You Belong to Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter [a]                           May 17, 2020

 

1 PETER 3:13-22

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

 

Hell is not meant for you.

 

Jesus created you for life. With his own blood Jesus redeemed you. He baptized you for salvation.

 

Baptism now saves you,

says Peter,

not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.

 

That’s why Jesus went to the cross for you, that’s why he baptized you—to give you a peaceful conscience. A conscience cleansed of sin, belonging not to death, but life.

 

 

Hell is not for you.

 

St. Peter in his letter to the church, tells us what our Lord has done about Hell. Hell is a spiritual place, literally, the place of the demons and of those people who have died outside of the Gospel.

 

 

This place of the unclean spirits, we can hardly conceive of what it’s even like.

 

We end up needing to picture Hell as a pit under the Earth, or a fiery furnace with people tied to pillars—images like that.

 

The chief unclean spirit of Hell? That’s Lucifer, of course, Satan.

 

In his fall, Satan took many angels with him. We are now to know them by titles given them in Scripture: demons, devils, unclean spirits.

 

Then Hell becomes also the place of the spirits of those people who died apart from the Gospel, those who wanted to justify themselves, do it on their own, without Christ’s word of grace.

 

The place of the fallen angels and of the spirits of people who died in rejection of the Gospel, that’s Hell. No resurrection of the body, no eternal life with the God the Father.

 

What will our Lord Jesus do about Hell?

 

 

We sometimes talk about “Hell on Earth”—a fire, the Muslim attack on the Twin Towers, some grisly murder: Hell on Earth.

 

Maybe that’s not too far from true.

 

It’s not Hell, of course, not the Hell, but it is the work of the devil. The sickness, the malice, the warfare, the lies, none of this belongs to creation as God created it.

 

He created it, and us, for life, for health and joy, for fellowship with him and one another. The sickness and malice and hatred and lies, this belongs to the realm of death—the kingdom of the demons. We might rightly call it all a bit of Hell on Earth.

 

 

We may consider this time we are now in—the virus, the threat to health, the pressure on our doctors and nurses, citizens at the throat of one another, there is a way we can speak of this, certainly as not Hell itself, but as a precursor to Hell, as a harbinger of life apart from God.

 

So in the Church, while we are still in this sinful world, we suffer.

 

The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the people God gathers to his Name. We hear his word; we receive his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin; we encourage and comfort each other.

 

So all this discomfort of social distancing, of smiles hidden by masks, of no shaking of hands or giving hugs—none of this should be natural to the us. A pandemic like this—we haven’t seen it in our lifetime. We don’t know how to handle it in the way that is best for each other.

 

Yet, in the midst of it all, in the midst of a society trying to protect itself from pandemic, of neighbors on edge and often handling things poorly, of governing authorities given the office to protect citizens, and sometimes carrying out the office well, and other times incompetently, and in the midst of the Church, a people Jesus gathers to his Name, yet a people often confused about how to go about things, often frustrated, often not as caring as should be, in the midst of the Church, a voice.

 

The voice of Christ, risen from the dead. The Easter voice—right in the middle of the fear and the confusion, the voice of the resurrection.

 

It’s the voice of Jesus we hear.

 

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter,

He speaks his voice to forgive our sins and make us righteous.

 

Christ also suffered … that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18),

He speaks his voice to call us out of our fear, out of any sin of not caring for one another, and to bring us to his Father, binding us together as the people of Christ.

 

He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).

That is, he who gave himself on the cross to make us righteous, before he was resurrected, went in spirit to the spirits in prison, says Peter. That is, Christ went to Hell.

 

But not to suffer.

 

He went to Hell to proclaim to the spirits of Hell that he has forgiven the sin of all people, so they no longer have any accusation against us; to proclaim that he has defeated death and the devil; to proclaim that those who belong to him do not belong to death, Hell is not for them, they belong to him, Christ, and he is their Lord.

 

 

This Jesus who went to the cross to make us righteous with his own blood—the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter; who went to Hell to proclaim the sinner forgiven and victory over death and the demons; this Jesus has now gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:22).

 

This Jesus, he is your Lord.

 

Because he is our Lord, we do not belong to Hell, not to death.

 

Even in the midst of world of sickness and confusion, we belong to life.

 

You belong to the Lord of life.

 

Even as we suffer while still on Earth, even suffering in our sinful flesh, we belong to our life of faith, to the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus, to the patience and kindness of the Lord of life, and we belong to life, even as our eyes cannot see it, because, Christ has baptized us into his Name.

 

Baptism now saves you, says Peter (1 Peter 3:21).

 

Baptism now saves you not because it removes any dirt from your skin, but because in Baptism, Jesus unites you to his cross, unites you to his proclamation of victory over the demons of Hell, unites you to his walk out of the tomb, so that his resurrection is now your resurrection—Baptism now saves you because your guilt is taken away and Baptism is your appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

The Lord Our Maker

The Third Sunday in Lent [a]                      March 15, 2020

 

Psalm 95:1-9

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

9 when your fathers put me to the test

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Psalm is a prayer. A prayer given us by our Lord. An intercession to God in Heaven from the lips of those who belong to him. It is an intercession he wants to hear from our lips.

 

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

[Psalm 95:1]

 

Those are the first words our Lord gives us in this Psalm. They are words we are given to speak not to him, but to one another—we are encouraging one another:

Oh, Come, Let us sing to the Lord.

 

In this short petition our Lord gives us so much.

 

First, we are bound together, all of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, in such a way that we speak to each other in encouragement.

 

Second, as we speak to one another in encouragement, we are inviting each another to come to the Lord’s Name to receive his gifts.

