Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon for 1/25/15: Transfiguration of Our Lord



Do Not Be Afraid

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

We believe with the certainty of faith that what the Bible says is true. The world laughs at Christians because of that. The world thinks we're stupid for following a book that was written thousands of years ago. As long as you hold the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the world will think you are an idiot. “It’s time to move on,” they say. “It’s time to think for yourself.” That is quite a temptation, isn't it? How well do you really know your Bible? Have you studied it and become familiar with it? Or do you see the Bible as the world sees it? Is it just old stories that are out of date and irrelevant for life in our fast paced modern world? The fact is, that would be a good perspective on the Bible if that's all it was. But it's not. It is the Word of God which delivers Jesus. That's why He's standing on that mountain and shining like the sun for His disciples to see.

And who is standing with Him? Moses and Elijah are there, representing the Law and the Prophets. They represent the Old Testament Church. What Peter, James, and John see—Jesus, flanked on either side by Moses the law-bringer and Elijah the prophet—means this: Jesus is what the Old Testament is about. The Old Testament is the Word of God because it shows us Jesus. It declares a promise that God has made—He would send a Savior. And it shows the way in which the Lord has worked things out to bring that promise to actually come to pass. The Old Testament was not written merely so that we could argue against evolution. The Old Testament wasn't written merely so that we can learn how to behave. The Old Testament isn't just a bunch of stories that the Jews told to convince themselves they were special. The Old Testament is the testimony and record of the Lord working out His promise that He would save sinners.

But it doesn't stop with the Old Testament. What does the Father say from the bright cloud? "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him." That's right. Listen to Him. Hear what He says. Hear His Word. And what does His Word say? What Jesus has to say can be summed up in what He tells His disciples who are face down in the dirt and terrified: "Do not be afraid." What wonderful words! "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of the devil's lies, because I am the truth of God's Word. "Do not be afraid" of your sins, because I will pay for them with my suffering and death. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will throw it down by my resurrection. "Do not be afraid" of being unclean, for I will wash you with water and the Spirit in Baptism. "Do not be afraid" of the things that trouble your conscience, because I will send preachers to proclaim forgiveness to my people. "Do not be afraid" of false gods, for I will give you the preaching of my cross. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will give you my body and blood to eat and drink, and I will raise you up on the Last Day. "Do not be afraid" of anything in this world or even the world itself, because I have overcome the world.

It doesn't matter if the world laughs at you for believing God's Word. The world doesn't understand. The world denies the truth. But Peter reminds us in his epistle that they weren't making this stuff up. Peter was there as a witness on that mountain with Jesus. But even there Jesus teaches Peter that the big deal isn't what He can see, but the Word that Jesus speaks. So it is for you. We don't see Jesus on the mountain. But we have His touch upon us with water, bread and wine and His Word which says, "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of sin. "Do not be afraid" of death. "Do not be afraid" of the world and its doubts and lies. "Do not be afraid" of anything. Jesus is God's beloved Son, and in Christ through Baptism, so are you. And because of Jesus, the Father is well pleased with you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Guest Post: LCMS President Matthew Harrison on Tolerating False Teaching

The Reverend Doctor Matthew Becker, LCMS clergyman and professor of theology at Valparaiso University, was exonerated of any charge of false teaching. This is a preposterous result, as the evidence of his false teaching is public and copious. Despite the brazen heresy espoused by Dr. Becker, his District President refuses to take action against him, and a dispute resolution panel inexplicably found that he was not teaching false doctrine, despite the fact that his teachings are contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. There are other disturbing circumstances surrounding this case—the CCM hasn't made a correct ruling since before my Ordination, I think—but an exhaustive list would have me typing until next week.

The Reverend Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, made some statements today to begin to address some of the issues surrounding this and other problems within the LCMS. This is important. Under the previous administration, false doctrine was tolerated, encouraged, and fostered. President Harrison's administration hasn't dealt with error as hastily as some had hoped—and I'll readily admit that I wasn't happy about how his office assembled the 3-10a Task Force—but he has apparently decided that it's time to speak forthrightly about false teaching and practice in the LCMS and the system that allows it to exist, and as I encourage him and pray for him as he fights the good fight, I would encourage you to pray for him and offer what support you can. The Lord bless and keep you, President Harrison.

All that being said, I will let Pastor Harrison take over the blog.


