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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Confessional and/or versus Missional

There is a an attempt to divide and place in opposition two important parts of the church, that of confessing the faith and that of carrying out the faith or bearing witness of one’s faith. Statements are made that a person or church, cannot be both. Statements are made that a person or church is either spending all its time defending the faith that it espouses or they are out sharing that faith. The following is a somewhat biased attempt to understand what is behind this accusation, if this accusation is true, and what is the relationship between one’s confession and one’s bearing witness of their faith.
 
First, let us look at what it means to be a “missional church”. What is the “missional church” as defined by those in the “missional church”? A short internet search of the term “missional” brings the following definitions (with a bit of comment). The online encyclopedia/dictionary defines the missional church as: a church that “attempts to take Christ to ’the lost’ and its members are personally engaged in reaching their communities with the message of Jesus Christ” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missional_living). This statement is a laudable statement, and although I would use other more appropriate Biblical terms, this definition is one that is quite true.
 
The magazine, Christianity Today says the following: “Among the commonly cited deficiencies of Christendom are the Reformational marks of the church. Allegedly, concern for true preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments leads to an unhealthy focus on the church’s internal life. With the ministry of Word and sacrament de-centered for a vague notion of ‘mission,’ strange forms of experimentation can result” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/16.56.html) (Emphasis added). According to this author, the very means of grace, the very means that God has of giving us the gifts He has to give, is a “deficiency” and “leads to an unhealthy focus on the church’s internal life.”
 
From the Missional Manifesto we read:“Missional represents a significant shift in the way we understand the church. As the people of a missionary God, we are entrusted to participate in the world the same way He does—by committing to be His ambassadors” (http://www.missionalmanifesto.net/). The difficulty of this statement is that we cannot participate in this world as God does. God participated in flesh as Jesus giving His life for ours. We participate in this world as priests, living lives of faith, always being ready to give an answer for our hope in Jesus alone.
 
And finally, also from the Missional Manifesto we read:“Through the grace of God, when a person repents of their sin, confesses the Messiah as Lord, and believes in His resurrection, they gain what the Bible defines as new and eternal life” (http://www.missionalmanifesto.net/). Although this statement is listed as Gospel, we can see the confusion of Law and Gospel making the Gospel into a new Law, i.e., “when a person . . .” is Law, not Gospel. It is Jesus who earned forgiveness for us on the cross and who gives us that forgiveness, as well as all His gifts, through the very means He has given us, the means of grace.
 
Now, let us look at what it means to be confessional. Again, doing an internet search to be fair, from the online encyclopedia/dictionary we read: “Confessionalism, in a religious (and particularly Christian) sense, is a belief in the importance of full and unambiguous assent to the whole of a religious teaching. Confessionalists believe that differing interpretations or understandings, especially those in direct opposition to a held teaching, cannot be accommodated within a church communion” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessionalism_(religion)). A confessional is one who confesses, without deviation, an orthodoxy of faith.
 
Another entry from the online encyclopedia/dictionary we read: “Confessional Lutheran is a name used by Lutheran Christians to designate themselves as those who accept the doctrines taught in the Book of Concord of 1580 (the Lutheran ‘confessional’ documents) in their entirety as completely faithful (quia) to the teachings of the Bible. While most Lutheran denominations find the basis of their faith in the Book of Concord, ‘Confessional Lutherans’ maintain that faithfulness to it requires attention to how that faith is actually being preached, taught, and put into practice. Confessional Lutherans believe that this is a vital part of their identity as Lutherans” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessional_Lutheran). A confessional Lutheran is one who believes that one’s confession is orthodox only as it is confessed, taught, and practiced, with an emphasis on practice in faithfulness. In other words, for one to be a confessional Lutheran one must actually practice what one preaches and believes.
    Perhaps we should look at what Scripture says concerning being confessional and/or being missional. One example might be God’s command to the Children of Israel when they entered the promised land. God did not tell them to be missional but to be confessional. God did not tell them to share the message of salvation but to wipe out the heathen people in the land. Certainly we understand this as God’s divine judgement against those in the land.
 
But what about Elijah and the prophets of Baal? God did not have Elijah create a house of prayer with the prophets of Baal. No, He had Elijah challenge them to an altar contest. Elijah even made fun of them and laughed at them. And finally, God had the prophets of Baal killed as well.
 
