Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation Day

Reformation Day (Observed)

October 26, 2014
Text: Matt. 11:12-19

            That Martin Luther did not die a martyr’s death is remarkable considering he had a bounty on his head for most of his life.  And why did so many want to kill him?  Because he preached the dangerous doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works of the Law.  That is to say, he preached, as did St. Paul, and as did all the Apostles and Prophets, as did our Lord Jesus Himself, that a man is accounted righteous before God, not by being good or doing good, but by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection are for him.  Your sins are forgiven because of Christ, not because of you.  And this is a matter of eternal life and death.  Those who don’t believe that Christ’s death and resurrection are for them, for the forgiveness of their sins, perish eternally in hell.  So this preaching necessarily means preaching against every false doctrine opposed to it.  And that makes people mad.  Luther preached against every man-made method of salvation, methods that were attractive and lucrative for the Church, methods that brought power and influence to the priestly practitioners of the Roman system of satisfactions and indulgences.  Luther was a threat.  So he was told to recant, to renounce and take back his preaching and his writings.  Pope Leo X called him a “drunken German” and issued a bull, a papal decree, declaring him a heretic.  He was brought before the emperor, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms and once again told to recant.  It was here that he made his famous speech: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason… my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”[1]  “Here I stand,” he is reported to have said.  “I can do no other.  God help me.  Amen.”  Were it not for Luther’s own prince, Elector Frederick’s plan to kidnap him and hide him at Wartburg Castle, Luther would undoubtedly have been burned at the stake for his faithful confession.  He did eventually return to Wittenberg and to his pulpit, but for the rest of his life, Luther faced the very real possibility that at any moment he could be arrested and killed.  Faithful confession of Christ is perilous business.
            “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12; ESV).  The prophets and apostles were martyred.  The early Christians suffered torture and death for refusing to renounce Christ.  This morning as we gather together for the Divine Service, faithful Christians around the world are suffering persecution in the Name of Jesus.  Beloved, do you realize at this very moment there are people in this world who want to kill you?  For no other reason than that you are baptized.  For no other reason than that you are sitting in the pew of a Christian Church.  Why?  Why does it bother them so much?  Why does it enrage them to the point of hatred and murder?  Because you won’t dance to the world’s tune.  The unbelieving world is happy over many things that make you sad.  The world mourns over many things that make you rejoice.  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (v. 17), they say to you as they said to Jesus before you.  Your confession of Christ calls upon the world to repent, to mourn over living for the self, to grieve over rejection of the one true God, over idolatry and rebellion.  You’re telling them they are sinners, that they stand condemned before God, that only Jesus can save them.  And those are fighting words, my friend.  Why do they care what you believe about marriage?  Why are they so concerned that every Christian florist, baker, photographer, and even clergyman support and participate in so-called “gay marriage”?  Because they can’t be wrong, and therefore you can’t be right.  Because that would mean God is true and every man a liar (Rom. 3:4).  That would mean that their man-made methods of salvation, their conception of morality, their trust in their own goodness and righteousness, their belief in their own self-determination and their self-justification, these are all exercises in futility.  This threatens their power and influence, their wealth, and their control over their own lives and the lives of others.  And they simply cannot allow this to stand.  For the same reason, according to this world’s mindset, Christians must pay for abortions.  Christian doctors must perform abortions.  And preachers must not preach against these things from their pulpits (well, so much for that rule!).  For we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  We will speak of the Lord’s testimonies before king’s and shall not be put to shame (Ps. 119:46).  Whatever happens, happens.  Though they fine us, subpoena our sermons as they did in Houston recently, take away our tax exempt status, jail us, seize our property, put us to death… “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).
