Collapsing Two Ways

The great Economist(?) Ernest Hemingway said that bankruptcy happens two ways: First gradually, then suddenly. I think Colleges are going to be taking a whirlwind tour of those two phases in the next couple of years.

I saw a headline that 20% of Harvard admittees this year are deferring. I think gap years are going to be very popular. Those who do go will face stupidity on a level that would shame a drunken fratboy, and conditions that would not be tolerated in our prisons. An example: My local university is only allowing one person per dorm room, and no visitors between rooms. That’s stupid on its face. The rule won’t be followed, unless North-Korea levels of surveillance are enacted. Colleges are cancelling their sportsball seasons left and right. College is about to become very austere, very expensive, and entirely useless. (I think you can get away with two of those at a time. Austere and Expensive must be useful, expensive and useless must be wild and crazy, austere and useless must be cheap.) College used to be a good value, and academically rigorous. Now it is neither of those things. Even parents who recommend it to their children, say “you need the college experience”. It isn’t the learning that’s important. It’s the experience. The wild and crazy fun time before entering adulthood. Anything you learn is really incidental to that. Oh, the Marxist indoctrination and struggle sessions are rampant – that must be also be endured. But any learning that is useful is incidental to those things.

People are realizing they are paying exorbitant prices for leftist indoctrination under conditions that are banned by the Geneva conventions as human rights abuse. It won’t last. Those who defer “for a year” will eagerly greet their friends at Christmastime, only to discover that their friends have nothing good to report. High School seniors will similarly get reports from friends and siblings at the holidays. And then?

Well, so far, we’ve been through different phases of this:

Winter/Spring: Let’s just get through this. We’re all in it together!
Spring/Early Summer: We’ll regroup for next year! It will be find in the fall!
Summer: Ummm….
Now: Don’t worry! We’ll do something! It won’t be as bad as you think! Also, it will probably be cancelled almost immediately.  You’ll still pay 30K for online classes, right?

So, here’s my prediction. Those who are waiting on the sidelines, or not yet in the game will decide that they don’t want it – probably about Christmastime – and will look for other ways to find their fortune in the world. (Skilled trades, military service, etc.) College enrollments – already teetering on the brink – will go into free fall for the 2021-2022 year. Aside from schools like Harvard (which has an endowment large enough that they don’t actually need students to remain financially viable) many/most schools are already financially unhealthy.

Now, my interest in leftist state institutions is pretty minimal. But as a member in good standing of the Lutheran Church – Missourah Synod, and a graduate of four different LCMS schools over the years, I have a sort of vested interest that LCMS schools not totally collapse. Our schools are definitely NOT in a position to weather prolonged reliance on endowment funds. We’ve lost two schools already. Another took a seven million dollar loan to cover operating expenses – and that was before The RONA hit. (They also have one of those shrewd online-schooling contracts with the folks who bankrupted Portland. Talk about wise as a box of rocks, yeesh!)

Here is my advice: The Concordias are going to need to consolidate. This isn’t opinion. With two closed and one on the brink even Baghdad Bob would admit things look grim. We need to plan for it ahead of time – and there is very little time left – so we don’t get hit with multi-million dollar lawsuits. That way we can use the consolidation to strengthen our position, rather than just writing off one valuable property after another, and then spending money we don’t have in litigation for the next decade. Any solution will require selflessness on the part of all, and a spirit of self-sacrifice for the sake of the church. I’m not sure our Concordias have that in them, but if they still do, here’s what we need to do.

  1. Call a meeting of all our Presidents and Board of Regent Chairmen, with the Presidium of Synod and the CUS Board. Zoom if necessary, but in person as much as possible. Have everyone frankly lay on the table any adverse contracts, outstanding obligations, and long term debts, as well as any long-term benefits, assets, etc. This is not the time to hide problems. Make clear that any school that hides a problem, when (NOT IF) it is discovered, will be on the chopping block immediately.
  2. Immediately suspend any golden parachutes to outgoing presidents. Any deals that presidents make to pillage institutions on the way out will be publicized. The sweetheart deal that the president of Portland got as he left could serve as an example of what not to do. This gives Presidents skin in the game.
  3. Contact any contract holders of large contracts/liabilities – let them know that the contract needs to be renegotiated. Show them the articles about Portland, let them know they will end up without a dime, and looking like jerks. If you want to run an online platform for a college, it’s a hard sell when you kill/bankrupt multiple colleges and then sue them to try to pick over the bones. That’s not a good look long term.
  4. Reduce expenses. I don’t mean “We’re going to cut janitorial by 10%. Departments will have to empty their own garbage cans.” I mean “The LCMS is not going to support a school with programs inimical to our doctrine. No funds. No loans. No help.” If you want to survive, you need Lutheran faculty teaching Lutheran doctrine. Entire departments need to go – mostly in the soft sciences. They’ve always been hotbeds of Marxism. Time to cut the dead weight. The Concordias need to refocus on who they are – Lutheran institutions of higher learning. The local non-Christian students that have been carrying us for the last few decades are going to be gone anyway. Who needs a masters in underwater Marxist basket weaving when the local government has closed all waterparks? So plan for that to happen. Cut now, before the departments become a drag.
  5. Figure out how many schools we could realistically support from Lutheran students. Then expend the scope. If we make the institutions specifically Christian and Lutheran with high-quality education (Hillsdale style) we can enter a niche that is looking for more entrants. Hillsdale entry requirements are now so strict that they accept only the best and brightest from among the best and brightest. I know of several people who have been denied admission, despite stellar credentials. There is a market for this. But we need to get off the Marxist-leftist bandwagon, and fast. And coordinate between schools more so we don’t end up with duplicated programs that don’t need to be duplicated. We don’t need three different Deaconess programs. (I’m bringing the seminaries into this, but the principle holds. Take a close look at some of these small programs and figure out to run them out of one (or at most two) schools.
  6. How many schools could we run with this model? Maybe 4. You may say, “But that’s no good! We would be sacrificing four more schools!” Yes. But 3 or 4 high-quality schools that survive is better than 8 slowly bleeding to death on their own. In that scenario, maybe 2 make it through, and then only limply. Look into shared governance – The Mequon/Ann Arbor model might work for some. (Churches call this the Hub-and-spoke or Cathedral model. ) Perhaps re-open a closed campus as extension schools of the Hub school. This could save on administration.
  7. We don’t need diversity officers. We can probably do without a lot of officials at our schools. It isn’t the whole solution, but we need a top – down look at administration/funding, etc. Look at schools that have lower overhead than we do (Lutheran or otherwise) – call them exemplar schools. Investigate how they do it. Bring what could work into our schools.
  8. Portland has proven that their’s no money to be had from closing a school. Closing costs and lawsuits eat up any profits from the sale of property. So if any schools aren’t on board, or would otherwise be closed, offer them a one-time deal: They can walk away with their school, take all their obligations with them, as long as they don’t use the name Concordia anymore. Clean break. It sucks. It would be nice to sell the land and pocket the dough. But that won’t happen. And we need to move forward.
  9. Rededicate ourselves to actually living up to the promo videos. I see a bunch of stuff about quality Lutheran education. And then I see what questions get asked in “meet the potential new president candidate forums” by the local faculty. These are marginally Lutheran administratively at the top. But beyond that, the faculty is hostile to Lutheran theology. That can’t continue. A house divided, and all that. Faculty that aren’t on board with being distinctively Lutheran should be given a glowing recommendation, and shown the door. For those who want to stick it out and fight, show them the salary scale in use at Concordia Portland this year. Offer to give them a tour of the Faculty offices at our University in Selma. It’s time be actively, unapologetically Lutheran.
  10. Yes, this will be painful. But I recall hearing an academic advisor telling a student, “You can take theology classes at Local Catholic school. Since you aren’t a church work student, they’ll transfer over, they’re cheaper, and they’re much easier.” That was in 1991. This has been a problem for a looooong time. We have a last chance to fix it before the judgment arrives. But only just.
  11. Plan to consolidate. I don’t know the ins and outs of college admin. But I know what it means to run out of cash and have to consolidate. I serve three congregations – until I serve a fourth. I know of a five-point parish. And I’ve seen what happens when the response is “We’ll just keep doing what we were doing until we run out of money. Then we’ll do it without money!” Those congregations close. We’ve lost two pretty much independent Universities. Another would have closed – it survived because a sister institution looked outside itself and offered to help. Our Universities are incredibly complex organizations. This will take time. We don’t have much left. If we dither now, we will lose much more. If we plan ahead, make hard choices, and be who we are, we can weather this storm, and come out the other side stronger – even if that means 2-4 uniquely Lutheran Universities instead of 8 sort-of-Lutheran universities.
  12. Marxism is either coming to its end, or it will burn everything in its path. If the former, it’s as good a time as any to get off the bandwagon. If the latter, it won’t matter, so there’s nothing to lose that we wouldn’t have lost anyway.