Why all this killing of the heathen and Baal worshipers? Because God knew what would happen if the confession of His name and Word were compromised by those outside the faith. And we see throughout the Old Testament what happened when the Children of Israel compromised their confession of faith.
 
But what about the New Testament? In the Gospel of John we have the account of Jesus speaking hard words so that some took offense and left Him (John 6:51-69). Jesus was not concerned about being relevant, nor offensive, rather He was interested in keeping His Word faithful and true. In the Gospel of Matthew we have God’s Great Commission as it is called. Although that is the topic of another article, let us just say that rather than being a great commission, the words of Jesus are the great giving of authority and God’s promise to always be with His people. Although we are encouraged to bear witness of our faith through our daily vocations as priests in the priesthood of all believers, again another article, there is no real statement from God in Holy Scripture as a command being missional. There are many passages which speak of confessing sound doctrine. The following is a partial listing: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” Romans 16:17 (ESV). “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” 1 Timothy 6:3-4b (ESV). “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” Titus 1:9 (ESV). “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” Titus 2:1 (ESV) .
 
Although Scripture shows quite clearly that God is more interested in a true confession of doctrine, it never puts doctrine and practice, or as we speak in this article, confession and missional in opposition. Scripture speaks clearly of the importance of pure doctrine for the purpose of giving a true witness of faith, a true missional emphasis. Martin Luther, C.F.W. Walther, Alvin Barry all understood this and spoke of the importance making sure our doctrine is pure so that we might bear witness of that doctrine, of getting the message straight and getting the message out.
 
But, let us get back to the question, “Can a person be confessional without being missional?” The accusation is that if a person is spending all their time guarding the message, then the message is simply kept out of reach of others. The fallacy of this accusation is the very fact that as a person studies, learns, and learns to defend what they have learned, they cannot help but want to tell others of what they have learned. Remember as a child in first grade, learning to read, you wanted to show everyone you could read.
 
Can a person be missional without being confessional? Here again the suggestion is that for the church to survive we must get the message out. But how can one share what one does not have or how can one share that about which they know nothing. In other words, unless I know what I am sharing, what do I have to share?
 
My conclusion is that a person cannot be confessional without being missional because being missional simply flows out of being confessional. On the other hand, a person can be missional according to their own definition of being missional without being confessional; however, as we have seen, without a confession to be missional about this lack of a confession simply means they truly are neither confessional nor missional.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lip Service or Hearts Desire - August 26, 2012 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Mark 7:1-13

Last Sunday we witnessed an exodus of people from following Jesus because what He was teaching was too hard for them. They decided it would be best for them to follow someone whose teachings were more in line with what they believed. Sounds pretty familiar to what happens in our own world today. Too often we do not like what we read in the Bible, so we stop reading it. We do not like what we hear the pastor preach from the pulpit so we label him as not being in touch with today, or we simply stop listening and maybe stop coming. We do not like what is taught in Bible class, so we stop coming. We do not like our fallible, sin stained opinions contradicted by the Word of God so we do not show up to talk about the issue. We live in a country where, to a great degree we still have the freedom of religion and we have the freedom from religion. Too often we exercise the later and instead of looking, shopping for a church which teaches the Word of God in all its truth and purity, no matter how hard it is, we look for, we shop for a church which teaches what we want to believe. Instead of going to Bible Class and asking the hard questions we stay away and make up our own doctrine. We like to have our own way, and we like to have our own opinions validated and unfortunately, our own way does not always lead to Christ.
 
After reading our text for today, two clichés came to my mind. The first cliché was “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We have all heard this cliché and we understand it to mean that what is on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside. Yet, how often do we look at someone and immediately make an internal judgement about that person. I confess, I tend to be that way, and the worst part about it is that I know that I do not always make a good first impression. So, I do try very hard to not “judge” people by their first impression, but to give people two, three or more chances to make an impression.
 
The difficult thing about this is the fact that we live in a society were presentation is everything. There was even a television show called Spin City (and not that I would advise watching it) with the understanding that truth is not what is important, but the spin you put on the truth, that is what is important. As Christians we might better understand this cliché in the context of our understanding ourselves as being at the same time a sinner and a saint. We are sinful human beings and if looked at from the outside, that is what is seen, yet, we are at the same time saints, forgiven children of God, but that is only seen by God as He alone can look into our hearts. Certainly we would agree that we would not want to “judge a book by its cover.”
  
