Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday
October 27, 2013
Text: Rom. 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

            Beloved in the Lord, our Lord Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:310-32; ESV).  You may not know it, but you were born a slave.  You were born with original sin, and so you were born in rebellion against God.  You were a slave to sin, a slave to the flesh, a slave to the devil.  Don’t believe me?  Then tell me, why is that every last human being in the whole history of our race has died?  Do you believe you will be the first to live forever?  Why not?  If you’re free, then you can just decide you’re not going to participate in death, thank you very much.  Ah, but you don’t have a choice, do you?  So you’re not free.  The Bible is clear.  Death is the wages of sin, to which you are enslaved.  (S)in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  So there you are.  Enslaved.  Sin.  Death.  The Flesh.  The devil.  These are your task masters.  To be free of these, something must be done about your sin.  You must be forgiven, and made right with God, righteous in God’s sight, what we mean when we use the term justification.  The question, of course, is how?    
            The year was 1517.  It was All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day.  A young Augustinian Friar made his way through the streets of Wittenberg in Saxony to nail some long sheets of parchment to the Church door, the bulletin board of his day.  The parchment was filled with Latin, an invitation to scholarly debate among the professors of the University of Wittenberg.  The debate would center around 95 statements, assertions, theses penned by Dr. Martin Luther.  It was to be, as he would call it, a “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.”  Indulgences.  These were meant to be an answer to the question, how do I get right with God? For a price, you could buy salvation for yourself or others, true spiritual freedom, and in the process you would help fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Top indulgence salesman John Tetzel used to say: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  Luther, the pastor and professor of theology, had a problem with this system of buying and selling souls.  And if he was looking for a debate, he certainly got one.  It turns out others had a problem with the system of indulgences, too.  The theses were quickly translated by students into the language of the common man.  They were published throughout Saxony and spread like wildfire.  Soon, word reached the Pope in Rome, as well as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  They weren’t very happy with this “drunken German,” as Pope Leo X called him.  Very soon, Dr. Luther was a marked man.  And so he was forced by the crisis at hand to embark on a quest for the truth: Is he right?  Or is he just disturbing the peace of the Church?  Is this a battle worth fighting?  Or will this do more damage than good?  Will it spark a reformation of the Church, or a rebellion against God?  To find the answer, Luther plunged himself into deep study of God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures.  For Holy Scripture is the only source of sure and certain truth in the struggle against the serpent’s lies.  If you abide in my word” Jesus says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
            There were a number of issues at stake in the Reformation, but chief among them was this: How is man justified before God?  How does man become righteous?  And how can his sins be forgiven?  How can a man escape God’s divine wrath, death, and damnation?  As a child, Luther was taught that Christ is a righteous Judge who is very angry over sin and delights in condemning people to hell.  The Christian can appease Christ’s anger by making sure to confess every sin, doing works called satisfactions to make up for sins (works such as prayers, rosaries, fasting, that sort of thing), going on pilgrimages to holy places, looking at holy relics, and attending Mass as often as possible.  Even then, Luther was taught, you’ll have to spend centuries in Purgatory to pay off your sins. Become a monk or a nun and you’ll have an easier time of it.  But notice who is ultimately responsible for your salvation in this system.  You are.  You must work for it.  You must earn it.  With help from Christ, of course, but if you want to be saved, you have to do the work.  When will you ever have done enough?  Luther was terrified by this question.  He became a monk.  He fasted.  He prayed.  He made a pilgrimage to Rome.  He went to confession and did the prescribed satisfactions.  He nearly died of starvation, self-inflicted to make up for his sins.  But he never found peace.  He never found the truth and freedom for which he yearned. 
            Until he read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Chapter 1:17 made a profound impression on him: “The righteous shall live by faith” (ESV).  Then, from our Epistle lesson, Chapter 3:28: “For we hold that one is justified [declared righteous] by faith apart from works of the law.”  As it turns out, man cannot earn the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God.  It is given as a gift, freely, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to your account, received by faith, which is to say, trust that the whole thing is true.  Christ brought it all about by His sin-atoning death on the cross: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” writes Paul, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” the God-given sacrifice for our sins (vv. 23-25).
