Monday, August 30, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good morning, fellow redeemed!

Take a look at yesterday's Gospel (Luke 14:1-24) and you'll get a lesson in the Theology of the Cross.

Jesus tells His fellow dinner guests to seek the low seats, not because it's a good show, but because that's what the deserve. Jesus instructs the host of the dinner that, in fact, all the religious upper crust at the dinner doesn't deserve His company, while the unclean - the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled - do.

Jesus tells a parable in which everything is turned upside down. A certain man prepares a banquet and constructs a guest list. When the banquet is ready, all the guests who had been invited have something better to do. In other words, the guests feel they have enough of a relationship with the banquet host to decline his offer. The banquet host, now furious, sends his servants out to get new invitees: the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled, and the foreigner.

Of course, this is a lesson on the Kingdom of God. The banquet host, our Lord Jesus, is Himself the banquet. All those who believe themselves worthy are, in fact, not worthy of our Lord's banquet. All those who proclaim their great faith, who doubt their own sin, are unworthy of our Lord's banquet.

On the other hand, all those who know themselves to be unworthy, who know their own sin all too well, who are ashamed of their weak faith, these are the worthy guests. They have no place left to turn and no place to go, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

In true, godly humility, we know our sin, our guilt, our unworthiness. In our brokenness, we are the poor, the lame, the blind, the the crippled, and the foreigner.

Interestingly enough, whenever we make note of our humility, it's really our pride talking. Whenever we confess our pride, it's really our humility talking.

That's the theology of the cross! Our prayer, then, is one of repentance for our sinful pride and false humility, confessing our unworthiness. In our poverty of spirit, our prayer is also one that our Lord would continue to bless us with the blessing of faith.

This week at Mt. Olive, we have a "Hail!" and we have some "Farewells!"
Fresh from Iraq, Andrew Epley is back home again, safe and sound. Praise God!

The farewells are a little more numerous:
Stephanie Muhr, who left for Japan this morning for a year of teaching English.
Stephanie Peterson, Blinn Jr. College, College Station
Matthew Willoughby, UTSA
Jessica Peterson, UTSA
Rachael Proske, A & M, College station
Daniel Proske, A&M, College Station
There are probably more, but these are the ones I've heard about so far.

Wednesday morning Bible Class is held each Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. This week we begin a study of the book of Deuteronomy.

Also this coming Sunday, Sunday School classes begin. Though the slate is for, the most part, put together, more teachers are always needed!

Prayer Concerns:
Ruth Prytz, hospitalized

Thanksgiving for Andrew Epley's safe return.

Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)

Our Sunday School teachers and those committed to their teaching

Those who travel and are returning or going to colleges and universities for the first time

Pastor Matthew Ulmer, who was installed at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bishop yesterday

Pastor Alfred Schubert, as he considers a call to Our Savior Lutheran Church in Escanaba, MI

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 30
Zumba Aerobics, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, September 1
School Chapel, 8:30 a.m.
Bible Study, 9:30 a.m.
Zumba Aerobics, 6 p.m.

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost 15, Series C September 5, 2010

Lessons for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 18)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ~ God’s covenant promise was for life, but outside His promise is death.
Psalm 1 (antiphon:v. 6)
Philemon 1-21 ~ Paul gave Philemon the privilege to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but a brother.
Luke 14:25-35 ~ Jesus’ call to discipleship places an exclusive claim on the believer, increasing the cost.

Moses explained to the Israelites that there were two ways before them: the way of life and the way of death. We face many consequences with the choices we make every day. When St. Paul offered advice to Philemon about his runaway slave, Onesimus, it was wise for Philemon to listen. Jesus warned that anyone who wants to follow him would be wise to consider the cost of discipleship.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Lord my God, open my heart to the preaching of your Word, so that I may recognize my limitations and, in true repentance, trust confidently in Jesus Christ, my Savior, and grow in grace and holiness. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When we consider the cost of discipleship, dollars and cents don’t begin to stack up against the radical commitment of our Savior to the task of our redemption! When our lives are claimed by His love, our hearts are opened up to embrace others generously for His Kingdom.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, make us know the burden of the cross
To count the treasures of this world as loss;
And press upon our hearts Your holy claim,
Announcing to the world Your precious name.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we live outside God’s will, with a take it or leave it attitude toward God’s promise, we end up being left out! If there is a conflict between loyalties, even the disciple’s own life must be forfeit! When we consider the cost carefully we must also reckon the benefits of the covenant. Jesus was so committed to claiming us for His Kingdom that He risked His life. There is no discipleship without commitment and no life without God’s blessing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Christ Life: Mercy, Humility, and Hospitality

Last week we heard Jesus teach us that there is a narrow door that leads to heaven and only those who have faith in him will enter in and take their place at the eternal feast in God’s kingdom. We also heard him warn us that-- as wide open as that door is today, there is coming a day when it will be closed-- and those who are left outside--will never enter in. They will claim a familiarity with Jesus—that they ate and drank in his presence—but because they never had faith in him—he will not claim them as his own.

