Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Evolutionary Leap of Faith

I read an interesting, and old, book on the creation/evolution debate over my vacation a couple weeks ago, “After Its Kind”: The First and Last Word on Evolution, by Byron C. Nelson, ironically published by Augsburg in 1930 (3rd Revised Edition – long out of print). How far Augsburg has fallen (or should one say evolved?)! As old as the book is, Nelson’s arguments are remarkably relevant for the modern debate. Many of the questions he asked of evolutionists then have yet to be answered 80 years later. As it happens, I was reading the book in tandem with the Michael Crichton novel, Next (HarperCollins, 2006), a book I also recommend as good, thought provoking fiction, even though Crichton was an evolutionist and I disagree with many of his conclusions about genetic engineering and testing (be advised about language and sexual content as well). I found the two books to be interesting conversation partners. Where Crichton assumed evolution, Nelson was asking questions about the “science” that Crichton simply took for granted.

But I digress. Here is a fun quote from Nelson:

“Evolutionists are wont to ridicule the creationists with being credulous, superstitious, able-to-believe-anything” … However, consider who is, in reality, credulous, superstitious, and able-to-believe-anything. To accept evolution as dogma “means that one must believe” for example “that the whale came out of the water where it had been a fish, became a land animal, worked for millions of years to get legs, got them, used them for millions of years, with which, perhaps, to climb trees or gallop over the dusty plains, then got tired of being a land animal, began to live near the edge of the water, turned its front legs into paddles, developed tail-flukes to act as propellers, let its rear legs hang uselessly behind until they wasted away, and finally came to exist only in the state it is in today! Does not such a course of evolution cause one to wonder at the statement of President McMurrich of the University of Toronto, ‘It seems incredible that man as a reasoning animal can presume to doubt evolution?’” (p. 65).

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The following sermon is largely plagerized from the sermons and presentations at Higher Things: Sola, 2009 conference in Grand Rapids. All Latin irregularities are my own mistake.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 12)
July 26, 2009
Text: Mark 6:45-56

Why does Jesus come to His disciples walking on the stormy sea? It is that they might see, and that we might see through the light of the Scriptures, that Jesus is God enfleshed, that it is no mere human teacher who says the things Jesus says or does the things Jesus does, but that human teacher who is at the same time, in one and the same person, almighty God. And it is that the disciples might see, and that we might see through the light of the Scriptures, that this one who is God and man in one person, Jesus Christ, alone is our salvation. For only a man who is also God, He alone, can walk on water. And only a man who is also God, He alone, can immediately still the wind and the waves. He alone can save His disciples from the peril of death. He alone can save the disciples from the jaws of hell. He alone does such great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever (Ps. 136:4). Christ alone is the God-man. Therefore salvation is in Christ alone.

Alone. Sola. The youth who went to Higher Things this week already know where this is going. Sola, the Latin word for alone, was the theme of our conference. We learned about the great solas of the Christian faith, the solas that are our Reformation heritage, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura: Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. We are saved by Christ alone, forgiven of all our sins, pronounced righteous with His righteousness, and given eternal life in Christ alone. And all of this is given to us by grace alone, received by faith alone, revealed to us in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, alone. The review this week of the solas was a great benefit and blessing to this pastor, as I know it was also to Amanda and Catrin and Dietrich and Chris. And so it is good and right that we also review them as a congregation, for these solas encapsulate the very heart of the Christian faith: Christ and justification.