This was a longer post than I intended. But I think this is important. Not that I expect anyone will listen. But maybe, once it’s all over, someone will look at this – and writings from smarter people than I who have advocated similar things – and say “Wow. Some people did fight. If only someone had listened. Maybe we could try and rebuild according to this model.” If so, it was worth my time.

 

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Funeral Societies

Our Lord instructs us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Sometimes, I think people misinterpret this to mean we are to be credulous as Charlie Brown running toward the football, and stuck in an ivory tower pondering deep mysteries of the universe. That’s precisely not what Jesus is saying. He is saying the opposite. An example from history will show us what he really meant.

In the days of the early church, Christianity was illegal. But for the most part the church was left alone. Oh, there were exception – gruesome ones. But between 65 AD and 314 AD, the church spent most of her time just being the church. Every decade or so there would be some local persecution. There were a couple of empire-wide persecutions. And Christians were generally looked down on. But they were mostly left alone. They worshipped, studied the word of God, and did the normal things churches do. How? They found a loophole.

Churches were not allowed. Those were dangerous, subversive, worked against the health and wellbeing of the empire, etc. So, in many places, there were no Christian churches. But, In ancient Rome, if you wanted a nice burial in a grave tended after you died, you would join a funeral society. There were dues to cover upkeep. There were meetings where graves would be tended, final wishes would be discussed. Oftentimes as the people grew to know each other they would discuss philosophy, events of the day, meet for social occasions, etc. These were legal, beneficial, a fine and upstanding part of public life. So, even thought there were no Christians churches in many towns, there  the funeral societies that held strange superstitions about some criminal in a third world country who was crucified. They would meet once a week – usually on a Sunday morning before heading off to work – to tend graves, talk about what would happen after they died, listen to lectures about end of life issues, sing some good ol’ funeral songs they knew in honor of loved ones who had died, and have a light snack before they headed out. And no one batted an eye most of the time.

Nowadays, churches are dangerous gatherings – harmful to the health and wellbeing of our people and our nation. Protests, on the other hand, are a useful and essential part of our life together. Mayor Lori “Police raids on churches” Lightfoot of Chicago even publicly stated, “Hundreds took to the streets yesterday to express their First Amendment right to protest. I unequivocally support and will always fight for the rights of individuals to peacefully protest on any issue.” Some churches have already taken the mayor up on her offer. Christians have a deep and abiding interest in authorities unjustly murdering an innocent man. We could totally meet to protest such things. We could made signs or artwork depicting the horrors of this injustice. We could march down the street singing our protest songs, and then gather somewhere (out of doors if necessary) to hear readings from great justice-thinkers of the past, to sing songs of solidarity with other like-minded protesters, and to hear speeches by movement leaders about the implications of an innocent man being put to death by government officials. We can totally do that. We may have to meet outside. We may have walk around as we do it. But we are good citizens, we Christians. If that’s what it takes to exercise our first amendment right to worship (oops) protest, then that is what we will do.

The church is innocent as a dove. We want to follow the duly enacted laws of those whom God has placed in positions of authority over us, while we also worship the Triune God who made, redeemed, and sanctified us. And we will do so by any means necessary.

 

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By Their Fruits You Will Recognize Them…

Those words from this past Sunday’s Gospel reading ran through my mind when I saw a recent document from our seminary in Saint Louis. They have new COVID-friendly guidelines for the chapel service. Oddly, it isn’t on the chapel page. Perhaps these aren’t the sort of fruits you want discussed. But if you go to the RONA page, scroll down, and click on “chapel”, it gives you the new normal for chapel services. You can see it for yourself HERE.  There are a few notable things about the new rules:

Preaching only once a week, in a service that will include communion and be 30-40 minutes long. So, a five minute sermon once a week. Pastors learn how to preach by watching others. One five minute sermon per week is not sufficient for the members of my congregation to be fed. It certainly is not enough to help teach these men how to preach. In Fort Wayne, during a bad time when the administration hated the word of God, sermons were limited to 7 minutes. There was a timer. Parts of the liturgy were listed in the bulletin with “time permitting”. Hint: Time never permitted. It was all quite godless. The best protest I saw was a retired professor (nothing to lose!) who would be preaching along, and stop at seven minutes exactly. I assume it was a protest, and it was a brilliant one. “And so, our Lord teaches clearly in His word, if we wish to be saved we must— Oh, I see I am out of time. Amen.” But even then, the sermons were still held each day. This will remove them almost entirely.

