Sermo Dei: Trinity 20, 2016

Posted on October 17th, 2016

The sexual revolution was underway. So was the British Invasion, when bands from the UK changed America forever. The Beatles were on their second U.S. tour, visiting the old Met Stadium in Minnesota, where the Dodgers would play the Twins in the World Series that same year. The Vietnam War was escalating. My parents were married that year, 1965. And at this extraordinary time of change, those great poet-philosophers Richards and Jagger articulated the cry of all humanity since the fall of Adam: “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

It wasn’t just about, to use the Rolling Stones’ lexicon, “girl reaction.” The iconic song indicates dissatisfaction with the lies peddled from the radio and television, the false promises of the advertisers. But even more, success itself doesn’t satisfy. The Stones are “ridin’ round the world,” “doin’ this and signing that,” presumably signing autographs and contracts. No matter how successful one becomes, no matter how many lusts seem to be fulfilled, satisfaction remains elusive.

Despite the remarkable changes, in the ’60’s and today, nothing has really changed. Or to use the Scriptural language, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The prophet Isaiah spoke to his day, and says the same to us: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55.2)

Satisfaction at its simplest means having enough food. After you’ve eaten, you are full – but fullness starts to mean more. A man in full, a full life, fulfillment – all circle around the idea of reaching your goals, having your desires, finding meaning in your relationships, then having a legacy, something to pass on to your children.

So, are you satisfied? Are you satisfied with:

  • Your work?
  • Your health?
  • Your house?
  • Your family?
  • Your self?

Why not? Today the Lord says to you, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” You can advance in your career, but it will not be enough. You can exercise more, and eat better, but you will still be consumed by the grave. The next place to live in will not be good enough. Your family will always be in trouble, because that is the nature of a sinful world. You are not going to find satisfaction in any of your pursuits, by themselves. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The things that tempt you are empty promises. When you indulge your lusts, meditate on your fantasies, give in to your anger, take the next drink you know is too much, take the next bite you know will lead to regret and self-hatred, you are contributing to your own downfall. But this is not just about getting more self-control, even though that is a Scriptural virtue. My friend Garrett Kell, pastor at Del Ray Baptist up the road, put it well: “Temptations always show you the path of pleasure, but never show you the destination of death.” Your search for satisfaction doesn’t just end in disappointment, it ends in judgment, death, hell.

You were created to be satisfied in God alone. Only then can you receive the created things as gifts to be enjoyed from the one who satisfies you. Repent of seeking satisfaction from created things rather than the Creator. Repent of making satisfaction your god. Repent of making your own satisfaction the center of your world. You were created to be satisfied in God alone, and all of your dissatisfaction has been driving you to this wonderful place of emptiness before God who alone can help you. Precisely where you confess your hunger and thirst, your emptiness and dissatisfaction – at that place you can be filled and satisfied by what God has to give you.

Come, everyone who thirsts, 

come to the waters; 

and he who has no money, 

come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk 

without money and without price.

The price has been paid by your Lord Jesus. He made Himself the friend of the dissatisfied, the poor, those who had wasted their lives pursuing pleasure in all the wrong places. For you Jesus made Himself empty. For you Jesus made Himself hungry and thirsty, cold and homeless, abandoned by friends, even forsaken by His Father. He paid the price by His innocent suffering and death. The Law has been satisfied, your guilt for sin has been satisfied, God’s wrath has been satisfied. The Lord is no longer angry with you. You have no shame, for it has been taken away. You have nothing more written against you, for it has been wiped clean. There are no recordings that will come out to disgrace you, for you are declared righteous by Jesus. In Him alone can you be satisfied.


Come, everyone who thirsts, 

come to the waters; 

and he who has no money, 

come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk 

without money and without price.

These words are expounded upon by your Lord Jesus who said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink, he who believes in Me. As the Scripture has said, Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37f)

Spear Thrust Crucifixion Fra Angelico

This was fulfilled when the spear was thrust into the side of Christ. His heart was opened, and blood and water flowed forth. As the first man’s side was opened up to give life to our mother Eve, so Christ the second Adam’s side was opened to give life to His bride the Church. Your life, your salvation, your satisfaction is found in the water that flows into the font, the blood that flows into the Sacrament of the Altar.

You cannot buy the Sacramental gifts; these gifts flow freely from the Host of the banquet.

Perhaps you say, “I have sinned too greatly, too frequently. I am utterly corrupt within. Although I hide it from others, I know it is not hidden from God.” Mark well this Word from God:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, 

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 

so are my ways higher than your ways 

and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55.8f)

This doesn’t mean God’s ways are generally mysterious. It is dealing with how we find life and not death, righteousness and not judgment. Our ways are how the world values things: who has earned the most, who is famous, who is beautiful, who is perfect. Also in religion we are looking for who is righteous, or who has the best personal story, and the pastor who is most eloquent, or funny, or inspiring, or handsome.

God’s ways are entirely different. He calls the poor, the lame, the outcast, the despised to His table. To you who despair of your salvation, to you who say, “I am too sinful, too weak, I have not done enough, given enough, prayed enough” – the Lord replies, “My way is free. Come to Me. Behold My outstretched arms, behold My bleeding side, behold the crown of thorns I wear for you. Your curse is on My head, your curse is why I became dead, but My life, My righteousness, My wine and milk I give to you without price.”

So run, dear child of God, to this table the Lord has prepared for you. His arms are outstretched still, and freely He gives to you the only thing that can satisfy. +INJ+


Sermo Dei: Trinity 17, 2016

Posted on September 19th, 2016

Duccio, Healing of the Blind Man

Duccio, Healing of the Blind Man

Luke 14:1-11

September 18, 2016

Baptism of Adam James Winterstein

Adam James. What a wonderful name for a boy. The middle name was an especially brilliant choice. But Adam connects us right with the father of the human race, the first formed.

