Sermon for Trinity 22

A couple of days late, but if you’re still pondering the Gospel reading from Sunday, here are a few thoughts:

God’s intended work is not punishment. It is not retribution. It is mercy. God wishes to show mercy to all. He created mankind to serve him. To worship and praise him. It was man who strayed from that intended purpose. Man who rejected God. Man who bound themselves, in sin, to the yoke of the law, to the accuser Satan. It was our work that earned us death. It was not God’s work. His work is mercy and love. And he created the world to be perfect, he created humanity to dwell in harmony in creation with the creatures of creation. It was our choice to sin. It is our fault that creation is corrupted that sin and death have entered the world. This we can not lay at the feet of God. We can not say “why have you done this.” This was our chosen path. The parable of Jesus illustrates this. The king was merciful. It was the unmerciful servant who brought on himself the wrath of the king. He can not blame the king for his plight. He incurred the debt. When offered mercy, he despised the gift. Continue reading

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Sermon for Commemoration of Johannes von Staupitz

Our Second Wednesday Divine Service coincided with the commemoration of Johannes von Staupitz this year. Appropriate for Reformation 500…

Today we commemorate a rather obscure saint – but a very significant one. When Luther was a monk, he didn’t have a pastor in the normal sense. Luther was himself a priest. He would celebrate the Divine Service. But he didn’t have a regular congregation. Basically, the monastery was a bunch of priests praying for themselves in hopes of earning God’s favor. But there were leaders in the monasteries – they went by various titles. But basically, they served as spiritual advisors for the monks. If not actually called pastors, they did perform a lot of the functions we normally associate with pastors for the monks under their care. Johannes von Staupitz was such a man to Martin Luther. He was effectively Luther’s pastor. But even more than that, he was Luther’s pastor during the time when Luther really struggled with the grace and mercy of God. Luther didn’t set out to be a reformer. He became a monk because he was trying to find a loving God. He had been given the Medieval picture of God as the terrifying judge, and hoped that by working hard as a monk, he could earn God’s favor. It was von Staupitz who told Luther to look to Christ for salvation. That was a problem – At the time Luther saw Jesus as a stern judge, who wanted only to condemn. Von Staupitz not only insisted that Luther look to Christ for mercy, but he also resigned his own post as teacher, and appointed Luther to the position, so that Luther would be forced to dig into Holy Scripture. Continue reading

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Sermon for All Saints Day (Transferred)

This past week, there were a number of memes that mocked Lutherans as heretics, and mocked the Romanists as followers of the anti-Christ. All in good fun, of course. Reformation Day is when we remember the Reformation. All Saints day is when the “why” of the Reformation is brought into sharp focus. Is it Jesus that saves us, or are we ultimately responsible? That’s what is at stake. And the Roman teaching on the saints is blaspheme. No joke. Because blaspheme is not something we laugh at. With that as an introduction, here is my sermon from yesterday. (After the jump)

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Freedom and Bondage

Last night in Bible Class we were talking about discipline in the church, specifically with regard to liturgical matters. With essentially three exceptions, the New Testament does not prescribe a set form of worship like the Old Testament does. Leviticus is very detailed. In the New Testament, we are given three rules: “Baptize the in the name of…”, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father…'”, and “Take eat… Drink of it all of you…” Those aren’t all that complicated (although throughout the history of the church, people have delayed Baptism, forgotten to pray, and kept the chalice from the church, among other abuses). But, for the most part, we have those directions, and we are free to carry them out however seems best for our particular circumstances. We are not bound to a set order of service, a set way of doing things.

Except of course that we are. We don’t exist without the history of what has gone before. And the church has always followed the same basic outline: Psalms, Readings, Sermon, Prayers, Eucharist. We have written documents from about 140 AD to that effect. We know that by 200 the Kyrie was in use near the beginning of the service. Basically, people who knew the apostles, and were instructed by them about how to worship (or at the most, their children and grandchildren) had a worship remarkably similar to our own. It’s a form that has remained in use since that time.

Specific details may change. The Nunc Dimittis was added to the Communion Service by the Lutherans at the time of the Reformation (although after Luther). It was a confession of the Real Presence against the Calvinists (and a very effective one). There are times when the Greater Gloria is omitted. Setting 1 of the Divine Service has the option of using “This is the Feast” in its place. The Confession/Absolution is also a relatively recent addition.

So, in a sense, there is no specific part of the Divine Service (aside from the Lord’s Prayer and the “Take Eat..”) that is required. And, in the freedom of the Gospel, no one can demand that we do it a specific way.

But, there must also be order in the church. Just because there is no specific requirement to distribute the Lord’s Supper in a specific manner, that does not mean everyone can rush forward at once. Individual tables, assembly line, or a combination of the two may be profitably used in the church. But you can’t do all three at once. There must be a set pattern that is used in a congregation. And, once instituted, it should not be changed without good cause. To have one method this week, another next week, and a third the week after is disorderly. Paul specifically tells the Corinthians to knock off the disorderliness. Get an orderly system in place, and follow it from week to week.

