Tuesday, June 27, 2017

25 years of marital love and commitment

The post below is from the book I had made for Laura and me for our 25th anniversary.  It has been slightly edited for this blog entry.  It is also not nearly expressive of what my beloved wife--as well as my best friend--has meant to me for all of these years.

I love you, Laura!  Happy anniversary, and may God grant us many, many more.

June 27, 1992.
June 27, 1992.
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church,
in Appleton, Wisconsin.

          For one quarter of a century, God has graciously blessed us.  We were wed on June 27, 1992 at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Appleton, Wisconsin.  Since then, we have lived briefly in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Then we moved to Jenera, Ohio were Tom served as a vicar under Pastor Alois ("Brownie" -- we still haven't called him that to his face) Schmitzer.  We moved to Grafton, Wisconsin where Tom completed his seminary training.  Then after Tom was assigned to be an instructor at West Lutheran High School in Hopkins, Minnesota (it has since moved to Plymouth, MN), we settled in an apartment in Eden Prairie.  Our second year there, we lived in a rented house in St. Louis Park.  Finally, Tom was reassigned through the Seminary to serve as a parish pastor at Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church in Novi, Michigan.  We moved here in July of 1996 and have been here ever since.

          In those 25 years, we were richly blessed with children.  Faith was born in St. Paul, MN.  Nathanael was born in St. Paul, MN.  Andrew was born in Livonia, MI.  Caleb was born in Livonia, MI.  Philip was born in Livonia, MI.  Peter was born in Livonia, MI.  We were also anticipating another, but on May 4, 2010, Isaac Christopher was still born.  His body awaits the resurrection at Glen Eden Cemetery in Livonia.

          25 years has not been without its bumps and bruises.  We have been parted from grandparents and friends by death, and we have bid farewell to friends whom we were thankful to have had in our lives, even if momentarily.

          Still, God has been good, and has been pleased to see to it that we still have had each other to lean on, to laugh together, to cry together, to celebrate the joyous moments with thanksgiving, and to pass through pain and hardship with prayer.

          We did not know where we would go when we were married 25 years ago.  We did not know how the Lord would bless us and what we would experience.  But we were committed to going through whatever it would be together.  We would not have had it any other way, and we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

After 25 years, ths is what the Lord has turned us into.
December 25, 2016.  It is getting harder and harder to get us all together in one place.

Summer 2017, celebrating 25 years together.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon -- Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25,2017)

