Contempt for the Gospel

Posted on February 24th, 2015

Doctor Luther on the misuse of the Gospel:

It should be said and taught that the old leaven must be completely swept aside and that those who give into the whims of the flesh and deliberately and against their own conscience obstinately remain in their sins are not Christians nor do they have the faith. What is to be condemned all the more is when people do this in the name of and under the cover of the Gospel and of Christian freedom. For this shows contempt for and blasphemes against the name of Christ and the Gospel.

Luther Brevier, p70

Sermo Dei: Sexagesima 2015

Posted on February 9th, 2015

“I can’t go on like this. I’m at my breaking point. I can’t take it anymore!” Have you said words like these? Have you spent a day or a decade feeling like your situation is untenable? Work, family, sickness, even church can try your patience, tempting you to lash out in ways strident, selfish, sinful. “I can’t can’t go on like this!” is the cry of someone who has lost patience.

Today Jesus tells us (Luke 8:4-15) not just, “Be patient,” but to hear the Word of God with patience. Yet before He gets to that, He describes what prevents the Word from doing its work in us. Jesus is asking us to look carefully at ourselves, and consider if we have been living and acting as one of the three kinds of soils that fail. How easily we set aside the message God has for us, so that it ends up trampled, devoured, withered, or choked.

vg-sower

Yet God is liberal, for see how liberally, recklessly He sows. He does not discriminate at all. To everyone comes the seed, to everyone is preached the Word. What is that Word? Repent and be baptized! Repent and be saved! Repent and receive forgiveness! Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance! Turn from your foolish ways, your bickering, your obsessions and addictions, your sins and pride, and behold the Lamb of God, who died for your sins and delivers you from death and hell! This is the seed, this is the Word, this is the message God has for you.

Do you have a heart of stone, so that you hear the Word, but never seriously consider it? Do you come to preaching but leave no different than when you came? Do you make no room for God to break into your daily life, yet have plenty of room for work, TV, reading, and sports? How can you consume so much of the things of this life, yet consume so little of the Word of God? Repent, lest the Word get trampled down on your hard heart, and the devil lift it off and it is gone.

When things go well, we believe with joy, but when we have a bad interaction with a fellow Christian, or a misunderstanding with the pastor, or are disappointed that the church doesn’t do enough or say enough about this or that, we are tempted to leave and turn back. In today’s parable, some hear and believe, but having no root, they wither in the face of temptations. Jesus says, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” The judgment of God should cause each of us to tremble.

And what is the last and greatest danger? “The [seeds] that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” Has your heart gradually become preoccupied with the love of money? Have you developed a liking for the pleasures of this world? Have your worries and anxieties supplanted faith and hope? Our Lord describes riches as thorns, for touching them can quickly wound us, pricking us with some sin. Did not the same Lord say, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”? The blessings of this life do not have to be a cause of sin, but how easily and often they are! David says in the Psalms, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”


Through all of these dangers, Christ is setting us up for His word of comfort. That word is patience. It sounds like law. “Keep, cling on to the Word with patience.” Yet it is not law; it is not a command. Nothing is more irksome than, when in the midst of your impatience, you are told to be patient! It doesn’t help.

But Christian patience is no mere self-mastery, a technique of self-control. Christian patience is hope, a confident expectation of victory. “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?” says the Psalmist: “My hope is in You.” Our Lord can tell us to hang on to the Word with patience because the Word tells us everything is done already, everything has been finished already by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome death; He has conquered the grave; He has atoned for sin; He has opened the way to everlasting life; if these things are true—and they are—how could you possibly despair? And if there is no reason for despair, no reason for sorrow, than there is no reason to lose hope, and no reason to lose patience. For everything has already been done for you.