In our Gospel lesson this week we see these people take on flesh and bone. Jesus was invited to the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees for dinner with other local dignitaries. They eat and drink in his presence. They heard his teaching. They were familiar with him—but faith in him was absent.

And what we are going to see this week is that the faith in Jesus by which we enter the narrow door of salvation-- is MUCH MORE than just a cold, sterile recitation of the facts of his life—it is much more than just intellectual assent to certain religious dogmas—instead, the true and living faith by which we enter into God’s kingdom has the living Christ as its content—and baptized into his death and resurrection--believing in him—filled with his Spirit--his life of mercy, humility, and hospitality is to be lived out in our own life. Luke writes that:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Surely it was no accident that on that Sabbath day, in the presence of the Pharisees and other experts in the Law, that there was also a man present who was ill. Luke tells us that the Pharisees and scribes were watching Jesus carefully. There had already been conflict between them and Jesus over his healing people on the Sabbath—a work of mercy that many of them regarded as breaking God’s Law since it was done of the Sabbath --and now there was a whole room full of witnesses. What would Jesus do?

As in so many other instances in Jesus’ ministry, the person who was put forward by the Pharisees, was not fully human in their eyes—but a handy object in their plan to try and trip up Jesus. The same thing happened with the woman caught in the act of adultery—there was no mercy for her—she was just a prop to try and get to Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t see people who were in need of forgiveness and healing as props or tools or case studies for applied ethics—they were people who needed his mercy.
Luke tells us that the man had “dropsy” which is the accumulation of fluids in the body—perhaps as the result of congestive heart failure—but whatever the cause, he was desperately ill. And put forward by the Pharisees to “trip-up” Jesus, Jesus turned it back to them: What does the Law say, is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath?

To that they had no answer because the Mosaic Law gave no specific answer. There were various rabbinic interpretations and opinions that differed with one another—but no clear command in the Law of God. But they all knew the summary of the Law—the fulfillment of the law—what the law was really all about: to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that’s what Jesus did—he healed him --and sent him on his way.

But Jesus wasn’t through with those who opposed him—he still loved them and wanted them to be a part of his kingdom too—and for that to happen they needed to see the truth about themselves. And so he asked them another question, what about you, what if you had a loved one—would you help them? Luke tells us that they had no reply. But I would hazard a guess that they all had an answer in their minds—of course I would! If my son were drowning I would come to his aid whether it was the Sabbath or not! They just couldn’t bring themselves to be merciful to all who needed their mercy!

And so, even without their having said a word, the judgment of Almighty God that they wanted to render against Jesus --came to rest upon them. The Law of God and their own conscience CRIED OUT for mercy to those in need—but they refused.

We will get this scene wrong if we say that it is just another example of those bad Pharisees. They stand in the place of all people—and on one side is the mercy of Jesus who reaches out and helps—and there on the other side is the lack of the same in us.

All of us have the power to act mercifully—to reach out and help those around us: a kind word—a loving gesture—a financial gift. And the Lord provides us with plenty of opportunities to act with mercy. But much too often we look like the Pharisees trying to figure some reason why we shouldn’t act—some reason why mercy isn’t required of us.

Our Lord wasn’t that way—he reached out to help those who needed his help whenever he came across them. “Mercy” is why he took on flesh and came to earth in the first place—to do for us what we could not do for ourselves—to do what was in his power alone to do—and that is to reconcile us to God.

As those who are the recipients of his mercy, we are called act with mercy towards others—and that relationship between Jesus and us—of us standing in need of the help that only he can give—informs how we see ourselves and how we view those around us—and it works humility in us. Luke says that:

Jesus told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

All of us have done this, haven’t we—what Jesus was doing at the dinner party—a little “people- watching”—it’s one of my favorite things to do There has never been anything on TV as interesting and compelling as living, breathing human beings interacting with one another. Of course, when Jesus is the one doing the “people-watching” it’s something else altogether. It’s a reminder that how we act towards one another is not hidden from God—not even what’s in our hearts.

And so what did Jesus see at that dinner party? He saw plenty of people seeking out the most prominent places for themselves—each of them trying to get a seat at the head table. But he also saw their hearts--the exalted view that they had of themselves over against their fellow guests for whom they had little regard.

Lest we think that this is only a problem with the prominent and the powerful, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, as he and the disciples gathered in the upper room, not one of those fishermen was willing to do a servant’s work and wash the other’s feet. They may have just been fishermen—but they were certainly not servants—they had their pride after all. And so Jesus humbly served them—just as he had come to do.