He fell. And like the donkey fallen in the pit in today’s Gospel, God’s interest is in raising Adam up, rescuing humanity from the pit, the grave, the darkness.

That’s why we bring Adam, and all our little ones, right away to the font. In the New Testament, the first Christians on the day of Pentecost were told that Baptism’s gifts—forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit—were not for them alone, but for their children, and ultimately for the world. Thus when a man was baptized in the book of Acts, his whole household was baptized.

Did you know that infant baptism was never questioned for the first fifteen centuries of Christianity? Baptism is a beautiful sacrament showing how God takes the helpless one and helps; He takes the lowest and exalts him; He rescues the one fallen in the pit.

This is the meaning of the Sabbath. The first Sabbath, God rested because His creation was complete, beautiful, good. Every Sabbath thereafter exists because man is corrupted by death, filled with fear, dominated by disordered desires.

There’s a theological term for those disordered desires – concupiscence. It’s worth exploring for a bit, because concupiscence is what’s wrong with you – and me. Some books define concupiscence merely as lust, but that concept has become very narrow in our decadent society. Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains it: “The inordinate desire for temporal ends which has its seat in the senses” (p396). Let’s expand that out: Our desires are inordinate, meaning our desires are excessive, disproportionate, and they are for temporal things—right now—that gratify the senses: tasting, touching, seeing, hearing, smelling. Turned in on ourselves, we pursue what we want, not what is good for others and pleasing to God. We measure everything by how it serves us.

So eating is good, but we eat too much of the wrong things. Drinking is good, but you may take too much, which clouds the mind and destroys the body. You know how easy it is to fall prey to other physical desires. We’ve seen a tremendous rise in disordered desires related to physical attraction, orientation, and so-called gender dysphoria.

Confronting this as Christians, we must first of all recognize the disordered desires within us. Pornography, wandering eyes, inappropriate activity before and outside of marriage—all break the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” Do you remember the Catechism explanation? Open up your hymnbook to p321; it’s important to have the Catechism memorized. Let’s say it together: What is the Sixth Commandment? You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. (Keep it open, we’re coming back.)

Disordered desires are not to be embraced and celebrated, but confessed and crucified.

As we meet others with disordered desires, we first acknowledge our own, and our need for repentance. The answer we give to others is the same as ourselves: disordered desires are not to be embraced and celebrated, but confessed and then crucified. The Word of God says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). And again, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24). And finally, St. Paul says “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:27). We all have disordered desires, which is why we all confess our sins, each one of us, when we gather together as the disciples of Jesus.

And this is why He commands us to come, this is the meaning of the Sabbath. St. Ambrose said about the Lord’s Supper, “Because I always sin, I always need the medicine.” The men watching Jesus carefully in today’s Gospel are waiting to see if Jesus will do work on the Sabbath, with healing being considered work. He highlights their hypocrisy, because they would help an animal if it was hurt. Is it wrong, then, to help a man?

This is why the Lord Jesus became man: to help Adam, and all his fallen sons and daughters. Jesus heals the man, for the Sabbath was for man to stop his work and receive the work of God.

Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath perfectly by resting in the tomb.

There is no more law regarding the Sabbath for Christians. It’s part of the entire ceremonial law done away with. Just as there are no more sacrifices of animals, or dietary restrictions, or keeping of Jewish festivals, so there is no more Sabbath. The earliest Christians, themselves Jews, established a new pattern, which has continued unbroken among Christians to the present day: We worship on the first day of the week, which they called the Lord’s Day, in honor of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.

Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath perfectly by resting in the tomb after His crucifixion. Risen from the dead, we gather each week on that day to celebrate His resurrection and ask for His healing among us.

We all still struggle with disordered desires. When we are baptized, the guilt of sin is taken away, but the effects remain. Those effects, the selfish and distorted impulses in us, and the death creeping in our nature, we call the old Adam. So Adam James is freed today of the guilt of the Old Adam, but still has the effects of the Old Adam, for which we pray God gives Jonathan and Katie strength to train and discipline him.

Look then at the Small Catechism on the Third Commandment (again, p321). What is 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. You see nothing about a day there, but the entire focus is on the Word of God.

“Take away my disordered desires, and give me a new heart.”

That Word does two chief things: It condemns all your disordered desires, and the ways you’ve acted on them. It calls you to repentance, to turn in sorrow from your selfish life and lusts. And then, we hear another Word, the Word of Jesus who heals on the Sabbath, who rescues a fallen donkey, a fallen man. Not everything is healed yet, although that is our prayer and our deepest desire. The Christian says, “Take away my concupiscence, take away my lust, my pride, my anger. Give me a new heart.”

Your Lord is working this in you, and He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. +INJ+


Sermo Dei: IC Chapel Service

Posted on September 19th, 2016


Matthew 6:24-34

LCMS International Center Chapel

Matins, September 9, 2016

In the beginning, “What shall we eat?” was a question answered by God: “All these trees are food for you.” “What shall we wear?” was a question unconsidered. For the man and his wife were naked and without shame. They had nothing to hide, from each other or God; no impure thought or desire entered their minds. Clothes protect us from cold and frost, sun and wind, the teeth and venom of insects and animals. But our first parents had no need for such protection. They played as children, without care, without anxiety.

Then they set aside the Word of God, and the questions, “What shall we eat?” and “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” became all-consuming. Anxieties about the most basic things in life undergird all our other worries, from the great waves buffeting the church to the troubles our children face. Uncertain that God cares or hears, we are held in bondage by our fears.

Bo Giertz said: “No man can avoid anxieties. It is a matter of knowing how to manage them.” That sounds like a peaceful life is just a matter of the right technique.

You can find some relief in what you do: meditation or medication, exercise and proper rest. But the fundamental human anxieties revealed by those questions, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” still remain. They deal with death – keeping yourself alive through food and money. And they deal with shame – covering yourself in the hour of accusation. And underlying death and shame is the sin that drives it all, not just this or that sin, but the cosmic sin of a world curved in on itself and rejecting her creator.