MATTHEW 10:26-39


In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)  Therefore, we faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.
     This sounds easy enough, but Jesus also said that this confession comes with a cost: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)  We might think that the sword Jesus speaks about is Islamic terrorism or an erosion of freedoms for Christians.  While these are threats to pray about, Jesus does not speak here about international terrorism or civic groups who fight to get the Ten Commandments removed from a county courthouse.  He spoke about animosity in one's own family and friends.
     Now, it may sound strange that people would be hostile toward a message which you hold so dear, and hostile toward you who joyfully confess it.  Why does Jesus and his salvation bother people so much?  St. Paul gives the answer: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7)  People refuse to acknowledge that they are sinners.  They like their sins.  They aren't going to apologize for them or stop doing them.  They conclude that God is the one with the problem, and they have friends who encourage them to continue in their sins.  They don't want to repent; they like what they are.
     People are also hostile toward God's word and those who confess it because they despise God's grace.  Even people who profess to be Christians are guilty of despising God's grace.  We do this because we think there are good reasons that we are saved: We behave better.  We go to church more.  We pray harder.  We think that we have done something to prove our worth before God.  In other words, we believe that we deserve our salvation because of something we have done.  In that case, your salvation is not a gift, it is a wage.  This is to reject God's word: “By grace you have been saved … so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  The truth is that your salvation has been taken out of your hands.  You do nothing to be saved.  That is the very nature of being saved.  He who is lost must be found by someone else.  He who is dead must be revived by another.  He who is hostile must be converted by the love of another.  And this is what our Lord has done.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  We confess what God has revealed.  The Lord became flesh and willingly lived a humble and holy life in obedience to God and in service to his neighbor.  But Jesus gives you the credit for it.  He did the work, and he gives you the benefit.  By faith, you are justified; by grace, you are saved.  The sins you have committed—whether you have taken pride in being better than others, taken pleasure in seeing the sins of others, or taken pleasure in your own sins—these sins Jesus has taken from you.  Jesus suffered your curse and was afflicted by the wrath that you deserve.  The punishment has been lifted from you.  You are forgiven.  You are not forgiven because you are better.  You are forgiven because Jesus gives you salvation which you have not worked for and a blameless record that you do not deserve.  It is by grace you have been saved.  Since your salvation is completely the work of Jesus Christ, you can be certain that you are saved.  He did work—completely, perfectly, freely.  You, by faith, benefit.  We faithfully confess this, certain that there is no other Savior, and confident that Jesus' saving work is perfect.
     Still, it comes at a cost.  Satan enlists others to demand that we look for salvation outside of or in addition to Jesus.  In the Middle Ages, people were told to look for their salvation from the Pope in Rome.  The Pope urged people to buy indulgences which were suppose to deliver people from purgatory, to pray to saints, to go on pilgrimages to shrines, and to reverence the relics of holy people.  God's grace was not enough; and Jesus Christ was pushed aside.  Even though it seemed ultra-religious, none of it was supported by Scripture.
     God graciously directed some people back to their Bibles for comfort and assurance.  While this brought peace to troubled souls, it also brought a sword.  The Pope excommunicated clergy who demanded their answers from the Bible rather than Church traditions, and he banned writings which pointed people to Jesus.  The Emperor, Charles V, threatened the destroy churches, kingdoms, and princes who did not turn back to the established customs.  Emperor Charles summoned these princes to Augsburg where he demanded their allegiance to him and to the Pope.  These Lutheran princes, instead, came to the Diet of Augsburg to faithfully confess God's truth.  This was not a show of stubborn independence or rebellion against authority.  When the Lutheran princes at Augsburg were commanded to forfeit their confession for the sake of unity in the Church and empire, Margrave George of Brandenburg replied, “Rather than deny my God and suffer the Word of God to be taken from me, I will kneel down and have my head struck off.” (Concordia Triglotta, page 23)  The Lutheran princes faithfully confessed God's truth even though it meant a sword against them.  They stood firm on God's word for their own salvation and for the salvation of those in their kingdoms.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  To keep this confession pure is to keep certain of our salvation.  If this confession becomes polluted, God's truth becomes distorted or even denied.  Then, our salvation is at least put in doubt, at worst it is lost completely.  Therefore, our devotion to God's truth is essential.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation, knowing that we may pay a price for holding to this confession.  We may think we can avoid the sword by keeping our confession to ourselves, but silence is not an option.  For this is what Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)  Jesus does not say that it is enough to acknowledge him in your heart and keep your faith a secret.  If we believe in Jesus and take his word to heart, it will reveal itself in our words and actions.  Light cannot be hidden.  Confessions must be made with words.  However, if you confess your faith and suffer for it, you are in good company.  The apostles died rather than remain silent in their confession.  The Lutheran princes were ready to die rather than deny Christ and his word.  About twenty years after the Augsburg Confess, the sword did come to their lands because of their confession.  I don't know what price you might have to pay or what cross you will have to bear.  If you refuse to confess God's truth, the world may praise you; but Christ will disown you.
     Yes, these are serious matters with eternal consequences.  But that is why we take them seriously.  And that is why we need our Lord's word and grace.  He reminds us: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28-29)  We need not fear those who are mortal.  Rather, we fear the Lord who holds our eternal judgment in his hands.  But good news: The Lord who holds our eternal judgment in his hands has also told us that we are redeemed and beloved by him.  Even if our body is slain, we are not robbed of life in God's kingdom.  And if the Lord cares enough about the number of hairs on your head, he certainly will preserve you in his kingdom through his word and sacraments.
     Therefore, we devote ourselves to God's truth—reading, learning, marking, and inwardly digesting it—so that our confession will remain true, so that our Lord will keep us faithful, and so that we will be sure of our salvation.  We faithfully confess God's truth for our salvation; and our comfort and confidence is always this: that our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased to acknowledge us before the Father, and that our glory will be known in the life to come.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Pastoral Concern -- Confessing the faith with the Augsburg Confession

This Sunday (June 25) is a minor festival, although unique to the Evangelical Lutheran Church (although some other Protestant bodies may acknowledge their debt to it, too).  We will commemorate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  You can look at my previous post to learn more about that particular event.

This post features the confession of faith we will use in our service on Sunday.  I don't think it is right or fair to surprise Christians with a confession of faith which we will say together.  No one should have a confession foisted upon them.  That would burden a conscience, wondering if the confession is accurate, or even Christian for that matter.

Therefore, I submit for your preview the confession which will be in the bulletin.  The confession below is taken from the Augsburg Confession, the essential confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

While the confession is Evangelical Lutheran, it does not introduce anything to or take away anything from the confession of the Holy Christian Church.  In fact, the Augsburg Confession and all of the Lutheran Confessions demonstrate throughout that they are consistent with the confession of the church catholic.  We are not a sect; we are faithful confessors of Christendom.

