Blessed, DV

I just returned from a mini-cation. We dashed cross-country to pick up a child, and then drive back. No vacation ever goes to plan, but this one seemed almost… doomed. On the way out, roads were so bad that I was hearing voiceovers in my head about how doomed we were.  At one point, we went through three rental cars in a day. One was “The soggy car.” You get the idea.

About half-way through, we started calling it “The Goes Wrong Trip”, after one of our favorite TV shows, “The Goes Wrong Show.”

But as the trip neared the end, I had time to reflect. (Kansas is a big state; lot’s of reflection time.) It really was the DV trip (Deo Volente = God willing). Things went wrong, plans changed, there were some large disappointments, but we made it through. We got there, picked up our child, and returned safely home. And a lot of things happened just right. A parking space in downtown DC right outside the house we needed to load boxes from; roads that closed behind us, instead of in front of us both times, etc. As God Willed it, so the vacation proceeded. We even got to do some fun things. An extra museum, a great sushi place to meet an old friend, etc.

Frantic, exhausting, glad to be home, and protected the whole way by our Lord. It was a blessed trip, because we made it safely, and we did it according to God’s Will.

The trip was not The Goes Wrong Trip, but “DV: Blessed”.

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Shooting the Messenger

Twice upon a time, my wife served as editor of a newspaper. She is no longer in the position. People shoot the messenger. Publication day was Wednesday. Every Thursday she got calls complaining about the news. Her job was supposed to be “Reporting things that occurred”. It became “Reporting things that occurred, then getting blamed for the things that happened.” This eventually wore her out.

I mention it, because there is a lot of internet anger about a new book that was just released by Concordia Publishing House (CPH). Perhaps I shouldn’t enter into the debate, as I have recently been named publisher of Steadfast Press. But we aren’t really a competing publishing house. We are both trying our best to publish good Lutheran resources that help the church. They have overhead; they have to publish, or they go out of business. We have a volunteer force; we can publish what and when we want, but we have day jobs, so the work only gets done in our free time. We aren’t really competing with them. We’re offering resources they can’t offer. So, I’m not speaking about a competitor here, I’m speaking about a much bigger brother. And I’m speaking in defense of them.

In addition to publishing resources they believe will help the church, Concordia also serves as the official Publisher of LCMS-INC. This means that, when directed by the synod in convention, Concordia must publish, re-issue, revise, or even cease publishing according to the directives of synod. An example would be the release of The Lutheran Hymnal in 1941. They were directed to cease publication of the prior hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book. Even if there was a strong desire to have the hymnal reissued for historical research, they are not able to do so without the synod changing the order.

In 2016, the synod in convention passed a resolution containing the following:

Resolved, That the CTCR, in concurrence with the President of Synod and the seminary faculties, explore the creation of an annotated and expanded edition of the Large Catechism for widespread use and study in the church.

This book has now been released by Concordia Publishing House, and they are fulfilling their duty according to the mandate given them. They had no hand in setting up the parameters of the book, the topic of essays, the author list, etc. Oh, they may have provided editorial advice to individual authors. They might even have said, “Are you certain you want to publish a book that says X?” But they do not have editorial discretion in this matter. LCMS-INC gave that discretion to three entities. They are corporately and individually responsible for concurring – that is agreeing – to the content of the book. If you desire to complain about what is in the new Annotated Catechism, LCMS-INC has given you the people you should contact and talk to about it.

But in this case, CPH is just the messenger. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

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The Resurrections Is Assured

I enjoy scrolling through Twitter, because it’s a strange place, full of odd things.

Yesterday, a woman was bragging about her scientific research, which, she claimed, proved conclusively that, if a guy is dead for three days, he can not come back to life. The body has begun to decay, she said. It can not be reversed, she insisted. And so there was conclusive proof that the Resurrection of Jesus could not have happened.

Which is brilliant. It is scientifically ironclad.

Which is why the church calls such events miracles. They undo things that can not be undone. We call it faith.

Perhaps she was just sharing her own journey to unbelief. But if she thought such information would rock the foundations of Christianity, she wasn’t really very well informed as a Christian, either.

Christians have long known, we even teach, that death is undoable. That’s why it’s such a big deal that there’s a guy who promises to undo it. And it’s why the death and resurrection of Jesus is such a central part of our faith.

I was actually stunned that she thought her pointing this out would be a body-blow to Christians. But then, like I said, I enjoy Twitter because it’s weird.