Singing not recommended. Exactly what is going to happen in these services, if not singing or preaching? Quietly meditating on the Word of God, Amish style. Except the Amish allow people to speak if the Spirit so moves them. Speaking verboten. Maybe  guided meditations? Maybe just thinking Jesus-y thoughts? I know, singing isn’t exactly required. It isn’t like scripture tells us explicitly to sing repeatedly throughout the Psalms. It isn’t like singing has been shown to make impressions in the brain that speaking does not make. It isn’t like the Reformation was built on singing as the means of teaching the people our doctrine. They aren’t forbidding it, but even discouraging it is discouraging to me. Singing is what we do. If your theology is leading you to tell people not to sing, then there is a bad tree somewhere under all that rotten fruit.

The Lord’s Supper: This is the real problem (the rest was only prelude.) And, you won’t believe this if I don’t provide proof so here are the rules for communion:

Only the presider will handle the elements. Individual disposable, biodegradable cups will be used. The common cup will not be available. The bread and wine will be available at a table in the center aisle. Those communing will come individually down the center aisle to eat and drink the Supper, communing themselves, and return to their seats down one of the side aisles.

Let’s see how things measure up, shall we?

Augsburg Confession (A short list of what we believe, teach, and confess): The Mass (Holy Communion) is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence.

CSL RONA-Fession: …disposable, biodegradable…

I’m having trouble seeing how “highest reverence” can be argued by anyone who uses the phrase “disposable, biodegradable…” for the Holy Vessels. I know that biodegradable is the new sacrament of our Gaia-worshipping age. But this language is utterly, totally, and absolutely inconsistent with the reverence due from those who believe that the body and blood of our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended to heaven where we will judge all things, to whom all authority is given, is truly present, distributed and received in our midst. But then, a close reading will show that the words “body and blood” are never used. Bread and wine will be available. It isn’t even clear from the way it’s written that this bread and wine in the center aisle are the sacrament. It might be an extra snack in addition to the sacrament. I was speaking to a baptist friend recently, and she lamented that they couldn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper, because they couldn’t figure out a RONA-friendly way to do so. Baptists reject the real presence – explicitly (and unlike the author of this document, honestly). I am curious if she would find anything objectionable in these guidelines. Perhaps it offers a way for her church to celebrate. I don’t say that as insult to her. She is honest in what she believes. But rather obviously, someone, somewhere has been tasked with oversight of the Holy Things at a Lutheran seminary, who does not really believe them to be Holy. Our Lord was correct – The fruit has revealed itself.

As an aside, I also object to the term “common cup.” Truly, the “disposable, biodegradable” cups are common. But the holy chalice, set apart and dedicated for the express and sole purpose of holding week after week the blood of our Lord, which he shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and is now used to distribute that blood to those who have been called according to his purpose, who have been Baptized into his name, whose lips have been touched by the coal from the altar so that their guilt is taken away and their sin atoned for, so that they might also participate in the life that he gives, the life that he is, the life that was not merely sprinkled on the ark in the Holy of Holies, but gushed forth to atone for sins – such a vessel is hardly a “common” cup.

Sunday I warned against false teachers, using our Lord’s word “you shall know them by their fruit.” The fruit is visible for all to see, and it stinks to the heavens. I pray that the acting president of CSL will reconsider this – I can not imagine he wrote it, though it is now enacted under his direct authority. Perhaps our synod’s president will call for review this statement, which he is definitely allowed to do. Perhaps the Board of Regents will inquire into it, as they should. There is rotten fruit somewhere. It needs to be removed.

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Sermon for Trinity 8

Sermon from Sunday, in which I explain the importance of doctrine.

We’ve been hearing about the growth of the Christian for the last couple of months – how we mature in the faith, growing in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor. Today, Jesus has a warning about false teachers. And it isn’t a topic change at all from what we’ve been talking about.

It’s ordination season in the church. New pastors graduated a few weeks ago, and over the course of the summer they will be ordained and installed in their new parishes. Our district welcomed a new pastor last week at our sister church Christ Lutheran in Rawlins.

New pastors coming from seminary means that somewhere a pastor will be told, “Well, you learned all that doctrine. But now forget that and just love your people.” Thanks be to God, it wasn’t the message last weekend for the new pastor in our district. Those who say these things do not know the scriptures nor the power in them. Imagine a new doctor being told “Well, forget all that stuff you learned in medical school, now it’s about healing patients.” Imagine a lawyer being told, “forget all that stuff you learned in law school, now it’s about defending clients.” Imagine a pilot being told, “Forget all that stuff you learned in flight school, now it’s about the flying the plane.” Absurd. And yet for some reason people think the church – God’s creation, the bride of Christ – can do without the teachings of Jesus. That’s what doctrine is – it just means a teaching. Christ teaches the church – his three year ministry is filled with his sermons. He constantly taught the people. That was his daily schedule – wake up, breakfast, teach and heal, lunch, teach and heal, dinner, teach and heal, sleep. Today’s Gospel comes at the end of the sermon on the mount. He sat down and opened his mouth to teach the people… In a few more verses, Matthew records, “And when he had finished teaching the people they were amazed because he taught as one who had authority, not as their scribes.” He taught as one who had authority – he taught them doctrine, teachings. And he spoke as one who had authority because he did have authority. He was given these teachings from His Father. He spoke the words he was given to speak. He taught the things he was given to teach. His doctrine is the doctrine – the teaching – about his Father and the plan of salvation for the world. The word theology just means “The word of God”. So when people say, “Well, forget theology, let’s talk about Jesus.” They are saying, “Forget what Jesus says, but let’s talk about him.” Uh, ok. How do we do that?

We can’t ignore the word which God speaks. In the Old Testament he speaks through the prophets – over and over it says, “The word of the Lord came to the prophet…” In the new Testament, the Word of God is Jesus. He comes and teaches the people. And the apostles wrote down what he said so that even today we have his teachings. And they tell us that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary redeemed me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil with his Holy Precious Blood and with his innocent suffering and death. That’s what scripture teaches – who Jesus is (the Son of God made flesh), and what he did for us (died on the cross to save us from our sins). The prophets talk about him and point to him constantly in the Old Testament, and the Apostles in the New testament are witnesses of his resurrection.