Solus Christus, Christ alone. The disciples in our text know that no mere man can walk on water. So when they see the figure of a man walking toward them on the waves of the sea, they jump to the only logical conclusion: It’s a ghost! They all cried out. They were terrified (Mark 6:49-50). Would you act any differently if you were on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, in the midst of a great storm, no land in sight, and some guy comes walking past as if there’s nothing wrong with this picture? Of course, we know from the Scriptures that there’s no such thing as a ghost, that when you die, your body goes in the ground and your soul goes to heaven or hell depending on whether or not you are in Christ. But we don’t always think theologically orthodox thoughts when we’re terrified. The disciples are terrified. We can understand. It is in the midst of terror and fear, however, that Jesus speaks His calming Word: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 50; ESV). And just as only a man who is also God can walk on water, just as only a man who is also God can calm the violent sea, so also only a man who is also God can calm a troubled and terrorized heart. It’s no ghost, it’s Jesus. And where He is present, in the flesh, with His mercy, for you, there is no room for terror. This is, after all, the one who heals diseases, makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. This is, after all, the one who drives out demons by His Word. This is, after all, the one who even raises the dead. And this is, after all, the one who loves you to death, literally, to the death of the cross, where He dies in your place for the forgiveness of all your sins. You are saved by this Christ alone. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” says Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Solus Christus, Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus walks on water that the disciples, and you and I by the light of Holy Scripture, might come to know that He is, in fact, who He claims to be, God’s Son, very God of very God, in the flesh come to be our only rescue and salvation. Jesus Christ is not just a way of salvation. He is the way. Alone. Mohammed and his god do not give you salvation. They leave you in the law to work it out for yourself. And of course, you can’t. You know you can’t. You are a sinner. Mohammed and his god will leave you in death and hell. Confucius may be wise in the eyes of men, but he is not wise unto salvation, for he knows not Jesus Christ or the Gospel of peace. The gods of Buddhism and Hinduism promise that you will finally reach nirvana, a state of nothingness, or become a drop in the ocean of reality and so lose your identity, and this is paradise, so they claim. But in reality, they can only offer you eternal death, an eternity outside of the fellowship of the one true God, who alone gives life. Even the god of the Jews is a false god, for the God of the Old Testament, the only true God revealed in the Scriptures, is the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. The Jews rejected that God, and so they cannot offer salvation either, but only condemnation. Theirs, too, is a religion of works, which means it is a religion of death. Jesus Christ alone can save you. Solus Christus.

And that is the most important sola, for from the solus Christus come the other three: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura. Sola gratia, grace alone, means that you are saved without any merit or worthiness in you. It means that works play no part in your salvation. It means that you are saved only by the undeserved favor of God on account of Christ. Grace is the gift of God, given freely on account of Christ, to those who do not deserve it. St. Paul writes, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). God didn’t send His Son Jesus Christ to redeem us because there was any merit in us worth redeeming. Jesus didn’t accomplish our salvation because He saw something in us worth saving. God doesn’t love us because we’re so loveable. We’re not. God’s love creates it’s object. We’re only loveable to God because He says so. And likewise, grace is a quality in God, not in us. God is gracious. In His grace, He takes what is worthless, us poor, miserable sinners, and prizes us as His most treasured possession, paying the ultimate price to rescue us from death and hell, the price of His Son’s blood. Our works play no part in this. We are saved sola gratia, by grace alone.

And we receive this salvation sola fide, by faith alone. Now this is where many Lutherans get all screwed up. Because it’s so easy to agree with the “grace alone” part and the “without works” part, but then start to think of faith as that one work I get to do for my salvation. And if we think that way, we’ve totally misunderstood faith. Faith is not a work by which we merit salvation any more than praying is, or working at Project Hope is, or not committing adultery is. No, faith is a gift! Sola fide comes after sola gratia, because faith is a free gift of God in Christ Jesus, given apart from works, without any merit or worthiness in us. And understand what is meant by that word, “faith.” “When we say that we are saved by faith alone – sola fide – we mean that we are saved not by something called ‘believing’ going on in OUR hearts, but the faith of Jesus. Jesus never wavered, but always perfectly trusted His Father. That is His perfect faith which counts for your faith. Our faith is Jesus Himself, who perfectly kept the Law and died and rose. Our faith is our Baptism, in which Christ lays hold of us. Our faith is the words of Absolution and the Body and Blood of the Supper. To say that we have faith is nothing other than to say that we have Jesus. To be sure, there is that part of faith in which our minds and hearts believe and trust in Christ, but that’s only because there is a Christ to trust and believe in.”[1] When you have Jesus, you have faith. When you have faith, you have Jesus. And when you have Jesus, you have all of His benefits, the very forgiveness of sins and salvation. Thus faith is the receiving hands, given by God Himself, by grace, to receive the gifts of grace.