  The second cliché that this text brought to my mind was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” This cliché brought to mind the fact that there are two type of dirtiness and two types of cleanliness. There is physical dirtiness which happens when we go out and work and play and get dirty. The opposite of this is physical cleanliness which occurs when we take bath. And there is spiritual dirtiness which is what we know and call sin. The opposite of this is spiritual cleanliness which comes with forgiveness and which also reminds us of Holy Baptism. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we are made clean, we are made a part of God’s Kingdom. We are washed clean of all sins and we are made saints in God’s Kingdom.
 
The problem in our text is in this discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees on cleanliness and uncleanliness and on believing the Words of Jesus or believing the words of humanity. The problem or the question started over a discussion of ritual cleansing, but that was not the real problem or question. As so often is the case in our world today, we do not always talk about what is on our minds instead we talk about something else, hoping we will get an answer to what is really on our minds. I call this “the question behind the question.” If there is a teaching of the Bible we do not like, we talk about all the exceptions which we believe might be acceptable, instead of talking about the specific doctrine which is on our minds. We talk to everyone we think will agree with us instead of going to Bible Class and discussing what the Bible really does say. The Pharisees finally cut to the chase in our text and asked “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” In other words, the question behind their question about clean and unclean was a question concerning the traditions of man versus the will of God.
 
For the Pharisees the man made traditions of washing, literally of baptizing of hands, of the ritual, ceremonial washing, even a sprinkling, were more important than faith or even why they did these things, why they followed these rituals and traditions. Too often in our world today we have a problem with tradition, either we put too much emphasis on tradition, or we do not respect tradition enough, we sin on both sides, but really that is not the crux of our text. For the Pharisees, the problem was that the disciples did not follow their human, man made traditions. For Jesus, the problem was not the traditions, but the question behind the traditions. Although some traditions might not be good traditions and might need to cease, some traditions are good. However, again, the questions is not so much about traditions, but what is behind certain traditions.
 
Because Jesus did not faithfully follow all the man made traditions and enforce that His disciples do the same, He was accused of being blasphemous, a fake, a phony, even a heretic. He certainly could not be a prophet, at least not a fit prophet, at least not in the eyes of the Pharisees. According to the Pharisees, a true prophet, a fit prophet, was one who knew and followed all the Laws of the Bible, but more importantly, who knew and followed all the traditions of the fathers.
 
Jesus, Himself, cuts to the chase as well and states, from the prophet Isaiah, a prophet with whom they were well familiar and who they respected. Jesus states, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And then, just in case they do not understand, Jesus gives a specific example of the Pharisees doing just this, worshiping God in vain and following the rules taught by men instead of by God.
 
Jesus gives the example of the fourth commandment, of honoring our father and mother. Jesus says that the Pharisees believe that it is okay to disobey God’s command in order to follow their own law which states that if one is a Pharisee it is okay to not honor one’s parents by taking care of them. For the Pharisees and even more so for many in our world today, what is important is not what God says in His holy Word, but our own man made laws and traditions.
 
The point Jesus is making is a very valid point for us today. The question is “do we live by the fallible rules of mankind or do we live by faith?” And the answer is seen in our actions. The solution according to Jesus is that it all begins with faith. Now remember, as you have heard me say many times, faith is the instrument through which God gives us all the gifts He has to give. Faith is the instrument which is given to us through the Word of God and Holy Baptism and which takes hold of and makes all of God’s gifts ours. Like I have said in my ice cream illustration, when a friend gives us a bowl of ice cream they also give us the spoon, the instrument we use to move the ice cream from the bowl to our mouths. So, likewise, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life through His means of grace and also the instrument, the faith to make those gifts ours. Faith has its basis, not in man made traditions, but in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Faith in His Holy Word.
 
And this faith which God has given to us in our hearts is not simply lip service. Saving faith is not acted out by just showing up for church on Sunday morning and thinking that we have done our duty for the week. Faith, true saving faith shows itself in action, in being used to make God’s gifts ours and in sharing those gifts with others. Faith shows itself in being more interested in the truth of God’s Word rather than following fallible man made rituals and traditions, for the sake of following man made rituals and traditions.
 
