Monday, February 22, 2010

Answering the Word with the Word

An interesting insight from the sermon I heard at Pr. Roemke's church this weekend. Preaching on Christ's temptation, he said something like, "When the Devil uses God's Word for his purposes, Jesus answers with God's Word."

We have a hermeneutical principle here! Scripture interprets Scripture! But there's more...

The Devil certainly knows God's Word and uses, or rather, misuses it. One way in which he misuses it is to apply further Law to the penitent, driving him to further despair. Heaping accusations on the guilty, the shame-filled sinner - "Satan" means "Accuser", after all.

Luther experienced this keenly. He personalized his struggle with sin as a struggle with Satan himself. But Jesus stands ready with that other word - of Gospel. The antidote to the devil's barbs and darts of doubt. He speaks to us a different word - a word which puts all accusations away. He reminds us he's paid the price, and our sin is no more.

Does the Devil also misapply the Gospel? Surely so! To those secure in their sins, he gives a "Jesus loves you" pat on the back. What better deception than to bulwark the impenitence of a sinner than by using God's own word to do it!?

And like he tempts Jesus, "doesn't the Word promise, 'you will not strike your foot against a stone?", he also tempts us to believe - inappropriately - in the promises of God. "The threats of the Law don't apply to you, sinner. You will not die."

We understand the proper use of Law and Gospel: The Law for secure sinners. The Gospel for penitent sinners. But Satan, an expert in twisting the Word, must also be an expert in twisting Law and Gospel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BRTFSSG Clearinghouse

Thanks to Scott Diekmann for putting together a clearinghouse type list of numerous blog posts about the LCMS proposed restructuring:

Monday, February 08, 2010

"Casual" Isn't Always Better

If "Casual Fridays" can be taken too far in the workplace - what about the worship-place?

Numerous churches tout their casual or informal worship services, designed to make people more comfortable and at ease. But it's more than casual clothing, it's a casual approach toward God. It's symptomatic of our American culture, but it's not compatible with Lutheran theology.
"Casual worship" sends the wrong message, that sin is no big deal. It also fails to confess well God's presence. As a pastor friend of mine said, "act like God's in the room, because he is!"

Isaiah trembled in fear in the presence of God, "woe to me, I am ruined!" God's presence, his holiness, should first of all make us sinners uncomfortable. I suspect most of us would feel more uneasy in the presence of a famous person than the Lord of Creation.

Where's the awareness of our sin? Adam and Eve sought to hide their shame with fig leaves. But God provided the covering for them. We may seek to hide our shame and imperfections, but God provides all the covering we need in Christ.

Even so, that doesn't mean we should treat God lightly, or casually. Forgiveness doesn't mean we should no longer fear God. We are still the creature, and he the creator. We are still the beggars, pleading for our very lives and trusting in his mercy.
I'm reminded of something Pastor Petersen said once...

There are those among us who think the Gospel is best or most fully expressed as a casual, comfortable relationship with God. For them the resurrection of Jesus Christ means no fussiness, no solemnity, no seriousness, or formality. It is not enough that Jesus is your friend, He must be your bosom buddy. He is the kind of God you could go fishing with. It'd be okay if you hadn't showered and smelled like fish, if you wiped you nose on your sleeve. If you belched He'd laugh. He is the kind of God who likes greasy snack foods and licks His fingers. It is not really the Gospel for these people unless you can say: "Hey, Jesus, pull my finger." For them He is the kind of God you can tease. He understands. That is why they're always telling us He has a sense of humor (His sense, by the way, is always the same as theirs.) The bottom line though is that they find nothing to be afraid of in their God. They do not mean to be disrespectful. It is simply that they are completely and utterly comfortable with Him. It is this theology that creates casualness and unpreparedness in those who lead worship. They are sloppy on purpose. They want to show there is nothing to be uptight or worried about.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 5 - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Epiphany 5
February 7th, 2009
“Who Loves Like That?”

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Our sermon today is based on last Sunday's Epistle reading. It's one of the better know passages of the Bible. It's read at countless weddings, hangs on the wall in many Christian homes. It's a favorite of Christians, and for good reason. Love is a great idea. In fact, when all is said and done, when everything else passes away, faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.

