Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Friday, October 30, 2009

Heath Care and Abortion

LCMS World Relief/Human Care brings up some important concerns about the public funding of abortions under the Pelosi health care bill. It is very important that you read this. Please consider calling your congressman. Christians are called to be light and salt in the world (Matt. 5:13-16). The Christian Church has, and individual Christians have, a responsibility to speak to moral issues in society, confessing Christ and the truth of His Word in a culture that is (more and more) hostile to that message. Whatever happens with health care in this country, God grant His protection to the "least of these," the most vulnerable: the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the terminally ill. Kyrie eleison!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reformation Sunday

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 25, 2009
Text: John 8:31-36

Beloved in the Lord, our Lord Jesus declares, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32; ESV). It is the disciples of Jesus Christ, believers in Jesus Christ who follow and hold to His teaching, who know the truth that sets them free. For Jesus Himself is the Truth that sets men free. Jesus sets you free. And you come to know about this freedom by hearing and reading and studying and meditating upon His Word in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31-32). “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). Knowing the truth, knowing Jesus, you have freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the devil and everlasting damnation, freedom from the threats and compulsion of the Law, freedom from the just accusations of the Law. Our Lord Jesus Christ has set you free by His Gospel, the very same Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Christ that you learned in Sunday School and Catechism class, the very same Gospel you continue to hear and learn Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, Bible class after Bible class. You come to hear and learn this Gospel because of the freedom Jesus gives in every such encounter.

The 16th Century Reformation was essentially about the truth of Jesus Christ that sets men free. It was about the Gospel. For it was a grave abuse of the Gospel, the sale of indulgences, the sale of the forgiveness of sins on the part of the medieval Roman church, that led a pious Augustinian monk named Martin Luther to nail his Ninety-five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Martin Luther was not yet a Lutheran, so to speak, when he wrote the Ninety-five Theses. He was very much a son of Rome. But as a student of the Scriptures, Dr. Luther was led by the Spirit to an ever deeper understanding of the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel. As Luther was enlightened by the Spirit’s gifts in his study of the Word, he began to see that indulgences were just the tip of the iceberg in the papal abuse of the Gospel. He began to see what the Roman Church had forgotten, that man is saved not by works, but by Christ alone.

A sinister error had crept into the Church of the middle ages, in fact, crept into the Church much earlier in her history, a lie of the devil that maintained that a person must contribute in some way to his or her salvation, that the work of Christ is somehow not sufficient for salvation, that one is not saved by faith alone, but by some combination of faith and works. It is really no different than the first temptation in the Garden of Eden when the devil told Adam and Eve they could be like God (Gen. 3:5). Humans, by nature (or at least the fallen nature, that is) want to be like God, meriting their own salvation by outer works or some inner worth. Indulgences simply represent the effort of human beings to purchase their forgiveness, thereby aiding what they considered to be the deficient work of Christ. An indulgence was a piece of paper with papal authority signifying that the purchaser received so many years off of purgatory. Or, if a person was feeling particularly generous (and keep in mind, the majority of the people were poor), that person could buy an indulgence on behalf of a loved one who was already in purgatory. “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” was the catchphrase of Johann Tetzel, the leading indulgence salesman in Germany. Indulgences were a papal fundraiser to build St. Peter’s church in Rome. The idea here was that the pope, rather than Christ, had the authority to declare one’s sins fully atoned for, and therefore free them from the satisfactions they were making in purgatory. Pay the money, and the pope will grant you his indulgence. Luther writes in response in thesis 82: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems and infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”[1]

Of course, there is no such thing as purgatory. You won’t find it in the Scriptures. It comes from erroneous traditions and misguided writings of some early Church fathers. Ultimately it comes from human imagination and logic. The Roman Church to this day has to stretch Scripture passages to find support for the doctrine of purgatory. In fact, the doctrine of purgatory is a contradiction of the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Luther came to discover. For you cannot work off your sins. That’s just the point. That’s why Christ came. That is why the Son of God became a man and lived under the Law in the place and in the flesh of sinful human beings. That is why the Son of God-made-man in the flesh of Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, in order to redeem us sinners, pay the penalty of our sins, and reconcile us to God. That is why the resurrection and ascension are so important. Mankind has been objectively justified in the person of Jesus Christ. The proof is that God raised Jesus from the dead in the flesh! And then He exalted that flesh to the right hand of the Father. You cannot work off your sins in purgatory, nor do you need to. And you certainly don’t have to purchase that forgiveness from the pope or from anyone else! The truth of Jesus Christ set Martin Luther free, and it sets you free as well. And that truth is that Jesus’ sacrificial death is sufficient for your forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. A righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the Law, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe, as St. Paul writes (Rom. 3:21-22). Jesus did it all to win your righteousness, your justification. You don’t do a thing, not to earn any of this, anyway. Anything that you do for God is simply a response of thanksgiving for all that He has already done for you and given you in Christ.