And false teachers – Jesus calls them wolves – want to come into the flock of God’s little lambs with their false doctrine and tear apart the sheep. They bring a message that sounds good, but really leads you away from Jesus and his work for you. That’s why Jesus says “beware” and “you will know them by their fruits”. What is a fruit of teaching – of doctrine? Where does it lead you? If the school teacher teaches falsely – 2+2=5, Z comes before A in the alphabet, then the fruit of the teaching would be children that can’t read or count. A false teacher in the church leads away from Jesus and his work – that is how we can identify them: by their fruit: Where does the teaching lead.

In the book of Acts, when the apostles went to Berea, we’re told that the people listened carefully, and then compared what was said to what Scripture says. And that’s what the church still does today. You come and listen to the sermon, hear the word proclaimed, and then compare the teaching to scripture – does it say what scripture says? Does it lead to Christ, or away from him? And how is it that someone comes in sheeps clothing, but is inwardly a ravening wolf? How can the church be fooled, if we’re talking about Jesus? Well, it depends what we say about him.

An example might help. Take the classic sentence – the answer to just about every Sunday School question “Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.” Notice it talks about Jesus. And it does it in a very specific way. Jesus is the subject – he is the one doing the action. In the sentence “Mom baked a cake”, Mom is the subject – she is doing the baking. Cake is there. But it’s the object. It isn’t doing anything. So in the sentence, Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, Jesus does the action. He is the one dying, the one saving. We are receiving the gift. We are the object.

If you listen to a false teacher, they may talk a lot about Jesus, but Jesus will be the object. The subject will be you. You must do this for Jesus. You must do that for Jesus. In common terms, that means that the cake bakes mom. It doesn’t work. Jesus is the shepherd – he gives his life for the sheep. He DOES. And then you receive. There are a lot of false teachers who talk endlessly about Jesus – but Jesus says at the last day, he will say, “I never knew you.” How can you tell a false teacher – their fruit. Where does their message lead? Is Jesus saving you, or are you doing for him? Who is the object, who is the subject – who is doing, and who is being done to. Mom bakes the cake. Jesus does the saving. The cake gets the baking done to it. You get the saving done to you. If you are the one who starts doing for Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how much talk there is about Jesus, it’s the wrong talk. The cake is baking him, and in the end, Jesus will say I never knew you.

The shepherds of the church – the pastors – are given the task of watching out for the sheep – to keep the false teachers out. And you are given the task of hearing what is preached, comparing it to the Scriptures, and making sure it matches. And if it doesn’t, whether the person is your pastor or district president, or even an angel from heaven, you must call him out and say, “Pastor, Reverend President, Mr Angel, that is not what is taught in the Bible.” The idea of listening and evaluating sermons isn’t just some sort of quirk in our synod because we’re so concerned about doctrine, Saint Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the Galatians says it, “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” We must keep the Gospel pure, because the Gospel is the medicine that saves us from sin. If you went to a doctor and he said, “We’ve got the medicine you need, but it’s tainted – it’s mixed with poison. Do you want that, or do you want to wait until tomorrow, when the shipment of pure medicine comes in.” No one would say, “give me the one that has poison, I want to take my chances.” Of course not! You say, “Give me the pure medicine that will do the work it must do.” So also with the Gospel. We don’t mix our works in with Jesus work. We let him do the saving. We keep it pure, and don’t get distracted from his work for us on the cross.

Today we welcomed Nora into Christ’s church through the waters of Holy Baptism. Notice – she didn’t do anything. It was all done for her. Bringing her here, speaking on her behalf, pouring the water, and placing the name of God on her. But do not doubt – Jesus gave himself to her, as He promised. He saved her. She has been saved. She didn’t do it. He did. And even though our hands poured, and our mouths spoke the words, it was done at the command of Jesus, and he gave us the words to speak, and put his heavenly Father’s name not only on the washing of water and the word in Baptism, but on Nora through that water. It is God’s Baptism, giving his salvation through Jesus to her. We give thanks for the great gift of salvation given to her this day. But it isn’t her work or our work, it is his work for her. That’s why Scripture calls it a new birth – only God can give that.

Jesus warns us against false prophets, because he wants us only to hear his voice, only to hear those who bring His Word. We are not to hear hose who come in his name, with lots of seductive talk about Jesus, but eventually, you are the one trying to save you. It doesn’t work. Jesus must do the saving. He is the subject. He does the work. And the fruit of this teaching is people who are saved by him. The fruit of Jesus teaching is little children being given Jesus and being blessed by him, the fruit of Jesus teaching is the people of God being forgiven their sins for Jesus sake. The fruit of Jesus teaching is the dying leaving this world in peace, and being given the new life of the new heaven and new earth in Jesus, that he promises to all those who believe on his name. Thanks be to God for the great salvation he has given us. May we always treasure it, and treat it as our most precious possession, not only in this world, but in the life of the world to come.

Amen.

We’ve been hearing about the growth of the Christian for the last couple of months – how we mature in the faith, growing in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor. Today, Jesus has a warning about false teachers. And it isn’t a topic change at all from what we’ve been talking about.

It’s ordination season in the church. New pastors graduated a few weeks ago, and over the course of the summer they will be ordained and installed in their new parishes. Our district welcomed a new pastor last week at our sister church Christ Lutheran in Rawlins.

New pastors coming from seminary means that somewhere a pastor will be told, “Well, you learned all that doctrine. But now forget that and just love your people.” Thanks be to God, it wasn’t the message last weekend for the new pastor in our district. Those who say these things do not know the scriptures nor the power in them. Imagine a new doctor being told “Well, forget all that stuff you learned in medical school, now it’s about healing patients.” Imagine a lawyer being told, “forget all that stuff you learned in law school, now it’s about defending clients.” Imagine a pilot being told, “Forget all that stuff you learned in flight school, now it’s about the flying the plane.” Absurd. And yet for some reason people think the church – God’s creation, the bride of Christ – can do without the teachings of Jesus. That’s what doctrine is – it just means a teaching. Christ teaches the church – his three year ministry is filled with his sermons. He constantly taught the people. That was his daily schedule – wake up, breakfast, teach and heal, lunch, teach and heal, dinner, teach and heal, sleep. Today’s Gospel comes at the end of the sermon on the mount. He sat down and opened his mouth to teach the people… In a few more verses, Matthew records, “And when he had finished teaching the people they were amazed because he taught as one who had authority, not as their scribes.” He taught as one who had authority – he taught them doctrine, teachings. And he spoke as one who had authority because he did have authority. He was given these teachings from His Father. He spoke the words he was given to speak. He taught the things he was given to teach. His doctrine is the doctrine – the teaching – about his Father and the plan of salvation for the world. The word theology just means “The word of God”. So when people say, “Well, forget theology, let’s talk about Jesus.” They are saying, “Forget what Jesus says, but let’s talk about him.” Uh, ok. How do we do that?