This is why the book of Daniel concludes, “Blessed is the one who endures” – a theme taken up by St. James: “Be patient … brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruits of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.… Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

So when next you are tempted to say, “I cannot take it anymore,” know that our Lord has already taken everything for you. When next you are tempted to sin, know that our Lord was tempted in every way you are, and did not fall. When next you are provoked to anger, remember how our Lord prayed for His enemies’s forgiveness, and gives you grace likewise to forgive. When next doubt enters into your mind, hold fast to the Word of Truth. When next you are lured by riches, remember how our Lord became poor for your sake, and learn simply to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When next you are bewildered by the losses and trials of this life, remember our Lord who gave us the words to say: “Thy will be done.” When next your conscience accuses you of past sins, hold fast to the Word of absolution which you have heard from the Pastor. And when at the last you are frightened by death and the darkness of the grave, rejoice that Christ has won the victory, and all of His good works are imputed to you.

Hold fast to that Word, for He will never let you go, He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Sermo Dei: The Conversion of St. Paul 2015

Posted on January 28th, 2015

A storm was coming. Those in its rumored path were terrified. They had heard how this storm struck in Jerusalem, killing their friend Stephen.

This storm was named Saul. But standing in his path was the One who stills storms.

Light flashes around him. As at the Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed as true God in human flesh.

This world-changing event demonstrates how God works. Saul’s conversion is not the result of his theological study, emotional yearning, or ethical efforts.

Jesus does the action. He does the turning, the converting, the off-the-horse-knocking. Saul is struck blind, his eyes now matching his mind. He was incapable of seeing Truth, the one shining Truth upon which all other meaning depends. Jesus makes him blind, and Jesus makes him see again. The action of conversion, the restoration of sight, the baptism, all of it is Christ’s work.

The action of conversion is Christ’s work.

Jesus does the action. But the action has a reaction. Saul who persecuted the disciples becomes himself a disciple. The teacher becomes a student, a learner. He who persecuted the Way becomes one who walks on this Way. Before the disciples were called Christians, they were called the Way, followers of the Way. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and following Him means being on the road with Him, going His Way, guided by His truth, enlivened by His Life.

Life as Saul previously pursued it was not merely adapted or adjusted. Following Jesus meant an overturning of everything he had been and done. It’s true: this is a new life.


What else changed? See how Ananias addresses Saul. He calls him, “Brother.” Think of it. This storm named Saul was on his way to Damascus to destroy the disciples of Jesus. But the Word of the Lord causes Ananias to greet Saul as “Brother.”

What message is there for you in that greeting spoken to Saul, “Brother”? The blood of Stephen has hardly dried from Saul’s hands. See what the forgiveness of Jesus does! It sets murderers free, and enemies greet each other as family. Even before Saul is baptized, Ananias, though afraid, greets him with love. Would not the life of our congregation, the life of our synod, the life of our world be transformed were we to give and receive from our heart that one word, “Brother”?

The assaults of pseudo-science would have us set aside the truth that God is our maker and Adam our first human father. Losing these truths, we have no Father, we have no law, we have no brotherhood. What then is left but power and prejudice?

Photo: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway at the 2015 March for Life in Washington, DC. http://thefederalist.com/2015/01/23/the-2015-march-for-life-in-photos/

This past week hundreds of thousands of people visited our city for the annual March for Life. We don’t need the Bible to tell us that killing a child is evil. It’s simple science that from the moment of conception, the mother is carrying a human being in her womb. But part of the great evil of abortion is its connection to the eugenics movement. The same ideology that drove Germans to murder millions of Jews drove the movement in America to eliminate the “undesirables,” particularly blacks. Abortions in the black and hispanic communities are more than double their share of the population. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, established the “Negro Project.” In a letter she stressed the need for deception. “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” She referred to African-Americans as “human waste.”

Such ideas are not new. Since Cain killed Abel, the human family has divided into tribes and gone to war with itself. The Gospel of Jesus Christ overthrows every notion of race, tribe, clan, for it calls us back to the truth that we are all made by God, part of one human family as children of Adam, and called together as one family into the mystical body of Jesus. That’s why Ananias could greet Paul as “brother,” this man who had set out on his journey to put him in prison.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ overthrows every notion of race, tribe, clan.

