Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reformation Day

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2012
Text: Romans 3:19-28

            If Lutheranism is anything other than the biblical faith once for all delivered to the saints, you should flee it as you would flee plague and pestilence.  If Lutheranism is anything other than the biblical faith once for all delivered to the saints, it is a poison to the Christian Church.  We shouldn’t be Lutherans just because that’s what Mom and Dad said we are, or because that’s what Grandma was.  We shouldn’t be Lutherans just because that’s the particular flavor of Christianity we find more appealing than the others (at least for the moment).  To be Lutheran for those reasons is like picking your favorite sports team because you like the color of their jerseys… Oh, wait, that is often one of the reasons we pick a sports team, isn’t it?  But it’s so superficial.  If you don’t want your faith to be superficial (and you shouldn’t want that!), then you need to examine what it is you believe at a deeper level than simply, “Lutheran is what we’ve always been,” or “The Lutheran Church just happens to be the convenient choice at the moment.”  You should be Lutheran because you’re convinced that Lutheranism at its best is nothing other than the faith of Jesus Christ revealed in Holy Scripture.

            Now, first of all, here’s what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that other Christians aren’t, well… Christian.  I’m not saying other Christians won’t go to heaven.  It’s sad that I have to make these disclaimers, but I know from experience what will happen if I don’t.  Someone will walk away today saying, “Pastor Krenz says Baptists aren’t Christians, or Roman Catholics aren’t Christians, or Methodists won’t be saved.”  Beloved, this is precisely what I’m NOT saying, and if you walk away with the impression that I am saying this, you’re not listening.  We disagree with them on many important points of theology, but we love them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  The plain fact is, though, that I’m not really talking about them this morning.  Nor am I saying that Lutherans don’t have faults.  Actually, Lutherans should be the first to confess our faults.  We’re sinners, and we know it.  Saved only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  We confess that we’re often unfaithful to Lutheran doctrine.  In that way, we’ve often erred.  God be merciful to us.  He is, in Christ.  But what I mean when I say that Lutheranism at its best is nothing other than the faith of Jesus Christ revealed in Holy Scripture, is this.  There is such a thing as objective truth.  As such, there are true things to say about God, and there are false things to say about God.  And where we disagree, we can’t all be right.  I know this is politically incorrect to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.  I’m a Lutheran because I believe Lutheranism is true.  I’m a Lutheran because I believe the source and norm of all Lutheran doctrine is the Holy Scriptures, Scripture alone.  I’m a Lutheran because the heart and center of Lutheranism is the good news that we are justified, declared righteous before God, not based on good works that we have done, but because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone.  We are therefore saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  This isn’t something Martin Luther or the Lutherans invented.  This is the very truth of the Gospel. 

            I believe Lutheranism is true because it is nothing other than what St. Paul describes in our text, the reading from Romans Chapter 3.  In that Chapter, St. Paul puts us in our place.  There is no good in us.  I’m not “basically a good person,” and neither are you.  We’re sinners.  We’ve fallen far short of the glory of God.  We were born in sin, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, the original sinners.  We bear the disease of sin, and we sin all over the place as a result.  Not only that, sin is a fatal disease.  We die.  Every one of us will die, unless the Lord Jesus returns first.  We’re sinners condemned to death, and worse, condemned to hell.  And we’re totally unable to do anything about it.  So our mouths are stopped.  The whole world is held accountable to God (Rom. 3:19).  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (v. 20; ESV).  We can’t do it.  We can’t earn our way to heaven.  We can’t earn righteousness before God.  That’s why God sent His Son.

            But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (vv. 21-24).  There you have it from Paul’s own pen: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  This is what the Bible teaches.  This is Lutheranism.  You should be a Lutheran for no other reason than that you believe what Paul here says.  And if I ever teach anything else, you have a divine obligation to correct me.  If you attend another church and you find that anything other than what Paul here teaches is taught in that church, flee it like plague and pestilence.  It’s poison.  You are not saved by works.  You are not saved by the Law.  You are not saved by being “basically a good person.”  You are a sinner.  You are saved by Jesus Christ, because for no good reason other than His love for you and the whole world, God sent His Son to die for your sins, so that believing in Him, you might have eternal life.  That’s it.  That’s Lutheranism. That’s what the Reformation was all about.