A shallow and sappy look at the passage may give us a warm fuzzy. Extolling the virtues of love is to Christians what motherhood and apple pie mean to Americans. We even have a holiday in next Sunday which is all about the high ideal of love. Maybe we shouldn't call it Valentine's Day anymore, since no one remembers the Christian St. Valentine. Perhaps “Love Day” would be a better name for how it's celebrated in our culture.

Sure, love is great. But do we just give love a respectful nod and move on? Or do we approach this passage like Lutherans do, looking for law and gospel? And how do we see Jesus in connection to these words of Paul about love?

First, let's remember the Bible uses different words for love. Eros, which is erotic or romantic love between a man and woman. Platonic love - Philos, like Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. And then there's Agape. Agape is that unique form of Christian love, a self-sacrificing love that is the real aim of Christians. It's this kind of love Paul means in 1 Corinthians.

And as grand and beautiful as Paul's passage about love is, it sets a high bar. In fact, it should leave us asking the question of ourselves, “who loves like this?”

We should look first at ourselves.

Am I patient? Not really. I often lose my patience with my family and friends. I want things to happen on my timetable, and no one else's. If someone else puts me out, makes me wait, then it annoys me. And my impatience is really a form of selfishness. I want it my way, and I don't want to sacrifice my time for someone else.

Am I kind? All too often, I am not. I say words that hurt others. I am insensitive and unkind. I could do a better job.

Am I envious? Or do I grow jealous when someone else gets something nice, receives some blessing, that I think I deserve more? And such envy can lead me to resent my neighbor. That's not loving.

Do I boast? We don't mind other people appreciating us, so why not tell them why they should?

Insisting on my own way. My way or the highway. So common of us sinners. Irritable and resentful, especially when we don't get our way. Arrogant and rude.

And do we rejoice at wrong-doing? Rationalizing what is evil into what is good?

Rejoicing in the truth? My truth, of course. As if what is true is up to me. As if everyone can have their own truth. Or perhaps we admit the truth but only grudgingly. Rejoicing in truth? That'll depend on if it's a truth I want to hear.

Love bears all things, but I don't. Love believes all things, but I doubt. Love hopes all things, but I lose hope. Love endures all things, but I give up.

When it comes to love – self-sacrificing, agape love, we must admit we are not all that loving. In fact the standard of love that Paul sets is an impossible one for us sinners to meet. It's a pie-in-the-sky picture of love, the ideal but not the reality. For after all, who loves like that? Certainly not me. Certainly not you.

But Jesus does. Read the passage again. All those things that love is, Jesus is. All those things that love does, Jesus does. He is patient and kind – with us. He is not envious or boastful for himself. He isn't arrogant or rude. He doesn't even insist on his own way, but submits to his Father's will. He doesn't force us either, when it comes to his love, but calls, invites, encourages.

He certainly doesn't rejoice at wrongdoing, and certainly does rejoice in truth.

And he endures all things. Now there's a truth. Think of all our loving savior endured for us – humiliation – poverty, disgrace, grief, ridicule, injustice, betrayal, flogging, desertion, crucifixion. He even endured the very wrath of God over sin, for you.

No greater love, no greater agape, does anyone have than this, laying down his love for another. Jesus loves you. He loves with with a self-sacrificing love, a perfect love, that meets and exceeds all our standards of love. He loves you with a love that isn't mere emotion, or sappy sentimentality. His love acts, his love accomplishes.

And his love never ends. It didn't end with his death – for death could not hold him. It didn't end when he ascended, for he promises, “I am with you always even to the end of the age”. And even at the end of the age, his love never ends. For he prepares a place for us with his Father forever.

Love is.. many things. And the love of sinners like you and me – it often fails. It's not a very loving love. But Jesus shows true and perfect love to us all, an eternal, incomprehensible love. A love from the beginning of creation, a love shown perfectly in the cross, a love with an eternal promise.

