Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Proper 22, Series A October 2, 2011
Lessons for The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 5:1–7 ~ Israel, like a carefully prepared vineyard that yielded only bad fruit, would be destroyed.
Psalm 80:7–19 [Antiphon: Ps. 80:7]
Philippians 3:4b–14 ~ St. Paul didn’t count on his accomplishments after he came to know Christ as Lord.
Matthew 21:33–46 ~ Jesus warned that tenants who do not produce fruit from their vineyard will lose it.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: We Owe God our Lives and our Love.
Israel in Isaiah's day was like a vineyard that had enjoyed the careful pruning and cultivating of a loving landowner, but in an act of defiance, refused to produce good grapes. Such a vineyard is as ungrateful as the tenants Jesus described, who killed the landowner's son in an attempt to secure the vineyard for themselves. St. Paul reminds us that everything we have accomplished on our own is worth nothing compared to the righteousness God has given us in Christ through faith. Our lives are dedicated to God and reflect his love for the people of this world.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, You have planted me like a vine in a vineyard to bear good fruit for You in this world. Help me recognize opportunities to show Your love to my neighbors so that I may live as a good citizen of Your kingdom. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Christ Jesus has made us His own through His sacrifice; He calls us to bear fruits of righteousness for Him, restoring those who are alienated and giving aid to the helpless, because in them we see the face of Christ.
OFFERING PRAYER: In Your Vineyard, gracious Lord,
Use these gifts to spread God’s Word.
Turn our hearts and willing hands
To the tasks His love demands. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We are confronted by our failure to produce the fruits of God’s kingdom in the nurture and care of the dispossessed and helpless in our communities and recognize that rejecting them is the rejection of Jesus (cf. Matthew 25). But we are also reassured that the opportunity to work in God’s vineyard is a free gift from God (“he will give it to others”) and that the fruit we are called to produce is his, secured for us by the death of his Son. And that is the only thing we can count on!
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Dear brothers and sister in Christ, family of the bride and groom, members of the wedding party, and especially you, Elizabeth and Michael—I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we gather here this evening to sanctify your marriage by the Word of God and prayer, we heard the Apostle Paul speak of faith, hope, and love—how these Christian virtues remain and endure when everything else fades away. God grant that it would always be so in your life!
We know of course how this high calling of faith, hope, and love is possible: that Jesus Christ is the content of our faith—it is his enduring love for us that enables us to truly love others—and that because he lives and reigns to all eternity, we can be hopeful that the future will always be filled with faith and love.
Not too long ago I read a little devotion that spoke of these virtues in a way that I had never considered before—from the standpoint of time.
The author said that faith is directed towards the past—that our living faith as Christians has the saving events of our Lord’s death and resurrection as its content. And I thank God that both of you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
He said that love is our present reality—it is the baptismal vocation that we are called to live out in our lives moment by moment—loving one another sacrificially as Christ loved us, laying down his life for us on the cross.
And then he went on to say that hope is directed towards the future—our confident expectation that the future will also be filled with love and faith because Jesus stands at the end of all things and is the fulfillment of all things.
Faith-love-hope—past-present-future. That is what we are celebrating and giving thanks for tonight in your lives: Two Christian people who have faith in the death and resurrection of our Lord—committing themselves to a lifetime of united love—looking forward with hope to the future.
In just a few moments you will make your solemn wedding vows. Christians have been speaking these same words for hundreds of years to give voice to the love that they have for one another-- and to give shape to the lives that they will share with one another until death parts them.
It is hope that fills your hearts as you speak these words about what the future holds for you as a couple. You will promise to Christ and his Church, to have and to hold to one another for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.
Because of the joy of the moment, it often seems as if couples only hear the words: better—richer—health. And God grant that you would have a lifetime of all these blessings!
But the future will also hold challenges and hardships. We live in a world broken by sin and we are impacted by it. Every marriage has its own share of: worse—poorer—and sickness—even the marriages of Christians. These are the kinds of things that can tempt us to despair and cynicism—in other words: to lose hope.
Of course we know many couples do lose hope. One spouse believes that the other cannot and will not change. Couples fall into unending, unchanging patterns of conflict. Difficult situations and circumstances seem insurmountable. For many couples, the future seems hopeless-- and the marriage bond is broken.
But the Bible says: love always hopes. Love always hopes. And the Christian couple knows why there is always hope: because Christ is the unseen, though always present, third person in the marriage relationship—and his power and his love are able to conquer what seem hopeless.
When we were separated from God—Jesus brought us back. When our sins seemed unforgivable—Jesus forgave us by his shed blood—when death seemed like an unvanquished enemy—Christ rose from the dead.
Jesus is the enduring power and promise of hope that will give you the confidence to look forward to the future with gladness and confidence. There is no challenge that you will ever face in your married life that is greater than the power and love of Jesus Christ for each of you as individuals and as a Christian couple. And so…
For your relationship as husband and wife to remain strong—your relationship with Jesus Christ must remain strong. It is his voice that is heard in the pages of Holy Scripture as it is read in the home and church and preached from this pulpit. It is his presence that is received in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is his forgiveness that is received in Absolution and when you forgive one another from the heart.