"The system of doctrinal discipline in the LCMS is not functioning as envisioned and implemented by our Fathers. It must be repaired." --Matt Harrison

Walther on Doctrinal Discipline of Pastors. 
...It is impossible for a sizable church body to remain in the true faith if there isn’t a constant check to see that everything still is as it was in the beginning, when the pastor came to the congregation. Without visitation it is probably impossible for a church to remain in unity of faith and confession.
Therefore it is a terrible line of talk that the so-called “confessionally faithful” [Bekenntnistreue] are spreading in Germany: ‘‘[All that’s necessary is] that the pure doctrine be public doctrine (doctrina publica), that is, the authentic, authoritatively established doctrine that everyone is required to profess, so that every false doctrine is actually without authoritative standing!” Therefore, [they say,] provided the pure doctrine is the authoritatively established one, the Church may be ever so corrupt, yet it is a true Lutheran [church]. If the pledge of loyalty to the Confessions has not yet been rescinded but is still valid, though not a single pastor proclaims it, then the Church is still sound.
That is no different than if an organization is formed for a good purpose, and finally the members agree to do something rascally but they retain their constitution as a benevolent organization. Then they cannot say: “We are indeed committing a dirty trick, but because, according to our constitution, we should really do good, therefore we are nevertheless an honest, honorable organization, since it says so in our constitution, which we still have!”
That is what those so- called “confessionally faithful” ones in Germany say: “You see, the constitution says, ‘The Lutheran doctrine is public doctrine (doctrina publica)!’”
But it is not enough that it is on paper; nor is it enough that all pastors and teachers are pledged to it when they enter office. No, this Confession must also be faithfully practiced [im Schwangegehen].
That is why Luther, in his treatise “On the Councils and the Church” [1539], writes: “First, the holy Christian people can be recognized by their possession of the Holy Word of God. . . . But we are speaking of the outward Word, orally proclaimed by people like you and me. For this is what Christ left behind as an outward sign, by which we can recognize His church, or His holy Christian people in the world.” [Walch 16:2785f. Cf. AE 41:148f; Vom den Konziliis und Kirchen 1539, WA 50:509–653; Aland 382]
It is not enough to have a Bible lying in the vestry, but it must be proclaimed from the pulpit. Moreover, a church may have a thousand oaths sworn to be faithful to the Augsburg Confession and yet be a vile sect; and that is true of the state churches [in Germany]. In the best cases there are still good pledges of allegiance to the Confessions, but very few preach accordingly from the pulpit. One is Reformed, another is Methodist; rationalistic, yes, even atheistic, i.e., there are some who do not believe in a living God and still have solemnly sworn allegiance to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. They simply say, “That is an old tradition, which it would be dangerous to discontinue because of the common people, who still cling to the old faith. But our superintendent, who put us under oath, knows very well what we mean; after all, he himself doesn’t accept the Confessions in their entirety either. But because the regional bishop has so ordered it, therefore we continue it.”
But such people are not Lutheran pastors. The confession of the Church must sound forth from the pulpit. And a congregation may be part of a large Lutheran church: If it has a false pastor and he constantly preaches false doctrine and it likes his preaching very much and definitely wants to keep him—that is not a Lutheran congregation either, even if the right official confessional statement is inscribed over the entrance. The [Augsburg] Confession must be proclaimed, and it dare not just say in a book somewhere that it really should be preached.
One must say: Churches that indeed teach false doctrine but have not sworn to uphold pure doctrine are not as bad (as those who have sworn to uphold pure doctrine but do not do so). They are better because the people are not so deceived by them. So when a church says “Here Lutheran doctrine is doctrina publica!” and you don’t hear it proclaimed, that church is a miserable sect, regardless of what it claims to be.

— CFW Walther, "Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod," in At Home in the House of My Fathers.

"When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women, homosexuality, the Errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution, and more, then the public confession of the synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance, and remove such a teacher where there is not repentance, then we are liars, and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a synod, much less lead it. I have no intention of walking away from my vocation. I shall rather use it and, by the grace of God, use all the energy I have to call this Synod to fidelity to correct this situation." 
Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog post

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon for 1/18/15: Epiphany 2



Water, Wine, Blood

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

In the Gospel of St. John, our Lord had been baptized in the Jordan River. After forty days of being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He began His public ministry. The first miracle that Jesus ever did was done at the wedding in Cana! He took simple water and turned it into the finest of wines! Jesus at the Table takes six stone jars, instructs the servants to fill them up with water, and He makes it into wine better than even the stuff they used for the toast.

Mary was worried about the absence of wine. It was a major social faux-pas, to run out of wine at a wedding party that was going on for days! What a way to start off a marriage! But Mary went to Jesus. Mary had received the Promise God had made to Eve when the angel came and told Mary she would have a Son. How could a marriage party end so early when the Son of God was sitting at the Table? Mary went to Jesus. Jesus asks, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” It’s not His time. But when the time comes—when He dies—He will pour His everlasting wine out for salvation. He’ll set a Table with the best of meats and finest of wines.