At times, our parish omit parts of the service. We have a midweek service that is basically for people who are borderline shut ins. It needs to be 45 minutes or less. At one time I did monthly services in the local nursing home for our members there: under 30 minutes, and some of the people were still too weak to make it through. During Holy Week we have services for people on their lunch break. Exactly 30 minutes. Much is missing. But Easter morning? It’s all there and then some.

As I said last night:

If you came this Sunday, and the Creed, Nunc Dimittis, Gloria, and Sanctus were missing, you’d probably think, “Pastor really is forgetful.” If I did it a second week, you would think, “Is something wrong with pastor?” By week three, you would likely say “Stop that. Put the service back the way it was.” And you would be right to say so. It is not my service to do with as I please. There are occasions when changes are appropriate. But there needs to be more to it than pastoral whim, or a desire to make a point about freedom. That is not the freedom we have. We use setting 3, and occasionally setting 1. And the discipline of our freedom is that we must use those settings.

That’s the thing about freedom. As Kurt Marquardt once noted: If I play chess, I am only free to play chess if I follow the rules. If I just move the pieces any which way, I am no longer free to play chess. I am playing a different game.

So also for our life together in the church. Freedom dictates that we follow the order of the church. In some parishes, recovering from the ravages of Evangelicalism, that may mean using a poorly modified version of Setting 4 for a time to re-introduce the basic structure of the liturgical service. I know of a parish that has much ceremony, but it was introduced slowly, and in the midst of the Healey Willan setting. (Yuck!) Even the pastor who introduced it recognized that you would not normally move from a hymnal to that. But it is better than no hymnal at all. So, a modified setting 4 is better than screens, the latest praise song, and an altar call. But it is not something to aspire to in parishes that already have the discipline of using a service as it was written in the hymnal. A congregation with that discipline is free to immerse itself in the liturgical action without having to worry about page turns, or what is coming next. The elderly, women with young children, even the young children themselves, are freed to sing along with the parts they know, even if they can’t use the hymnal. One of my favorite memories in my whole life was the Sunday my 4 year old daughter learned the Agnus Dei. She sang louder than anyone else – including the organ. It was glorious. Perhaps the closest I will come to heaven in this world. And it was made possible because, in freedom, we bound ourselves to a specific setting of the Divine Service. (A decision made long before I arrived.)

The Reformation was a freeing moment in the church. But it did not free us to do whatever we wanted. It freed us to bind ourselves to the Word of God instead of the whims of men. And the correct use of the Reformation does the same thing – it binds us to specific settings of worship (Settings 1-5), specific patterns of calling pastors (call committee, PIF and SET forms), specific ways of training pastors (seminaries), specific ways of teaching (the small and large catechisms), all in the service of that freedom. Those are not the only way to do things. They may not be the best in each case. But they are what we, in freedom, have bound ourselves to do.

Because we are not freed to do whatever we want. We are freed to do whatever best gives glory to God, and helps and serves our neighbor.

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Luther and Reformation 500!

Engraving of Roman Catholic Priest posting “Letter of Filial Correction” when the pope was guilty of propogating heresy.

I’ve written about this book before. I love it so much I scanned, lightly edited, and republished it (for the first time in almost 100 years.) It’s Gustav Just’s biography of Martin Luther. It’s actually available as an e-book on Google books for free. But the paperback is available on Lulu for only $5. (And with the code BOOKSHIP17 you can get reduced price/free shipping!) Why is it such a great biography?

Lutherans believe that Luther was the angel prophesied in the book of Revelation, the one with the pure and everlasting Gospel. The popes had corrupted the church with merits, prayers to saints, and private masses. Luther recognized that the church was not about raising money off the backs of sinners (Tetzel et al.), but about giving them the forgiveness won by Jesus.

Nowadays it is popular to deconstruct heroes, to try and understand the deep psychological problems that lie beneath their diminished achievements. This biography is in the old mold – it considers Luther to be God’s chosen instrument to restore the church (which he was).

It also places Luther in the broader context of church history. But it isn’t just a collection of names and dates. Church history is the history of bringing Jesus to the world. The entire biography is written with that Gospel-centered understanding. Heroes are those who advance the cause of the Gospel. Villains are those who fight against it.

It isn’t the most sophisticated biography out there. It doesn’t deal in fine distinctions. But it will give you the background of Luther as the one who saved the church from sinful human pride. He went back to the word of Jesus, and held fast to that Word against all opposition – whether from the Pope in Rome, the Emperor, or even his old colleague Carlstadt. In everything he looked to what God had to say to us. And in everything, the church looks at the Word of God and the promise of Jesus Christ.

That’s the sort of Luther Biography that’s especially helpful this year as we celebrate Reformation 500. A quick look at how the church carries the Gospel into the world, and how Luther (against all odds) reformed the church to refocus it on that precious Gospel.