Your hope in the future will be renewed day by day as you grow closer to the Lord. Your faith will grow deeper and stronger as you receive his gifts of Word and Sacraments. And your love for one another will become richer and deeper and more sacrificial as you keep his sacrifice before your eyes.
In just a few moments I will be privileged to pronounce you to be husband and wife and you will begin your life together—no longer merely as individuals, but as one flesh, united to one another for life, called to love one another as Christ loves you.
Standing here this evening in this moment, we don’t know all of what your life will hold-- but we do know who holds your life in his mighty, nail-scarred hands and that will make all the difference as you go forward in faith and love into the future—filled with hope.
May God richly bless your marriage and may you always abide in faith, hope, and love! Amen.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Proper 21, Series A September 25, 2011
Lessons for The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32 ~ Justice must be measured by God’s righteous ways, not by man’s whims.
Psalm 25:1–10 [Antiphon: Ps. 25:4]
Philippians 2:1–4 (5–13) 14–18 ~ Jesus has been given all authority through His suffering service for our sin.
Matthew 21:23–27 (28–32) ~ Jesus’ authority comes from God because He completed the will of His Father.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Jesus! Name Above All Names!
The name of Jesus is exalted above all others because He willingly gave up His glory in order to be our servant on the cross and speak God’s word of grace in His death and resurrection. In Jesus’ day, when chief priests and elders questioned His authority to teach and heal, Jesus stopped them in their tracks with a single question that exposed their motives: Where did John get his authority to baptize? God told His people through Ezekiel that they must bend their sinful lives to His will because justice is measured by God’s authority.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Jesus, You are my Lord, my Savior! Just as You took on my servant form, so You died that I may live. As I bow my knee in honor to Your name, so bend my whole life to the authority of Your love. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Because Jesus served us by taking on our servant form and humbling himself under our death on the cross, we are called upon to be servants to those in need, through the use of material things God has placed into our hands.
OFFERING PRAYER: We give You our hearts, O Lord, this day,
For You have made them Your own.
Enlist us in love, O Lord, we pray,
That grace and mercy be shown. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We often complain: “It’s just not right!” Like the people of Ezekiel’s day, we don’t even own up to our own attitude; we blame it on our environment, our upbringing, or our parents. The question is, who has the authority to decide what is right. The answer is, only God! It is not a matter of political expediency, but of doing the will of God. Jesus bent his life to the task of winning God’s righteousness for us by becoming our servant even in death. By his resurrection, God has given Jesus authority to forgive our sins by his blood.
Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30
That day at the martyrdom of Stephen there was a young man in the crowd by the name of Saul who approved of his execution and stood by and watched while he died. From that day on, a great persecution of Christians began, led by that same man Saul who extended his reign of terror and persecution from Jerusalem into neighboring countries—dragging Christians off to prison. But as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, the risen Christ met on the road.
From that moment on his life was changed. He knew that his life with God was based upon grace rather than who he was or what he did. He knew that as great as his sins were—the forgiveness of Christ was greater still. He knew what Stephen knew as he bowed his head and gave up his spirit—that death was not the end for God’s people.
It is that same man who once persecuted Christ, who speaks these words to us today: For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. We can say the same!
Jesus has entered into our life in no less a real way than he did Paul’s. It is Christ’s death that we were baptized into—it is his life that we were raised up in. It is Christ’s voice that we hear in the pages of Holy Scripture. It is Christ’s living presence that we encounter in Holy Communion. Our lives have been changed forever. We are God’s children—our sins are forgiven—death and the grave have no power over us.
To live is Christ, to die is gain are not just the words of a great hero of the Christian faith—they are the truth about each and every one of us, that our lives are his from beginning to end. Today we hear what that means for us as we encounter hardships and as we face death and as we live our lives until that day. Paul writes:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. . .
Paul wrote these words while he was imprisoned for the faith. I’m sure the irony of his situation was not lost on him—that the one who had persecuted Christians and thrown them in jail was now himself a jailed, persecuted Christian.
And I am sure that if you asked him at the beginning of his imprisonment if this was an obstacle in his mission to tell the Good News of Jesus he would have said it was. But God was in control and what happened as he was in prison is that the good news of Jesus reached people who never would have been reached otherwise.
What’s more, Paul’s fellow Christians—when they saw how God was able to strengthen and encourage Paul even while he was in prison—were encouraged and strengthened in their own faith so that they were more bold to tell of the life-changing power of Jesus.
The Gospel was advanced through the suffering of Paul in ways and to people and places that he never would have reached apart from that hardship. There is a lesson in that for us.
All of us want to avoid suffering and hardship so much so that we are tempted to avoid taking up our cross--but we forget that there is a God who works all things for our good and who desires to save the world through our witness.
That we live for Christ means that EVERY part of our life is given over to his service—including our hardships and suffering. When we’re at the doctor’s office we have an opportunity to bear witness to those around us to the real healing that Jesus gives. When we sit around the table in the co-op or a restaurant we have an opportunity to tell those around us that even in the midst of a drought, God will provide. When we suffer the loss of a loved one we can tell of the hope we have in Christ’s resurrection.