            Beloved in the Lord, this is the very truth that sets you free!  It frees you from sin.  All of that is nailed to the cross of Christ and your debt to God is paid in full.  It frees you from death.  Jesus died your death on the cross.  And He is risen from the dead.  So as death can no longer hold Him, neither can it hold those who are in Him.  It frees you from the devil.  For Christ has defeated him.  He’s crushed the old serpent’s head.  And so, as Luther came to understand, this is a truth worth fighting for.  It is a truth worth dying for.  This isn’t just some theological speculation that may or may not be true.  This is the Word of the Lord.  This is God’s sure promise, recorded for us in Holy Scripture, sealed by the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  And this truth is for you.  We celebrate Reformation Day, not because Martin Luther is our hero or because we think that everything he ever said or wrote is Gospel truth (only the Bible is that!).  We celebrate Reformation Day because of the biblical Gospel Luther proclaimed: That all your sins are forgiven, not because of any work that you have done, not because of any satisfaction you could ever make, and certainly not because of any indulgence you may buy.  Your sins are forgiven on account of Christ, crucified for your sins.  And in His resurrection from the dead you are justified, declared righteous, right with God, who loves you, and has made you His own in Holy Baptism (as we witnessed again today when God made Andrew His own by the washing of water and the Word).  Believe this promise and you have it.  That’s faith.  Simply trust in what God has done for you in Christ.
            And as this truth brought peace to Martin Luther, it brings peace to you.  Christ came into the flesh, not as an angry Judge, but as a merciful Savior.  For you.  And so you know that when He does come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, you have no reason to fear.  He has covered your sins with His blood.  He has declared you righteous already, not because of what you have done, but because of what He has done for you.  St. Paul and Martin Luther and Christ Himself preach this consolation to you this morning: You are justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  You are justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  Jesus Christ is your righteousness before God.  And He is your eternal life.  You are no longer a slave.  You are free.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 23)
October 13, 2013
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            Our Holy Gospel this morning is the traditional Gospel text for Thanksgiving Day, and it is usually preached this way: God pours out His abundant blessings upon us, and we ought to be like the Samaritan and make sure we say “Thank you.”  All of which is true enough.  God does pour out abundant blessings upon us, and we should give thanks to Him.  And the fact is, we’re more often than not like the other nine who did not turn back and give thanks to God.  We should be more like the Samaritan.  But that’s not really the point of this text.  Even unbelieving mothers teach their children to say thank you.  Such a moralism can never be the point of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            No, the point is the cleansing that comes from Jesus Christ alone, and the faith that returns to Him for more.  The cleansing in our text is for all ten lepers.  All ten are desperate for help.  All ten cry out for mercy.  They’ve undoubtedly heard about this Galilean miracle worker named Jesus.  So why not take a chance.  Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13; ESV).  They pray the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy,” a simple, yet profound prayer which has been used, and abused, ever since.  It is the cry of faith on the part of the Christian, a last desperate shot in the dark for the atheist in the foxhole or the agnostic, just a formality that keeps the Prayer of the Church moving along for many in between.  Yet Jesus responds.  The Lord hears and answers.  That’s why it’s such a valuable prayer.  It asks for what we need most.  Mercy.  Mercy from Jesus.  Mercy includes anything and everything we could possibly need: Forgiveness of sins, help in the day of trouble, hope in the midst of despair, our cleansing and healing.  The lepers pray Jesus for mercy, and He delivers.  Go and show yourselves to the priests,” He commands (v. 14), and as they are walking, an amazing thing happens.  They are cleansed.  Their skin, eaten away by this deadly disease, is miraculously restored, smooth as a newborn baby’s!  I imagine they were all shrieking with joy.  I imagine they were all very grateful, whether or not they remembered to say thank you.  Nine of them skipped off to Jerusalem to show themselves to the priests, because the priests could declare them clean, acceptable to be around people again, to go back to their families and friends, to get back to living life again.  But one of them, a Samaritan, turns back.  He is praising God with a loud voice.  He returns to the village, falls at Jesus’ feet, and gives thanks.  The difference between this Samaritan and the other nine isn’t that he’s thankful and the others aren’t.  They’re all cleansed.  They’re all grateful.  But the difference is this.  The Samaritan knows the true source of his cleansing.  The Samaritan knows the true High Priest who not only pronounces people clean, but makes them clean.  The Samaritan praises God with a loud voice and falls at the feet of Jesus to worship.  This Jesus is not just some Galilean miracle worker, after all.  Jesus is God.  The Samaritan has faith.  He believes in Jesus, who has cleansed him.  And, as is always the case with faith, he comes back to Jesus for more.
            Jesus has mercy on all of them, the nine good Jews, and even this detested Samaritan.  And here we have a picture of how Jesus’ mercy works.  He has mercy on all.  Everybody.  Without exception.  All ten lepers are cleansed.  The whole world is absolved of sin in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, because there He takes away that sin, pays for it in His death.  That’s what John the Baptist says.  Remember what he says of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of…  Of whom?  Of the good Christians?  Of those who remember to say thank you for it?  No.  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The world!  Jesus has mercy on the whole world.  He dies for the world.  That means everybody.  That means you.  That means that there’s not a person you’ll ever meet to whom you can’t say: “Jesus died for you!”  He died for Jews and Christians who don’t say thanks.  He died for atheists in foxholes and agnostics who blasphemously pray the Kyrie.  He died for presidents and members of Congress.  He died for those no good, dirty, rotten Samaritans.  And here’s the real scandal: He even died for you.
