Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sermon - Pentecost 13 - Luke 13:22-30

Luke 13:22-30
“Who Gets Saved?”

Jesus, as a great teacher and authoritative preacher, was asked many questions. Sometimes the questions were designed to trick him, like, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar??” or “What about marriage in heaven?'
Sometimes they were meant to change the subject: “Oh, I see you are a prophet! Let's talk religion; Where should we worship?”
Sometimes the questions are asked with honest intentions, “Teacher, how shall we pray?” and sometimes looking for self-affirmation, “What must I do to be saved?”

Today we have another question asked of Jesus in our Gospel reading from Luke, “Lord, will those who are saved be few??”

It seems like a fair enough question. Perhaps asked from general curiosity. Who gets in to the kingdom? How many are saved? Is it 90%? 50%? Only 1 in 5?

When we pastors are yet in school, an handy rule of thumb we are taught is not to answer a tough question too hastily. But rather, ask often, “why do you want to know?” Jesus, of course, doesn't need to ask that question. He already knows what the real questions is, or at least, should be. So his answer is not as straightforward as we might like, or as the original asker might have liked. Jesus doesn't simply say yes or no.

In a way, he answers the question behind the question. “What are MY odds of getting in?” or “am I likely to be saved?” Now that we make it personal, that question becomes much more important, and much more real.

What about you? Do you think you are likely to be saved? What if you had to put a percentage chance on it? 50-50? 75%? Of course we know in our heads, the answer we've learned, what we SHOULD say is 100%, of course, pastor! But is our faith always so unwavering? Or do we doubt and wonder?

Jesus says, in effect, “Don't you worry about how many others are saved. You be concerned about yourself, first. Make sure you strive toward the narrow door. For many will seek to enter and not be able.” WOW! So Jesus does answer – there are many who will not be saved! But am I one of them?

When he goes on to talk about those who will not be saved – it's not a pretty picture. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. The sense that those who are cast out know their misery well, and know that others have escaped it. We're talking about the torments of hell – eternal damnation. It's what we all deserve. Which makes the question even more pressing!
How likely is it that I get in that narrow door? Or will I be one of those on the outside, suffering the punishment I deserve?
Well there is a time when Jesus will cast away the wicked. Not everyone gets in. And it certainly isn't enough that we THINK we're deserving. Some will attempt to enter the kingdom on that basis, and Jesus will not accept them. He will look at all their supposed good works of merit and call them evildoers.

Nor is it enough to have a casual association with Jesus. Even some of those who met him in person, ate with him, and heard him preach will not enter the kingdom.

Nor is it enough to have the right birthright. To be born into the chosen people, whether we consider that to be as an ethnic Jew, or if we are born and raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. No, even some of those will certainly be turned away at the door.
So what is it then? What is the narrow door? How do I strive? How can I be certain? Forget how many and how likely. I want to know about my own soul, my own salvation, and have my own assurance that I get in!
Fear not, Christian, for Jesus has opened the door to you. And he has given you the kingdom. And you can be assured.

We know that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die for it... so that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. That means that the sins of the world are paid for – that no one is forbidden from the door. God's grace is an open invitation – even more – it is an undeserved kindness for all sinners. Salvation was won by Jesus at the cross where his blood was shed for all sin. But still, not all will receive this gift.

Some, even many, reject it. This is the broad road, the wide path to destruction. Disbelief. Those who do not trust in what Christ has done for them are doomed to eternal punishment.

But for us who believe, we are promised eternal life, freedom from hell, and all the blessings God has in store for his people. Faith in Jesus Christ is the narrow door. Only through him – the Way – can we receive the kingdom.
Faith, as we have said, is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things unseen. Faith makes our salvation a certainly, not a likelihood. Faith says, I believe it, not because I am so good, but because God is! I trust, not because I am so trusting, but because God is so trustworthy. Faith always looks to God, to Christ, outward, not inward. And there faith finds its certainty.

You may say, “yes, but how much faith do I need?” And Jesus says, “only a mustard seed” But that seed of faith will always grow in his word. You may say, “What about my doubts and fears?” And Jesus says, like he says to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe!” And you may pray, with the disciples, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” And he will, by his Spirit, through his Word, in his Sacrament.