CONFESSION OF FAITH The Augsburg Confession
Selections from Articles 1 & 3

M: In the first place, it is with one accord taught and held, following the decree of the Council of Nicea, that there is one divine essence which is named God and truly is God.   But there are three persons in the same one essence, equally powerful, equally eternal: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

C: All three are one divine essence, eternal, undivided, unending, of immeasurable power, wisdom, and goodness, the creator and preserver of all visible and invisible things.

M: Likewise, it is taught that God the Son became a human being, born of the pure Virgin Mary, and that the two natures, the divine and the human, are so inseparably united in one person that there is one Christ.

C: He is true God and true human being who truly “was born, suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried” in order both to be a sacrifice not only for original sin but also for all other sins and to conciliate God’s wrath.  

M: Moreover, the same Christ “descended into hell, truly rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, is sitting at the right hand of God” in order to rule and reign forever over all creatures, so that through the Holy Spirit he may make holy, purify, strength, and comfort all who believe in him, also distribute to them life and various gifts and benefits, and shield and protect them against the devil and sin.

C: Finally, the same Lord Christ “will come” in full view of all “to judge the living and the dead ...,” according to the Apostles’ Creed.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25)

Sunday, June 25 marks the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  This occasion is just as important as Reformation Day (October 31, 1517) and is worthy of celebration.  Here is some of the background.

In 1530, the princes of Lutheran territories in Germany were summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V in Augsburg.  Though he wanted to attend, Martin Luther was urged not to appear before the Diet (that is, Council) at Augsburg for fear that he would be arrested and/or executed.  So, Luther journeyed as far as the Coburg Castle--still safely in the protection of Electoral Saxony, and the princes went to Augsburg.  (Luther was still a marked man – marked both as a heretic and an outlaw.  Had his prince not been his defender, Luther surely would have been executed years prior.)

Philip Melanchthon, a colleague of Luther’s at the University of Wittenberg, was the theologian who was to be the guide for these princes.  However, it was the princes, not the theologians, who were to make their stand and confess the Christian faith before the Emperor.

The Emperor was in no mood to have a divided Christendom in his realm.  His goal at Augsburg was to force the Lutheran princes submit to the Roman church.  Arrest, confiscation of lands, loss of power, and loss of life were real threats that faced the Lutheran princes if they did not renounce their faith.

The Lutherans were hopeful that the issues which separated them from the Roman church might be debated or discussed.  But such hopes were quickly dashed when they arrived at Augsburg.  It was clear that the Emperor had no interest in such a debate.  He did not want to give time or credence to the Lutheran confession. 

In order to be heard, the Lutherans prepared a statement.  They knew they would have one chance to be heard before the Diet of Augsburg, so they prepared a confession.  Philip Melanchthon wrote it, and Martin Luther reviewed and approved it.  One of Luther’s comments about the confession: “I have read Master Philip’s Apology*.  I am well pleased with it, and know nothing to improve or to change in it; neither would this be proper, since I cannot step so gently and softly.  Christ, our Lord, grant that it may produce much and great fruit, which, indeed, we hope and pray for.  Amen.” (Historic Introduction to the Symbolical Books, Frederick Bente.  Printed in Concordia Triglotta © 1921, p 18)  [*Note: An “Apology” is a defense.]

The Augsburg Confession was publicly read before the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530.

The Augsburg Confession can be divided into two parts. 
1)                  Articles I-XXI confess that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is catholic, that is, it is part of the holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.  Lutherans did not invent new teachings or abandon the historic Christian faith.  It is not in rebellion against the Church.  Luther began a reformation, not a revolution.  We believe, teach, and confess what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. 
2)                  Articles XXII-XXVIII confess that the Lutheran Church has found abuses in Roman teaching and practice.  These abuses are highlighted and reasons are given for their correction or omission from the Lutheran churches.

All Lutherans do well to be familiar with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Melanchthon later edited it without the authority or consent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), as it is the most basic confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  To date, it has not been refuted or shown to be false.  It is a faithful confession of Scripture, and it describes what Lutherans believe and practice.

Lutherans also do well to uphold this confession and to follow its descriptions so that we remain faithful in our teachings and practice.  In doing so, we assure ourselves that we do not fall into the errors of the Roman church or swerve too far the other way and fall into the errors of Protestant churches.

For a reading of the Augsburg Confession (and please do read it!), you can consult our church library or go to this link: http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php .

Monday, June 19, 2017

Something from ... The Babylon Bee -- Re: Hymns

The article below from the Babylon Bee is supposed to be satire...I think.  I really don't know.  The link is below, and I've copied and pasted the entire article.


