Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Closed Communion: Why We Practice It

Pastor’s Window for July 2009
Closed Communion: Why We Practice It

Beloved in the Lord, please read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, with special attention to vv. 27-32.

Last month we discussed what closed communion is. Closed communion is the practice of admitting to the Lord’s Supper only those who have been instructed in Lutheran doctrine (usually via Luther’s Small Catechism) and are baptized and confirmed members of an LCMS congregation, who also confess that in the Lord’s Supper they receive the true body and blood of Christ in their mouths for the forgiveness of their sins. The pastor is responsible for admitting or not admitting to the Lord’s Supper as a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1), and the elders serve him as assistants in this difficult task.

Why do we practice closed communion? The answer is simple: Love. And yet, it’s not so simple, because it doesn’t seem very loving to exclude anyone from the Lord’s Table. I will grant that closed communion is not nice. But love is not always nice. Nor is there any command in the Holy Scriptures to be nice (kind, yes, nice, no… There’s a difference, but that’s another article for another month). Love, real love, biblical love, and not the superficial dross that is often paraded as love in our culture… love says and does hard things. Only love would motivate me to do something that is for my neighbor’s good when I know it will cause my neighbor to dislike or even hate me for it. We often call this “tough love,” and for good reason. Love is tough. It isn’t easy. Love is hard. It calls us to say and do things for the benefit of our neighbor that we would rather not say and do. If our loved one is doing something destructive to his or her body or family or another person, love calls upon us to speak up, and maybe even take action against our loved one for his or her own protection and good. Our loved one will not feel loved if this is the case. He will probably dislike or maybe even hate us. But it is a mark of true love to bear this burden for the sake of the one we love.

Closed communion is tough love. It calls upon unbelievers as well as our Christian brothers and sisters who cannot commune with us to repent of false doctrine and sin. It calls upon them to leave heterodox (false teaching) church bodies and join us in confessing Scriptural truth. We don’t practice closed communion out of arrogance, or because we think we are better or holier than other Christians. We practice it for the protection and instruction of our neighbor. St. Paul writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27; ESV). Those who eat and drink “without discerning the body,” in other words, those who do not recognize our Lord’s true body and blood received orally under the bread and wine in the Supper, eat and drink judgment on themselves (v. 29). God spare us all from this! Those who eat and drink without first examining themselves, what they believe, if they know they are sinful and are sorry for their sins, and whether they expect the forgiveness of Christ in the Supper, eat and drink in an unworthy manner (cf. v. 28). The unrepentant eat and drink, not for their forgiveness, life, and salvation, but to their judgment. Apparently some in the Corinthian congregation got sick and even died from eating in an unworthy manner (v. 30). There are spiritual consequences (judgment) and physical consequences (sickness, death) to eating and drinking unworthily. We practice closed communion so as to spare our brothers and sisters from these consequences, and to teach them so that they may join us at the altar in the future.

This is not easy, and I never enjoy excluding anyone from the Supper. But again, love does and says hard things. Love warns against sin and false doctrine. Love reproves and rebukes. Love disciplines. But always with the goal of restoring the repentant sinner. The goal of closed communion is always to invite the person excluded, through instruction and confession of faith, to join us at the altar. But closed communion also says that we take this Sacrament seriously. We regard it as holy and powerful, the very body and blood of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and therefore not to be taken lightly. You wouldn’t jump out of an airplane without skydiving instruction first, right? How much more should we not come to the altar without instruction, without being assured that we are using this Sacrament rightly? The Sacrament of the Altar is for repentant sinners who have been baptized and instructed in the Christian faith, especially about the Lord’s Supper, and who have confessed their agreement with that instruction.

So who uses this Sacrament rightly? That leads us to next month’s topic: Closed Communion: Who Should Commune?

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B)
June 28, 2009
Text: Mark 5:21-43

Jesus comes to us in the midst of our very uncleanness and death. He comes with His cleanness, with His healing, and His life. And He takes our uncleanness into Himself. This is the good news that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is the good news proclaimed in our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus comes to Jairus’ daughter in the midst of death. Jesus comes to the woman with the issue of blood in the midst of her bleeding. And understand that both of these things, death and blood, are considered unclean to a good Jew. According to Levitical law, you don’t touch blood and you don’t touch someone with a feminine issue, and most of all you don’t touch death unless you absolutely have to. But that’s just what is so shocking about Jesus. He becomes unclean for us, that we might be made clean with His cleanness. Not only does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, He brings His healing touch to the woman with the issue of blood, and His life-giving touch to the little girl who has died. “In the very midst of life Snares of death surround us” (LSB 755:1). And yet, in the very midst of blood and death and the sin that causes it all, our holy and mighty God, our holy and all-merciful Savior, our eternal Lord God comes, in the flesh, to become one with us, to take our diseases and our death and our sin into Himself, to take them to the cross, and so to deliver us and grant us abundant and eternal life.