 

Third, we are inviting one another to join as one voice to make a joyful noise. And that noise is joyful because it is “to the Rock of our salvation.” That is, we have a Savior, we are justified by faith in that Savior, and that Savior is our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 5:1]

 

 

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

[Psalm 95:2]

 

In this encouragement we are given to speak to one another, we remind each other with words of thanksgiving. For to give thanks is to rejoice in knowing that all that we have is from our Lord, he is the one who cares for us, and we now sing to him with that joy, praising his Name.

 

 

For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

[Psalm 95:3]

 

We pray to our Lord who is the Creator of all. There is no power above him, either in Heaven or on Earth. Our every breath comes from him, our every care we commend to him.

 

 

In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

[Psalm 95:4-5]

 

All things are in his hands.

 

We give petition to our God for the Earth and all things around us, praying that in hurricane or earthquake, in pestilence or famine, he cares for us, as he has promised to do.

 

We pray to him for all the things of the created order. This includes the things of our parents and our children, of our families and our neighbor. It includes those given to serve us in positions of authority, the prince and the king, or, in our case, the president, the governor, the mayor, and all given public office.

 

We commend them to our Lord’s care that they would use their offices to protect families and all persons, and that we would give them due respect and help as we are able.

 

We pray for the police officers and first responders, for the doctors and nurses, commending them to our Lord’s care, that they would do well in providing safety and medical care, and would receive due honor from us.

 

We pray for our neighbor, that our neighbor would be kept in health, and where our neighbor is sick or weak or even just fearful, we rejoice in helping our neighbor as we are able and in speaking encouragement.

 

And especially at a time such as these days now, we pray for our neighbor and our nation. We know that our President has declared the Coronavirus to be a national emergency.

 

We may not know or understand the scope of this, we may not agree with all the assessments being made, but we give thanks to our Lord for the president and all governing authorities.

 

We do not panic, we do not fear, for we know that we belong to the Lord who is our Shepherd, and in this faith we pray that our authorities handle things with wisdom, and that they receive, as the Catechism puts it, honor, service, and obedience from us and our fellow citizens.

 

Especially at a time such as this, we pray for those who may be especially susceptible, and we pray for the doctors and nurses and medical providers, that they may have much success in their service to us and our neighbor.

 

And we pray with confidence and thanksgiving, for our God is our Shepherd who loves us, and we are the people of his pasture.

 

 

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

 

We pray to our God in the confidence that he is, indeed, our God. He has named us as his children, himself as our God, and he will not depart us.

 

We are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.

 

He cares for us as a shepherd not letting his sheep go without good water, as a shepherd guarding his sheep from the wolf, as a shepherd, even, who lays down his life for the sheep.

 

God has shown his love for us in that, even while we were still sinners, he gave his Son to die for us. [Romans 5:8]

 

Through Christ, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [Romans 5:9]

 

Because he is our Shepherd and we his sheep, and because by his blood he has given us access to grace in which we stand, we pray to him in worship.

 

A worship which receives gifts from him. For to worship God in faith is not to bring gifts to God to make him happy, but is to come to him to receive all good gifts from him.

 

To worship God in faith is to know that even as we suffer, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that he is our God who loves us, and this suffering produces endurance.

 

And enduring this suffering produces character—a character by which we know that we are his people, he is our Lord, and in our every doubt or weakness or fear, we commend ourselves to him.

 

For, this character he gives us, this character of knowing that we are his, produces, says Paul, hope. [Romans 5:4]

 

Romans 5:8:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Rest and Restoration Before God

Wednesday, Lent 2                                       March 11, 2020

 

Amos 2:6-16

6 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for silver, And the poor for a pair of sandals. 7 They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, And pervert the way of the humble. A man and his father go in to the same girl, To defile My holy name. 8 They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge, And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. 9 “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, Whose height was like the height of the cedars, And he was as strong as the oaks; Yet I destroyed his fruit above And his roots beneath. 10 Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And led you forty years through the wilderness, To possess the land of the Amorite. 11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets, And some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?” Says the LORD. 12 “But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, And commanded the prophets saying,`Do not prophesy!’ 13 “Behold, I am weighed down by you, As a cart full of sheaves is weighed down. 14 Therefore flight shall perish from the swift, The strong shall not strengthen his power, Nor shall the mighty deliver himself; 15 He shall not stand who handles the bow, The swift of foot shall not escape, Nor shall he who rides a horse deliver himself. 16 The most courageous men of might Shall flee naked in that day,” Says the LORD.

 

 

Mark 2:23-27

23 Now it happened that [Jesus] went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26 “how he went into the house of God in the days  of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” 27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

 

Catechism Emphasis: The Third Commandment

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy.

 

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

 

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

To dishonor the Sabbath is to use it as the Lord has not given it to be used.

 

The Sabbath does have a use:  Jesus said,

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

[Mark 2:27]

 

How should we understand that, that the Sabbath was made for man?

 

The Sabbath was the day given by God, set aside by God, for his people to come to his Name, to hear his word, and to receive his gifts. His Name is the Name of salvation, his word is the word of cleansing and peace with him, his gifts are the sacrifice and the blood for the forgiveness of sins.

 

God did not want his people left in any uncertainty. For these things of forgiveness and grace and life, God set a particular time, setting the Sabbath day before his people as a gift:

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

 

The word Sabbath means rest—it is rest and restoration and peace and fellowship from God.

 

When Jesus our Lord came into the flesh, he named himself as our Sabbath, for he is the One who tells the sinner, Come unto me and I will give you rest—Sabbath!

 

But this is done not without price.

 

When Jesus told the Pharisees that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” Jesus knew that that statement was true only in light of what he was about to do in going to the cross. For it is only by the cross that the innocent blood is shed to atone for our sins, and it is only by that blood that we have rest and restoration before God.

 

Our Sabbath rest was not done without a price. In promising Sabbath rest to the sinner, Jesus consigned himself over to the death of the cross.

 

In the church, it is Lent, were the church looks at the cross. The Church sees the humiliation and suffering of the Son of Man, and comes to her Lord in repentance.