Our age believes itself dwelling in an ungoverned cosmos, without meaning or morals. That’s the deeper anxiety which the philosophy masquerading as science has unleashed upon the modern world.

Today the Lord Jesus calls you back to this truth: You prodigals have a Father, who longs for your return home. The crippling anxiety of the prodigal becomes a gift driving him back home, to the Father who loves him still.

That’s what Giertz was getting at when he said, “No man can avoid anxieties. It is a matter of knowing how to manage them.” He continues:

If we try to have God alongside of all else, then we become captive to our anxieties. We cannot have God simply as some extra aid that sometimes will break in and put things in order as for instance when our health fails or our affairs are tangled up.

Managing our anxieties means handing them over to the Manager, the One who invites us to cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.

Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord demands absolute obedience: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He exposes our hypocrisy. Have you gazed lustfully at a woman? You are the adulterer. God sees. He knows. Have you said in your heart, “He is a fool” – perhaps already this morning in your first meeting? You are the hypocrite, judged by your own words. Your righteousness is not enough. “You must be perfect,” concludes the Lord.

But then Jesus couples “Be not anxious,” with this extraordinary word: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” This seeking means abandoning trust in yourself, in your righteousness. His righteousness is a gift, the gift of Jesus Himself. His righteousness is your justification, His passion is your perfection.

Now the Lord JESUS says to you, “All those things that cause you anxiety, stemming from your sin? Behold, I have taken away your sin. All that makes you worry, the things of death? Behold, I have died your death. Those dark deeds you worry will be exposed? Behold, I clothe you with My righteousness.”

“Therefore do not worry about what you will eat,” says your Lord; “for I feed you with the finest of wheat. Do not worry about what you will drink,” says your Lord, “for I give you wine and milk without money and without price. And do not worry about what you will wear, for I have worn your flesh and taken it into death. You will wear My flesh in the resurrection. You shall not die but live, and rejoice in what I have made.”

Therefore do not worry! +INJ+


Sermo Dei: Trinity 15, 2016

Posted on September 6th, 2016

Jesus icon mosaic

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

September 4, 2016

Matthew 6.24-34

Worship doesn’t only happen in church. Everything is worship, service, attachment. Go to a football stadium, and you will see throngs of worshippers. As a Christian wears a cross, so the worshippers at the stadium are clad in expensive garments bearing the symbols of their gods. There is a liturgy, with a hymn for the local gods and an anthem of allegiance to the civil religion.

I don’t mean to pick on football. Worship, service, attachment are everywhere. Actors, musicians, politicians all have their names chanted, and receive offerings.

Our phones have become objects of worship. We must always be touching them, always staring at them. Forget it at home, and there is a crisis. And within that cult, there are competing denominations, Apple and Google.

All of the other things we worship—a person’s devotion to the increase of his investment portfolio, or the achievement of her dream; devotion to sex or celebrity, a political win or indulging in sin—it all gets wrapped up in the Scriptural term mammon. It’s not only money, as it’s often translated, but anything we become attached to.

“You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus says. Those are the only two options: God, or worldly attachments.

The problem with attachments is we worry about them, worry we will become detached, that we will lose the object of our desire. That’s at the heart of anxiety.

An old book of Hebrew wisdom says, “Jealousy and anger shorten days, and anxiety brings old age before the proper time.” (Sirach 30:24, LES) Anxiety ages you; you can see it in the hair, the face, the gut.

In the Bible, the opposite of anxiety is the Greek term hēdonē, hedonism, or pleasures. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus puts these opposites side by side, showing how they both can destroy you. “Now the ones 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.” (Luke 8:14, NKJV) If you devote your life to pleasures (hedonism), it will choke you, and you won’t come to maturity. The exact same thing happens by worry. Anxiety also chokes you, and you don’t come to maturity.

People have always worried. One of the first places it shows up in ancient literature is with children. You are charged with the care of a child, and you are kept awake by those cares.

A book from the third century BC, Sirach, describes all the worry a Jewish father has about his daughter.

“A daughter is hidden sleeplessness to a father, and anxiety over her drives away sleep; in her youth, lest she become past her prime; or married, lest she be hated; in maidenhood, lest she be defiled, and she become pregnant in her father’s house; when with a husband, lest she transgress; and married, lest she be barren.” (Sirach 42:9–10, LES)

Note again the connection between anxiety and insomnia. And what’s he worried about? When she’s little, he worries she won’t get married; when she’s married, he worries she’ll have a cruel husband. He worries she’ll get pregnant before she’s married, or that she won’t get pregnant once she is. In other words, every single situation causes him to worry. He’s always worried! And that’s how we can become about everything.

There’s only one real antidote: commend all of it, all the worry, all the anxiety, into God’s hands.

“[Cast] all your care upon Him,” St. Peter says, “for He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5.7)  The Lord calls us to pray because He wants to take our burdens from us. He will stay awake with them, and give to you, His beloved, sleep.

The words of St. Paul cannot be repeated often enough:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7, NKJV)

Much of what you worry about is legitimate: Whether it’s your child’s first day of school or first week away at college, your thoughts are naturally with him. How you’ll pay your bills, your lack of a spouse or your lack of harmony with the one you have, your sciatic pain or your feeling of shame – these are things that concern everyone who faces them.

But knowing you have a Father who does indeed care for you, knowing you have a Redeemer who is risen from the dead, knowing you have the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Advocate – this creates an entirely different view to the situation.

God doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, everything will turn out fine.” It might not. The doctor’s diagnosis might be deadly accurate. Your problems might get worse, not better. Putting your problems before God doesn’t guarantee a better earthly outcome.

But putting your problems, your worries and fears before God will liberate you from the crippling anxiety because you are coming to know that He gives us what we need, and He knows what we need better than we do.

The child screams and demands satisfaction immediately; the Father says, “Be patient, little one, I’m preparing something better just for you.”