Faith, true saving faith comes from outside, it comes through means, namely the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Faith comes from outside, and it springs up inside as a living faith. As the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to give us faith through the means of grace, He also works in our hearts, using the gifts God gives so that we cannot help but respond by living lives of faith, that is by living lives hungering and thirsting to eat and drink Jesus’ flesh and blood as we heard last week. God’s desire is that we worship Him in spirit and truth, that we hunger and thirst to make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, those means through which He comes to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give. God’s desire is that our desire is to be where His Word is preached in all its truth and purity and His sacraments are distributed according to His Word. God’s desire is that we read and hear His Word, that we confess our sins and hear His most beautiful words of forgiveness, that we remember our baptism and that we come to His Holy Supper where we eat His body and drink His blood, participating in Him so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life, His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection and His new life in heaven becomes our new life in heaven.
 
My prayer is that the Lord will continue to help us to move from simply honoring our Lord with our lips only to desiring to be in divine service and Bible Class, to desire to make regular, every Sunday and even every day, and diligent, as often as offered, use of His means of grace. So that we might grow in our own faith life and ultimately so that our faith might shine forth so much that others will see the faith that is in us and be brought into His kingdom as well. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Great Giving of Authority and Promise

At the end of his Gospel, Matthew writes, “16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).
 
For years we have called these verses the Great Commission and have guilted people into unnaturally and awkwardly “sharing their faith” with others. I have read books which tell us that 10% of people are evangelists but 100% are witnesses. I have read books on how to share your faith. The question I would like to begin addressing is this: “Is there specifically a Lutheran approach to witnessing/evangelism and accomplishing what is given in Matthew?”
 
I believe that there is a Lutheran approach which flows out of what we believe, teach and confess. I believe it is a Biblical approach based on this Matthew passage. In this passage we are told that Jesus tells His eleven disciples that He has all authority, that is God has restored to Jesus full use of His divine powers, of which He had given up full usage when He came down to earth and was incarnate in Bethlehem. I believe that this was important information for these eleven because we are told that some of them had doubts. Interestingly enough, these eleven who had been with Jesus for the past three years, watching Him do miracles, heal, walk on water, raise the dead, cast out demons, change water into wine and so on, doubted. This kind of gives me comfort and hope.
 
So, Jesus (ἐδόθη - aorist, passive, indicative) has been given authority. It already belongs to Jesus, so it is His to give. And what is this authority? This authority (ἐξουσία - noun) is the authority, power, ability, and right to exercise what Jesus commands. Jesus gives us His authority. He gives His authority to use which means we have the right as well as the power and ability to baptize and teach.
 
How do we use that authority? Are we commanded to go? No, we are not commanded to go. Instead Jesus tells us that as we are going (πορευθέντες - aorist, passive, participle, nominative) we are making disciples. This is not an imperative but a participle and a passive participle at that, so that as you are going, as you are living your life, you are to make disciples (not apostles, not ministers), and there is a way in which you are to make disciples, students of Christ, by baptizing and teaching.
 
And in order to squelch our fears, God gives us His promise that He will be with us. Earlier in His Gospel Jesus encourages us by telling us that we will suffer for His name’s sake, and we will have opportunities to bear witness of our faith, but He tells us, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19b).
 
The Apostle Peter encourages us as well telling us that, “14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).
 
So, what does all this tell us about a Lutheran Theology of Evangelism? It tells us that we are all evangelists as well as witnesses. It tells us that God gives us the authority to be evangelists as well as witnesses. It tells us that, as we live our lives in our various vocations, we live in such as way that others witness our faith in Christ so that as they ask, we are prepared to give an answer for our faith and that God will give us the words that we need when we need to speak.
 
Evangelism is not necessarily confrontational, rather it is a part of our daily lives. We are not all ministers or pastors, but we are all priests in the priesthood of all believers. As priests, we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1). As priests, we offer Philip’s simple invitation to Nathanael, “Come and see” (John 1:46). And then we let God do His work. Through Holy Baptism and/or through His Word, God gives and works faith when and where He pleases.
 
Lutheran Evangelism then is a living faith. It is not being concerned about how many calls are made, how many people are invited, how many people show up. It is not concerned about getting anything right or wrong. It is about simply living and inviting, about being ready to give an answer as directed by God. It is about letting God do His work and believe He will do His work (often in spite of us).
 