Jairus is a father at his wits end. A powerful man. A synagogue ruler. Demanding the respect and honor of the people, he is a man to be reckoned with. And here is his beloved daughter, Daddy’s little girl, sick unto death, dying. He can’t kiss it and make it better. He would do anything for his daughter, pay any price, jump any hurdle, even give himself in her place, if only it were possible. What about this Jesus we’ve heard so much about. Jesus’ reputation precedes Him. He does miracles. He heals people. Yes, that’s the ticket. If I can only get Jesus to come and lay His hands on my daughter before it is too late.

Jairus doesn’t send a mere servant to fetch Jesus. He goes himself, runs to the Teacher. It isn’t easy. Jesus is pressed on all sides. Jesus is a popular man. Everyone wants a piece of Him. Jairus has to fight his way through the crowd. He falls at Jesus’ feet. “Teacher, come quick! My daughter is dying! She may be breathing her last as we speak! There’s no time to lose!” Getting up, he grabs Jesus by the hand and fights His way again through the crowd again. But the crowd won’t make way. They’re still jostling around Jesus, pressing Him, trying to get near Him, to touch Him. It makes for slow progress.

And then something really strange happens. Jesus stops. He turns and says, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30; ESV). Now picture this scene for just a moment. The crowd surrounding Jesus is pressing Him on every side. Not only are they touching His garments, they’re touching His body! The disciples can hardly believe the question: “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (v. 31). But of course, Jesus is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows what no one else does, that there is in the crowd a woman who has had an issue of blood for twelve years. She has suffered much at the hands of physicians. She’s tried every treatment. She has no other hope. But, she thought to herself, if I can just reach through the crowd and brush the hem of Jesus’ garment, then I’ll be healed. That is faith, beloved. This woman trusts Jesus, and Jesus alone for help and healing. She, too, had heard of Jesus of Nazareth and the healing miracles He had performed. She heard and she believed. She placed all her hope in Jesus. She had nothing left otherwise. So she went through with her plan. She reached out and touched His garment. And at the same time that she felt within herself renewed energy and life and vigor, Jesus felt the power go out of Him. It was a power clearly summoned by faith. At that moment the woman’s uncleanness passed to Jesus, and Jesus’ cleanness passed to the woman. It is a blessed exchange. “Who touched my garments?” It’s not as though Jesus doesn’t know. But now He’s calling for a confession of faith. He wants to recognize this woman, He wants the crowd and us to see her as a model of faith, and He wants to bless her publicly. The woman falls down before Him with fear and trembling and confesses the whole truth. Now the disciples know the whole story. Jesus’ question is not crazy. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (v. 34).

But while Jesus heals this daughter of God, Jairus’ daughter enters the valley of the shadow of death. While Jesus is still speaking, some come from Jairus’ house: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (v. 35). There was still hope while the daughter was alive. There was evidence that Jesus could heal the sick. But Jairus and his companions are convinced that death is the end of hope. Imagine how angry Jairus must have been that Jesus wasted so much time helping this woman who had been sick for twelve years and surely could have waited a few more minutes, while Jairus’ daughter lay in bed slipping away! Didn’t I tell you time was of the essence, Jesus?! But now it’s too late! There’s nothing You can do!

Jesus doesn’t do anything by accident. Remember the story of Lazarus (John 11)? Jesus hears that His friend Lazarus is sick, near death, and what does He do? He stays where He is and continues teaching for two more days. In the meantime, Lazarus dies! Mary and Martha, the man’s two sisters, both chide Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). It’s true. But Jesus doesn’t do anything by accident. “I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe… I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (vv. 15, 25-26). Jesus, of course, raises Lazarus from the dead, showing that He has the power over death, the authority to call the dead back to life. Jesus shows that death cannot hold Him. It is a foreshadowing of His own resurrection from the dead, as well as the Day when He will call all of us forth from the grave, raise us from the dead, never to die again. So, too, with the little girl, Jairus’ daughter. It didn’t happen by accident that the little girl died before Jesus came to her. This happened that God may be glorified, and that the bystanders, the disciples, Jairus, you, might believe. “Do not fear,” Jesus says, “only believe” (Mark 5:36).