We can’t ignore the word which God speaks. In the Old Testament he speaks through the prophets – over and over it says, “The word of the Lord came to the prophet…” In the new Testament, the Word of God is Jesus. He comes and teaches the people. And the apostles wrote down what he said so that even today we have his teachings. And they tell us that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary redeemed me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil with his Holy Precious Blood and with his innocent suffering and death. That’s what scripture teaches – who Jesus is (the Son of God made flesh), and what he did for us (died on the cross to save us from our sins). The prophets talk about him and point to him constantly in the Old Testament, and the Apostles in the New testament are witnesses of his resurrection.

And false teachers – Jesus calls them wolves – want to come into the flock of God’s little lambs with their false doctrine and tear apart the sheep. They bring a message that sounds good, but really leads you away from Jesus and his work for you. That’s why Jesus says “beware” and “you will know them by their fruits”. What is a fruit of teaching – of doctrine? Where does it lead you? If the school teacher teaches falsely – 2+2=5, Z comes before A in the alphabet, then the fruit of the teaching would be children that can’t read or count. A false teacher in the church leads away from Jesus and his work – that is how we can identify them: by their fruit: Where does the teaching lead.

In the book of Acts, when the apostles went to Berea, we’re told that the people listened carefully, and then compared what was said to what Scripture says. And that’s what the church still does today. You come and listen to the sermon, hear the word proclaimed, and then compare the teaching to scripture – does it say what scripture says? Does it lead to Christ, or away from him? And how is it that someone comes in sheeps clothing, but is inwardly a ravening wolf? How can the church be fooled, if we’re talking about Jesus? Well, it depends what we say about him.

An example might help. Take the classic sentence – the answer to just about every Sunday School question “Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.” Notice it talks about Jesus. And it does it in a very specific way. Jesus is the subject – he is the one doing the action. In the sentence “Mom baked a cake”, Mom is the subject – she is doing the baking. Cake is there. But it’s the object. It isn’t doing anything. So in the sentence, Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, Jesus does the action. He is the one dying, the one saving. We are receiving the gift. We are the object.

If you listen to a false teacher, they may talk a lot about Jesus, but Jesus will be the object. The subject will be you. You must do this for Jesus. You must do that for Jesus. In common terms, that means that the cake bakes mom. It doesn’t work. Jesus is the shepherd – he gives his life for the sheep. He DOES. And then you receive. There are a lot of false teachers who talk endlessly about Jesus – but Jesus says at the last day, he will say, “I never knew you.” How can you tell a false teacher – their fruit. Where does their message lead? Is Jesus saving you, or are you doing for him? Who is the object, who is the subject – who is doing, and who is being done to. Mom bakes the cake. Jesus does the saving. The cake gets the baking done to it. You get the saving done to you. If you are the one who starts doing for Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how much talk there is about Jesus, it’s the wrong talk. The cake is baking him, and in the end, Jesus will say I never knew you.

The shepherds of the church – the pastors – are given the task of watching out for the sheep – to keep the false teachers out. And you are given the task of hearing what is preached, comparing it to the Scriptures, and making sure it matches. And if it doesn’t, whether the person is your pastor or district president, or even an angel from heaven, you must call him out and say, “Pastor, Reverend President, Mr Angel, that is not what is taught in the Bible.” The idea of listening and evaluating sermons isn’t just some sort of quirk in our synod because we’re so concerned about doctrine, Saint Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the Galatians says it, “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” We must keep the Gospel pure, because the Gospel is the medicine that saves us from sin. If you went to a doctor and he said, “We’ve got the medicine you need, but it’s tainted – it’s mixed with poison. Do you want that, or do you want to wait until tomorrow, when the shipment of pure medicine comes in.” No one would say, “give me the one that has poison, I want to take my chances.” Of course not! You say, “Give me the pure medicine that will do the work it must do.” So also with the Gospel. We don’t mix our works in with Jesus work. We let him do the saving. We keep it pure, and don’t get distracted from his work for us on the cross.

Today we welcomed Nora into Christ’s church through the waters of Holy Baptism. Notice – she didn’t do anything. It was all done for her. Bringing her here, speaking on her behalf, pouring the water, and placing the name of God on her. But do not doubt – Jesus gave himself to her, as He promised. He saved her. She has been saved. She didn’t do it. He did. And even though our hands poured, and our mouths spoke the words, it was done at the command of Jesus, and he gave us the words to speak, and put his heavenly Father’s name not only on the washing of water and the word in Baptism, but on Nora through that water. It is God’s Baptism, giving his salvation through Jesus to her. We give thanks for the great gift of salvation given to her this day. But it isn’t her work or our work, it is his work for her. That’s why Scripture calls it a new birth – only God can give that.

Jesus warns us against false prophets, because he wants us only to hear his voice, only to hear those who bring His Word. We are not to hear hose who come in his name, with lots of seductive talk about Jesus, but eventually, you are the one trying to save you. It doesn’t work. Jesus must do the saving. He is the subject. He does the work. And the fruit of this teaching is people who are saved by him. The fruit of Jesus teaching is little children being given Jesus and being blessed by him, the fruit of Jesus teaching is the people of God being forgiven their sins for Jesus sake. The fruit of Jesus teaching is the dying leaving this world in peace, and being given the new life of the new heaven and new earth in Jesus, that he promises to all those who believe on his name. Thanks be to God for the great salvation he has given us. May we always treasure it, and treat it as our most precious possession, not only in this world, but in the life of the world to come.

Amen.

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Manual of Style

Every publisher has a manual of style. So does every college for their masters and doctoral theses. CPH has one for authors. Their own variant to properly express our theology.

Turns out I sort of do as well. When I was writing Catechetics, I decided on various conventions I would follow – and some of them are rather unconventional.