            You see, when Luther was an Augustinian monk, he was plagued by the question of how to have peace with God, how to know his sins were forgiven, how to know he had eternal life.  And by that time, the Christian Church had all but forgotten these words of Paul.  Many teachers of the Church told Luther that, while certainly there was Christ and His death and resurrection and all that, Luther needed to also work off his sins by doing satisfactions and other good works.  And if in this life he wasn’t successful in working off all his sins, there would be Purgatory when he died.  For many years Luther believed all this.  Yet no matter how hard he worked, he still felt the very real guilt of his sins.  But then he started reading the Bible.  He especially started reading Romans.  And he found out that the Bible says nothing about satisfactions for sin, except for THE satisfaction for sin made by our Lord Jesus Christ in His death on the cross, once and for all.  The Bible says nothing about Purgatory.  There’s no such thing.  There’s no need.  Because Jesus Christ paid for our sins in full on the cross.  It’s all been done for us.  We’re aren’t saved by working off our sins, as if we even could.  Christ Jesus is the perfect sacrifice of atonement for our forgiveness.  He did it all.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away Luther’s sin, and your sin, and mine.
            That’s Lutheranism.  And every other article of Lutheran doctrine is all about that.  Christ is the center.  Justification is by grace alone; it’s totally a gift of God given without our merit or worthiness.  Justification is by faith alone; faith itself being God’s gift to us, nothing other than trust in Jesus Christ, nothing other than the hands that receive God’s gifts in Christ given in His Word and in the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Justification is in Christ alone; Christ fulfilling the Law for us, Christ paying the penalty for all our sins in His innocent suffering and death, Christ bringing us new life by the power of His resurrection and the imparting of His Holy Spirit in the means of grace.  That’s Lutheranism.  And it all comes from Scripture alone.  We believe the Bible is God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, without error.  So if God’s Word says something, we believe it.  We believe it, whether we like it or not, whether it makes us feel good or not, whether it makes sense to us or not.  Because we’re not above God’s Word.  We’re formed by God’s Word.  God’s Word mold us and shapes us. 

            Jesus says in our Gospel that if you abide in His Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).  There is such a thing as truth.  Contrary to popular belief, it is objective, and it is absolute.  What’s true is true.  What’s not true, is false.  Jesus is the truth.  And He reveals Himself in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.  Why be a Lutheran?  There’s only one good reason.  Because you’re convinced that Lutheranism is nothing other than the faith of Jesus Christ revealed in Holy Scripture.  Dear Lutherans, God has given you a great gift in your doctrine.  You don’t deserve it.  He gives it to you by grace alone.  Just as He gives you salvation, by grace alone.  And as it is with salvation, so it is with Lutheranism.  Christ is the center.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 24)

