Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 17)

August 28, 2011
Text: Jer. 15:15-21; Matt. 16:21-28

Beloved in the Lord, Martin Luther wrote: “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[1] There are two competing theologies within Christendom, the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. One is true and one is false. One comes naturally to us, the other we are by nature incapable of believing. And unfortunately it is the theology that comes naturally to us, the theology of glory, that is false. The true theology, the theology of the cross, revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures, is foolishness to us by nature. We can only come to believe it when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in it. St. Paul says something of this when he 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; ESV). The Spirit, given in Baptism, leads the Christian to believe what he would otherwise, by nature, regard as folly. But even so, even as baptized Christians, the old sinful flesh in us rejects the theology of the cross. It is a constant struggle to hold the true theology, because it is so contrary to our human way of thinking. The theology of the cross is the theology of the things of God. The theology of glory is the theology of the things of man. We must say to the theologian of glory within each one of us, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23).

The thing about the theology of glory is that it sets up an unbiblical standard to measure that which is good. It is good, says the theologian of glory, if I never suffer, if I am in good health, wealthy, comfortable, entertained, happy. It is good if I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It is good if everyone likes me and wants to be like me. In fact, says the theologian of glory, it is a sign of God’s favor toward me when everything is going right. It is a sign of God’s displeasure with me when things go wrong. But beloved, remember, a theologian of glory, which is to say, you by nature, calls evil good and good evil. Because the theologian of glory, you by nature, does not understand that God disciplines His Christians precisely because He loves them, that He graciously gives them over into suffering for their good, that His foolishness is wiser than men and His weakness stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:25). God displays His wisdom and His strength precisely in what is foolish and weak, God in the flesh, God on the cross, sinful men and women redeemed as saints, sinful pastors speaking His Word, words on a page, words and water, words and bread and wine. The theologian of the cross must get past the appearance of things and, with trust in God’s Word, call a thing what it actually is. In God’s way of operating in the world, foolishness and weakness are good. Christianity as a bed of roses, as a program for success, as a method of achieving health, wealth, and prosperity, is exceedingly evil.

The Prophet Jeremiah was by nature a theologian of glory. But like it or not, in the school of YHWH, he would become a theologian of the cross. We encounter him in our Old Testament lesson complaining bitterly. He was good at that. He even wrote a second Old Testament book called Lamentations! In our text, Jeremiah complains that in spite of his faithfulness to God, his profound love for God’s Word, his indignation against the evil of his people, and his dynamic preaching, the people were still unfaithful. They did not repent. They did not convert. Instead, they persecuted the prophet! “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,” says Jeremiah, “for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Yet “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (v. 18). Every Christian pastor knows this heartache. He buries himself in God’s Word and finds great delight in devouring the Word of life as he studies and prays and meditates and prepares. With great joy, as well as a little fear and trembling, he brings this Word to the pulpit to proclaim it to his flock, revealing treasures old and new, knowing beyond all doubt that this sermon will get results. The people will repent of their sins and amend their ways. They’ll never miss a church service or Bible class again. They’ll all bring their friends and neighbors and the church will be filled to capacity with the faithful. Offerings will be at an all-time high. No one will complain anymore. No one will dissent. No one will question. All will dwell together in perfect peace and harmony. Oops! That’s a theology of glory. Because what really happens when the pastor preaches is that some do repent and amend their sinful ways and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to be sure. That’s the power of the Word. But some do not repent. Some do not amend their sinful ways. Some do not believe. The church is never filled to capacity. Many of the faithful have other things to do on Sunday morning. And there are complaints and dissents and questions, because the Church is full of sinners. For after all, the Church is only for sinners. The perfect need not apply. So as such, let us call the thing what it actually is. It is good that only sinners are here, sins and all. Because the Church is a hospital for sinners, dispensing the medicine that is our Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, for the forgiveness of sins.