None of us would choose sickness or drought or death anymore than Paul would have chosen prison, but to live for Christ is to discover that God has a perfect plan for our lives even in hardships and that we can give these difficulties over to the Lord and trust that he will keep us strong and faithful. Paul writes:
I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
When we come to that place where we can say: to live is Christ and to die is gain—then we will know just exactly what the apostle Paul knew—that every situation in our life will work out to God’s glory and our good and the salvation of others.
Paul knew that whether he died on prison or was set free—he had an opportunity to serve God and share Jesus and strengthen his fellow believers. And so no matter what happened, he was filled with courage because he had no other desire than to honor Christ with how he lived and he could do that no matter the outcome of his imprisonment.
They say that courage is the first of all the virtues because it is the virtue that all others depend upon. We can live courageous Christian lives when we recognize that every part of our life belongs to the Lord. All of it!
Our hopes, our dreams, our children, our work, our health, our successes—all of it belongs to the Lord and when we realize that and hand it over to the Lord-- and make it our sole aim to honor the Lord with our lives—then we are blessed in our faith and a blessing to others through our witness no matter what the outcome-- and that gives us courage to be Jesus’ disciples.
Our lives are his and so he has a vested interest in us. He sets us in the church among our fellow Christians who pray for us and encourage us and he comes to our aid through Word and Sacrament so that we can have the strength and courage to meet the day no matter what it holds—even if it is our last day. Paul writes:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul saw his imprisonment as a “win-win” situation. If the executioner led him out to be executed—he would enter into the glories of heaven--which Paul said are better by far than life on this earth because he would be with Jesus. If he was released from prison he would have more opportunities to serve Jesus. And so whether he lived or whether he died, his life was all about Jesus.
The struggle for me as I read this text—and perhaps it is for you too—is that all too often I can’t honestly say that Paul’s motto: To live is Christ, to die is gain—is really and truly my motto.
We live for all kinds of things: financial gain, success in our careers, our children and spouse—but these good things often times crowd out the one thing needful and that is to live for Christ.
We don’t really see death as gain—we view it only as loss. We’ve lost our lives—we’re separated from family—the things we wanted to do on earth come to an end. And all we can think of is that loss.
But for the Christian, death is better by far than the best life here on earth because we are with Christ, our sinful flesh is done with, and we can never fall away from faith again. Every Christian ought to have—as their highest aspiration and goal in life—to reach heaven—and when that is our hope—the lives that we live until that day will be shaped by that hope—committed to making sure that those around us also get to heaven.
That was Paul’s purpose for the rest of his life—fruitful labor in the kingdom of God. He knew what the men in Jesus’ parable did not know and what we forget—that it is no burden to serve the Lord—but it a privilege—and those who begin early are the most blessed. Paul spent years of his life on the wrong side but now he had an opportunity to live for Christ and do his will and he wasn’t going to waste it.
So it is for us. There are very, very few things that will remain from our lives here on earth—but there are some. Everything that we have done for Christ—the people that we have witnessed to—the little ones we have carried to the baptismal font—the money we have given to support the work of the kingdom—all of this will continue on when we have left this earth because it is done for Christ.
To be able to work in God’s kingdom and witness to Christ and have a part in his mission is the greatest earthly blessing the Lord gives to his church on earth and he calls us today to take our part in it. Paul writes:
Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
From eternity the heavenly Father has chosen you to be his child. His Son Jesus Christ has shed his life’s blood on the cross for you. The Holy Spirit has worked through Baptism and preaching and Holy Communion to bring you to faith and sustain your faith in Jesus. That our lives are to be worthy of this Gospel of Christ is a very high calling indeed! How much money we should give to church and how many times a month we should worship and how much sinning can I do and still be a Christian and all such questions about the least that is required of us by God simply fall by the wayside when we hear that our manner of life is to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
This life, worthy of the Gospel, comes to us—not when we’re worried about the pastor checking up on us or attendance being taken or financial reports being given—a life worthy of the Gospel comes to us as we fix our eyes on Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for us. And that vision unites all true Christians. We have the same spirit who dwells within us. We have the same view of life. And we have the same mission: to make Jesus known to others.
And yes, there will be conflict from the world around us! How can there not be! Those who live for Christ are different than those who don’t and those who have the perspective of eternity have different values than those who think that this life is all there is. Opposition and oppression were a part a life for Paul and the early Christians and they will be for us too. But the world and the devil rage in vain. Christ has already won the victory and as his people we have too. That is why we can join with Paul and say: For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Amen.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Pentecost 13 A 2011 Text
September 11, 2001 is one of those dates which is a hallmark for people in a
conversation. It joins December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963 as dates on which
everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news of the bombing of
Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, and now the attacks on the
World Trade Center twin towers. We may not remember much after that for that day,
but I can guarantee that most, if not all, of you were in a particular place during that
day and possibly in the days immediately following. You were at church, and so was
In the days following September 11, 2001, people flocked to churches. I’m not talking
about church members; I’m talking about those in society who hadn’t been in a church
in several years, if at all. They came to churches throughout our land, seeking a caring
community, a community to soothe their heart and heal their wounds.