October 21, 2012

Text: Mark 10:23-31
            How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23; ESV).  Jesus’ Words, not mine.  He’s not saying here that wealth is bad, or that you shouldn’t enjoy what you have, especially if you acknowledge it as a good gift of God and share it with those in need.  But Jesus does say that wealth can pose a great obstacle to your salvation.  Wealth makes it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.  And by any objective standard, even the poorest among us in this building are wealthy in comparison with the vast majority of the world population throughout history.  We live like kings and queens in our solid structures with indoor plumbing and electricity and upholstered couches, much less cable and the internet and cell phones, not to mention motor vehicles.  You’re very wealthy, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.  And I say this, not to guilt you.  You should give thanks to God for this.  Enjoy it.  Share it.  But you also need to take to heart what Jesus says to you in our Gospel.  How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
            Jesus says this on the heels of last week’s text, where He told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, and then come follow Jesus.  That’s why wealth is the particular subject of this week’s Scripture lessons.  Remember, the rich young man went away sad, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:22).  Wealth was his idol, and he found it difficult to part with that idol as the cost of becoming Jesus’ disciple.  The point of our text today is that wealth can so easily become your idol.  The poor covet what the wealthy possess.  The wealthy covet even more wealth.  In either case, you and I worship at the altar of mammon.  No one ever says, “Okay, I have enough.  I don’t need anything more.”  Even Christians, who should say that Christ is enough, don’t say that.  Repent.  If wealth is your idol, it will hinder your entrance to the kingdom of God.  If wealth is your idol, confess that to God.  Give up your idolatry to Christ, to be covered by His blood and nailed to His cross.  Be absolved.  Fear, love, and trust in God alone. 
            The truth is, as Jesus indicates here in our text, that it isn’t just the wealthy who will have difficulty entering the Kingdom of God.  It’s every one of us.  As the disciples stand, mouths agape with amazement at Jesus’ Words, our Lord continues, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 24).  Entering the Kingdom is difficult, period.  In fact, impossible.  Utterly impossible for any sinful human being.  It’s impossible for the rich.  In fact, it’d be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (v. 25), a ridiculous notion.  It’s impossible for the poor, who long to be wealthy with the rest.  It is not possible for any one of us, not you, not me, to enter the Kingdom of God.  Without Jesus, that is.  That’s really the point of today’s Gospel.  And the disciples get it, all too clearly.  Then who can be saved?” they exclaim (v. 26).  With man it is impossible,” Jesus frankly responds (v. 27).  (B)ut not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”  With God, with Jesus Christ, it is even possible for you, rich or poor, to enter the Kingdom of God.  For the Lord Jesus Christ died for all your sins on the cross, even your sin of idolatry, and He is risen, triumphant over all your sins, and over sin’s wages, death and damnation.  By His death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus restores you to the Father as God’s own child, washing you by water and the Spirit in Baptism, calling you to repentance and faith and granting you new birth in Him, speaking your sins forgiven in Absolution, bringing you before His altar to feast on His true body and blood given and shed for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He has reclaimed you for God from your idols, whatever they may be.  Impossible with man.  Possible, and the reality, with God, in Christ, by the Spirit.
            What we run into here is the bondage of the will.  You enter the Kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ, and Jesus says that is impossible for you.  If you are to enter the Kingdom, He must do it, because you are incapable on your own.  Your will is bound from birth.  It is bound to sin.  It is bound to death.  Because you are a child of Adam and Eve, the original sinners, who sold your freedom of will and life for a bite of forbidden fruit.  So you are in bondage.  You are born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  Until the Holy Spirit comes by Word and Baptism to breathe new life into you, you cannot make your decision for Jesus.  You cannot choose to be a Christian.  Nor do you want to.  Because you’re spiritually blind.  You can’t see your need for Jesus, or why you’d want to believe in Him.  You’re spiritually dead.  What can a dead man choose to do?  What can a dead man do about his deadness?  You’re an enemy of God.  You hate Him.  Just look at the animosity the unbelieving world has toward Jesus Christ and His Christians.  This is the reality into which you were born.  That’s what you were.  Until Baptism.  Until Christ took possession of you by His Word, by His Spirit.  It is impossible for a man to come to faith in Jesus.  But what is impossible with man is possible with God.  God converts you.  God brings you to faith.  God leads you to repentance.  God forgives all your sins and gives you eternal life.  It is all God’s work, in Christ His Son, by the Spirit working in the means of grace.        
            But then, after God has done all of this, amazing things begin to happen.  The Spirit continues to nurture you in your Baptism by His Word and by the Supper of Jesus, and suddenly wealth doesn’t mean so much anymore.  It’s always a struggle, to give up your idolatry.  It will only be complete in heaven.  But you do struggle.  You don’t want to be an idolater anymore.  And sometimes, to your great surprise, you give up great things to be in God’s Kingdom, which is far better than any wealth.  Look what Peter and the other disciples gave up to be followers of Jesus.  See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28).  And they had.  They left their boats and nets.  The sons of Zebedee left their father.  They left their family fishing business.   By the time all was said and done, the apostles left their wealth, their worldly honor, their freedom, their comfort, their health, their very lives for Jesus’ sake.  They were mocked, beaten, imprisoned, killed for the Gospel.  Who knows what Jesus may ask you to give up someday for His Name and Gospel?  But here is His promise to the disciples and to you: “Truly, I say to you, 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, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (vv. 31-32).  Many of your brothers and sisters throughout the world suffer great persecution on account of Christ.  Many risk their lives to come to church.  It is increasingly harder to be a confessing Christian even in our own society.  Even our own family members can oppose us for our confession of Christ and His Word of Truth.  Perhaps someday you will have to leave behind your wealth to follow Jesus.  Perhaps someday they will imprison you or beat you because you bear the Name of Christ.  Maybe someday you will be called to die a martyr’s death.  It could happen.  So be it.  You can leave everything, even your life, to follow Jesus.  Because He is your life.  He is your wealth.  And He has called you by His Spirit and made you His own in Baptism, so that you have the power to leave everything and follow Jesus.  He’s given you new life.  He’s freed you from your bondage to sin and death.  There are many difficulties for one who enters the Kingdom of God.  But it is not impossible.  Not for God.  He brings you into His Kingdom.  He is faithful.  He will cause you to persevere.  He will bring you home to Himself. 
            In the meantime, enjoy all that God gives you.  It is good and fitting “to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him… Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them… this is the gift of God” (Ecc. 5:18-19).  Just don’t hoard it all up for yourself or live for your stuff or worship it.  Instead, share it.  Give it away freely.  Recognize that it all belongs to God.  Use it for His glory, for the proclamation of His Word, and to provide for the needs of your brothers and sisters who have less.  That’s what a Christian does with his material blessings.  And again, if the Lord calls you to do so, give it up.  Because having Christ, you have all you need.  If you possess Him, you possess everything.  For He is your life.  And He is the very Kingdom of God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 22)

