him. There is a judgment, the great Day when Jesus returns, and all who are found faithless, unfruitful, outside of Christ, will be cast into hell with the devil and his evil angels.

Then again, we need to be broken to pieces. We need to be crushed. We need to be crushed now, before Judgment Day arrives, which is to say, we need to be crushed by the Law, to repent for all of our unfaithfulness; for our flippant attitude toward the Word of God, our despising of His gifts, our living for self, our breaking of every one of His Commandments, and our refusal to bring forth fruit for God. For God also sends His Word to us, not just to the people of Israel. His prophets are also sent to us. His apostles are sent to us. His Son is sent to and for us. They are sent to call us to repentance. They are sent to call us to faith, faith in the very Son who was cast outside the vineyard and killed, killed for the very wicked tenants who put Him to death, killed for the nation of Israel, killed for you and for me and for all people. He is killed for our forgiveness. How remarkable! “For us he prayed; for us He taught; For us His daily works He wrought, By words and signs and actions thus Still seeking not Himself but us” (LSB 544:4). And then for us He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. For us He shed His holy, precious blood. As one dear saint who is now in heaven always loved to remind us in this congregation, “Imagine how He could do that for us. What great love the Savior must have for us.”

Indeed, God loves His vineyard. He loves His people. He loves you. Therefore repent. Be fruitful once again. Trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation and every grace and blessing. Receive His gifts. Give thanks to God. Be the people He has called you to be, forgiven, redeemed, and fruitful. Love and serve your neighbor. Be a little Christ to your brothers and sisters throughout the world, sacrificing yourself for their benefit. For God loves you. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). So great is God’s love for you, He has even written a song about you by the pen of His prophet Isaiah: “My beloved had a vineyard…” (Is. 5:1). He planted it on the fertile hill of the Christian Church. He watered it with baptismal waters. He nourished it with His Word and Supper. He made it holy, digging out every stone. He fenced it in and watched over it. And this time, God Himself brought forth great fruit, by the power of His Holy Spirit. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

In Memoriam +Robert Paul Pueschel 1919-2008+

In Memoriam +Robert Paul Pueschel 1919-2008+
October 4, 2008
Text: Hebrews 12:1-3

Dear Rosemary and Tom, Elizabeth, Vivian, family members, friends, and members of our church family: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hear again the Word of the Lord from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1-3; ESV): “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our 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.”

Beloved in the Lord, as we run the race that is set before us, the race that is our Christian, baptismal life on earth, the death of a loved one, like Bob, can be a major hurdle. When we encounter such hurdles, it can be hard to run this race with endurance. For death is always tragic, even the death of one we know to be with Jesus even now in perfect bliss, as Bob is, beholding the face of his Savior. Death is always tragic, even though we confess that death is not the end, that Bob is not only in heaven even now, but that our Lord Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life, will raise him from the dead on that last great Day. Death is always tragic, even when it is expected, even when the loved one who has died lived a long and full earthly life, and even when death brings relief of our loved one’s temporal suffering. Death is always tragic, because death is an enemy, the last enemy to be defeated (1 Cor. 15:26). Death is not natural, despite popular opinion. We were not created to die, but to live eternally in the righteousness and perfection and fellowship of God. Death is therefore the relentless reminder that that righteousness, that perfection, that fellowship of God has been broken by man, that ever since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, humanity is enslaved in sin. We are by nature sinful and unclean, and as a result, we sin against God and our fellow man in thought, word, and deed. Death is the inevitable result of sin. St. Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). But, beloved, our Lord Jesus has reversed the curse of sin and death. Dying in our place, for our forgiveness and salvation, He has paid the wages of sin in His death on the cross, and covered us with His blood. And Christ is risen. He has conquered death. Thus “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So when we come face to face with the death of a loved one, as we have today with Bob’s death, faith confesses the reality that is as yet unseen. Christ is risen. Death is dead. Bob will rise again.

Bob was a sinner. He would be the first to tell you that. Bob was always brutally honest with himself and with others about his sin, and about our common sinful condition. And as a result, Bob knew that unless Jesus returned first, he would have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. And so he has. But Bob is baptized into Christ. His sins have been washed away, and in Christ, Bob is a new creation. Therefore he is in heaven, and he is among the great cloud of witnesses, the saints of God, who point us to Jesus Christ. Bob would tell you today, dear brothers and sisters, that as you stumble under the weight of sin and over the hurdle of death, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, for He is the author and finisher of your faith. He is your Savior. For the joy set before Him, the joy of the resurrection, the joy of His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, the joy of a redeemed and restored humanity, our Lord Jesus Christ endured the cross. He ran the race all the way to Golgotha. There He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. There He paid our debt to God. There He freed us from sin. There He gave Himself into the death of a criminal, became a curse, cursed by God, forsaken by His heavenly Father, for us, for Bob, for you, for me. As Bob would say many times to me and to his friends and family with tears in his eyes, “Imagine how He could do that for us. What love the Savior must have for us.” And all of this for our forgiveness and eternal life.

My visits with Bob over the last 2 ½ years always strengthened my faith as much, if not more, than they strengthened his. Throughout his earthly life, Bob pointed us to Jesus, told us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. I remember one occasion, I was visiting Bob to bring him the Lord’s Supper. It was right after confession and absolution. Bob had just heard the words, “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.” And he said to me, “Pastor, I can almost feel the sins draining out through my toes.” So tightly did Bob cling to his Savior, and the forgiveness of sins bought by His blood. On another occasion, I believe my first visit with him after he had moved to Railside, we had just received the Sacrament together and I asked Bob if there was anything else I could do for him while I was there. “No,” Bob said. “You’ve done the most important thing for me. You’ve given me the forgiveness of sins.” Of course, I’m just Christ’s servant. Jesus Christ Himself brought Bob the forgiveness of sins that day and each day. And in this way Bob taught me what it means to be someone’s pastor. I wasn’t with Bob that day just to be a friend, a pal, although that may also be the case. I wasn’t there to watch the Tigers game with him, although he often had the game on when I arrived. I was there as a called and ordained servant of the Word to bring Christ and the forgiveness of sins to Bob. And as Bob said, that is the most important thing. There Christ stripped Bob of every weight and sin that clings so closely so that Bob could run with endurance the race of this Christian life, so that Bob could keep his eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith. And now Bob’s race is won. He has finished his earthly course. Bob is in heaven with Jesus. And Christ is risen! Death is dead! Therefore Bob, too, shall rise.