I can remember at Concordia in Cottage Hills on September 11, and later that week at
a special prayer service, with folks I’d never seen before coming within our walls for
prayer and meditation. Yet, on Sunday morning, none of those who had sought the
caring community had come to the Divine Service.
Last week, we began a two-Sunday series of sorts in chapter 18 of Matthew. Last
week, we learned that even the least, the depend-everyone-for-everything child is
important is valuable to our Lord Jesus. Everything in the text centered around the one
who is the most vulnerable to danger, right down to the erring brother or sister, is the
one to be safeguarded in the faith. I think it’s interesting that, when we talk about that
erring brother or sister, Jesus tells us to treat that one as a Gentile or a tax collector,
the very people who came to hear and heed John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. Even
those foreigners and wayward cheats are valuable to our Lord.
Today, the text continues with Simon Peter, coming to Jesus with a valid question.
Okay, with this troublesome brother, how often does he offend, repent, and I forgive
him? Simon’s generous: seven times, when the rabbis had said only three.
Now, we could talk about Jesus’ answer and the extravagant forgiveness with which
He instructs Simon. But, in reading the accompanying parable, we learn that Simon,
and probably you and me, too, have a flawed understanding of the Church, the people
I think Simon Peter and all those folks who filled the pews of our churches following
September 11, 2001, had something in common. You see, the problem is not with the
churches, but with the view of the Church that had come from society. It’s the same
way Simon Peter views the Church in his question to Jesus. It’s viewing the Church in
a secular way. The Church is simply a voluntary association of individuals. That’s the
reason folks didn’t continue coming to our churches in the weeks and months after
September 11, that’s the reason why it’s easy to bypass worship if we have something
really important to do or because we might have to face someone with whom we’re not
playing well. It’s the way society views the church, as a voluntary association of
individuals. Are we that kind of Church?
But, is the Church ours to view in such a way? And, if it isn’t ours, then whose church
is it and how does He understand the Church? Maybe this is a good time to reexamine
that parable of Jesus and see how He talks about His people.
Jesus tells a parable. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like,” Jesus says. This is how His
Kingdom works, and how the Master, the King, works, and how the bondslaves work.
As the first bondslave pleaded with his King, the King shows His extravagant mercy,
forgiving the bondslave an insurmountable debt. Yet, when that same bondslave
refused to forgive his fellow bondslave, it is the company of bondslaves who report it to
I’ve got to be honest here: This parable is frightening. For Jesus to sound the threat of
being handed over to torment if we’re not willing to share forgiveness is just
unthinkable. But, then again, there’s that understanding that Simon Peter, the people
who came after September 11, and you and I all share. It’s a common understanding
of Jesus – that’s he’s here to meet my needs and give me good advice.
But our Lord Jesus isn’t like that, and the Church, HIS Church, isn’t some cool little
club to join when it’s needed. In fact, Our Lord Jesus is a redeemer. Sometimes folks
get crossed up and wonder why Jesus gets to make this determination on the
unforgiving bond slave. Or, why is it that Jesus gets to be the one who comes to be
the judge of the living and the dead? The answer’s pretty clear: He’s the one who IS
the extravagant mercy of God! He is the one who has suffered and died and risen. He
is the true God in the flesh who has come to save His creation from the destruction it
has brought upon Himself.
The kingdom of Jesus the redeemer, the Church that is built upon Christ is made up of
bondslaves, those for whom a price has been paid. That price is the life’s blood in the
sinless death of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the very King of the parable. In
His suffering and death, He does not redeem only part of the people, but all. His is the
Kingdom, and His is the Church. This is extravagant mercy!
There is none of this, “Just me and Jesus” stuff. All who are joined to Christ the
redeemer by faith are joined one to another by faith, a common confession of Christ as
Lord and Master to the glory of the Father by the Holy Spirit. This is Christ’s Church.
The language is not that of power or of arrogance. The language is that of humble
submission, repentance, and forgiveness. Are we that kind of Church?
In the days after September 11, 2001, the airwaves on television and radio were filled
with pundits and preachers who were trying to make sense of the horrific attacks on
our nation. Some said it was because of the runaway sin in our land, that God was
punishing the United States for its immorality. When folks would bring these
comments to me, I’d simply say that this was misguided at best.
Like I said before, Jesus’ parable in the text is downright frightening, and it’s supposed
to be. Whether it be the events of September 11, 2001, or financial trouble at the
church, or any other kind of hardship, Jesus’ words are not a directive for us just to get
along with each other. Rather, the parable is a call to repentance and forgiveness, to
speak the language our Lord Jesus Christ has given His Church. Are we that kind of
church that speaks that kind of language?
You have been purchased at a price, and therefore YOU are bondslaves of Christ.