No doubt the ruler of the Pharisees who was the host-- and all his prominent guests-- thought that Jesus was the one who should have been honored just to have been invited. But the truth is that he was the only one there deserving of exaltation-- and he had a very definite opinion about what he was seeing as they jockeyed for honor.

He said that what they ought to do—rather than risk the public humiliation of having to move from a higher to a lower spot, was choose the lowest place first. That they ought to consider, just for the sake of argument, that just maybe they might not be the most important person there in the room—that others might come before them.

This was a practical and prudent piece of advice if they would only accept it-- but of course Jesus was talking about much, much more than how to conduct oneself in polite society—he was talking about life in his kingdom—a life that begins with God’s Son setting aside divine honor and glory to serve us. Paul says that:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant...and he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…

Jesus’ own humble life is the key to unlocking the meaning behind his words when he says that those who humble themselves will be exalted. With these words, he is not giving us the means or mechanism to get ahead in our careers or climb the corporate ladder by affecting come kind of false humility so that we can rise above others.

Instead, he is telling us how life in his kingdom works—that those who are humble are lifted up—and his own holy life is the example of that. And Paul says: Let this mind be in you. Let this mind that is merciful and humble and welcoming to others be in you. In other words—baptized into his life, his Spirit living within us--we are to think the same way and live the same way as Jesus did.

Who we are and what we are is by God’s grace alone. There is nothing that we have, that we have not received. Our high status as children of God is only true of us because God’s only begotten Son set aside divine honor and glory to humble himself upon the cross. And this humility of our Lord that is our salvation- changes not only how we view ourselves, but how we view others—no longer keeping others at arm’s length—but reaching out to them—and inviting them to have a place in God’s kingdom with us.

Jesus said to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see him eating with the oddest people: Pharisees and scribes who were his enemies and opposed him every step of the way. Tax collectors and prostitutes and other kinds of notorious sinners. Disciples who had betrayed him and failed him in his time of need. He never kept anyone at arm’s length-- but embraced all people in love.

It’s in those meals that we can clearly see how the mercy and humility of Jesus came together in a hospitality that welcomed all people to have a part in his life. No one was kept away by Jesus because they were sinners. No one was kept away by Jesus because of their social status. All people were—and still are—welcomed by Jesus.

On every altar where Jesus gives his body and blood under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, he humbly condescends to make himself present in a meal for sinners and he does this in mercy—knowing that we need the forgiveness and fellowship he gives there. Welcomed and embraced by the open arms of Jesus, we leave the altar rail with our arms and hearts open wide to the world—welcoming others to have a part in Christ’s life too.

We live in a time and place where even in the midst of great crowds, people can feel isolated and alone—where families are fragmented—where television and the Internet offer only an illusion of community. There is an entire world full of broken, needy people just waiting for our invitation to join us in God’s kingdom and partake of the Lord’s never-ending feast of forgiveness. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost 14, Series C August 29, 2010

Lessons for Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 17)

Proverbs 25:2-10 ~ From honor in a king’s presence to power in court, mercy is better than justice.
Psalm 131 (antiphon: v. 2)
Hebrews 13:1-17 ~ Jesus has made us holy through His blood so we can afford to help those in need.
Luke 14:1-14 ~ Those who feel uncomfortable without clear rules also expect to gain respect by association.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Let Brotherly Love Continue
King Solomon knew his job: to search out matters and make decision based on truth and justice; but he also recognized that in our relations with God, we do better to rely on His mercy. We ought also deal with others in love and respect, rather than trying to gain prestige and power at their expense. We can “go outside the camp” and bear the reproach of the world as we reach out to those who are without honor and value in society. Jesus said rules don’t apply with the welfare of a child of God is at risk, and honor doesn’t come from avoiding the dishonored.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dear Lord Jesus, You stepped outside the walls to sacrifice Your life’s blood to make me worthy in God’s sight. Give me the courage and conviction to step to the side of those whose worth is little in the eyes of the world, that I may share the honor of Your love with them. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Our worth does not consist of honor and prestige in the world’s eyes, nor even of impressive accumulations or precious commodities of exchange. Rather we are worthy in God’s sight and holy through Jesus’ sacrifice. Those who are the least in society are still precious to God. We can afford to risk our position and our goods to care for those God cares for.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, free us from the love of money; give
Us grace to share Your love with those in need.
For You have rescued us from death to live
With You, outside the gates, in word and deed.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we feel insecure, we look for clear-cut rules to guide our actions and define our relationships. We look for self-worth in our abilities and connections. We imagine that we, rather than God, define our place in life and determine our value. The good news is that God does indeed define our place and determine our worth, and He has done so based on His love for us, not our compliance with rules and our love of honor. Christ’s blood has made us holy in God’s sight so that we can afford to risk prestige and worth by reaching out to help those who have little or none of either in the eyes of the world.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Narrow Door

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

We are inundated—and too often influenced-- by the religious voices around us. We listen to preachers on television and radio who have varying degrees of fidelity to God’s Word. We have friends and family members with their own particular religious points of view. Media personalities like Oprah tell us that what really matters is just being spiritual and that all paths lead to God. And let there be no doubt, by their words they intend to teach us--to shape our thinking-- on the eternally important questions of: who is God and how can I know him and what does it mean to have a life with him.