Our worries mean we’ve forgotten what our Father said; we’ve stopped remembering for awhile that God cares for us and will take care of us.

We can be worried about the future of our congregation, or the financing of our building project, or what the new school year will look like, or what the future holds for your company, or what will happen in the election, whether you will find a spouse, or improve the relationship with the one you have. All these are worries that we as Christians must commend into God’s hands. He will care for us.

What is given to us to do is to work the things within our domain: change the diaper, cook the meal, follow the teacher’s guidance, support what is good, turn away from what is evil, or worthless. Ora et labora – “pray and work.”

Yet this does not mean that, in matters of life and death, in matters of salvation, that we pray for God to do His part, and work to do our part. No, a key concept here is that everything ultimately rests on work already done outside of ourselves.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Near the beginning, Jesus says that unless our righteousness is greater than the Scribes and Pharisees – that is, unless our moral and spiritual life is better than the very best people – we will by no means enter the kingdom of God.

Then in today’s Gospel Jesus says, after telling us not to worry, that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our righteousness is never enough. The righteousness of God is what is all-sufficient for us. That righteousness is in the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus. If you have that, you have everything. You can lose nothing.

Which means, if you have the forgiveness of sins, the promise of the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come, than what are you worrying about? Seriously. What are you worrying about? All our worries are like being anxious for the prick of the needle that is about to put an inoculation into us, or the antidote to some deadly poison.

Many things are painful in this life, horribly so. The holy Christian faith is not about saying those things aren’t real, that they don’t hurt. Of course they do. But the Lord Jesus is risen from the dead. When we worry, it’s because we’ve forgotten that. Death has lost its power over us. When we have anxiety, it’s because we’ve forgotten that. The evil one has been defeated, and his time is short. When we despair, it’s because we’ve forgotten that.

But now Christ is risen, and you need not worry.

The gates of hell shall not prevail, and you need have no anxiety.

You and your children are baptized. Believe what God says about that, and do not despair.

Do your work, care for your children, love your neighbor, confess your sins, and at the end of the day put all of your troubles into God’s hands. And when you awake, even awake from the sleep of death, you will say with the Lord Jesus the words of Psalm 139:18, “I awake, and I am still with You.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will never abandon you. Therefore, do not worry! +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 13, 2016

Posted on August 21st, 2016

Good Samaritan window

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles talks about the dedication necessary to compete at the highest level. “I could choose to hit snooze…. I’m at the gym 300 days a year. I could take a day off. But I don’t. I choose to rise to the challenge.” That’s what’s before you, if you want gold: You can choose to hit snooze, or you can choose to be awesome.

When you watch Simone Biles compete, or Katie Ledecky, or Michael Phelps, you’re seeing the result of extraordinary dedication. Some people inherit money, or good looks – but you cannot inherit being a great athlete, or musician, or surgeon, or pilot, or Navy SEAL. You have to spend enormous amounts of focused time in the pool, in the practice room, studying, suffering, repeating repeating repeating until it’s perfect, until it’s automatic. Perfection requires absolute, comprehensive effort.

The lawyer knows that when he asks Jesus about the Law in today’s gospel (Luke 10:23-37). How do you get eternal life? It requires a total perfection that makes the greatest musician, athlete, or special forces operative look like a slacker. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. And, you must love your neighbor as yourself. Not 300 days a year, but 365. Every moment of every day. Every word, every thought, every action.

The lawyer knows he doesn’t measure up. Did you see the 800 meter women’s freestyle? At one point Katie Ledecky was so far ahead, none of the other swimmers were even visible on the screen. Nobody was close. The only thing chasing her was the world record line, and that lost too.

That’s us, every one of us, compared to the law. Not even close.

Not even close was what the priest and Levite wanted to be, in the story Jesus tells the lawyer. It’s understandable – the man in the ditch is nearly dead, and the men who did this to him are probably lurking nearby, awaiting their next victim. The safe thing to do is get away from the danger, keep moving and take cover.

This parable is usually called the Good Samaritan, but I call it the parable of the man in the ditch. That man is helped by someone who comes from the outside, a stranger who makes an extraordinary, sacrificial effort to rescue the man.

Now the situation is this: Samaritans and Jews hated each other. This man was on a dangerous road, and he’s a lost cause – dying. Yet the Samaritan gives everything he has: oil and wine for cleansing and treating his wounds, his beast for transportation, his hotel room, money for more medical care, with a promise to pay whatever future costs there might be. This is heroism, this is extraordinary effort that goes beyond winning a swimming race or gymnastic competition.

Now there are several ways of reading the parable. One of them takes the whole meaning from the last words: “Go and do likewise.” You have to do this, you have to be just like the Good Samaritan, you have to give up everything, sacrifice everything, be perfect even to people who hate you, if you want a shot at the kingdom of God. And that is, indeed, what the Law says: “You must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” And James, the brother of the Lord, says, “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles in just one point, he is guilty of all.”

“Go and do likewise” damns us.

“Go and do likewise” damns us. We can marvel at Michael Phelps in the pool, but if the gold medal ceremony ends with “Go and do likewise,” almost everyone would say, “I cannot. It is too much; I am too old, too weak, too inclined to hit the snooze button.”

If we would say this of an athletic contest, what would we say in a moral contest? Go and do likewise: never say a word in anger; never look, even for a moment, lustfully at a woman; give all your money away; be absolutely dutiful to your parents; always say the total truth; never squabble with your spouse; be content with your money and don’t wish you had more; pray without ceasing.

Do these things describe you, to the uttermost? “Go and do likewise” is impossible as a standard of justification for us, that is, of being declared righteous by God, of having a good standing before God. By this measure all of us are weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Our first father is the man who fell among thieves. Robbed of his dignity, he was stripped naked and put to shame.

