Continuing Education on a Budget

Actual photo of your pastor heading to a Continuing Education Class

Summer is when many pastors do a continuing education course of some sort. But in addition to a resident program at a local congregation, pastors can also read.

Today I recommend some books you might enjoy (And one class you can watch online):

Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation. The first comprehensive study of Catechesis in over a century. Biblical rationale, historical background, contemporary evaluation: This book has everything you need to understand and respond to the challenges that arise in teaching the faith.

Catechetics Master Class. Videos of the class I taught last summer on Catechesis. For those who have read Catechetics and want more. We take a look at the philosophy behind various educational methods. It’s Must-See TV for anyone who wants a thorough understanding of what we teach and why. As it’s now last year’s class, I’ve cut the price in half to $75. And as a loyal reader of the blog, enter discount code ContEd for another $25 off of that!

Evolution: A Defense Against. We live in the first society to try structure ourselves according to Epicurean ideals. It’s going poorly. How does the church respond to such nonsense? A look at the scientific process, and the philosophy behind it, this book provides a needed corrective.

Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Church. If you are struggling to teach the catechism, try using Luther’s method. Teach These Things follows the ancient pattern of instruction (Scripture, catechism, hymnal), rather than the modern worksheet method. Buy once, no workbooks or student books to buy, ever. (Except the catechism!)

Footwashers: Following the Jesus Way. The textbook for the class “The Ethics of Jesus” taught by Dr. William Lehmann. A truly Lutheran look at philosophy, ethics, and scripture, all through the words of our Lord.

 

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Sermon for Pentecost

Here is my sermon for Pentecost Sunday, for those who were prevented from attending church.

3000 Baptized in a day. An amazing testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the Apostles. We don’t generally see such amazing results today. The apostle’s didn’t generally see those sorts of results in one day either. Pentecost was an especially miraculous day. But there was a significant difference between the apostles preaching in Jerusalem, and the church in our own day. In the apostles day the people of Jerusalem were generally God-fearing. They were waiting for the Messiah, expecting him to come any time. They read and studied the scriptures, eagerly waited to hear a word of the Lord taught to them. True the leaders had hardened their hearts. They hypocritically claimed they desired the Messiah, while worshipping their own works. But by and large the people wanted to hear the Word and promise of the Lord, they wanted to see the fulfillment of the prophecies of old.

The world outside of Israel was much like our own – people chasing their own pleasures and desires, wandering aimlessly looking for meaning. But the Jews read and studied the Word of God. They would have known that passage in Joel that Peter spoke of – your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. They would have recognized that Joel promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The sun had been blocked out 53 days earlier when Jesus hung on the cross. There had been an earthquake. The news would have still been on their lips when Peter explains what it all means. The sun turned to darkness as the Light of the World dies and by that death recreates and restores the world.

At the end of Peter’s sermon, the people are cut to the heart, and ask “Brothers, what must we do”. Peter goes right back to the line from Joel, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter explains how they go about calling on the name of the Lord, and receiving the promised salvation: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Peter directs them to what Jesus had told the apostles: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus gives us the name of the Lord we are to call on: Father, Son, Spirit. Jesus tells us that God places his name on us in Baptism. It is not our Baptism. It is God’s baptism. It is his name, his promise, his work in us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit back it the upper room. That’s our Gospel: Jesus going into death, returning to the Father; He does not abandon us. He promises to send the Holy Spirit. And he gives another name to the Holy Spirit: The Comforter. The Work of the Spirit is to comfort the disciples. Not as we think of comfort – full bellies, overstuffed chair. But real comfort – true consolation. The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come. This is our consolation. Jesus promises it will come to His church through the work of the Spirit. How? “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The second part of that is a great comfort to us in our own day. The Spirit will bring to the remembrance of the apostles all that Jesus says. Jesus knows that eventually the hearts of man will grow cold and cynical. That those who call themselves bible scholars will mock and tear down the authority of the Word of God: claiming it does not tell us what really happened. But Jesus says that the Spirit will bring to their remembrance all that He says. When the apostles record the words and deeds of Jesus, they aren’t making things up. They aren’t filling in gaps of their memory with interesting or cleverly devised fables. They were eyewitnesses, and their record is accurate. Time and again scripture answers objections of the heretics centuries before they invent their false teachings. Here, Jesus comforts us with this: The record of Holy Scripture is a true record of what happened in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The words the apostles write are not their own. The Spirit inspires them – breathes into them and causes them to write the words that are a true record, the words necessary for our salvation. And then the Spirit preserves that record. No document in history has been as studied as the history of Scripture. And no document in history has been preserved as faithfully or fully as holy scripture. And the Spirit preserved it, even amid the efforts of the world to wipe out the church, to destroy the scriptures and hide the truth. But the Word of God endures forever. It will not be removed from the earth, but will endure until our Lord returns.

And what amazing news is recorded in the scriptures for us? The comfort of the Gospel: Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from Eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, by the shedding of his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. But he has also been raised from the dead, and now reigns at the right hand of the Father. This is what the Holy Spirit teaches us in Scripture. It is what we confess together as the church. It is what sponsors confess on behalf of the little ones even before they can speak the words themselves. It is the faith the Holy Spirit gives them in Baptism.

The question often arises among the doubters – and we are tempted to ask it ourselves in our weak moments – how do we know the teaching of scripture is true. Instead of a unified church as Jesus prayed his heavenly Father, we see a church divided. There are many sects, many heresies. How do we know we have THE truth?

It is a scandal that the church is divided. A scandal in it’s original sense, was a stumbling block. A rock in the road that causes people to trip and fall. And the divisions in the church are certainly that. Many have been tripped up by them. Many have fallen.

But we should not be surprised that Satan sows division where the Lord would have unity. Satan’s work, his goal, is to try and undo the work of our Father in heaven. To sow division, to bring in false doctrine, to lead astray from our Lord Jesus Christ.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this – we see it explicitly in Holy Scripture. Right after Jesus begins his ministry by being Baptized for us, he is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus is God – he can’t sin. And yet Satan tempts him right after the Spirit Descends as a dove on him in Baptism. This is a warning to us that Satan will not leave us alone either. Baptism doesn’t keep us from Satan and his temptations. If he tempted our Lord, he will certainly tempt us and try to lead us astray into all manner of false belief or into great shame and vice. That is why we pray God would deliver us from all temptation, from all evil. We are in danger each day, and must constantly watch our step. Prayer is a mighty defense, as we heard during Easter.

It has been truly said that when God builds a church, right next to it Satan builds a chapel. He doesn’t need to lead the world astray from God. The World is already corrupted. Instead he focuses his efforts to lead us astray from the truth of God’s Word, to lead us from repentance, the forgiveness of sins, from salvation.