I couldn’t track down a connection, but I suspect there’s a reason the Conversion of St. Paul falls exactly a week after the Confession of St. Peter, which we celebrated last Sunday. Peter took the good news of Jesus to the Jews, while Paul took that same gospel to the Gentiles. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the world-rescuer, and that He loves and receives sinners, is a message for a murderer like Paul, and for selfish, broken, ridiculous fools like you and me.


 

After Saul’s conversion he spends three years in Arabia. We’re not told what he’s doing during this period, and perhaps that’s the point. Saul needs separation from his old life. He’s not doing anything, but Jesus is continuing to do, to act. I suspect Saul is studying the Scriptures and praying. He sees everything now in a new light. Moses, Psalms, and Prophets are revealed as, in every letter, dot, and dash, pointing to Jesus, His cross, His righteousness, His resurrection. Saul sees everything—everything—now changed in life because Jesus is life and gives life. The things Saul was pursuing, even while he thought he was serving God, were things leading to death.

What about you? What in your life, what in your heart, what in your mind needs to be converted, changed, transformed? We keep coming to confession, preaching, and communion because our conversion, our transformation is not yet complete. Following the Way, we are not yet at our destination. Jesus is leading us toward death. Daily we drown the lusts of the flesh; daily we crucify the lusts of the eyes; daily we subdue the pride of life. When Jesus called Saul, He called him to come and die. “I will show him how many things he must suffer for the sake of My name.” Jesus calls you and me to come and die. For dying, we live. The Jesus who calls us to come and die with Him gives us life in Him: joy now and joy beyond measure in the resurrection.

Much of this dying happens within our family. There, in honoring parents, loving your wife, submitting to your husband, caring for your children, you learn to die. But we also receive a new family, new brothers and sisters in Jesus that we receive in the new birth of Baptism.

We cannot have God as Father and Jesus as brother and not acknowledge all those joined to us by the Spirit as also our brothers and sisters.

“Brother” is no mere pious phrase. All the baptized, even those whose company you don’t prefer or whose behaviors and characteristics annoy you, each one is your brother, born not of the blood of your biological mother but born of the blood of Jesus and through the waters of the Spirit’s baptism. We cannot have God as Father and Jesus as brother and not acknowledge all those joined to us by the Spirit as also our brothers and sisters. Our union with Jesus makes us inextricably connected to each other.

It is often said that Paul changed the world, preaching Jesus to the Gentiles and ultimately spreading Christianity to the far corners of the world. But Paul didn’t change the world. Jesus changed Paul. He forgave him. That changed everything. It changes everything for us too – now in this life, and in the life of the world to come. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: The Confession of St. Peter

Posted on January 20th, 2015

Dear friends in Christ Jesus, today is a glad day: Benjamin Alexander, son of Aaron, today becomes son of God through the waters of rebirth and renewal.

It is also a sad time. [REDACTED] have lost the child they were expecting. I grieve for them. Many of you have borne similar sorrows. The Word of God to our first mother is true: Conception is now filled with sorrow, and bringing forth children filled with pain.

Yet to our first parents God gave a hope: the promise of a Child who would heal these wounds and repair this world’s brokenness. His nativity we celebrated at Christmas, and in today’s Gospel (St. Mark 8:27—9:1) St. Peter confesses that this Jesus is the Christ, the world-rescuer.

 


 

But the expectation was that the Christ, the Messiah, this Anointed king in the line of David would subdue the world with force. We understand. We want to back a winner. We want our will to prevail. Politics, home life, church: what isn’t tainted with the will to power?

Many longed for—and still long for—a Messianic figure to bring order and peace to the cosmos as other rulers in this world attempt to do.