This is not some voluntary organization of individuals; it is the company of those who
confess a common Lord Jesus and speak a common language. As the bond slave
experienced the extravagant mercy of his master, the desire of the master was that the
slave share that mercy with fellow slaves, recognizing that he is no better than anyone
else. And, why? What did the master desire such a thing, and why does our Lord
Jesus desire us as Christians and us as His Church to speak this language? It’s
because our Lord Christ who has shown us mercy desires us to be like Him, to give
testimony to Him through mercy, His mercy in us shared with those who sin against us.
Are we that kind of Church?
Going back to Simon Peter’s question, what about the brother who continues to hurt
and repent. The fact is, under our King Jesus, and in His language of forgiveness, we
are always called to repentance and faith for our failures, called back to the
extravagant mercy of King Jesus that forgives again and again. In His kingdom, we
GET TO share His mercy.
The Small Catechism teaches us well about the Church in the explanation to the Third
Article: In this Christian Church He, the Triune God, daily and richly forgives all my sins
and the sins of all believers. That’s the Church, and the language of the Church. Are
we that kind of Church? Are we that kind of Christians?
Join me in prayer:
O God the Holy Spirit, as You brought us true faith and gift of forgiveness in the waters
of our Baptism, now stir us up and strengthen us that, by Your guidance, we may
become THAT kind of Church, where the language of forgiveness is shared not just
from our Lord to us, but with each other. Amen
Sunday, September 11, 2011
When the first “Harry Potter” book came out, American Christians were divided in their opinion as to whether or not it was acceptable for Christian children to read. On one side were parents who felt that the magic in it encouraged witchcraft and on the other side were parents who believed that the basic theme of good’s triumph over evil was what mattered and were thrilled to find a book that reinforced that important idea.
The division among sincere Christians about this book became bitter. Many, many angry words were written and spoken on both sides. Families were divided. Each side called into question the intelligence and sincerity of faith of the opposing side.
So how are divisions among believers to be settled? Christians naturally turn to the Bible. But the Bible doesn’t answer every single question that is ever going to come up. For example, you can’t turn to the index and discover a list of approved books.
These kinds of issues where the Bible is silent are what theologians call: adiaphora—that is, things neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible—things that are left in the realm of Christian freedom—things about which opinions differ.
Today we are going to hear what the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write concerning the proper use of Christian freedom and what our attitude ought to be towards our fellow Christians with whom we disagree. The Bible says: As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
We need to recognize that what we are talking about when it comes to Christian freedom really are matters of opinion where Christians can disagree and yet remain united in faith. The KJV calls them “doubtful disputations” and the NIV calls them “disputable matters”. In other words, they are things that Holy Scripture does not specifically command us or forbid us to do and so we are free to do them or not.
We are not talking about what marriage is- or who God is -or the person and work of Jesus or the Ten Commandments. These topics and many, many others are clearly taught in the Bible and there is no doubt about God’s will and so they are not a matter of opinion about which Christians may differ and yet continue to live together in the church.
However, division MUST come from those who preach, teach, or practice something other than what is clearly taught in Scripture. The Bible says that we are to: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught and avoid them.” We can have NO Christian fellowship with those who have abandoned the authority of the Bible when and where it clearly speaks of faith and morals.
But for all other legitimate difference of opinions, Paul says that we are to welcome that fellow Christian rather than quarrel with them or exclude them. So what kind of things is Paul talking about where there can be legitimate differences of opinion and still recognize and welcome that person as a fellow Christian? Paul writes:
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables…One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
The Christian congregation at Rome consisted of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ, they worshiped the same God, they were baptized with water in the name of the Triune God, they received Holy Communion together, they had the same understanding of right and wrong, and so on.
They were perfectly united in one, common, apostolic Christian faith. But they were still very different people culturally and these differences concerning things like food and the day of worship had the potential to divide them.
The Jewish believers had very specific rules about food that God had given them to regulate their lives as a people. The Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus Christ knew nothing of these rules and ate the food of the surrounding culture without any thought of it being a moral issue—and of course, after Christ’s coming—it no longer was.
Another potential problem for the congregation was the day of worship. Jewish believers followed the rules that governed their worship as Jews—especially when it came to the Sabbath. But Gentile believers knew nothing of this. They worshiped on the first day of the week and called it the Lord’s Day because that was the day that Christ had risen from the grave.
The temptation for the Jews was to think that if the Gentiles were really serious about worshiping God they would eat the right food and worship on Saturday--while the Gentiles felt that if they Jews really valued what Christ had done they would set aside dietary rules that had nothing to do with faith and worship on the Lord’s Day because Jesus was the true Sabbath rest of his people.
In all of this, Paul said, the real issue was not the food going into their stomachs—but the judgmental attitudes coming out of their hearts—the real issue was not the day they worshiped God--but that they were judging their brothers’ faith in Jesus.
That’s the way it was in the whole Harry Potter disagreement—the main thing wasn’t whether or not your child read that book—but what was your attitude towards those who had a different opinion for their kids?
And so what is God’s solution for differences of opinion when it comes to the use of Christian freedom? What does God have to say to us about how we view fellow Christians with whom we disagree about things about where the Bible is silent?