And how do you get this faith in the first place? The Holy Spirit brings you to faith and keeps you in the faith, by the means of grace, by His Word, and by His visible Word in Baptism and the Supper. And that leads us to the final sola to be considered: sola scriptura, Scripture alone. By Scripture alone, we don’t mean you just take your Bible off to some lonely place and read it and that’s the beginning, middle, and end of your faith, as if you don’t need the Church or sermons or sacraments or the liturgy or the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. That would be called nuda scriptura, the naked Scriptures, which is an unbiblical concept. Scripture alone means simply this: you don’t add to or subtract from Scripture. “When the church confesses Scripture alone – sola scriptura – she means that we don’t try to learn about God from anything other than God’s own word. The same Word preached by His apostles – added to the water of Baptism and that brings us Jesus (sic) body and blood – is the Word that comes to us in the pages of the Scriptures.”[2] We don’t add humanly devised works to the Scriptures, and we certainly don’t make them necessary to salvation. Nor do we take away from the commandments of God in Holy Scripture just because we don’t like them, they rub us the wrong way, or aren’t politically correct. We don’t listen to mysterious voices or dreams or our feelings as if such are the Word of God. The Scriptures alone reveal to us God’s clear Word. And that Word is about the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Which brings us back to solus Christus.

Christ alone is our Savior. Christ alone died for our sins on the cross. Christ alone is risen for our justification. He is no mere man. He is God in the flesh, the God-man. In Christ God Himself has condescended to take on our human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to be one with us, to be our brother, to suffer all that we suffer, to be tempted as we are tempted, to take our sin and uncleanness and death upon Himself, to suffer hell for us, to be forsaken of God in our place, to die our death on the cross, and so to redeem us from sin and death and hell and the devil. Solus Christus, Christ alone has done this for us, that we might be saved sola gratia, by grace alone, sola fide, by faith alone. And the testimony of this is given graciously by God Himself in the Holy Scriptures, sola scriptura, Scripture alone. Therefore to Him alone be all the glory, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Sola Fide – By Faith Alone,” devotion in Sola: Daily Services (Higher Things, 2009) p. 124.
[2] “Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone,” ibid.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 11)
July 19, 2009
Text: Mark 6:30-44

Jesus is moved with compassion for His people. He is moved with compassion for His people, for you, for me, because all we, like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one of us, to our own way (Is. 53:6). Jesus is moved with compassion for His people, for you, for me, because we are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has come to be our Good Shepherd. What is it that a good shepherd does? He gathers the sheep into his sheepfold to protect them and care for them. He feeds his sheep with green pastures and leads them to good, clean water. He protects his sheep from robbers and from wolves. When necessary, a good shepherd is willing to give his very life for his sheep. Jesus is our Good Shepherd.

We see Jesus’ great compassion for His people in the Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus had taken His disciples away to a desolate place to rest awhile and to pray, for they had been ministering to the people for many days. I’ll be the first to tell you that the work of pastoring, shepherding our Lord’s sheep (the word pastor comes from the Latin word for shepherd), is joyous work. But it isn’t easy. Pastors need rest, which is why I’m so thankful you gave me a nice vacation to rest and relax and push the reset button. Even more than rest and relaxation however, pastors need to pray and meditate on God’s Word, and this doesn’t just happen on days off or on vacation. This should be an everyday habit, and in fact, this should be the habit, not just of your pastor, but also of all Jesus’ disciples, including all of you. The disciples needed this kind of rest, rest that included time with Jesus to pray and to meditate on His Word. For they would be His undershepherds, just as modern day pastors are undershepherds of Jesus Christ charged to care for the sheep, holy believers in Christ. The Lord Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He shepherds you by His Word and Sacraments, administered by His undershepherds, the Christians pastors.