 

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A New Post for a New Gig

Most of you have probably already seen the news, but I’ve been named the new Publisher of Steadfast Press. It’s not a new job, I’m still pastor of my parishes. It’s a volunteer thing, and it’s nothing more than I’ve been doing with my free time the last decade anyway: Getting good books published to help the church. Now I’ve got other volunteers to help. That’s really the only change. Together we’ll be able to get more books published. More help for the church.

Steadfast Lutherans has been mostly a blog for the last few years, so my first bit of publishing is on that. We’ll be moving to a storefront for books, with a blog as an add-on in the future. For now, the blog is the front, and so I’ve written a few words in commemoration of a departed Saint, and (appropriately) publisher of theology.

Check out my new post here.

 

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They Are But Mortal

This past week was disappointing for those who thought Republican gains in the House would slow the tide of the culture-of-death in our nation. 12 Republican Senators announced support for the Orwellian Respect for Marriage Act, which will degrade marriage further in the interest of Egalite. That it will also punish those who engage in wrongthink on the issue is not an accident. It was an odd decision: The election is over;  the next election is too far away for people to remember this vote.  House leadership changed; it is not a compromise to win votes for other legislation. There is no political advantage. The only conclusion is the 12 believe this is the right thing to do.

The LCMS has declared repeatedly and loudly our defense of marriage. It is the foundation of family, and all society. Despite what is claimed by secularists, children are best raised in a house with their natural mother and father. Individual exceptions do not negate this rule. The secular science on the issue is so one-sided as to be incontrovertible.

Normally, the church is not surprised by such machinations on the part of the world. We are told, “put not your trust in princes.” But this announcement was particularly troublesome. One of the twelve is a member of an LCMS congregation. From my perspective, it is especially galling, because she is from my own district.

There are political truisms; we accept them without question. One party is the party of family and life. The LCMS stands firm. Combine these two, you have: “We should elect members of one party over the other, and especially so if they are members of our own church. This will advance the cause of family and life in our nation.” The disappointment is not that leaders fail. It’s that our truisms were a lie. The easy answers we sold ourselves are neither easy, nor answers.

How do we respond?

We turn to our Lord’s Word. “It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in princes.” “My kingdom is not of this world.” We will never live in a utopia in this world. We must be ready to suffer for God’s Word of Truth.

When all worldly hopes fail, Psalm 2 offers consolation, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his anointed… He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision.”

This latest effort of Satan to corrupt God’s good creation of marriage will fail. The eternal truth of marriage as the foundation of society will endure. No society can reject marriage and survive. Either our nation will repent and return to the Lord, or it will fall.

Saint Paul admonishes us, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that “intercessions be made for kings and for all those in authority.” Our task is to pray. In this case, we pray for our mislead sister in Christ. We also pray for her pastor and congregation: that they be given the grace of God to approach her in Christian humility, so they might restore her in all gentleness. If that fails, we pray they be given the courage to speak the word faithfully to her, and not yield for the sake of worldly acceptance.

We respond as we always have: Prayer and the Word of God.

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Funeral Rites

The most watched event in television history is a liturgical Christian funeral. The Queen’s funeral showed how nonsensical it is to complain about ceremony, or riff on funerals being too depressing. Four Billion people watched as a commonwealth honored her departed queen and laid her to rest. We should learn from that example, but her example is outside the mainstream. Not many serve as sovereign of so many nations. Not many serve so lofty or so long. Not many have the resources for such a grand affair.

That’s why my mind turned to a much more humble funeral. It was an imaginary one, but it has also been seen (in a sense) by many millions. It is Boromir’s in Tolkein’s The Two Towers. I ponder it because it was not planned over the course of many years. It was known only to three. It had to be fast, and of necessity, it was a river funeral rather than a burial.

What amazes me about it was that it was a funeral at all. No one would have blamed any of the three had they shouted, “There’s no time for a funeral!” and run off into the woods in pursuit of their enemies. The orcs had captured at least two hobbits. They only have about a 15 minute head start at this point. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli could run after them and have a hope of catching up. It is not a large hope, and it likely would have ended in death had they succeeded. But their eventual quest is more hopeless: hours behind, stretching to days. As far as they know, the end will find the two in an impregnable tower. They will never so much as gain entrance, to say nothing of recovering friends.