Do you know what the LORD says to Jeremiah for his complaint? Do you know what the LORD says to your pastor when he slips into the theology of glory? Do you know what the LORD says to His Church when she thinks she can grow herself by gimmicks and achieve success by following the right method? Do you know what the LORD says to you when you think everything should go well for you if God really loves you, and when you despair because you are called to suffer? He says this: Repent! You do not have the mind of the LORD. You do not have His wisdom. You do not see how He is working all things together for your good, in spite of appearances, because you are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). You do not see that His grace is sufficient for you, because His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Nor do you understand that He does not owe you an explanation for your suffering. It is enough for you to know that it is finally for your salvation and your eternal good that God allows bad things to happen to you. Look to Christ and His cross. There, in the ultimate evil, the LORD accomplishes the ultimate good for you and all people as the sinless Son of God suffers unjustly for the sins of the whole world, for your sins and mine. You cannot begin to understand His plan. So don’t lecture Him about how His plan is foolish. Do not say with St. Peter concerning the cross: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). You don’t know what you’re saying. Just get behind Jesus. Take up your cross and follow Him, all the way to Calvary. Trust Him. There’s resurrection ahead. But the only way is through the cross and death.

The LORD says to Jeremiah, in the midst of his theology of glory: “If you return, I will restore you” (Jer. 15:19). Get behind me again and go where I lead you and I will make you my faithful preacher once again… “you shall be as my mouth” (v. 19), which is what every Christian pastor is. He speaks for God when he faithfully speaks the Word, in season and out of season, even if it gets him persecution and a broken heart. But the results are up to God. The Spirit works when and where He wills in those who hear the Gospel. The LORD doesn’t tell Jeremiah what the results of his preaching will be. He promises that He will finally deliver Jeremiah from his afflictions, but he doesn’t say how. We know how, because we have the benefit of historical perspective. Here is Jeremiah’s deliverance: He died as a refugee in Egypt. A theologian of glory would say that that is a bad deliverance if there ever was one. A theologian of the cross will call it what it actually is: God’s wisdom, God’s deliverance. Jeremiah died a reject. But he now beholds the face of God with great joy. And what he didn’t know as he suffered persecution for his preaching in this earthly life, is that through his divinely inspired writings, he still preaches Christ to the people of God. He is preaching to us today. And how many people have come to faith through his record of the Word of the LORD? He never knew it in his lifetime. He could not see the LORD’s wisdom in his ministry and his suffering. The theologian of the cross simply trusts that God is working His good will in what appears to be very bad. The theologian of the cross looks to the cross of Jesus Christ and clings to his crucified Lord for help and deliverance, and for eternal salvation.

Beloved in the Lord, crucify the theologian of glory in you. Deny yourself. Die to yourself. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. But of course, you can’t do any of that by your own power or your own works. So here is the good news, though it will sound anything but good to your flesh. The Lord will make you a theologian of the cross, by His Spirit, by your death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, by His Word, by the Supper of His crucified body and blood. And by your suffering. And as a theologian of the cross, you can confess that suffering as His good gift to you, and recognize that His suffering sanctifies your own. And as you suffer, you know that He carries you, all the way to your final deliverance on the Day of Resurrection. A great blessing! That’s what the thing actually is. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Thesis 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation, AE 31:40.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 16)

August 21, 2011
Text: Is. 51:1-8; Matt. 16:13-20

Beloved in the Lord, in the Holy Gospel this morning our Lord Jesus promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against His beloved Church (Matt. 16:18). And yet, it sure looks like the gates of hell are prevailing. If you haven’t noticed, the general mood in our society toward Christianity is less and less friendly. Churches are shrinking, congregations are disappearing, denominations are all facing financial crises of one stripe or another, and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is no exception. And then there’s the difficulty with doctrine. Which doctrine is right? Is there such a thing as right doctrine? Many within the Church, never mind those outside the Church, contend that there is no such thing as right or pure doctrine. Postmodern society, where all things are relative, which means that your truth is true for you and my truth is true for me but we dare never assert our truth to be true for anyone else, has influenced Christianity to such a degree that we’re not even sure what we’re sure of or what we believe. Liberal Protestantism has already thrown out the baby with the bathwater. There is no doctrine in the mainline churches. Believe what you want, do what you want, just don’t forget to send in your offering. And don’t impose what you believe on anyone else. Not even in your own church. Not even if it’s in the Bible. Do you sense the demonic influence in all of this? Jesus, are you sure hell isn’t really prevailing against the Church after all?