The errors that plagued the Church at the time of the 16th Century Reformation were all related to the fundamental error that we must do something to earn forgiveness and salvation. In addition to purgatory and indulgences, there were many other errors that Luther and the Reformers sought to correct. Among these are the idea of the Mass (or the Lord’s Supper) as a sacrifice that we make to God to atone for sin, rather than Christ’s gracious gift of His body and blood to us to be received orally for our forgiveness. So also veneration of the saints and prayers to them, pilgrimages to holy sites, veneration of relics, insistence on human traditions like the celibacy of priests and certain man-made rites and ceremonies, fasts, satisfactions for sin in penance (which makes a mockery of absolution), all of these done to earn merit before God. And finally there was the idea of papal primacy by divine right, and papal infallibility. These abuses, along with many others, had to be corrected in the Church for the sake of the Gospel, that the Gospel of the full and free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus might sound forth as an angelic trumpet throughout the world (cf. Rev. 14:6), and so set men free.

The truth of Jesus Christ is ever and always in opposition to error. That is why purity of doctrine is such an important concern for us Christians. The Gospel is at stake! What errors plague the Church today? Well, certainly in spite of the Reformation, the Roman errors remain in part of the holy Christian Church. Then there are other errors spawned by reformers who went too far in distinguishing themselves from Rome. Among these are the idea that Christ didn’t die for everyone, but only those who are saved in the end (a doctrine called the “limited atonement”); the teaching that Baptism does not save and we should not baptize infants; the teaching that Christ’s true body and blood are not, in fact, present under the bread and wine as He says they are in His Word; the idea that God chooses some people from all eternity for damnation (which goes far beyond the revealed will of God in the Scriptures); all of these errors opposed to the truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. These errors do not make men free. Only the truth does that. These are grave errors that infect the Church like a disease. And of course, there are the errors of secularism and materialism so rampant in our culture that can also infect the Church, like the theory of evolution; sexual promiscuity, perversion, and permissiveness; the idea that there is no objective moral standard; and the very idea that God does not exist. Even Christians get sucked into these secular errors. All of these errors, and so many more, must be opposed by the clear truth of Jesus Christ. All of these errors must be resisted by Christians who abide in His Word.

Of course, the Lord preserves His Church. He preserves her by His Word and Spirit. The Lord keeps us steadfast in His Word. He is our Mighty Fortress. In spite of all that plagues the Church and individual Christians, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Body of Christ. Because again, we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, without works. The saving action is all God’s in Christ. And that is what we celebrate today. Martin Luther is a sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, just like the rest of us. He’s no more, and no less, saint than any other believer in Jesus Christ, except to say that he is now blessedly confirmed in his sainthood in heaven along with all who dwell there. On his own merits, Luther is nothing, as he would be the first to tell you. But we celebrate him and his teaching and his work on this day because he made clear again for the Church the saving truth of Jesus Christ. He determined to know nothing among God’s people save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). And now we are living beneficiaries of his heritage. What a comfort and a joy to know that the blood of Jesus Christ covers all our sins, that we don’t have to work them off (as if we could!), that Christ has done everything for our salvation, and we can rest in Him now and for all eternity. What a comfort and a joy to know that we are baptized into Christ, God’s own children, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. What a comfort and a joy to know that our crucified and risen Lord Jesus still speaks to us in His Word, preserves us by His Spirit, feeds us with His holy and precious body and blood. This is the very Gospel, the good news of our salvation. This is what was at stake in the Reformation. This is the truth of the Son of God that sets us free!

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus has set you free. And every encounter with His saving truth sets you free anew. This morning you heard the Word of the Lord Jesus Himself: “I forgive you all your sins.” This morning you hear His voice in Scripture and preaching. This morning you sing His truth in liturgy and hymnody. This morning he places His body and blood in your mouth to forgive you and strengthen you. Jesus is the Truth of God incarnate. By His grace, you know Him. You know Him by faith. You know Him in a very real and living relationship. And if you know the Truth, Jesus says (and His Word cannot be broken!), the Truth will set you free. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AE 31, p. 32.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Turn My Eyes From Looking At Worthless Things