1) Scripture references have only the chapter number (unless I’m quoting someone else). I don’t think it looks very good with verse numbers. I prefer the clean look. And the reason for including them is to give you a context in case you want to look it up yourself. Since giving the chapter number is roughly equivalent to a page number, I figure we don’t need the line number as well.

2) “The Word” is capitalized. It’s a proper noun in my book. It refers to a specific revelation (Holy Scripture) given by a specific person (Our Lord God). Or it refers specifically to His Son – who is a person, which makes it a title. Also included here are terms like Baptism, Holy Communion, etc.

3) I did away with the bibliography. I was planning to include one. Then I realized something – I don’t have to. Why pour through the whole text looking for any book I referenced? If someone wants to follow up on a train of thought, the footnote is right there. And a Bibliography gives all the sources – even the bad ones. That doesn’t help. Instead, I included an essential works section – other books on the topic that you’ll want to own. It isn’t as scholarly, but I think it’s more helpful.

4) For non-scholarly works (Evolution: A Defense Against) I did away with footnotes/endnotes. When I quote a book, I’ll include the author in the text, then have a title/page reference after the quote. Again, it looks cleaner, and it matches the limitations of e-readers, which don’t handle footnotes well.

Nothing earthshaking in any of this, but I was in a bookstore and saw the Chicago Manual of style earlier today, and thought, “I don’t have to follow that. That’s nice.” My mood today can best be described as “observational.”

 

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Sermon for Trinity 7

Jesus does two miraculous crowd feedings: The 5,000 and the 4,000. The 5,000 is a bigger miracle – he feeds more people with less food. For that one, each loaf feeds 1000. Today’s miracle is only 571 people per loaf. Much less impressive. Of course, it’s sort of like asking you to jump 1000 feet into the air, and then when you say “I can’t do that” saying “Then how about 500 feet, we’ll compromise.” It’s not going to happen. It’s a miracle. The numbers may be smaller, but they are well into the impossible-for-humans-to-do range. The hand of God, active in the world, overturning the normal rules of how things work in order to bring about his will, and to strengthen the faith of the disciples.

The 5000 shows up in all four Gospels. And John’s account of the 5000 is the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent – usually that’s a pretty well attended service, coming so close to Easter. Todays – the 4000 only shows up in Matthew and Mark’s Gospel, and it’s read in late July when everyone is either busy or travelling, so it gets comparatively fewer people hearing it.

The Gospels don’t record everything – only the most important events make it. And among those important events, very few are mentioned in all four Gospels. Even Jesus birth only gets mentioned in two. Palm Sunday, Jesus death, resurrection, those are in all four. And the feeding of the 5000. It’s an important miracle. Jesus provides for his people. Do not doubt. The 4000 is only in Matthew and Mark. The question really isn’t why the others don’t include it, but why Mark does – Mark is the shortest of the Gospels. 16 chapters. And yet Mark records as many miracles as Luke and only one fewer than Matthew . Mark is about Jesus power – always moving to what he does, often introducing sections with “immediately…” there is an urgency to Mark. And yet Mark takes the time to record a second feeding, not too long after the first. But there are some differences, aside from the numbers.

The feeding of the 5,000 takes place where there is a lot of grass. It’s lush. Matthew, Mark and John all mention it. Feeding of the 4,000, no grass. May seem a small detail, but the 5,000 is read late winter, early spring. Lots of rain, lots of green. 4,000 is read in July. We need water. Small sections of green dot the landscape, but the high plains are mostly brown and dry. Things don’t look alive. Jesus is in a desolate place. No food, no water mentioned, no grass. The disciples ask, “How can we feed these people?” A question that is on our minds as well.

The other difference is that in the 5000, in every Gospel, Jesus says “You feed them somehow.” John even mentions – Jesus was testing the disciples. Don’t be fooled by the lush grass and pleasant surroundings. The feeding of the 5000 happens in Lent, and it fits right in with that theme of testing and trial that we get in the Lenten season. The disciples fail the test. They don’t believe there is anything that can be done. They don’t believe Jesus can feed all the people.

In today’s Gospel – desolate, no grass, dry and barren, Jesus doesn’t question them or tell them to feed the people. He only says, “I have compassion. How can I send them away? They will faint.” The 5,000 it was the end of a long day. The three thousand is after three days. The need is greater. The people more desperate. Jesus doesn’t test the disciples, he prepares them for what he is about to do. He has compassion in this difficult and uncertain circumstance. He does not abandon the people. He feeds them.

And so this Gospel is in a sense more comforting than the more familiar one with greater numbers. Jesus has compassion on the crowd, he knows their needs – even when the need is desperate. And he takes care of his people. This is a wonderful reading now, when the summer turns dangerous and uncertain, and we pray for rain, but when it comes, we are nervous because if it comes with lightning, salvation may be mixed with destruction. Our Lord Jesus wants us to know that he provides for all our needs of body and soul. That’s what we say in the prayer today: O God, whose never-failing providence… He provides. His love never fails. That doesn’t mean things go the way we want, or that they are always easy. But he will not abandon us.

That’s a point Saint Paul makes in Romans 8: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

He won’t abandon us, not now that he already gave up his son into death to save us. That makes no sense. God would have to be unstable to do things that way. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the proof that, no matter how crazy and dangerous and difficult things get in this world, he will not leave us or forsake us.

There is poem from the Medieval Era – used during Lent when the feeding of the 5000 is read, “In the midst of life we are in death, whom may we seek for help? But you, Oh Lord, who for our sins are justly displeased.” A Lenten prayer and poem to be sure. God is displeased with our sins. Even as we live in this world, we face death. It reminds us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

And yet, our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel reading turns it around. “If I send them away, they will faint on the way.” So he feeds them, he provides for them. Not “in the midst of life we are in death” but “In the midst of death, we are in life.” That’s what Jesus gives us. Yes, in this world of sin death is ever present. It stalks us every day. We are as sheep to be slaughtered. And yet our Lord Jesus undoes death by his death. Now because of his work, resurrection follows death. So even in this world of sin and death, we have the promise that we will not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.

Our Lord Jesus is our help and our comfort. And he is displeased by our sins, but he bore those sins on the tree of the cross and paid the penalty for our Father’s displeasure. And now we are made holy and righteous through the waters of baptism, and given new life in him. In Jesus our heavenly Father is pleased with us.

We have the proof right here – hungry people are not sent home to faint on the way, but even that need is provided for them by Jesus.