In the third article we confess, “I believe that I can not by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” The work of the Spirit is to call us by the Gospel, because we can not believe at all on our own. Certainly, if our sinful nature will not let us believe at all, it will also try to lead us astray from the truth once we do believe. This is why Luther says the Old Adam in us must, by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires. It is why we must be in the word and prayer each day, why we must return to the church each week to hear and learn again, to receive again the forgiveness of sins, to once again drown that Old Adam so that a new man arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the church is divided, that Satan brings in false doctrine, masquerading as an angel of light, as a sheep, when he is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Scripture records first church council in Jerusalem, called by the Apostles to answer the question, “Can you be a Christian without first being circumcised?” The Judaizers claimed circumcision was necessary before Baptism. They could not accept the grace and mercy of Baptism without a work of their own. They wanted to add their own works to salvation.

Luther calls works the greatest idolatry. The history of the church proves this to be true. In Luther’s own day the merits of Jesus were not enough. Human works and merits had to be added for salvation. That’s the great idolatry of every age. Trying to turn God’s grace and mercy into our work. The people in Jesus day do it repeatedly. They try to stone Jesus over it.

Today there are those who would turn Baptism into our work, who would rob it of God’s promise and so deny it to little children. There are those who take away the forgiveness of sins from the Lord’s Supper and make forgiveness into our work as it was with the Pharisees. Or who deny the clear word of Jesus, “This is my body”. We must keep the Word of God intact. We must hold to the word of Jesus that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, that Baptism now saves us. That the body and blood of Jesus are truly present distributed and received in the Holy Supper according to the word of Jesus, “This is my body.” We must never turn aside from the promise. We must never make salvation into our work.

We can’t save ourselves, we can not choose Jesus. This isn’t some strange Lutheran doctrine – we get it from the mouth of Jesus. “You did not choose me” he tells the apostles, “I chose you”. Certainly we are not better or holier or have a greater faith than the Apostles, who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. And so we dare never turn the Gospel, the good news of salvation into our own work. We must leave the work to God. If it’s our work, it’s doomed to fail.

Consider the apostles before the Spirit descended and gave them boldness and confidence to speak the Word. They were hiding in the upper room. The doors were locked for fear of the Jews – and this after they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Then, in an instant, they are filled with the Spirit, Peter begins to preach boldly of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And 3000 are baptized, brought into the kingdom and they receive the Spirit according to the promise. These 3000 return home and speak the Word to those around them – bringing the Gospel to their own communities, starting churches. Before Paul or Peter can visit Rome, the church is already established there. Likely it is because of the witness of those on Pentecost. If not that day, certainly soon after. Some unknown person heard the Gospel, and carried it with them to Rome, where the good news spread. By the time Paul writes his letter to them, they have a congregation and a pastor, whose name is now lost to us. The Gospel was carried to the ends of the earth, just as Jesus had promised. And it was done anonymously. Paul only catches up to it years later. That’s ok. The Spirit works through each one of us according to our calling and station in life. We are each given opportunity to witness to others of the hope that is in us. That is the work of the Spirit. To comfort us in our afflictions by reminding us of the goodness of the Lord, of his mighty deeds for us. He has Created and preserves us in this world, but especially He redeems and calls us out of the world to be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

And he does the work – he does the dying on the cross, the rising from the dead, the ascending into heaven, the sending of the spirit to create faith in our hearts. We receive the gift given through his work when we hear and believe, when we take eat and take drink as he has promised.

We resist the temptation to deny the power of God working through the Word and Sacrament. We resist the temptation to make that work own. Instead, we let Jesus be our savior. We let the Spirit teach us all things. We let the Father save us through the promise he gives in the waters of Holy Baptism. We let Jesus merit plead for us. We let the Spirit join us to the promise as he creates faith in our hearts.

By the Word, The Spirit comforts us in all afflictions. Because it is Christ who works in us in all things. He redeems the time. He redeems our suffering. He redeems us body and soul and promises one day to return and take us – body and soul – to himself in heaven.

And until then he feeds us with his supper, he strengthens us and keeps us in the faith, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. And he gives us peace in this world. Oh, it’s true, things often happen to spoil the spirit of peace for us in this world. But no one is able to rob us of it, to rob us of the joy of the resurrection and of the new life in Jesus Christ. The promise is good. It is for you and your children. And for all who hear and believe the promise of the salvation given through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

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Books for Seminaries

I had the joy of meeting with a missionary/seminary professor yesterday as he was passing through the area. The topic of books came up: what books are needed for teaching pastors. I offered him the use of Catechetics for his seminary, if he found it useful.

I realized that other professors at other seminaries might also find it useful. So I make this offer: If you are a professor at a seminary outside the US/Canada/Europe and you are interested in a textbook for Catechetics, give me a call or email. I will send you an e-copy of the book free of charge for review. If you like it, let me know, and I’ll give you very generous terms for re-printing all or part of it locally.

If that appeals to you, drop me a line. My goal in writing is to help the church. If I can help you in your own work, I want to know how.

PS. If you are a professor in the US/Canada/Europe and are interested, I can also offer favorable terms. Contact me anyway!

 

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Ascension Day Sermon

One of the challenges of a tri-point parish is getting everything to fit into a rather inflexible schedule. A change in one congregation means a lot of adjustments in the other two. Midweek feasts – even important ones like Ascension Day – end up moved to the next Sunday.

For those who couldn’t attend church this Sunday, here is the sermon for Ascension Day 2022.

The Epistle and Gospel reading cover the same thing today. That doesn’t happen very often. Only important festivals of our Lord get that treatment. Transfiguration is one: Peter talks about the Transfiguration, and we hear Matthew’s account of it. Maundy Thursday has both readings from the upper room – though from different times. Today both readings cover our Lord ascending – the same incident recorded. One from the disciples perspective, one from a more heavenly viewpoint. They both offer us comfort in their own way.

Mark records the Gospel read on Easter. It ends with the women fleeing from the tomb, astonished and afraid. He records the women telling the disciples what they saw, he records the disciples traveling (Luke tells us it was to Emmaus) and seeing the Lord, but doesn’t record what was said, only that the disciples didn’t believe them. For the early resurrection appearances of Jesus, we turn to the other Gospels: John records Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus at the tomb and talking to him. He also records Thomas’s unbelief: he wouldn’t believe until he saw Jesus hands and put his fingers in the marks of the nails. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” Jesus tells him.

Today, we hear that Jesus rebuked the disciples. God had given witnesses – the women and the men on the road to Emmaus, and told them to tell the disciples. The messengers of the Lord whom he sends are not bringing his word for their own benefit and pleasure. They come proclaiming the Word of the Lord so that you would hear and believe the Word: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and by his death and resurrection he has saved you from sin, from death, hell and the devil. In place of condemnation, he offers forgiveness life and salvation. This is the work of the church: Proclaiming the good news to all nations, so that all might believe and be saved. It isn’t just the work of pastors, but of every Christian according to their calling.