The delay is caused by Boromir’s funeral. They have no shovels to dig. So they take the body to the river, place him in the boat with his sword at hand and the weapons of his fallen enemies at his feet. Then they paddle into the river to make sure it goes over the falls. As it does, appropriate Eulogies are spoken. Only when this is done do they return upriver and move on.

There is no thought of making a decision before their comrade’s remains are properly seen to. Honoring the dead was necessary for them.

How different things are in our own day. Funerals are delayed weeks or months until there is favorable weather or until airline tickets are cheap enough for Aunt Marge to fly in from the coast. And this assumes there is a funeral at all. Many are foregoing a funeral. Cremation and a box in a closet are all that await them.

The Church has always honored her dead. And (until recently) has never cremated them. The body of the departed was redeemed by Christ Jesus through his own bodily death and resurrection. The remains are therefore treated with honor. Cremation arises from pagan rites, which do not value the gift of creation or of the body. Modern cremation involves not only burning, but then grinding the bones. No matter how you think about it, it is not a respectful end.

Some will say, “Do what you want. I’m not there anymore.” True, the soul has separated from the body. But the body was something. No battle is fought now in Gettysburg. But we would not think of digging up the battlefield or cemetery to make it an amusement park. It is, as a wise man said, “hallowed ground”, and we can neither add nor detract from that. To attempt it would be to desecrate it. The tomb of the unknowns is the place of highest ceremony in our nation. The bodies rest there and are honored because they gave even their identity in service to something greater than themselves.

I understand how we arrived where we are. It was not a financial matter – although now that cremation is ubiquitous and accepted, it often is. It has become no more important than the debate between a regular or luxury car. It rests entirely on what the family can afford or is willing to pay. But there is much more at stake. And for this, Tolkein is a help to us.

He fought in the war to end all wars. Bodies were stacked like cordwood. The war after that incinerated and blasted them into such particles that many were never found. Early in my ministry, when the fighters from that war were still with us, many spoke of how they were planning cremation for themselves. Their own friends and comrades were not killed so much as obliterated from the earth. It was, in a sense, a way of honoring them. If the Lord promised to raise their bodies which were lost, so also their brothers would join them in death and destruction, with the hope of renewal and resurrection.

It was rarely said this explicitly. But it was made clear this was the intent and the desire. What these misguided saints did not understand – and Tolkein did – was that their sacrifice made proper memorial greater and more important, not less. The Fellowship suffered their first great loss when Gandalf falls into the abyss. There is no body to bury. The Orcs are close behind, there is no time to grieve properly. It seems as if the loss itself is less damaging than the circumstances which do not allow for proper grief and honor of the dead.

On their next outing, another falls. This time they disregard any remaining danger and take proper care for the body, seeing it laid to rest as best they can. They sing songs over him. It is a funeral that – given their sparse resources – is every bit as large a sacrifice for them as the one seen by so many this week in Westminster.

But why do they take so much time to honor the body, even at the potential cost of their still living comrades? Because we honor the fallen. It is erroneous to say, “Because my brother was not allowed a proper burial I will honor him by also having an improper one.” If we are to retain our humanity, we must say “My brother was not allowed a proper burial in order that I might be allowed one.” This is how we honor the dead. For the Christian, the apotheosis of our care for the body is not our brother’s unwilling example, but our Savior’s willing one. His body was abused in life, but cared for in death. He praised those who did the caring. They are honored and celebrated in the church. Especially honored is the woman who prepared his body while he was still living. Wherever the Gospel is preached in the world, her deed is told as a memorial of her.

That is why, even in extremis, Tolkein had the three take time to honor the blessed dead. Because it is what the church does. There is a reason the body is brought into the church one last time after death. It is the same body which bears the mark of Christ the crucified on forehead and breast. It is the same body which heard with ear and confessed with tongue the truth. It is the same body that was strengthened by the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood. And it is the same body we lay to rest in the hope of the resurrection of the flesh.

The church first honors and then buries her dead. We do so surrounded by the word of God and prayer. But we do it.

The secular and wicked denial of proper burial rites in the late pandemic was an aberration. The church must not be taken in again by such lies. We meet, we grieve, we honor. Cremation for the sake of saving a few dollars is also an aberration. We carry the body God gave him into the church one final time, place the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God over the body, and place the weapons of the defeated foe, sin and death, under their feet. We sing the songs of old, then carry him in honor to the place of rest.

It matters not what the world may do to us in this life. It matters less what it may do to our earthly remains after we die. But it matters a great deal what we do for and to our honored dead.