 

And that is rest, Sabbath—it is Jesus forgiving our sins.

 

Now the commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy, takes on its full meaning.

 

The Sabbath day was Jesus giving us rest from our sins by his death on the cross. And now the Sabbath day is whenever we hear the preaching of his word, holding it sacred, and gladly hearing and learning it.

 

So, to close, a few words from the Large Catechism concerning Sabbath rest:

Let me tell you this. Even though you know the Word perfectly and have already mastered everything, still you are daily under the dominion of the devil, who neither day nor night relaxes his effort to steal upon you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against all these commandments. Therefore you must continually keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears. For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realize it. On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, new pleasure, and a new spirit of devotion, and it constantly cleanses the heart and its meditations. For these words are not idle or dead, but effective and living. Even if no other interest or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be spurred on by the realization that in this way the devil is cast out and put to flight, this commandment is fulfilled, and God is more pleased than by any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

A Gift for Nicodemus, A Gift for You

 

Second Sunday in Advent [a]                     March 8, 2020

 

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into Heaven except he who descended from Heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are some words that we hear so often, maybe we forget their impact, their force, their edge.

 

A word like “awesome.” Only so many things can actually be awesome—if everything is awesome, then nothing is.

 

Or a word like “literally.” It can be used for things which are not literal; it can be used for literally anything.

 

For the Christian, maybe the word “gift,” or “give.”

 

Ephesians 2:8:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

 

Or, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.

 

So we want to not lose the radical meaning of this word. We want to hold tight to what this word gift means for us, and what the word gift does not mean, what it rules out.

 

 

Nicodemus did not know how to receive gifts.

 

Nicodemus knew much. He was a Pharisee, and that’s serious business. He was a ruler of the Jews. He was a teacher of Israel.

 

He knew much. He knew the Bible by heart.

 

He was, to put it in today’s language, “a Bible preacher,” and we can know that if you would have heard one of Nicodemus’s sermons, he would’ve been quoting the Bible left and right. He taught the Law. He kept the Torah. The Ten Commandments came off his lips as easily as if talking about the weather. And he knew many other commandments, too, commandments designed by the Pharisees to keep good order, to show people how to live, to make sure everyone was doing everything in the right way.

 

Nicodemus knew much, he could teach you much, but he did not know how to receive gifts.

 

 

But now Nicodemus stands before Jesus.

 

Not before the Bible presented as a book of rules and regulations. Not before his fellow Pharisees as one who can judge others by the Law. Not before his neighbors as one who could tell them how to do things right.

 

But before Jesus. And Jesus is the giver of gifts.

 

 

It was by night that Nicodemus came to Jesus. Privately. Almost as if he knew that he would be hearing things from Jesus that a good Pharisee should not be hearing, but he wanted to hear it anyway.

 

The first thing Nicodemus hears from Jesus turns his world upside down. John 3:3:

Jesus answered [Nicodemus], “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

This is different. Not the part about the kingdom of God. Nicodemus knew how to talk like that. He had taught it himself to many people. To see the kingdom of God, you obey the Law, you keep the Torah. To see the kingdom of God, you live a clean life.

 

But what is this “born again” Jesus is talking about?

 

Birth, that’s not something you do. No baby is born from his mother because he was being obedient.

 

To make the kingdom of God a matter of being born, this is to take it completely out of the realm of obedience, out of something the person can do. What baby was ever born because he made a decision to be conceived? Who among us were brought into the open air of that hospital room because we called God into our heart?

 

Being born is passive. To be born is to receive a gift—the very gift of who you are before God. This can’t be, not in Nicodemus’s world. John 3:4:

Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

 

At least Nicodemus is now seeing the problem. Being born is receptive, it is passive, it is not something you do for yourself.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

[John 3:5]

 

 

Jesus will have Nicodemus live only by gift. Not by works, not by decision, not by obedience. By gift.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever has faith in him should not perish but have eternal life.

[John 3:16]

 

Jesus will have you and me live only by gift. Not by works. Not by decision. Not by obedience. By gift.

 

By gift, Jesus gives you the new birth of water and the Spirit. If it were by your work, your effort, then it would be by your flesh. But, that which is born of the flesh is flesh, says Jesus, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

 

You are born of the Holy Spirit.

 

By flesh, you know your sin. Your shame. Your fear of death.

 

At the same time, by faith, by your life created by the Holy Spirit, you know the righteousness that belongs to you by the Word of Jesus. You know the honor that belongs to you as you stand before the Father bearing the Name given you in Baptism—the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By faith you know that being given birth by the Spirit, you belong to life, eternal life, with no fear of death, for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that by faith in him you will not die but have eternal life.

 

 

This word give, this word gift—we want to not lose its radical meaning. We want to hold tight to what this word gift means for us, and what it rules out.

 

It means that from God all things come to us by grace, by way of gift. Just as we had nothing to do with making a decision to be born of our natural mothers, we have nothing to do with being born of the Holy Spirit.

 

This word gift means that even as our Lord gave us his Name in Holy Baptism, in giving us his Name, he gives us everything that comes with his Name.

 

He gives us the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit gives gifts, giving us the gift of the Gospel, the gift of the forgiveness of sins, the gift of justification before the Father, the gift of life everlasting. It is all of one piece. The Lord does not give out his Name piecemeal.

 

When he gives you his Name, he gives you everything he has done for the sinner and everything he is as your Lord.

 

And what the word give, the word gift, cannot mean, is, you earn it. If you earn it, it’s no gift. Any child can tell us that.

 

 

In the Catechism, when it speaks of the Holy Spirit, in the section for the Third Article of the Creed, it says,

[The Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on Earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

 

In this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.