The Disciples reject the news. Only when Jesus appears to them directly do they believe. But then, they saw something with their eyes we have only seen with the eyes of faith: Jesus on the cross, dying, giving up his spirit, being laid into the tomb. We know how hard it is to believe the resurrection when we are surrounded by death. We’ve been to the graveside before. So Jesus may rebuke the disciples, but we pray we would not be found lacking in our own faith. We have no room to judge them. We are often reluctant or even unwilling to hear the promise of Salvation for Jesus sake. And yet this good news brings us faith in the promise it gives. Through the reading and preaching of the Word, God’s people are called to believe, faith is created, and salvation is given to the church.

Now, Jesus has overcome death and the grave. Those two old eternal enemies of humanity have lost the war. They will not hold us forever. Now Jesus reigns over all things. He ascends into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. This isn’t a place like “the chair in the corner” where you sit there and are no longer other places. Jesus isn’t bound to just one location. He is in the position of power and authority at the right hand of the Father, and now reigns over all things. He tells us: “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me.” Nothing is out of his hands. That’s why we pray so diligently in his name, as we heard last week. Because he can and does protect and defend us from all danger. And he does help his church and keep it safe and secure in this world – though he doesn’t promise great worldly success. The world is filled with every kind of corruption and wickedness, and it is passing away. It does not want the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a strange duality: On the one hand he we have the Lord of Creation ruling over heaven and earth, and giving men on earth the authority to forgive sins as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself. On the other hand, we live in a world of sin and death, a world that is hiding from God – even more than hiding, it is rapidly fleeing from him and his word. Seeking salvation outside of his promise, whether it be by outward idols, like the pagans of old, or by going after every fad of this world, chasing the world’s glory and honor instead of the pure word and promise of God. There is nothing beyond Jesus control, yet he allows us to choose to go away from him. So instead of the world he created for us – a world without sin – we live in a world of sin and death, a world of wickedness where people are allowed to choose demonic things and peruse them, destroying their lives and lives of those around them. We see this happen daily, and yet the world will not repent and return to the Lord, but is ever more hardened against our Lord Jesus and his word of forgiveness. Even the church struggles with this – we struggle to keep Christ as the head where he belongs. We want to tell him how to do things, we want to tell him how we are to bring up our children, how we are to serve and love our neighbor, how we will define marriage and family, and then we are shocked and appalled when it goes badly. The Lord reigns, but he allows us to live in any manner we choose. And our sinful nature always chooses to go against him, to live according to the flesh. It is only by the power of the Spirit – that’s next week for Pentecost – that we can hear and learn God’s Word, that we can fear love and trust in him above all things.

But our unbelief, our weakness, the wickedness of the world – none of that negates the promise. In this world of fleeting glory, of passing awayness, in this world that will melt away when the end of all things comes, even now, we have the assurance of the eternal Son of God that he is with us in every trouble. And we have a lot of those. If you don’t have a lot of troubles yet, just wait. This world of moth and rust and decay will catch up to you. The Lord Jesus offers a way out now: By his Gospel, the good news of his salvation which he gives freely to all who believe, we do not need to live as children of the world. We are still in it for a time. But in Christ we are not of it. We have a heavenly crown, an other-worldly reward that is beyond anything this world can offer. We have peace with Christ, not because of our work, but because of his. And the peace he gives is a peace that passes all understanding. It’s a peace that lets us sleep at night, that lets us leave this world in joy, and even face death with a serene and peaceful spirit. Because we know death is not the end.

And this is the comfort we have from our Epistle reading: Jesus will return. He was taken up and hidden from their sight by a cloud. The angels tell the apostles he will return in the same way they saw him go into heaven. The clouds will part, and Jesus will be there. He will be unhidden from our eyes. That’s the promise.

And what a glorious promise it is. With Christ reigning now and returning soon, we know that nothing can keep us from him. In this world, we have the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. They are the pledge and guarantee. But more than that, they are Jesus continuing his work among us, coming to us with himself, tearing us from Satan and bringing us into the kingdom of God by the washing, and then feeding us with the food that remains to eternal life.

Jesus is hidden from the eyes of the world. That’s what happened in the ascension. But he has by no means stopped his work among his people. Instead he works through hidden things. We may wonder why – why doesn’t he appear and do many wonders and miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead. And yet when he did walk the earth to do those things, the people rejected him, and nailed him to the cross. They will not hear because their hearts are hardened. And so now God works through hidden means. A simple splash of water, but behind it the entire majesty of the Divine. A man in a robe speaking ancient words of forgiveness that we can’t even believe on our own strength – and yet, it has effects even in the heavens. A little bite, and a sip, and it is the medicine that saves us from death, no matter how much the world ignores it and chases after one failed worldly cure after another.

We have the eternal power of almighty God in this place, and the world can not see it. The glory is hidden from their eyes. But to those whom God calls, who receive the gift of salvation humbly by faith, we are saved from all evil. There is nothing that can happen to us beyond our Lord and his great mercy. So that no matter how we may suffer in this world – and this world can produce a lot of suffering – we know we are safe and secure in the ark of the Holy Church. We are held in the palm of the hand of the great king who will not abandon us, who will love and care for us every day of our lives, and at the end, carry us into his heavenly kingdom. And at the end of all things, when time itself finds its end, Jesus will return, and reunite body and soul, to the praise of the glory of his grace, and then every knee will bow at his name, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Our Lord ascends. It is the end of his redeeming work for us – that was ended on the cross at his command when he declared it finished and gave up his spirit. But his death and resurrection, even his ascension is not the end of his work. He continues working through his church. And he will return and then he will finish the work begun in you in baptism. The work for which you are fed in the supper: love of neighbor, praise of God, faith in the forgiveness of sins, and strength in this wearying world. May God preserve us in that faith, until he returns and we are taken into his kingdom, the eternal heavenly banquet of his love. Grant this Lord unto us all.

 

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Sermon for Rogate

For those who were kept from Divine Service this Sunday, here is my sermon. As is the case with Rogate, the topic is prayer:

We continue moving through the joy of the resurrection. Beginning with deliverance from death, we’ve moved through forgiveness of sins, the comfort of our Good Shepherd, our Lord’s promise to return again, and the promise of the Holy Spirit the comforter. Today, we have the promise and comfort of prayer. The lectionary follows the Small Catechism at this point, because the church year does. Resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit according to the Third Article is followed by the Christian’s response in Prayer. Jesus Heavenly Father, because of Jesus sacrifice and death, is now our Father in heaven through the preaching of the Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus tells us that we can pray to His – now our – Heavenly Father, and know that our prayers are heard.

What a tremendous comfort.  When we were children, we would ask our earthly parents for whatever we needed. No matter how loving they were, there were times when they were busy with other things and couldn’t give us the attention we thought we needed. In the world, we’ve all been in situations where we need help from a corporation or official, and end up on ignored or on hold for hours. We need to have our request heard! But all we get is indifference, if we even get to talk to a real person. That’s why it’s such a big deal that we can say “Our prayers are heard not by some low level functionary, but by our Heavenly Father himself. And he listens to and considers and even answers our prayers”. We have access to the absolute top, and he hears our prayers. Sometimes it may seem in the moment like he is not listening to our prayers, or not answering them in a timely fashion. But he does hear them. As the Holy Spirit wrote to us in the book of Lamentations, “It is good that one should wait quietly, for the salvation of the Lord.”

