Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 17)
August 30, 2009
Text: Mark 7:14-23

If you like bacon, like I do, you should be very thankful for this morning’s Gospel lesson. The key words are, “Thus [Jesus] declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19; ESV). You can have a pig roast thanks to this sentence. You can also now enjoy shrimp and lobster. Germans can eat all the Blutwurst (blood sausage) they want. The reason is that you are New Testament people. The dietary laws God gave His Old Testament people to set them apart from the pagan nations do not apply to you. God is good. Eat up. But there is a more important point Jesus makes to us this morning: It is not what goes into the body through the mouth that makes a person unclean. Sin doesn’t come from the outside. Food is not the problem. Sin comes from the inside, from your very heart. And that is hard for us to hear.

The popular preaching of our culture may be summed up in these words: “Follow your heart,” or “Be true to yourself.” This is the message of America’s favorite priestess, Oprah. This is the thesis of most self-help books. This is the lesson to be learned from almost everything that comes out of Hollywood. It’s a stock phrase at graduation ceremonies. Follow your heart. How striking is the difference between the message we hear from our culture and the preaching of Jesus Christ. According to the preaching of Jesus Christ, if you follow your heart, your heart will lead you straight to hell. Evil comes from inside you, from your heart, from the very depths of your soul. Jesus doesn’t leave much breathing room here: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (vv. 21-23).

Notice that the real problem here isn’t the actual sins that you do, as wicked as these things are. Of course you should repent of your actual sins, and every actual sin is damnable, but the real problem here is the heart from which these actual sins proceed. This is the doctrine of original sin. This is why every human being must, and finally will, confess of himself, “There is no good in me.” This is why we began the service with the words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” The heart is the problem. Don’t follow your heart. There is no salvation in your heart. There is no righteousness in your heart. Don’t look to your heart to guide you. Your heart is what defiles you. Your heart is what’s wrong with you. The Church is full of heart patients. Original sin is the heart disease that afflicts every human being who has ever lived, with the exception of Jesus Christ. And it will eventually kill every one of us. Sinners have not been able to devise a cure. It’s not for lack of trying. How many Christian churches preach that you must, by your own efforts, conquer the sinful flesh by resisting temptation and avoiding sin? Again, Oprah’s so-called gospel and that of our culture is one of self-salvation by tolerance parading as love. Beloved, you cannot save yourself by human effort, within or without. Your president cannot save you. Money cannot save you. The military cannot save you. No self-help book can save you. Your heart can’t save you, either, because your heart is the problem. Only Jesus Christ can save you. And He has.

The only cure for the heart disease, the soul sickness of original sin, is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, died for your sinful heart. He died to undo the sin of Adam and Eve that was passed down to every one of their children, to you and to me. He died for every evil thought. He died for all sexual immorality, for adultery, lust, fornication. He died for the theft of every thief. He died for the murder of every murderer. He died for the malice you hold for your neighbor in your black heart. He died for your covetousness and wickedness, your deceit and sensuality, your envy and slander, your pride and foolishness. Jesus died, though Himself without sin. He died on the cross of Calvary for your sin, in your place, the punishment you deserve, that your sin be forgiven and that you be restored to God as His own precious and beloved child. Jesus came to recreate us. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, the new head of the new creation. For He is risen from the dead, the firstborn of the new creation, victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and He will raise us.

Jesus begins His new creation in us through Baptism. That is where we are drowned in our old sinful flesh, our Old Adam as we call it, along with all sins and evil desires. That is where we are raised up for new life in Christ. The baptismal font is where we receive our heart transplant. Understand that when Jesus recreates you, He doesn’t start with the heart you already have and just scrub it clean. It is NOT the case that you, or any human being, are basically good, that you basically have a good heart that is just tarnished by sin. No, sin goes to the core of your heart. So you prayed in the Introit, and will pray again in the Offertory, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). The washing that goes on in Baptism is one in which God creates you anew in the image of His Son, Christ Jesus. And this re-creation continues as you live this earthly life in your Baptism, being absolved of your sins, hearing the Word, receiving nourishment from the Sacrament.

Whatever proceeds out of your heart condemns you. That which proceeds out of God’s heart is what saves you. And what proceeds out of God’s heart is nothing less than His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He gave into death for the life of the world. Jesus’ heart is clean, pure, perfect. And God’s gracious Word to us is that because Jesus stands in our place, so also His heart stands in for our hearts before God. God declares us righteous, not because of anything in us, but because Jesus, our substitute, is righteous. And then He makes us what He has declared us to be: righteous. He creates that new heart in us so that we love what God commands and desire to do it. We are never completely righteous in this earthly life, in this fallen flesh. But we know that God will complete this righteousness within us, this re-creation, in the resurrection.

So what we eat, or don’t eat for that matter, has nothing to do with our standing before God. That doesn’t mean we have the authority to change God’s Word, mind you. Jesus can make all foods clean, but if He hadn’t, we’d dare not pop another pork rind. God’s command in Deuteronomy has not changed: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it” (4:2). Just to be clear, He says it again through the pen of John in the book of Revelation in the New Testament: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). We don’t get to add things to God’s Word, making salvation dependent on the traditions of men, as we heard last week. But neither do we get to take away from it, discarding what we don’t like about God’s Word. This is what is so grievous about the actions of our brothers and sisters in the ELCA at their recent church-wide assembly, admittedly discarding the commandments of God because they consider the Word of God about human sexuality as recorded in the Scripture to be outdated, outmoded, and irrelevant. In case you haven’t heard, the ELCA declared last week that homosexuality is not a sin, and that openly practicing homosexuals may serve as ordained clergy. The ELCA delegates followed their hearts rather than the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not declared homosexual activity or desire clean. Far from it. We pray for our brothers and sisters in our cousin church body. We pray that they would repent. We pray that the faithful in the ELCA would stand their ground on the basis of the clear Word of God in spite of all persecution. We pray that this church body be called back to faithfulness. We pray that God would grant us His Spirit, that we may examine ourselves and repent of our own pride and arrogance in the LCMS, lest we, too, fall, perhaps into the same temptation. For this wickedness proceeds from our common human heart, the black fallen heart out of which proceeds every evil thought.