Jesus upends their expectations just as He overturned tables in the Temple. When Jesus begins talking suffering, sacrifice, and death not for His enemies but for Himself, Peter’s beautiful confession, “You are the Christ,” turns to confusion.

Peter assumes the role of teacher over Christ. After Peter confesses, “You are the Christ,” Jesus “strictly warned them” to keep it to themselves, knowing how people misunderstood the work of the Messiah. That very same term is used then of Peter, here translated rebuke. Jesus speaks of His death, and “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

The way of the cross was hidden from Peter, as he goes from confession to confusion. Is it much different for us? For you who became Christians as adults, or who had an experience of a renewal of the faith, you know the initial joy that the Gospel brings. But along with it, there is an expectation of success. Everything will be good now. After all, does not God promise great blessings to His children?

Indeed; but like vegetables to children, blessings can seem repugnant when swallowed. We want what tastes good, but it is our sense of taste that needs to be transformed. Meaning: our affections, our passions, our desires are disordered. This is the awful power of the sinful nature. It is present in us from our beginning, which is why we bring Benjamin to baptism, just as he is taken to the physician before he knows to ask for it. He needs the medicine, he needs the work God promises in baptism. St. Peter, after he was transformed and restored by the power of Jesus’ resurrection, preached at Pentecost that the promise of baptism is for us and for our children. God’s power is not dependent upon our wills; indeed, it is to transform and free our broken wills that He comes to us with His gifts and promises.

But the long journey following baptism is the journey of, to, and with the cross. For fighting against this new birth is the Old Adam who clings to us still, the sinful nature who is mindful not “of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Rising from the waters of baptism, Jesus was immediately tempted, harassed by Satan with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” So it is with you. “Whoever desires to come after Me,” Jesus says, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

What do you most desire? Even the good desires planted in our nature, desires for food, drink, union with the opposite sex, and children – how easily these desires ruin us as we abuse God’s good gifts and measure everything by power and pleasure.

What do you most desire? The path of discipleship is learning to desire nothing but God and His kingdom, and what benefits the neighbor. Outside of this, what will it profit you if you gain the whole world while your soul remains corrupt, filled with bitterness and pride, anger and folly?

 


 

Peter’s confession was true, even if he did not yet fully understand it. Jesus is the Christ. He has come to destroy the works of the devil. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus pays those wages in full by His death on the cross. In Him is our faith, our trust.

But note the renewed and restored Peter’s preaching on faith in his letter read this morning. Our goal is to become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” You feel those desires yet in you. They are powerful, and this Christian life is spent fighting them. Faith is the beginning, but love is the end.

Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV)

To accomplish this, the Lord sends us times of sadness. They are difficult. But He ends them in His good time, in better ways than we could imagine or devise.

Thus we come to this holy altar for the medicine we need, medicine to give us joy amidst tears, and to check our pride when we prosper in this world. Approaching the altar, we learn from today’s Gospel about the confession of Peter how we should confess: “Dear Lord, I have had in mind the things of men, and not the things of God. I have resented the crosses You send me, and taken credit for Your gifts. I return to You chastened. Your Son is my Christ, my Messiah, my Jesus. I need You more than ever. Abandon me not to my folly, but renew me with the Holy Spirit you poured out this day on little Benjamin. I am Yours; save me.” +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Baptism of Our Lord 2015

Posted on January 16th, 2015

Baptism of the Lord Jesus

Approaching the waters, Jesus announces, “I am a sinner.” John knows better. “No You are not. While in the waters of my mother’s womb I leaped for joy, for the Righteous One has come at last.”

Still Jesus approaches Jordan’s banks. “I am a sinner.” John replies, “Is this some kind of trick? I need to be baptized by You.”

But Jesus insists. Descending into the waters, the sinless One becomes sinner, Life is steeped in death. The logic of the Logos, the orderliness of the Word descends into disorder, chaos.