 

On the Last Day he [the Holy Spirit,] will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

 

Ours is the life of gifts. John 3:17:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Cross of Jesus, the Location of Salvation for all Sinners

 

Wednesday, Lent 1                                                                     March 4, 2020

 

Catechism Emphasis: The Second Commandment

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by his name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

 

Amos 1:1-12

1 The words of Amos, who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2 And he said: “The LORD roars from Zion, And utters His voice from Jerusalem; The pastures of the shepherds mourn, And the top of Carmel withers.” 3 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron. 4 But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad. 5 I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven, And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden. The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,” Says the LORD. 6 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they took captive the whole captivity To deliver them up to Edom. 7 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, Which shall devour its palaces. 8 I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, And the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn My hand against Ekron, And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,” Says the Lord GOD. 9 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. 10 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, Which shall devour its palaces.” 11 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, And cast off all pity; His anger tore perpetually, And he kept his wrath forever. 12 But I will send a fire upon Teman, Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”

 

Mark 2:13-17

13 Then [Jesus] went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. 14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. 15 Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s  house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. 16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

And [Amos] said: “The LORD roars from Zion, And utters His voice from Jerusalem.”

 

Strong words by the prophet, accusing Israel of misusing the name of the Lord her God: Commandment 2.

 

The Lord God had made a promise to Israel, and he had bound that promise with his Name. He had told Israel that the Temple in Jerusalem was a gift to her. A gift by which all her families would go to the Temple to receive the Lord’s gift of sacrifice, to hear the Lord’s priest declare them clean by the blood of the Lamb, to have all sins forgiven.

 

To have sins forgiven—that was the gift the Lord gave by his Temple in Jerusalem. And where sins are forgiven, there is life and salvation.

 

Come to Jerusalem, come to the Temple at Mt. Zion, come to the voice of the priest, come to the blood of the Lamb, come to sins-washed-away and guilt-removed—that was the call that went out to every Israelite family. The Lord loved his people, and he would have them nowhere else. Jerusalem, the Temple, the altar of the sanctifying blood—this was where the Lord God placed his Name, where located himself for the benefit of his people, to sanctify them for himself: they are to look for him nowhere else.

 

 

But Israel forgot Mt. Zion. She didn’t go just to Jerusalem. She went also to the altar at Gilgal, and the altar at Bethel, and at Mt. Carmel, and other altars. These were altars away from Jerusalem, altars where other gods were prayed to, and the Lord God of Israel had not promised to be at these altars in his forgiveness, had not called Israel to pray at these altars, and these prayers to the other gods were an abomination.

 

So, seeing his people go to the false altars at Gilgal and Bethel, that’s when the Lord God sent his prophet Amos to say those burning words:

“It is from Zion that the LORD roars; and it is from Jerusalem that he utters His voice.”

[Amos 1:2]

Here is Israel’s sin: In going to altars other than Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, in praying along with the priests from altars where the Lord God had not placed his Name, Israel was taking the name of the Lord her God in vain. She was misusing his Name.

 

So Amos called upon Israel to return to Mt. Zion, to Jerusalem, and there find forgiveness.

 

 

For us, for the church today, it is not Mt. Zion, it is not Jerusalem. Jerusalem on top of Mt. Zion has served its purpose. So it is no longer the given-location of the Lord’s holy Name. The Lord God, for the sins of Israel and the sins of the world, came into the flesh, and on Mt. Zion, he gave himself over to death on the cross—the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. At that hill in Jerusalem, he made himself, his person, his body and blood, the location of salvation for all sinners.

 

So now if we want to know where God locates himself on Earth for the salvation of the sinner, we go to … Jesus. To his voice, to the location of his body and blood, to his Name, and there, where he gathers two or three to his Name, he is in the midst, forgiving sins, cleansing, bestowing salvation.

 

The Second Commandment:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

 

What does this mean?

As we learn in the Catechism,

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by his Name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

 

God has his Name proclaimed. God has located his Name at his word and sacraments.

 

It is no longer at Mt. Zion and Jerusalem from which the Lord roars and utters his voice—Mt. Zion and Jerusalem have served their final, full, and ultimate purpose by being the location of the cross of Jesus.

 

Now, for us, for the New Testament Israel, for the church of Jesus Christ, the Lord God roars, he utters his voice from the location of his word and sacrament. It is his roaring of victory over sin and death, it is his voice uttering sins-forgiven, grace bestowed, shame removed. We look for his voice nowhere else but where he has promised to be for our benefit—in his Word and Sacrament.

 

Lent looks to the cross: the humiliation of the Son of God, the murder of the Innocent Man, the sacrifice to atone for all sin, the blood poured out.

 

Looking at that cross, we call upon his Name. It is the Name he has put on us in Baptism, the Name he gathers his church to each week at his sacrament, the Name of salvation—it is the Name we are given to “call upon in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving thanks.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

The Kindness of a Lord Who Invites

 

First Sunday in Lent [a]                                March 1, 2020

 

Genesis 3:1-21

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The kindness.

 

The kindness of a Lord who sees the sinner and wants not to destroy, but to restore.

 

The kindness of a Lord who sees the sinner covered in shame, and wants not to add to the shame, but to cleanse and cover in honor.

 

The kindness of a Lord who sees the sinner hiding, and who then, in love, calls out in invitation. Genesis 3:9:

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

 

“Where are you?”—not a question of fact. The Lord knew where they were. He created them. He created the bush they crouched behind. He no more needed to find out where they were than he needed to find out the color of the sky he had created.

 

Where are you? A kind question eliciting a reply from two sinners too afraid to even face themselves up to their Creator. A question of kindness by which he is placing himself in conversation with them so they could hear his voice and could speak to him. A kind question establishing that he was their God: even after the sin, he didn’t depart the scene and act like he didn’t care—but he was still their God and he would speak to them as his people.

 

 

Where are you?—to two sinners hiding in shame.

 

Sin does that. They had eaten the fruit. The Lord had given them that tree. He had given it to them to look at, to care for, and to not eat of. But they ate.