But God did not leave us to the opinions of men and our own devices when it comes to knowing the answers to these questions. Instead, he sent his Son to teach us the truth. Jesus said, “My words are truth.” Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except by me.” Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” Jesus said, “My teaching is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.”

To truly know who God is- and to truly know how we can have a life with him- and to truly know the answers to the eternally important questions about forgiveness and eternal life—God provided us with a teacher: his own Son, Jesus Christ. Luke writes:

Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.

In those few words Luke beautifully summed up our Lord’s entire ministry: to teach us the truth about God and our life with him by leading us to Jerusalem—to the place of the cross and the empty tomb where our questions about heaven and life with God and forgiveness are answered in Christ’s death and resurrection.

God does not want a single person in this world to not know the answers to the spiritual questions that really matter—he does not want a single person here today to be confused by the voices of the world who would mislead us about eternal life—he doesn’t want us to be deceived by our own flesh. That is why he sent us Son to teach us the truth.

And so today we set aside all those voices of the world—we set aside the opinions of men who would deceive us in God’s name—we set aside the ideas of our own fallen flesh—and we hear God’s own teacher tell us how to get to heaven. Luke writes that: Someone said to Jesus, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

As we reflect upon God’s Word, we’re going to see that Jesus really never does answer this person’s question—about how many will be saved-- because that is Jesus’ business, not ours--and the way that Lord dealt with this question is a helpful reminder that the Lord teaches us what he wants us to know—not necessarily everything that we want to know.

For example, he didn’t answer the question of the woman at the well as to which was the proper mountain to worship on—he didn’t answer the disciples’ questions about when he would come again—he didn’t answer Peter’s question about John’s future--he didn’t answer this question about how many would be saved. Instead, he answers the question in such a way that WE CAN BE SAVED by knowing the answer he does give. That is always his priority: not to answer our speculation --but to provide for our salvation. He answers the salvation question this way:

"Strive to enter through the narrow door.
The Lord pictures heaven as a huge house with just one entrance: a narrow door. And so what is this narrow door that ushers us into heaven? It is Jesus Christ! He is not only the teacher sent by God to instruct us concerning salvation—he IS our salvation—he is the narrow door to heaven. Jesus says about himself:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I AM THE DOOR. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”

In stark contrast to all of those who would have us believe that there are many paths to God, the Father’s heaven-sent teacher tells us that there is just one way: and that is by the narrow door who is Christ.

He alone has atoned for the sins of the world by his death on the cross. He alone has risen from the dead destroying the power of the grave. He alone has fulfilled all righteousness by his holy life—he alone is the one mediator between God and man-- and no one—no one—will come to the Father and enter into heaven except by him.

Jesus is the narrow door to heaven—but we are the ones who have to enter in. How do we enter through that narrow door? It is by faith—and faith alone. Jesus told Nicodemus that just “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus told the crowd who was traveling to the Feast of Tabernacles that “this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” And the holy apostles told the people when they asked about salvation: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

Salvation by “God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” is not something that Lutherans made up in the 16th century—it is nothing else than the teaching of Jesus. God the Father has provided the door of salvation in his great love for all people. Jesus Christ has opened the door of salvation by his death and resurrection. God the Holy Spirit calls us through Word and Sacrament to enter eternal life by that door of salvation and hearing that message--we believe and are saved.

Jesus says that we are to STRIVE to do this—to enter through the narrow door. We strive for all kinds of things in life—money and success and recognition and good marks in school and all of those things may by praiseworthy—but they will not save us-- and to have them all and not have Christ is to have less than nothing. STRIVE to enter through the narrow door that leads to heaven because-- not all people will enter it and be saved. Jesus says:

For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.'

Why will so many fail to enter by the narrow door and be saved? It is not because they do not know it is there (they do!)—it is not because they have not heard how they are to enter it (they have!)—it is because they will have waited too long. For all who are living and breathing on the earth at this moment—there is a remarkable day of grace that God has given to us today—a day when the door to heaven stands wide open to all who will enter in by faith in Jesus. But Jesus also warns us that there will come a day when the door will be closed—never to be opened again.