Into Himself Jesus absorbs all that is broken. He drinks in your pain, He soaks in your sorrow. It is as though every tear streaming from bitter eyes, every drop of blood spilled through injustice and disregard, every plague and contagion, all of humanity’s rage and spite, all of our pus and excrement, everything that soils and infests flows with raging torrent into that river.

The Baptism and the Cross are one. And then comes the preaching: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” The sermon is for you. But what is more, the sermon is about you.

For you too have been baptized. Dr. Luther put it this way: “You should enter into Christ’s baptism with your own baptism, so that Christ’s baptism is your baptism and your baptism is Christ’s baptism and thus there is one baptism” (Luther Brevier, p23).

 


 

Around you, the storms of life still rage. The tears and blood, the dread and melancholy, the real sins and real hurts continue. We were told this would happen, but believed the lie: we expected rewards, blessings without crosses, and seem surprised when the words are proved true again, that only through many hardships do we enter the kingdom of God, and the paradoxical sign of His love is discipline. All this continues, indeed increases until the world finally crashes to its end.

But through it all, the voice of the Father at the Baptism of Jesus rings out as His Word for our baptism: “You are My beloved child. In you I am well pleased.”

Diagnose yourself, and you see nothing but sin and death, a barren wasteland where nothing good grows. Gaze into that mirror and say, “It is true.”

But hasten on to the Jesus who joins you in the wasteland, joins you in the foul and murky waters and says, “I am with you.” Stand with Him there in the waters; say back to Him, “I am with You!” And hear the voice of the Father speak to you both, together as one: “You are My beloved Son. In You I am well pleased.”

You are the Father’s delight. He loves you. After this comes temptation, fasting, affliction, sorrow, whipping, thorns, cross, burial. But through it all, you remain the Father’s delight. He loves you still. Resurrection is coming, when dead things live and barren places bloom. +INJ+

Epiphany 1 Chapel Sermon

Posted on January 15th, 2015

Has anybody ever asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you had asked me that question when I was a little boy, I would have said that I wanted to operate big construction equipment. I had a book called “Digger Dan the Steam-shovel Man,” and I would make my mom read it to me over and over again. Later I wanted to be a policeman, or an astronaut. Then I decided I was going to be the catcher for the Minnesota Twins. That didn’t work out.

Now stop and think for a moment about the implications of that question, “What do you want to be?” The question assumes that our being, who we are, is defined by what job you have.

 


 

What if we thought about the question very differently? It would be a much better thing to say, “What do I want to be? I want to be a Christian. I want to be a disciple of Jesus.”

Aren’t you that already? When you were baptized, God gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit, He named you His child and said, “I will be your Father.”

So, we already are Christians, we already are disciples of Jesus.

 


 

And yet, we’re not all the way there. Part of our heart, part of our mind, part of our will, does not want to be a Christian. That’s what we call the sinful nature: the heart, the affections, the passions, our desires all keep on trying to make us say “No!” to God and His Word.

 


 

In today’s Bible reading (Luke 2:41-52), Jesus is a boy very close to your own age. He is about twelve years old. Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus to the big city of Jerusalem, to visit the temple and celebrate the Passover.

Jesus had always been a good boy, and Joseph and Mary aren’t worried about Him remembering to come along when their big group of travelers  leaves Jerusalem for the long trip back to Nazareth.

But Jesus stays behind. He wan’t trying to be bad or not obey Joseph and Mary. But already at twelve He knows who He is. He doesn’t say, “One day I want to grow up and die on a cross.” But He does say, “I will be exactly what God the Father wants Me to be, and I will do exactly what God the Father wants Me to do.”

So when Mary and Joseph finally find JESUS on the third day in the temple, they demand an explanation. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

That’s who Jesus is: the one man who doesn’t think about what He wants to be. The only thing He wants is to be what God the Father wants Him to be. Jesus is what Jesus does: Jesus is our Savior, Jesus does the saving. Jesus is Lord, and He lords us, He cares for us, He protects us, He gives us life.