Check out Pastor Love's BLOG here. It took me wayyyy too long to add it to the links. Pr. Love offers meaty theology with devotional and prayerful reflection, nailing the old sinful flesh to the wall with God's Law and bringing the new man to life by the Gospel of Christ, clearly proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for our forgiveness and eternal life. Check out especially Pr. Love's post on Psalm 119:37: "Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things." You can access it here. My favorite line: "I who have made myself worthless by my fixation of eyes and heart on those things which are worthless, have a Savior who never asked God to save Him from looking upon me. As surely as the Lord Jesus set, or fixed, His face toward Jerusalem, toward the Cross, so surely has He set and fixed His eyes upon me and all mankind that we might be saved from our own worthlessness."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 24)
St. Luke, Evangelist
October 18, 2009
Text: Mark 10:23-31

How impossible is it for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? It is totally, absolutely impossible! Well, if that is the case, how impossible is it for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God? It is totally, absolutely impossible! In fact, it is totally, absolutely impossible for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God. It is totally, absolutely impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God. At least, that is to say, if you are seeking to enter by your own efforts or merits or riches or resources. Man striving to enter the Kingdom of God by his own efforts and resources is as ridiculous as a camel, proverbially the largest of animals, striving and straining to pass through the eye of a needle, proverbially the smallest of openings. Jesus declares, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23; ESV). Then, when His disciples look at one another amazed, He drops the “wealth” part and says simply, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). It’s not just that it’s difficult for the rich to enter, it’s difficult period, difficult for everybody. Impossible, in fact. Because man, by nature, in this sinful, fallen, unbelieving flesh is incapable of entering the Kingdom of the righteous and holy God. 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). This is the biblical teaching of the bondage of the will. That is to say, in spiritual matters, the unconverted person, the person outside of Christ, the person whom the Holy Spirit has not enlightened by the Gospel, is bound. He is bound to unbelief and sin. He is born spiritually blind, dead, and an avowed enemy of God. He cannot make any sort of decision for Christ. He can only continue in his blindness, unable to see his Creator and Redeemer in faith. He can only continue in his deadness, unable to do anything, because a dead man, by definition, cannot do anything. He can only continue, therefore, as a bitter enemy of God. To enter the Kingdom of God is an impossible thing for man.

Thanks be to God, however, that what is impossible for man is by no means impossible for God. “For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). That is to say, all things are possible with the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one true God can and does bring you to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The one true God can and does preserve you, by His grace alone, in that faith. The one true God can and does do everything in the matter of your salvation. It is by grace, through faith, not by works, not by riches. The problem, again, is that even we Christians, as long as we have the old sinful flesh clinging to us (and we do, even though the old Adam has been drowned in Baptism… He keeps popping his head up out of the waters)… even we Christians often slip into trusting the wrong god(s) rather than the one true God. Our texts this morning are not so much about riches, the difference between the wealthy and the poor, or even our stewardship of the possessions God has given us, as they are about the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. A god, remember, is anything that we fear, love, and trust above all things. A god is that from which you expect all good and that in which you take refuge in all distress (cf. Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism). Why does Jesus single out the rich in our Gospel lesson? Because wealth and possessions so easily become idols to us. We so easily slip into relying on things, money, possessions, jobs, spouses, etc., that we make them into idols, fearing, loving, and trusting in these things more than we trust in God, expecting every good from these things, taking refuge in these things when we are distressed. It really doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, whatever you have can become your idol. Even one with only two pennies to his name can make those two pennies into his idol! Luther writes concerning this in the Large Catechism: “Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Such a person has a god by the name of ‘Mammon’ (i.e. money and possessions; [Matthew 6:24]), on which he sets all his heart. This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure [Luke 12:16-21] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack Mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.”[1] Rich and poor alike make Mammon their god, putting Mammon in the place that rightly belongs to the one true God, our Triune God, alone.