U.S.—A recent survey performed by CCLI confirmed that AC/DC’s hard rock classic “Highway to Hell” is more theologically accurate than 96% of the songs that most worship bands play on any given Sunday.
The study examined over 800 songs and compared their theology to the Scriptures, and found that the Australian rock group’s 1979 classic was “significantly more accurate” than over 96% of them.
“While modern worship songs tend to contain little theology, an anemic view of sin, and a poor understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, ‘Highway to Hell’ has a very biblical view of the doctrine of hell,” a CCLI rep said. “Lead singer Bon Scott had a clear understanding of man’s natural inclination toward sin and the inevitable judgment of God that follows.”
“Just take a look at some of those lyrics in that hard-hitting first verse,” the head CCLI researcher told reporters. “‘Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme, Ain’t nothing I would rather do / Going down, party time, My friends are gonna be there too.'”
“Bon Scott’s understanding of mankind’s depravity clearly rivaled anything Paul wrote in the third chapter of Romans,” he added. “It’s better than that song that keeps inviting the Holy Spirit in like He’s some kind of coy puppy dog.”
Further findings confirmed that other metal classics like Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast,” Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” and Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” were also more accurate than most songs played on Air1 or K-LOVE.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2017)

DEUTERONOMY 11:18-21,26-28


In the name + of Jesus.

     The words which Moses proclaimed in our lesson were written in the book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy means “second law”, or second giving of the Law.  When the Law was first given at Mt. Sinai, these Israelites were little children or had not even been born.  Forty years later, Moses repeated the covenant to this next generation of Israelites as they were poised to enter the Promised Land.  Moses spoke in very plain terms.  “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)  
     Moses' plea was not a call to conversion.  These Israelites were already God's chosen people under the covenant.  Moses' encouraged them to remain faithful to that covenant.  He urged Israel: Bind yourself to God's Word and blessing.
     When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to exterminate the Canaanite nations who lived there.  The Canaanites had devoted themselves to perverse religious practices for centuries, and the Lord's patience for their repentance had worn out.  Israel was to be the agent of God's judgment against them.  But another reason God gave for exterminating them was so that Israel would not listen to the Canaanites and follow their ways.  Israel was to bind themselves to the word of the Lord alone and, by binding themselves to the Lord, to continue to receive his blessings.
     Unfortunately, the Israelites did not listen to God's word.  They spared many of the Canaanites and listened to them.  Israel adopted their practices and blended them in with the worship of the Lord.  So, although the Israelites perverted their worship, they would still insist that they were faithful to the Lord.  But if they had listened to God's word, they would not have adopted practices God condemned.  They did not listen to God's word or follow it; therefore they forfeited God's blessing and fell under his curse.
     Like these Israelites of old, you too are God's chosen people.  You have been chosen by God and redeemed by Jesus.  You have been cleansed of your sin in baptism and have been clothed in garments of salvation.  Through his minister, Jesus' voice absolves you of all your sins and his word directs you in godly living.  The Holy Spirit has set you apart from sin, death, and Satan, and the Holy Spirit has set you apart for lives of purity and compassion and serving your fellow man.
     Like these Israelites of old, you too are in need of the encouragement Moses gave.  Bind yourself to God's word so that you remain under his blessing and favor; for, Satan will not leave you alone.  Now, Satan cannot abduct you from the kingdom of God or wrestle you away from Jesus.  Jesus declares, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29)  Since Satan cannot snatch you from Jesus or steal your faith from you, he tries to lure you away from Jesus.