Likewise, Jesus died for all of us in all the blackness of our hearts. Jesus died for the members of the LCMS and the ELCA and all people. Jesus died for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Jesus died for all sinners. Jesus died to set us free from our bondage to sin. Jesus is risen and recreates our fallen hearts to beat with His righteousness. You aren’t saved by what you eat or don’t eat. You aren’t saved by your sincerity or good intentions. You aren’t saved by what is in your heart. Jesus Christ alone can save us. Jesus Christ alone can save His Church. So don’t follow your heart. Follow Him. Follow Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And here is the promise: Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Brinker/Baier Wedding

Wedding of Heath Christopher Brinker and Jennifer Delora Baier
August 29, 2009


Text: John 15:9-12

Heath, Jenni, Beloved in the Lord: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The word “love” as it is used in our language and culture is utterly meaningless. I can say, “I love my wife” with one breath, and with the very next declare my love for pepperoni pizza. Clearly the two are not the same. In our text this evening, however, Jesus gives meaning to love as Christians should understand it. It is the love of God the Father for the Son, a love that human beings cannot even begin to grasp outside of Christ. It is the love of our Lord Jesus Christ with which He loves us. God so loved the world, loved you and me and all people, in this manner: He gave His only-begotten Son, gave Him into the death of the cross, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Only in Christ, only united to Christ by faith, only baptized into Christ, can you make a beginning of such love in this fallen flesh. The great mystery of love as Jesus speaks of it is that fallen sinners, like you and me, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, begin to love one another with this love. Never perfectly in this life, mind you. We can’t. We’re fallen. We’re sinners. But as branches that grow from a vine, so Christians grow from Jesus Christ. Apart from the vine, we can do nothing. We cannot love apart from the vine. We can lust, which is always sinful. We can like and love for selfish ends. But only in Christ, connected to Him with His life giving Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood to nourish us, can we ever begin to love self-sacrificially, as Jesus loves us. And only that is real love. It is real because it does not originate in us. It is given by God, generated by the Spirit, who works in us to will and to work according to His good pleasure.

When you abide in Christ, and Christ abides in you, then you can love one another. Notice how this works in our text. Jesus bids His disciples to abide in His love. And it is on the basis of abiding in His love, abiding in the Lord Jesus Christ, that Jesus gives a new command that His disciples love one another. As I have loved you, says Jesus, so love one another. Love flows from God, through you, and to your neighbor. Love flows from God, through you, to your spouse. So it works in the Christian family. So it works in the Christian Church. So it works as Christians take that love into the world, confessing Christ in word and deed.

Heath and Jenni, you wish to establish a Christian family, a Christian home. You would not begin your marriage in the holy Church otherwise. This is to say that in your one flesh union, you wish to abide in Christ. How do you do that? Abide in His Word. Abide in His body and blood. Relish His Absolution. Remain in His bride, the Church, which He bought with His own blood. Receive His gifts. And His love will flow to you in abundance, to the overflowing, so that it flows through you in inexhaustible supply, to one another, to your children God-willing, to the neighbor. Our crucified and risen Lord takes great joy in you! In Him, your joy is made complete.

What sets Christian marriage, your marriage, apart from other marriages, is not the union of man and woman in and of itself. Civil weddings are just as much marriage before God as Church weddings. What sets Christian marriage, your marriage apart, is that it is sanctified now by the Word of God and by prayer. Your wedding is a confession of faith to all here present, and to many more who are not. It is a confession of the love of Christ, a cruciform love, the love that saves you and all the world, the love in which you both abide forever, and in which you will abide together as long as long as you both shall live, till death do you part. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Rev. President Gerald Kieschnick on the Recent ELCA Assembly

Statement of the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in response to certain actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

August 24, 2009

The two largest Lutheran church bodies in the United States are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with 4.8 million members and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) with 2.4 million members.

On Friday, Aug. 21, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to open the ministry of the ELCA to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in "committed relationships." In an earlier action, the assembly approved a resolution that commits the ELCA "to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has repeatedly affirmed as its own position the historical understanding of the Christian church that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as "intrinsically sinful." It is therefore contrary to the will of the Creator and constitutes sin against the commandments of God (Lev. 18:22, 24,20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim 1:9-10; and Rom. 1:26, 27).

Addressing the ELCA assembly on Saturday, Aug. 22, I responded to their aforementioned actions, stating: "The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2,000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God's revealed and infallible Word."

Doctrinal decisions adopted already in 2001 led the LCMS, in sincere humility and love, to declare that we could no longer consider the ELCA "to be an orthodox Lutheran church body" (2001 Res 3-21A). Sadly, the decisions of this past week to ignore biblical teaching on human sexuality have reinforced that conclusion. We respect the desire to follow conscience in moral decision making, but conscience may not overrule the Word of God.

We recognize that many brothers and sisters within the ELCA, both clergy and lay, are committed to remaining faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, are committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, and strongly oppose these actions. To them we offer our assurance of loving encouragement together with our willingness to provide appropriate support in their efforts to remain faithful to the Word of God and the historic teachings of the Lutheran church and all other Christian churches for the past 2,000 years.

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

"Transforming lives through Christ's love ... in time ... for eternity ..." John 3:16-17


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 16)
August 23, 2009
Text: Mark 7:1-13

“Wash your hands before you eat,” every good mother reminds her children. Sorry kids, this is not what Jesus rebukes in the Gospel lesson. In fact, to wash or not to wash is not the question here. If anything, in commending the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Mark 7:10; ESV), Jesus commands children to do as Mommy says. If Mom said, however, that you need to wash your hands before supper if you have any hope to be saved, or to merit righteousness before God, then Jesus would condemn Mom as a false teacher, teaching as commandments of God the traditions of men. And that’s the issue in our text. The Pharisees were teaching as commandments of God what were merely the traditions of men. And they taught that one merited righteousness before God by observing such traditions. They taught that these traditions should be observed for salvation. And such teaching is the very teaching of the devil himself, a lie that assaults the one true faith that we are saved by Jesus’ blood and righteousness alone.

Tradition is not bad, any more than hand washing is bad. As a matter of fact, tradition can be a very good thing. We love the family traditions we observe on Thanksgiving or Christmas or the other holidays. My wife has a tradition of making the family a special breakfast every Monday morning, and I’m sure my children will treasure this tradition and probably try to integrate it in one form or another in their own families someday. Every sport has traditions… baseball in particular, which is why I enjoy watching baseball the most. Cultural traditions give the individuals within them a sense of identity. Such traditions can also inspire patriotism and loyalty to one’s country. Thus we sing the national anthem and recite the pledge of allegiance. We have traditions in this congregation, like giving Bibles to our fourth graders, as we’ll do in a couple of weeks. And the Church-catholic has traditions, and of course, the art with the traditions of the Church is to determine which are simply the traditions of men and which come from God’s Word. But even the traditions of men can be fine traditions, worth retaining because they serve the Gospel, even if they are not commanded by God.