Lutheran Evangelism then necessarily includes making regular and diligent use of God’s means of grace. It means being in Divine Service and Bible class as often as offered. It means a Divine Service which is permeated with the Word of God and good Lutheran doctrine which teaches those gathered so that they will have the words to speak that the Lord will use when they have the opportunity to give an answer or defense of their faith. And it means not being worried about whether or not we say the right thing.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Am Living Bread - August 19, 2012 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - Text: John 6:51-69

I want to begin this morning with a note of clarification. If you remember, we are reading through our Lectionary series the second year or the year B in which our Gospel readings are primarily from the Gospel of Mark. However, since Mark is the shortest Gospel, we have several Sundays where our lessons are from the Gospel of John and today, again, is one of those Sundays. And actually, in their wisdom, the Lectionary committee has put together what in the past has been two Gospel readings, John 6:51-58 and John 6:60-69.
 
This week we continue in the Gospel of John and we begin by hearing more about spiritual food, specifically we hear more about eating Jesus who is the bread of life. I suppose just hearing about eating a person without the proper context might bring one to imagine that we, in the Christian church are cannibals, which accusation has been around since the early church and the practice of closed communion so that no one outside the faith was allowed to participate in the eating of the Lord’s Supper, but that is not the case that we are cannibals and that is not a proper understanding of what it taking place. To help us to understand what we are talking about we need to make a distinction between the two types of eating which we read and hear about in God’s Word. There is physical eating and drinking. This physical eating and drinking is where we actually eat meat and vegetables in order to sustain our physical bodies, in order to have fuel for our bodies so we might be able to live in this world. The other type of eating is what we call spiritual eating. This spiritual eating is an eating of spiritual food, the means of grace, the Word of God, confession and absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to sustain our spirit, our soul. And this spiritual eating is just as important if not more important especially for our eternal well being. If all we eat in this world is junk food then we will get fat and this eating may lead to an early physical death. Likewise, if we only eat spiritual junk food it may lead to an eternal spiritual death, what we call hell. We know what physical junk food is, but what is spiritual junk food? Spiritual junk food consists of the theologies and philosophies of this world which are contrary to God’s Word. We must continually take care in discerning what we read, what we hear, what we see, comparing everything to God’s Word, so that we are not eating spiritual junk food which ultimately leads too eternal spiritual death.
 
Let us take a closer look, then, at this spiritual eating and drinking. Throughout the Old Testament we are reminded of the importance of sacrifices. All the sacrifices which God instituted in the Old Testament were meant to point the people to the one ultimate sacrifice as well as to remind the people that there was a price for sin. The price, the cost for sin, is the shedding of blood and death. This cost, this price goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden where God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate from the tree of “knowledge of good and evil,” they would surely die and they did. They ate and immediately they died. They died a spiritual death and they began dying a physical death. In the Garden God promised Adam and Eve that He would send someone who would pay the price for their sins and then He sacrificed animals to make clothes for them to wear. Later God set up the sacrificial system so that the penitent would be reminded that the price for sin was the shedding of blood. The penitent would bring a spotless lamb, a lamb which was perfect, which had no flaw, which had no broken bones. It was to be a perfect lamb.
 
The penitent would bring the lamb to the priest who would kill the lamb. He would keep part of it for his food and offer the rest to God as a sacrifice. Through the death of the lamb, through the shedding of the blood of the lamb the penitent was reminded of the cost for his or her sin, the price for sin is the shedding of blood, death. It was not this sacrifice which paid the price for their sin, this sacrifice was merely a reminder and served only to point to the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of the one promised, the Son of God, who would pay the price, who would die for the sins of all people.
 
After the lamb was killed, after the priest took his portion, and after the lamb was sacrificed and burned on the altar, then right there in the temple, the family would gather around and eat the sacrifice. They would partake in this sacrifice, physically eating the sacrifice as they participated in this reminder of the death of the lamb for their sins.
 
Now, fast forward with me to the New Testament and to the time of Jesus. Jesus was and is true God. As true God He took on human flesh and blood. He was born as a human. He was like us in all respects except that He was without sin. Jesus came to do everything perfectly for us, in our place. All the things we could not do, live perfectly and obey all God’s commands perfectly, He did for us in our place. After He perfectly accomplished everything for us, Jesus took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people of all places, of all times upon Himself and then He brought Himself, the perfect, spotless lamb forward to be sacrificed for us. He did not bring a lamb as a reminder that the price for sin was death and the shedding of blood. No, He came as the perfect Lamb of God to shed His blood, once for all, for our forgiveness.
 