You know the rest of the story. Jesus comes to the house, sends everyone away except Peter, James, and John and the little girl’s parents, takes the little girl by the hand (and remember, this makes Him unclean), and says to her, “Talitha cumi… Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). And she rises. She’s alive. She’s as alive as she was before she got sick. She’s even hungry. She eats. Only living people eat. She’s walks. She talks. She’s twelve years old, which incidentally is the same amount of time the woman had her flow of blood. Jesus restores her as He restored the woman. He takes the uncleanness of blood and death into Himself and gives in exchange His cleanness and life.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). Beloved in the Lord, the Lord has taken your uncleanness, your sin, your death into Himself, and given you His cleanness, His righteousness, His life in exchange. He took your uncleanness, your sin, your death and nailed it in His body on the cross. He rose again to eternally give you His cleanness, His righteousness, His life. Do not fear. Only believe. For faith receives the gifts of the Savior. God has become one with you in the flesh of Christ Jesus. He has come into the midst of your mess, your despair, your worries and fears, your hurts, your trials and temptations, your sin, your very death, and He speaks His healing Word. He cleans you up in Baptism. He touches you, really and truly, with His very body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Do not fear. Only believe. Jesus will one day say to you, “Arise.” On that Day, all your prayers will be answered with God’s yes, all your diseases healed. Your death is but a sleep. And if Jesus has defeated our last and fiercest enemy, death (and He has!), then what is every other trial and cross? Luther writes:

We should, then, learn from this gospel that all misfortune, no matter how
great it appears before thine eyes, is before our Lord Jesus less than nothing. For
since death in a Christian is nothing, then blindness, leprosy, pestilence, and other
sickness must be still smaller and of less import. Therefore, if Thou seest sin,
sickness, poverty, or anything else in thee, do not let this terrify thee; close thy
carnal eyes and open the spiritual ones, and say: I am a Christian, and I have a
Lord who with one word can stop all this foolishness; why should I be so seriously
worried about it? For certain it is, as easily as Christ helps this maiden out of bodily death, in which she was lying, so easily will He help us also, if only we believe and trust Him to help us.[1]

Your Lord Jesus will help you in every time of need. He is faithful, even when you are faithless. He is always there with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You can always locate Him in His Word and Sacrament. You can always touch Him there and be healed. And you can know, without a doubt, that He is always eager and ready to hear your prayers for help in time of need. He will always deliver. He may not deliver you in the way you want or according to your timetable. But remember, Jesus does nothing by accident. He will always do what is best for you, that God may be glorified, and that you may believe. And believing, you have life in His Name. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 191.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (B)
June 21, 2009
Text: Mark 4:35-41

Beloved in the Lord, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40; ESV). Jesus posed this question to His disciples in the storm-tossed boat, and He addresses the question to us this morning in the storm-tossed ark of the holy Church. Why are you so afraid? Our lives are marked by fear, are they not? Particularly in these times, the economy is on the minds of many. Some of our own number are unemployed, or underemployed, or always working under the threat of the next big layoff. There is a great deal of fear in this. There are many unknowns. How will I put food on the table? How will I pay my mortgage and the utilities? How will I keep up with the ever-rising gas prices? Will my retirement savings dwindle away to nothing, and will Social Security survive as long as I do? National security is another source of great fear. This is an age of terrorism. Terrorism has reared its ugly head even among the members of our own congregation. Some have lost their lives as a direct result of terrorism. Others have lost their lives in defense of their country. Will I be next? The moral chaos of our society and culture is yet another source of great fear. There is no such thing as sexual scruples in our society as a whole, and life itself enjoys precious little respect as God’s gift, our babies, elderly, and terminally ill being sacrificed to the gods of personal preference, comfort, and affluence; in other words, the god of self. And there is an ever-increasing effort to silence the Church as she calls society to repentance. How long will the one true God allow this to continue? We fear for the future of our nation, our families, our Church.

We all have some degree of anxiety. In fact, anxiety disorders are among the most common of afflictions. Who of us does not know anxiety? We worry about our children. We worry about our parents. We worry about our spouses. We worry about our health. We worry about death. And there simply is nothing on earth, nothing within us, nothing within those we love, nothing and no one on the political spectrum to permanently and thoroughly calm our fears. There must be something outside of us, something true, something pure, something real, something eternal, something all-powerful, something absolutely trustworthy. There must be something, or Someone, greater than the sum of all our fears. Of course, we’re describing God. We’re describing Jesus Christ. “Peace! Be still!” (v. 39), speaks Jesus to your troubled heart. His is the greatest and only consolation upon which you rely. Because He does not speak the peace that the world gives. He gives His own peace, peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of God’s love, the peace purchased at the price of God’s blood and God’s death on the cross in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the peace of one who has been swallowed up by death and ripped its belly open wide.

Why are you so afraid? Christ is risen! Jesus lives! The victory’s won! If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, gave Him into death on the cross for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, how will He not, along with Him, graciously give us all things (Rom. 8:31-32)? Do you not possess, and are you not possessed by, the very Spirit of God, proceeding from the Father and the Son? Are you not baptized? Has God not claimed you as His own child? Is His Name not written upon you? Have not all your sins been washed away? Have you not been absolved and fed by the Word of God? Have not our Lord Christ’s crucified and risen body and blood touched your lips and nourished your body and soul? Why are you so afraid?