Jesus tells how to pray in our Gospel today. We are to ask in his name. Jesus says “Whatever you ask the Father in my name…. until now you have asked nothing in my name: Ask… & In that day you will ask in my name….” He says three times we are to ask in his name. What does it mean to ask in Jesus name?

Prayer to Jesus is prayer prayed in the name of the Holy Trinity. Jesus says “Ask the Father in my name.” This is more than just using Jesus name a lot. There are cults that insist the name of Jesus be included in every prayer. But the deny Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. Instead they teach he is a sort of half-god. Not all the way human, but not fully Divine either. They deny who Jesus is. Their prayers are not prayed rightly, and so they have no access to the Father. On the other hand, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t mention Jesus, but as it’s the prayer he gave us, it is certainly in His name. Only those who pray to the Holy Trinity offer a valid prayer. Other prayers – prayers offered outside of the Holy Trinity – may be called prayers, they may take the outward form of prayers, but they are prayers to false gods. Prayers to false gods are not heard, and can not save. The most that scripture can give to such prayers is that they are actually prayers to demons. If they are heard at all, they are heard by those who want to destroy and devour us body and soul in hell. That is certainly warning enough for us.

Those who have been called by the Gospel, those whom God has brought into his kingdom through the washing of water and the word in Holy Baptism are given access to the true God – we are given the ability to pray and have our prayers heard by the only one who always wants and can do what is for our good and for our salvation. Our prayers are prayed to the Father, in the Son, by the work of the Spirit in us. Without the Trinity, we can offer no prayer. With him, our prayers are heard, they are considered, and that are answered according to the gracious will of God, who created, redeemed, and sanctifies us to be his own.

Jesus says ask anything. Does that mean we can ask for a million dollars? We can try. But such usually self-serving prayers are not really prayed in Jesus name, even if we use his name in our prayers. Prayers in Jesus name, are prayers given to us by the Spirit. The Lord’s Prayer is an excellent model for us in this regard. We pray that the word would be preached purely, that we would believe it, not be led astray from it. Then we pray briefly that God provide for all our needs of body and soul, before returning to spiritual matters: Forgiveness of sins, faithfulness in this world, and finally a blessed end. The prayer Jesus gives is not for personal wealth or ease in this world – as if those are things we should even be pursuing. But instead they are prayers for our ongoing faithfulness to the Word and promise of God, and for grateful hearts to receive the gifts of God in this world, to live a forgiven and forgiving life in Jesus. And to remain in the faith.

When we pray in the name of Jesus, we can request anything, but we know that God will not give us anything that is harmful to our souls. Only if we stray from him will we find such things. So when we pray for healing for a loved one, or for our daily bread to be eaten in peace and security, we pray in Jesus name, knowing that even these things may not be for our eternal benefit. Healing in this world is a blessing. But going to be with Christ in eternity is also a blessing. The pain of losing someone in this world is real. But the salvation they receive when they leave this world of sin and pain is even more real and more solid. And, unlike our heartbreak in this world, that will be undone in the resurrection, when we leave this world and enter into the presence of God, that is forever.

True prayers are prayed in humility. That is, we ask for what we need, but we recognize that we may not know what is best, and so in the name of Jesus, who suffered so that we would be offered salvation, we pray “Thy will be done”. Let me only be given those things that would be for my good and your glory. Our prayer should lead us – whether we receive what we pray for or not – to acknowledge and praise our heavenly Father as the giver of every good thing. This is true even when we must suffer in this world, as the church often does. We endure patiently, and pray that the Lord would give us strength to rely only on him.

We must also pray in faith. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The wisdom James speaks of is the wisdom that comes from fear of the Lord. Fear, love, and trust in God is the origin and source of all true wisdom. And if we pray for something from our Lord, we must not doubt that he hears our prayers, that he answers them, and that in Christ He gives us every good thing.

That is why scripture says “The prayer of a righteous man is effective.” Not because of the righteousness of the man, but because of the goodness of the one we pray to, and because of the faith that gives us the righteousness for Jesus sake. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Prayer has no power on its own to change anything. Just because we speak words or think thoughts doesn’t make them true. Just as a child on the playground claiming his Father will beat up the bully’s Father really has no basis in reality. It is a wish, a child’s dream. When we pray rightly, it is more than that. Our heavenly Father is powerful. His son has already overcome that old bully and ancient foe, the serpent who lied to our first parents, who continues to lie to us to try and lead us astray. Jesus defeated him on the cross. And so when we pray to the Father, in Jesus name, the full weight and power of God is behind our prayer – not because of us, but because of the one to whom we pray. He tells us to pray. And He is powerful. When we approach him in humility and faith, he hears our prayer and answers it.

Prayer is a great comfort to the Christian: we are not alone in this wide world. We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, who makes propitiation for our sins. That means he pays the debt of our sin, and takes away the wrath of God over our sins. He has promised never to leave or forsake us. And he tells us to bring every need to our heavenly Father. We have examples in scripture of God turning away from judgment because of the prayers of the righteous. The Old Testament reading is only one example. God sends serpents to punish Israel for their ungratefulness. When Moses prays, God gives a way – not for the serpents to be taken away – but for the people to survive the judgment of the serpents being among them. He provides a way out. Not someone to banish the snakes, but a sign of faith for the people to look to and not be killed by them.

So also our Lord Jesus is raised up on the cross, and all who look to him are saved from that ancient serpent–demon Satan.

And when we pray to God “Thy will be done” our prayers are always answered with “Yes”. Not because we get the thing we pray for initially. But because the will of God is done. And we pray that he gives us grace to accept his will and faith to persevere regardless of what he sends.

We are told he only sends us good things. Not good as the world sees it. But he never leaves us, he never forsakes us. If we celebrated prayer in the middle of Lent we might wonder with Jesus “Why have you forsaken me”, because we live in a world of death, we are surrounded by a culture of death. And sometimes the will of God is to discipline those whom he loves, that we would be saved from eternal damnation.

But in Easter, when we know that death is undone, that to live is Christ, but to die is even a gain: Now prayer takes on an even more blessed aspect. Because the world can kill us, but in Christ, we can not be harmed. We are safe in his hands. Jesus went through death for us, we are now kept safe by him even through death. If death can not harm us, we are certainly reassured that Jesus will not forsake us in life.

And so our prayer is always nothing more than this: That we would be kept safe in Jesus, that when we stray we would be brought back, that any idols would be taken away, that we are forgiven our sins, and forgive the sins of others, that we would remain members of his flock all the days of our life, and finally be granted a blessed death and be with him in eternity.
Grant this O Lord for Jesus sake.