To have the one true God as your God is to fear, love, and trust in Him above riches, above things, money, possessions, jobs, spouses, etc. It is to trust Him absolutely for salvation and every good. It is to live in repentance, which is another way of saying, live in your Baptism, daily drowning the old Adam with all sins and evil desires, that the new man can daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity, rightly regarding His good gifts as just that, gifts, from a loving and wise heavenly Father, gifts to be used for the glory of God and service of the neighbor. To have the one true God as your God is to trust not in your own efforts or merits or good works to gain salvation, but to plead Jesus’ blood alone as your righteousness, to take solace in Jesus’ wounds alone, to know that Jesus’ sacrifice alone has made peace for you with God and paid your debt for sin. To have the one true God as your God is to fear, love, and trust the God that Jesus Christ, the Son of God has revealed in His flesh, the Father who loves you and gives His Son for you, the Son who is Jesus Christ and gives Himself into death for you, the Spirit who fills you with Himself as the breath of life, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say that there isn’t a word to be said about stewardship in the texts for this morning. There most certainly is. As those redeemed by the blood of Christ, made God’s own children, filled with His Spirit, how would God have us live now as His people? What would He have us do with what He has given us? King Solomon writes in our Old Testament reading, “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt” (Ecc. 5:13). I should say here that it is not sinful to have wealth. Wealth is a gift of God. But we must understand that wealth is a trust from our gracious heavenly Father. Whatever we have, be it much or little, is a trust from our gracious heavenly Father. He does not give it to us that we should store it up for ourselves and be misers toward our neighbor in need or toward the Church. You have a responsibility to use what God has given you for His glory and for meeting the needs of your neighbor. You should fund the mission of this congregation and this church body and her institutions. You should pay your pastor and the employees of this congregation. You should give to the Good Samaritan fund and to other charities to help your neighbor in need. If your neighbor is hungry, you should feed him. If he is naked, you should clothe him. If he is homeless, you should provide shelter. Whatever means the Lord has given you, He has given you to be used in His service, which means serving the neighbor. Because in reality, none of the things you possess are really yours. They are God’s. And don’t forget what Solomon says of them in the Old Testament reading. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (v. 15). Earthly wealth is for this life only. It is better to spend it here for your neighbor and for your Lord, and so store up treasure in heaven. And certainly do not trust in your wealth and your possessions, for they are fleeting. They are here today, but may be gone tomorrow. Trust in Jesus Christ alone. He alone is your Savior. He alone will provide for your every need. He alone must be your solace in distress.

Your Lord Jesus is really all you need. Everything else is an added gift of His grace. If you have Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). “[A]nd he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15). Christ is your life and salvation. All that you are and have has been redeemed by His blood, to be used for Him, to His glory, in service to your neighbor. And what if you lose it all for Him? It could happen, you know. The Christian Church has been persecuted before. It is still persecuted in other places. We’ve had it relatively easy here in this time and place where we have not had our possessions confiscated, or been arrested, or been called to shed our blood in martyrdom. But it could happen. What if we have to lose our wealth to be a faithful Christian? Or our friends? Or our family members? Or our very life? Christ promises that He will be our all in all. And so also He promises, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). The Lord provides. And as much as He provides us in this life, He provides infinitely more in the life to come.

It is impossible for man to enter the Kingdom of God by his own efforts or resources. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re man or woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re slave or free. It is impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God by your own efforts or resources. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. And He has bought you at the price of His Son’s own blood. Trust alone in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trust alone in Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] LC Part I:5-9, McCain et al., p. 359.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The "Oneness" of the Church and her Confession

R. C. H. Lenski, commenting on Rom. 15:6:

"'With one mouth' = in the one united confession. This does not mean that all join in the same psalm, hymn, creed, prayer, confession of sin, doxology in public worship, but that every member everywhere and always confesses the one same gospel truth, whatever part of it may be broached, and thereby glorifies God before men... This oneness of conviction and confession, like our mystical oneness in the Una Sancta, is far deeper than many suppose, for its ultimate basis, source, and substance are the oneness of God and of his glory."

The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961) pp. 863-64.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 23)
The Baptism of Mackenzie Elizabeth Krenz
October 11, 2009
Text: Mark 10:17-22

Beloved in the Lord, what must you do to inherit eternal life? This is precisely what the rich man asks in our Gospel lesson this morning: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17; ESV). This man, whom we learn from St. Luke was in fact a leading elder of the synagogue (Luke 18:18), has a legitimate and imperative concern, namely, his eternal salvation. He is concerned with the question of eternal life and death. “How can I be assured that I am among the number of the saints? What must I do in order to ensure my place as an inheritor of the eternal life of God?” The man’s desire to dwell eternally with God is right on the money! The question as posed, however, is the wrong question. For of course, the man cannot do anything to inherit eternal life. An inheritance, by definition, is not earned. An inheritance is the gracious gift of the one who died, bestowed on the heir via the dead person’s last will and testament. One cannot earn eternal life. Eternal life is the gracious gift of the One who died, even Jesus Christ our Lord, bestowed upon His heirs, those who believe in Him and trust Him alone for their forgiveness and salvation.