     Satan speaks to you with a seductive voice.  His lies sound appealing, true, and reasonable.  He tells you that God's word is contradictory because he wants you to view God's word with suspicion.  Satan wants you to take pride in yourself, your opinions, and your preferences because he wants you to be the judge over God.  He wants you to assess God's word by asking, “Does this fit my life?  Do I really want to live like I believe this?”   The world also has many voices which bombard you with its own version of truth.  For example, the world condemns almost no one.  The world is highly offended when we call someone a sinnner.  Therefore, when God forbids sins and condemns the guilty, the world challenges, “What kind of God is so vindictive and hateful?  Why can't he love the way we love?  Our love is so much bigger and better!”  Since you know that God is love, you are inclined to accept the world's definition of love and reshape your view of God, turning him into a god who has no problem with sins, and who is neither holy nor a threat.  Suddenly, you believe in a god who is no god at all.
     Be warned!  The world is not interested in having a debate with God's word.  It has already passed judgment and has decreed itself true.  God's word has been declared hypocritical and hateful.  If you confess it, guess what sentence the world will pass on you!  The world has no love or tolerance for God's word or for people who confess it with their words and actions.  You can't avoid all these voices.  They speak constantly, even convincingly.  So, while the devil cannot snatch you out of the kingdom of God, he can certainly talk you out of it.  He would do with us what he did to Israel: He teaches us to blend worldly attitudes with Christian faith so that we adopt what is evil by still believe that we are honoring the Lord—as if God is content with us being intoxicated or obscene, with our lying or fornicating.  This brought God's curse on Israel; we earn God's curse by this too.  Repent.
     Since you are continually being bombarded by the voices from the devil and this world, you will need to hear the voice of your Savior all the more.  Bind yourself to God's word and blessing.  Listen to your Good Shepherd's voice.  This is the voice that reminds you that all have sinned, but it is also the voice that reminds you that Jesus Christ has come for sinners.  If you refuse to be a sinner, then Jesus has nothing for you.  But for sinners, Jesus has removed your curse.  The curse we have earned for our sins Jesus has taken from us and carried it to the cross.  There, Jesus endured what sinners have earned.  There, Jesus died under God's wrath so that you, in turn, would receive God's forgiveness and blessing.  Then Jesus rose from the dead to show you that his payment for your sins is sufficient.  Jesus' resurrection guarantees your own resurrection to eternal life.  You aren't saved because you are better; you are saved because Jesus has taken your sins from you.  There is no other salvation because there is no other Savior.
     Listen to what Moses tells you: “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)  The voices from the devil and the world never stop.  Therefore, do not limit the voice of our Lord to Sunday mornings, and do not give the impression that the Christian faith is restricted to these four walls.  God's word is always needed to correct, to guide, to encourage and to console—whenever you get up or go to bed, whenever you are on the road or at home.  God's word is needed to direct your steps no matter what you put your hand to or open your eyes to.  You have been set apart by Jesus for godly living at all times; that's because you have been set apart for his blessing and salvation at all times.
     Bind yourself to God's word and blessing.  Teach these things to your children.  If you want your children to be Christians and to see them in heaven with you, then see to it that you are talking about God's word when you are on the road or at home, when you lie down and when you get up.  Show them that God's word is not merely story time, but it is salvation.  It matters, and it is the only thing that saves for all eternity.  No one else will do this work for you.  Your children will hear many voices throughout their lifetime.  But you get to see to it that they hear their Savior's voice so that it takes root them.  You know that they need it, because you need it, too.
     Bind yourself to God's word and blessing.  It is this word alone which will sustain you in the saving faith and which will comfort you in life and in death.  It is the one thing which you truly need for God's blessing.  And it is the only thing which saves.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Something from... Athanasius on the incarnation of God the Son