 

They took the tree and its fruit not as a gift to be received in the way it was given, but as something they could grasp.

 

That’s rebellion against the giver of gifts. That’s enmity with the Creator of life. And to be at enmity with the Creator of life is death:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

[Romans 5:12]

 

We weren’t created for death. Death is not natural. It’s not part of nature. It’s alien to nature. Death is against our creation.

 

But sin does that.

 

Sin is not just at outward action which can be corrected, like a high school quarterback learning to correct a bad throwing motion. It’s not just cosmetic, like a rash, that can be chased away with the right ointment.

 

Sin goes to the depth of the soul. It cuts to the heart of the person. This sin, this refusal to receive gifts from the Lord, this rebellion of Adam against his Creator, it’s sickness penetrating to the very being of the person. It’s death to Adam, who now finds himself just waiting around to die. And it is inherited by the children of Adam, by you and me.

 

 

Where are you? Our Lord’s kind invitation to us.

 

He knows where we are. He’s our Creator. He continues upholding his creation, including giving us our every breath.

 

He knows where we are. He sees how we treat the gifts of creation.

 

Our neighbor? Is our neighbor not a gift of creation? He, along with us, is created by the Lord, knit together by the Lord in the mother’s womb, and now sustained by the Lord with food, with oxygen, with the hours of sleep, the hours of waking. It’s all from the Lord. Who else would it come from?

 

He sees how we treat our neighbor. The lack of love, the whispered conversation behind the back, the quick words to tear down or plant doubt, does our Lord miss any of this? The thoughts kept secret, the veiled hatred, the accusations implanting distrust, will we think we keep any of it hidden from the Lord who gives us every breath of our life?

 

He sees us behind our own little bush, whatever that bush may be.

 

Where are you?, he says, finding us in our shame.

 

The kindness of his invitation. The kindness of a Lord who sees the sinner and wants not to destroy, but to restore. The kindness of a Lord who sees one covered in shame, and wants not to add to the shame, but to cleanse and cover in honor. The kindness of a Lord who sees the sinner hiding, and who then, in love, calls out in invitation. Genesis 3:9:

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

 

He came to them in that Garden. He presented himself in a way they could see and hear, and he walked into the Garden. He had done it before. But before they weren’t hiding. Before, they had welcomed his walking into the Garden he had created for them. It was his day to be with them, his day of Sabbath, day of rest and peace and fellowship.

 

This time, they are hiding. That’s what sin does. It cuts to the heart.

 

He came, though, not to judge—they already knew the judgment, that’s why they’re hiding. He came not to judge, but to save. [John 12:47]

 

From Eve’s seed, from her offspring, will come the Savior, he tells them. This one, of the lineage of Eve, Satan will strike him on the heal, but he will strike Satan on the head.

 

Salvation. Salvation from sin, from the devil, from death. No more hiding. This Lord is life, and he speaks life. The shame is removed. The sinner is cleansed and covered in honor.

 

He does it with his Word. His Word promising the seed of Eve, this descendant who would crush the head of Satan, this Jesus, through whom we receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness which now reigns for us. [Romans 5:17]

 

 

This world we’re in of sin, of death, of people hiding in shame—the people of this world, will they hear this word of kind invitation?

 

They will know what to expect from the Church. At least they think they will know what to expect.

 

From the Church, from the voice of the Lord’s people, the people of the world will expect to hear shame heaped upon the shame they already try to hide, our neighbor will expect to hear the judgment of impending death. Our neighbor will expect to hear words by which they will be not good enough for the Church, will be chased from the Church.

 

Then comes the Lord’s voice of kind invitation. He loves the sinner. He loves us. He loves our neighbor.

 

For those hiding, he doesn’t depart the scene. He engages, he speaks, Where are you?

 

It’s his voice of kind invitation inviting the sinner to his cleansing word of Gospel, inviting the sinner to hear the free justification spoken in the Church from the throne in Heaven, inviting our neighbor into the fellowship of those restored to the grace and peace of Sabbath rest with God.

 

The kind invitation of the Gospel, calling out of guilt, into grace, out of death, into life, out of this world of sin, to the Table of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

 

For if, because of one man’s trespass [Adam’s], death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

[Romans 5:17]

 

In the Name of Jesus.

The Heart Cleansed by the Word of Forgiveness

ASH WEDNESDAY                                          February 26, 2020

 

JOEL 2:12-19

12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, And relenting of evil. 14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a libation For the LORD your God? 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber. 17 Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, “Spare Thy people, O LORD, And do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?'” 18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And will have pity on His people. 19 And the LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine, and oil, And you will be satisfied in full with them; And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

 

Confession has two parts. That’s the way the Catechism puts it.

 

The first part of Confession, we could call that the ashes. Joel 2:13:

 

[The Lord says,] “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.”

 

The first part of Confession is the rending of the heart. Pride is emptied out; every attempt to justify ourselves is torn in two. The first part of Confession is, simply, the admitting before God that we are sinners.

 

Joel mentions things that are outwardly: Fasting, weeping, mourning. These are outward actions that we do, actions that are visible.

 

But then that’s explained: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

 

Garments are outward. Don’t tear them, says the Lord, but tear your heart.

 

Rending the heart is not outward.

 

It is contrition over sin. It’s the guilt in our conscience brought in sorrow to God. The outward things of fasting and weeping and mourning, they aren’t the contrition; they’re simply the sinner using outward words and actions and tears to express the sorrow of the contrite heart.

 

 

So we come to Ash Wednesday. Any who would like are invited to step forward and have ashes placed on the forehead. Is this contrition? Is it repentance? Is it not just an outward work, accomplishing nothing actual?

 

The ashes are an outward work. They are one way for the sorrowful heart to express contrition. In this way, it’s much like kneeling down to receive Holy Communion. The kneeling, of course, in no way constitutes the Communion. The Communion is holy because it is the Lord’s gift of forgiving sins. The kneeling is just a small way that the Christian may go about extolling the Lord’s giving of gifts.