The question is, what do you bring to the table in matters of salvation? And the answer is, absolutely nothing. Well, except your sin and uncleanness and death. You can hardly merit eternal life with those. The rich man in our text wants to bring his own righteousness to the table in the matter of his salvation. He is hoping Jesus will say, “Why, you’ve already done enough to inherit eternal life, my boy! You’ve kept the commandments. Well and good. Your reward awaits you in heaven!” But Jesus doesn’t say that. In fact, Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly at all. Because if you ask a “Law” question, you will get a “Law” answer. In fact, in His response, Jesus begins by teaching human depravity, that there is no such thing as a basically good person. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Two points here: First, Jesus is not rejecting the appellation “Good Teacher.” Far from it, He is pointing out just what the appellation means. If Jesus is good, and only God is good, then calling Jesus good makes Him equal with God. It is an acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity, something the rich man, at this point at least, is unwilling to admit. Second, only God is good. No one else is good, including the rich man, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

And now Jesus will demonstrate the truth of human depravity to the rich man. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:19). Here Jesus lists the commandments of the Second Table of the Law, dealing with our relationship to our neighbor, because they are the easiest commandments to determine whether we have kept, at least outwardly. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth,” declares the rich man (v. 20). Again, the rich man is searching for an affirmation from Jesus: “You’ve done enough. Eternal life is yours.” But the rich man has misunderstood the holy and righteous Law of God. The Law of God demands not just outward obedience, but the obedience of the heart. The rich man is right where Jesus wants Him. The other shoe is about to drop. Jesus is about to expose the rich man’s failure to keep the Law of God inwardly. With great love and compassion for the rich man, with the gut-wrenching desire that the rich man come to faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord speaks His penetrating indictment: “You lack one thing: go, sell al that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (v. 21). Go, get rid of your great wealth. Give it all away. Love your fellow man with the perfect love of self-sacrifice. Trust in God alone, and not in your wealth. Come, follow me. The rich man walks away sorrowful. He is unable to do what Jesus commands.

Why does Jesus give such a radical command to the rich man? It is to expose the rich man’s profound transgression against both tables of the Law. The rich man, remember, a leading elder of the synagogue, fears, loves, and trusts his wealth more than he trusts in God. Thus wealth has become his god. He does not trust in God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, as the First Table of the Law demands. And the Second Table of the Law, that which commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the commandments Jesus has just quoted, the rich man has transgressed by putting his wealth before the benefit of the neighbor. The rich man loves himself more than his neighbor. The rich man has good reason to walk away sad. He came to Jesus expecting to be commended for his keeping of the commandments. He walks away humiliated in the face of God’s Law. The rich man thought he brought great virtue and righteousness to the table in the matter of his salvation. He found that, instead, all he could bring is his own sin and uncleanness and death.

I should mention at this point that Jesus has not commanded you to go and sell everything you have and give it all to the poor. This commandment was given to the rich man, not to you. And yet, you don’t get off so easily either. We don’t know whether the rich man does as Jesus commanded. Mark leaves the account intentionally open-ended. Because now each one of us is faced with the question: What about you? How have you transgressed both tables of the Law? What do you fear, love, and trust more than God? Are you willing to give it up? How have you failed to love your neighbor as yourself? Are you willing to give up everything for your neighbor’s welfare? Such questions are enough to cause us to walk away from this church building this morning, disheartened and sorrowful. Jesus has exposed our black hearts for what they are. Truly no one is good except God alone.

Thanks be to God, we are not saved by our works, but by Christ alone. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, without works, lest anyone should boast. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Ask a Law question and get a Law answer. If you want to do something to merit your salvation, you have to keep the whole Law without even the most minor stumbling in even one point your whole life long, from cradle, nay, conception to the grave. And oh, by the way, that keeping of the Law isn’t just your outward actions, but the inner disposition of your heart. Thoughts, as well as words and deeds. It is impossible. Because sin is not just what you do, but who you are as children of Adam and Eve. You’d have to be the Son of God to keep the Law in this human flesh. And that’s just the point. No one is good except God. No human being, no son or daughter of Adam and Eve, is good, except Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We bring nothing to the table in the matter of our salvation except our sin and uncleanness and death. Jesus brings everything to the table in the matter of our salvation, including His sin atoning death on the cross, perfect righteousness and keeping of the Law, and His victorious resurrection from the dead. It all depends on Jesus, not on us. The question is not, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is, “What has Jesus done to graciously merit for me, and give me, eternal life?” And the answer is, He kept the Law perfectly, in your place. He died for your sins, paying the penalty for all of your iniquity, making peace with God. He rose triumphantly from the grave, that you might have eternal life and the promise of your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, ruling all things for your benefit, interceding for you before the throne of your Father, speaking His good Word to you in Scripture and preaching, absolution and benediction, feeding you with His true body and blood, present for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, as God and Man in the Holy Supper.