 


 

Everything we are is wrapped up in Jesus. So if somebody asks you, “Who are you?” you can say, “I am a Christian, I am a child of God, I’m with Jesus.” And that’s also your answer if someone says, “What do you want to be?” You can say, “I want to be a Christian.” Everything else is just details. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Epiphany 1, 2015

Posted on January 15th, 2015

A friend of mine was unemployed, and he said the hardest thing about meeting people during that period was the second question everyone asks, after your name: “What do you do?” Our work—or business—ends up defining us to others—and to ourselves.

A former professor of mine, now retired, shared with me a similar kind of concern. For years he had described himself as “professor,” and now he was “retired.” Who, what was he?


When Mary and Joseph find JESUS on the third day in the temple, they demand an explanation. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Gospel for Epiphany I, Luke 2:41-53)

Already at 12, JESUS has a plan. It’s not a career plan. For that, He will follow in His earthly father’s footsteps and become a carpenter like Joseph.

But the identity of Jesus is not wrapped up in a trade or profession. Neither does He define Himself by ethnicity or home city, rooting interests or political affiliations. His identity is defined by being Son and servant of God.

Thus should it also be for us. While JESUS is Son of God by nature, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, we too are adopted as children of God. The Lord’s Prayer invites us to call upon God as “Our Father,” our true Father, and He promises to hear us.

What does this mean for you? You are not an engineer or lawyer, surgeon or soldier, teacher or technician. You are not even mother or father, husband or wife, sister or brother first of all. You are a child of God, redeemed by Him, loved by Him, embraced and accepted by Him.

That’s what JESUS has done for you. That was and is His “business”: your rescue, your redemption, your atonement, your embrace.

That is your identity.


 

But we too have business to do, and it is very much a this-worldly business. The life of faith is not an abstraction, a far-flung spiritual thing away from other people. God gives us mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, pastors and vicars and hearers, crazy people, sad people, broken people, happy people, sick and healthy, smart and struggling, beautiful and misshapen. Each person and moment has purpose and meaning, value and worth, and we find our purpose and meaning in doing what God gives us to do right here and now, today.

We can waste our lives searching or longing for something better on earth, as though wealth and comfort were our true god.

With the Christian faith, there is no longing for any future other than JESUS Christ’s future.

With the Christian faith, there is no longing for any future other than JESUS Christ’s future, His return.

This does not mean being sad, simply accepting how things are. Knowing that your future is JESUS Christ’s future, that His kingdom is certainly your kingdom, that frees you for joy in this moment and every moment. Each good thing in creation to taste or smell; each note that is sung; and also each task, however arduous, the child of God experiences joy in knowing: this is where God wants me to be, this is the work I am to do. Nothing is unimportant, nothing is insignificant if it is done in this faith, a this-worldly faith that sees everything resting under the redemption of Jesus, every undertaking informed and shaped by His Word.

So in each situation we strive to join our will to His. He is our childhood’s pattern, and each of us must each day be converted and become children anew, people who receive today what God gives, people who seek nothing more than the work He gives us to do, and enjoy with all our senses the gifts He freely gives, with thankful and glad hearts.

This is what St. Paul calls our spiritual worship: (Rom. 12.1:) “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Our bodies God calls us to make living sacrifices. This is not a death on an altar, for all of that was completed in the death of Jesus. The world is now your altar, your neighbors an altar whereby you sacrifice by counting their needs more important than your desires. You bear with patience whatever God gives you.