            Because there is a Judgment Day when everything will be turned on its head.  Then all will know that Christ is King and the devil is a liar.  Then all will see that that tyrants and persecutors of this world had no power beyond what the Lord allowed.  Then all will acknowledge Christians for the royal sons and daughters we’ve been made in Christ, by His blood and death, by His resurrection, by our Baptism into Christ.  And then at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).  Things are not as they appear.  Christ has conquered every enemy, including sin, death, hell, and the prince of this world, the devil.  You will see it in the end.  In the meantime, we wait.  And we confess.  We confess Christ faithfully.  We confess the biblical truth proclaimed by John the Baptist and Martin Luther.  And we suffer.  We bear it patiently because the end is near.  Jesus is coming to deliver us. 
            Remember what our Lord says: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:35).  The Kingdom will be his.  The Kingdom will be yours.  Because that is what Jesus has done for you.  He lost His life to find yours.  He suffered violence and the violent took Him by force, arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, accused Him, slandered Him, spit on Him, beat Him, mocked Him, pierced His sacred flesh, and compelled Him to carry His own cross to Calvary, there to be nailed and lifted up for the sins of the whole world, for you.  “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” they said (Matt. 11:19), and they were right!  For He took our gluttony and drunkenness, our every sin upon Himself, and bore the guilt of it before His Father, offering Himself as our sacrifice of atonement.  He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, homosexuals and abortionists, liars and thieves, and pharisaical “good Christian folk” like you and me.  He lost His life for your sake, that you might find your life in Him.  In Christ, and in Christ alone, you have life eternal and abundant. 
            So the worst the world can do is kill you.  Your body, that is.  Your soul will be in heaven, with Jesus.  They can’t touch that.  And on the Last Day, He will raise you from the dead, in your body, to live with Him forever in a new heaven and a new earth, where He rules, and there is no more suffering, persecution, or pain.  Maybe a little suffering now, in this life, wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the Church.  It would take away the distractions of affluence and privilege.  It would make us less concerned about making the Church “fun” and more grateful that we survived to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood another day.  It would drive us to pray with the Church Militant of every place and time: “Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.”  It would drive us to keep our eyes on the Crucified, whose suffering sanctifies our own, baptizing it in His blood.  And maybe we’d begin to be a little more concerned about our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world who are already suffering for the Name of Jesus.  They are blessed.  Their reward is great in heaven.  For so they persecuted the prophets who were before them (Matt. 5:12).  We’ll hear that text again next week.
            Whatever happens, we’ll keep confessing Christ, for the Spirit of God will preserve us in the one true faith.  The Church will keep confessing and the preachers will keep preaching.  For our consciences are captive to the Word of God.  We won’t recant.  We won’t take it back.  We won’t deny Christ.  We will speak the Truth of God before kings and will not be put to shame.  For to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  And to go against the Word of the LORD is deadly.  So here we stand.  We can do no other.  And God will help us.  He already does.  For we belong to Him.  We are covered in the blood of His Son.  We are marked by the sign of His cross.  His Name is written on us.  No one and nothing can snatch us out of His hands.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Mentor, 1950) p. 144.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 24)

