Sermo Dei: Trinity 6, 2014

Posted on July 27th, 2014

“Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord Jesus here tells us the standard by which we will be judged: not what your neighbors think about you, not what your family thinks about you, not what your country thinks about you or even what your church thinks about you. Did you keep the commandments? Then you will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Did you break one commandment, even the littlest, the least of the commandments? Then, when the kingdom of the heavens is ushered in, you will be called the least.

This is very different from what we call civil righteousness. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person in the world. Pay your taxes, drive courteously, give money to charity, serve your country, be helpful, don’t tell lies – some people are nicer than others, do more good for society than others. This is the stuff of creation, the First Article of the Creed, and what the catechism calls the first use of the law, the curb.

But that’s not what Jesus is talking about today (Matthew 5:17-26), when He talks about your righteousness. He’s not talking about how well behaved you are in the world. He’s talking about something much deeper: the condition of your heart before God. This is the righteousness that not only does not murder, but never even gets angry. Have you been critical of what other people are doing, saying? Do you see somebody on the news, on Twitter or Facebook, and say, “What a fool!”? The righteousness that God requires is the perfect righteousness of the heart. And that standard declares, “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

And I imagine that your memory is filled with such incidents – both the times that you’ve called someone a fool, and the times that they’ve said it to you. These memories burn through our soul worse than the acid burns in your belly.

Memories of sin haunt us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the spiritual power of memories to accuse us.

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

The context here is the sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple under the old covenant. Now a great mistake often made is looking at these sacrifices as a human work to appease God. This is not entirely accurate. God requires the shedding of blood for the payment of sins. But a comprehensive look at God’s Word reveals that God Himself rescued His people from slavery, God Himself brought them into the land of Israel, God Himself gave them the animals for sacrifice. God charged the people “rent,” if you will, on the land, and the people brought this rent to the temple, in addition to other offerings at particular occasions, such as in thanksgiving for recovery from sickness, or at the birth of a child. Now here’s the amazing thing: instead of consuming the offering on the altar, God turns around and gives it back to the people to eat, along with a portion for the priest. In this sacred meal, often of grilled meat, bread, and wine, God declared His peace—that He was reconciled—with His people.

But here’s the important application: you cannot be at peace with God while in a state of hostility with your neighbor. That’s why Jesus says,

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

If you aren’t reconciled with your neighbor, there is no reconciliation between you and God. “As far as it depends on you, live at peace” with everyone.

Yet such has not been the case. Sins hang in the memory. Sins that we’ve committed, and also sins that others have committed against us. There’s only one way to deal with them: confession. If possible, confess to the person you’ve wronged. Ask for peace. And if you’re the one who has been wronged, offer peace, sincerely. As long as those sins hang in the memory, they work like a cancer, making you more bitter and less holy. So do it quickly! Jesus says, without delay.

“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”

It’s better to settle out of court than go to trial. That’s good practical advice. But something more is at work here. God is the judge, and you don’t want your case turned over to Him on the merits.

There is no good news in this instruction from Jesus. For our righteousness is never good enough before God. That’s why it’s important to listen to the Sermon on the Mount—the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew—with these introductory words in your ears: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The righteousness that the Father demands, the Son fulfills.

We can even break this down into two forms of righteousness. Jesus has an active righteousness, where He does everything the Law requires: Jesus alone, among men, loves God with all of His heart, soul, strength and mind; and Jesus alone among men loves His neighbor as Himself. That’s His active righteousness. Jesus keeps the commandments; He is the One called “great” in the kingdom of heaven. But in addition to this active righteousness of Jesus, He has a passive righteousness, where He suffers and endures every punishment of the law that you and I deserve. So the demand of the law is settled, and the adversary will not deliver you to the judge, for Jesus has already been delivered to the judge for you.

Now we, who have come here to this Divine Service today, are divinely served – i.e., God serves us. Our righteousness before God is a passive righteousness: we receive God’s mercy freely, without any merit or worthiness in us.