The issue, again, is teaching the traditions of men as if they were the commandments of God. The Pharisees taught the traditions of the elders, in this case the washing of hands and cups and pots and vessels and even the furniture, as if such were the commandment of God, necessary for righteousness and salvation. I hope you wash your hands. I hope you wash your dishes. I even hope you vacuum underneath your couch cushions from time to time. And believe me, I wash my hands religiously after everyone comes through the greeting line after church, especially during cold and flue season. You might say it’s a tradition I have. But such washing does not make you or me any more or any less righteous before God or worthy of salvation. Jesus’ substitutionary righteousness alone counts as our righteousness before God, and His blood and death alone is the payment for our sins.

The sixteenth century Reformation was largely a debate about this. The central question was whether one was saved by faith alone without works, or whether one was saved by faith and works. Luther rightly and biblically maintained that even when the works are commanded by God, we are not saved by performing them, indeed, we cannot perform them, at least not perfectly. We’re saved by Christ alone, by grace alone, and this salvation is given to us by faith alone, without works. The works come after salvation, after faith, as a result, not as a cause. But the Roman church maintained that one is saved by faith and works. And not only did Rome insist that one had to do the works commanded by God in Scripture to be saved, Rome insisted on many works that were not commanded in Scripture, declaring them to be meritorious before God. A good example of this is monasticism, i.e. monks and nuns. Now, monasteries aren’t bad in and of themselves, especially as originally intended as “schools of theology and other branches of learning, producing pastors and bishops for the benefit of the Church.”[1] The problem was that a pernicious false doctrine developed around these monasteries, that by becoming a monk or a nun one did a higher and holier work than the common people, meriting grace and righteousness and achieving a state of perfection before God. This is a damnable doctrine of the devil, an anti-Gospel doctrine of salvation by works. Here what could have been a very good tradition of men in service to the Gospel of Christ became rather an abominable false teaching, because this tradition of men was taught as the commandment of God. God preserve us from all such false teaching! Over-against this the Lutherans confessed, “Every service of God, established and chosen by people to merit justification and grace, without God’s commandment, is wicked. For Christ says… ‘In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought in self-chosen practices and acts of worship, devised by people. Righteousness comes by faith to those who believe that they are received by God into grace for Christ’s sake.”[2]

Of course, we should follow the commandments of God, not to merit righteousness or grace, but because Christ has already given us His righteousness and grace. But here we must make a distinction between what is a commandment of God and what is a tradition of men. Whatever God commands us in His holy Word we should believe and do. We should honor our fathers and our mothers, because God says so. We should lead sexually pure and decent lives in what we say and do, because God says so. We should give of our time and our talents and our treasures for the work of the Church and for the benefit of our neighbor, because God says so. These are non-negotiable. This is the way God would have His people live, and this is what love for the neighbor demands. But things neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture are free. The technical, theological term is adiaphora. We’re neither commanded nor forbidden by God to meet for worship on Sundays, for example. We could meet on a different day, at a different time, even though meeting on Sunday is a good tradition of the Church that serves the Gospel, and even has theological meaning as the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. We’re free to pick a different day to worship, but we are commanded to worship. There are many different church buildings with different styles of architecture, because church architecture is a free thing, neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. But we are commanded to meet together somewhere for worship. And even though our salvation doesn’t depend on it, of course we want our worship space to have meaning and substance, to serve the Gospel, even to proclaim the Gospel by the deliberate placement of its furnishings and art, and even the shape of the building itself, because we recognize that the traditions of men can be used rightly and wisely, for the sake of the Gospel. We could come up with many more examples of this. The proclamation of the Gospel and love for our neighbor should always determine our use of tradition and our approach to matters of adiaphora.

It always happens that when we talk about traditions and adiaphora in the Church, we inevitably are led to ask questions about the Church’s liturgy. We even call it traditional worship, because it embraces the traditions of the Church’s divine service. We are very traditional. If you’ve ever visited a Roman Catholic church, you may have noticed our worship services are very similar to theirs. That is because from the very outset, the Lutheran reformers insisted we should retain all that is good about the medieval Roman church. We just needed to get rid of what was bad, like worshiping the saints and thinking of the mass as a sacrifice we perform to appease God. Otherwise, we retain whatever we can, because it is a beautiful and substantial setting for the proclamation of the Gospel and the reception of the Holy Supper, and unites us to Christians across the generations, across the ages, across the world who sing the same liturgy. But isn’t this an example of a tradition of men taught as a commandment of God? No. There is freedom here. Look in the opening pages of Lutheran Service Book and you’ll find no less than five different settings of the Divine Service. And we recognize this is not exhaustive. And then in addition to the Divine Service, notice all the prayer offices included in our hymnal, again, not exhaustive. There is great freedom here. But notice something else… In fact, I have a little challenge for you. Open up your hymnal at home sometime this week and look at the liturgy and see if you can find anything that isn’t either a direct quote of Scripture or based on the Holy Scriptures. Far from teaching the traditions of men as the commandments of God, the historic liturgy of the Church is about placing the very Word of God on your lips. Here is the liturgical pattern: God speaks. We listen. And then we say back to God what He has first said to us. The liturgy is not primarily about our praises and worship but about God’s gifts to us. Praise and worship come after. We’re mostly passive in the liturgy. We just receive. And when we do actively participate, we’re still receiving, and we’re just repeating what we’ve first received. It would be wrong to speak of the liturgy as a commandment of God. We ought rather to speak of the liturgy as His gift.