But a shepherd cannot always rest when he wants to. It is Jesus’ compassion for the sheep, lost and helpless, going astray, going their own way, without a shepherd… It is Jesus’ compassion for just such sheep as you and me that moves Him to care for us. It is His great compassion that leads Him to interrupt His rest and the rest of His disciples that they might care for the people in our text. It is His great love for us that leads Him to gather us and tend us and feed us and nurture us, and in fact, to carry us. Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, where He’s not carrying one of the sheep in His arms? You are that sheep in His tender embrace. Jesus has to carry you, because you are wounded and helpless. You are wounded by sin. You are wounded by wandering away from the flock, eating poisonous weeds and drinking the bitter water of false doctrine, being allured further and further away from your Good Shepherd by wolves and robbers, operatives of the devil, who want to gobble you up and send you to hell. You are wounded because you want to go your own way. You are wounded because you think you do not need to listen to your Shepherd’s voice every Sunday, much less every day. You are wounded because you do not think you need to eat what He gives to you. You are wounded because you think that other shepherds have better stuff to give you, or that you would be better off with no shepherd at all. You are wounded by every impure thought, every lustful glance, every covetous desire. You are wounded by your bitterness toward the other sheep. You are wounded, and you are helpless. Sheep are a helpless breed. You cannot free yourself from your lost condition. Jesus must do it. You don’t know the poisonous weeds from the green grass. Jesus must lead you. You cannot shepherd yourself, and you cannot find your Good Shepherd by your own reason or strength. Jesus must call you by the Gospel through His Holy Spirit, gather you into His sheepfold, enlighten you with His gifts, sanctify you and keep you in the one true faith. In His great compassion, Jesus has found you and taken you up into His arms. He carries you and cares for you as one of His own flock. He washes you and feeds you and speaks tenderly to you. In His arms, no wolf or robber can harm you.

In His great compassion, Jesus gathers you into His own flock, which is to say His holy Church. Remember that at one time you were separated from Christ, aliens to the Israel of God, without hope, and without God in the world (Eph. 2:11-12). Remember your lost condition, that it is only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus that you are no longer lost, but found, that you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13). Jesus has gathered you into His own flock so that now you have access in the Holy Spirit to God your Father (v. 18). Now you are, in Christ Jesus, “saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv. 19-20; ESV). You are, in fact, a dwelling place for God (v. 22), and you dwell in Him. Jesus Christ has gathered you here into His Church, His household, His flock, where He may wash you in Baptism, cleansing you of all your sins and making you God’s own child, uniting you to His death and resurrection. He leads you to that good, clean water. He grants you there His Spirit and faith. He strengthens you and gives you power to lead a God-pleasing life. And He doesn’t just leave you there. He teaches you.

Notice that this is what a good shepherd, a pastor, ought to do above all else. What does Jesus do when He sees the crowds on the shore? What does He do when He is moved with compassion because they are as sheep without a shepherd? He begins to teach them many things (Mark 6:34). Jesus shepherds you by teaching you. He teaches you through His Word, and He speaks His Word through the public ministry of the Church, through His undershepherds, His pastors. That includes the sermon. That includes the Scripture readings. That also includes Bible class and Sunday School and Catechism class. You should attend these classes as well, as often as you can, because in them Jesus is speaking to you as your Good Shepherd, teaching you many things, just as He taught the crowds for many hours on the shore. And Jesus isn’t just teaching facts, history, information, in His Word, although that may be included. He’s teaching the very Word of life. He’s teaching Law and Gospel. He’s teaching you about your lost-ness, your condition of sinfulness. He’s teaching you that He is Himself the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him. He’s teaching you that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. He’s teaching you, and in so doing, He’s giving you salvation, He’s forgiving your sins, He’s bespeaking you righteous.