And then, we continue growing in this grace. United with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we begin to live as new creatures, with a new kind of righteousness. This new righteousness of the disciple of Jesus is a busy and active thing, rejoicing to be a loving husband, a submissive wife, a dutiful citizen, an obedient child, a caring parent, and on and on according to your vocations. The Christian doesn’t do good things under the threat of the Law, but precisely because the threat of the Law has been removed. The new desire rising up in the Christian says, “I will no more call my neighbor a fool, I will no more look at my neighbor’s wife with longing, I want to be merciful as my Father is merciful.”

Because we always have the Old Adam in us, there will be a great struggle. In that struggle, we return again and again to our neighbor for reconciliation, and to the Lord’s altar for His peace.

I pray that you are filled with the perfect righteousness of Jesus who has “paid the last penny,” and that you are also abundantly filled with the Holy Spirit to live before God in righteousness and purity. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 5, 2014

Posted on July 20th, 2014

LORD, why have you rejected me?

why have you hidden your face from me?

Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death;

I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.

Your blazing anger has swept over me;

your terrors have destroyed me;

They surround me all day long like a flood;

they encompass me on every side.

My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,

and darkness is my only companion. (Ps. 88, Book of Common Prayer)

So ends the eighty-eighth Psalm. “Darkness is my only companion.” That’s not the beginning; it’s the ending. So can life be in this world, even for the disciple of Jesus.

For this world is a dark place. The Muslims burned the cathedral in Mosul this past week, and the remaining Christians have fled. Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, remains imprisoned in Iran for the crime of being a Christian.

In America, we burn with lust and are imprisoned by the passions. The darkness of despair closes in on hearts without hope.

St. Peter has just spent the night in darkness. (Luke 5:1-11) “Master,” he says to Jesus, “we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” That is the story of all humanity, wrapped up in this one futile effort by St. Peter: “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.” We have built, but the buildings have crumbled. We have established governments, but they have become corrupt. The garment is ripped, the milk has gone sour, the door has splintered and the hinges have rusted. “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Even what man does gain, rust ruins, moths destroy, and thieves break in and steal. Everything is dust and ashes.

So Simon Peter is tired. Perhaps you are too. Tired of work. Tired of an ailing body. Tired of a world careening out of control. Tired of a marriage that continues to struggle. Tired from the baby that fills you with joy but gives you no rest.

The day has broken, but Simon remains in darkness. “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Jesus is about to take him out into the deep, where Simon will confront the deeper darkness.

There is an enormous catch of fish, so much that the nets are breaking. They fill one boat, then a second, the ship captained by James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee and partners with Simon in his commercial fishing operation. Both boats are weighed down, riding low in the water. The fish in the boat will translate into gold in their pockets.

But this does not lighten Simon’s darkness. He now confronts his identity.

Our culture is presenting us with a deep identity crisis. Uprooted from created realities, people are convincing themselves that they are men trapped in women’s bodies, or women trapped in men’s bodies – or perhaps still some other alternative. Actions are disconnected with being, so that people do bad things but say they are good people, that the bad actions are somehow disconnected from the good person. In 1978 Rabbi Kushner published a book asking the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, a question that has no adequate answer because it is improperly framed.

It’s a question of identity, and not just your identity or my identity, but a collective identity, a world-identity. We must ask a bigger question, “Who are we as a people? Who are we as a race, the human race?” And the answer is in what Simon says to Jesus after the great catch: “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Simon is not speaking about a particular thing he has done, nor the particular ways he may be tempted. One person has inclinations to lie or gossip, another to bully and abuse. One person has heterosexual desires, another homosexual desires, but no one, no one lives up to the sexual identity God created us to have. To say, for example, that people with homosexual desires are broken is not to say nearly enough; everyone is broken, and deeply so.

Peter's confession of sin

In today’s Psalm, David is afraid. In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah commits the sin of despair, hiding out and whimpering, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life.” The congregation addressed in the epistle is admonished about the things you and I so easily do: repay evil for evil, reviling for reviling.