Amen.

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Sermon for Cantate

Sing to the Lord a new Song! Cantate Sunday. For those who could not attend, here is the sermon.

We prepare for important events in the church year. Christmas has Advent – 4 weeks to prepare for the coming of our Lord, Easter has Lent – 6 weeks to prepare for the death and resurrection of our Lord. But because of the timing of Pentecost we don’t get a specific time of preparation. Advent and Lent are penitential seasons. The call during those seasons is that we return to the Lord. But Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter – the most joyous season of the year. There is no time for a season of Repentance. Not with the joyful news of the resurrection still on our lips and in our hearts.

So the last half of Easter is a time of preparation – not in repentance, but in the middle of our Easter Joy. The Joy of Easter leads right into the festival of the Holy Spirit.

Last week we heard about the Little While of Jesus returning to the Father, before he comes back to judge the living and the dead. Ascension day preparation. Today it’s Pentecost. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. We will also hear of the Spirit’s work on Pentecost. But the work of the Spirit deserves more than one day. The Spirit brings us to faith through the call of the Gospel, makes us Holy through the waters of Baptism, and strengthens, feeds and keeps us in the  true faith with the Holy Supper. That is worthy of at least a couple of Sundays. And so today Jesus promises the Spirit, and explains what the Spirit’s work will be.

The work of the Spirit is not a new revelation. There are many who are hoping for some further revelation. Some sort of burning in the bosom to tell us that our feelings are the way to go. But we are told in Holy Scripture that in the New Testament we now have everything necessary for our salvation until our Lord returns. There is nothing new coming before the final trumpet. The Work of the Spirit is not to bring new things to us regarding the work of Jesus. Instead the work of the spirit is to bring Jesus into focus, to let us clearly see him and his work for us on the cross.

Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world regarding sin. We already have the word of the Lord regarding sin back in Exodus 20. The Ten Commandments, the moral law, still apply. The ceremonial or Levitical law in the Old Testament – how the temple would be run with the sacrifices – is fulfilled in Jesus and is no longer required. The unclean animals, the sacrifices in the temple, even the Seventh day – the Sabbath day as a day of rest – are all fulfilled and we are not bound by those Levitical rules. (We are still bound by the Third Commandment in that God commands us to hear and learn his word, but the specific day of the Sabbath is not a requirement. We can meet any time each week to receive the gifts God gives through his church.) And the civil law given to Moses no longer applies. That was the rules for how Israel was to be governed. It was a legal code, with specific punishments for specific crimes, and included checks and balances and safeguards to insure just treatment of all. It established cities of refuge to protect the innocent who were accused of crimes and to give them a fair hearing. Today we call it change of venue, but the principle is the same. That civil law was already gone when the Southern Kingdom was taken into Exile in Babylon in 586 BC. It wasn’t even in operation during Jesus lifetime. So the ceremonial and civil code of Moses no longer apply. But the moral law, the Ten Commandments – summarized as Love God with your whole heart, love your neighbor as yourself, that still applies. It applied even before the Ten Commandments were given to Moses. It is the law written on Man’s heart since the creation. We are commanded to Love God and love our neighbor, and that is the guiding rule for all people from the creation until our Lord returns. It is not abolished in Jesus. He fulfills that law for us. He pays the penalty for when we break that law. And because of his sacrifice, his death and resurrection, we are no longer in bondage under the law. Because we break the law of God – scripture calls it sin, we are under the curse of death. Because of Jesus, we are freed from the curse of death. Jesus has overcome death hell and the devil, forgiven us our sins, and brought us into the kingdom of God and made us his children.

Brining us into the salvation earned on the cross is the work of the Spirit. Jesus says the world is judged regarding sin because they do not believe in me. The unchanging truth of God’s Law judges all who do not believe in Jesus as savior. We can’t get around it no matter how hard we try or how much we pretend it isn’t there. The first part of the Spirit’s work is to make us aware of our sin. To bring us fear and terror over sin, rather than denial and anger. When Jesus preached to the people in his own day, and they heard his promise of forgiveness, they only heard condemnation, because they thought they were righteous. If the Spirit does not bring us to contrition – sorrow over our sin – we can’t hear the Gospel. Because in our sin we have convinced ourselves we are righteous. This is a problem not just in Jesus day, not just in our own day. It is a problem from the first sin, until Jesus returns and casts Satan in the lake of fire. On our own we can not hear the Word of the Lord or receive any benefit from it. We reject it outright. We fight against it. We hear the Ten Commandments, and we rebel. Cain refused to take responsibility for his brother. Noah preached for nearly 100 years while building the ark and no one outside his own family listened. King Saul repeatedly tried to justify his sinful conduct when the Prophet Samuel brought God’s Word to him, and so on. The Jews tried to murder Jesus because he told them he brought forgiveness of sins. They didn’t think they had any sins, and so were offended. Just as it is today. The world will not hear the Law of God, rejects the Law of God, rejects those who bring His Law, because the world is convinced it is righteous, has no need of Jesus and his work. And so, the first work of the Spirit is to convict the world of sin. Either by bringing the world to judgment, or – according to the plan and purpose of our Father – by bringing those who hear the Law of God to contrition, to sorrow over their sin, to acknowledge their sin, to confess it before God, and so be prepared to hear the Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus.

The righteousness of Jesus stands for us before the Father in heaven. We receive that righteousness by faith, and the Spirit’s main work is to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ. The work of the Law exists so that we would understand how much we need Jesus, how hopeless our case is, and how useless our own works are before God. The Law is preparation for the Gospel. Because God wants to give forgiveness of sins to you through the work of Jesus proclaimed to you in the church. That’s why God gives all Holy Scripture. So that we would be directed to Jesus and his work.

This is the work of the Spirit – not to bring a new revelation, but to bring our stony hearts to believe the revelation given in Holy Scripture. To remove our hearts of stone and replace them with a heart of flesh that can hear the Gospel, that can love God. To create a new heart and spirit within us, as we hear the Word of God, as we repent of our sin – both brought to sorrow over it, and also then faith in the promise of forgiveness. That two part process is the true repentance spoken of in Scripture. It isn’t just us being sorry. That is only a beginning. Repentance is also grabbing hold of the forgiveness of sins by faith in the word of Jesus. And that is what the Spirit does for us. He creates in us a living faith. He brings us to believe and understand who Jesus is – the Son of God – and what he has done for us – died for the forgiveness of our sins.