We live in an odd time. On the one hand we live in a radical materialist society – we are taught that this life is all there is, there is no god, get what you can in this world because there is no world to come. And yet it is a society in which we deny the basic facts of reality – you are not bound by the limits of your body, you can be anything even if it makes no sense at all and violates the laws of biology or genetics. And there is a tendency in this schizophrenic age to look at scripture and see it as presenting only spiritual truth that doesn’t really apply to our physical bodies in this world. There are churches that deny that God created the heavens and the earth, they deny that Jesus bodily rose from the grave. They take all the events of scripture, and spiritualize them, it’s only a spiritual resurrection, the bible presents important truths, but it didn’t really happen, it’s all just a myth, and then say “do what you will with your bodies in this world, they don’t matter”.

Jesus grounds us in physical reality – he was made flesh. He bodily died. His body was raised from the dead. The salvation he gives is for more than just this world – but it is also for this world. We have hope for this world already because of Jesus resurrection. We also have the hope of the life of the world to come – a real life with real bodies.

And so in this world God works through real things – it is a real washing – a real Baptism into the name of Father Son and Holy Spirit. We are really fed by Jesus – no less miraculous than in Jesus own day. Now, not with bread and a few fish, but with his body and blood. And the  miraculous feeding he gives in his supper strengthens us in our body and soul. On its own it is a few calories, a little bite and little sip. But even the smallest drop of food from the hand of God is more than enough. We are sustained and will not be overcome. Jesus has strengthened you through the eating and drinking so that no matter what happens in this world, you are safe in him. That’s why he gave it in the first place. Because he knew you would be hungry. He knew you would be weak and would faint on your own. So he gives you body and blood to eat and drink, and be fed and be filled and be strengthened in this world so, even when you are weak, you are strong, even when you are dying, you are living, even when you depart this world, it is in peace and joy, and in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of all flesh.

Who would not want to be fed with food from the hand of God, like those 4000 were? And that was food that spoiled. It filled them for only a day. We are not only fed with food from the hand of God, but food and drink from the side of God. His blood was poured out for you, and collected into the cup of salvation, so that you would not falter, you would not fall away, but you would be fed and strengthened on your way, by Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus.

Amen.

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Descriptive or Prescriptive

This one is a bit inside baseball.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our doctrine and practice for the last 40 years or so. In conversations about what we should be doing, if you bring up our confessions (e.g. “The confessional standard is at least weekly celebration of the sacrament. Doing less does not match our confession.”) you will often hear someone say “But that is not prescriptive, it is descriptive.” And over the years I’ve heard a lot of really good explanations of why it is always both. I believed them. But this morning I woke up and realized something. The Augsburg confession is entirely descriptive, and nothing else. Nowhere does it say “You must do these things.” The entire document describes what is taught, believed, and practiced. It nowhere prescribes anything. That’s the nice thing about a voluntary confession like the Augustana. It just lays out, based on scripture, what we teach and do. We Baptize children. We commune under both kinds each week. We allow priests to marry. We teach that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, etc. There are certain practices/teaching that are also condemned by us. But we are just describing what we are doing there as well.

Usually, charges of “it’s only descriptive” are made by those who do not wish to do what it says. Those portions which do not match their own doctrine or practice are relegated to “descriptive.”

But here is the thing – the Augustana is descriptive of what Lutherans do. Insofar as you do what is described there, you are Lutheran. Insofar as you don’t, you fail to live up to your confession. You can not ignore part of it because it would be inconvenient. “But what about this thing that it says – surely you don’t do that!” And insofar as I don’t I fail in my commitment to the confession. Failure to keep private absolution, weekly celebration of the sacrament, reverent celebration of the Mass with an appropriate ordo are failures to live up to the confession that all pastors and congregations swear before the altar of God that they will uphold.

So let it be descriptive, not prescriptive. But then be honest about what you have sworn to do, and what you are actually doing.

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Sermon for Trinity 5

I’ve found it interesting that, even during the season of Trinity, when the focus is on our growth as Christians, that the church’s lectionary switches themes each week between how we live out our faith in the world (third use of the law), and how it is that God continues to shower us with his mercy after our Baptism (Gospel). Today is an example of the latter (last and next week are examples of the former). Even when we are training in righteousness, we never move far from the source of our life and righteousness – the Lord Jesus and his sacrifice for us on the cross. Hopefully that comes through in the sermon: Continue reading

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Sermon for Trinity 4

By the time I get back to the office and can post my sermon, sometimes the week is far gone. But in case you couldn’t attend church on Sunday, here is my sermon. The text is Luke 6, about judging and specks in eyes:

Our prayers aren’t better because we say them a second time. But sometimes a prayer is so on point, it just has to be said twice. Let us pray again the collect for the day: O Lord, grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance that Your Church may joyfully serve You in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There’s enough in that prayer for a whole sermon, without ever getting to the readings. But we want to make sure that, while we attend to prayer, we also attend to the Word of God. So only a few comments before we move on to the eternal word which our Lord gives us in our Gospel this day.

The church prays that God would order the world – he did in the beginning, creating marriage between man and woman, blessing them and all families, giving humanity dominion over the earth and all that is in it. We pray that he would continue to keep order – that the rain would come and water the ground, that the sun would shine, that crops would grow and we would move without too much trouble from seed time to harvest, that the seasons would come and go in their time. That there would be peace in the land, and peace between nations. And when we pray “by your governance…” we mean that God would govern the world – not only giving order and peace as we pray in the Lord’s prayer when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, but that those who govern would do so according to the fear and knowledge of the Lord and his will. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We want to have wise leaders. The commandments of God are the only way to a peaceful and prosperous nation – blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Not that we should adopt the Old Testament code as our laws as if we would live under a church-controlled theocracy. But rather that, insofar as the laws of our nation are modelled on the ten commandments, we are seeking the blessing of God on all that we do. And insofar as we neglect and despise those commandments, any nation is testing God and seeing if it is true that he will judge the nations. He had promised that he will.

The reason for our prayer that the world would be ordered according to the commandments is so that the church can serve our heavenly Father and our neighbor in godly quietness. We don’t usually think in terms of godly quietness. But the church is most blessed in those times when it can serve peaceably and quietly in the world, when we can encourage our members to godly living without interference from the world. Those periods are shockingly few and far between, and surprisingly short. It appears we are now exiting one of those periods of peace and tranquility for the church, as our nation rushes headlong into a brave new world where the word of God is actively despised and rejected. This should not shock us. Jesus told us that the world will hate those who follow him. And it should not alarm us. Jesus also promised that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus reigns and has already won the victory over death. What can man do to us?