Simon is a sinful man, I am a sinful man, you are a sinful person. Your corruption runs deeper than you even realize. This is why we bring Brendan David and all our babies to baptism. Born in darkness, we are destined to darkness. We need God’s action from the outside, God’s righteousness from the outside, God’s forgiveness from the outside, not only to redeem us from our acts, but to rescue us from our being, from who we are.

The miraculous catch of fish becomes for Simon an image of Jesus’ work, and the work Simon would undertake as a minister of Jesus. Drawn up out of the deep, drawn up out of the darkness, the nets of baptism save men alive.

Perhaps you have said with the Psalmist that “terrors … surround me … like a flood.” But Jesus comes to those drowning. Jesus comes to those over whom the waves wash. Jesus comes to Brendan. Jesus comes to the baptized.

Perhaps you have known the dark, even said, “Darkness is my only companion.” But Jesus comes in the dark. Jesus comes to those in darkness. In the shadows and gloom, your Lord is with you, He has been there too, terrified of the hell that was coming for Him.

Perhaps you have said with Simon, “I am a sinful man.” This you need to say, every day. The Word of Jesus to Simon is recorded in this Gospel for you: “Do not be afraid.”

Now, the accusation of sin against you has, by the Word of Jesus, been canceled. In the entrance Psalm we cried out to God, “False witnesses have risen against me.” That’s what the accusations of the devil now are: False witnesses. They are false because of Jesus’ word, “Fear not.” Simon is right when he says, “I am a sinful man.” But the Word of Jesus, and the baptism that today came to Brendan, washes it away. +INJ+

Psalm 86: “I am godly”?

Posted on July 16th, 2014

Psalm 86

July 16, 2014 Evening Prayer

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA


“I am poor.” “I am needy.” So the Psalmist says about himself, and teaches us to say about ourselves. The terms “poor” and “needy” can be very literal – to not have much money, to be a day-laborer, never certain if there will be daily bread tomorrow.


But the context of the Psalm reveals that there is a deeper poverty and neediness shared by every human being. We are in a day of trouble, we need forgiveness and mercy.


And we have enemies. For the Psalmist, they are “insolent men” who rise up against him, a gang of ruthless men who want to kill David. People hate him.


People may hate us, too. Certainly, the world hates genuine Christianity. But there is also the devil and our flesh arrayed against us, urging us to despair.


In the face of all this, David says a prayer challenging to comprehend: “Preserve my life, for I am godly.” The NKJ says, “Preserve my life, for I am holy.” To my ears, that sounds at first like it’s an appeal to a righteous way of life, so that David is saying, “O God, You should save my life, because I am a good person.” But that’s not what “godly” means here. The term ḥāsı̂ḏ means “faithful” or “one who practices ḥeseḏ.” Now at least when I was learning Hebrew, the standard definition of ḥeseḏ was “steadfast love” or “mercy.” The term is used a great deal in the Old Testament, like that passage we say often at Divine Service, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever.” 


Well, this still sounds like something we do: “Preserve my life, O God, because I am such a good, merciful person.”


But this is so exciting! Before all else, ḥeseḏ means “joint obligation” or “loyalty.” So there is a “faithfulness” between those who have been joined together. So I think a better way to put this Psalm verse into English would be, very loosely, “Preserve my life, [O God,] for I am a recipient of Your covenant.” David isn’t saying, “I’m such a terrific guy, You should help me.” Rather, he is saying, “You, O God, have made promises. You have said that You are ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.’ So I call upon You to keep Your Word, keep Your promises. My situation is desperate, my soul filled with sin, my body with searing pain, and my enemies – You see how numerous they are. Everything appears to be lost. But with You, nothing is lost, for ‘You are my God,’ and I am counting on You to ‘be gracious to me.’