 

With the ashes, it is to express contrition. It is a sorrowful heart extolling the gift of being able to come before the Lord as nothing but sinner—and yet not be destroyed, but absolved.

 

Then what do the ashes give? If that is the question, then the answer is, nothing. God didn’t institute the ashes, he didn’t mandate that we do them as he did with Baptism or Holy Communion, he didn’t promise to distribute forgiveness in them.

 

Then what are they? They are not mandated by the Lord. Rather, the ashes must be described as a church tradition, as something Christians have done to express the contrition of a heart that is torn in two by sin and is waiting to hear the Lord’s word of absolution.

 

The ashes are not commanded, not required, but are simply the Lord’s people expressing sorrow over sin and extolling his gift of repentance and forgiveness.

 

We may remember this as we see the ashes placed on the foreheads. These are the foreheads of sinners. But sinners who have baptized into Christ Jesus, who are purified by the Gospel, and thus, sinners who rejoice in no longer having to hide sins, but in coming to the Lord to be cleansed by him in his Word of Gospel.

 

Then, after saying, “Rend your hearts,” the prophet Joel tells us, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

 

And that’s the Gospel. The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is that the blood Christ shed on the cross atones for the sin of the world, and it was that atonement which the prophet Joel was delivering to Israel, even before the cross.

 

So the heart torn in two by sorrow over sin, it is now the heart cleansed by the word of forgiveness. The eyes of tears, they are now eyes of joy. The Christian confessing sin is now the Christian confessing Christ Jesus and his grace.

 

Confession, says the Catechism, has two parts. The first part is to confess our sins. The second part is to confess Christ Jesus our Lord as we receive absolution from him.

 

So what becomes of that heart torn apart by sorrow over sin? It is now the heart consoled and comforted by the Gospel. The Large Catechism puts it like this:

In Confession, we sharply separate its two parts. We place slight value on our part in it. But we hold in high and great esteem God’s Word in the Absolution part of Confession. We should not proceed as if we intended to perform and offer him a splendid work, but we should simply accept and receive something from him …  What you must see to is that you lament your problem and that you let yourself be helped to acquire a cheerful heart and conscience.

 

That’s the gift of Confession. We confess, first, that we are sinful. Then we confess, second and foremost, that our Lord Jesus is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and he forgives all sin.

 

In that confession, we are given a cheerful heart and conscience.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

Our Life in the Church

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany [a]                              February 16, 2020

 

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What kind of Church do you want to be in?

 

We choose where we eat. If I don’t like the food and atmosphere at Cracker Barrel, maybe I go to Buffalo Wings. We choose where we buy our pants. If Burlington Coat Factory’s selection is no good, maybe I go to Kohl’s. We even choose where to drink a beer. If I don’t like the beer at Bosque Brewing, maybe I go to Marble.

 

What kind of Church do you want to be in?

 

Surely there’s some sort of baseline. A Church with good preaching? That’s a start. A Church with a nice building? A Church with a Sunday School?

 

How about the people? A Church with nice people. Kind. Inviting. Friendly.

 

What kind of Church do you want to be in?

 

Would you want to be in the Church in Corinth? Corinth, this major city of commerce and trade and education, this city 40 or 50 miles from Athens—you could leave from Plato’s Academy in Athens early in the morning and walk to Corinth by nightfall; would you want to be in the Church in Corinth?

 

 

Before signing on, first, what Paul says about this Church, it’s members, how they’ve been treating each other.

 

There is jealousy and strife among you, says Paul. [1 Corinthians 3:3]

 

Some of you say, “I follow Paul,” others say, “I follow Apollos.”

[1 Corinthians 3:4]

 

This congregation has divided themselves up into parties, each group aligning with a different pastor.

 

Back in chapter one, Paul shows this division even further:

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

[1 Corinthians 1:13]

 

So these Christians in Corinth have divided themselves up into at least four competing parties. Those aligning themselves with Paul, those aligning themselves with Apollos, those claiming the name Cephas, those claiming the name Christ, and who knows who might be over on the sidelines forming up another party.

 

Do you want to be a member of this Church in Corinth?

 

It gets worse.

 

Not only does Paul accuse them of jealousy and strife and quarrelling, he also accuses them of judging one another, of arrogance against one another, and then he even goes into sexual immorality in the Church (chapter 5), of holding sins against one another (chapter 6), of husbands not loving their wives even more than themselves, of wives not loving their husbands as they should (chapter 7), and then, after all that, Paul accuses them of mistreating the Lord’s Table, of treating Holy Communion as if it were not actual the holy Body and Blood of Christ the Lord for the forgiveness of sins, but a common meal of wine and crackers to symbolize something.

 

These Christian in Corinth—do you want to be in this Church?

 

He accuses them of treating the Lord’s Table not as holy, but as a meal where you are eating with your friends, so that at the end of the day, the rich people are communing with the rich people, but not with the poor.

 

He accuses them of forgetting whose table it is, so that Christians are communing at altars which teach different doctrines, as if what is taught about Jesus baptizing babies, or about the Body and Blood being the true Body and Blood of Christ, or about the sinner being fully cleansed, purged by the blood of all guilt, so that no sin remains after the blood of Christ, or about the free and full justification of the sinner before the face of God—Paul accuses them of treating the Lord’s doctrine cheaply, as if it doesn’t matter what is taught about Christ and his gifts. These tables, these altars that teach a different doctrine of Christ, says Paul, they are not to be approved. [1 Corinthians 11]

 

Do you want to be a member of the Church in Corinth?