The Lord’s words call to mind the days of Noah when there was ample opportunity for everyone who heard the preaching of Noah to take it to heart—repent of their sins—trust in God’s promised deliverance-- and enter in through door of the ark of salvation. Plenty of time right up until there was no more time-- and door to the ark was closed and the judgment of Almighty God began to fall.

The people of Noah’s day knew that the ark was there—they knew the door was open to all—but they had other things to do—other priorities—all the time thinking that they had another day to heed God’s invitation-- until the days of God’s grace came to an end and the promised judgment was at hand.

In the same way today, Jesus points the world to the open, narrow door of eternal life and invites all people to come inside-- but he also warns us that the door will one day close—after which no one will be able to enter. Jesus warns us:
Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.'

The people who saw Jesus’ miracles—the people who heard his teaching—the people who were fed by him-- numbered in the tens of thousands. But not all of them believed in him and not all would be saved simply because they were familiar with him. Then and now: Familiarity was not enough—FAITH was needed.

In our world today, there are all kinds of people who are familiar with the story of Jesus—but that is not enough. James says that the devil knows that there is one God and trembles in terror. There are all kinds of people who are familiar with the things of the church. But that is not enough for salvation any more than it was sufficient for those of Noah’s day to know that there was a big boat out in the field. There are all kinds of people who have family members who are Christians-- but that is not enough. YOU must believe in Jesus Christ.

It is necessary to know Christ as your Lord and Savior to be known by him on the Last Day—it is necessary to confess his saving name if he is to confess your name before his Father in heaven. On that day, Jesus will say to those who have not believed in him:

“…I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'
Jesus is not saying that on the Last Day that he will somehow lack the omniscience to know all about those who have rejected him. Just the opposite is true—he knows them better than they could ever know themselves—every ugly, sinful detail. But the kind of knowledge that Jesus is talking about is the intimate knowledge that exists between a husband and wife in a love relationship. In effect Jesus says to all those who have not entered by the narrow door: “we’ve never had a relationship and now it is too late to have a life with me because you are evil and will remain so forever”.

We tend to think of people being evil on the basis of what they do or don’t do—and certainly there is some truth in that. But the measure of Jesus’ judgment on the last day is whether or not we have entered through the narrow door by faith in him-- or rejected him and remained outside. That “lack of faith in Jesus” is the evil that damns!

It’s important for us to remember—that no matter who “good’ we think we are—no matter how “good” we think someone else might be—the judgment of Christ is that apart from faith in him-- individuals are evil and can never live with him in heaven and instead are sent to hell.

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.

Those who deny the existence of hell are satanically deluded. Hell is real- and it is terrible- and it is eternal—sorrow and pain forever and ever—and utterly unnecessary because from the beginning there has been one way of salvation open to all people. The prophets and patriarchs all knew that one way of salvation which is the narrow door of faith in God’s Messiah—a door that is open wide to all people. Jesus says:

People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

The door to heaven is so narrow that only those who believe in Jesus Christ can come in and yet at the same time to door to heaven is open so wide that ALL who believe in him can come in. For the Jews of Jesus day this was a shock. They thought that simply by being Jews they would be saved—but they were wrong. Yes—they had every advantage: they had the temple and the Torah and circumcision and sacrifice—but apart from faith in Christ these advantages would not save them.

Others of that day had none of these things—no natural advantage owing to their birth among Jews—they were Gentiles from all over the world-- but they believed in Jesus when he promised that through faith in him they would be saved—and they were—taking their place in the kingdom of God. The first, last—and some of the last, first.

The same thing is still true today—there are people born into Christian families and baptized and catechized and raised in the Church—people who have every advantage—and yet they reject Christ and listen to the lying voices of the world. Others have no such advantage—they were born to unbelievers and were brought up that way—and yet by God’s providence and grace they heard Christ preached and believed in him and entered through the narrow door to eternal life. The first, last—and some of the last, first.

To those who have the advantage of having grown up in the church, Jesus says: use it! Put your faith in me and be saved. To those who had no such advantage Jesus says the same: today is the day of grace that God has provided for you to enter through the narrow door and join the Lamb’s great eternal feast by believing in him. May God grant us all the faith to enter into eternal life by the narrow door of Christ! Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost 13, Series C August 22, 2010

Lessons for Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 16)

Isaiah 66:18–23 ~ God will gather His people from all nations into a new heaven and new earth.
Psalm 50:1–15 (Antiphon: Psalm 50:23)
Hebrews 12:4–24 (25–29) ~ God disciplines His children to yield the fruit of righteousness in their lives.
Luke 13:22–30 ~ Jesus taught that many will seek to enter the kingdom, but will reject His invitation.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: God's Real, Holy Future
In Christ our Lord, God has promised us a future that is real and holy. Our lessons today assure us that heaven is no "pie in the sky by and by". It is as real as the sacrifices that were offered in the temple on Mount Zion. It is no mundane, "realistic expectation". It is as holy as the glory of the Lord God of heaven and earth. If we belittle this hope or reject God's promise, the door will be closed; we will be locked outside. But when we know the King and the blood of his new covenant, God's real, holy future is ours!