There is much to fear in this world and in this earthly life, and the devil will always try to capitalize on that fear. He will assault you continuously with reminders of your sin, of the precarious nature of this life, this body, this world. He will introduce all sorts of scenarios into our culture: global warming, global cooling, global pandemics, global depression, the earth being swallowed up by the sun. You name it, if it is a fear, the devil will use it to direct our trust away from Jesus Christ and to anything and everything else, even good things, even our loved ones, our president and government, science, education, whatever he can use to claim our loyalty and trust. Because even these good things become idols to us when they take our trust away from Jesus Christ. And ultimately, these things cannot assuage our fear. The devil has us right where he wants us when he has pealed our eyes off of Jesus and directed them in another direction.

There is much to fear in this world and in this earthly life, but be not deceived! These things are no match for Jesus! The worst that can happen to your body is that you die, that your soul and body be temporarily rent assunder. But in Jesus Christ you have eternal life. That means that when you die, your soul goes to be with Jesus in heaven to await the resurrection, and your body is temporarily buried under the ground. But on the Last Day, Jesus will raise your body from the grave and reunite it with your soul, and you will live, body and soul, in a new heavens and a new earth. So the worst that can happen to your body, death (and it is bad, by the way… death is always an enemy), is nothing compared with the glory that will be revealed in you in Jesus Christ, particularly when He raises you from the dead. Why are you so afraid? If that is the worst that can happen, and Jesus has dealt with the worst in His own death and in His resurrection, Jesus is certainly able to carry you through every other trial and tribulation.

While the disciples were out on the lake, their boat tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves, Jesus slept peacefully in the stern. He appeared to have no concern for His storm-tossed little flock. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Sometimes it appears as though Jesus has no concern for us in our trials, tribulations, and temptations. Sometimes He appears to be sleeping. The truth is, though, that He does care. Of course He cares! He loves you! He wouldn’t have died for you if He didn’t care. Jesus allows us to go through trials, through storms, so that we will be driven to trust in Him alone. He uses these storms to mold us into the shape of the holy cross, to conform us to His own suffering image. He uses these storms to drive us to prayer and to realize that there is nothing within us that can preserve us. He must preserve us. But know this for certain, He has the power to calm every storm. He who calmed the tumultuous Sea of Galilee can do so because He created that Sea. And He created you. He created all that is, visible and invisible. All must submit to His command. He will grant you His peace. “Peace! Be still!” “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.” “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (v. 41). It is Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Word made flesh, who has authority over the wind and the waves, the sun and moon and stars, the earth beneath and the sky above, the angels and the demons, all people, and all things. And He loves you. Indeed, if this Jesus, this God, is for us, who can be against us?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8). “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (Ps. 107:28-29). Beloved in the Lord, you don’t have to fear. Trust Jesus. He is faithful. He will not fail you. “Peace! Be still!” The Word of the Lord accomplishes what it says. Just as surely as Jesus spoke and the wind and the waves obeyed Him, so Jesus speaks to you, and you have His Peace. It is the Peace that passes all human understanding. It is the Peace with God that comes as part and parcel of our justification, that God has declared us righteous in Christ Jesus. It is the Peace of sins forgiven and the assurance of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. It is the Peace of knowing that God is for you in Christ Jesus. Therefore whatever is against you, you need not fear. Be still, and know that you are safe in the nail pierced hands of God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (B)
June 14, 2009
Text: Mark 4:26-34

You can’t make the Church grow. You can’t make the Church grow any more than you can make the plants in your garden grow. When you plant a garden, you hope the seeds will grow into plants. You may water and feed and nurture the seeds, but in the end, you can’t make a garden grow. God has to make it grow. You cannot make the Church grow. God must do it. He must do it by His Holy Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments. That is the only way. The Church is always tempted to acquiesce to the world, to compromise to the world, to let the world set the Church’s agenda, because, we think, if we just did and taught what the world wants us to do and teach, if we just worship in a worldly style, if we just back off of this idea that Christianity has a corner on truth, the Church will grow. We will save the institution, the Synod, the congregation. Offerings will be up. We might be able to undertake a building project. We’ll all feel like we’re part of something vibrant and exciting. And the congregation very much may grow if we compromise doctrine and practice. But at what price? The offerings and attendance may be up, but you haven’t grown the Kingdom, the holy Christian Church. Instead, you’ve become nothing more than another social club.

You can’t make the Church grow. Perhaps you think running the Church like a business will make it grow. Perhaps you think the next “movement” in a long line of Synodical programs will make the Church grow. Perhaps you think if we just replaced Diane with a praise band our congregation’s walls would be bursting at the seems. Perhaps you think if the pastor would just avoid controversial topics and be a little more politically correct, drop all this closed communion talk and not make mention of sin, then our guests won’t be offended and they’ll join our congregation because, after all, we’re known for our friendliness. Beloved, repent. You can’t grow the Church. I can’t grow it either. Only God can grow the Church. And here’s the good news: He promises to do so! He does so by His Word.