For it gives us His saving Word, the Word about Jesus Christ, the Word that is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, crucified for our sins, raised for our justification. Not only can you NOT be saved by obeying the traditions of men, you can’t even be saved by obeying the commandments of God. Because you can’t obey them. Even if you obey them outwardly, inwardly your heart is full of sin. But thanks be to God, Jesus has fulfilled the commandments of God for us. He perfectly honored His parents, His mother Mary and step-father Joseph, as well as His heavenly Father, in our place, so that His fulfilling of the Fourth Commandment counts for us! He perfectly fulfilled all the commandments in our place, so that His righteousness counts as our righteousness. And then He suffered and died in our place, for our guilt, for the forgiveness of our sins. God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. He proved it by raising Christ Jesus from the dead. Our risen and living Savior now enlivens us through His Word and Sacrament. He breathes into us His Holy Spirit. He sanctifies us, makes us holy, so that we want to do the commandments of God. And He gives us His freedom. We don’t do the works of God OR the traditions of men to be saved. We’re saved already by Christ. We do them only for the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor. God grant us always to believe rightly, to remain steadfast in His Holy Word, and to do according to His will. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC XXVII:15 (McCain, p. 54).
[2] AC XXVII:36-37 (McCain, p. 56).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching as Doctrines the Commandments of Men

A helpful quote from the Augsburg Confession for this Sunday's Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1-13, 3 yr. series B):

"Every service of God, established and chosen by people to merit justification and grace, without God's commandment, is wicked. For Christ says in Matthew 15:9, 'In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought in self-chosen practices and acts of worship, devised by people. Righteousness comes by faith to those who believe that they are received by God into grace for Christ's sake."

-- AC XXVI:36-37, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul Timothy McCain, et al. Eds (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005, 2006) p. 56.

Healing by the Wounds

A line that stuck with me from the Treasury meditation a few days ago...

"You, most faithful God, perform the duties of a faithful and skillful doctor in healing the mortal wounds of my soul. You heal them by the wounds of Your Son."

-- Johann Gerhard, quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) p. 631.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 15)
August 16, 2009
Text: John 6:51-69

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Ps. 111:10; ESV). So we sang with the Psalmist in the Introit. Do you want to be wise? Wise, not in human eyes, but wise in truth? True wisdom begins with fearing the Lord. That is to say, it begins with revering Him, honoring Him, worshiping Him, and believing Him. To be wise is to trust the Lord in everything. It is to trust Him in all circumstances and in every situation. It is to trust that He has created you and redeemed you, that He loves you with an everlasting love, that He knows what is best for you, and that He commands you and intervenes in your life accordingly. To be wise is to trust everything that the Lord says. To be wise is to trust everything that the Lord says, to believe it is true, even in spite of all your own human reason, emotions, and sensibilities. Even when what the Lord says is unbelievable (and remember, last week we learned that the natural man, the old sinful flesh, is incapable of believing or receiving the things of God until the Holy Spirit transforms him), even then, wisdom believes God above reason, the senses, the emotions. Because God’s Word is perfect. It cannot be broken. And it is performative. When God speaks, it is accomplished. He never speaks an idle word. When He says something is, it is!

Last week we heard the Jews grumbling because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). Jesus was declaring Himself to be God, the great I AM, YHWH, Himself. Now He ups the ante even more. This morning He not only says that He is God, He says that He is God in the flesh. And, are you ready for this? He tells us that if we are to have life in us, the life of God, eternal and abundant life, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Beloved, human nature cannot accept this. This is unreasonable. This is beyond all sensibility. This is not the meek and mild, Precious Moments Jesus who appeals to the emotions of our fallen flesh. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe this Word of Jesus. The Holy Spirit must give us true wisdom to believe this. For true wisdom only comes from God. Fear of the Lord only comes from God. Faith in God, and in His Word, and in His Son Jesus Christ, comes, as a gift, from God alone.

“How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). The Jews ask a perfectly natural question. It is a fallen question, but it comes naturally to every one of us. To this day, many Christians cannot accept what Jesus here says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 53-54). This is unreasonable, and so even many Christians, Christians with whom we will spend an eternity in heaven, nonetheless let their reason trump the Word of Christ on this point. Reason cannot believe this, therefore our brothers and sisters in Christ theologize and philosophize their way out of what Jesus here says, and so they deny that we do, in fact, truly eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, with our mouths. You know where we do this. In the Lord’s Supper. Christians who deny that Christ’s body and blood are really present, under the bread and wine, in the Lord’s Supper, received in the mouth of the communicant, do not make this denial because they are convinced by the Scriptures, but because of human reason. Here is the argument of the forefathers of the Reformed: Jesus has a human body. A human body can only be in one place at one time. Jesus ascended into heaven, bodily. Therefore He cannot be bodily present at every Christian altar every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. This is pure human reason, beloved. It is very reasonable, but it is not Scriptural. On the basis of this reason, Ulrich Zwingli said the Sacrament was merely a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. John Calvin was a little more theologically refined. He said we really receive Jesus in the Sacrament, but only by faith, by stretching our faith up to heaven, where Jesus is, to receive Him there. But none of this is biblical. How can this man give us His flesh to eat? He can because He’s Jesus. And you can say things about Jesus you can’t say about any other human being, because He is not only human, but also God. Jesus can give us His flesh to eat because He’s God, and He says so. His Word cannot be broken.

When our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar in the upper room with His disciples, the night He was betrayed, He took bread and gave thanks and broke it and gave it to His disciples. And when He did this He said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Well, is it, or isn’t it? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom believes what our Lord says. When our Lord Jesus took the cup after He had supped, He gave thanks and gave it to His disciples. And when He did this He said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 27-28). Well, is it, or isn’t it? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom believes what the Lord says. Remember, God’s Word is never idle. It is always performative. When God says something is, it is. When God says, “Let there be light,” there is light (Gen. 1:3). When Jesus, who is God in the flesh, says to a very dead, stinking corpse named Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” the man comes out, risen, living, breathing, walking, talking (John 11:43-44). When Jesus says through the called and ordained servant of the Word in this place, “I forgive you all your sins,” all your sins are forgiven, for He said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and it was, indeed, finished, once and for all time, the very atonement for the sins of the world. When Jesus says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” it is His body, it is His blood. Let not reason contradict Him. It is neither right nor safe to doubt Jesus. In fact, it is foolish, as opposed to wise. True wisdom takes Jesus at His Word beyond all doubt, every time.