Now your mind is being transformed, away from the pursuit of wealth and status, of meaningless sex and power devoid of compassion. You are a child of God, your future is JESUS Christ’s future. Your sins are forgiven and your body will rise from the dust to praise God. That is the Father’s business, and He will certainly finish it. +INJ+

 January 11, 2015—The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Paying lip-service to the gospel

Posted on January 14th, 2015

In the following passage, Luther expounds on the words of 1 John 3:18, “My little children let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

The apostle is denouncing those false brothers and hypocritical Christians who only pay lip-service to the Gospel. They retain just the froth together with their presumption that faith and the Gospel are a mere matter of words … yet they believe that no-one else is as zealous as they are. You can see that their doctrines are mere husks and empty shells from the way these people conduct their lives. They have no intention of living in accordance with the Gospel nor do they intend to demonstrate Christian love to show that they really do take the Gospel seriously. That is why they become slothful and refuse to do any works, protesting that their field of action is belief itself so that they grow to be worse even than what they had been before. They live a kind of life that even the world itself finds reprehensible – never mind what will happen when they have to face the living God.

Luther Brevier, p30

Making one what was broken

Posted on January 7th, 2015

I love how Augustine finds the four corners of the world in ADAM, along with the hope that the first-formed is gathered in on the day of judgment:

“For with righteousness shall He judge the world:” not a part of it, for He bought not a part: He will judge the whole, for it was the whole of which He paid the price. Ye have heard the Gospel, where it saith, that when He cometh, “He shall gather together His elect from the four winds.” He gathereth all His elect from the four winds: therefore from the whole world. For Adam himself (this I had said before) signifieth in Greek the whole world; for there are four letters, A, D, A, and M. But as the Greeks speak, the four quarters of the world have these initial letters, ’Ανατολὴ, they call the East; Δύσις, the West; ̓Ἄρκτος, the North; Μεσημβρία, the South: thou hast the word Adam. Adam therefore hath been scattered over the whole world. He was in one place, and fell, and as in a manner broken small, he filled the whole world: but the mercy of God gathered together the fragments from every side, and forged them by the fire of love, and made one what was broken. That Artist knew how to do this; let no one despair: it is indeed a great thing, but reflect who that Artist was. He who made, restored: He who formed, re-formed. What are righteousness and truth? He will gather together His elect with Him to the judgment, but the rest He will separate one from another; for He will place some on the right, others on the left hand. But what is more just, what more true, than that they shall not expect mercy from their Judge, who have refused to act mercifully, before their Judge come? But those who chose to act with mercy, with mercy shall be judged.…

NPNF 1:8 (Expositions on the Psalms)

Sermo Dei: Christmas I (observed)

Posted on January 4th, 2015

With every Bible passage, we have to ask two questions: First, what does it mean? And Second, how does it apply to me? For the first question, What does it mean?, we use grammar, history, and context. But the second question, How does this apply to me?, recognizes that these words are also the Word of God to us and for us. The Apostles tell us that they write these things not only as histories, but to admonish us (1 Cor. 10.11), to instruct us (2 Tim. 3.16). The Law of the Lord changes our soul, gives us wisdom, joy, and enlightenment (Ps. 19.7f), and the testimony of Jesus gives us life (Jn. 20.30f). St. John says that the things they wrote are the things of Jesus they saw and heard, and that hearing them gives us life, eternal life. “These things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1.4).

So in every passage of God’s Word, we are looking for instruction in how to live now, and the life that Jesus gives us now and in the world to come.


So let’s apply that to today’s gospel reading (Luke 2:23-30). We have Joseph and Mary coming to the temple, forty days after Jesus was born. There, a mother and her newborn baby would receive a blessing. But a strange blessing they get. A man named Simeon had received a prophecy that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, the Savior promised first to Eve, then to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and down all the way through the family of David, the great king who was from a little town called Bethlehem.

But Simeon was getting old. Day after day, year after year passed without anything happening. Now, in the fullness of time, Joseph and Mary appear. The Holy Spirit indicates to Simeon that this is the Child. So Simeon takes up the infant Jesus, just a little over a month old, and says, “Now I can die in peace.”