That’s the promise in which Bob would have you rest today. That’s the promise in which he rested, the promise first given him in Holy Baptism. Christ is risen. Death is dead. And so death is not the end. On the Last Day, Bob’s soul will be reunited with his body, a body made perfect in the image of Christ’s resurrected body, and Bob will enjoy an eternity of bliss in a new heaven and a new earth. And so will all who believe in Christ Jesus. For all of you here this morning are also sinners. The wages of your sin is also death. Unless Christ returns first, we will also have to have a funeral for you. Bob is a witness to that fact. But so also, Christ Jesus died for you. Christ Jesus has forgiven you all of your sins. Christ Jesus has conquered your death. For all of you who are baptized into Christ Jesus, as Bob is, have put on Christ. His death is your death. And so His resurrection is your resurrection. And on the Last Day, you, too, will rise from the dead.

In fact, on that day all people will rise from dead, believers and unbelievers alike. The unbelievers will be raised to an eternal death in hell. But for those who are in Christ, baptized into Christ, believers in Christ Jesus, as Bob is, they shall be raised unto everlasting life. The promise, beloved, is for you, as much as it is for Bob. Today, as one of the saints who make up the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, Bob points you to that promise. Bob points you to Jesus. Because it is only through Jesus Christ that you will be able to run the race with endurance. Only Jesus Christ can get you over the hurdle of Bob’s death, and your own mortality, and every other hurdle that life in this fallen world puts in your path. Only Jesus Christ can strip you of the sins that cling so closely and weigh you down. Because Jesus Christ ran the race perfectly, all the way to the cross, and has received the crown of righteousness in His resurrection, you also are able to run with endurance. For all who are baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death, and into His resurrection. If you are baptized, take comfort in this promise. Christ’s resurrection is yours. If you are not baptized, get baptized. Come and talk to me after the service. For this promise is for you, also. This morning Bob says to all of us one more time, “Imagine what Jesus did for us, shedding His blood for us poor sinners. How the Savior must love us.” Bob knows that love now as He sees the Savior face to face. Bob no longer lives by faith. He lives by sight. But you still live by faith. Know then, that the Savior loves you. He gives you strength in this time of grief. He gives you endurance to run the race of your baptismal life. He gives you the sure promise that death is defeated. Christ is risen. Death is dead. Bob will rise again. And so will you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Faithful Watchman

Pastor’s Window for October 2008

A Faithful Watchman

Beloved in the Lord,

Several weeks ago in our Old Testament Lesson we heard the Word of the Lord to Ezekiel (33:7-9; ESV): “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”

This pericope (section of Scripture) has been the source of several conversations since it was read in worship on September 7th. The question that surfaced more than once is, “What does this mean about my responsibility to my neighbor?”

First of all, every Christian does have a responsibility to warn his neighbor about sin and God’s will. This is called “admonishing.” Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). St. Paul adds, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

But this pericope from Ezekiel is not addressed to you. It is addressed to the prophet in his prophetic office. A prophet is to be a watchman for the house of Israel. That means that a prophet is to warn the Israelites when they fall into sin. If a prophet receives a Word from God and he does not warn the wicked to repent, that wicked person’s guilt is also applied to the prophet. If the prophet faithfully admonishes the wicked person, and the wicked person still does not repent, the wicked person remains guilty, but the prophet is absolved. He has fulfilled his obligation as a faithful watchman.

We no longer have the office of Old Testament prophet in the Church today, and the nation of Israel is no longer synonymous with the Church. But the Church is the new spiritual Israel, and the watchmen of the Church are the Christian pastors. So there is an application to be made here. Christian pastors are faithfully to speak the Word of the Lord, even when such faithful speaking requires the pastor to warn his congregation, and groups or individuals within that congregation, against sin.

This is never easy. Pastors don’t like to warn against sin. It doesn’t make them popular. This is true particularly when a pastor has to call a specific group or a specific individual to repentance over a specific sin. The reason is that our fallen human nature always goes on the defensive. We don’t like to be called to repentance. It’s okay when repentance is proclaimed in a general way in the sermon, but when Pastor points out my specific sins, this really irritates me. The problem is that we aren’t honest with ourselves about our sinful nature. We give lip service to the general truth of our sinfulness, but when it comes to confessing actual sins, we’d rather not talk about it. (I suspect this is also why so many shy away from private confession and absolution… It calls upon us to name the sin in our lives.)

The goal of pastoral admonition, however, is always the forgiveness of sins. Why was Ezekiel commanded to warn against sin in Israel? So that sinners would repent and be forgiven. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, admonishing individuals is perhaps the toughest part of my ministry among you. I confess that I am not always good at this. But I ask you to remember, that such admonishing is always for the good of the one being admonished, with the goal of repentance and forgiveness. Nobody likes it, neither the pastor nor the person being admonished. But as we see from the Old Testament lesson above, it’s in the job description. A pastor is judged unfaithful if he does not warn against sin.

The best part of the ministry, however, is the privilege of saying to a repentant sinner, “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. Amen.”

Pastor Krenz