 

 

Three words from Paul, in his address to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 3:1:

“But I, brothers, …”

 

Paul, knowing all these things about the Corinthian congregation addresses them as … brothers—brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

This from his salutation at the beginning of his letter to the Christians in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:2:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus … To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul, knowing everything about this Corinthian congregation—he had lived with them for several years—knowing their problems, their struggles, their backbiting, their neglect of the Lord’s Supper, Paul addresses them as the Church of God in Corinth, and as those called saints, those made holy by the blood of Christ, those who belong to the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, as those for whom Paul give thanks.

 

Do you want to be a member of this Church in Corinth?

 

You are.

 

We hear how Paul tells them they are called saints together along with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Meaning, they are saints together along with us; we are saints together with them. The same blood of Jesus that was given to sanctify them each Lord’s day, is given also to us to make us holy, each Lord’s day.

 

When we have been gathered to the Body and the Blood, we are gathered along with all our brothers and sisters assembled to the true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all sin.

 

We are all of the same sinful flesh, we are all under the same judgment of Law, we are all unable to do anything at all to justify ourselves, and we are all cleansed, though, sanctified, made holy by the Body and Blood of Christ. We are all justified by the Gospel of all sins forgiven. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

This is God’s work, says Paul. It is his doing. From start to finish. The pastor—it’s not the pastor’s doing, he is only the vessel, only the messenger doing what the Lord sets the messenger to do.

 

What then is Apollos?,

says Paul,

What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

[1 Corinthians 3:9]

 

The pastor brings nothing to this. He’s only the vessel, the clay pot as Paul calls him elsewhere. The pastor can get himself out of the way. It is God who cleanses the sinner by the Word he gives the pastor to speak. It is God who makes the sinner holy, by the Body and Blood he instructs the pastor to distribute. It is God who binds sinners together as brothers and sisters in Christ, by the Gospel.

 

It is God who builds up the Church, those in Corinth, those in Athens, in Jerusalem, also Albuquerque—it is God doing it, it is God’s building, all built upon the chief cornerstone, he who cleanses the sinner, Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 3:9:

You are God’s field, God’s building.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Every Single Iota, Every Single Dot

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [a]                February 9, 2020

 

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

 

Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

If you want to know how to be a Christian, Jesus will tell you how to do that.

 

To be a Christian, be salt to this world. Salt brings tastes and seasoning. In a world filled with rot, a world teaching young women how to be objects, teaching young men how to grasp according to your desire, a world tempting some to envy and grab after the wealth of others, and others to tear down their neighbors, in a world filled with this despising of neighbor, Be salt. Bring health. You are the salt of the Earth, says Jesus. [Matthew 5:13]

 

To be a Christian, be light. A world relishing the lie, a world run by secret conversations and things done in the dark, Be light. You are the light of the world, says Jesus. [Matthew 5:14]

 

Let people see your good works, says Jesus, and that will give glory to your Father in Heaven. [Matthew 5:16]

 

So every sermon will be in danger of ending up as methods and regulations for being salt. And procedures and strategies for how to let your light shine. And constant lists and rules for how to let people see your good works.

 

Every sermon will end up being, in short, how, if you’re a Christian, the Law is your method, rule, procedure, strategy, and guide for life.

 

If we want to be a Christian, Jesus will tell us how. Let’s just take the Bible and write huge red letters on it: Rule Book for Life—and we’re off to the races.

 

 

I did not come to abolish the Law, says Jesus. [Matthew 5:17]

 

But then this: “Not an iota,” said Jesus, “not a dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matthew 5:18]

 

If you want to live by the Law, you better be ready to live by the Law. The whole Law. No iota left out, no dot missing.

 

“I tell you,” said Jesus, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

 

The Scribes and Pharisees, these are the teachers of the Law. They kept every iota and dot. Or at least they thought they did, or pretended they did.

 

But you better be better than them, says Jesus. If you are going to live by the Law, you’d better surpass the Scribes and the Pharisees—they better be in your rear-view mirror. Every iota. Every dot. The whole Law. Nothing left out. Or you might as well keep none of it.

 

Love God with your whole heart, love neighbor as yourself, and it better be full blast, the whole enchilada, nothing left out. Or you might as well do nothing.

 

The Law is that full, that demanding, that all-encompassing. Who can do it?

 

Can the Apostle Paul do it? Not if you look at his hands and see the innocent blood of Stephen on them.

 

Can King David do it? Not if you look into his palace and see the great sin of his multiple wives.

 

Can the Apostle John do it? Not if you read the account of him arguing about how he would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Can St. Augustine do it? Not if you read the words of his own hand in his Confessions.

 

Who can do it? Not anyone who can look at himself in the mirror and remember even a fraction of the times he cared for self more than neighbor.

 

No one can do it. We know that. Our own lives testify to it.

 

 

No one can. But One.

 

And that is what Jesus is teaching. While the scribes and Pharisees are teaching you how to live under the Law, Jesus says,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

[Matthew 5:17]

 

The Law, Jesus came to accomplish it. It is all completed in him.

 

That’s the cross.

 

Later, after Jesus ascends to Heaven, after he has sent forth the Apostles to proclaim his Gospel, the Apostle Paul proclaims to the Christians in Corinth,

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

[1 Corinthians 2:2]

 

Why didn’t Paul proclaim how to keep the Law? Why didn’t he teach the methods and systems of a Christian life? He knew how to. He was trained up as a teacher of the Law, as a chief Pharisee. He knew the Law inside and out. Every iota, every dot, every which-a-way.

 

When I came to you, I knew nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.

 

Because, the cross is the keeping of the Law. The cross is the full accomplishment of the Law. On the cross is the only One who has truly loved God the Father with his whole mind and whole soul and whole heart, and loved his neighbor more than himself—the cross is him loving his neighbor, loving you and me and our children, even to the point of his own death. The cross is him shedding the blood to atone for your failure of Law and mine.

 

We are those who proclaim him who kept every iota, every dot of the Law, even to his own death on the cross.