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God of all nations, thank you for your gracious love in Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Help me reach out to people of every tribe and nation, of every community and class, to share with them the promise of your presence and the hope of your glory. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Learning to trust and depend on God shows itself in how we use the material blessings he has placed into our hands. We learn to extend God’s grace through our patient care and assistance to those in need, never failing to speak the Word of God which propels the loving deed.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, help us strive for peace with everyone,
And learn to trust You always, and rejoice,
Employ these gifts to lead the wayward ones
That they may know Your love and hear Your voice.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.” (Proverbs 13:18 NIV) We are inclined to protest suffering in our lives instead of learning lessons of patience and dependance on God’s mercy. When we are too self-assured to receive instruction, we miss the invitation to Christ’s kingdom; the Master says, “I do not know where you come from.” God draws us in from all the nations of the earth with His grace through Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, whose blood speaks us righteous.

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Praise God for His grace...Strengthen faith by the accounts of God's abundant grace...example of the life of faith to imitate. The Lutheran Confessions, most notably the Apology or Defense of the Augsburg Confession, notes three reasons why God has given us the accounts of the saints.

One of the great abominations that had arisen in Rome was the invocation of the saints, praying to them as to the Lord and venerating them as some kind of super Christian who could bestow favored status in the presence of Christ. The reformers countered that only the true God was worthy of worship. Instead, we praise God for the lives of the saints for the reasons listed above.

This morning, we praised God for St. Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. The great example of Mary is the virtue of submission to her Lord. May God by His Holy Spirit grant us to imitate the blessed virgin mother!

For some, this week marks the last week of summer vacation before schools go back into session. For others, classes have already begun. One group for whom a lot of activity will begin in the coming week are those brothers and sisters at Mt. Olive who will be attending college classes. Some will be going to places like College Station and San Antonio, while others will be attending classes here in the Coastal Bend. In either case, please keep these young people in your prayers, along with those who will be attending classes at any level.

Another group who will be getting back into the swing of things will be teachers. Mt. Olive is blessed with a number of teachers and many different levels and in divergent disciplines of study. Please keep these folks in your prayers, as well.

The Sunday School is also in search of teachers for this coming year. The Sunday School partners with Biblical instruction in the home, teaching children to know the voice of God from Holy Scripture so that they may join the holy Christian Church in heaven on earth in confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. If you would like to serve in this ministry, please contact Kim Waddle and/or Kelly Willoughby.

Later this month, the Fellowship Team will be hosting a birthday party for yours truly (I'm turning 50). If you would like to attend, please contact the church office to RSVP.

This week is also a change in my family. Kathy will be undergoing knee replacement surgery on Tuesday morning.

Brothers and Sisters, Please Pray for:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), John Miller's niece (on her way home), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Teachers in schools across our nation and especially here in the Coastal Bend, as they prepare for their difficult tasks
The students committed to the care of these instructors
My family, as Kathy undergoes surgery this week

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 16
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

6:30 p.m.
Board of Elders

Wednesday, August 18
9:30 a.m.
Bible Study

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

God bless!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Hammer of God

In 1941 a young Swedish pastor named Bo Giertz wrote a novel about three Lutheran pastors and the challenges they faced in their ministries as they fought against the false teachers and the false doctrines that threatened their flocks.

The novel was entitled “The Hammer of God”—a phrase that Pastor Giertz borrowed from the passage that we have before us today where Jeremiah says that the Word of the Lord works against the lies of men like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces. Pastor Giertz chose that title because he wanted to show in his novel how the Word of God crushes the vain human wisdom and pretense that tries to set itself up against the Word of God.

His book is required reading for seminarians in our church because its message is so timely and relevant-- for false teachers and their lies are not unique to a particular place and time-- but are always found where the devil plants them along side those who speak the truth among the people of God—just like in Jeremiah’s day.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.' "

Jeremiah’s message for the people of that day and place was primarily a message of judgment: because of the people’s sins and because of their lack of repentance God was going to judge them at the hands of the Babylonians.

But almost immediately, as Jeremiah began to give that true message from the Lord, false prophets also began to tell the people just the opposite: that what they had done wasn’t as bad as all that—that God would not really judge his covenant people—that they had nothing to fear. Truth and lies being spoken side by side among the people of God.