And this is important because it is a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins. Why do you come to the Lord’s Supper? Why do you need to receive Jesus’ body and blood under the lowly forms of bread and wine? Why should you do this often? Because Jesus says this is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the Lord’s Supper, your sins are forgiven. Your faith is strengthened. Jesus says, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:55-56). When you commune, you abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in you. As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine. The very death of Christ is placed upon your lips, the very body pierced for your transgressions is received in your mouth, the very blood poured out for your salvation flows down your throat. All other food that you eat becomes a part of you, is transformed into you. This food makes you a part of it, a part of Jesus, transforms you, giving you the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The life is in the blood, God says to His people in the Old Testament. Concerning the sacrifices made by the priest, God says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev. 17:11). Your life is in Jesus’ blood. Jesus has been sacrificed on the altar of the cross to make atonement for your life. The Israelites were to eat the meat of the sacrifices, but not to drink the blood, for the life is in the blood. But in this respect the sacrifice of Jesus is different. Those Old Testament sacrifices only point to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54; emphasis added). You come to the Lord’s Supper to have your sins forgiven, to receive His salvation, that you may live in the very life of Jesus Christ.

Talking this way about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood offends the sensibilities. “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (v. 60). “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v. 66). The idea of a flesh and blood Jesus giving of Himself for His people to eat and to drink was too much for them. They might have accepted the “Bread of Life” part, being metaphorical or symbolical language, but Jesus leaves no room for metaphor or symbol here: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (v. 55). Jesus isn’t a very good church-growther. He offends the people with His difficult sermon. Everybody leaves Him. Except the Twelve. Why do they stay? Jesus even asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” (v. 67). Peter answers on behalf of the group. He answers on behalf of the whole Church of God, all who believe in Jesus Christ and trust His Word. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is born of the Word. God gives the wisdom to believe this. It is not wisdom in the eyes of the world. The world flees Jesus when His Word gets too hard. This is the wisdom of God. This is the wisdom of faith. Lord, to whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. And His Word is performative. If He says you have eternal life, you have eternal life. And He does say so. “Whoever feeds on this bread,” He says, pointing to His body, whoever feeds on this bread (pointing to the altar), “will live forever” (v. 58). Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Walther on John 6:37

Jesus "testified that He receives without exception all sinners who come to Him in whatever condition they happen to be. These include young sinners and old sinners, coarse sinners and fine sinners, sinners not already converted and sinners who have converted but fell away, honorable sinners and infamous sinners, sinners He knows will remain with Him and sinners He knows will sooner or later fall away from Him. Jesus receives all sinners, wherever they may be and at whatever time they come to Him, whether it is in the blossom of their life or the hour of their death."

-- C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It: Daily Devotions, Gerhard P. Grabenhofer, Trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 523.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Tree of Life

"The quest for the wonder drug that cures every disease, or the wonder diet that prevents cancer, heart disease, or the wonder food that doesn’t make us fat, is really nothing else than the search for the Tree of Life from which we may eat and live forever... Now the tree of life is the tree of the cross, whose fruits are the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Eat of this food and you will live."

-- The Rev. William Cwirla, The Sermonator Archive at Rev. Cwirla's Blogosphere, <>.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 14)
August 9, 2009
Text: John 6:35-51

In our Gospel lesson this morning, the Jews suddenly change their tune in their attitude toward Jesus. Remember, these same Jews followed our Lord across the Lake with the taste of the miraculously multiplied loaves and fishes still on their tongues. Last week, when we began our consideration of this account, we heard them say of the Living Bread Jesus promised, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34; ESV). Now we see them grumbling about Jesus. What is it that so offends them? John tells us it is “because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (v. 41). What’s so offensive about that? Listen to the statement with Jewish ears, if you can. Jesus says, “I AM.” Jesus points to Himself and says “YHWH.” “I AM the One who came down from heaven. I AM God in the flesh. I AM the bread broken for the life of the world.” To the Jews, this is blasphemy. God cannot be a man! Or so the Jews think. The Jews do not even speak the Name of God, YHWH, much less ascribe it to a human being. Who is this Jesus? Who does He think He is, anyway? We know His mom and dad! We know where this kid’s from! And so begins the fall into rank unbelief, unbelief that is hostile against Jesus. “I AM,” says Jesus. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Jesus makes demands on His hearers. He demands to be believed. He demands to be believed despite all your piety. He demands to be believed despite your logic. He demands to be believed despite how you feel about what He says. He demands your very self, the loss of your very self in Jesus, YHWH, God in the flesh, that you might find yourself, renewed and made whole in Him.

We shouldn’t be so hard on the Jews for grumbling against Jesus, because you and I are in the same boat. We are of the same corrupt, sinful flesh. We are descended from the same sinful parents, Adam and Eve. We’ve inherited the same original sin. And so we are born in hostility to God. We are born, as we learn in Catechism class, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. This is to say that we have no free will in spiritual matters. We have free will to decide what shirt we’ll put on in the morning, what we’ll eat for breakfast, where we’ll go, and what we’ll do, but we have no free will to make any sort of decision for Jesus. St. Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). We are, in fact, born in the spiritual possession of the devil. That doesn’t sound very nice, does it? Precious little babies born in the spiritual possession of the devil? But the truth hurts. Babies have no ability to make their decision for Jesus, and by the way, you don’t either. Because we’re bound. That’s why we baptize babies. That’s also why we baptize adults. Because in Baptism, God rescues you from your bondage. Outside of Christ, you’re bound! Did you know that? You are in bondage. You are in bondage to sin. You cannot help but sin. You are in bondage to death. You are born spiritually dead. Unless the Lord returns first, you will die physically, and unless the Holy Spirit brings you to faith, you will die eternally in hell. And you are in bondage to the devil. Fresh meat! You cannot resist him outside of Christ, and outside of Christ, you will finally be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his evil angels.

But in Baptism, God drowns your old sinful nature, the nature that is bound, along with all its sins and evil desires, and raises you to new life in Christ. In Baptism, God unites you to Christ, unites you to His death and resurrection, unites you to His righteousness so that it counts as your own. And in Baptism, God gives you His Holy Spirit, gives you faith in Christ as a gift, that you might be saved. “Baptism… now saves you,” writes St. Peter (1 Peter 3:21). God makes you His own child, that you might receive the Bread of Life come down from heaven that is His Son, Jesus Christ.