You bring nothing to the table in the matter of your salvation. And the perfect example of this is the Baptism of an infant. An infant is utterly helpless even when it comes to the matters of this life. An infant cannot feed himself, clothe himself, diaper himself. An infant is dependant on his or her parents for even the most basic of needs. And in spiritual matters, it goes without saying, an infant has no intellectual ability to understand Christian theology or confess Christ with his or her mouth. An infant is the perfect example of the truth that we bring nothing to the table in matters of salvation, because an infant is utterly helpless in spiritual matters. Jesus says we should all be infants before God. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). This morning we saw my precious little Mackenzie Elizabeth die and rise again in the waters of Holy Baptism. She had to die, she had to be good and dead, for God to do His enlivening work in her. In fact, she was spiritually dead already… born that way. She had to have her old Adam, her old sinful flesh drowned in those baptismal waters. God had to do it. She was utterly helpless, spiritually dead. Even I as her father couldn’t do it. Her heavenly Father had to do it. Because I can’t raise her from the dead. He can. And He did. He raised her out of those baptismal waters to live a new life. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, she died with Christ, and she is risen with Him. She has eternal life now, although that will not be apparent to the fleshly eye this side of heaven and the resurrection. She has the promise that her body will be called forth from the grave by her risen Lord Jesus on the Last Day. She has been washed clean of sin. Her sin-stained robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. She has been made God’s own child. What could she do to be saved? Nothing. God did it all. Jesus did it all. The Holy Spirit, who now dwells in her by virtue of the water and the Word, did it all. What can you do to be saved? Nothing. God does it all. Jesus does it all. The Holy Spirit, who now dwells in you by virtue of water and the Word, does it all. Salvation is accomplished. Jesus, who died, and is now risen, has graciously made us heirs of eternal life with Him. This truth has been established on a foundation of solid stone, the Rock that is Jesus Himself. Now, as a result of our salvation already accomplished by Jesus, we, along with Mackenzie, and with the whole Church on earth, daily return to our Baptism in repentance and faith, daily drown the old Adam along with all sins and evil desires that the new man might daily arise in us to live before God in the righteousness of Christ. And we rejoice. We pray, praise, and give thanks. We live in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another, not asking what we must do, but reveling in the reality of what Christ has done for us. No one is good except God alone. In Baptism, Jesus, God in the flesh, has given us His goodness as our very own, credited to our account. Now when God looks at us, covered in the blood of Christ, He sees only the righteousness and perfection of His own dear Son. To Him alone be the glory. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

On the Name "Lutheran"

Pastor’s Window for October 2009
On the Name “Lutheran”

Beloved in the Lord,

October 31st is the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, igniting the 16th Century Reformation of the Christian Church. Since that time Christians who continue to confess the Gospel as Dr. Luther confessed it have come to be known as “Lutherans.” But why the name “Lutheran”? Why not just call ourselves Christians? Or are there any other names that may be appropriate? Why do we name ourselves after a human teacher? After all, human teachers can and do err.

Did you know that Martin Luther never wanted his adherents to be called “Lutherans”? Originally the term “Lutheran” was used by Roman Catholic theologians as a slur against anyone who followed Luther in particular, or opposed the Roman church in general. Luther’s followers began to wear the slur as a badge of honor. Dr. Luther opposed this, preferring that Lutherans call themselves Evangelicals (Lutheran churches in Germany to this day are called “Evangelische”), or simply Christians. But he had to concede that a name was needed to set the Reformation church apart from the Romanists. He wrote: “It is true that you should never say: I am Lutherish or popish; for neither of them died for you; neither is your master. Only of Christ may this be said. Therefore you should profess to be a Christian. But if you believe Luther’s doctrine is evangelical and the pope’s unevangelical, you must not flatly disown Luther; otherwise you also disown his doctrine, which you admittedly recognize as the doctrine of Christ. Rather you must say: Whether Luther personally is a scoundrel or a saint means nothing to me. His doctrine, however, is not his but Christ’s own. For you see that the object of the tyrants is not only to slay Luther but also to extirpate the doctrine. They lay hands on you because of the doctrine, and for this reason they ask you whether you are Lutheran. Truly, here you should not speak in a weak whisper but should freely confess Christ, whether Luther, Nicholas, or George preached Him. Let the person go. But the doctrine you must confess” (What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959] p. 857).

We call ourselves “Lutheran” not because Luther is our savior (he’s not), or because we believe everything Luther said is right (much of it was, but some of it wasn’t), or because we worship Luther (we don’t). We call ourselves Lutheran because the use of this name is a confession of faith. When we call ourselves Lutheran, we mean that we confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the pure light in which Martin Luther confessed it, namely, that we are saved by Christ alone, by His grace alone, through faith alone, without works (cf. Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22; Eph. 2:8-9). When we call ourselves Lutheran, we mean that we confess Scripture alone as the rule and norm of our faith and life. When we call ourselves Lutheran, we are confessing our agreement with the 1580 Book of Concord as the right interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

But we also call ourselves Christian, for Christ is our only Savior. And we don’t see a disconnect between calling ourselves Christian or Lutheran. We are Lutheran Christians. We recognize that there are Christians who are not Lutheran, but we believe Lutheranism is Christianity at its best. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be Lutherans. We would attend whatever church we believe is Christianity at its best. To be Lutheran is to be Christian. There is no such thing as unchristian Lutheranism.