And so the Psalm ends with expectation of comfort: “Show me a sign of your favor.” The sign of the holy cross is the sign of God’s favor. There we see how far God’s ḥeseḏ, His loyalty extends to us. For with God, it is far more than a contract, a covenant, a joint obligation. He takes the obligation of the law and fulfills it. He shows loyalty and solidarity with us into the depths of the cold and rocky tomb. The sign of the cross is the sign of God’s favor. And at the day of resurrection, He will say, “I have preserved your life, for I am godly, I am faithful to My promises.” +INJ+

A given righteousness

Posted on July 11th, 2014

The Lutheran Symbols presuppose that the righteousness which God has a right to expect of man is something which man, because he lacks insight and power, is unable to produce. Left to himself, man can achieve civil righteousness, but he lacks the ability to do the same with the only righteousness that is valid before God. As a result, iustitia Dei receives the completely new meaning that it is a given righteousness, not a demanded one. What man is unable to accomplish by himself is given him by a gracious God.

Holsten Fagerberg, A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537) (Kindle Locations 2141-2145)

Klemet Preus, Requiescat in Pace

Posted on July 11th, 2014

Preus, Klemet I. Pastor

Died July 9, 2014 at North Memorial Hospice Center in Brooklyn Center, MN. Klemet was born June 13, 1950 in Minneapolis, MN, the son of Robert D. and Donna Mae (Rockman) Preus. Klemet was a joyful theologian his entire life. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne IN, in 1972, followed by Master of Divinity (MDIV) and Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, in 1976 and 1979, respectively. In 1977, Klemet was ordained as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and served congregations, in Ypsilanti, MI, Grand Forks, ND, Woodland, CA, Danville, CA and most recently, Glory of Christ Lutheran Church in Plymouth, MN (1999-2014). Klemet served as President of Higher Things Inc. from 2001-2009. He also served in numerous boards and offices, most recently on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Board of Regents for Concordia University, Wisconsin. Pastor Preus authored two books. ‘The Fire and the Staff’ provides a Lutheran account of the purpose and value of worship in the daily life of Christians; Klemet contrasts the comfort and power of traditional Lutheran worship with contemporary trends. ‘What They Need to Hear’ is an intimate collection of letters written to Klemet’s dying father-in-law, which shows the comfort of Christian truth by answering modern challenges in an honest and compelling way. Klemet also wrote many articles in Lutheran journals and magazines. He had become a popular speaker at conferences for pastors and laypeople alike. Audiences continually appreciated Klemet’s ability to convey difficult concepts in clear and simple language with a trademark wit and humor. Klemet loved the Northwoods of Minnesota where he enjoyed a cabin on Gunflint Lake. He was an avid hiker, enjoyed cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing as well. He was an outstanding chef, whose delightful meals will be sorely missed by family and friends. Klemet is survived by his wife, “the love of my life,” Janet, his mother, Donna, his four children, Klemet, Rachel (Rob) Mattern, Katrina (Phil) Caron and Eve, nine brothers and sisters and 46 nieces and nephews. Above all, Pastor Klemet Preus took great joy in serving Christ’s Church, where he richly and daily announced forgiveness and life, given by grace, through faith in Christ alone, and not because of ourselves. Confidence in the Lord Jesus poured from Klemet’s heart and pen to the last. Visitation will take place at Glory of Christ Lutheran Church on Friday, July 11, from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm and the funeral service will be conducted on Saturday, July 12 2014 at 11:00 am, at Glory of Christ, Lutheran Church, 4040 Hwy 101 N Plymouth, MN 55446 followed by the burial at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – 9141 Cty Rd 101 N Corcoran, MN 55340. Memorials may be directed to the Luther Academy, 3460 N Brookfield Rd, Brookfield, WI 53045. David Lee Funeral Home Wayzata 952-473-5577

(From Minneapolis StarTribune)

On a more personal note, Klemet Preus was pastor to my mother and father until they moved from Minnesota in retirement. He was able to connect with my dad in a way no pastor ever had. My dad wanted to go to Pastor Preus’s Bible classes, which had never really happened before – he made theology interesting and practical. Pastor Preus’s death is a loss to the church.