Jesus is the spotless lamb. He is also the priest who took Himself and had Himself killed for us in our place. And He invites us to come and to eat of this sacrifice of Himself. We eat and drink of our Lord at His Holy Supper, at the Lord’s Table. We come to His table to eat His body and to drink His blood. We come to His table and as we eat and drink of Him we participate in His death and resurrection. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. His life, His eternal life becomes our life.
 
In the second part of our text we are told that there were some people who were offended by Jesus, or who took offense at Jesus and left. This happens too often in our world today. People take offense at Jesus. Please notice, Jesus did not dumb down, nor cease speaking hard words as too many so called Christian churches do today, compromising “for the sake of the Gospel” as they put it. Perhaps Jesus’ words might encourage us to boldly proclaim His Word, even if others take offense. And perhaps Jesus is again reminding us of the importance of keeping His teachings right and true over being concerned about offending others. As Peter explains, Jesus is the one who has the words of eternal life, where else can we go?
 
So what does this mean and what does this mean to us today? We are in the same shape as Adam and Eve. We are in the same shape as the children of Israel. We are sinners! We sin in thought, word and deed, in our actions. I would suggest that we probably more often sin sins of omission than sins of commission. In other words, we are probably pretty good about not doing the things we should not do, but we are probably not as good about doing the good things we should be doing. We omit doing the good things we should be doing, which is a sin, just as much as doing the things we should not be doing.
 
We cannot save ourselves, no matter how much we might try. And believe me, we do try. We like to offer our good works to God thinking that maybe, just because we are good, at least some of the time, that may justify and erase our being bad some of the time. In other words, maybe our good works make up for some of our sins. We just do not like the idea of God having to die too much for us. We do not mind saying the Jesus had to die for us, but we do not want to admit that He had do die as much for me as He did for the person who is really bad. What we forget is that all sins are equally damnable in God’s eyes. So our sins are just as bad as everyone else’s, the pastor’s included.
 
Sometimes we have doubts. It is too often that I hear, even good Lutherans make the statement, or one like it, “I hope I will go to heaven.” Folks, Ladies and Gentlemen, we do not hope for heaven, unless ours is a Biblical hope which is a certainty. Heaven is ours. Heaven is a present reality. It is a free gift. It was earned for us by Jesus’ death and it is given to us through the means of grace, as we eat and drink of our Lord through His Word, through Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. If asked what is the hope we have we will answer, “I know I am going to heaven.”
 
Thanks be to God that He continues to draw us to faith and give us faith by the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. As we read our Bibles, as we remember our Baptism, as we confess our sins and hear His word of absolution, as we come to the Lord’s Table, we eat and drink the Lord, we are given faith and forgiveness of sins, we strengthened in faith and kept in faith.
 
Especially as we come to the Lord’s Table we eat His body and drink His blood. We participate in His death and resurrection. His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection, His life becomes our life. By faith in Jesus we have life, better life in this world and life in the world to come, eternal life, heaven.
 
We continue to need to eat physical food in order to sustain our lives in this world. Along those lines I might remind you that we need to eat good food, nourishing food, food of a good balanced diet, but we also need to eat good spiritual food. We can dine on the philosophies and teachings of this world, which we would consider junk food, or we can feed on good food, the best food of the means of Grace, God’s Word, the Bible, confession and absolution, and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
 
I want to leave you with Jesus’ words this morning, because, as always,  I believe that He says it best. And His words are words which strengthen us so that we are able to face whatever lies ahead in life. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:51,53-58). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Offending For Doctrine


While working on Sunday’s text from the Gospel of John, especially reading John 6:60-71, and after doing some research on the new fad of being missional as it is being labeled, some preliminary thoughts have come to mind. These are not necessarily to be included in Sunday’s sermon, nor are these in any particular order. Stay tuned for more on this topic in a later blog.

Interestingly enough, I would suggest that, again we see in Holy Scripture the importance of doctrine even over outreach (cf. The Children of Israel entering the promised land, wiping out the people, not being missional to them, and Elijah and the prophets of Baal, when Elijah mocked and killed the enemies of God, not being missional to them), or as some say today, confession over being missional. Of course, any good farmer will tell you that if you do not have good seed you will not have a good crop.