So, Jesus says “He doesn’t speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak. He will take what is mine and will declare it to you.” The Sprit’s work is to bring us Jesus, and through Jesus to bring us, forgiven, to our loving heavenly Father. When the word is preached, then the Spirit works, where and when he will, to bring faith in that word. So we would believe and so also receive the gifts promised through them. And the gifts given through the preaching of the cross are important gifts. They save lives, bring us out of sin death and hell, and give us forgiveness, life and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promises it to the disciples so that they would understand and believe and not be overcome by the troubles of this world. Because the troubles of this world can be overwhelming. But we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ. And Jesus is the firstfruits of salvation. He was raised just as we will one day be raised. He went through death into life, just as all those who believe in him will go through death and into life. And this powerful and wonderful promise is given to you through the preaching of the Word in Christ’s Holy church. The Spirit promises to work through the church – through the preaching and the sacraments to bring you life. The promise of God is good: the Spirit does work through the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church to bring you forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Thanks be to God that he sends his Spirit to us to bring us to salvation in Jesus Christ. May we always hold fast to this truth.

In Jesus name. Amen.

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What Faithfulness Looks Like

Sometimes we are called to be faithful. This has the habit of looking painful. Because faithfulness isn’t faithfulness if it is the easy course. Faithfulness shows itself as faithfulness when it is not easy. God often gives us the chance to be faithful, to go against the grain, to stand up and confess the truth.

Today, we see what that looks like. Pastor Harrison, the President of the LCMS, has taken the hard road of faithfulness. He has written a letter, calling Concordia Wisconsin / Ann Arbor to join him in faithfulness, to join him in taking the hard path. This could not have been easy to write or send. I pray for those who receive it. It is not easy to be called to return to the Lord. But I have known many good and faithful Christians who do just that. They hear the hard word of the Lord that calls them to repent, they consider that call according to the Holy Scriptures, and then they return to the Lord. It is a blessed thing.

I pray that the CUW/AA situation ends with such blessedness.

Here is the letter. It bodes well for our synod that our leaders are standing so firmly for the wisdom of scripture against the shallow foolishness of the world. I pray such faithfulness continues and increases. Well done, Pastor Harrison!

2022-05-09-Harrison-CUWAA-letter-to-regents

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Sermon for Jubilate

Here is yesterday’s sermon, if you couldn’t make it to church. If you could make it, but didn’t we’ll be meeting again this next Sunday at 8, 11:30, & 5. There is no better use of your time than hearing and learning God’s Word in His Holy Church.

He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed!) Alleluia.

Easter continues. We turn our focus today. We were looking at the Resurrection itself : the joy now that death is done, the forgiveness of sins given through Jesus death and resurrection, the rest that is ours in Jesus Christ because of his work, and our gracious God who gives that Word to us through the Church. Now we begin to look ahead. Ascension Day and Pentecost are both coming up soon. The Gospel readings for the next few week are from Saint John’s Gospel. Jesus predicting his coming death and resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit after he ascends into heaven. Today, Jesus comforts the disciples. He does not want them to be overcome when he goes to his death. He will be taken from them for a little while, and this will be a great grief to them. God caused these words of Jesus to be recorded because He wants to comfort us as well, because we are in the in-between time. He has ascended, but has not yet returned. We have the promise of the resurrection, the assurance of eternal life, but do not have the fullness of that joy yet. Death has been overcome, it’s power destroyed. But we still live in this corrupted world of sin and death. We still struggle.

And so we have the encouraging words of Saint Peter to go along with our Lord’s word today. Peter encourages us to godly living. But there is a seeming contradiction that we need to deal with if we are to properly understand the Epistle.

Peter instructs us to be subject to the emperor and governors as God’s servants sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. That is what the governing authorities are given by God to do. And in Peter’s day those governors and emperors were sometimes good and led well. But they were often wicked and foolish men. There behavior was so outrageous that today there are debates about whether they had a degenerative disease of the mind, or whether they perhaps suffered from lead poisoning. It would help to explain how they made the foolish decisions they did. And yet those governing authorities – held up to scorn all these centuries later – are the ones Peter instructs the church to be subject to, regardless of how terrible their rule was.

And then, in the next sentence Peter tells the church “Live as men who are free.” This seems to be the opposite of the previous sentence. Be subject, but live as free. And yet the two go perfectly together if we look at all Peter says. First, we do not use our freedom under the Gospel – forgiveness, resurrection, and so on – as an excuse or cover for doing wicked things. Instead we live according to the Spirit. As Paul instructs, the fruit of the spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Against such things as these there is no law. We can live according to the pattern of Spirit filled living regardless of the wisdom and goodness – o the lack of it  – in our rulers. When we live according to the pattern of the Spirit, we live as those truly free. Those who reject the work of the Spirit, who choose to live according to pattern of this world, living only for this world, live according to the works of the law. They are under bondage to sin and death. We do not live under bondage to the law and to our sin, but live according to the Spirit given to us through Baptism, give through the preaching of the Word, and given through the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood. Through God’s appointed means, we live a new life. And that life is not a life bound to the things of this world. It is beyond this world.

Our Lord places us in this world. In a specific time and place, in a specific station in life. It is an imperfect world. God’s good creation was messed up by sin – by our sin. It is now a world of sin and corruption, but a world still ordered by God. And part of that order is earthly authorities that God has appointed. We are subject to them according to the things of this world. We subject ourselves to them, we obey and respect them, and most importantly, we pray for those earthly authorities, on Sundays especially as part of the Divine Service, but also at other times. Even though we live under them, we know that this world is not all there is. The things of this world are temporary, they are passing away. So we aren’t especially bothered by one or another ruler. We pray for them, we are obedient as far as we are able, we honor them. But they have no say over the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. They can not force us to live according to the bondage of the law again. And so, living by the Spirit, we are truly free, even as we are subject in this world to them.

This is what Jesus is talking about in his Little While speech. John records the phrase “A Little While” seven times in 4 verses. Rhetorically, it’s a device called repetition. It’s repeated to draw attention to it. John wants you to ask “What is this little while?” And so he repeats it over and over. Even if you aren’t paying close attention, you are pulled into it until you say, “What DOES that mean?” And then Jesus answers – it is his going away into death and then his coming back in the resurrection. That is the Little While. And it has been accomplished. The joy of resurrection has replaced the grief at the death of our Lord. And the joy given in Jesus resurrection can not be taken from us by anyone in this world. But the church now lives in another little while – the little while between when Jesus ascended and when he returns. And often the world rejoices as we weep. Jesus isn’t around locally. No miracles, no adoring crowds follow him from town to town. The world thinks it has managed to get rid of that Jesus fellow. And the world reasons, if we could just convince his followers to abandon him, the world would enter a joyful new age of prosperity and peace. Ours is not the first age to try and get rid of the church and the preaching of the Gospel. It was tried in Jesus day by the leaders. The Romans tried it repeatedly – persecuting the church, trying to return everyone to the old pagan Roman gods, and away from this new dangerous superstition of the Christians. During the Reformation the pressure on Luther to recant and turn away from God’s word was tremendous.