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Transformation

Two years ago, in a paper to my district’s College of Visitors, I warned of “a cascade failure of synod structure.” Congregations declining in numbers, and the subsequent increased burden on pastors (multi-point parishes, worker priests) would result in fewer pastors able to serve on boards/commissions, etc.

The current structure of synod was really set in the 1950’s. (The deck chairs have been moved around a couple of times, but the Good Ship Missourah continued on her way.) Statistical analyses done at the time assured us that by the turn of the century the synod would have over 5 million members. So throughout the 50’s and 60’s, the synod adjusted its structure to handle the numbers: 10 shiny colleges to train teachers for our school system, 35 districts with full time executives to oversee all the program boards and experts, and eventually a Synod Office Building that any mid-level manager would be proud to drive to each day. All of this came just as the synod reached peak membership and began her slow decline. (The two are related, but that’s another story.)

For 40 years, the synod soldiered bravely on, supporting massive administrative overhead, almost all of it unnecessary. As one faithful district president in the 1980’s used to say, “Replace the entire executive staff of synod with an answering machine. In 3 years, see how many people have even noticed.” But, we were assured, it was all quite important work.

Now, the synod is being refined as if by fire. Most visibly, we have lost 3 of those 10 colleges. They were arguably the least Lutheran of the lot, so their loss hasn’t been noticed by the central core of the synod. But that was only prelude, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Less visibly but more importantly, congregations no longer have five figure surpluses to send on to the synod. Instead, they have five figure deficits as they try to support their pastor. Congregations are joining together. Or, if not, they are using worker-priests to provide the Gospel.

In the two decades I have served as a pastor, I have not seen such desperation in calling for nominations for synod office. They are all volunteer offices. So, it’s a thing you do in addition to your living. For laymen now in their late 70’s or early 80’s, the time is coming to pass the torch to the next generation. But there are few to receive it, fewer still who desire to spend their days in meetings away from family. Pastors who are serving two or three parishes (in addition to outside employment!) are lucky if they can attend a Winkel or District Pastor’s conference. They have not time or energy to devote to meetings-that-could-have-been-an-email.

I think in this cycle the posts will be filled. According to desperate email #1 that I received, the synod is running at about half the usual number of nominations. It is still enough to fill all offices. By the time they are done (the deadline is the end of the month) they will likely have enough nominations to put at least two names for each office. I think this convention will have all the regular sort of convention things. But it may be the last one to do so. There used to be people clamoring, even campaigning, to be nominated for these officious and lofty positions. We’re not seeing so much of that now.

I think that’s good news. We shouldn’t see that in the church. We were unwilling to stop it on our own for the sake of the Word of God and Love of Neighbor. Now, God is bringing that era to a close, whether we want it that way or not.

I expect filling offices to get exponentially harder moving forward. I think this is also a good thing. The closer the center of gravity in the church is to the pulpit and the pew, the better off we will be. It’s starting to move. Thanks be to God.

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Christianity is Necessary

I saw the original Lord of the Rings trilogy when it came out – years before reading the book, I must confess. Since then I have been through them 5 or 6 times. They are a masterpiece of Christian mythology. Yes, Christian Mythology.

They are unlike a classical pagan mythology: this is how the large mountain was formed by a bear. Instead, they explain the life and world of the Christian using another world. In this they are like Narnia. But Narnia never rises above the level of allegory. Lion=Jesus. White witch=Satan, etc. Visiting Narnia would be fun, a great adventure. But then we would return home.

Middle Earth, by comparison, is around us. We inhabit it, even though we have not and can not ever visit. We live in the age of men. We can live like men, free and willing to defend our homes, or we can become slaves, eventually corrupted until we are little more than barbarous orcs, trolls, goblins. There are a few happy Christians who spend their lives in Hobbiton. They enjoy good food, good friends, a good pipe, and the occasional fireworks. They are simple folk, but don’t be fooled. There is more in them than meets the eye. They have no interest in the wider goings on, but do not think that their actions will have no impact on great events. And even the most powerful would be wise to think twice before trying to subjugate them.

The elves (unlike Peter Jackson’s stern and frightening vision) are joyful, playful, solemn, eternal. They are the saints which surround the Christian. They inspire us, they are examples to us of what we can be and of where we will one day go. And, in times of dire need, we find that our path leads through their kingdom. We are fed with otherworldly food – food that gives more sustenance than we see on the surface. Lembas is baked only in the imagination of a man who believed the body and blood of the Lord are present when the church gathers.