That is why we live by faith, not by sight. If we lived by sight, we’d have to conclude that Jesus is dead wrong in His promise here. But faith believes the Word of the Lord in spite of what the eyes see. This is not to say that faith is blind. No, faith always has an object. Faith must always believe in something, or better, Someone. Faith believes in and trusts the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word of promise and comfort. But faith does not yet see the object of its trust. Otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. The writer to the Hebrews defines faith this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1; ESV). Faith is only necessary when that which is hoped for has not yet appeared. And such faith has always been a mark of God’s people. Our Old Testament lesson from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (51:1-8) is about precisely this. For God’s chosen people, the future looked bleak. Appearances were anything but hopeful. The LORD Himself had promised to give Judah over to her enemies, to send her into exile in Babylon because of her idolatry. Yet God spoke gracious words of comfort to those who would trust Him, through the preaching and pen of Isaiah. Judah would be saved. The people of Israel would once again possess the Promised Land. There would be a remnant, those faithful to YHWH who would be saved. And the promise isn’t just that those who are Jews by genealogy would once again come to inhabit Palestine. That is true, and that did happen, but there is a greater promise at work here. The remnant will include all who pursue righteousness (Is. 51:1), that is, all who long for the righteousness that only God can give to His unrighteous people, all who look in faith to YHWH for deliverance and salvation, people from every nation, God’s new Israel, His Zion, His holy Church.

For the promise in our Old Testament lesson is finally and ultimately this: God will send His Son. “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law,” a Torah, the Word, “will go out from me” (v. 4). Jesus is the Word made flesh who has made His dwelling among us. He is the Word who was with God in the beginning, the Word who is God, and who has taken on our human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. “I will set my justice for a light to the peoples” (v. 4). That’s Jesus, and the peoples who receive His light are not just Jews, but Gentiles, you and me. “My righteousness draws near,” says God (v. 5). That’s Jesus! … “my salvation has gone out…” That’s Jesus! … “and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.” Why are they waiting so hopefully for the LORD to judge with His arms? I mean, it sounds like God is about to obliterate sinners with His might. But how does God judge with His arms? The Son of God, Jesus, stretches out His arms on the wood of the cross, to receive the nails, to be pierced for our transgressions as the Father judges Him guilty of the sins of all the world, the sins of Israel, your sins, my sins, and the sins of all people. He is judged guilty of our idolatry and false doctrine and wishy-washy relativity. He is judged guilty of every offense against our holy God’s commandments. All so that you and I and all people may be judged righteous by the Father, with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You who pursue righteousness will find it only here, a righteousness that is outside of you, in Jesus, received by faith, in spite of all appearances.

And it is He that frees you from your exile to sin and death and hell by His death, and ushers you back into the Promised Land of righteousness and life and salvation by His resurrection. It isn’t simply Palestine that is promised here. It is the Promised Land of our Lord’s Kingdom. The promise is the new heavens and the new earth on the Last Day, of which Palestine is only a dim foreshadowing. The promise is your soul reunited with your resurrection body to live eternally with God and with His Son Jesus Christ in His paradise. This is the comfort the LORD speaks to Zion, His beloved people. You will be raised from the dead, resurrection bodies to live in a resurrected Eden. Paradise restored. That’s what He says in our text: “For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (v. 3; emphasis added). In the end, the gates of hell do not triumph. Rather, the old wily serpent who once prevailed in the Garden of Eden by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is overcome by the tree of life, the tree of the cross, and Eden shall be restored. Beloved, you will see it with your own eyes!

Therefore, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath” (v. 8). Look at the created things that have been marred by the fall into sin. These things will not last. They will all perish. That means the visible institution sometimes called “Church” as well. And so we dare not place our faith in these things. That would be idolatry, exchanging the Creator for that which He has created. And that is a fatal mistake. “(F)or the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner.” This is what will happen on the Last Day when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. But, says the LORD… “but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” The promise of God carries us through the changes and chances of this fallen world, through suffering and the cross, through death and destruction, and even through the final judgment. Because finally the only thing that stands is the salvation of the Lord. He will deliver us. He will give us eternal life. Because He said so. And He has never yet failed to make good on His promises. So we can believe His Word with absolute assurance and confess biblical doctrine with boldness. And so also we can stake our very eternal lives with joy upon the faithfulness of the LORD.