Faith looks to the promises of our baptism and the promises in God's Word, and the promise of his truly present Body and Blood for forgiveness, and faith is strengthened.

When doubt and fear ask the question, “who gets in to the kingdom?” Faith answers, “I do, but only through Jesus Christ my Lord. Who died for me, who lives for me, and who promises me life in his name.”
Of all the uncertainties and likelihoods and unlikelihoods and questions of life, here is one sure and firm and certain and unquestionable and rock-solid truth to cling to. Jesus died for you. You are saved through him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On "Christian News"

Most of us in the LCMS are well aware of the publication known as "Christian News". Check out their website, as the most recent issue has several of its stories actually posted to the web!

As I read through the most recent (print) issue (to which I do not subscribe, but always seem to get multiple copies of), I noticed that Rev. Paul McCain seems to be the topic du-jour. Which got me to thinking....

What does the Lutheran Blogosphere think of Christian News?

I know that there is a variety of opinion in the LCMS, ranging from disdain to admiration. At the recent convention, I heard CN referred to as a kind of "third-rail of LCMS politics", and that candidates endorsed by CN stood little chance. "Kiss of death" was the exact phrase I heard.

Many pastors simply won't read the publication. One of our former St. Louis prof's told us in a "fireside chat" setting that we simply shouldn't read it.

Some, like me, read anyway... with variously sized grains of salt. On some things, CN has been "right on". Other times, way off.

What are your observations/comments/evaluations of CN? Is it good, bad or ugly? Should a Lutheran read it at all? Why/why not?

I would also make the following observations/comments about CN:

- The sheer volume of production is overwhelming. Too much of a good thing, perhaps? I wonder if all the small print and long articles don't turn off some readers.

- The layout is often awkward and hard to follow.

- One of the better things CN does is simply re-print articles of note (from all sides). Jesus-First and Day-Star to blog articles to whatever... I am sometimes uneasy about how careful CN is to get permission for all these re-publications, but then I don't know the "rules" that well either.

- Sometimes CN seems to cross the fine line of satire and into the realm of "just plain mean".

- CN tends to repeat itself, from issue to issue and even within issues. This gives the publication more a feel of propoganda than an actual news publication.

- I realize there is quite a history to CN, and that I don't know much of it. Maybe that makes me ignorant, maybe it makes me unbiased?

- I don't think anyone will deny the influence CN has had and continues to have, but I do think that influence is certainly declining. CN is, in a way, part of the "old media" of the LCMS - and I think internet sources, in particular, the Lutheran Blogosphere are in some ways replacing it. Still there is an elderly subset who won't ever get up to speed with the internet, but as they die off so too will CN's audience. (Unless CN changes somehow - crossing over into the internet. I was surprised, as I wrote this, to see they are actually doing something with their website. But how successful this will be remains to be seen).

- How much of CN is simply Rev. Otten himself? Or will CN live on beyond him? Is there an heir apparent, or could there be?

What are your thoughts and opinions on "Christian News"? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wild Speculation Sans God

This is what happens when the human imagination runs wild and excludes God and his divine revelation from the picture:

Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch

Published: August 14, 2007
Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at
Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.

(Click here for the entire article)

Kieschnick Statement on ELCA Action

TO: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
FROM: Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
SUBJECT: Statement regarding 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly Action
DATE: August 13, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world and Lord of the universe, through whom alone we receive forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation!

On the final day of its 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago (Saturday, August 11), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution which “prays, urges, and encourages [ELCA geographical] synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church.”

News of this action troubles me greatly and is causing serious concern and consternation among the members and leaders of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). We in the LCMS hold firmly to the conviction that, according to the Holy Bible, homosexual behavior is “intrinsically sinful.” We are deeply disappointed that the ELCA, by its decision, has failed to act in keeping with the historic and universal understanding of the Christian church regarding what Holy Scripture teaches about homosexual behavior as contrary to God’s will and about the biblical qualifications for holding the pastoral office.