Where it leaves us is where all humanity is and has been, since long ago a man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, i.e., since man left the City of God in the service of desire, lust, pride, and self-glory. He journeyed toward Jericho, the city of rebellion, prostitution, self-indulgence. On his way that man, our first father, fell among thieves. Robbed of his dignity, he was stripped naked and put to shame. He was still alive, but there was no life in him. He was half-dead: no longer human, yet not as the beasts. He had a mind but could not concentrate, he had legs but could not walk, he had a voice but growled and uttered curses. His eyes could not stop staring at screens. He saw evil but could not look away. Originally righteous, he was filled by the evil, becoming as the demons who had robbed him.

And is this not you, you who keep on looking at things of which you should be ashamed? You have wandered far. You are not awesome but have hit snooze repeatedly, not praying, not meditating on God’s Word, not listening, talking but saying nothing, always focused on your own lusts, lusts which only harm you and those around you.

Christian man crucified in Syria

Christian man crucified in Syria

Christians are dying in Syria whose names you know not, but you know the name of a dead gorilla in Ohio, or a dead lion in Africa. We can argue passionately about the merits or lack thereof of presidential candidates, but are we tuned into the needs of our neighbor, or the doctrines found in Holy Scripture?

You are not the Good Samaritan – but the Lord Jesus is.

You are the man in the ditch, you are the man stripped naked and put to shame. You are not the Good Samaritan at all – but the Lord Jesus is. He comes from the outside, and He runs to the ditch where we lay, a place where no other man would or could go. He pours in the oil, a token of bathing in the ancient world. The first Christians anointed with oil those who had been baptized; this is called the Chrismation, and later Confirmation. Thus did Anna Leigh receive this morning the oil, the bath, the cleansing that no amount of baby wipes or Johnson & Johnsons baby bath soap can give. The Lord Jesus cleanses the traumatized, cleanses the human race by means of the Baptism He gives.

To this He adds the wine, alcohol to disinfect, but wine that makes glad the heart of man. Our Lord Jesus gives His blood for wine, the blood that marked our ancient fathers’ doors at the Passover, blood we now receive at the Holy Eucharist. This is the sober intoxication, the holy inebriation by which our hearts are made glad not through drunkenness but through the joy of being received by the God who loves us, even us who have wandered so far and lived so selfishly.

He who rode on the beast of burden into Jerusalem for His execution, gives us His own beast going to a different destination, His inn, His Church where He keeps on caring for us. And He leaves tokens, money, denarii to keep on caring for us, with promise of great reward upon His return.

Now it would be very easy to say, “Rejoice and be glad, Amen!” at this point. But is there really no point at all to the concluding words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise”? True, we cannot justify ourselves, rescue ourselves, save ourselves. We have no perfection in ourselves.

But what we have received, we share. “Forgive us our trespasses,” the Lord teaches us to pray, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” What we receive from Jesus, we share. Going into the world, we will find all of our fellow siblings, all the sons and daughters of Adam who are traumatized by this life, who need what we have received.

Brought into the inn, as we are healed we begin serving the other patients, and hauling in as many as we can from the ditch, sometimes kicking and screaming in the agony of their wounds and their brokenness.

This short life is not for hitting snooze. We may not be awesome in a gold-medal winning sense – but awesome consists not in silver or gold, but in the gifts of Jesus which heal us, join us to God and neighbor, and propel us toward the resurrection. These are the awesome things that give us our joy. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 9, 2016

Posted on July 24th, 2016

God made man to give him gifts. God made the world out of nothing, and He made it for man. Man is the crown of God’s creation. God gave man everything in the creation. He gave it for Adam’s enjoyment and nourishment. He also gave man a vocation, a calling: He called Adam to be steward of the earth. As God’s steward, or chief manager, the man would exercise dominion, Godly rule in the earth.

Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over every living creature. One thing alone was held back from the man: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why? Because God wished the man to know good alone, and not evil. As you parents wish to shield your children from the horrors of the world and the wicked designs of men, until they can bear them, so God wished for His steward to know nothing of evil.


But the man was beguiled by this thought: the Lord is not a good Lord. His Word is harmful to me, a lie intended to oppress me.

Thus not content with his stewardship, the man sought by his action to overthrow his Lord. His sin was not eating fruit. His sin was a rebellious plot by which he would become as God.

So did our first father the steward squander his inheritance. Adam was the first unjust steward. He misused what God had given him. He squandered his inheritance and so was removed from the stewardship.

Well, not removed entirely. For although he was called to give an account of his stewardship, and the Lord pronounced death upon our first parents at that reckoning, still the Lord forgave.

He covered their naked bodies, now filled with shame, with the skin of a sacrificial victim. Blood was shed to cover their shame. And He promised an offspring, a seed, a male child of the woman who would be the Steward Adam had failed to be. This Steward would be a just steward, a righteous steward, an honest steward who perfectly carries out His Lord’s will.

To be a steward is to have a lord. Today we heard a story about a steward who lost his lord. Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13) is a parable, which is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It’s often called the Parable of the Unjust Steward, or the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. He has squandered his master’s goods, and has been caught. About to lose his job and be humiliated, he devises a plan to make friends with money in hopes they will help him. He’s even commended for being shrewd, for exercising cunning in preparing for his future. Smart people, even corrupt ones, plan for the future. So why don’t you? That’s the first point of this parable: You are a Christian, you know the truth, so why are you not wise and careful about how you plan and prepare for eternity? And the second point is this: You have been an unjust steward, you are unwise because your attention is on all the wrong things. Thus Jesus concludes with the simple declaration, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” 

Which are you serving? Which is most important to you? What do you care about?

The unjust steward cares nothing for his lord. Nor does he care about those under his care. He cares only about himself.

And so he loses his lord.

Does that sound liberating to you, to be without a lord? It certainly sounds American.

Our country was born from the idea of throwing off oppressive rule. Many look at Christianity as coming back under oppression, a system of superstition designed to prey on the weak, subjugate the meek, take your money, and destroy your joy.