But wait a minute, Pastor! Our congregation is shrinking. Christianity is shrinking. What do you mean God promises to grow the Church? Beloved in the Lord, you have eyes, but do not see. Every baby who is baptized is an added member of the Church. Every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus Christ is an added member of the Church. And even death does not remove you from the membership roster of the Church. For the Christian, having died in Christ, continues to live in Christ, in heaven, awaiting the resurrection of the dead. There is no such thing as removal by death. There is only removal by unbelief. So you see, the Church is always growing. And God is doing the work! He’s the One who grows the Church. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27; ESV [emphasis added]).

The joy for Christians is, we get to spread the seed. The seed is the Word. We spread it recklessly. You never know where God will make His Kingdom grow. We get to speak the Word in any and every context, in season and out of season, when it makes us popular and when it brings persecution. We get to confess Christ to our friends and family members and neighbors, all with whom we come into contact. We get to tell them about the forgiveness of sins that we have freely in Jesus Christ on account of His suffering, death, and resurrection. We get to come together as the Church of God to gather around God’s gifts in the preaching of the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar and build one another up through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. We get to pray that God’s Kingdom would come and grow, pray for the lost, pray for our fellow Christians, pray for the work of the Church and for our pastor. We get to support the work of the Church and missions with our offerings and even with our own time and effort. We get to be a part of this, and yet we remember that God is the One growing His Church. He can do it without us. He can do it in spite of us. He promises, “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11). He’s the One who causes the growth and He gives us the gift of being a part of it, sowing the seed.

Of course, you can, at least from a human perspective, hinder the work of God in this place. You should know that and always be on your guard against it. You can put needless barriers in the way of people coming to faith and joining our fellowship. You can be unfriendly and unwelcoming. You can insist on your own way. You can advocate false doctrine, unfaithful practices, be hypercritical of your fellow believers or your pastor, even live in manifest sin. These are things that tear down the Body of Christ. These are things that hinder people from coming to faith and joining our fellowship. Every one of us ought constantly to examine himself to see if he’s created a needless barrier, repent, and receive the forgiveness of our Lord. For of course there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ for all sin, and so also there is forgiveness among the members of Christ’s Body, the Church.

But it is nonetheless true that every one of the elect, every last person chosen by God from eternity to be saved, will come to faith in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit and be saved, even in spite of you. That’s a warning and a comfort. It is a warning, because God will accomplish His saving purpose even if you oppose Him, but unless you repent, you will be lost. It is a comfort, because God will accomplish His saving purpose even in spite of hypocritical members of the visible Church institution, even in spite of hypocritical pastors, even in spite of sincere believing Christians who still struggle with the old sinful flesh and are sometimes unfaithful. God grows His Kingdom. He grows it and tends it and nourishes it until the time of harvest when our Lord Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.

The thing about the Kingdom’s growth is that it is hidden and unexpected. Elijah thought he was the only faithful Israelite left on the face of the earth until God revealed to him that there were seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal or kissed him (1 Kings 19:9-18). Jesus compares the Kingdom to a grain of mustard seed. When you look at it, it is so small and insignificant that you think it will never amount to anything. It’s one of the smallest of all the seeds. But plant it in the ground and let God worry about the growth and what happens? “[I]t grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:32). That tiny little seed becomes almost tree-like. So big, birds make nests in it. What appeared so insignificant becomes the dominating plant in the garden. So also the Kingdom of God. The Church on earth always looks like it’s in its death throws. The Church on earth always appears to be shrinking and dying. It is always beset with controversy within and without, despised by the world, hated, persecuted. It appears weak and insignificant to the human eye. But by faith you can behold it the way it appears in all its heavenly splendor. It is the very ark of salvation. The people of the nations, whom the Holy Spirit has brought to repentance and faith, nest in the branches of the holy Church. There is no salvation outside the Church. For the Church is nothing less than the whole number of holy believers in Christ, both those on earth and those in heaven. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the Kingdom of God.

The Church is born from the wounds of Christ. She receives her life from His precious blood and death. She lives by His gracious Word of forgiveness. She lives by the salvation He won in His death. She lives by the water and the blood poured out for her from His riven side. She lives by Baptism and the Supper of His true body and blood. Only Jesus can save His Church. Only Jesus can sustain and strengthen His Church. Only Jesus, only God, can make the Church grow.