The LCMS firmly believes that the sin of homosexual behavior, like every sin that fallen human beings commit, has been paid for in full by the life, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The LCMS also believes that we must continue to reach out in love to all people on the basis of what God’s Word alone teaches about human sinfulness, God’s grace in Christ, and the new life empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the ELCA voted not to amend at this time its governing documents regarding the expectations of its ordained workers in this area (this matter was referred to its task force on sexuality). However, its decision “to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining” ELCA workers in “a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship” raises troubling questions about whether the expectations set forth in its governing documents will be taken seriously by the ELCA or by the task force. The potential implications of decisions such as this for future LCMS-ELCA relations have been discussed in previous meetings involving leaders of the LCMS and the ELCA. In addition, I stated in my official greetings to the 2007 ELCA Assembly on Friday, August 10, “For the sake of our mutual witness and service together, the implications of such action, should it be taken, would need to be addressed, fraternally and evangelically.”

As the LCMS noted in a resolution adopted at its 2001 Convention (Resolution 3-21A), “we of the LCMS recognize that many of our brothers and sisters of the ELCA remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and we resolve to reach out to them in love and support.” As President of the LCMS, it is my ongoing hope and fervent prayer—as stated in my remarks to the 2003 ELCA Assembly—that the ELCA’s continuing “study and deliberation of this matter will be made in the light of the biblical understanding of human sexuality and the qualifications for the pastoral office.” I also pray that God the Holy Spirit will lead and guide all Christians and Christian denominations everywhere to seek wisdom and truth from God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word on this and other critical issues in our contemporary church and culture.

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, PresidentThe Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod


My own comments:

I commend our LCMS President for the courage it takes to address this matter, for it would have been far easier to simply say nothing. His words are timely and well taken, as far as they go.

I question, however, whether stronger words are not in order here. It seems to me the tone of our statements to each other is always so cautious and measured, that we sometimes lack the necessary call to repentance. Was the Law applied here in proper measure? I'm not so sure. Sometimes, perhaps this is one of those times, a "John the Baptist" statement is needed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Church Website Updates

Thanks to Pr. Beisel, I too am now using the "Google Pages" application for our church website, gracelutheranracine.net

I was unhappy with our old webhost for a number of reasons, and I find the Google Pages is easy enough to work with, so there ya go.

Also embedded the recent YouTube video of this Sunday's sermon on the new Church home page. I love it when a plan comes together!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sermon WITH VIDEO - Pentecost 11 - Hebrews 11:1-16

Hebrews 11:1-16
“By Faith”

By faith… the key phrase in this great chapter of Hebrews 11.

By faith… Aaron trusted that however the test results came out, God was with him.
By faith… Rita knew that even though her husband died, God would never leave her.
By faith… Jennifer believed that God would give her strength to do the right thing with her unwanted pregnancy.
By faith… Edward heard God’s words of forgiveness, that Jesus paid even for that deep, dark sin from his past.
By faith… Owen laid on his deathbed, ready to go, assured that he would soon stand before the judgment and be declared righteous in Christ.

Faith is the important topic of this great faith-filled chapter of our New Testament.

First, we are given a definition of faith:
“the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen”

So faith has to do with what is not seen – that we would believe, even be certain of something that we do not see with our eyes.

This can be something that happened in the past – like creation: “By faith we understand that the universe as created by the word of God”. We have such a faith, even in the face of so many authorities, frantically trying to prove that we all came about by chance, that God is not a factor, that man and monkeys are byproducts of a process rather than creations by the very words and hands of God. Some place their faith in Darwin, or in popular scientists, some in carbon dating or geological stratification. But these are not sure places to place faith. In fact, just this week it was reported that scientists found two kinds of ancient humanoid skulls together that they once though were separated by millions of years of evolution. Back to the drawing board, I guess, for them.

By faith, we know that God the Father Almighty is the maker of heaven and earth, and of monkeys and men. Does this give us all the answers regarding the creation and evolution debate? No way. There are many questions that remain. But we take what we see (the science) and hold it accountable to what we know for certain, though we do not see.