          Athanasius (296 - May 2, 373, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt) was a staunch defender of the faith.  His faithfulness to the word of God resulted in him being exiled from Alexandria no less than five times.  Each return after exile was treated with a hero's welcome from the faithful in the church he served.

          In the following quote, Athanasius highlights the blessing of the incarnation of God the Son.  By becoming man, God was not dragged down or sullied by the sinful nature of mankind.  Rather, by becoming man, God the Son exalted humanity, and we are blessed by it.

“For if the sun too, while was made by Him, and which we see, as it revolves in the heaven, is not defiled by touching the bodies upon earth, nor is it put out by darkness, but on the contrary itself illuminates and cleanses them also, much less was the all-holy Word of God, Maker and Lord also of the sun, defiled by being made known in the body; on the contrary, being incorruptible, He quickened and cleansed the body also, which was in itself mortal; who 1 Peter 2:2 did, for so it says, no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (Athanasius, Selections from “On the Incarnation of the Word,” paragraph 17, sentence 7)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sermon -- The Holy Trinity (June 11, 2017)

2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul's final encouragement to the Corinthians contains five imperatives: “Rejoice.  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace...” (2 Corinthians 13:11)  These imperatives urge a unity that he wanted the Corinthians congregation to strive for and express with each other.  The Corinthian congregation was diverse.  Some were rich; others were poor.  Some were freemen; others were slaves.  Some retained their Jewish heritage and customs; others flaunted their Christian freedoms.  But diversity was not a cause for celebration; it produces a fractured congregation.  On top of these divisions, they were all struggling with how to live as Christians in a city which expected people to honor many unscriptural ideals.
     The bond that these Christians shared was strained because of the sins they committed against each other.  They held their own opinions in higher regard than they did their fellow Christians.  Of course, such strains are not limited to congregations.  Spouses know these strains, as do parents and children, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone you shares the road with.  Sin has wreaked havoc on the relationships we have.  All it takes is one word and a good relationship can be ripped apart.  Sometimes it is a bold opinion which insults someone.  Sometimes we get angry because we feel we did not receive high enough honor or praise from someone else.  Parents are particularly touchy about this.  If I offer a compliment to one parent, “Your daughter is a very gifted student,” other parents feel that their children have been slighted, as if a compliment for one person must be a criticism of another.  Relationships become strained because of words which are meant to insult and because of words perceived to be insults.  It all happens because we are more in love with ourselves than with anyone else.  Repent.
     As St. Paul encouraged these Christians in Corinth to love each other, he referred to a perfect relationship which has always lived in harmony, love, and devotion to each other.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)  Our Triune God reveals himself as one God in whom there is a relationship of three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They are not in competition with each other for glory.  Rather, they seek to glorify each other and are, in fact, co-equal in majesty.  There is perfect unity in this Trinity.
     Our Triune God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells in them.  He put the man and the woman in this world to bless them.  He sought a relationship with them, perfect in unity.  God would love people and give them all they needed.  The people were to respond with loving obedience to God.  But sin destroyed that relationship.  Mankind does not trust God or love his word.  Much of mankind does not even like each other.  Sin has destroyed unity, love, and the bond of peace.
     What sin has destroyed, God has acted to restore.  There is perfect unity in this Trinity to save mankind and reconcile God and man together.  This is seen first by the love of God the Father.  His love does not mean that he ignores sins or relaxes his standard of good and evil.  If we are guilty of breaking his commandments, he knows it and calls us to account.  This is precisely what you do when your children break the rules of the house.  You do not dismiss their behavior.  You respond to it.
     God has responded to our sins not with wrath, but with mercy.  He sent a Savior.  God so loved the world, that is, God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son for you.  There is perfect unity in this Trinity, as the Son willingly came to do what the Father desired.  The love of God is made known by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace means that you get what you do not deserve.  Therefore, you get credit for work that you did not do.  Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the Father.  His holy life was in perfect harmony with the will of the Father.  There is perfect unity in this Trinity.  But it is you who have received the credit for it.  When you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, this grace was poured out upon you.  You were covered in Jesus' righteousness.  Therefore, God the Father sees you as holy and blameless.  And therefore, you shall receive a place at the heavenly banquet since you are now children of the heavenly Father.  You did not deserve this, but you get it because of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which reveals the love of God the Father.  Each desires your salvation because there is perfect unity in this Trinity.
     The God who created heaven and earth does not stand at a distance and leave it alone.  The Lord cares about what he has created and the people to whom he gives life.  He is very interested in you and in your eternal well-being.  He does not even remain close to you.  He dwells in you.  Through your baptism, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, which means that he delivers to you all that Jesus won for you and the Father desires you to have.  He creates in you a clean heart and renews in you a right spirit.  He marks you as God's own—both now and forevermore.  He continues to comfort, counsel, and correct through the word.  He strengthens and keeps you in the one true faith through the sacraments.  This is what your God wants for you, and this is what the Holy Spirit supplies; for there is perfect unity in this Trinity.
     The Triune God has a perfect, harmonious relationship within himself.  The Father so loves the world that he sent his Son.  The Son so loves you that he sends his Holy Spirit to you.  The Holy Spirit dwells in you to show you a gracious Savior in the Son.  And the Son, in turn, shows you that your Father in heaven is most merciful.
     It is no accident that God reveals himself to you in this perfect relationship.  God created people to be blessed by the relationships he establishes.  He wants you to love your neighbor, and then he gives you various neighbors to love.  This is good for your neighbor and for you.  And just as the Lord reconciled you to him through love, grace, and forgiveness, so the Lord also unites you to each other through love, grace, and forgiveness.  That is why St. Paul urged the Corinthians:  “Finally, brothers, rejoice.  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)  
     Two of those imperatives, “Aim for restoration” and “comfort one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11), are actually passive.  They sound like things St. Paul is commanding us to do.  But since they are passive, they are works that are to be done to us and for us.  It is like when someone tells you, “Be happy.”  In order to be happy, someone needs to do something to make you happy.  So, our Triune God, who reconciled us to himself, also binds and unites us to each other.  It is God who establishes unity among us by working agreement in us with his word and will.  Likewise, “Comfort one another,” is more accurately, “Keep on being comforted.”  It is the love, grace, and fellowship with our Triune God which brings us comfort even in a broken world with broken relationships.  When we comfort each other, the only true and lasting comfort we can provide are the promises of our Triune God.  That is where we find our encouragement and consolation.  It is his grace that moves us to be gracious.  He teaches us to “agree with one another” as we learn to think the same thing as God teaches in his word.  There is perfect unity in this Trinity, and he establishes this unity among us whom he has saved.
     The joy and the peace that St. Paul urges us to continue only come through our Triune God.  In this Trinity, there is perfect unity.  In this Trinity, there is a harmonious relationship as each seeks the glory and good of the other.  What is more amazing is that this Triune God seeks glory and good for you.  He has done all things for your consolation, peace, and salvation.  This Trinity, then, unites us to do the same for each other so that God's name is honored, so that God's people are served, and so that more can be saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Athanasian Creed