October 19, 2014
Text: Matt. 22:15-22

            Our Lord Jesus teaches us that now, in this earthly life, we do owe certain things to Caesar, to the earthly government that God has established for the ordering of our outward life together.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that every person should “be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (v. 1; ESV).  That means that government is God’s good gift to us, to be received with thanksgiving and honored by proper use.  We call this in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Left Hand,” which He rules by human reason, the coercive force of the law of the land, and the sword placed in the hands of human rulers.  He gives us this gift to protect society from descending into chaos, with each person doing what is right in his own eyes.  God gives the gift of government to approve what is good and to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, again, St. Paul’s words (vv. 3-4).  This is a Fourth Commandment issue: “Honor your father and your mother,” and by extension, all who are in authority over you.  “What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”[1]  This is what we owe Caesar.  And so we should render tax money.  We should render service to our neighbor by participation in civil society.  We’ve been granted the marvelous privilege of voting here in America, and we should do so with our biblically informed Christian consciences.  Those of us who can should serve in public office.  We should honor our leaders.  We should respect their office.  St. Paul reminds us that we should pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2), a very important responsibility we have as members of the Christian Church.  We should support them.  We should speak the truth in love to them and to our fellow citizens.  And we should obey them in everything, with one major exception: When the governing authorities ask us to violate God’s Law, then “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).   Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21).  Our citizenship is in heaven, to be sure, but God has placed us in the world to love and serve our neighbor in the world, and to participate fully in the world as Christians, as Christ’s emissaries who work faithfully in our various vocations and confess Christ to those around us.
            But Jesus says you are also to render to God the things that are God’s (v. 21), and this is really the point of our text.  What is God’s?  Everything.  You are to render to God everything.  Your very self.  All that you are and all that you have.  No exceptions.  After all, you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19).  God created you, body and soul, for Himself.  And in spite of your unfaithfulness to Him, your selling yourself to other masters, to the devil, to the world, to the sin that dwells in your flesh, God has redeemed you by the blood and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  You were bought at a price (v. 20).  And now God has made you His own by applying that redemption to you in Baptism.  He has breathed His Spirit into you, so that by faith in Jesus Christ you are a true son of the Father.  Now you live under Him in His Kingdom, under His rule.  This is what we call in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Right Hand,” ruled by the Word of God.  And that which you owe God in this Kingdom is comprehensive.  You owe Him everything.  You are to render unto Him everything. 
            But you haven’t so rendered, neither to Caesar, nor to God.  You haven’t rendered to Caesar.  You regularly break the speed limit.  You fail to report income paid under the table.  You don’t just criticize your leaders, you disrespect their office.  You so often fail to serve your fellow citizens, all the while patting yourself on the back for all that you do and for the model citizen you are.  And as for God, you have not begun to render unto Him the things that are His.  It is not just a matter of what you do or don’t put in the offering plate, though you should note how you think nothing of it when you spend $5 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but you feel oh so generous when you drop an extra five dollar bill at Church.  You begrudge the Lord the demands He makes of you, the time He wants you to spend in the Divine Service, in Bible Study, and in prayer and devotion at home.  His Commandments with which you disagree or which you don’t like.  His demand that you love the neighbor you can’t stand, forgive the brother who has sinned against you, live for others, live for God, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Repent.  You have not rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  You have not rendered to God the things that are God’s.
            But there is One who has: Christ Jesus, your Savior and your Substitute.  His rendering counts as your own.  He perfectly rendered unto Caesar, even in His mother’s womb, traveling to Bethlehem for the Census, for the tax.  He was obedient to the governing authorities.  He stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, submitted to his judgment, confessed that Pilate’s authority had been given him from above (John 19:11).  He submitted to the soldiers, bore their insults, their mockery, their torture, as they carried out His execution, crucifixion between two thieves.  And this He did, even as He rendered unto God the things that are God’s: Himself, all that He was, and all that He had, right down to the very last drop of His sacred blood.  He never sinned.  He perfectly fulfilled God’s Law.  He loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And He perfectly loved His neighbor, loved you, giving Himself up for you, for your redemption and the forgiveness of your sins. 
            Therefore God, His heavenly Father, raised Him from the dead.  And now, incredibly, incomprehensibly, this Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior, renders unto you the things that are God’s.  He renders unto you forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, His love, His care, His protection, His divine help, His Holy Spirit, His divine Sonship, the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, heaven, the resurrection, and all things.  He renders unto you His Body given for you, His Blood shed for you, His Words spoken for you, His intercession before the Father for you.  Mystery of mysteries, He renders unto you what He does not owe you, to you who owe Him everything.  He renders unto you, that He might render you to the Father.  “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one,” He says to His Father (John 18:9).  He renders to God all that you are and all that you have.  He renders you wholly and completely.  He renders everything.  He renders you as God’s own Child, and as one who can pray with Him, as He has taught you, “Our Father who art in heaven.” 
            Now you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom.  And this frees you to render unto Caesar, to live in this world for the sake of the world.  Earthly governments will never be perfect and most earthly rulers won’t even be Christians.  America will never be the Kingdom of God on earth, nor will Israel, or any other nation.  In fact, many earthly governments and rulers will be patently evil.  They will persecute Christians.  They will rule tyrannically.  They will kill the unborn and the elderly.  They will commit genocide.  They will make marriage meaningless.  They will be cruel taskmasters.  But behind them, and in spite of them, and contrary to their wicked designs, God will be ordering and preserving the world through them for the sake of His Christians, for you, and for those to be added to God’s Kingdom by coming to faith in Christ.  So in spite of it all, do what Jesus and St. Paul tell you to do.  Pay your taxes.  Obey your leaders (but give your first obedience to God).  Honor them.  Serve them.  Love them.  Pray for them.  But remember they and you belong to God.  The earthly authorities may rule a town, a state, or a country, but God rules everything.  And He loves you.  He will prevail in the end.  You will be saved, and justice and righteousness will triumph in that Day.  You’ll see.  “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 22)