Let NOT the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let NOT the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
No Christian has the right to despise or stand in judgment over a fellow believer when it comes to matters that are neither commanded not forbidden in Holy Scripture for to do so puts us in the place of God who has welcomed that person into his family.
God is the One who has made us his own children through Holy Baptism. God is the One who welcomes us to the Altar and feeds us with the Body and Blood of His Son. We stand in his presence unashamed and unafraid—not because of what we eat or when we worship or what books we read—but because Jesus has brought us to God.
None of us are the spiritual master of another. All of us are equally servants of the King. All of us must stand before the Lord in faith-- and our steadfastness is not a matter of our choices, but of God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ.
And so then, what should our purpose be as we make those many choices and decisions where God has not clearly said: “I want you to do this” or forbidden us by saying: “Don’t do this”? What is our goal as we make those decisions and choices that are free to us as God’s people? Paul says:
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Rather than having eyes fixed on other Christians and what they are doing in their Christian freedom as they serve the King (which only leads to judging others)--the Bible says that our faith is to be fixed on the Lord and that we honor him with our choices in a way that gives him thanks for all that he has graciously done for us. The Bible says:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
When we come to choices and decisions where there is not a straight-forward word of Scripture, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing it to honor the Lord? Does it bring glory to God? Does it show that we are truly thankful for what God has done for us in Christ? Can we invoke the blessing of Jesus Christ upon it?
If our use of Christian freedom does not honor God and come from gratitude for salvation—if it is not in keeping with the example and Spirit of Christ—we ought to forgo it. This is especially true when our use of Christian freedom might hurt a fellow Christian. Paul writes:
None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Jesus Christ came into this world for a single purpose—to bring us back to God. Jesus’ death on the cross removed the sins that kept us from a holy God and his resurrection destroyed death’s power over us. In life and in death we are the Lord’s. We belong to him as members of his Body.
And because of this, not only are we to honor God with our choices when it comes to matters of Christian freedom, we are also concerned for our fellow members in Christ’s Body—not standing in judgment of their choices—not arguing with them about matters of mere opinion—and doing nothing that would harm their faith.
For example, the use of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom-- but if my choice to consume alcohol troubles a fellow believer who believes it is morally wrong—or if it undermines a fellow believer who is an alcoholic—or on the other hand, if I make a fellow Christian feel guilty for that which is no sin--then I have to be concerned for them in my choices-- for I do not live for myself-- but for the Lord and for all of those who are members of his Body—remembering that on the Last Day we all will be called to give an account of our lives—the choices we have and our attitudes towards others. The Bible says:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
What a remarkable scene that will be on the Last Day at our Lord’s return as every person who has ever lived will bend the knee and bow before God and confess the truth of his person and work.
Many, if not most, will do this in terror-- but others will do so in joy and gladness. The only difference between those two groups is whether or not they have bowed before the Lord in faith here on earth before that day. That is the only difference between eternal terror and joy on that day.
For those who are glad on that day—for those with faith in Jesus—it will not matter whether or not they sang to an organ or guitar in church—it will not matter if they drank A&W root beer or cold Coors Light—it will not matter if they read Harry Potter or not. The only thing that will matter is our faith in Jesus for that is all that will count in God’s sight for salvation on that day.
But for those with faith in Jesus, we will be glad to give an account to the Lord of what that faith looked like in the choices we made because they honored God—and we will be glad to give an account about our attitude toward our fellow Christians because we welcomed them rather than judged them. Amen.
Proper 20, Series A September 18, 2011
Lessons for The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:6–9 ~ When we expect God’s mercy to be at an end, He still stands ready to pardon.
Psalm 27:1–9 [Antiphon: Ps. 27:4a]
Philippians 1:12–14, 19–30 ~ Even from his prison cell, St. Paul knew God would spread His Gospel.
Matthew 20:1–16 ~ God’s unexpected mercy to the undeserving should make us thankful, not jealous!)
GATHERING THE TEXTS: The High Ways of God
We may hold ourselves to high standards, but God's ways are higher than ours. We may think we are pushing forgiveness to the limit, but God will have mercy and freely pardon long after our patience has been exhausted. The Apostle Paul had seen God's grace at work among the Christians in Philippi when they came to believe in Jesus. He rejoiced to see it still at work while he was imprisoned and they continued to be partners with him in telling the gospel message. Jesus' parable points out that often we don't rejoice when we see God's grace extended to those we think are less deserving of his mercy than we are. These are the high ways of God's grace.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Most gracious God, you always seek my return when I have wandered; you freely pardon me when I have sinned against you. Give me joy in your presence, and help me rejoice when others are surprised by your mercy in Christ Jesus. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When life is given away lavishly, it comes back abundantly!
OFFERING PRAYER: God of mercy, we are filled with thanksgiving and praise
For Your great and generous gifts to us.
As we have received, so move us to give not only the gifts of our hands,
But also the love of our hearts and the praise of our lips. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We see ourselves in the grumbling workers as our jealousy is directed against those we judge as less worthy of God’s favor than we, for whatever reason. Jesus’ parable quickly points out, that we are instead the ones who have received unbelievable mercy! For we are the last and the least who have been given the riches of the kingdom.