But genuine Christianity is not tyranny. To have God as your Lord is not to come under His oppression but His protection. Not to be enslaved but redeemed. For this Lord rescues lost sheep, welcomes home prodigal sons, forgives the woman caught in adultery, welcomes Lazarus the starving beggar to His banquet.

To be a steward is to have a lord. To be God’s steward is to have Christ Jesus for your Lord. Our Small Catechism puts all of this beautifully when it says, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

To be a steward is to have a lord. To be God’s steward is to have Christ Jesus for your Lord, to be rescued from death. You are not brought into bondage but into blessedness.

The Bible speaks about pastors as stewards in God’s household, with a solemn charge to administer the gifts of Word and Sacrament as the Lord has instructed.

Stewardship, however, encompasses everything we have and do, even the seemingly smallest decisions, like should I step on this ant, or spend time watching that video. What has God given me my foot, my eyes, my time and money for?

When Blake and Katie received a daughter, a gift from God, they also received a stewardship. Children are not ours, trophies of genetic accomplishment, or garbage to be discarded. Each human being from the womb is a gift from God, and parents are stewards charged with their nurture and protection. The first act of stewardship is to bring the little child back to the Lord. Born into this corrupt world full of death, we bring our children to the Lord of life saying, “Receive this child who is Yours to begin with; love, care, forgive, do what we cannot. And when her last hour comes, receive her to Yourself. Be her Father, give her the birth from above, and let her be Yours unto the ages of ages.”

Parents have a calling to teach their children. They, not the government, are stewards of their children’s education. Because this is difficult work, and because the government would often mislead our children about the truth of the world, the law, the meaning of the human person, even now which bathroom is the right one to use – because of all this, the church helps in this stewardship by providing schools for children to be taught the truth, taught by Christians who glorify the Creator in all they do.

Everything you have is given to you to exercise your stewardship of the world. How will you account for the way you spent, or gave, or hoarded, your money? How will you account for the way you used your words? How will you account for the way you used, or abused, your body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit?

I don’t like ticking clocks, they distract me. But I was struck by what the Baptist author and seminary president Al Mohler said about ticking watches and clocks: as each second audibly clicks by, he is reminded of the shortness of his life and the responsibility to use his time according to God’s will. How are you stewarding your time? How will you give an account of it before God?

Even your vote is an exercise of stewardship. Use this gift as an exercise of the conscience, rather than a quest for power.

You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon, God and money.

Repent. Repent, and rejoice that you have a Lord who rescues lost sheep, who finds lost coins, who welcomes home prodigal sons. You have a Lord who welcomes Lazaruses to His Supper, who takes unjust stewards and makes them just, forgiven, righteous, even to the point of raising their dead bodies when they fail, and receiving them into everlasting habitations. To be a steward is to have a lord. So confess with the Catechism, Jesus Christ … is my Lord, who has redeemed me. Jesus the just steward exercised His stewardship like this: He gave everything away, even His own life, on the cross for you.

In the Name of + Jesus

Little apples for simpletons

Posted on July 19th, 2016


Browsing some commentary on the recently completed LCMS Convention, I came across a thread on the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau forum. An ELCA pastor, Brian Stoffregan (whom I do not know), makes an interesting statement there about Holy Scripture: “The academy is necessary to help us understand the meaning of the texts, which can be different from what they say.” Granted that he’s talking about the importance of understanding Scripture in context, I find this notion deeply troubling, and perhaps the single greatest difference between our church bodies. One of my axioms is if you have to add words to Scripture to explain why it doesn’t mean what it clearly sounds like, you’ve got the wrong interpretation.

Today’s reading in the Luther Brevier takes a different approach: the Scriptures are not for the academics, but for the simple person who trusts what God says:

[The Bible] is the book that makes all wise and clever people into fools and can only be understood by fools and simpletons. That is why you should let go of your arrogance and other false attitudes and hold this book in high regard: as the highest and noblest sacred object, as if it were the riches treasure trove that can never be emptied or exhausted. Many years ago I read the whole Bible twice and if it were to be compared to a tall sturdy tree and if all the words were branches and twigs, I have in effect shaken all these branches, curious to know what was hanging on them and what they had to offer and each time I was able to knock down a few more little apples or pears. [p217]

There is a place for the Christian academy, with the study of language, history, literature and archeology leading us to a deeper understanding of Scripture. With no unkindness meant to Pr Stoffregan, however, I cannot accept the idea that I need an academic to tell me why the Scriptures mean something “different from what they say.”

LCMS Convention Sermon: “Saints and Faithful Brothers”

Posted on July 11th, 2016

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the disciples. And the disciples argued.

How quickly we can go from the Lord’s Table to the devil’s business! St. Luke tells us that they received Christ’s blood, then immediately quarreled   about “which of them should be considered the greatest” (Lk 22.24).


These men were brothers twice. Sons of our first father Adam, they were now by His Supper blood-brothers with Jesus. Yet they fought.

The history of the world is the history of feuding brothers: Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and the eleven. “But not so among you,” says the Lord Jesus. His Father is our Father; He is our brother, making us all brothers and sisters of each other, not by blood alone, but by forgiveness. How then is it that you murmur and grumble about those whom Jesus has joined to Himself?

This morning’s remarkable reading (Colossians 1:1-14) has words easy to gloss over, a standard sermon opening we’ve heard a thousand times. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Boring! Yet that greeting is the good news!

To whom are these words spoken? To saints. And not saints alone, but “saints and faithful brothers.”

That is who you are: holy ones, brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, and so brothers and sisters with each other.

How then can we argue with and grumble about each other? St. Paul says in Romans, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We, together, belong to Jesus. So, the Apostle asks, “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14). Whom Christ has joined as brothers, dare we put asunder?

Sometimes brothers can be united in the wrong way. James and John, the sons of thunder, were eager to call down fire on those who did not receive Jesus. Jesus told them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Will the Lord Jesus say this of us at our convention?