October 5, 2014
Text: Is. 5:1-7; Matt. 21:33-46

            By grace God chose Israel to be His own special people, His chosen race from whom He would provide salvation for the whole world, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, His precious possession (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).  He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea as on dry ground.  He was with them in their wilderness wanderings, with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, establishing His Covenant with them, feeding them with manna and quail, giving them to drink from the rock.  He brought them into the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, where every man could enjoy his own vine and fig tree.  He was with their armies.  He drove out the nations before them.  He won the victory for them with His own mighty hand.  He established them in the land.  He blessed them.  He protected them.  He delivered them.  And all of this, not because Israel was holier than the other nations in and of herself; not because she was greater, stronger, more numerous; certainly not because she was more faithful.  God chose her by grace.  He chose her to be His Church.  He chose her to be His Vineyard.  In our Old Testament reading (Is. 5:1-7), He describes what He had done for His Vineyard.  He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted choice vines.  He built a watchtower in its midst, and hewed a wine vat in it.  And what would a Vineyard Owner expect from such a Vineyard which He has so carefully and lovingly established?  He would expect fruit.  He would expect good grapes.  But what happens in this Vineyard is that the Vineyard itself rebels.  It rejects the love and the providence of the Owner.  It rejects the Vineyard Owner’s claim over its fruit.  Israel rejects God.  She rejects God in her idolatry, her running after other gods, worshiping them, trusting in them.  She rejects God by her wild grapes of injustice, bloodshed, wickedness, and oppression.  She rejects God by exploiting the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger in her midst.  She will not yield the grapes of justice and righteousness.  She will go her own way, do her own thing, do what is good in her own eyes irrespective of the Word of the LORD.
            So what is God to do?  He sends the prophets.  He sends preachers.  Some they beat and send away, like Jeremiah, whom they threw into a well, then into the dungeon, then exiled to Egypt.  Some they kill, like Isaiah, whom they sawed in two, or Zechariah the son of Barachiah whom they murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (Matt. 23:35).  And so all-encompassing is their rejection of the prophets, and really, of the Word of the LORD, they actually convince themselves they are doing God a favor by executing the prophets.  Stoning is the divinely prescribed punishment for a false prophet according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 13).  By stoning a preacher, they are declaring him to be a false prophet.  They tried to stone Jesus (John 10:31).  They stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58-60).  They stoned Paul, who miraculously revived (Acts 14:19-20).  But in each case, the stoning was not only a rejection of the preacher, but of the Word of the LORD.  It was a rejection of the Vineyard Owner.  It was a rejection of God.  And so our Lord cries out: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37; ESV).
            One would expect God to do to His Vineyard as He says in our Old Testament, to remove its hedge so that it is devoured, to break down its wall so that it is trampled down, to make it a waste, to give it over to the weeds, and to make it a dry wasteland (Is. 5:5-6).  One would expect God to do to the tenants of the Vineyard (the Chief Priests and Pharisees and Jewish leaders) what they themselves tell Jesus the Vineyard Owner should do: “put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41).  But what does He do?  He sends His Son.  For He says, “They will respect my son” (v. 37).  Now, God cannot be deceived.  He does not send His Son in ignorance.  He knows what will happen.  And the great mystery of it all is that this is precisely His plan for the rescue of His Vineyard.  He sends His Son, and when the tenants, the Chief Priests and Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel, see Him, they say to themselves, “Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance” (v. 38).  It will not do to have Him displace us in terms of power and influence.  And it will not do to have the Roman government perceive Him as a threat and take away our place and our nation.  The inheritance is ours.  He must die.  And so they take Him and bind Him and set Him before Pontius Pilate.  They betray Him.  They slander Him.  They bear false witness against Him.  And they cast Him outside of the City, outside of the Vineyard, where they kill Him, crucified between two thieves, pierced, bloodied, mocked, rejected.  And they think they have won. 
            But this is what God has done to save the Vineyard.  He laid waste the Vineyard in the Body of His Son.  He sent His Son to tread the winepress alone (Is. 63:3).  He sent His Son to drink the cup of God’s wrath down to its very dregs (Is. 51:17).  He sent His Son for the very men who killed Him, for the wicked tenants, the Chief Priests and Pharisees, for Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, and for you, who have rejected Him in your own idolatry, who have pierced Him by your own transgressions.  He did this to rescue you.  To save you.  To make you His own.  That here in the Vineyard of His Church, you may bear fruit in keeping with repentance; the fruit of justice and righteousness, the fruit of faith, hope, and love. 
            The stone that the builders rejected, Christ Jesus, has become the cornerstone, for He is risen from the dead.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Matt. 21:42).  And now every person finds his death in this Stone.  You either find your death in His death, falling upon Him to be broken to pieces in your Baptism, and so find your life in His resurrection, or, in the Judgment, on the Last Day, He will fall on you and crush you (v. 44).  That is the warning.  Die in Him now, and so live, or live now, and be crushed in the end.  Reject Him and live for yourself, and He will reject you.  So the Kingdom has been taken from Israel and been bestowed, by grace, upon the Gentiles, that all who believe in His Name, whether Jew or Gentile, be the New Israel of God, the holy Church.  The Christian Church is now the Vineyard.  By grace you have been grafted in.  Christ is the Vine.  You are the branches.  If you remain in Him, and He in you, you will bear much fruit.  But apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5).  So be warned.  You cannot separate yourself from Christ and survive. 

            But in Him, connected to Him by the life-giving sap of His Word and Sacraments, you live and you bear fruit.  You believe the Scriptures.  You believe the preaching.  Your sins are forgiven.  The Body and Blood of the Lord cleanses you and sanctifies you and makes you strong.  The pruning of the Lord, the sufferings you endure according to His will, these make you even more fruitful.  God has chosen you, by grace, to be His own special people, His chosen race, His royal priesthood, His precious possession.  He has purchased you, His Vineyard, with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He sent the prophets.  He sent the apostles.  He sent His Son.  And He continues to send preachers to declare it to you: Repent and believe the Gospel.  Jesus Christ has come to give you the inheritance.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.