            Jesus died for you.  Jesus has mercy on you.  Here’s the thing, though.  All ten lepers were cleansed, but only one believed in Him.  All ten lepers were healed and restored physically, but only one came back for more, for the real thing.  Jesus has mercy on the whole world.  He dies for the whole world.  As a result, God pours out manifold blessings on the whole world.  Even unbelievers enjoy great gifts from God in this earthly life, even healing from diseases, some of which we consider to be miraculous healings.  The problem isn’t that we’re unthankful (even unbelievers celebrate Thanksgiving!).  The problem is that, like the lepers, our fallen human flesh gets so wrapped up in the blessings of this world that, by nature, it never comes back to Jesus for more.  And so it flounders in unbelief.  But something happens to those who, by the cleansing Word of Jesus, are called to faith, as was the Samaritan, who by God’s grace, recognize the source of it all, who believe in Jesus and come back to Him for more.  Jesus says to you, as He says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has,” not simply “made you well,” as your ESV translation has it, but “saved you.”  Faith receives and personally takes hold of the salvation, the mercy, that Jesus has for the whole world in His death on the cross.  Faith is how you receive, personally, what Jesus freely offers to all.  Jesus pays for everybody’s sins, but only those who believe it receive the benefit of it.  So unbelievers aren’t saved, which is tragic, because Jesus’ death is as much for them as it is for you.  But they have rejected Him in favor of other gods.  The other nine lepers were cleansed of their leprosy, but they didn’t come back for more, they didn’t recognize the source of the cleansing, and so they didn’t come back to receive the real cleansing, the cleansing that only comes from Jesus, the cleansing that only benefits those who believe in Him.  And the cleansing we’re talking about is the forgiveness of sins.
            That, finally, is the cleansing that every one of us needs.  And that is the reason the Son of God came in the flesh.  To take away the leprosy of sin.  The leprosy of sin is eating us to death.  Jesus came to cleanse us from that, to take it into Himself, to nail it to the cross in His flesh, to die for it in our place.  And then to be raised without it, that we might be healed and made clean and live forever in His perfect wholeness.  This wonderful gift, this healing and eternal life, He gives to us in the cleansing waters of Baptism, the preaching of His death and resurrection, the medicine of His Body and Blood in the Supper.  Freely.  Apart from works.  Independent of thanksgiving.  Faith comes back for more.  Faith delights in the gifts.  Then, faith praises God with a loud voice and falls at the feet of Jesus, giving Him thanks.  Jesus doesn’t say to the Samaritan, “Your thanksgiving has saved you,” but “Your faith has saved you.” 
            And here we see the proper place of thanksgiving in the Christian life.  Faith gives thanks to God.  Thanksgiving does not earn salvation.  Thanksgiving is the result of salvation.  And notice here what thanksgiving is: It is simply coming back to Jesus for more.  That’s all.  Jesus isn’t sitting around, drumming His fingers on the table, waiting for your thank you note, wondering if you appreciate His gifts.  He doesn’t need your appreciation.  But He wants you to be thankful for your sake, in such a way that you delight in His gifts, revel in them, rest in them, trust in them, and ever come to Him again and again, plate raised to Him in faith, asking for more.  Forgive my sins, dear Jesus.  Grant me Your Spirit, dear Jesus.  Strengthen me and help me, dear Jesus.  Jesus, Master, Lord, have mercy upon us.  And His answer is yes.  I will.  I have.  I do.  I am.  And He fills you with Himself.  “Go your way.  Live your life in me. Your faith, your empty plate now filled by the only One who can fill it, has saved you.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 22)
Oct. 6, 2013
Text: Luke 17:1-10

            Jesus said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6; ESV).  Have you ever tried this?  Go stand in front of a tree, concentrate really hard on believing in Jesus enough, and then speak the command: “Be uprooted and planted in the midst of the sea!”  What happens?  I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts the tree just stands there where it always has, roots planted firmly in the ground.  What does this mean?  Does it mean you don’t have enough faith?  Do you need to drum up even more faith within yourself?  Does it mean Jesus was lying when He made this promise?  Does it mean God can’t deliver?  Where is the deficiency?  In you?  In God?  In your Bible translation?  As is so often the case with Jesus and His Word, there is more going on here than meets the eye.  First of all, let’s just agree that, as Jesus says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7), which is precisely what you would be doing if you did this little experiment with the mulberry tree.  You must first ask if it is God’s will that the mulberry tree be so moved.  And if not, God is unlikely to give you the power to move it.