So if you want more people in this congregation, I suggest you begin by asking Him. But recognize that things may still appear small and weak here in this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church. That doesn’t mean God isn’t growing His Church. Don’t forget that every Baptism is an answer to your prayer. And don’t forget your privilege of speaking the Word of Christ in your vocation to all with whom you come into contact. Invite people to church. Trust the Word. Trust God. The growth is up to Him. Give thanks to God that by His grace He has included you in the number of holy believers in Christ. You also live by the wounds. In Christ, all your sins are forgiven. You live by His gracious Word, by Baptism, by His Holy Supper. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Our Sins Deserve the Wounds

Quenstedt, quoted in Robert Preus, Doctrine is Life: Essays on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions, Klemet I. Preus, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 62:

Our sins deserve wounds, our transgressions bruises, our iniquities stripes. But we were unable by suffering these wounds and bruises and stripes to free ourselves from sins and transgressions and to heal ourselves from iniquities. In such a manner there could be no satisfaction made to divine righteousness so that we should be whole and well. Therefore by a judicial imputation the Lord made the sins of all fall upon the Messiah: like a storm they would carry Messiah away, like an army they would destroy Him... Christ voluntarily bore that load of sin, the wounds, the bruises, the stripes; and thus He made satisfaction to God for us.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (B)
June 7, 2009
Text: John 3:1-17

The fact that God is Triune, one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, demands not our understanding and comprehension, but our confession and praise. How one can equal three and three can equal one is not a math problem to be solved or a theory to be proven, but a truth, the truth, in which we delight. As a matter of fact, we are immersed in that truth, for we are baptized into that Name, one Name, three Persons: I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, God is one: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; ESV). This one God is the only true God. All others are idols. Therefore this one God, YHWH, “I AM,” as He names Himself (Ex. 3:14), alone is to be worshiped, feared, loved, and trusted. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). There is one God, and yet He reveals Himself in three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not three modes, or three faces of God, nor are they three gods, but three distinct Persons within the one substance of the Godhead, all three interpenetrating one another. Thus Jesus instructs His disciples to make disciples of all the nations by baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), again, one Name for one God, but three persons. Two of the most common Christian benedictions, recorded in Holy Scripture, profess this reality of the Trinity. St. Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). The Aaronic benediction, which I will pronounce upon you at the end of this Divine Service, is recorded in the Old Testament (Num. 6:24-26). It was the blessing Aaron the priest was to pronounce upon the congregation of Israel, and this benediction likewise reflects the Triune nature of God: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Three times the Name YHWH, translated into English as “Lord,” is pronounced upon the people who bear the Name of their God, who are then given to confess that Name and give praise to God in that Name. In other words, this article on the Trinity is as much in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Even in the first chapter of Genesis, we see the Holy Trinity in action, as God the Father creates by speaking His Word, the Son who would become the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters.

So you see, the article on the Trinity is very important. As we will see, it is important for our very salvation. In just a few minutes we will confess in the Athanasian Creed: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith… And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” (LSB p. 319). On this basis the Lutheran Confessions say from the outset about the Trinity: “We unanimously hold and teach… that there is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and that there are three persons in this one divine essence, equal in power and alike eternal: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. All three are one divine essence, eternal, without division, without end, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, one creator and preserver of all things visible and invisible” (Tappert; AC I:1-3).

The article on the Trinity goes hand in hand with the Gospel. There would be no Gospel were it not for the article on the Trinity, for the Gospel flows to us from the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As hard as the Trinity is to understand and as complicated as the terminology is that we use to describe Him, the confession of the Trinity is not just some academic exercise. “Scripture does not propose the doctrine of the Trinity as an academic question or a metaphysical problem. With the proclamation that in the one eternal God there are three Persons of one and the same divine essence Scripture combines the further gracious message that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son into death as the Savior from the guilt of sin and death; that in the fullness of time, the eternal Son became incarnate and by His vicarious satisfaction,” His payment of sin in your place, “reconciled the world to God and that the Holy Ghost engenders faith and thus applies to man the salvation gained by Christ. When the Christian confesses, ‘I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,’ he is saying, ‘I believe in that God who is gracious to me, a sinner.’”[1]

Which leads us to our Gospel lesson. The Father is revealed and reconciled to us by the Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we come to faith by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. The Father loves the world in this manner: He sends the Son in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, who bears our sins on the cross that we might become His righteousness, and is raised again that we might have eternal life. This crucified and risen Son then sends the Holy Spirit from the Father, who leads us to faith in Jesus. And all who believe in Jesus, all upon whom the Holy Spirit does His enlivening work, have eternal life. You must know the Son to have eternal life. That is the problem with, for instance, the Jews, who think they worship the Father, but do not know the Son. You cannot have the Father unless you have the Son, Jesus Christ. But if you have Jesus Christ, if you are united to Him by Baptism and faith, born again of water and the Spirit, then you have the Father. And you have Him as a gracious God, who loves you and forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.