You cannot make your decision for Jesus. The Father must draw you to Him. You don’t make your decision for Jesus. He makes His decision for you! Thus it is all by grace! The Father has given His Son for the life of the world. The Father has given His Son into death on the cross to pay for your sins, the whole debt you owe to God for your transgressions. The Father has given His Son to do for you what you could not do, namely, fulfill the Law and pay the penalty of your iniquity. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses all sin! And God has raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand where He ever lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. But make no mistake, this is an offense to our Old Adam, our old sinful flesh! God dies! That’s even more offensive than that God becomes flesh! God can’t die, can He? Only in Christ. It had to be so. Our Savior had to be both God and man, inseparably united in one person, to make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

The Father draws you to this Jesus, God and man, your Savior. He draws you because He has chosen you. This is the doctrine of election, that God chose you in Christ Jesus before the very foundation of the world. Jesus speaks of you when He says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (v. 39). God has not only provided for your salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ, but He has provided for your preservation in the faith by continually drawing you to Christ. Christ keeps you in that one true faith. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 44). How does the Father draw you? By His Spirit, through His Word, by whom and by which He also preserves you in the faith. This is what Jesus means when He says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (v. 45). Those who learn the Word of God learn directly from God, and thus come to Jesus. You learn the Word of God. You learn from the Father. You learn of Jesus Christ His Son. So come to church, hear the sermon, come to Bible class and Sunday School, read your Bibles, do family devotions every day. Because in any and every contact you have with the Word of God, the Father is teaching you, and so drawing you to Jesus. And so also, Jesus, who alone has seen the Father, is revealing Him to you as the gracious God who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. After all, what is the promise for the one chosen by God, drawn by the Father, given to Jesus? “I will raise him up on the last day.” As death could not hold Jesus Christ, into whom you have been baptized, death will not be able to hold you! By drawing you to Jesus, by uniting you to Christ, God gives you the sure and certain hope of eternal life: not only that your soul goes to heaven when you die, but that your body, made perfect in the image of the risen Christ, will be raised from the grave.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. Eat of this Bread, and you will never die. Wow! What a spectacular promise. And God swears by Himself that it’s true. If you doubt it, just look at Jesus on the cross, dead, and then listen to Him in His Word. Having died, He speaks! He’s alive! He’s risen, just as He said. He’s the Bread! He’s the One who, if you eat Him, you’ll live forever! The Hebrews ate another bread from heaven, the manna from God, and they still died. The Jews in our text ate the miraculously multiplied loaves broken by the hands of Jesus, and they still died. But if you eat this Bread, Jesus Christ, broken for the life of the world, you will live forever. Oh, you still will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death unless Jesus returns first. You’ll still have to physically die. But Christ is risen! So you know that grave can’t hold you. And you know what physical death is: just the temporary separation of your soul from your body. You’ll go on living, in heaven, with Jesus, while your body sleeps. And then Jesus will reunite you with your body in the resurrection of all flesh.

So how do you eat this Bread? How do you eat Jesus? You certainly partake of this Bread in the Word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). But the answer to how you eat the Bread that is Jesus’ flesh, given for the life of the world, is hopefully obvious to Lutherans. You eat this Bread in the Lord’s Supper, the bread that is His body, the wine that is His blood, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins. And that leads us to next week’s meditation on John chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). Talk about something the sinful flesh can’t swallow. Jesus’ audience couldn’t believe it! As we’ll see, even many of Jesus’ disciples at this point throw up their hands. This is a hard saying, they say. And they leave Him. Only God can give the faith that believes Jesus gives His flesh for us to eat, and His blood for us to drink. It is beyond all human reason. It is an article of faith, not sight. And so next week we will consider this mystery in depth. But the Lord does not withhold this banquet from us this morning. Come, dear Christians, and feast on the Bread of Life. Jesus Himself bids you. Jesus Himself invites you to His own Table. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Preaching Justification Means Preaching the Cross

Writing of the assault on the doctrine of justification by which justification is separated from the atonement of Christ, Robert Preus writes:

"And we need not look just to Unitarianism or Rome to find this tendency today; it is right within the bosom of Lutheranism wherever pastors think they are preaching the Gospel when they expound the great themes of regeneration, faith, peace with God, yes, even forgiveness of sins, and neglect to mention the work of Christ, His once-and-for-all active and passive obedience, and to proclaim that that and that alone is not only the basis, but the very essence of our righteousness before God and our eternal salvation."

-- Robert D. Preus, Doctrine is Life: Essays on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions, Klemet I. Preus, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006).

The Power and Sufficiency of God's Word

"God's Word needs not the embellishment of human arts. It is not a thing that must be preached with human aids 'to make it go,' but it is the eternal truth, a two-edged sword, powerful, living, and life-giving. It has the power to enlighten the sin-darkened mind of natural man, to break down all stubborn opposition of man's natural heart, causing it to see Jesus as the only Savior from sin."

-- Louis Wessel, Sermons and Addresses on Fundamentals (St. Louis: Concordia, 1918) p. 22.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

W. H. T. Dau on the Preaching Office

"But what matchless authority is that of a human being who can come before his fellows and assert truthfully: 'Thus saith the Lord'; 'the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him!' Hab. 2, 20. The consciousness of the grandeur of his delegated authority must, on the one hand, lift the preacher above the acclaim and admiration of the multitude: no man can honor him more signally than his Lord and Master has already honored him. On the other hand, it must elevate him above the sneers and frowns of an angry world to a position of sublime unconcern. What is the wrath of the rabble, the sarcasm of the wise, the scorn of the Caesars, the thunder of Antichrist, and the fury of hell to the good and faithful servant to whom his master says: Well done? Matt. 25, 23. If his authority is second-hand and circumscribed, his responsibility, too, is limited. He has delivered his message: that is sufficient. The message will take care of itself, and the Lord will take care of His messenger."

-- W. H. T. Dau, from his introduction to Louis Wessel's Sermons and Addresses on Fundamentals (St. Louis: Concordia, 1918) p. VI.

Who Should Commune?

Pastor’s Window for August 2009
Closed Communion: Who Should Commune?

Beloved in the Lord,

This article is the third in a series on closed communion. The first article was “Closed Communion: What is It?” where we defined closed communion. Closed communion is the practice of admitting to the Lord’s Supper only those who have been instructed in Lutheran doctrine 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 second article was “Closed Communion: Why We Practice It,” where we reviewed the rationale for this ancient practice, namely, love for the neighbor. In these articles, we learned that not everyone should receive the Lord’s Supper with us. Non-Christians and the unbaptized should not commune. Members of churches that are not in fellowship with us should not commune. Those who cannot examine themselves or who have not been instructed should not commune. The unrepentant should not commune.