We also call ourselves evangelical. To be evangelical is to be Gospel-centered. Lutheranism is Gospel-centered. We also call ourselves catholic (small ‘c’), because to be catholic (literally “according to the whole”) means we are dedicated to the whole teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Scriptures by the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. We also call ourselves orthodox (small ‘o’), because to be orthodox (literally “right praise”) means to confess the true biblical doctrine. But since there are other churches who also call themselves Christian, evangelical, catholic, orthodox, etc., but who teach a different doctrine than that which we confess, we have to set ourselves apart somehow. We do so by our use of the name “Lutheran.”

We dare not be ashamed of that name. Nor dare we be ashamed of the doctrine. In a culture of generic pop Christianity where the doctrine of the Bible is set aside for “lowest common denominator” drivel, Lutheranism is a breath of fresh air. Lutheranism brings meat and potatoes (biblical doctrine and clear Gospel preaching) to a Christianity that consumes mostly cotton candy (little doctrine, almost all emotion, mixture of Law and Gospel). In other words, we still confess the Gospel of Christ as Martin Luther did almost 500 years ago. Our Reformation voice remains vital to the health of the Body of Christ.

Blessed Reformation Day!

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 22)
October 4, 2009
Text: Mark 10:2-16

“God settles the solitary in a home,” sings King David in Psalm 68 (v. 6; ESV). God created us for fellowship. Even in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden, in the creation that God had pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (2:18). Thus He forms Eve from Adam’s rib. She is now bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). God’s first institution in His now completed creation is marriage and family. From the very beginning, God created us for fellowship: fellowship with one another, fellowship with God. For God made man in His image, and there is within our one God the perfect fellowship, communion, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this gracious God deigns also to have fellowship, communion, with His special creation, with man, and He desires that men have fellowship, communion, with one another.

But ever since the fall into sin, man has done his best to break fellowship, communion, with God, with his fellow man. In the fall, Adam and Eve break fellowship with God. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, breaks fellowship with his brother Abel by killing him (Gen. 4). Everything has gone awry. This is not how God planned it. This is not how God designed us. God does not design human beings to sin, to be sinners. God designed us to be perfect, holy, in fellowship with Him and with one another. Sin is a power that comes from the outside. It originates in Satan and the evil angels who rebelled against God. That sly tempter, the deceiver, the devil, led Adam and Eve break fellowship with God, reject God’s loving purpose, rebel, and so sin entered the world as a disease that infects every one of us as their descendents. It is a lethal disease. It kills fellowship with God and with one another. It kills us. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

Of course, God is bigger than our sin, and He is bigger than us sinners. What we have broken by our own most grievous fault, God has restored in Christ Jesus. We have been reconciled to God in the sin atoning work of Christ. In fact, when Adam and Eve had first broken the relationship they had with God, God already promised them reconciliation and a Savior when He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Gen. 3:15). That is to say, in dying on the cross, submitting Himself to death for our sakes and for our forgiveness, Jesus has crushed the devil under foot. The victory is won! Our enemy is defeated. But in many ways the battle rages on, because we live in the time that Luther called the “already/not yet.” The war is already won, but that fact is not yet manifest. God has already been reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, thus paving the way for our reconciliation with one another, yet we still suffer broken relationships.

It is in the context of this fallen world, full of brokenness, a broken relationship with God, and broken relationships with one another, that the Pharisees come to Jesus. Because of their broken relationship with God, they are trying to trap His Son, our Savior. They ask Him about a particular kind of brokenness that plagues our world right up to the present day. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). It is a brilliant question, albeit sinister, for you see, Moses did in fact allow for divorce in the Old Testament. If Jesus says divorce is unlawful, the Pharisees could accuse Him of denying the Law of Moses. On the other hand, if Jesus affirmed the lawfulness of divorce, the Pharisees could accuse Him of contributing to what was apparently a grave societal problem among the Jews at that time: rampant divorce and a failure to hold marriage as God’s sacred institution (sound familiar?). But as brilliant as the Pharisees are, Jesus, in His usual manner, cuts right to the heart of the problem… that is to say, right to the sinful, fallen, broken, human heart. “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment” (v. 5). Divorce has never been God’s plan. In fact, God says to the wicked priests and people of the prophet Malachi’s day: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Mal. 2:16). God hates divorce. It is a total contradiction of that for which He created us: fellowship with Himself and with one another. It is a total contradiction of the purpose for which He instituted marriage: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:7-9).