The corruption of all learning

Posted on July 10th, 2014

Jonah Goldberg argues that the 1960′s was progressivism’s “Great Awakening,” spawning the religion that has become orthodoxy in academia and the bureaucracy.

The religious character of modern liberalism was never far from the surface. Indeed, the 1960s should be seen as another in a series of “great awakenings” in American history— a widespread yearning for new meaning that gave rise to a tumultuous social and political movement. The only difference was that this awakening largely left God behind. Paul Goodman, whose 1960 Growing Up Absurd helped launch the politics of hope in the first part of the decade, came to recognize in the second half how insufficient his original diagnosis had been: “I… imagined that the world-wide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, to which I was sympathetic , but I now saw [in 1969] that we had to do with a religious crisis of the magnitude of the Reformation in the fifteen hundreds, when not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon.”

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Kindle Locations 4411-4418)

Ritual and true worship

Posted on July 8th, 2014

Bonhoeffer’s journey to Rome as a young man opened his eyes to ritual’s possibility. Ritual helps express the catholicity of the Church, as many different languages, ethnicities, and cultures join in a common ritual. And ritual helps us forget ourselves and enter deep into the mystery of the Faith.

Here is Bonhoeffer on the church’s catholicity:

The occasion for his epiphany that day was a Mass at St. Peter’s performed by a cardinal, with a boys’ choir whose singing took his breath away. A host of other clergy, including seminarians and monks, was at the altar: “The universality of the church was illustrated in a marvelously effective manner. White, black, yellow members of religious orders— everyone was in clerical robes united under the church. It truly seems ideal.” He had likely been to a Catholic service in Germany, but now, in Rome, in the Eternal City, the city of Peter and Paul, he saw a vivid illustration of the church’s transcendence of race and national identity. It obviously affected him. During the Mass, he stood next to a woman with a missal and was able to follow along and enjoy it all the more. He gushed over the choir’s singing of the Credo.

To think of the church as something universal would change everything and would set in motion the entire course of Bonhoeffer’s remaining life, because if the church was something that actually existed, then it existed not just in Germany or Rome, but beyond both. (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, p53)

And on ritual leading beyond itself:

That Palm Sunday Bonhoeffer attended Evensong too. At six o’clock he was at the Trinità dei Monti and found it “almost indescribable.” He wrote of the “forty young girls who wanted to become nuns entered in a solemn procession wearing nun’s habits with blue or green sashes. . . . With unbelievable simplicity, grace , and great seriousness they sang Evensong while a priest officiated at the altar. . . . The ritual was truly no longer merely ritual. Instead, it was worship in the true sense. The whole thing gave one an unparalleled impression of profound, guileless piety.” (ibid., p55)

The bore of the age

Posted on July 7th, 2014

More from Barchester Towers on preaching:

No one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday’s rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay, we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship, but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape which is the common consequence of common sermons.

There is a serious point to Trollope’s humor: The preacher can do enormous damage by “overloading” and being tedious. The Word of God is a good thing, but the preacher often attenuates its power.

I do believe in the unadulterated word which you hold there in your hand; but you must pardon me if, in some things, I doubt your interpretation.

Thus, the preacher would do well to pay more attention to the great sermons of the fathers, and less to his desire to be dramatic:

The Bible is good, the prayer-book is good, nay, you yourself would be acceptable, if you would read to me some portion of those time-honoured discourses which our great divines have elaborated in the full maturity of their powers. But you must excuse me, my insufficient young lecturer, if I yawn over your imperfect sentences, your repeated phrases, your false pathos, your drawlings and denouncings, your humming and hawing, your oh-ing and ah-ing, your black gloves and your white handkerchief. To me, it all means nothing; and hours are too precious to be so wasted–if one could only avoid it.