The Ring Trilogy is a work of deep contemplation on the Christian mysteries. True, many fans are non-Christian. The myth of this Christian land is of such a depth that it draws in even those who reject the Christianity that forms its foundation. They can enjoy the legend and the mysteries even while rejecting the premise, just as a non-Christian can enjoy the grandeur of the cathedral in Chartres or Rheims while rejecting the hope that went into building it. But the non-Christian can not build – and would not spend the time trying to build – Chartres or Rheims. They barely have the cognizance to rebuild the Cathedral in Paris after a fire without adding monstrously modern elements. And let’s be honest, if not for the lure of tourist dollars, the rebuilding would have taken a decidedly uglier turn.

Someone who is not a Christian inventing tales of Middle Earth without the background of Christ and His Holy Bride the Church would be like someone writing a Gospel where Judas is the hero. It’s been tried. It is not good. The Gospel of Thomas is another non-Christian Christian writing. It is a mix of pithy sayings, plagiarized scripture, and utter nonsense. It never attempts to convey historical information. And it does not hold together as either literary work or ethical instruction. It is randomly chosen thoughts designed to fit the authors preconceptions, not an exposition of the Word of God. Early reviews of the new Amazon Ring Cycle indicate that it fits the same pattern.

How could this possibly be a surprise?

Middle Earth is special not because of the magical system, or the diverse races of man-like creatures, or the funny names and exotic locales. Middle Earth is special because it tells the story of the Christian on a mythic scale. It is Pilgrims Progress told by someone with a much greater imagination, and with a much greater scope. It is not the journey of one man through life and death. It is the journey of a an entire world into corruption and redemption. It is the ongoing struggle against evil. And this will neither be understood nor competently expounded by those who do not believe in the corruption which sin brings, nor in the redemption offered by the Son of God through the scandal of the cross.

The new series is not worth watching. I say this not by way of review, but by way of philosophical belief. The odds that a group of secular materialist hedonists managed to make up a story that captures even a spark of the original is the same as the odds of Adam and Eve sneaking past the angel and back into the garden. It would be as if the ancient myths of the Greeks told the tale of how Zeus and the gang suddenly decided that humanity was not a plaything with which to amuse themselves. Rather, the gods would show compassion, they would honor their own marriage vows as an example to humanity, they would help the helpless, stand up against injustice, and no longer commit wicked and petty acts. Which is to say, they would no longer be the thing they are – a product of fallen humanity’s imagination. They would become Christian.

In the same way, making Middle Earth suddenly a non-Christian affair will bear no resemblance to what it is. It will not accidentally remain the mythic place of the Christian imagination. So no, I will not watch it just to see if it is good. I need not examine it to make a judgment, any more than I need to walk across a horse pasture to know I should watch my step. It is a failure of concept. I no more care what the non-Christian thinks of Middle Earth, than the residents of Hobbiton care about the fishing prospects in the Ice Bay of Forochel. I live contentedly undisturbed by the terrible imaginings of the corruptions of our age, and desirous of nothing more than one day visiting and dwelling with the elves of Rivendell.

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Sermon for Trinity 10

The bible isn’t a history book. It records things that happened, and records them more accurately and objectively than a history book, but it wasn’t written as a textbook. The Bible isn’t a book of literature. The Classical Language used in Job and the Psalms is among the best in the history of the world, the book of Hebrews rivals the poems of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The King James translation of scripture did more to standardize the English language than the works of Shakespeare. But that’s not the purpose of any of it. The beauty is a reflection of the genius of the author. The Holy Spirit gives to men the words which they are to write. And the purpose of his inspiring men to record the words isn’t to make great literature, or to celebrate their artistic merit, or even to record the events of nations. The goal of all scripture is to teach us how it is that God has saved us from sin, death, and the devil.

The entirety of Scripture is the history of Salvation. How God first promised salvation to Adam and Eve in the garden after they sinned. How he preserved his people over the course of thousands of years as the arc of history moved toward the fulness of time – the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and then how that Gospel went out from Jerusalem to ends of the earth.

Jesus is the central figure of scripture. He was with God in the beginning at the creation. He was prophesied as the one who would crush the serpent by his own death. His coming was foretold by Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah, Malachi, and the rest of the Old Testament authors and prophets. His life is recorded for us by the four evangelists. In today’s Gospel we pick up right after the triumphal entry; Jesus is days away from his death. He knows what is coming. He knows this is his final trip to Jerusalem. This will be the final rejection of God by the leaders of the people as they crucify the promised Messiah they have been seeking so long.