The Enlightenment believed the church would be best done away with. Old superstitions were left behind by the advent of science. And yet 500 years on, it is science that is being shown as a fraud, and the church remains, we continue to speak the truth. The members of Christ’s church continue living lives freed from the chains of this world and the bondage of sin. We have the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus sake, given freely through the Word and Sacraments, and we receive and hold onto the promise by faith. And Jesus says of this new joy in the Spirit, “No one will take it from you.” The joy of the resurrection is ours regardless of what happens around us. The disciples endured the first – the worst little while. The little while between the crucifixion and resurrection. Their faith was shaken. But then their joy was unstoppable in Jesus and the joy of resurrection. Now we live in another little while. The Little while between ascension and return. And it is not easy. Satan keeps trying to wear us down, to destroy our faith little by little. And yet the promise of salvation remains. Even when we are beaten down, we are not defeated if we continue to cling to our Lord Jesus Christ and the promise of his resurrection.

That is what Isaiah prophesied. Even youths grow faint and weary and young men stumble and fall. But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faith. This is the promise of strength given to those who live by the Spirit. No matter how wearying the world is, the Lord will give strength to us to endure. The blessing at the end of the Lord’s Supper is part of this promise, “The true body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ Strengthen and Preserve you steadfast in the true faith, unto life everlasting.” The Lord knew this world was hard – he even prepares the disciples for that this week – and we will hear more about it in the coming weeks as we move closer to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. But the promise today from Jesus is this: the pain may be intense, but it is short. And once it has passed, the pain is no longer remembered, but instead is replaced with joy and what has come.

We see the Disciples in their anguish at Jesus death fulfilling Jesus prophecy, and their struggle is an example to us as we sometimes can not see the light at the end of the tunnel. We struggle to remember the promise of the Lord, we struggle to remember his goodness. But he is good to us, caring for our every physical need in this world, food, clothing, house, home, so on, filling us with his spirit and feeding us with himself in the Supper so that we would be fed and nourished, so that we would be kept in the faith. That is why he gives his church to the world, so that we would have a place and time to go and hear the Word and promise of God, to be fed with the food from the tree of life. So that we would not be sheep without a shepherd, as we heard last week, but would be safely cared for by our Lord Jesus Christ, who feeds us with his Holy Word, who gives his body and blood to strengthen us as the medicine of immortality, and who renews our strength.

Thanks be to our Risen Lord Jesus Christ for his name mercies. In His Holy Name. Amen.

He is Risen!

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Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti

For those who desired to be in church yesterday, but were prevented, here is yesterday’s sermon:

He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed) Alleluia!

Like Thomas, we heard of the resurrection last Sunday, but we must wait a week to see Jesus in the Gospel reading. Last week, we left with the women distraught and leaving the tomb trembling. This week we pick up that evening. We know from John’s Gospel that Peter and John went to the tomb to look, and saw the graveclothes lying folded up. But they don’t believe the promise given in the Old Testament that Jesus would rise from the dead. It isn’t until they are gathered in the upper room and Jesus appears to them, that they finally believe the truth – Jesus is alive.

Jesus first word is a word of consolation and comfort – he has not come to them to criticize them because they fled when he was arrested. He hasn’t come back to call Peter on the carpet for denying him. He has come to bring them joy – a joy without end. The joy of the resurrection. And so he starts with “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and side – it really is him. He has been raised indeed. The wounds remain, but they are not painful. The damage to his body has been healed. The wounds remain as triumphant witness of what he has endured for our salvation. Like the cursed cross that is now symbol of the resurrection and of victory over death, so his scars are now a testimony of the victory he has won over sin.

And then he breathes on them. The word for breath and for spirit is the same word. He spirited them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Just as in Genesis, God breathes into mans nostrils the breathe of life – the spirit of life – and man became a living being. Now, Jesus gives the Spirit to them. We say that the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Holy Scripture. He breathed into them the words of scripture. Jesus is giving the Spirit as gift of his resurrection. The work of the Spirit is to point us to Jesus. He breathes into us faith in the promise of salvation that Jesus won for us by his death.

Now we hear of the great gift Jesus gives by the Spirit. He gives the church the authority on earth to forgive sins. This is a strange authority. The Romans didn’t really go in too much for sin. It was similar to the world of today. Sin and forgiveness didn’t mean too much to them. Today a lot of people deny that sin even exists. But we can not deny reality. Reality eventually comes crashing in. Those who deny the Law of God end up inventing their own much more demanding law. Instead of the Ten Commandments – which can be summarized further as love God, love your neighbor as yourself – we end up with many more rules for living, or various social crusades that will save us or the planet, or whatever. The problem with these man-made moralities is that forgiveness for sinning against the spirit of the age is not available. Those who have transgressed are guilty, now and forever.

Those who mock the church because we give forgiveness are really mocking the idea of sin. They claim the church judges too harshly, but the truth is they don’t consider sin to be sin. Meanwhile, they themselves refuse to forgive things that are offenses against their own invented code. People have lost jobs, college scholarships, family, even their lives, over minor transgressions that are magnified and plastered across the internet, and there is no absolution, no forgiveness available to them. Like the priests to Judas, when he confesses to them, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” the world can only say “What is that to us. See to it yourself.” But we can not cleanse our own conscience. We can not forgive our own sin. An entire industry has grown up trying to teach people to love and forgive themselves. But without the Gospel of Jesus, the words ring hollow. The absolution of self has no meaning, there is no force behind the words, no power to forgive.

That’s why it’s so transformative, so transgressive, so strange, so foreign, and so offensive when Jesus says, “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whoever’s sins you retain they are retained.” It’s so bizarre, that even many in the church deny Jesus gave this authority. But as we heard last Sunday, we hold to the word of Jesus against all the forces of Hell, and against even the forces of our own reason. When our minds tell us that it’s crazy for some guy in front of the church to say “By the command of Jesus, I forgive you your sins…” we must remember that Jesus – freshly raised from the dead – told us to do this. “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” We would be denying our Lord’s word, denying his death and resurrection, if we denied these words of his. Our reason rejects it as nonsense, just like it rejects the resurrection. That is why we give thanks to God that he breathes his spirit into our hearts to establish a living faith, so that we would trust the word Jesus gives about our sins. They are forgiven when his servant says they are forgiven.

Not because the person who serves is so perfect. We know that all of Jesus servants are also sinners like we are. That isn’t the point. John the Baptist – way back at Jesus baptism – helps us here. John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew he was a sinner. And yet, Jesus says “This is how things are. I am without sin. But I must be counted a sinner so I can earn forgiveness of sins for all the sinners in the world.” And now, he has been crucified, gone through death been raised from the dead, and he says, “I am sending men as my messengers. Yes, they are themselves sinners. But they do not come with their own authority. They come at my command. When they forgive sins, it is as if I have said the word myself.” And we know from the Gospels that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. He heals the sick, he raises the dead, he goes into death for your forgiveness. He was raised so you would be forgiven. And now he explicitly gives this authority to forgive to His Holy Church. The word of Jesus is a precious and comforting word.