So who should commune, or as Luther asks in the Small Catechism, “Who receives this sacrament worthily?” Luther answers: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).

The Lord’s Supper is for sinners who repent of their sins and believe Christ’s promise of the forgiveness of sins in His true body and blood that He gives to us under the bread and wine (cf. Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). If you’ve ever felt unworthy to come to the Lord’s Supper, you’re right! You have no merit or worthiness in yourself. Your worthiness is Christ Himself. He alone is worthy. He gives you His worthiness. You receive it by faith. Ironically, it is only those who know their great unworthiness, and who trust in the worthiness and righteousness of Christ alone, who are, in fact, worthy to come to the Supper. Lutherans do not believe they are more worthy to receive the Supper than other Christians. Those who believe they are worthy in themselves should not come! The Supper is for sinners. The Supper is for the repentant. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17; ESV).

But concretely speaking, who should commune at Epiphany? Those who commune at our altar should:
1. Be baptized. Under no circumstances should an unbaptized person commune.
2. Be repentant, sorry for their sins, trust in Christ for forgiveness, and desire to amend their sinful life. This also requires the ability to examine oneself (1 Cor. 11:28). Private confession and absolution is one method of such examination.
3. Believe the promises of Christ, that when He says “This is my body,” it is His body, and when He says “This is my blood,” it is His blood, and that He gives these to us “for the forgiveness of sins,” as He says.
4. Be instructed in the basics of Christian doctrine (through Catechism class or adult instruction) and confess agreement with the biblical doctrine confessed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
5. Belong to a congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, not because one needs to be a card-carrying member of the club, but because church fellowship matters. Christians who cannot belong to the same denomination due to doctrinal differences should not commune together as if those differences did not exist. We are not talking about minor differences, but the very Word of God.

Closed communion is not easy, pretty, or fun. But it is the ancient practice of the Christian Church, and you may be surprised to know it is the official practice of the majority of Christians in the world (including confessional Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others). Hopefully this series has been a good review for you and helpful in understanding why we practice closed communion. In heaven, and in the resurrection, thanks be to God our sad and sinful divisions will cease. Christ will finally deliver us. Until then, as long as sin leads to false doctrine and divisions within Christendom, we must tirelessly confess the biblical truth and work toward Christian unity. And we need strength along the way. Therefore we rejoice in the gifts of Christ, particularly the forgiveness, new life, and strength that He gives us in His true body and blood in the Supper.

Pastor Krenz

The End of Reason

A parishioner recently gave me a copy of The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists, by Ravi Zacharias (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). I read it yesterday afternoon. The book is really a response, in letter form, to new atheist Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006). Zacharias’ book is an easy read, (mostly) clear and concise, and basically an accessible summary of the classic arguments of Christian apologetics over-against atheism. There is nothing profoundly new in this book, though Zacharias does make some well-reasoned, articulate arguments that make this book worth a read.

Essentially, Zacharias argues that without God, one cannot explain the origin of either matter or life. Life, having come about by accidental chemical reaction, is purely mechanical without God, and therefore has no inherent meaning. So also, morality, without God, has no objective standard by which to be measured. Rather, one must become his or her own moral lawgiver, and the basis of his or her morality will be purely subjective. Finally, without God, there is no basis for hope. In the end, there is only death and oblivion. So we suffer in this world and have nothing to look forward to save the end of the mechanical process that brought us to consciousness. There is, finally, no justice, no deliverance, no salvation, only an eternity of non-being.

Zacharias is certainly not a Lutheran, but clearly comes from the Evangelical camp. He seems to be open to some form of theistic evolution (this observation coming from one who otherwise knows little about Ravi Zacharias, but read p. 37), even though his arguments clearly support special creation. But my biggest criticism is that Christ is incidental to Zacharias’ argument. The book is neither Christ-centered nor cross-focused, to borrow a phrase from our friends at Issues, Etc. While the problem of pain is a sub-theme throughout the book, nowhere is there any proclamation of Christ as the God who becomes one with us in our pain by taking on our flesh, taking our pain into Himself, dying for the sin that causes all pain, thus restoring us and healing us. In other words, the theology of the cross is missing. The closest Zacharias comes is a conversation he recounts with a co-founder of Hamas on p. 126, where he mentions Jesus’ death as God’s gift, but fails to mention why that gift is important. In answer to the problem of pain, he skips over Jesus’ suffering and death directly to the resurrection. And, of course, the resurrection is the answer, but only after Good Friday.

Be that as it may, however, here are a couple of interesting quotes:

Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning… We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pressed incessantly, we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed” (p. 40).

In response to Harris’ charge that God is no better than a murderer, since He takes life and allows evil: “There is one fundamental difference between God allowing a death to take place and me taking another life: God has the power to restore life; I don’t” (p. 66).

Finally: “And be careful not to judge a philosophy by its abuse. The difference between someone who calls himself or herself a Christian and yet kills and slaughters and an atheist who does the same thing is that the Christian is acting in violation of his or her own belief, while the atheist’s action is the legitimate outworking of his or her belief” (p. 68).

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 13)
August 2, 2009
Text: John 6:22-35

To set the stage for this morning’s Gospel lesson, we continue to witness the fallout from the miraculous feeding of the five thousand we heard about two weeks ago. Five loaves, two fishes, 5,000 men eat their fill not counting women and children, and the apostles collect twelve baskets full of leftovers. Last week we heard that Jesus then sent the Twelve ahead of Him in the boat while He dismissed the crowd. The disciples didn’t have an easy time of it, however, for the wind was against them. Jesus comes to them walking on the water! They think it’s a ghost. Men don’t walk on the sea. But this man is God in the flesh. Jesus steps into the boat and the wind ceases. “Take heart,” He says. “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50; ESV). Only a man who is also God could so multiply the loaves and fishes and walk on water and calm the storm and chase away fear with His Word.

The crowd saw that there was only one boat, and they saw the disciples leave in it. They also saw that Jesus stayed behind to dismiss them. But where is He now? They decide to mount a search. Other boats come and the crowd boards. It’s off to Capernaum to search for Jesus. But why are they searching? St. John tells us in his account of the feeding of the 5,000: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15). The people were looking for Jesus because they wanted bread! They wanted prosperity! They wanted Jesus as king, and they were going to make Him king whether He wanted it or not. The long and the short of it is, the crowd was not seeking Jesus because they wanted Him as their Savior from sin. They were seeking Jesus because they wanted full bellies.