Jesus knows all of this. He knows how harshly the leaders will reject him. He knows the judgment that will fall on those who reject him. And so he weeps for them. He weeps for the city of Jerusalem – the holy city. The city where David and Solomon brought the Ark and built the temple, where the worship of the true God was centered for 1000 years. And yet, throughout even that time, the people turned to idols. They often abandoned God to chase after the idols of this world. It was no longer Solomon’s temple. That had been destroyed 500 years before. This was a new temple, it was inspired by a new orthodoxy, a new zeal for God. But it was a zeal without knowledge, without fear, love, and trust in God. It was a zeal born of their own ambition, and works, rather than the promises of the Lord.

And so the temple would fall. It had less than 40 years left before it would be destroyed so completely that not one stone would remain, so utterly, that even to this day, it has never been rebuilt. And yet, it is not needed. The temple finished its purpose. It’s work was fulfilled in Jesus, it has been surpassed. The sacrifice of bulls and goats is no longer needed. That system of constant death has been overthrown by the death of the Son of God. The promises attached to the blood of bulls and goats pointed in faith to the true sacrifice, but they were not the true sacrifice. The blood of bulls and goats can not take away sin. Forgiveness of sins comes to us in the blood of Jesus, the true lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

When Jesus sees them buying and selling in His Father’s house, he is angry. They are abusing the gift of the temple for their own profit. The temple had a number of different courtyards where different things would happen. The innermost courtyard was the court of the priests where the sacrifices were offered, the great altar and bronze basin. The court of men where Jewish men would go to pray. The court of the women, where Jewish women would go to pray. And then, the outermost court: The court of the Gentiles. It was there so the gentiles could also come to pray to the true God, without defiling the inner holy place by their uncircumcision. It was this courtyard that was used for the sale of animals and filled with the money changers. Mark’s Gospel records Jesus words with one addition to the other Gospels. “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.” It isn’t just that the temple was a place of prayer for the Jews, and no one else had access to our Father in heaven. Even the uncircumcised were called to worship the true God. Jesus doesn’t change the law when he comes. He fulfills it. He is the one promised. Even to Abraham the promise was made, “Through you, all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Salvation comes from the seed of Abraham, but the Lord is Lord of all. They weren’t just defiling the house of Jesus heavenly Father – although they were defiling the house of his heavenly Father. They were making it so the nations could no longer come to the temple and pray. Jesus is the Savior of the whole world. He has come to bring salvation to all. And all those who are called by him are his people. It isn’t about spilling the blood of a lamb or bull. It isn’t about obedience to the Law of Moses. It never was. Even Moses Law was about hearing and believing the promise of the Savior to come. The sacrifices were a sign of faith in that promise. The promise – and all of the sacrifices – were centered on and pointed to Jesus. That’s what the sacrifices were for.

Today God also works through means – the water and word of Baptism, where children are taken from Satan and made children of the most high God. God’s command and promised are attached to the holy water. Baptism does what God promises – saves us. But it does it because of the promise God attaches to it, because of the salvation of Jesus death that is tied to it. So also, the body and blood of the supper, where we take eat and drink and so are joined to Jesus in his flesh and blood which were shed for you. It is the true food. Jesus comes to us with his salvation through these most holy things. The promise of forgiveness of sins. And for those who hear and believe the word, the promise is sure and certain. Just as those who believed the word given to Moses in the Old Testament were saved by faith, not their works.

Jesus has harsh words for those who reject him in favor of works. The people would not see. They would not hear. The stones of the temple will be thrown down, the people will be cast out. George Stoeckhardt one of our synod’s early theologians puts it this way:

God does not force this Word, this salvation, on those who reject his Word about their deliverance and redemption through Christ. He does not want to have the reluctant, the unwilling in heaven, who endlessly reproach him for having delivered and saved out of grace. He wants to deliver and save sinners so that saved sinners will praise his mercy.