We can try to deny sin. We can say none of it matters. It is a sign of how godless our world has become that we think sin and forgiveness is some small thing – either to give it or to receive it. But our conscience catches up to us. We need to be forgiven our sins. Jesus says it is simple – repent, turn away from sin. Trust the promise that Jesus has forgiven your sins, and hear the word of Absolution from the pastor as from Christ himself. It is a comfort to us in life, and especially as we face death. That’s when Satan loves to come to us with the lie that our sins are still dragging us down to hell. That’s why we return often to hear the promise. To have our sins forgiven. It’s why Christ establishes absolution as the normal pattern of life for the Christian.

The most obvious sort of absolution – and we teach this in catechism class to the children – is when there is a sin that troubles your conscience. You can go to the pastor, confess that sin, and in Christ’s name, he will absolve you of your sin. That sin is gone. Even the pastor can never mention it again. We also have the general confession in the Divine Service, when we stop with the excuses for our conduct and say “I confess unto you all my sins and iniquities… for which I deserve your punishment.” And then the pastor speaks Christ’s word of absolution.

But there is another type of forgiveness. Luther calls it “The Christian’s Common Confession.” And he divides it into two types. The first is well known to us – it is the private plea for forgiveness like we see in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christ’s word and promise are attached to these words. Do not doubt them.

The second is the private confession between any two Christians: when you sin against someone else, and ask them to forgive you, or when a Christian neighbor sins against you and asks your forgiveness. We are all priests according to our Baptism. Not all are pastors . Pastors are designated to publicly preach and administer the sacraments on behalf of he church for the sake of good order. But all the baptized are priests. We are all given the right and duty to pray to our heavenly Father for everything of which we have need. That’s the primary task of a priest – to pray for others. All Christians are also given the authority to forgive our neighbor when he sins against us. Don’t doubt how powerful and valuable this authority is. When a spouse, parent, child, sister or brother in Christ comes to you and says, “I have sinned against you, please forgive me.” You are given the authority and duty to say “I forgive you the sin which you have sinned against me.” And in so doing, you not only forgive them, but you bring them Christ’s forgiveness as well.

Most Christians don’t even know they have this authority. And so we default to the world’s way of speaking, “I’m sorry” we say, and the response is “That’s ok.” But those words are so weak compared to the power of Jesus words which we are given.

“I have sinned against you, please forgive me.” “I forgive you the sin you have committed against me.” Those are powerful words, and they are backed by the authority of Jesus himself. But be careful. As with any powerful tool, it is a powerful tool. That may seem obvious – of course a powerful took is a powerful tool. But if you’ve ever taught someone how to use a tool of power – a gun, a saw, an iron, a stove, a car or tractor – you know how important it is that someone understands the power involved. Such tools are powerful, but that means they must be carefully used. Because they are effective, they change things. When you forgive someone who has sinned against you, they are forgiven. If you try to hold a grudge, you don’t hurt them. They have been forgiven their sin by Jesus. You damage your own soul – Jesus warns against this in Matthew 18. Your refusal to love causes you to damage your own faith. Be careful in forgiving your neighbor, if you do not really want to live in the love and forgiveness of Christ Jesus. If you want to live according to the law and according to revenge, then you will only end up harming yourself.

But if you truly desire to live in the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, if you truly desire to live forgiven and forgiving lives, then use the authority which Christ gives to every Christian – both to confess your sins to your Christian neighbor, and to forgive your neighbor for the sins he commits against you. The freedom of the Gospel – deliverance from death, release from hell, entrance into eternal salvation – this is the power contained in those words. It has the power to free from sin and from terrors of conscience. It has the power to free from anger and bitterness and to leave only the joy of Christ Jesus and his death for you.

There are a lot of courses and books today in mediation and reconciliation. Jesus gives a master class in just a few words. He says “Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven.” That’s it. They are gone. To all those who repent of their sins, the Lord Jesus offers forgiveness. That involves terrors of conscience – sorrow over the sin. But remember, Judas was more sorry than Peter. Judas was not forgiven, because he lacked faith in the promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake. So when Jesus restores Peter – which happens right after our Gospel today – Peter is well and truly restored. He grabs hold of the promise by faith. He knows it is not anything in himself that earned it, but the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And within a few weeks, he is preaching on Pentecost the wonders of Jesus death and resurrection.

This is the first half of our Gospel. The second half is Thomas – who doubted the resurrection, but who became a great proof of it. In the apostle’s day rumors and excuses were already being thrown around to try to explain away Jesus missing body. Thomas is proof that mass-delusion wasn’t possible. He won’t believe until he sees and feels the body of Jesus, and touches the wounds. So Jesus appears and shows them to Thomas. And Thomas confesses the truth – Jesus is Lord and God. He is God because He is eternally begotten of the Father. He is our Lord because he has taken us from Satan, and claimed us as his own. That was the work of Jesus death and resurrection – to redeem us from Satan, and restore us as children of His heavenly Father. He has finished that work, and we now receive the benefits of it – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

We could say much more about Thomas and his doubt and his eventual confession, but for today it is enough for us to know that his confession points us back to the word of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven.” Do not doubt, but trust the sure and certain word of Jesus. In him, your sins are forgiven. They are taken away. You are redeemed and are now a child of your heavenly Father, and Jesus is your Lord and your God by the confession of the true faith.

Grant to all of us Lord Jesus, that we may confess you rightly, and so receive the forgiveness of sins, for your sake. Amen.

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Writing Update

My writing efforts have been taken up with sermons and parish matters the last few months. But I am not entirely bereft of progress.

The big project, (Confession), is still in pre-production, and will be for at least another year. I have work to do on it, I have an overall plan. But pre-production on a major work is a major work in itself. This will take time.

Meanwhile, I’ve started three smaller projects in the last six months. The first (fiction) died on the vine. It was not good.

The second is a “Devotional Commentary.” It’s more than just a few devotional thoughts. It’s less than a commentary, and yet goes beyond because it moves from the strictly textual to greater themes. In this it might be called a homiletical commentary. But these aren’t sermons. They were never preached. It is based on a bible study I taught. But when published it won’t be a traditional bible study. It’s briefly outlined, but that has more to do with approach than content. Content will take time. It is now back-burnered so I can work on other things that I think are more pressing. But I desire to return to it at some point.

The third project is another one that’s been in my head for a couple years. It’s a book to help very small congregations (25 or fewer in attendance on a Sunday). Each year more congregations fit that description. This is a book to offer some advice – how to organize, what to expect, etc. I’m finally getting it down on paper. And it’s moving much faster. I’m hoping to move it through production at speed now that I know what I’m doing with it. We’ll see.

And of course, all of this is merely background to the demands of my parish. Writing is my “personal study” time. It’s where I get to just enjoy the Word of God all on my own, without the pressures of a sermon or bible class barging in. Many call it “Continuing Ed.” In a sense, it is. It’s also private devotional time, personal study, theological reflection, etc. Some weeks I get a few hours, some months I get no time at all.

So, here’s praying I get time to continue my study and writing of book three. If all goes well, you’ll be hearing more about it sometime in 2023.

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