That’s the song we sing every Sunday after Communion. The Church’s liturgy is from Scripture, but it isn’t just random bits strung together. One thing leads inexorably to the next: We confess our sins, hear the words of Baptism all over again in our forgiveness “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then we sing of God’s mercy, the angels announce the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and tell us that this means peace to the world. Then after hearing special instruction from God’s Word, we are brought into the presence of God where angels sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” then it’s Palm Sunday, as we sing with the crowd, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” then we hear Jesus tells us that He gives us His body and blood, and John the Baptist points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Eating the Lamb as our Passover, and drinking the wine that makes glad the heart of man, then we say with Simeon, “Now I can die in peace.”

You’re not sure what to do about the problems in your family, your work is not everything you wanted, you feel the arthritis setting in, your parents are struggling – but here, in Jesus, is the answer to everything. Now, because of Jesus, I can die in peace.


Those words of Simeon, “Now I can die in peace,” are what Joseph and Mary are marveling at in the first verse of today’s Gospel. Everything seems great. They’ve had visits from Angels and shepherds, and somewhere in that first year Magi, Wise Men worshiping Jesus. Everything seems amazing.

And then the bomb drops. “Behold.” “Behold” in the Bible is like the bell at worship. The bell means, “Quiet down and pay attention, important stuff is happening now.” “Behold” is a giant arrow in the margin of a book, then an underline and a highlight. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also).”

Joy to the world? Peace on earth? Sign me up!

Babies that don’t cry, gold, and everlasting life? Perfect!

People stumbling and falling? Speaking against, slandering my Baby? Did you say a sword will stab me in the heart? Now wait just a minute!

Well, that’s what I would say. Mary and Joseph say nothing. They don’t always understand, but they always listen, ruminate on God’s Word, and keep it in their hearts.


We know the rest of the story, all the way to the cross and tomb. What about Jesus makes people stumble and fall, or rise? And what does that have to do with me? It’s in the context of a sword piercing Mary’s soul, or heart. I can’t imagine anything breaking a mother’s heart more than seeing her baby boy beaten, laughed at, crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree, and then run through with a spear. Merry Christmas! From angels and shepherds to soldiers and bandits, Simeon sees what’s coming: Not just the fulfillment of the prophecy given to him, but the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah about the Christ,

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:4–5 NKJV)

Simeon can die in peace, you can die in peace, because this Child takes the chastisement for our peace upon Himself.

So what does this mean for us, that Jesus will be, as Simeon says, for the falling and rising of people?

Our fallen human nature wants to exalt ourselves. Jesus preaches the full extent of sin, not only fornication but the lust of the heart, not only murder but idle words, not only theft of money but the love of it: all damns. And at the same time Jesus says, “Come to Me, for all these sins I have taken on Myself and laid them with Me in the grave. Now come with Me and die, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5.24). Abandon the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, for all that is empty. In Me is resurrection and life unto the ages.” Against all this, human reason and passion says, “No!” To those who have so exalted themselves, this Child Jesus becomes a stumbling block, and they are cast down from their self-climbed heights.

But to those who confess their sins and say, “I am fallen, made low by my nature and have dug still lower by my own sins; in this hellish world I have made even more hell for myself and others. Dear Jesus, help me, save me, have mercy!”—to these, this Child is for their rising; they stand again by the free gift of Jesus, now in faith and then, though the grave seem to devour them, they stand again at the resurrection.


So whatever hell this world throws at you, whatever rage the devil threatens you with on account of your sins, whatever sword pierces your soul, you have a companion. You have a companion in Mary, who endured the pain while looking to her Son; you have a companion in Simeon, who seeing Jesus said he could die in peace; you have a companion in Anna, who all the way to her very old age gave thanks to God and told everyone of redemption, rescue in Jesus. You have a companion in Joseph, who fulfilled all his duties as a husband and father faithfully. And most especially, you have a companion, friend, and brother in our Lord Jesus, who knows every one of your sufferings and sins, and has already taken them on Himself.

So be glad, dear Christians, this Eleventh Day of Christmas. For Joy to the World still rings out to all the earth, and receiving this Child at His own table, we can with Simeon die in peace. +INJ+