Nicodemus thinks He worships the Father. But He does not know the Son. He knows that Jesus is from God. But he thinks that Jesus is just a great teacher. Many are the unbelievers in this world who would likewise acclaim Jesus as a great teacher. Yet they do not have the Son, because they do not believe in Him. Nicodemus does not come to Jesus in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins. He comes to talk theology with Jesus as an equal. But Jesus will have none of it. He loves Nicodemus too much to be tolerant of his misguided religion. We do not come to Jesus on our own terms. Jesus comes to us on His terms. And so Jesus declares to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus is confused. How can one be born again? Surely a man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born. But of course, Jesus is not talking about physical birth. He is talking about birth of the Spirit. He is talking about Baptism! “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). How do you see the Kingdom? How do you enter it? Jesus is the Kingdom of God. If Nicodemus believed, he would have seen the Kingdom of God sitting before Him and, indeed, speaking to Him. You enter the Kingdom of God, you enter Jesus, by faith. And faith is given in the new birth of water and the Spirit, water and the Word, Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul writes: God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). Incidentally, later, Nicodemus did come to this new birth and so see the Kingdom, being one of only two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who after the crucifixion professed faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit opened Nicodemus’ lips to confess and to praise. The Holy Spirit brought Nicodemus to faith.

Faith is looking to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, lifted up on the pole of the cross, just as the bronze serpent in the wilderness was lifted up. When the Israelites had sinned grievously against the Lord, speaking against both God and Moses, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them who fatally bit the people. But God also provided for His people’s deliverance from the serpents. He commanded Moses to put a bronze serpent upon a pole. Whoever was bitten by one of the fiery serpents and looked at the bronze serpent upon the pole would be healed. That’s faith. Look at the serpent on the pole and live (Num. 21:4-9). O people of God, bitten by the fiery serpent of sin, lying on the floor of the wilderness of this world, dying, look to Jesus Christ, lifted up on the cross, for your salvation. Look to Jesus on the cross for divine healing. That is faith. The Holy Spirit directs your attention cross-ward, to Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that you might be healed, that you might be forgiven, that you might be reconciled to the Father. That is why we display the crucifix so prominently in our chancel. That is why it is good that the crucifix is right here, next to me, above me as I’m preaching. Because all preaching of God’s Word is pointing you to Christ crucified. The Holy Spirit works through preaching and Sacrament to fix your eyes on Jesus, the Jesus who suffered and died for you, in your place, who as the crucified God is the Author and Perfecter of your faith. And there is, of course, this promise: “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Holy Spirit delivers the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection, to us in His Word and the Sacraments. Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem us. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Spirit directs us in faith to Jesus who reconciles us to the Father. The work of salvation is the work of the Holy Trinity. We cannot understand or comprehend the Holy Trinity in our finite human minds. But we can, by God’s grace, confess Him. We can confess what God in three Persons has done for our salvation. And we can praise Him for this salvation, and for His holy majesty.

In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a glimpse of this divine majesty (Is. 6:1-8). Isaiah sees what is to us un-seeable. He sees the throne of God and hears the seraphim chanting the Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Notice the one God is acclaimed with three “Holies.” Isaiah cannot comprehend what he sees. Rather, he is terrified. No one can see the Holy God and live. Isaiah cowers in fear. He is undone, for he is a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. But then a seraph flies to him. The seraph takes a fiery coal with tongs (and it should not be lost on us that even this holy angel has to use tongs to touch the coal)… he takes a fiery coal from the altar of sacrifice and touches Isaiah’s lips. No tongs for Isaiah. Direct contact with Isaiah’s lips. And the angel says: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 7).

Our Lord Jesus is the Lamb of God who has been sacrificed on the altar of the cross. This morning He touches your lips with that sacrifice, His true body and blood, given and shed on the cross, which He will place into your mouths. Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. Now your lips are opened to confess and to praise. Now you will be given to see the living God, the thrice Holy Trinity, and not die. For His body and blood are the medicine of immortality, and whoever believes in Jesus Christ, whoever looks to Him for healing, will not perish, but have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) p. 378.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Closed Communion: What is It?

Pastor’s Window for June 2009

Closed Communion: What is It?

At the May voters’ assembly, I mentioned to you my concern that we need to increase our understanding and tighten our practice of closed communion. As you know, we already practice closed communion at Epiphany, and this practice is expected of all LCMS congregations. But it is a difficult practice, often messy, always burdensome, and never politically correct. Thus it is good for us to review our teaching about closed communion so that we understand its proper use, and on that basis evaluate our practice.

So what is closed communion? Essentially, it is the practice of admitting to the Lord’s Supper only those who have been instructed in Lutheran doctrine (usually via Luther’s Small Catechism) and are baptized and confirmed members of an LCMS congregation, who also confess that in the Lord’s Supper they receive the true body and blood of Christ in their mouths for the forgiveness of their sins. The pastor, as the steward of the mysteries of God in this place, is responsible for admitting to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 4:1). The elders assist me with this difficult task. There is only one other Lutheran synod in America with whom the LCMS is in fellowship, and whose members can therefore also commune at our altar: The American Association of Lutheran Churches, or TAALC. This is a small Lutheran body coming out of the former American Lutheran Church, made up of pastors and congregations who refused to merge into the ELCA due to its rampant liberalism. Only LCMS Lutherans (or members of the TAALC, or another Lutheran body outside the United States with whom we are in fellowship) should commune at Epiphany. Other Christians, as a rule, should not commune here. This includes other Lutherans, including our brothers and sisters in the ELCA.