The LORD comforts Zion with His promises. Indeed, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. And this means two things for us: 1. In spite of all appearances, there will always be a holy Christian and apostolic Church on earth, until the end of time, and 2. in the end, hell loses and the Church wins, because Jesus has already won. In fact, we are here this morning to celebrate the Feast of victory for our God, where Jesus gives us the instruments of His victory, His true body and blood. Beloved in the Lord, be comforted this morning. Believe the promises. Believe the Word. And go out with great joy into a world that is hostile to your Savior to confess his saving Name. You may catch hell for it, but hell is defeated by His cross. Your sins have been forgiven, loosed by the Word of the Lord. You have eternal life. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Commemoration of Johann Gerhard, Theologian

"From now on, I cannot doubt the forgiveness of sins because it is affirmed by my partaking of the price that was offered for my sins, the very blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 1:5; 5:9). From now on, I cannot doubt the indwelling of Christ because it is sealed for me in the imparting of His body and blood. From now on, I cannot doubt the assistance of the Holy Spirit because my weakness is strenthened by such a support. I do not fear the plots of Satan because this angelic food strengthens me to do battle. I do not fear the lures of the flesh because this life-giving and spiritual food strengthens me by the power of the Spirit. I eat and drink this food so Christ may dwell in me and I in Christ. The Good Shepherd will not allow the sheep, fed by His body and blood, to be devoured by the infernal wolf. He will not allow the strength of the Spirit to be overcome by the weakness of my flesh. Praise, honor, and thanksgiving to You, O kindest Savior, forever. AMEN."

--Johann Gerhard, Meditations on Divine Mercy, Matthew C. Harrison, Trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2003) p. 87.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 14)

August 7, 2011
Text: Job 38:4-18

Job is a comforting book, even if difficult to understand. Comforting, because we see in Job a beloved child of God whom God allows nonetheless to suffer unimaginable loss and misery at the hands of Satan. Difficult to understand, not just because of its poetic Hebrew structure, but also because, like Job, we want an answer to the question, “Why? Why, God, do You allow me to suffer?” And God’s answer to Job and to us is intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally, dissatisfying. God’s answer is that He doesn’t owe us an answer. Instead He asks a series of rhetorical questions that put us back in our place as His creatures and as His beloved sons and daughters. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5; ESV). On and on the questioning goes. It’s like God is being sarcastic. And in a way, He is. But He’s making an important point: Unless you had something to do with creating the heavens and the earth and everything that is, maybe you ought to just leave the running of the universe to the One who did create all things, and who still takes care of all things, namely, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He doesn’t owe you an explanation for what He’s doing, or how He’s working all things, even evil things, together for your good (Rom. 8:28). Faith waits upon the Lord, even when He is hidden behind tremendous suffering, even when He is hidden behind the cross. Because faith knows that after Good Friday, there is Easter; after death there is resurrection, that the Lord who WAS there when the foundations of the earth were laid, because He laid them, the One who did determine the earth’s measurements and laid its cornerstone when the morning stars (the holy angels) sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy, He will deliver you in His time and in His way and according to His wisdom. And His deliverance will be greater than anything you could ever ask or imagine.

We don’t know who wrote Job, though tradition suggests it may have been Moses. In any case, Job was a righteous man, which means that He had faith in God as His Redeemer, and looked for the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. He was also a rich man with a large family, seven sons and three daughters whom he loved and for whom he would offer sacrifices lest they fell into sin during their feasts. One day the angels gathered before God, including the evil angel, Satan. And God asked Satan where he had been. Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (1:7). He was out looking for trouble, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’” (v. 8). Twice Satan appears before God and twice God suggests that Satan afflict His servant Job. Yes, it’s actually God’s suggestion that Satan make Job suffer. The first time Job loses all his possessions and his children. In the face of this great tragedy, Job tears his clothes and shaves his head and confesses in faith, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (v. 21). The second time Job is afflicted with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). God gave Satan physical liberty with Job. The only thing Satan could not do is take Job’s life. There he is, the pitiful figure, robes torn and head shaved and body covered with sores, scratching his skin with a broken piece of pottery. Even Job’s wife tells him to “Curse God and die” (v. 9). Can you imagine what great anguish this must have caused Job? Yet he remains steadfast and confesses, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And the writer concludes, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v. 10). Far from it. In the midst of tremendous suffering and anguish, Job confesses the faith. He blesses God and worships Him. Job even has this marvelous confession of Christ and the resurrection right in the middle of the book: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (19:25-27). It’s a marvelous confession of life in the midst of death on account of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a marvelous confession of Job’s own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. Indeed, Job is a model for us in our suffering.