Jesus didn’t come to rescue wedding parties. But the trouble that a married couple had, Jesus used it to make something clear: He came to pour Himself out for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He came to put Himself into the midst of all your worries—even ones so trivial as a lack of wine. Nothing about you is beyond His care, not even the way you start off marriage or the way you live as man and wife. Dear Christian, if you are scratching your heads over the stone jars in your life, over the absence of wine and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and self-control; if you are bothered by the words by which St. Paul turns wives to husbands in submission and husbands to their wives in self-sacrificing love; then learn from Mary. Turn to the servant of the Lord which Jesus has placed in your midst—turn to your pastor—and tell him, “Do whatever He tells you.

Mary instructing the servants is a good example of the way the Church should remind the servants of Christ, His pastors, to do whatever He tells them. He tells your pastor to preach His Word and teach it. He tells your pastor to hear your confession and put all your sins and worries under His Holy Absolution. He tells your pastor to serve you with His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. He insists that the Wedding Party of the Lamb go on until it starts in full when Jesus comes again in glory. He knows your life is lived in dryness sometimes. He knows you wander in the wilderness this side of heaven. He knows that you’ve got more to worry over than a social faux-pas. You’ve got sins. So, the Church says to Her ministers: “Do whatever He tells you.” And so, you’re served!

You are served with the finest feast Jesus could deliver. From His side flowed water and blood. He filled up the font of Holy Baptism to wash you clean and prepare you for the eternal banquet. And with His blood He has filled the chalice, giving us His body in the bread and His blood in wine, so that you eat and drink your life, forgiveness, and salvation at this Table. With these, Christ for you is also in you, to work and to labor and to bear abundant fruit. Christ is in you, for the sake of one another, making sure the wedding party does not end. Taste and see that the Lord is good. He is…better than you can possibly believe. And now that His hour has come, He never tires of proving how good He is. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Sermon for 1/11/15: Baptism of Our Lord/Epiphany I



Someone in the Water; Someone in You

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I’m not a huge fan of modern country music. However, a few weeks ago, our organist asked me about the lyrics to a song released by a popular country artist, a song called, “Something in the Water.” It’s a song about the power of baptism in the life of a believer, and it’s surprisingly powerful. But there’s one thing missing in the song, and that is the explicit statement of what actually is in the water. That’s the nature of popular culture, though: it does not dare look very closely at what it cannot fully understand.

But the Holy Spirit has made plain to us the purpose and power of Baptism. Two important facts stand before us. The first is this: Jesus is baptized. The second is this: you are baptized. But these events are not quite the same. Jesus is perfect and holy. You are a sinner. Jesus is baptized to take on your sins. You are baptized so that your sins are washed away. Jesus is baptized so that He can go and face the devil. You are baptized so that you are delivered from the devil. Jesus is baptized so that He can go and die on Calvary. You are baptized so that you rise to new life in Him. Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, is baptized to be made into a sinner. You, the crown of creation, are baptized to be made into a new creation. Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness. You are baptized to receive His righteousness. Jesus is baptized to show that He is the Lamb of God. You are baptized so that the blood of that Lamb is sprinkled on you. Jesus is baptized to be declared God's beloved Son who willl be forsaken for sinners. You are baptized so that you, the Father’s child, are never forsaken. Jesus is baptized for you. You are baptized to receive all that He has done for you.

The big deal about God becoming a man is that this man, Jesus, goes where the sinners are. He's not out looking for those who are perfect and without sin. He has come to take our sin and make it His own—so much His own that He will suffer everything our sin has earned and deserved. We hate God. Jesus makes that His in this way: the Father Himself forsakes His Son as He hangs on the cross in darkness. We hate our neighbor. That's what we do. Jesus makes that His in this way: He suffers all the abuse and mockery and nailing to the cross that wicked men have to offer. In His perfect love for the Father and His neighbor, Jesus takes our sin against both, bearing it as the Lamb of God. And it is for this reason that the Father is pleased with Him: the Father looks down upon His Son in the Jordan River and knows that's what Jesus is going to do for you.

The world pretends that this doesn't change anything. But it changes everything! Jesus came up out of that water covered in your sins. He came up out of that river a sinner. When you are baptized, you come forth as a new creation. The New Man in Christ is no sinner. You are set free—free from sin, free from the judgment of God against sin, free from selfish futility. You are free to love others and do good for them whether they appreciate it or not. You are free to let go of the sins of others, to let your grudges die for good. You don't need to live like the world with its addictions and selfishness. All that belongs to Jesus now. Let Him deal with it. You are a new creation. You are a lover of God and of those around you.

You may object, "But what happens when I don’t love God and my neighbor?" Then you return to your baptism, where Jesus is in the water for you. Then you live in that baptism. Confess your sins. Hear the Good News of Absolution. Rejoice in your baptism where those sins are Christ's and you are set free. Feast on the body and blood of Jesus which by which Christ lives in you. When Christ lives in you, by His Word and water and body and blood, you too are declared by God the Father to be His beloved Son! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.