And then He feeds you. Just as He finished teaching the crowds at that late hour on the lakeshore and then, yet again moved with compassion for them, commanded His disciples to feed them. It was a miraculous feeding. The disciples could hardly believe their eyes. Five loaves of bread and two fishes fed 5,000 men, and that’s not including the women and children! All ate and were satisfied. The food Jesus feeds His sheep always satisfies. There is always enough. There is always more than enough. And twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected. “Thou preparest a table before me… my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5; KJV). “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16; ESV). In His compassion, Jesus feeds His sheep. In His compassion, Jesus feeds you. He has prepared a table before you. Your cup runneth over. And of course, I’m not just talking about your daily bread, though He certainly opens His hand and satisfies those desires as well. All that is good comes from God. But I’m talking about that table, the altar. It feeds your body and it feeds your soul. There the Lord has prepared a table above all others, a table that holds His very body and blood.

This is the supreme proof that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. For remember, a good shepherd gives his life in place of his sheep. Jesus Christ gave His life for you. He died for your sins. He suffered and died for your forgiveness. He gave His life that you might live. He did all of this in your place. He suffered the hell that you deserved for going your own way instead of following your shepherd. The Good Shepherd becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin and mine. He takes it and He nails it in His flesh on the cross. And then He buries it forever along with death and hell. But the grave cannot hold Him. He bursts forth from the tomb. God raises Him from the dead. He is victorious over sin, Satan, and the grave. It is God’s announcement that Christ’s work is sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. It is God’s announcement that because of Christ, all your sins are forgiven. You have been brought near by the blood of Christ. And now the risen Christ has prepared this table before you, the very body given, nailed to the cross, the very blood shed for you, in, with, and under the bread and wine, given for you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. Your Good Shepherd has washed you in Baptism. He teaches you and bespeaks you righteous in His Word. He died for you and is risen for you. And now He feeds you, miraculously, His own body and blood. Because His great compassion, His great love for you, moves Him, compels Him, to do so. Rejoice, dear Christians. You are no longer lost. Jesus has found you. He carries you. And He will continue to carry you, and protect you from Satan and all who would rob you of your faith, until the Day of Resurrection when He will call you, body and soul, forth from the grave. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Essential Lutheran Library

From the Rev. Paul T. McCain, Cyberbrethren,

The Essential Lutheran Library: Let me Tell you about T.E.L.L.
July 17th, 2009

People have begun, more and more, to notice a certain rhyme and reason, as it were, of Concordia Publishing House producing volumes that have names that sound somewhat similar, in books that have the same basic color and type design on their spines. It’s called The Essential Lutheran Library, or T.E.L.L. for short. I know, clever, huh?

Let me tell you more about the T.E.L.L. I’ve mentioned something here before about it, but my friend, Pastor Weedon, recently posted some very kind words about some of these matching volumes, and I thought I’d refer you to his comments, then once more explain a bit about T.E.L.L.

The Essential Lutheran Library consists of the following six titles:

The Lutheran Study Bible
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions
Lutheran Service Book
Luther’s Small Catechism
Treasury of Daily Prayer
Lutheran Book of Prayer

To this “core” there are two other volumes designed to look similar:

Reading the Psalms with Luther
Starck’s Prayerbook

The choice of titles for The Essential Lutheran Library was very intentional, in that we want to encourage people to think “Bible” when they think “Hymnal” and think “Hymnal” when they think “Bible” and the choice of a matching color scheme, at least on the spines of the volumes is to help fix in people’s mind the deep and essential connection between Scripure, Confessions, Hymnal.That’s why we do not mind, one bit, the fact that we have TLSB and LSB.

We Lutherans have historically understood that while we are a church of the principle that doctrine is drawn alone from Scripture, sola Scriptura, the Scriptures are never alone and we do not approach them in a vacuum, in other words, we embrace sola Scriptura but eschew nuda Scriptura, as if every new generation of Christians is simply acting in absolute isolation, as if there has been no great cloud of witnesses surrounding them, and all generations of believers in Christ, as we, together, run with perseverance the race laid out for us (see Hebrews 12:1-2).

These are volumes that I deem absolutely essential for every Lutheran to have, and to use. These are not intended to be pretty books on a bookshelf, although surely they are that, but to be volumes for the Christian life, always leading and aiding people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling them to Himself, welcoming them to His Table, for the the meal for pilgrims he provides to us, in anticipation of the great feast to come in His kingdom.