        The Athanasian Creed is one of the three catholic creeds.  The word catholic means universal, as in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means “I believe.”  Luther said of this creed, “I doubt whether the New Testament church has a more important document since the Apostolic age.”

Although named for Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria (ca. 296-373), it is almost certain that he did not write it.  Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever refer to it.  But even if Athanasius did not write the creed, he certainly would have ascribed to it.  Athanasius was one of the bishops at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) which opposed the heresy of Arius (ca. 250-336).  Arius denied the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaching that he is of a similar substance to God the Father, but not of the same substance.  In essence, Arius claimed that Jesus Christ is not the eternal God.  This belief has resurfaced in modern-day cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  The Council of Nicaea adopted the Nicene Creed to affirm that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God” and “of one being with the Father.”

The Athanasian Creed first appeared in Gaul (France) late in the 5th century.  Early in that century, Europe was invaded from the east by barbarian tribes, notably the Vandals and Goths.  This event marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.  During this time, the people and the clergy lapsed into illiteracy and ignorance of the Scriptures.  In addition, some of the invaders were Arian in their beliefs.  Out of this confusion came the need for a clear statement of faith.  The result was the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed quickly assumed an important role in the orthodox church.  (Much of the visible church was overrun with Arianism.)  Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), in order to preserve the true Christian faith, decreed that all churchmen had to learn this creed and to be able to teach it to the laity.

The second portion of the Athanasian Creed reaffirms the Nicene Creed regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  However, it begins with a most excellent presentation on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  It says no more and no less than Scriptures say, letting the paradox of God’s nature stand (i.e., God is one; God is three).

Confessors of the creed should not be put off by the second to last article which says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire” (cp also John 5:28,29).  The article does not teach salvation attained by human works, but simply reflects that our good works (or lack thereof) are evidence of God-given faith (or unbelief).  When we remember that our good works are actually God’s work through us, then we will understand this article correctly (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).  In addition, we remember that are judged based on Jesus’ merits, not our own.  We have been given the credit for Christ’s righteousness.  Therefore, we are heirs of eternal life.

This creed ought to bring us great comfort, as it speaks clearly about our God and his plan for our salvation.  Its clearness and boldness are refreshing in this age of doctrinal confusion.  This is no wishy-washy confession.  It states what the Scriptures teach – there is no God but the Lord revealed in the Scriptures, and there is no salvation outside of the name of Jesus Christ.  All who deny this deny the truth; and all who deny the truth forfeit salvation.

Finally, a study of this creed and the history which surrounds it shows how important it is for us to be familiar with the history of the Christian Church.  When we understand how Christians who have gone before us identified error and combated it, then we will better be able to do the same.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lutheran Satire -- St. Patrick's Bad Analogies of the Trinity

This coming Sunday, June 11, is the Feast of the Holy Trinity.  To highlight that we cannot explain the inexplicable, we turn to Lutheran Satire and Patrick's bad analogies.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sermon -- Pentecost (June 4, 2017)