What about the masses today? What about the world? Is there any sense in which the world seeks Jesus? Perhaps as a moral compass? Perhaps as a worker of miracles? Perhaps as one who can fill their bellies and fulfill their desires? And what about even many Christians? What about you and me? Is it not true that often we seek Jesus for the same reason the crowd sought Him; for the same reason the world still seeks Him? We need bread. Jesus does miracles. Jesus can give it. And He’s a nice guy, so He will give it. Think about it for just a moment. It’s not as silly as it sounds at first. One of the biggest reasons people are attracted to religion is their perceived need for a god who provides. There is this perceived need for a power outside of us that can assure us that everything will be alright, and that can then deliver the goods: the bread, the riches, the health, the prosperity. Granted, this is a very self-centered religion. It’s all about me and my wants and my needs. But that’s where the moral compass comes in: the nice guy, Jesus, teaches us to be nice guys and gals as well. And my point is that things aren’t all that different now, and in this place, than they were in the time and place described in the Gospel lesson. Everyone is chasing after some sort of god, or gods, and many call their god “Jesus”. But even those who call their god “Jesus” are chasing after him for all the wrong reasons. They have totally misunderstood who Jesus is and what He is here to do. And we must count ourselves among that number. We often misunderstand Him, too. It comes naturally to our flesh to misunderstand Him. If you want Jesus simply to be some sort of moral compass, to teach you the difference between right and wrong, to teach you to be nice, then you have rejected Him as your Savior from sin, your substitute on the cross. If you’re just looking for miracles, you betray yourself as one among this adulterous and sinful generation that seeks after a sign. The only sign that will be given you is the sign of Jonah, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This should be enough for you. If you seek Jesus because of the loaves… that is, if you seek Jesus because He can give you the bread that perishes, but you do not seek the bread that endures to eternal life, the Bread of Life Himself, Jesus Christ the Savior, then you also are numbered among the crowd. If you seek Jesus because you think that this will bribe God into giving you what you want and need, you are seeking Him for the same selfish reasons the world seeks Him, or rather, creates their own designer Jesus. Repent, beloved.

Of course, Jesus does provide us with daily bread for our bodies, and we should pray for daily bread. It was not sinful or wrong for the crowd to ask daily bread of Jesus. It was sinful and wrong for the crowd to seek Jesus only for the bread that fills the body and perishes, to the exclusion of the living bread Jesus gives to all who ask Him. That Jesus wants us to pray for daily bread for our bodies is evident from the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” “What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”[1] What does this daily bread include? “What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Jesus commands and invites us to ask for daily bread, and God promises that He will hear our prayer on account of Jesus, on account of the reconciliation Jesus has won for us with the Father, on account of Jesus’ righteousness, and His innocent suffering and death on our behalf, the full payment for our sins. And God is so gracious, that He even promises that He will give daily bread to all evil people, those who do not pray for it, those who do not believe. “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16). His provision is a call to unbelievers to repent and come to faith in the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), who sends not only sunshine and rain, not only successful crops and farmers to tend them, not only Spartan store workers and paychecks to purchase their wares, but who more importantly, most importantly, sent His Son to redeem us.

We do need to understand a couple of things about this daily bread. God does not promise us everything we want. God does not promise us everything we think we need. God does not promise us a life of ease. God does not promise us success in the misguided eyes of the world, or even in the misguided eyes of our flesh. God does not promise us perfect health. God does not promise us great wealth. God does not promise us prosperity as defined by the world. God promises that He will give us what we really need. And He alone is qualified to determine what that need is. Maybe that need is a cross. Sometimes God provides our daily bread, ironically, by giving us less of it. He often gives us less to lead us to despair of ourselves and our own talents, abilities, and resources, to despair of all things worldly. He often gives us less to drive us to His mercy alone, to Christ alone, to drive us to trust and to pray. The Christian life is lived by faith, not by sight. God often gives us less so that we see that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). But that you may know that God is faithful to His promises in things unseen, He has not left us without a witness to His faithfulness in the visible world. How do you know He is faithful to His promise to give daily bread? You’re alive! And you wouldn’t be alive if He had withdrawn that promise. Don’t look at all the things you don’t have. Look at the things you have. We should realize that all good things come from God, all that we have, and we should receive these with thanksgiving, asking that God would make us good stewards of His gifts, that we may use them to His glory and to help our neighbor. That is, after all, our responsibility with our daily bread. God provides for our neighbor by providing us with the daily bread to help him. Thus we take care of our children with the daily bread God gives us, and so God provides for our children. So also we should take care of those who are out of work, or who cannot work. If our neighbor can’t get daily bread for himself, we should give it to him. And we can, knowing that God has more to give us. Notice that we only pray for daily bread. We only ask that God gives us what we need for today. Tomorrow we will pray the same prayer for tomorrow. This is what it means to live by faith.

But the most important thing we need to understand about this daily bread is that it perishes. It goes into the body and is absorbed. Much of it becomes waste. It is here today and gone tomorrow. But there is a bread that endures to eternal life. It is the Living Bread that is Jesus Himself. Jesus tells us “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). And in truth, while you have to labor for the food that perishes in this world, the bread that endures to eternal life is given to you, freely, without any labor on your part at all. For the work that grasps this bread is faith, and faith is not your work, but God’s. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29). This Bread of Life from heaven, Jesus Christ, is given to you graciously by God Himself. It is received by faith, which is also given by God Himself. It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the very gift of God (Eph. 2:8). And how do you receive this Bread of Life? In the Word of God, and in the water, and in a very particular and special way in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, wherein you receive the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very body nailed to the cross for you, the very blood poured out for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. As we will hear Jesus say in two week, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).

The Gospel lessons for the next two weeks pick up where this Gospel lesson leaves off in John 6. It’s a sermon series on John 6 built right into the lectionary of the Church. Here Jesus moves us from thoughts about the bread that fills our bellies to the Bread of Life that is Jesus Himself. Jesus says to us this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33). Lord, give us this bread always, we pray (v. 34). He does. He who can feed 5,000 men plus women and children with only five loaves and two fishes, the bread that perishes, and fully satisfy their bellies with an abundance leftover, this one can surely fill those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. He fills them, fills us, fills you and me, with His righteousness. He fills us with Himself. 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).