The Lord offers salvation freely through Jesus and his sacrifice. He does not want to throw down and destroy. But the people will not hear. Jesus weeps because they reject his word, they remain in and of the world, they want nothing to do with the salvation – the inheritance of eternal life – that he offers. And yet the Lord is gracious and merciful. He abounds in steadfast love. He wants nothing more than to gather all nations to himself as a hen gathers her chicks and protects them. Jesus patiently calls his people to himself, and promises that not one of those given to him is lost. That is why even today, as we get caught up in the things of this world, the lord patiently calls us to repent. When we doubt his goodness, he reminds us of it, so that we would not lose faith entirely. When institutions dedicated to his word are corrupted and turn away, the Lord patiently calls them back before they are brought to ruin. Jesus tells the disciples in John’s Gospel that those who are in him, are carefully pruned, so they bear more fruit. The dead and unfruitful parts are taken away, so that we would be and remain in him. This may not seem like a fun thing to us. But the Lord carefully keeps his children in his care. He calls his own to himself.

And so we see two groups – those who buy and sell and are driven out by Jesus. And the people, who hang on his words. Today, we pray the Lord would preserve us and keep us in his grace and mercy so that we would hang on his word, not be turned aside from it, but always hear and learn from him, even in the midst of our doubts and are weakness of faith.

We are cautioned in all three readings. In the Old Testament is it a warning against those who do not hear the Word, or rather those who hear and know it, but continually backslide away from it, rather than gladly hearing and learning and being instructed by the word. In the Epistle we are encouraged to remain in the Spirit, to continue in the good confession that “Jesus is Lord”, and to work with our brothers and sisters in the faith for the good of the kingdom of God, not putting ourselves forward – as did those selling in the temple – but rather seeking the kingdom of God, living in peace with all, working in the Spirit in prayer praise and thanksgiving to the Glory of God, and for the spread of the Gospel to all nations.

And in all this, we return again to the promise of our own salvation given in the death of our Lord, the death which saves you from eternal death. The loving hand of Jesus that says, “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. Your sin is forgiven, your guilt atoned for.” Jesus death on the cross is your life, it is your hope and your salvation. There is no other.

Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 9

It’s the unjust steward this week. Perhaps the strangest parable of them all. But while the details may be obscure, the overall message from Jesus is clear. Read on to see how…

Jesus is teaching the people. The Scribes and Pharisees are grumbling that Jesus receives sinners. Bad company reflects badly. But the sinners listen to Jesus. They hear his words and repent of their sin. The Pharisees hear his words to try to find fault with him. They want to trap him in his words, they want to show him up, to prove they are more righteous than he.

Just before today’s parable, Jesus points out in the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son that the purpose of his coming into the world is to seek and find the lost. He is not here to judge, but to suffer judgement, to bring mercy, to heal and bind up, and preach the good news of great joy – a Savior has come into the world to save sinners.

Our Gospel picks up right after Jesus talks about the brother of the prodigal son, who will not come into the house to rejoice that his brother has been found, but who stands bitterly in the fields, angry at the grace and mercy of his father. The brother excludes himself. He doesn’t want to be a part of the joy of reconciliation, he doesn’t want to have any part of the celebration of his brothers return, and so he is the one who now suffers.

The Scribes and Pharisees object to Jesus showing mercy to sinners. They think they are righteous in themselves. They do such good works. They work hard at it. The focus is on themselves and what they do. They seek their own glory, and their own advancement.

Jesus tells this parable, and instructs us immediately afterwards, about true riches. What is it that you really seek after? Where is your treasure? The Shepherd goes after the lost sheep, the woman after the coin, the father after his son, and the brother after revenge. Now, we have the unjust steward – who seeks a soft landing after losing his job. The idea of true riches is a theme we’ve heard a lot of, because as the summer goes on, we hear from God’s Word about the various temptations in the world, and we are warned to resist them in order to receive the crown of glory which God gives to all who believe in him.

Today we have Jesus warning against love of money – what used to be called mammon. Mammon is more than just love of wealth. Mammon can be any sort of thing in this world: wealth, power, ambition, fame, social standing. Those are the things this world has to offer, and they are all useless – they never last, they are always passing away. Trying to hold onto them is like trying to hold onto sand. The harder you hold it, the faster it slips through your fingers.

Do we seek after true wisdom, do we seek after the things of God, a heavenly home with Jesus when all is finished – that’s an eternal treasure. Jesus says, “The world knows how to go after what it wants. Do you?” The unfaithful steward was unfaithful. When he was called on the carpet about it, he was even more unfaithful. But now, he was unfaithful in pursuit of his goal – an easy life. The master doesn’t praise his actions. He praises his shrewdness. His cunning. As if to say, “I know you cheated me, but even I’ll admit that’s a good one.” There is no legal reason the master has to honor his servants dishonesty. By right, he could send a letter saying, “You still owe me a hundred measures of oil, you still owe me a hundred measures of wheat.” And the people would almost certainly pay with little griping.