There must be divisions, the Scripture says, to show who is approved. But arguing in the church is like arguing in marriage: If you’re trying to win, you’ll lose even when you win.

Beware of loving the fight.

A wise pastor said to a young seminary student eager to bring change to the church, “Beware of loving the fight.” Conventions and debates are necessary, but the moment we love winning more than we love each other as saints and faithful brothers, we’ve lost even if we win.


This is what St. Paul wants for us: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Compare that with the man who said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12.13) The inheritance is shared; it is not mine or yours, something we can divide up or hoard for ourselves. It is the inheritance of the saints, and that only by virtue of being in Christ, the true Saint, the true Holy One. Jesus said to Peter in the Upper Room, Unless I wash you, you have no share—no part, no portion of the inheritance—with Me. Jesus does this, Jesus acts, Jesus performs, Jesus gives us the share of His inheritance.

Which is to say, our congregations, our districts, our Synod, our families, our own calling as disciples of Jesus – none of it is our own doing. The Father has qualified us, delivered us, transferred us to the Son’s kingdom, for He has redeemed us.

St. Paul continues this theme in the next chapter of Colossians, where everything is grounded in our new identity in Jesus:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col. 2:11-13)

In Him, with Him, with Him, with Him: Circumcised in Him, buried with Him, raised with Him, made alive with Him – all things are with Him and in Him and through Him.

The Father has delivered us from wars, strife, and contention. He has transferred us to Christ’s kingdom where forgiven brothers and sisters forgive each other.

We have one Brother from whom we derive our brotherhood.

This is why St. Paul can call us saints, holy ones, because Jesus takes sinners and calls them saints. We are faithful brothers, loyal to each other, for we have one Brother from whom we derive our brotherhood.

“We know that we have passed out of death into life,” St. John says, “because we love the brothers” (1 Jn 3.13). Over this week, we may disagree on some things. May it not be as sons of thunder, calling down fire or jockeying for positions of greatness. We are saints, made holy by the blood of the Lamb. We are faithful brothers, because we have a Brother who was faithful unto death. In Him will we live, in Him will we die, and His will we be forever.+INJ+

Harmony in the Church

Posted on July 5th, 2016

I’m blessed with a singing church. Immanuel gladly tackles any hymn in the book. They sing the hymns well, and can often be heard breaking out into four-part harmony. Singing in this way is an important metaphor for the life of the congregation beyond the liturgy. Harmony—bringing our differently ranged voices together in coordinated song—is also how we live together as Christians.

Harmony is how we live together as Christians.

In discussing the central article of the Christian Faith—justification—our Lutheran Confessions address the importance of harmony, a life together built by not holding sins against our brothers and sisters:

In all families and communities harmony should be nurtured by mutual aid, for it is not possible to preserve tranquility unless men cover and forgive certain mistakes in their midst. In the same way Paul commands that there be love in the church to preserve harmony, to bear, if need be, with the crude behavior of the brethren, to cover up minor mistakes, lest the church disintegrate into various schisms and the hatreds, factions, and heresies that arise from such schisms. (Ap IV.232; Tappert pp139f)

What is this “crude behavior,” but disregard for the feelings and needs of others, along with a lack of love and free acceptance?

I must confess that in my early years as a pastor, I took some slights, real or perceived, personally. One particular discussion regarding church finances I took as a personal attack. Instead of talking to the person, I harbored a grudge. It ate away at me for a long time. One Sunday morning we were praying the Lord’s Prayer, and I realized as I spoke those words, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” that the problem was not the person I had made my enemy; the problem was me. I was the cause of the lack of harmony.

Now, no words were ever exchanged between us about this; I think he’d be surprised I was ever angry. Yet what could be hidden from others was not hidden from God. Nor was I unaffected by my grudge. It was a cancer corrupting my soul. I had not wanted to forgive him, but that day I determined that I needed to make the Fifth Petition a prayer for the desire and strength to forgive. How can I sing in harmony with the divine hymn if I am not in harmony with my brother?

Dissonance destroys the church’s love, but harmony celebrates Christ’s reconciliation.

Profoundly liberating is this notion that I need not look for justice or fairness from my brothers, nor demand they make satisfaction to me for their sins. If Jesus Christ is the propitiation for my sins, then He is likewise the propitiation for those of my brother. Dissonance destroys the church’s love, but harmony celebrates Christ’s reconciliation.

It’s easy to read the quotation above and then extol yourself with doing such a good job of bearing with the crude behavior of others. But the reality is, they have to put up with mine! And I probably cannot even see how I am hurting others. What a blessing, therefore, when my parishioners, my family, and my brother pastors, overlook and bear with my “crude behavior”!

As my church body prepares for its coming convention, I’m reminded of the painful observation that  “Many heresies have arisen in the church simply from the hatred of the clergy.” (Ap IV.242; Tappert p141)

koinonia life together
How easy it is to become entrenched in positions not because they are true but because we hate to lose the argument, hate to see the “other side” win, culminating in a hatred of those for whom Christ died.

My congregation has its share of different opinions, and a $5 million + building project has certainly revealed some of them. Glory to God, who has kept us united through some of these strong differences by the communion in Christ we share. That communion works love that transcends different perspectives on the work and challenges before us.

The Confessions elaborate this point a few paragraphs later:

In human relations love is not obstinate, harsh, or intractable; instead, it overlooks certain mistakes of its friends and puts the best construction on even the more offensive conduct of others, just as the common proverb admonishes, “Know, but do not hate, the conduct of a friend.” It is not without reason that the apostles speak so often about this responsibility of love, which the philosophers call “fairness.” For this virtue is necessary for preserving public harmony, which cannot last long unless pastors and churches overlook and pardon many things among themselves. (Ap IV.243; Kolb/Wengert pp157)

For harmony in the church to prevail, we must be united around a common confession of faith and bear with each other by love that overlooks the faults of others.