But why is that? Because we need to be honest with ourselves and with one another, especially at the altar of our Lord, about our divisions on significant doctrinal matters, the teaching on the Lord’s Supper itself not being the least of these. It is not as though we don’t consider these others to be Christian, or that we don’t think they’ll go to heaven. It is rather that fellowship in the Lord’s Supper is the supreme expression of unity in biblical doctrine. Where there is no such unity, there should not be fellowship in the Lord’s Supper. Using the ELCA as an example, even though they go by the name “Lutheran,” and even though many of their members believe that in the Lord’s Supper they receive the true body and blood of Christ for their forgiveness, the LCMS and the ELCA are significantly divided on issues such as the inerrancy of the Bible (the ELCA does not teach that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God), women pastors (the ELCA has them in spite of God’s clear Word, e.g. 1 Cor. 14:33-35), homosexuality (the ELCA not only tolerates this, it is moving toward ordaining openly gay pastors and in many cases has already ordained them), abortion (the ELCA is not pro-life), and any number of other issues. In addition, the ELCA has declared altar and pulpit fellowship with churches like the Reformed Church in America who blatantly deny the bodily presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. That means they not only commune with them, they share pastors. If one communes at an ELCA congregation, one cannot be sure that the pastor (who may or may not be Lutheran) even confesses the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament! How can we commune together as if there is no division? Our Lord would not have us sweep our differences under the rug as if they didn’t matter. Jesus prayed that His Church would be one on the basis of His Word, which is nothing less than divine truth (John 17:11, 17).

Christians in other church bodies may be strong in the faith. We may even have much in common with them. They may be models for us in faith and in life. They may be our dear friends and family members. But that doesn’t mean we should commune together when we disagree on very clear biblical teaching. To do so would be to create a sham unity for the sake of earthly harmony. This is sinful. From the above, it should also be clear that the unbaptized and non-Christians should not commune. In the Sacrament, our Lord gives His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by placing His true body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, into our mouths. We ought to take this gift seriously, treat it with reverence, and delight in it. We also desire those who are not in our fellowship to join us at the altar. The way they may join us is by taking instruction at Epiphany and, forsaking their former altars, become members of our congregation. We do not exclude other Christians out of meanness, nor out of arrogance, but out of love. But that leads us to next month’s article… Closed Communion: Why We Practice It. In preparation for that article, please read 1 Cor. 11:17-34.

As an aside, some people prefer to call closed communion “close” communion, as in those who are close to one another in doctrine commune together (TAALC, for example, makes this distinction). There is no difference in the meaning, and I prefer to call a thing what it is. Our altar is closed to those not in our fellowship. This is the only biblical and loving practice, as we will discuss next month.

Pastor Krenz

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Love of God

Quenstedt on 1 John 3:16, quoted in Robert Preus, Doctrine is Life: Essays on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions, Klemet I. Preus, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 44:

This is the love of God: rather than banish men eternally from heaven He removed Himself from heaven, clothed Himself with flesh, became the Creature of a creature, inclosed Himself in the womb of the virgin, was wrapped in rags, laid in hay and housed in a barn. Nor does His love stop here; but after a life spent in poverty and adversities this love drives Christ to the ground on Olivet, binds Him in chains, delivers Him to jailors, cuts Him with the lash, crowns Him with thorns, fastens Him with nails to the Cross, and gives Him to drink the cup of bitterness. And finally this love compels Him to die, to die for adversaries and enemies (Rom. 5.6). Continuously and in these sundry ways Christ, who thirsts so greatly for our salvation, declares His love and mercy towards the human race.

Hymn to the Holy Trinity

Hymn of Alcuin, quoted in Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces: On the Nature of God and On the Most Holy Mystery of the Trinity, Richard J. Dinda, Trans; Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007) p. 267:

Be present, true Light, Father, omnipotent God. Be present, Light of Light, Word and Son of God, omnipotent God. Be present, Holy Spirit, harmony of the Father and the Son, omnipotent God. Be present, one omnipotent God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We confess this faith in You, through You, of You. We confess You, one in substance, three in persons. O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity, God, Lord, Paraclete; Love, Grace, Communication; Begetter, Begotten, Regenerator; true Light, true Light of Light, Illumination; the invisibly Invisible, the invisibly Visible, the visibly Invisible; Fountain, River, Watering; from whom, through whom, and in whom are all things; the living Life, the Life from the Living One, Life-Giver of the living; truthful Father, Son who is the Truth, the Spirit of Truth; one essence, one might, one goodness; God, above whom is nothing, outside of whom is nothing, and without whom is nothing; God, under whom is everything, in whom is everything, and with whom is everything: we invoke You, we worship You, we praise You. Teach us faith, stir up hope, pour in love. Amen.