Proper 19, Series A September 11, 2011
Lessons for The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 50:15-21 ~ Joseph forgave his brothers, because he knew God had used him in a plan for good.
Psalm 103:1-12 [Antiphon: Ps. 103:13]
Romans 14:1-12 ~ When we stand before God and live by His grace, we will not judge one another.
Matthew 18:21-35 ~ We can never match God’s forgiveness, even if we forgive seventy times over.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: The High Cost of Forgiveness
Paybacks are costly, but forgiveness costs us even more. Joseph's brothers feared that he would pay them back for their wrongs, but when he forgave them, they owed him a greater debt! Because God in Christ has forgiven us all our sin, our debt of love is so great that we belong to him. Jesus' parable teaches that we have an obligation to pay back, not vengeance, but forgiveness to all who sin against us.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, in your mercy you have good plans for me, sometimes hidden in adversity. Help me see how you bring blessings even through the wrongs I suffer from others. As I have known your love in Christ, let me be loving, even to those who do me wrong. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The size of an estate neither increases nor reduces our responsibility. A person with little can be just as covetous as a person with much.
OFFERING PRAYER: God of mercy, we are filled with thanksgiving and praise
For Your great and generous gifts to us.
As we have received, so move us to give, not only the gifts of our hands,
But also the love of our hearts and the praise of our lips. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Like the unforgiving servant, we plead for God’s mercy, promising to pay back or make up for the debt of our sin. In confession and forgiveness, we glibly remind ourselves that God is merciful and forgiving. Then, without taking to heart the overwhelming magnitude of God’s grace, we continue to hold grudges and demand compensation for sins suffered at the hands of others. Thank God, even that sin is covered by Christ’s payment on our behalf! From that bank of grace, we may draw reserves to forgive those who sin against us, even seventy times seven times.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Augsburg Confession, article XVI. Seemed appropriate today, Romans 13 being today's Epistle.
1] Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that 2] it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.
3] They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.
4] They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for 5] the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such 6] ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates 7] and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.
A few notes for this coming week at Mt. Olive:
Tuesday evening, singers are invited at 7 p.m. to learn some music that's sort of new. We'll be introducing this music and using it in worship beginning in October. We'll be doing this every Tuesday of this month. No experience necessary and you need not attend every session.
The Lutheran Book Club will not be meeting this week. Next week, we'll begin our study of "Hammer of God" by Bo Giertz.
This coming Sunday, September 11, Mt. Olive will be collecting a door offering to assist LCMS World Relief and Human Care in its assistance of areas affected by Hurricane Irene. This is a somewhat humbling for me, as well as a cause to rejoice. This year we have received generous door offerings to assist in caring for different places around our nation and world. I pray that God continues to bless Mt. Olive with generosity in caring for her fellow saints.
Frank Jennings (my dad) undergoing surgery this week
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
The homebound saints at Mt. Olive: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Our nation as it commemorates 10 years since the events of September 11, 2001
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, September 5
Office closed for Labor Day
Tuesday, September 6
Wednesday, September 7
Bible Study (Revelation)
Report as Junk
Sunday, September 4, 2011
I want to begin our meditation on God’s Holy Word at the end of our text. The Bible says:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
These words are the summary of everything that we have heard over the last four weeks from the 11th and 12th chapters of Romans. They teach us that having received in faith God’s gracious gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, we are called to live an active life of love. The notion that we can live our lives however we see fit since God’s has accomplished our salvation for us--is simply false teaching—it is unbiblical.
The Bible teaches that we have been set free from the curse and condemnation of the law so that we can begin to freely love God and one another and fulfill the law in the only way that pleases God, by loving him and others. Love always follows faith in Jesus.
And so over these last four weeks we have heard that we are to love God simply for who he is, standing in awe of his goodness and might. We have heard that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, modeling our lives after the example of our Lord’s love for us at the cross. We have heard that we are to love, not only our friends, but also our enemies. And today we hear of the love that we are to have for a special category of neighbor—those who rule over us in government. The Bible says:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
God’s Word teaches that governmental authority is not a human invention but has been established by God for the good of mankind. The state began as part of the covenant that God made with Noah when God said: “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God he made man.” This command did not authorize private vengeance. Instead, God entrusted Noah with the public responsibility to protect human life as his sacred gift.
But the form of government was not prescribed by God. Noah and Abraham ruled as heads of large, extended families. Moses ruled the Israelites as a lawgiver and then in Israel’s there were the judges and the Davidic kings. The apostles lived under the rule of pagan emperors. In our own day Christians live under democracies and republics and monarchies.
It is not the form that governmental authority takes that makes it valid and worthy of our obedience and submission as Christian citizens--but rather, the fact that the state is instituted by God. Because he is the Giver, to rebel against the state is to rebel against God—and so every person—especially the Christian—is subject to the governing authorities. The Bible says that:
Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
When we speed from one place to the next—when we use “creative” accounting methods on our tax forms—when we ignore copyright laws—we are not rebelling against some arbitrary law that can be ignored as long as we can get away with it--we are resisting God.