Lord Jesus Christ, where there is dissonance in Your Church’s song, bring harmony!

Sermo Dei: Sixth Sunday after Trinity 2016

Posted on July 5th, 2016

Prodigal Son

No two people will agree on everything. Unless a community is controlled by a tyrant, where free thought is forbidden, there will be disagreements.

We would like to think it wouldn’t be so among Christians. Yet we still have the sinful nature corrupting our desires. And the devil, particularly, hates the Church; he will do anything he can to turn Christians against each other, drive them away from Christ and His gifts – and the people He has given us to love despite their vexing personalities.

So there will be disagreements among Christians. Our temptation will be to stomp away, or go to war. But the cross of disagreements are to be a tool for our growth as disciples. Disagreements should always drive us closer to Christ as we realize that we are part of the problem. That means our approach to a disagreement starts by confessing our own sins and clinging to His Word of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness of us frees us for working to heal divisions with others and seek reconciliation.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:17-26), Jesus addresses divisions and arguments among Christians in simple language: “Be reconciled to your brother.” Here, Jesus talks about a situation where someone has a problem with you. What should you do? Go to your brother, go to the person who has a problem with you, and seek reconciliation. Come to an agreement quickly, before it comes before God the judge, and on judgment day you be thrown into prison, i.e., hell.

Elsewhere Jesus addresses the opposite problem: when your brother has sinned against you. What should you do then? Jesus says in Mt. 18,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Doesn’t this process of going again and again to your brother sound hard? It is! We want to set a limit, a boundary on our forgiveness. “If he hurts me one more time, that’s it. I’m done.” So Peter asks Jesus about the fine print: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” You know the response. Not seven times, but seventy times seven – in other words, keep on forgiving, over and over again.

It doesn’t matter who’s in the wrong. You go. Seek reconciliation.

Now put the two together, first the teaching about what to do if you’ve sinned against someone, and then what to do if they’ve sinned against you. In both cases, you are to do the same thing: Go and seek reconciliation. Herbert Mueller, one of the leading pastors in our Synod, calls this the “You go” principle. It doesn’t matter who’s in the wrong. You go. Were you sinned against? You go. Did you sin? You go. Seek reconciliation. How often? You keep on going, seventy times seven. By the way, that’s a daily number. Which means, it’s impossibly high.

What, are you going to go around with a little notebook, or put it in an app on your phone? “Let’s see, that’s the third time today. 487 more and she is done!” God has called us saints, He has joined us together as faithful, loyal brothers and sisters. If you’re married, you said something like, “Till death us do part” at your wedding. And did you realize you said something similar at your Confirmation? You promised to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Christ’s Church. Which means “Till death us do part” applies also to our life together in the church.

There were disagreements among the apostles, sometimes strong contentions; there was also one doozy of a meeting in Acts 15 – they kept on talking until they got it resolved. Another time, Paul and Barnabas got in a big argument about John Mark and whether or not he could go on a missionary journey. It got so bad that they had to separate for a time. But later Paul writes a request, “Bring Mark to me; he is useful for ministry.” We don’t know how, but they got it resolved.

As long as we are in the flesh, Christians are going to hurt each other. And whenever it happens, You go. Go and work for reconciliation. Every day, strive to put these words of Jesus into practice: “Be reconciled to your brother.” As far as it depends on you, then, live at peace with all people.

There is something deeply wrong inside of you.

Before God, we can never claim to be good – for God’s Law demands perfect obedience. Today Jesus shows us how the Commandments apply to the heart. Jesus takes the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” and shows us that we all have broken it. For it is not only ending someone’s life that breaks the commandment, but you have murdered when you are angry, or when you say, “Raca!” [which means empty-head]. Calling someone a fool put you in danger of the fires of hell. God’s law doesn’t demand mere outward obedience, but a heart that is pure. All those words and emotions of anger and pride reveal that there’s something deeply wrong inside of you.

In the next part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does the same thing with the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” I hope you know that all sexual activity outside of holy marriage is against the will of God; but Jesus shows the full depth of the commandment by showing the “inner” adultery that goes on in our hearts and minds: “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

So when we look at the Commandments of God, we can imagine that we have kept them, and thus become self-righteous hypocrites; or, it can drive us to despair when we hear that unless we have a righteousness greater than the scribes and Pharisees, we can by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. But there is another, more excellent way.

Our only hope is this, where Jesus begins today’s Gospel: “I did not come to destroy [the Law] but to fulfill.” Christ came to fulfill the Law, to do in our place what we could never do ourselves. We are all murders, adulterers, covetous, greedy, slanderers. Not one of us is worthy of God’s favor. Every one of us is deserving of hell. There is none righteous, no, not one; we are all hypocrites. This is precisely why Christ came: for hypocrites like me and you; for sinners. He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Christ the Good Physician came not for the healthy, but for the sick. Therefore, if we want His righteousness, we must acknowledge our sinfulness. If we want His healing, we must confess that we are sick.

Christians don’t hold the sins of others against them – because we know how much more has been forgiven us.

Christ came to fulfill the Law, and His obedience – His perfection, His righteousness, His life – He gives to us in Holy Baptism. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” He has already settled accounts, He has already reconciled us with the Father, He has paid our debt in full to the very last penny. That is why we Christians don’t hold the sins of others against them – because we know how much more, impossibly more, has been forgiven us.

So now we will live trying to follow the Commandments – not to do enough to enter the kingdom of heaven: that is impossible! but – because that is now who we are: forgiven people joined to Christ, walking in a new, different kind of life.

So when you are challenged with arguments and strife, contention and disagreement, let go of your anger and desire to win, and hold on to these words of Jesus: “Be reconciled.” Remember that you could never make up for your sins before God, you could by no means enter the kingdom of heaven; but Christ came to fulfill the Law in your place, God’s anger is turned aside, and He is reconciled to you. We are baptized, we are in Christ, now we walk together in newness of life, until we enter the kingdom of heaven only by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.