But the steward is counting on his master’s integrity being greater than his own. He knows that he only has a few more minutes of being able to speak for his master. So he does, knowing the master will say, “They thought it was me speaking through you, so I will honor this.” He knows the people will be grateful for what he has done and will help him. He also knows the master is gracious and merciful, and won’t have him thrown into prison. He knows who his master is: Integrity, honor, mercy. And he knows when the chips are down, he will be that. The steward is wasteful of his masters things. He loses his job over it. So, when the chips are down, he wastes more.

Jesus says, “One who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. Dishonest in the little things, dishonest in much.” The steward is who he was, wasteful of his masters possessions, and when pressed was even moreso. The master was who he was – the opposite of the steward, honest and merciful. And when pressed is even moreso.

Our Lord is merciful. When pressed, he is even more merciful. We are sinners. When pressed, we sin. And yet, the Holy Spirit makes a beginning in us – a beginning of repentance, a beginning of a new heart and a new spirit. Scripture says a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. A right spirit, a spirit that loves the things of God, instead of a spirit that rebels against him and rejects his word. When the Spirit creates faith in our hearts, when he takes unwilling hearts and makes them willing through the preaching of the word, then a beginning of righteousness is made. Now we can love God, and trust in him, turn to him in every need. Jesus teaches us that we should approach our heavenly Father as dear children approach their dear father. As we heard last week, we cry out Abba, Father. And this is given to us where the word of salvation is preached, where the water is poured, where the Spirit gives us faith to believe the promise: That for Jesus sake, because of his sacrifice we are forgiven our sins. We are joined to his death which took away our sins, and so also joined to his resurrection where we are given the new life of righteousness.  So, when pressed, do we run to Jesus and his sacrifice for us, do we rely on the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, or do we turn back to our old way of living according to the flesh? Repentance is a turning away from the old way – the way of sin and death. And a turning to Christ and his work on our behalf.

Jesus calls it unrighteous mammon. Not that things themselves are wicked. An object is neither sinful nor righteous. It is an object. A hammer, a jar, a bit of food. It is the purpose we put it toward that makes it righteous or wicked.

Jesus says we should store up treasures in heaven. So the admonition today is to go after the things of God. No longer desire the rewards of this world, but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This the Pharisees thought they were doing. The people looked to them and said, “Who is more godly than they are?” But they were after the things of this world: Their own reputations, their own pleasure and comfort. They wanted everyone to know how righteous they were. They took great pains to appear righteous to others. So much so that they lost sight of the most important thing: Salvation is of the Lord, not of us. Their treasure was their own works, their own efforts. And so they cared more about the outward appearance than the condition of the heart. They cared more about the treasures of this world than the heavenly treasure which Jesus offers by his death and resurrection.

They looked to how they were doing in this world, rather than to the promises of God and to his word. That’s where we must set our hearts and our minds. On the things of God. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The wisdom of this world is not true wisdom at all. It is a chasing after the wind.

Through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit, our hearts have been made new in Christ Jesus. We know that there is an eternal dwelling for us, an everlasting home prepared by our Lord Jesus himself. The things of this world are short-term. We are ever on guard so that we don’t lose sight of the goal amid all the daily concerns, cares, trials of this world, that we don’t get so distracted and caught up in the moment that we lose sight of eternal things.

This was the problem of the Pharisees. They had a worldly wisdom. They had a goal and they sought it out. But their goal was their own enrichment in the world. Jesus tells us to seek after him instead of worldly things. If that is our treasure, our goal, then we will leave behind the things of this world. We will leave behind the pattern of living for worldly things, and seek after the wisdom that comes down from above. We will seek the simple truths of God’s word – Law (as we learn in the ten commandments) And Gospel, as we confess in the creed and as we receive it through preaching, absolution, and also through the sacraments as God’s chosen means to bring us salvation.

Those are the true riches which we have been given in Christ. Let us seek after them each day, humbly coming before the throne of God, seeking his mercy, receiving from our Lord Jesus the promised salvation in his church. Let us fix our eyes on heavenly things. Let us seek an eternal dwelling. In Jesus Name, and for his sake.

Amen.

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