The Bible teaches that breaking the laws of the land is a direct violation of the Fourth Commandment that insists we obey those in authority over us.
God commands our obedience whether or not our candidate has won the election—whether some law is just or not in our mind—whether or not we are ruled by those who share our Christian faith. Under terrible persecution from pagan rulers, Peter wrote to his congregation and said this:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
Those who disobey governing authorities can expect only judgment in time and eternity-- for governing authorities are God’s servants through whom he rules the affairs of men in the world—protecting the innocent and punishing the evil. The Bible says that:
Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
The Bible teaches that those who are in authority over us in the state, be they: elected officials, judges, legislators, soldiers, policemen--all those who serve in the government for the common good-- are God’s servants no less than the Christian minister--though their tools and responsibilities and sphere of action differ.
Where pastors serve God for our eternal good, calling the wicked to repentance and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administering the sacraments so that we can have peace with God--state officials serve God for our temporal good and external peace.
When the state builds roads and hospitals—when they regulate food and building safety—when they protect us from criminals and punish those who do wrong-- they are doing God’s work as his servants so that we can lead a quiet and peaceful life.
That is why God has given the state the right and the responsibility to wield the sword—that is, to command its police officers, military personnel, and executioners to dispense justice in the harshest possible way upon those who treat human life with contempt and destroy it without reason.
Just wars and capital punishment do not show a callous disregard for human life as opponents maintain—they show just the opposite: that God treasures human life and so protects it in this way. A Christian can serve with a clear conscience in those professions that wield the sword even when they are called upon to use deadly force to protect human life.
In summary, God has given us his good gift of government so that what is good among our fellow citizens can flourish-- and what is evil can be restrained. That alone is the proper, God-given function of government.
IT IS NOT the work of the government to make people Christians. The state’s God-given tools of reason, law, common-sense, and the sword cannot cause anyone to be born again.
A properly run government can make the spread of the Gospel easier by building roads and maintaining external peace and protecting travelers like the Romans did in the apostolic age-- but the work of making Christians is the work of the church. Only the church has the God-given, Gospel means of preaching, baptism, and Holy Communion that can make disciples for Christ.
Both the state and the church exist side-by-side in this world—both are gifts of God—both are God’s servants--but church and state have very different tools to accomplish their very different God-given purposes and because of this Jesus says, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.
It should go without saying that before our love and loyalty to God will come before our love and loyalty to this nation. And so if the day ever comes when our government calls upon us to do something that is against God’s laws-- or if it ever calls us to yield a greater loyalty to the nation than to the Lord—it must be resisted.
The Lord alone deserves our worship and faith. It is his great work that created us and redeemed us by the blood of his Son and brought us to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit and for who he is and what he had done and continues to do—he must always come first in our hearts—even before our love of country.
But as his people, we also are called to be good citizens of the state, giving our government and its leaders what we owe them. So what are some of the things that we as Christians ought to render to the government? The Bible says:
One must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
When it comes to our responsibilities as Christian citizens, the Bible teaches first of all that we are to give the state and all governmental authorities our submission and obedience so long as they do not ask us to deny God. We do not obey out of fear of being punished—we obey because we are Christians.
Our government is not perfect, we know that some of our laws may be unjust, but we obey the law and respect those who make them and enforce them, because as Christians we know that the state and it’s officials are God’s servants for our good.
Secondly, we pay the financial obligations that we owe to the state-- whether taxes or revenues or fines. To deceive and steal from the government is still stealing.
Thirdly, we show the honor and respect to our government and its leaders that is due them. The contempt and scorn and outright hatred that we hear in the media—on the left and right— for those who serve in government is sinful and unworthy of Christians. We are called to respect and honor those who serve as God’s ministers in the government.
Fourthly, we serve our government as citizens with our abilities: service on juries or in public office or in the military when called upon to do so. We share our wisdom and insight and perspective at the ballot box by voting for those candidates who are the best equipped to govern our nation with wisdom and intelligence and godliness.
Last but not least, the greatest service that we can render to the state as Christian citizens is to pray for our nation and its leaders. The bible says that,
Requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving should be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Every week this congregation prays for our nation and its leaders and officials, knowing that God hears and answers our prayers on account of Christ.
To summarize, there are three basic biblical principles that guide our understanding of the government and our lives as Christian citizens: 1. Government is instituted by God to be his servant and opposition to it is not just a legal problem but a sin that harms our relationship with God. 2. The primary purpose of government is to promote what is good for its citizens and to hinder what is evil and force is permitted by God to this end. 3. And finally, we have a duty, not just as citizens, but as Christians to render to government its due while remembering that our ultimately loyalty is to God.
Today we thank God for his good gift of government. We re-commit ourselves as Christian citizens to making sure that our nation is pursuing a course that provides the best framework for sharing the Gospel. And we remember that, at the end of the day, we are aliens and strangers in this world and we have a higher citizenship in the kingdom of heaven through the blood of Jesus who set us free and made us his own. Amen.