Sometimes faith is in a past thing we haven't seen. But sometimes faith can be in a present reality that is unseen. Through the eyes of faith do we see Jesus’ body and blood truly present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Only through faith can we see that the infant at the font has her sins washed away and receives Christ’s robe of righteousness. Only through faith can we stand over the grave of a loved one and say, “where oh death is they victory, where oh death is thy sting?”

We're not talking about what is unseen, as in, I just don't see it right now. For instance, I can't see the sun right now but I know it's in the sky, even if it's behind the clouds. The faith we mean to speak of is over and against what we do see. It flies in the face of what we see – contradicts it, even. But isn't that always God's way?

Perhaps the greatest contradiction of our faith comes when we look in the mirror. When we examine our own lives and see a poor, miserable sinner. A failure and a scoundrel. We see the real us that no one else sees behind all the layers of fakery. We see someone who is mean and selfish and petty and arrogant and vindictive and on and on. But that's what we see, with our eyes. Faith sees someone else.

Faith sees the forgiven child of God, not the scoundrel. Faith sees the person whose sins are washed in the baptismal waters, whose life is fed by the sacramental meal. Faith sees a temple of the Holy Spirit, a new creation, a holy and righteous one. All this in contrast to what our human eyes see. But we see, and more deeply and clearly, by faith.

And sometimes, quite often, faith has to do with the future. What hasn’t happened yet, but has been promised by God. We believe and trust that he will always fulfill his promises in Christ. That he who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live. That at the trumpet call of God the dead in Christ will rise first. That we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye, to be like him, and that we will see him as he is. Every eye will see him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. And the old creation will pass away as we see the new heaven and earth, and as we live there with God, who will wipe every tear from our eyes. A small sampling of the future promises to which faith clings, of which faith is assured, and in which we believe.

Now faith is not something we create, or earn, or bring to the table at all. On the contrary, our sinful nature means the very opposite of faith. We don’t want to believe what we don’t see, we need to be convinced by our own eyes. Like doubting Thomases or little scientists, all of us by nature know that seeing is believing. After all, that’s the way our world works – that’s our daily experience. Faith is foolish to the sinner, the man of the world. Why would you believe in such fairy tales, we are asked.

Or, in sin, we put our faith in the wrong things. We trust in and are assured of things which are not true or real. We put our faith in our own abilities to please God – that my good works will pass the muster of his perfect judgment. That my pitiful good works will earn eternal righteousness. That God will somehow wink at my sin, or consider it “not that bad”, and shoo me in the gate of heaven anyway.

Maybe we put our faith in the government, or in our church, or worse, in our pastors. Maybe we trust in our possessions or our prestige or our willpower. Maybe we even dabble in superstitions to deal with the uncertainty of things unseen.

But all these are wrong. There is only one God, and only one Lord Jesus Christ in whom we can truly place our faith, and not be disappointed. There is only one way we can be free from sin, and death, and all that goes with it. And it is by faith in Jesus Christ, and in his promises.

Such faith is a gift. It comes by hearing his word, and by being baptized into him. He gives the gift freely – he doesn’t give only to those who deserve it (for after all, none of us does deserve it). He gives the gift of faith, which holds onto the promises he also gives. And then he gives the fulfillment of those promises. From beginning to end, past, present and future, our salvation depends on him and him alone.

By faith… we know and trust that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of the world, and for my own sins. By faith… we know and trust that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we too shall rise in him. By faith… we look forward to that kingdom to come which he prepares for us even now. All by faith. And because it is from him, and in him, and not from us and in us, we are certain. We believe. We trust. We know. In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Here we go again...

At the ELCA national Assembly....

More than 80 add their names to a list of Lutheran clergy hoping to change their denomination's view of sexuality

It appears, however, that any substantial decisions on the sexuality issues have been referred to a task force. Looks like they are gearing up for a broader statement on sexuality in 2009.

EDIT: It appears the ELCA voted that its bishops will no longer discipline those pastors living in openly gay relationships. This seems to be another incremental step toward in the wrong direction, but a notable one. Stay tuned. And keep the ELCA in your prayers.