October 7, 2012

Text: Mark 10:2-16

            Divorce.  All of us have been affected by it in some way.  Perhaps you’ve gone through a divorce yourself, or maybe your parents were divorced, or some other family members you were close to, or your friends.  Depending on which statistics you believe, the divorce rate for first marriages is between 45 and 50%, and that rate increases dramatically for second and again for third marriages.  Divorce is a topic we don’t address in the church often enough, probably because of the sensitive nature of the subject.  Divorce hurts.  It hurts those who go through it.  It hurts those who love those who go through it.  It hurts children.  It hurts extended family.  It hurts society.  It hurts the Church of God.  It breaks people, and leaves them broken.  And there’s a lot of guilt when it comes to divorce, because divorce is sinful.  ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel” through the Prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:16; NASB).  Divorce is the separation of what God has joined together in Holy Matrimony.  God’s Word and sexual intercourse make man and wife one flesh.  That’s God’s plan, as He instituted marriage for our good, for companionship, for the procreation of children, even before the fall into sin, as we read in our Old Testament lesson this morning, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast two his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; ESV).  Jesus quotes this passage in our Gospel, adding “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).  Because to separate what God has joined together in this way, husband and wife, is to do an act of violence against the one-flesh union, against God’s sacred institution, against your spouse, against your children, and again, against society and the holy Church.  The biblical definition of marriage is the lifelong and exclusive union of one man and one woman.  Till death do you part.  Only death should end a marriage.  We should not get divorced.  And yet, the reality is that even many Christians get divorced, leaving a trail of hurt and guilt behind them.  How does our Lord address this in His Word?  How should the Church address this as she ministers to broken people in broken relationships and in a culture that is broken and hell-bent on shattering itself to an even greater degree?

            First of all, if you’ve suffered a divorce, whether you’re at fault or not, don’t lose heart.  I know that many of you bear deep hurts when it comes to this subject.  There is a Word from the Lord for you, for your forgiveness and life, to make you whole again.  But first, a bit more of the bitter medicine of God’s Law, because the Christian Church desperately needs instruction on the topic of divorce.  It’s true, as the Pharisees say in our text, that Moses encoded the process for divorce in the civil law of Israel.  As Jesus points out, he didn’t do this because divorce in any way pleases God.  This is not God’s permission to get a divorce.  He did it because of our hardness of heart.  He did it because in terms of the first use of the law, the civil use that sets boundaries for society, there needed to be some protection, especially for women in ancient Israel, so that people couldn’t leave their spouse for just any old reason, like “we’ve fallen out of love,” or “irreconcilable differences,” or any of the other empty and silly excuses we make when we’re simply unwilling to do the hard work of marriage.  Actually, biblically speaking, there are only two reasons a Christian can, without sin, obtain a divorce.  The first is when your spouse is sexually unfaithful to you, adultery, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 19:9 (which is a parallel of our text): “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  In other words, if your spouse has been sexually immoral, you’re free.  You don’t have to divorce them, but you can do so, without sin.  Otherwise, even divorce does not end your marriage in God’s sight.  The second reason is what we call “malicious desertion,” when your spouse leaves you even though you were not seeking a divorce.  St. Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 7, where he is urging believers to stay married to their unbelieving spouses.  But,” he says in v. 15, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved,” but the person is free to remarry.  The sin of divorce is not theirs, but belongs with the one who left.