ACTS 2:1-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Jews had gathered again in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  Pentecost was a harvest festival.  It was also one of the feasts for which the Lord had commanded his people to come to his temple.  Just as Jerusalem had swelled with pilgrims at the Passover, so it swelled again with crowds for Pentecost.
     The crowds who came to Jerusalem were Jews from all corners of the Roman Empire.  Throughout the course of time, many Jews had settled in new lands.  They adopted their country's language and settled into their society, but they remained faithful to the word of the Lord.  For this reason, the nations were represented at Jerusalem for Pentecost.
     The disciples of Jesus were also in Jerusalem.  They were waiting for the gift that Jesus had promised to send them—the Holy Spirit.  Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)  
     The sound of the rushing wind had gotten the crowd's attention, but the words of the disciples is what made the people marvel.  The Holy Spirit had given the disciples words to speak.  The crowd testified to that too.  They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?  ...We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:7-8,11)  
     St. Peter explained that this is exactly what the Lord had foretold through the prophet Joel: “Even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:18)  The role of a prophet is not fortune-telling.  Nor does it mean that whatever we think and say about God is automatically true.  The prophet does not have any right to spout off and expect that God will honor what he says.  We do not get to decide our own truths to preach or to believe.  A prophet is one who speaks for God, and the prophet speaks only what God gives him to say.  The Holy Spirit gives us words to speak.
     In these Last Days until our Lord returns, we all get to prophesy God's word.  In other words, we all confess what God has given us in his word.  The Holy Spirit has inspired the prophets and the apostles to record the words that God wants us to know, believe, and live by.  God's truth is revealed in God's word.  He does not ask us how we feel about his word.  God knows that sinners do not like his word.  We do not like the guilt we feel when we are exposed as sinners.  Our sinful nature is not interested in hearing or honoring God's “Thou shalt not.”  In order to preserve our feelings, we feel we can ignore the portions of God's word which we do not like or alter them so that they do not condemn us.  Even life-long Christians get upset with God's word when he tells us that our good works have earned us nothing special from him.  We do not feel that God's grace is fair.  While unbelievers do not think they should have to repent for anything because they are not so bad, we do not feel like our repentance is that important because we are so good.  The Holy Spirit reveals our sinfulness.  He moves us to repent of trusting our feelings and to subject our feelings to God's word.
     The Holy Spirit gives us words to speak.  He teaches us to confess.  To confess means to say the same thing.  The Holy Spirit gives us words to speak about our sins.  We confess what God says about them.  We do not try to explain why our sins aren't really sins.  We recognize them as God shows them to us, and we acknowledge our guilt.  But the Holy Spirit continues to give us words to speak.  He teaches us to confess what God says.  He reveals the Savior who has come for us and for all.
     That is the Savior whom Peter and the apostles proclaimed on the day of Pentecost.  The crowds heard it, too.  “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11)  The mighty works of God are what he has done to save mankind from their sin.  The mighty works of God are revealed in the weakness of Jesus Christ.  Jesus emptied himself of his divine majesty.  He bore the guilt of sins he did not commit.  He gave himself over to the accusations of the devil, to the mocking words and brutality of men, and to the damning wrath of God.  He willingly went to Mt. Calvary where he was crucified in shame and humility.  And he finally gave up his life.  It could be viewed as the most pathetic and unjust moment in history.  Instead, the Holy Spirit gives us words to speak about it.  We confess—we say the same thing—as our Lord reveals to us: These are the mighty works of God.  These are the acts of God which were done to pay for all of our sins.  These are the mercies of God, that he does not punish us this way as we deserve.  These mighty works are the grace of God, that by Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection, righteousness is given to sinners, life is bestowed on the dying, pardon is issued to the guilty, and heaven is opened to us.
     The Holy Spirit gives us words to speak.  He gave the disciples of Jesus the words to proclaim the mighty works of God to the crowds who assembled in Jerusalem on Pentecost.  “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11)  The grace and mercy of God was no longer to be limited to the temple in Jerusalem where worship was done in Hebrew.  The Savior of the Nations had come for all the nations, and they were to hear God's salvation proclaimed in their own native language and dialects.  It is the same today.  We do not convert people into Americans.  Rather, the Holy Spirit has sanctified all languages and proclaims salvation to every nation, culture, and race.  The Holy Spirit gives us words to speak so that God's salvation can be known to all the world.
     The Holy Spirit converts the hearts of men so that we learn to despise and reject in our culture all that is opposed to God's word.  He sanctifies us and makes the Church its own culture with its own language and confession.  The Holy Spirit separates us from this sinful world and sets us apart for godly living.  Of course, the world takes notice of this and mocks us for it.  Even as the disciples were proclaiming the mighty works of God to the nations in Jerusalem, they did not escape the mockery of men.  Some regarded the word of the Lord as drunken gibberish.  And no doubt, you will have people tell you that the works the Holy Spirit gives you to speak are nonsense, or fairy tales, or hateful, or evil.  Who knows?  The day may come when we will have to face blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke (Acts 2:19) as the hatred for Jesus and his Church grows.
     Throughout all of this, the Holy Spirit will continue to work and will continue to draw people from all nations to himself through the preaching and confessing of God's word.  He will continue to give you words to confess, to cherish, and to cling to.  Those will not be overthrown no matter what—not by mockery, persecution, war, or death.  The Holy Spirit gives us words which will stand for every person of every nation of every age: It shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)  The Holy Spirit called you into God's kingdom by his word.  He teaches us to confess what God has proclaimed.  He works in us so that we believe those words and live according to them.  The Holy Spirit gives us the words that save.  The Holy Spirit gives us his word, and by that word—whether preached or added to elements—will strengthen and keep you in the one true faith now and forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.