 

We are those who, as Paul says, know nothing except Jesus Christ in him crucified.

 

We are those who daily hear the Law, and there see not a way we can justify ourselves, but daily see our sin, daily putting the old man of sin to death in repentance.

 

We are those who, in a world of Law, a world where people are forever coming up with new systems of Law and new methods of how to live a victorious life, a life of lofty speech and impressive wisdom—we are those who speak in the weakness and even trembling, giving thanks for the Gospel, and proclaiming nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, so that our faith may rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, which is the forgiveness of sins unto everlasting life.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

He Was Made Like Us

The Purification of Mary and Presentation of our Lord   February 2, 2020

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

He was made like us. What does this mean?

 

We know that he was just as flesh and blood as we are—that’s the Incarnation, him being born child of Mary.

 

So he would wake up hungry, as any child would. He needed water, he needed warmth on cold nights, he needed protection from mean dogs or poisonous spiders, or whatever.

 

We can guess he had his favorite food; the way one child likes cake but another ice-cream.

 

So we know that he was like us. Same flesh and blood. Same need for a bath to wash off the day’s dirt, the need to tie the shoes and comb the hair. But the writer to the Hebrew Christians is saying more. Hebrews 2:17:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 

He was made like us not only in that he knows all the daily tasks that belong to every human, but like us in that he was tempted. And he suffered.

 

And we want to know this because, in this, he is able to help us when we are tempted.

 

 

Which is an interesting thought. When we are tempted, how does Jesus help us? By putting up a big sign in our brain that says, “Don’t do it!”? But for that, he didn’t need to become man.

 

For if God’s help for us when we are tempted is to say “Don’t do it!”, we already had that—it’s called the Law.

 

Doesn’t everyone know the Law? Everyone knows you’re not to slander your neighbor, which is why, when we do, we make excuses and point to others who do it even more. Everyone knows that you’re to speak well of others, to uphold their names and reputations, to give your neighbor encouragement.

 

Everyone knows you are not to commit adultery, to have lust, to do anything to damage or speak ill of another’s marriage—everyone knows this, which is why we’re sneaky when we do it.

 

Do not kill, but love your neighbor and care for him and help him keep his property and wealth and reputation.

 

Honor your father and your mother. Care for your children. Speak well of your neighbor’s family. Does not everyone know these things, even when doing the opposite?

 

Remember the Sabbath; come to the Lord’s Name to hear his word; encourage your fellow Christians, reminding them of the gifts the Lord is serving out at his Service each week; do not hinder your neighbor, but help him to hear the invitation of the Gospel and to be gathered into the Church—what Christian doesn’t already know these things.

 

This is just the Law, the Ten Commandments, but even those who don’t know the commandments specifically, they already know, for, as the Apostle says, the Lord has written the Law on everyone’s heart. [Rom. 2:15]

 

 

So when we are tempted, how will Jesus help us? By popping up a big sign in our brain which says, Don’t do it. Turn the other way.

 

Will he help us by the Law? We already had the Law, it only increased our guilt and covered in shame. No. As the writer to the Hebrew Christians tells us, Jesus was made like us in every respect

to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

[Hebrews 2:18]

 

He will help us by joining with sinners and being cut into the covenant—that’s his circumcision where he was cut into the covenant along with every other Israelite from the time the promise of circumcision was given to Abraham.

 

He will help us by undergoing temptation from Satan, even as Satan daily tempts us. That’s his temptation in the wilderness where Satan tempted Jesus to have the desires of the body all filled to the brim, if only he would turn some stones into bread; where Satan tempted Jesus to make demands on his Father, that God must respond to him and send angels whenever he said, if only Jesus would throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple; where Satan tempted Jesus to have power and control over his neighbor, even over every person on the Earth, if only he would fall down and worship Satan.

 

Jesus willingly placed himself under every temptation—of desire and lusts, of love of self over neighbor, of love of self over God, of self-justification and works-righteousness—under every temptation. Now, when we are tempted by Satan, Jesus knows our temptation even better than we do.

 

 

But that doesn’t yet help us in our temptation.

 

He himself has suffered when tempted, [so] he is able to help those who are being tempted, says the writer of Hebrews.

 

He suffered not only in his own temptation by Satan. He suffered fully in going to the cross.

 

The accusations of the Law the Pharisees threw at him, the attacks of the teachers of the Law and the Temple officials, the indictment spoken by the high-priest, Caiaphas, the verdict of the people yelling Crucify him, Crucify him, the nails bringing to him the death of the cross—he suffered it all.

 

But all that he was suffering, it was the accusation and of the Law against us. Against every sinner.

 

For he who knew no sin, who was made like us in every way yet without sin, was tempted as we are and took our sin, our temptation upon himself, and put it all to death on the cross, making atonement by his own blood.

 

 

How will he help us when we are tempted?

 

By the Law? Yes, by the Law, for the Law shows us our sin, and we must know that we cannot justify ourselves. But we already had the Law before Jesus was made like us.

 

How will Jesus help us in our temptation?

 

By the Gospel. By being with us. By binding himself to us in Baptism, making us his own. By coming to us in his Body and Blood to forgive. By being with us as our High Priest, who is able to suffer with us in all things, who cares for us, and who has one final, life-giving word for us:

 

His final, full word, by which he makes us his own, by which he cleanses us and breathes into us his Holy Spirit, by which he constantly gives us repentance, that the new man of faith may daily stand before God in righteousness and purity, by which he is with us in all temptation—his final, full word:

I am with you, in the same flesh and blood you are;

In my death on the cross, I have defeated Satan, taking from him his accusation against you;

I have destroyed the power of death, delivering you out of the slavery of the fear of death;

I am your merciful High Priest, interceding for you to my Father;

For I have atoned for you with my own blood, I have made propitiation for your sins with my cross, and I am with you when you are being tempted.

 

In the Name of Jesus.