It’s available through Lulu, and it’s only $5. Order now, and you should receive it in time for Reformation 500! 

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Not Just an Internal Problem

Every so often on Facebook or in response to a blog post, someone will ask, “Why are you publicizing the church’s problems? This is in house and should be kept in house.” The same thing is often said by those who abuse their spouse and children. Yes, I am going there, and I do think they are comparable.

The idea (in both cases) comes from the mistaken impression that our sin only affects us. It doesn’t. And the perfect illustration of why I’m right happened to me yesterday.

As you may have heard, the Saint Louis Seminary Journal published an article by John Jurchen of Concordia University, Nebraska. This is the same Concordia University Nebraska whose president Brian Friedrich (along with then-District President Russell Sommerfeld) insisted from the floor of the synod convention that all CUNE teaching was in keeping with Scripture and the Confessions. The article by Dr. Jurchen encouraged Lutherans to believe that death occurred before sin, “Day” actually means “Millions of years”, and evolution is true. These are all damnable heresies, not to be tolerated in the church of God.

Yesterday, I was talking to one of the citizens of my local community. They are faithful members of a Baptist church. Their daughter is seriously considering attending CUNE – to study biology. I assured them that people from other churches are very kindly received at our Concordias. She would likely really enjoy her time there.

But. There was a danger. If she attended our local public University, of course all biology classes would be taught from a secular materialist perspective – There is no God, Earth is Billions of years old, Evolution is true, etc. Attending a Concordia – which officially teaches the biblical doctrine of creation in six days at the command of God – might make her relax and assume everything she will be taught is actually true.

I warned her, (and I only know this to be true specifically about Concordia University in Seward Nebraska) that her daughter would be taught theistic evolution in her classes. And they would teach her that this position is faithful to Holy Scripture. This is a pile of dung, and it stinketh unto the heavens. More seriously, it is lie of Satan and will drag souls into hell. She must be prepared for such garbage if she is to attend CUNE.

That’s what I told this kind Christian woman last night. A woman who is not a member of the LCMS, who is not a Lutheran of any sort, who (until three days ago) had no vested interest in anything that happens in my church. But who, if she was not warned, could have had her daughter fall away from the faith at a supposedly “safe” conservative Christian college.

And that is why I write and post on social media regarding these matters. For the most part, my writings are not read by non-Lutherans. My friends list is more than 80% Lutheran. My blog stats would embarrass even a hermit on Mars. But I know a few people regularly read what I write: other pastors, interested laymen, and members of my parish. Every so often, what I write strikes a cord, and it spreads beyond my inner circle. That’s great, but not necessary. My job is not to be popular. It is to be faithful.

And if there is false teaching in my church, I will use every means of shouting “Wolf in the Fold!” I will use every tool at my disposal to protect the sheep entrusted to me: Sermons, bible classes, blog posts, and even facebook rants. Because that is what I am called to do. That’s the difference between a faithful shepherd and a hireling who is only interested in his bank account and pension. Those who worry about “what effect it will have on the church’s reputation” if we expose false teachers in the church, while not removing them, are generally in the latter category, not the first. It may not make me popular with the powers that be in the hierarchy of my church’s structure. One of them suggested to me a few days ago that I “stop being offensive.” It is sad that I offend him. But The One I try to please is… well, to borrow a phrase, let’s just say that He’s “above their pay grade.”

 

If you liked this blog post, you would really love reading this biography of Martin Luther. It treats Luther as the “Angel with the clear and everlasting Gospel” of Revelation 12. Great for Reformation 500!

 

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Sermon for Michael Mass

I had two requests to post this sermon. I think it may have more examples/illustrations than any other sermon of mine for quite a while. But it seemed to work. So here it is.

A common way of interpreting Matthew 18 – our Gospel reading today – is that, if we want to enter the kingdom of God, we need to follow the example of little children. Such an interpretation then spends a great deal of time talking about what little children are like. In many cases, the descriptions have very little to do with actual children. “Innocence. Filled with wonder. Humble.” It’s an idealized description – not a realistic one.

Sometimes, you will hear that we must trust like a child trusts. Children just trust that mom or dad will provide for them. They have no choice. We need to be like that – we need to trust that God will save us. And this is, strictly speaking true. But that is not what Jesus is saying.

First, Jesus isn’t talking about a precocious 10 year old, or even a tender 3 or 4 year old. Jesus is talking about an infant. Unless you become like an infant, you can not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus says a similar thing in John 3: Unless you are born again (of water and the spirit) you can not enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh. That which is born of spirit is spirit.”

In John 3, it is a clear reference to Baptism. Jesus isn’t telling Nicodemus to be physically born again, He is saying that Baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. In that washing of water and the word we are given a new birth in the Holy Spirit. We are crucified with Jesus and raised up again to a new life in him. And if we would be saved, we must be like a little infant at the font – we must be born of God. Continue reading

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