            But what is really the point of what our Lord says here?  Is He really concerned about you moving trees with your faith?  Jesus has just told the disciples to do some impossible things.  Never lead your neighbor into temptation, whether by encouraging or participating with him in his sin, or tacitly condoning his sin by your silence.  When you neighbor sins, rebuke him, and (and this is the hardest part), if he repents, forgive him.  No matter what he’s done.  No matter how many times he’s done it.  If he sins against you seven times in one day, and seven times repents, you are to forgive him.  Or, as our Lord answers Peter’s question elsewhere, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” … “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21-22).  Well, you all know from experience how difficult, nay, impossible, these commandments are to fulfill.  Never lead your neighbor into temptation?  Every child has broken that one.  Rebuke your brother when he sins?  No way, that would hurt our relationship.  It’s too hard.  And then the really tough one.  Forgive.  As Christ has forgiven you, forgive your brother who sins against you.  And how has Christ forgiven you?  He died for you.  Forgiving you killed Him, literally.  That’s how you are to forgive.  And of course you must recognize that you sin against Him more than seven times, or even seventy-seven times in a day, but there He is, holding out His pierced hands to you, ready to receive you back, covering your sins by His blood. 
            You forgive that way.  Impossible!  And you’re right.  The apostles recognize this, too.  They understand that this is impossible for them to do by their own strength.  They know that they need something from the Lord, from outside of them, to be able to do this.  So they pray to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).  It is a prayer that we also pray, constantly.  This is going to take a lot, this not leading into temptation, this rebuking, this forgiving.  This is going to take more than we have within ourselves.  Lord, increase our faith!  What is interesting, though, is how Jesus answers this prayer.  He doesn’t answer by giving them an increasing quantity of faith.  He simply says that if they have faith, and they do, then they can do the impossible, even saying to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would do it.  Faith, even as small as a mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, can do the impossible, like forgive the brother who sins against you.  Yes, it can.  Now, I’m not talking about having warm and fuzzy feelings about that brother.  I’m talking about you dying for that brother’s sin, dying to yourself, taking it on the chin.  I’m talking about you loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).  You understand that when you pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” you are essentially saying, “Lord, forgive me all my sins.  And I am publicly stating here in this prayer that I forgive everyone who has sinned against me.”  There is an objective quality about this forgiveness.  Again, I’m not talking about how you feel toward that brother who has sinned against you.  I’m talking about your objective decision to forgive, even if it kills you, as Christ has forgiven you. 
            “Impossible, Pastor!”  Right.  Just like the mulberry tree.  What is going on with that tree?  A living tree uprooted and planted where it has no hope of survival, namely, the salty sea.  And there it is to go on living, to thrive even.  Impossible.  There is another tree, the tree of life, the tree of the cross, which is planted in the most inhospitable environment, in the heart of the sinner.[1]  In your heart!  And there the impossible happens.  This tree that bears the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ takes deep root in you and produces the fruit of living faith in Christ.  This happens as the Word is preached, as Baptism washes and waters, as by the Supper Jesus’ blood courses through your veins.  And you find that something amazing happens.  You want to do what your Lord commands.  You want to forgive.  You want to do your duty of love toward your brother.  Oh, it’s still hard.  Very hard.  You can’t do it by your own power.  But you can do it in Christ.  You can do it in Christ who forgives your sinful inability to forgive.  You can do it in Christ who died for you that you might die for your brother.  You can do it in Christ, who is risen from the dead and gives you to walk in newness of life, who here and now dispenses to you eternal life by His Word and Sacraments. 
            Now, I’m not going to lie.  You will struggle with this until the day you die.  Because of your sinful nature.  Don’t worry about that.  Christ took care of your sinful nature in His death on the cross.  Your sinful nature has been drowned in Baptism and will ultimately be put to death forever when you go to heaven.  But even if you are successful at forgiving your brother (and when you are, praise be to God!), you haven’t done anything worthy of boasting.  When you have done what your Lord has commanded, you are simply to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).  In fact, you haven’t even done your duty, as evidenced by your struggle to forgive.  But here is the Good News.  You have a Lord who has done more than His duty.  He has done it for you and in your place.  It is He who prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), as the Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing and He hung there on the tree to pay for your sins.  There He won the victory over your sin and death.  He is risen from the dead.  And now what does He do for you?  He says to you precisely what He says in our text a master would NOT say to his servants: “Come at once and recline at table” (Luke 10:7).  Come and let me serve you.  I have prepared a Feast, my Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And at this Holy Meal you will be given faith and strengthened to do the impossible: to forgive as I have forgiven you. 
            You may not be able to command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.  Certainly not unless it is God’s will.  But by faith you can do the impossible.  You can forgive your brother.  You can do it because Christ has done it for you.  You can do it because Christ does it in you.  Christ died for you.  Christ died for your brother.  In His death on the tree, He has reconciled us to God and to one another.  And His cross has been planted in our hearts for the increase of our faith, to accomplish what is impossible.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

[1] I am indebted to Pr. Mark Love for this analogy.