It is true that Moses allowed for divorce. But not because divorce is part of God’s plan. Moses allows for divorce because of sin. Moses allows for divorce as part of the civil law of Israel, even though it contradicts the moral Law of God written in man’s heart. There are only two biblically allowable reasons for divorce: First, in cases of marital unfaithfulness, the innocent party is free (Matt. 5:31-32), and second, in cases of malicious desertion, again, the innocent party is free (1 Cor. 7:15). Otherwise, marriage is meant to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Only death ends the marriage vow. Because our God is a God that brings us into fellowship. He is a God who unites us to Himself and to one another. Marriage and family are His gifts to be held in reverence by all, “not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”[1]

Marriage is the basic building block of society. How gracious is our God that He has established marriage for the good of mankind, for companionship, for the enjoyment of one another in body, mind, and spirit, and for the procreation of children. And that leads us to the second part of the Gospel lesson. The mothers were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed. It’s not unlike our mothers and fathers in this congregation who bring their children to the communion rail to receive a blessing. These are children of all ages that are being brought to Jesus, including infants. The mothers are absolutely right to bring them to Jesus. But you know, this brokenness of relationships infiltrates even the Church, because again, we’re living in the time of the “already/not yet.” We already are restored, forgiven, and made holy, but our old sinful flesh keeps popping up out of those baptismal waters where it was drowned. It keeps trying to ruin what has been restored. Here the disciples’ sinful flesh gets the best of them. They begin to rebuke the mothers. “Don’t waist Jesus’ time here! Can’t you see he’s a busy man?!” But one thing we dare never do is come between Jesus and the children. We dare never deny our children the blessing of Holy Baptism. We dare never, by our own laziness, deny our children the benefits of coming to church and Sunday school each week. We dare never, by our own bad example, mislead our children into some grave sin or error by which they break their relationship to God in unbelief. Jesus was indignant when the disciples turned the children away. Indignant. That’s a strong word. He was incensed. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). In fact, if you want to receive the Kingdom of God, you need to be like the children. You need to have the kind of absolute trust in Jesus and in His Word that children have. A kind of helpless, infant trust that looks to Jesus alone for salvation and every good, like a newborn babe who doesn’t even know Mom’s and Dad’s names, but trusts them absolutely. Jesus takes these helpless little children in His arms and blesses them. And believe me, there’s no place you’d rather be than in the arms of Jesus, in His blessed embrace. We all want to be God’s little children, and as families, as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, we want to make sure we bring those little children with whom God has entrusted us to His house, that He might be in relationship with them, in communion, and that they might learn to be in relationship, communion, with one another here in His Church.

This is not to say that you have to be married or have children to enjoy the fellowship God has given. Some have the gift of celibacy, though it is rare. Some are single by choice. Some bear the cross of being single. Some bear the cross of not having children. Spouses and children are among God’s greatest gifts. But they do not complete us. Not in the all encompassing way all for which all of us yearn. Only God can do that. And it is that reality to which Jesus points us this morning. Earthly marriage, as wonderful as it is, is but a picture of the marriage between Jesus and His Church. Jesus is our divine Bridegroom, and we are the Bride He has made holy in Baptism. As in any marriage, what is His is ours, and what is ours is His. His righteousness becomes ours, our debt of sin becomes His. He pays for our sin on the cross. He gives us His righteousness in exchange. In the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, all our sins have been paid in full, even our sins of divorce and marital unfaithfulness, our sins against our spouses and our sins against our children, our broken relationship with God and our broken relationships with one another, even our inability to trust Jesus with childlike faith. And in exchange we’ve been given Christ’s perfect faithfulness, His perfect love. We’ve been reconciled to God, and we can reconcile with one another. Christ Jesus is our Beloved, and He loves us with an everlasting love. And the union of Christ and His Church is fruitful. It bears the little children of faith. God-willing, you will see it happen again next Sunday at the Baptism of little Mackenzie Elizabeth. You will see her reconciled to God. You will see her joined in the fellowship of the holy Church in this very gathering. God settles the solitary in a home. God settles us in families. God settles us in the family of the Church. For fifteen years now He has settled us in this family, Epiphany congregation, a reality of His grace that we will celebrate with great rejoicing this afternoon. God will never divorce us! Instead, He will ever take us, as little children, into His arms and bless us. The pledge of His faithfulness is the body and blood of our Savior, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins, here distributed at the Christian family table. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Service Book Agenda (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 65.