That phenomenon is not confined to that day—it has always been that way among the people of God: Jesus said to watch out for false prophets because they are ravenous wolves. Paul said to mark those who cause divisions among you contrary to the apostolic doctrine and have nothing to do with them. John confronted those who said that Jesus had not really come in the flesh and put them out of the church.

In our own day: there are church bodies who say that what the Bible calls sin is not sin at all. There are movements within the Church that say that if you get “left behind” when the Lord comes again you’ve still got another chance. There are church leaders who add doctrines never taught in the Bible which they say must be believed for salvation. Truth and lies being taught side by side among the people of God.

Just this last week, Bishop Matti Vaisanen was removed from the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church in Finland for opposing homosexuality & the ordination of women.

Of course it is not just the people of Jeremiah’s day-- or other people in other churches in our day—who are affected by this kind of thinking that wants to distort God’s Word and blunt the hard edge of his Law—it’s us too.

We are tempted to believe that some sins deserve God’s punishment and others are not so bad. For example, we take strong stands against abortion and homosexuality—but we are not nearly as concerned about people not coming to church or those who are destroying people’s reputations through slander and gossip.

But now as then, God’s judgment always follows sin—every sin-- whether we think it big or small—and to tell people that their sins are not really sins--to tell them that even when Jesus comes, they’ll still get another chance--to rail against one sin and ignore another sin-- is to lead people to hell because these lies provide what the Lord calls “a vain hope”—a hope that things are O.K. between me and God apart from sincere, heart-felt repentance and faith in Christ alone. Then and now, these kinds of “vain hopes” are the product of sinful, human thinking-- not the revealed word of God --and very simply God says: Do not listen to them! Do not listen to them!

Do not listen to the words of the secular prophets who want to deny God’s Word—do not listen to false teachers within the church--do not listen to your own flesh that wants to mute God’s law to suit yourselves—do not listen to them-- for they are not speaking God’s Word!

Who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear HIS word, or who has paid attention to HIS word and listened? Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.

The Lord’s judgment on false prophets and their words is that they had failed to hear and to heed his Word—because if they had, they would have known what Jeremiah knew—that judgment was coming for the people of God and it was just as certain as though it were already at hand.

So it is for the Church today—we too are to preach the judgment of God upon sin—we too are called to stand for the truth—we too are to warn folks that there is a day of reckoning and wrath that is no less certain for it being in the future-- because the Lord has promised it.

And all who deny or downplay that message in one way or another—do not speak for the Lord -and are not sent by the Lord- and are not helping those they speak to, but assuring their damnation because they are robbing them of the God-given means to repentance and faith—which is his Word of Law and Gospel.

God’s judgment can be ignored and ridiculed only for a time. The lies of the false prophets who tell their flocks that sin is not sin and that even if Christ comes they will get another chance can continue to deceive only for a time. And then as certainly as the Israelites were carried into exile at the hands of the Babylonians-- so will God’s final judgment fall without mercy on those who speak lies and those who believe their lies.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for us—there is still time for us to hear the truth of God’s Word and be saved-- which is what God wants for all people:

If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.

The task of the faithful prophet is very simple: to speak God’s Word and only God’s Word—not his opinions and not his ideas and not what he would prefer and not what he thinks—but God’s Word and God’s Word alone: when people want to hear it and when people don’t—when there is good news and when there is bad—when those words hurt and when those words heal. The faithful man of God limits himself to speaking God’s Word. And the task of the people of God is very simple: that you would demand to hear nothing else.

The Lord’s voice is the only voice that is to be heard among the people of God because it is the only means which God has given to accomplish his saving purpose: to turn men from evil and to turn them in faith to the Lord. That is why he spoke so forcefully to his people through Jeremiah—to break their hard hearts like a hammer upon stone—to get them to see how desperate their spiritual condition really was—that he would not- and could not- abide forever with their sin and faithlessness—but that he would punish them if they did not repent of their sins and believe in him.

The Lord works the same way through his Word today—to turn us from our sins to faith in him. To bring that about, we have to hear things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear: that we too are sinners—that we haven’t listened attentively to God’s word like we should—that instead we have listened to what our itching ears want to hear.

In a recent devotion, Pastor Scott Murray mentioned an article in the New York Times entitled, “Congregations Gone Wild” by Pastor Jeff MacDonald who was told by the advisory committee of his congregation that he was “to keep his sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories, and leave people feeling great about themselves.”