But that’s not the point of our text. The point is God’s answer to our question, “Why?” Job’s three friends gather around him to commiserate and to answer that question for him. And they get it totally wrong. “Surely you must have committed some great sin to deserve this, Job,” they say. “Confess your sin, repent, and God will relent.” But that is not why God is allowing Job to go through these tribulations. It is true that Job is sinful, but God is not punishing Job for his sin. He said nothing about punishment to Satan. No, what did God say? Job is “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). God is actually allowing Satan to torment Job because Job is a faithful Christian! He is testing Job. He is molding Job into the cruciform image of His Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered for our forgiveness. He is driving Job to rely on God alone for help and salvation. This is what God does for His Christians. He gives them the gift of the precious and holy cross. Having been redeemed by the innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, God now gives us crosses to bear, that we may take them up and follow Jesus, relying on Him alone for help and salvation, looking to Him in faith for relief, confessing Him even in the midst of tribulation. For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

And yet there’s still no easy answer to the question, “Why?” We can say all of these things about our suffering, that suffering shapes and molds us into Christ’s image and that it drives us to Christ in faith and that it will all ultimately work out for our good. But those are all abstract answers. To be sure, they are true answers, but they are not specific answers. They don’t go very far with the mother who has just lost her child, or the husband who has just lost his wife, or the accident victim who has lost the use of his legs. And they don’t go very far with you when you are suffering. Because when you’re suffering, you want specific answers and you want immediate relief. And when God doesn’t give you what you want, it is easy to fall into despair. There is always this struggle between faith and doubt in the midst of suffering. Patience is foreign to our sinful flesh. Waiting on God and His salvation is easier said than done. In fact, it takes the Holy Spirit Himself to give you the faith and patience to wait on God and to confess the faith in the midst of suffering. It has to come from outside of you, from God Himself. That is, of course, the point of the whole business, that you recognize that you have no resources to provide for your own relief or answer your own questions, that you have nothing and that you are nothing outside of God and outside of Jesus Christ His Son. But the specific answer to the question, “why,” you have to leave to God. Because He is the Maker of heaven and earth, and you are not. He is all-knowing and all-wise, and you are not. He knows what is for your good, and you do not. He can accomplish your salvation, and you cannot. Faith lives with the question.

But the question is not wholly unanswered. It is just that it is answered in a way beyond human comprehension, an answer grasped only by faith. The answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the answer of God to all human suffering. Jesus asks Job’s question and yours on your behalf: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; emphasis added). And the answer is, God forsook Jesus, His Son, in His suffering on the cross, that He might not forsake you in sin and death, not even in the midst of suffering. Having redeemed you in the suffering and death of Christ, He will not leave you without relief. Your suffering will come to an end. God will grant you perfect healing. He will raise you from death to live eternally with Him and with His risen Son, Jesus. And God Himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Therefore you can confess with Job, even in the midst of great suffering: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

There is a happy ending to Job’s story. The Lord restores his health, and as for his possessions, the Lord restores to Job double what he had lost. Job also has seven more sons and three more daughters. And in this way God also restores his children double, for his seven sons and three daughters that he lost in the beginning are not really lost. They are in heaven, with the Lord. And now there are seven more sons and three more daughters. And this reminds us that the Lord does not always restore to us double in this earthly life. Sometimes relief comes at the end, when you are in heaven, with Jesus. Heaven is far better, beloved. In heaven, there is perfect healing for your soul. And in the resurrection, there is perfect healing for your body. So even if you are not relieved in this earthly life, there is a happy ending for you, too. Because the answer to your suffering and the suffering of all the world is the suffering of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. God does not always tell us the “why” of suffering. But He always tells us the solution. It is Jesus, your crucified Lord and Redeemer. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.