            Of course, Christians divorce for all sorts of reasons that are not biblical, but sinful.  There is no excuse for this.  But there is forgiveness.  Repent.  Confess your sin.  And hear and cling to the Absolution.  The blood of Jesus Christ covers all our sins.  What does the Lord say in His Word to those broken by divorce?  To those who bear deep scars and hurts because of broken relationships?  What does the Lord say to any broken sinner?  How should the Church minister to those broken by divorce or by any other sin?  The Gospel.  Full and free forgiveness of all your sins, including the sins of divorce and unfaithfulness and desertion and every other sin, in Christ, your crucified and risen Lord.  When you are unfaithful, and you are, whether you’ve been divorced or not… none of us lives in the faithfulness that God commands… when you are unfaithful, your Lord is faithful to you!  Jesus Christ died for you, and for your spouse, for the ex who sinned against you, or against whom you sinned, for the children left behind in divorce’s wake, for all people.  Jesus Christ died for you, for your forgiveness, to pay sin’s wages on your behalf.  And He’s risen from the dead.  He’s victorious over sin and death.  Your life is in Him.  So repent and be forgiven and start again.  There is new life for you in Christ.  He is your new beginning.  Be faithful now that you’re in Him.  And insofar as you are unfaithful, return again and again to Him, confessing your sins, for forgiveness and another new start. 

            You see, the Gospel frees us, one and all, to be faithful in our family life.  It frees spouses to be faithful to one another, to love and honor and serve one another, to be patient with one another, to forgive one another.  It frees parents to be faithful to children, to bring them to Jesus for His blessing (Mark 10:13-16), which means bringing them to Holy Baptism, bringing them faithfully to the Lord’s house to hear His Word and be forgiven of their sins, bringing them to Sunday School and Catechism class and finally to the Lord’s Supper, teaching them the Bible and prayer in the home by family devotions, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  When we don’t do those things, we “hinder them,” which Jesus expressly forbids in our Gospel (Mark 10:14).  Not only should we bring our children to Jesus for His blessing, we should receive Jesus and His Kingdom like a child (v. 15), which means in childlike trust that all Jesus says is true and that He will make good on all His promises.  Finally, the Gospel frees children to be faithful to their parents, to honor father and mother, as is their Fourth Commandment duty, not to despise or anger them, but to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them.  The Gospel frees us for faithfulness in Christian vocation, faithfulness in all the relationships in which God has placed us.  Because all our unfaithfulness is forgiven, having been nailed to the cross.  And in Christ we have new life and strength, as God Himself works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). 

            It is, after all, God who must build our families and hold them together.  We could never do it, because a bunch of sinners living together with a bunch of sinners will always sin against one another, leading to brokenness.  God must put us back together in the forgiveness of sins.  God must build and sustain our families with His Spirit, by His Word, in the forgiveness of sins that we have in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus and the new life that we have in His resurrection.  So we sang in the Introit: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).  The LORD builds our homes, our families, and He sustains us as we live together under Him.  The LORD leads us to the confession of Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).  The LORD grants children to parents, entrusting the children to their care, with the admonition to bring them to Jesus for His blessing.  He sets the solitary in families.  He provides for the widow and the orphan and the stranger among you.  Your family is God’s gift to you, and you are God’s gift to your family.  Receive one another in faithfulness and thanksgiving.  Beloved, the LORD is with your family, even with all its warts and weaknesses and sins.  He makes His dwelling among you.  And He will never forsake you.  It was, after all, into a family, into a marriage cloaked in scandal and at the breaking point, in which the Lord Jesus Christ was born, becoming one with us in our flesh.  And He is the Bridegroom of the Church.  God put our Lord Jesus into a deep sleep, the sleep of death, and from His riven side formed His holy Bride, His Eve, the Church, by water and blood.  The Lord Jesus gave Himself for His holy Bride, gave Himself into death, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Baptism), so that he might present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).  Did you catch that?  Jesus takes away all the stains and wrinkles and blemishes that His bride has inflicted upon herself by her sin.  He takes away all of her guilt, all of her hurt, all of her division.  He takes it into Himself and nails it to His cross.  You live in that reality.  Your family lives in that reality.  In Christ, you are holy and without blemish.  So rejoice in what God has joined together, and live in it joyfully.  God will bless it.  Trust Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.