Dear friends in Christ, people go will right straight to hell listening to that kind of preaching. And so the Lord tells us-- with the same kind of certainty that he told Israelites that judgment is coming-- but he also assures us that there is a way of deliverance—a way of forgiveness and restoration that he alone provides.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

That new covenant that the Lord promised through Jeremiah was not a covenant based upon the people’s obedience to the Law. Instead, it was a new covenant based upon the shed blood of the Messiah—a new covenant based upon the forgiveness that Jesus earned for the world by his life, death, and resurrection—a new covenant that is given as a free gift of God’s grace in preaching and Baptism and Eucharist. That is what they looked forward to in faith—that is what we know to be the finished work of our Savior and our one true hope from sin and death.

So long as we are living and breathing there still remains a day of grace when we can turn from our sins and turn in faith to the salvation that God has provided to the world in his Son Jesus Christ. But for that to happen the church must be about the work of the Lord—speaking his Word of Law and Gospel to the world-- and fighting against the false teachers and their lies that threatens to mute those words of truth and life.

This is a battle that the church must wage. We are not permitted by God to remain on the sidelines-- or take a “live and let live” attitude to lies that are spoken among the people of God in the name of the Lord. Instead we are to fight the good fight of faith with the hammer of God in hand knowing that the Lord looks on.

"Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?

When it comes to what is said in the Church, let there be no doubt: there is a God who hears- and there is a God who sees- and no one who speaks lies in his name will escape his judgment. The Israelites and their false prophets certainly weren’t going to escape. Just as Jeremiah the man of God had prophesied, they would indeed suffer enslavement and exile at the hand of the Babylonians because they had forgotten the Lord and believed the lies of false prophets.

They had forgotten that the Lord was holy and demanded holiness of his people. They had forgotten that he was righteous and would judge the evildoer.

But they had also forgotten that he was merciful and gracious and willing to forgive and so refused to turn to him in faith for forgiveness. Instead, by their lies, they turned aside from the one true God to an idol that they could manipulate and mute.

False teachers and their lies still work the same way to try to make us forget about who God really is: when they tell us that sin is not sin, they deny the holiness of God--when they tell us that our works contribute to our salvation, they deny the graciousness of God and the sufficiency of his Son’s sacrifice on the cross---when they tell us that God is not the Creator of all, they deny the power and greatness of God.

And slowly but surely their lies try to turn our hearts from the God who sees all things and knows all things and fills the universe-- into an idol that can be carried around and rubbed like a rabbit’s foot or Genie’s bottle when we need something. But I am telling you dear friends in Christ—the One true God will not abide with that attitude forever. He says:

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Right up unto the Last Day of God’s judgment there will be tares in the wheat—there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing among the flock—there will be false teachers who lie and true prophets who faithfully speak the Word of God. There is a difference-- and it is as stark and as clear as the difference between wheat and straw—between truth and falsehood—between wolves and shepherds.

The Good News for us today is that our faithful Lord has the last word and at his Word the wheat will be separated from the chaff which will be burned in unquenchable fire-- but those who have been broken and re-shaped by the hammer of God--they will live forever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost 12, Series C August 15, 2010

Lessons for Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 15)

Jeremiah 23:16–29 ~ False prophets preached a false hope that encouraged rebellion against God.
Psalm 119:81–88 (Antiphon: Psalm 119:87)
Hebrews 11:17–31 (32–40) 12:1–3 ~ The cloud of witnesses who lived by faith direct us to trust in Jesus.
Luke 12:49–53 (54–56) ~ We anticipate the weather better than we recognize God’s kingdom in Christ Jesus.

British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain bargained to win "peace for our time" before the outbreak of World War II. He was prepared to give up rights and compromise principles to preserve the peace. God's ultimate goal is not peace for our time, but for all time. Prophets who encouraged unholy alliances were expendable. God’s people of faith were sustained in difficult times as they stood firm in God’s covenant. Jesus warned that division, confrontation, and finally judgment and sacrifice would be necessary to bring about his mission, which was not peace on earth, but salvation for God's fallen creatures.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Holy God, You know I don't like conflict; my heart longs for peace. Too often I try to make peace when Your truth is at stake. Never let anything I do or say stand in the way of Your redemption for all people. Help me share Your gift of peace for all time with others. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When we use our material blessings to accomplish our hopes and dreams, we should make sure that they are in line with God’s plans for His kingdom and for our eternal well-being, and not ours alone, but also the eternal salvation of our neighbors.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, give us dreams consistent with Your will
And hopes based firmly on Your Kingdom’s grace.
Then bless these offerings; give us purpose still
To share Your love and show the world Your face.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We anticipate the weather better than we recognize God’s kingdom in Jesus, and we don’t predict the weather very well! We let our hopes for short term goals cloud our vision of God’s long term promises, so that we are ready to sell out eternity for present pleasures. The cloud we should pay attention to is the host of faithful people who have lived by trusting God’s Word. Then we would be able to endure short term suffering, rejoicing in the redemption Christ has won for us, as we share this vision with others.