So rejoice in his love, you forgiven sinners. And show his love to each other, as he has first loved you. Amen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 4 - Luke 4:31-44

Luke 4:31-44
Epiphany 4
January 31, 2009
“The Holy One of God”

Our Epiphany season continues to present us with Gospel readings that answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Last week we saw him as the true Bridegroom. Before that, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of the Jews. Today in the synagogue, we have an unusual voice confessing Jesus true identity. A demon cries out, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” And it's true. From the lying mouth of a unclean spirit comes a confession of truth. Jesus is the Holy One of God.

That's not all that's happening in our Gospel today. That's not all the demon said. And it's not all we have to learn about who Jesus is and what he does. Let's look a little closer at the Holy One of God and what today's reading means for our faith today.

One might take this encounter with the demon and conclude that it simply demonstrates Jesus sovereign power over evil. And surely he has that. But it is a miracle which is more than just flexing his divine muscles. Here he shows his authority. Just as he rebukes the fever in Peter's mother-in-law. Just as he commands water to become wine, hushes the storm, feeds the multitudes, and heals so many. In all his miracles Jesus is doing more than simply displaying his omnipotent command of creation. He shows his authority to demonstrate his identity. He shows his authority over these things, also to show his authority over spiritual things.

For which is it easier to say, “get up and walk” or, “your sins are forgiven”? Jesus who has the very power of God is most interested in using that power for your good. And not just your physical good, but first of all for your spiritual good! The best thing he does for you is to make you clean, washing away your sins. This brings you “every spiritual blessing” - the good news!

Notice his purpose statement: “I must preach the good news, for that is why I have come!” Not to hand out prizes. Not to heal, do miracles, or even cast out demons. All those he does, and can do.. but not just that! He came to work salvation and bring us the highest and grandest gifts of God.

But we're so often focused on the things below. Life's little molehills that to us appear as mountains. Sickness, conflict, things simply not going your way. All of this results from sin, of course. All of this is part of the program living in this fallen world. But the solution isn't just to treat the symptom. Instead, Jesus goes to the source. That's who Jesus is. That's what he came to do.

While the demon spoke truth, he also tried to deceive. As the devil does so often, he laces his lies with truth, to make them harder to see. He twists God's word. He seeks to use it against us. Some of Satan's most destructive lies come from the mouths of so-called Christian preachers. Even here, Jesus meets evil head-on in the synagogue, the place of worship.

So what was the deception? That Jesus was a Messiah to be feared? Well, yes and no. Did Jesus come to destroy? Yes and no. Like Jeremiah the prophet, in our Old Testament reading, Jesus comes to pluck up and knock down, but also to build and to plant. He does come to destroy, but also to give life.

As usual, a right understanding of this comes from the proper division of law and gospel. The demon was rightly terrified of Jesus, who indeed came to destroy him, and all the devil's kingdom, and their hold over humans. Jesus came to destroy sin, death, and the devil – all our spiritual enemies. For we do not contend against flesh and blood, Paul reminds us, but against the spiritual forces of evil.

And even our own sinful self, our old nature, our old Adam, is slated for demolition. Jesus has come to destroy that within us that is corrupt and wicked and rebellious, and by repentance and faith build us anew into the men and women God wants us to be – perfect and blameless in his sight. Redeemed by Christ's blood shed on the cross. Inheritors of life, now and in eternity.

Jesus is a destroyer, a judge, the Holy One of God to be feared only if you are under the law and God's wrath. But he is also the friend of sinners – the shepherd who lays day his life for his sheep. He is the advocate and intercessor, the great high priest, and so much more. Jesus is the good news that he preached. The Gospel is all about him and what he does to save us.

The devils and demons don't want you to know it, or believe it. They want you to fear Jesus, if you think of him at all. They want you to get it turned around. They don't want you to see him as savior, but yourself. And they don't want you to have the comfort of trusting in his grace.

But Jesus silences that. He rebukes all that.

And his Holy Spirit speaks, even today, a different word. A word with authority from Christ himself, who sits on heaven's high throne. You who know and feel sorry for sin, you who have heard the call to repentance and fallen on your knees. Fear not. Jesus comes to destroy only what troubles you – sin and every evil. Jesus comes to foil every plot of the devil. Jesus, the Holy One of God comes to make you holy by his holy, precious blood, and declare it in his strong word. We know who he is – by what he says and does for us. In his name, Amen.