This is our prayer today: That we would live peaceable and godly lives in all quietness. It encompasses so much beyond just our own selves. It’s not a prayer that we be left alone, it’s a prayer that all Satan’s efforts to disrupt our peace would fail – whether it be through war, famine, sickness, drought, or the weakness of our sinful flesh. We pray that God would keep all of these away from us. The Lord’s prayer sums it up so well “Deliver us from evil.” That’s what we pray for.

And that’s what the Gospel is about. We’ve been kind of zig zagging back and forth during Trinity between God’s commands – which tell us how to live our life as His child showing love to neighbor and what that entails, and then back to God’s promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake when we fail to live up to God’s perfect law. Today we are back to law – how to live as Christians. How to have lives that are as peaceful as the world will allow. We covered the fifth commandment a couple weeks back. Now the tricky one –the 8th commandment. Control of the tongue. That’s a tough one. Let’s see what Jesus has to say.

Do not judge. But this is not an absolute. There must be judgment in the world. Today you will eat meals – what will be served? A judgment. You judge and pick a car, a phone, a TV set, or you judge and don’t have those things. Any decision involves judgment. That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Decisions – judgments must be made. Jesus is talking about judging others – again the 8th commandment. We are not to tell lies about our neighbor, but we are to explain everything in the ndest way – or as we used to teach in the old catechism “put the best construction on everything.” At times we must make judgments between people – employers must choose an employee from among several applicants. They must judge the qualifications. Promotions are a judgment based on past performance. Parents must judge whether to punish or reward their children based on what they have done. Teachers must judge whether to pass or fail a student. Police must judge when to arrest, and when to warn or release. Juries must make a judgment of guilt or innocence. Judges must make a judgement whether to let an offender off lightly, or throw the book at them. The world is filled with judgments, and they are good. The church must judge what it hears – is this the word of Christ given by Divine Inspiration in the Holy Scirptures as the only means by which we know the truth? Or is it the voice of Satan tempting us to false doctrine and practice? We must hear only the voice of our shepherd.

So what is Jesus forbidding here? He is forbidding private judgment. What is that? Judging the conduct of another person apart from an office God gives. As an example – God gives the authorities to us. Police, judges, and so on. If a person holds that office, they are to judge what they see and hear according to their office. Going 120 miles per hour on the interstate will get you a ticket or time in jail from the police. If you see someone speeding and decide to run them off the road yourself, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a judgment. So when a parent disciplines a disobedient and unruly child, according to their God-given office, they are justified. But not every adult may punish a child – only the parents God has given to be authorities over them.

And, because of the sinful world we live in, we also need to clarify – when a police officer harasses or arrests someone who is innocent as an abuse of power, this is a corruption and an injustice. The same is true for parents who abuse their children and unjustly punish them – scripture says “fathers do not exasperate your children.” In such cases, there must be repentance and a turning away from such abuses of authority. But abuses do not cancel out the legitimate use of an office. Injustice or corruption must not be tolerated. But proper use of an office must be respected, encouraged, and upheld. We are commanded by God to obey the government – even the unjust and the wicked, as far as we are able without disobeying the command of God. So, back in the second century when the Roman government forbid churches from having festive meals – what we call potlucks – because they feared the church, the church complied, even though it was not a just rule. When the Romans forbid the church from worshipping, the church had to obey God rather than man. As one early Christian responded when called before the authorities and told not to worship – we can not live without the Lord’s Supper.

We don’t reject all judgment. And if you carry an office of authority, you have a responsibility to use that office and authority and to make judgments for the sake of good order – whether it be parent, police, teacher, landlord, employer, etc.

Private judgments are those made outside of an office of authority. So, if you are a judge or on a jury, you may sentence someone to prison. But you don’t get to imprison your neighbor in your basement because you saw him steal flowers from your garden.

What applies as actions in obvious situations, Jesus says we are to do also in our words, and in our thoughts. We do not talk about our neighbor to others, even if we think he is a thief. We call the authorities God has instituted. It’s one thing if you see someone walking off with your belongings. It’s another if something is missing, and you decide to tell your neighbors who you think did it, even if you don’t have any evidence. Luther says in the Large catechism, if you know something, “Why do you not make accusation to regular judges?” If you won’t tell those responsible for making judgments according to their office, then you should not make any statement about it at all. Saying anything that makes your neighbor look bad – even if it is the truth – is gossip if you say it to anyone but the proper authorities.

Jesus is not telling the church that it can not speak the Law about sin, or make judgments about doctrine. That’s an obvious misuse of Jesus words. Instead we are to do things in an orderly way, according to the authorities which God has given us and to no other place.

And all of this is because of the first sentence Jesus says, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” : The goal is always mercy. Even if we punish criminals – we do so because they harm their neighbor unjustly. Stealing, assault, vandalism, corruption and embezzlement, and so on. They take what is not theirs and so deprive their neighbor of it. In love and mercy, we must punish such sinful actions, for the good of all.

But the goal of that is that there be order, that men don’t cheat, steal, cause harm. The church is given no authority it punish. Punishment is given only to the worldly authorities. The church has only the power of the Word. And we always use that toward forgiveness – the mercy of God. The goal of everything the church does is the forgiveness of sins. Even when the church must remove someone who refuses to hear and abide by the word of God, we do it so that they would recognize that their sin is great, repent of that sin and return to Christ and His church.

Why do we preach the Law? So that people would know their sins and repent of them, and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Why do we have divine Service? So that people can come and receive the forgiveness given through the body and the blood. Why do we baptize babies? So that Jesus would be given the little ones. So that they would have the mercy and love of the Father poured over them in that water. Jesus says “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” We see that mercy most clearly in Jesus – who went into death for you. Having been freed from the Law by Jesus death and resurrection, we really have no cause to judge others who sin against us. Instead, we are to be merciful – loving and kind – to all whom God places in our life. Whether it be disciplining a child in love, or forgiving an enemy the wrong he committed against us. We live lives that are defined by the mercy and love of God through Jesus Christ. And we show that mercy and love to others in all we do.

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Sermon for Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist was actually June 24 (exactly half-a-year from Christmas.) But this was preached on the Sunday following, June 28, 2020. And what with one thing and another, it was finally posted today. So here it is, six days after the feast itself: Continue reading

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