Jesus seems to be more interested in the truth of His teaching, even if others take offense (notice the difference between giving and taking offense) He is determined to not back down from the hard teachings, even if this means losing some, which seems to be happening. Perhaps a good lesson for us today, especially for those “Christian” churches that acquiesce to the culture for the sake of reaching out with the word of God, or those churches that seek to be relevant, or those who seek to meet the felt needs of the people (of course here we could go on a side track and be reminded how Jesus always dealt with real needs, forgiveness, before dealing with so called felt needs), for those churches who want to have “hip” and “with it” worship because that is what people want. Perhaps we would do well to follow Jesus’ example and continue with the hard teachings, not giving in to popular culture, teaching how our divine service is a reflection and flows out of what we believe, teach and confess.

Remember, God never said to be successful, whatever that means (actually it is only used in a military context and when God gives the victory) but we are to be faithful! Just some thoughts.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Bread of Life - August 5, 2012 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: John 6:22-35

Two weeks ago we followed along and watched as Jesus feed the crowd, the five thousand men, not counting women and children, perhaps over 15,000 people with bread and fish. He provide for their physical need. He fed the crowds with “five small barley loves and two small fish” (John 6:9). The crowds liked having a full stomach, not unlike a lot of people in our world today. How true the cliche is, “feed them and they will come.”
 
Last week we followed along as Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him in the boat to go to the other side of the lake. As they were going across the lake, and this was while it was night, so it was pitch dark, a strong wind blew up and began to make the waters rough. The waters got so rough, in fact, that the boat began to fill with water until the disciples thought they were going to sink. We also heard that when He was finished praying, Mark tells us that Jesus looked up and in the dark of night from perhaps two to three miles away He saw what was happening. So, Jesus walked out on the water and we were told that He meant to pass them by in order to test them. When they saw Him, at least at first, they were afraid, thinking they were seeing a ghost. So much for passing His test. Jesus reassured His disciples that He was not a ghost, got into the boat, the winds ceased and the sea became calm.
 
Our text for today picks up the narrative in the morning. The once fed crowd, that was still on the other side of the lake noticed that Jesus was not present and began to look for Him, probably to be fed again, remember last week we made note of the fact that their desire was to make Jesus their king, their bread king, their king in order for Him to take care of them. In their search, the crowd took the long way around the lake to the other side and there they found Jesus and His disciples. When they told Jesus they were looking for Him, He bluntly tells them that He knows why they were looking for Him in order to be fed by Him and He proceeds to explain to them a better hunger than physical hunger. You see Jesus came not merely to physically feed the crowd, and us, but to spiritually feed the world. Jesus knew that they did not come looking for Him because of the miraculous signs which He performed, one of which was to feed the great crowd, signs which showed that He was the Christ, the Messiah. Remember, John is the gospel writer who reminds us again and again of the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus performed as proof of His divinity and His Messiahship, that He is truly God in human flesh. And so, Jesus suggests to the crowd that instead of continually coming to Him to be fed with physical food that they instead come to Him for spiritual food. But the crowd still does not get it, so they ask, “What must we do, to do the works of God?” And Jesus’ answer is “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
 
And again, confused, the crowd asks for another sign, like the one mentioned in the Old Testament lesson for today, like the feeding of the children of Israel with quail and manna in the wilderness. Here Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach them about spiritual food, namely that He is the bread of life.
 
In our world today, we are not too much different than the people of Jesus’ day. We look for food and God gives food. Unfortunately, when we look for food, our eyes are focused on the food of the things of this world. Certainly we need clothing and shoes, meat and drink, a house and home, and these God provides as we need, the key is that God does not promise to provide in excess, but according to what we need.
 
Jesus reminds us that although we live in this world we are not to be of this world and our sin is that very often we live as if we are of this world. Our eyes are focused on this world and the things of this world, wanting the newest and the latest, the biggest and the best, more and more. Our ears are in tune to the sounds of today, listening to the philosophies and theologies of this world rather than the sound teaching of God’s Word. Our feet and hands participate in the sins of this life rather than turn aside and walk in the ways of the Lord. Our mouths speak the half truths of our world of today, not building up but tearing down, not encouraging but being discouraging, not complementing but complaining. Too often rather than simply being in this world we live as is we are of this world.
 
As we live lives of this world we miss all that God has to give. We miss His food, His true spiritual food which comes down from heaven because of our misplaced focus. Or if we do hear His Word, we hear it as we want to hear it because we hear it through the filters of this world. We miss walking in His paths of righteousness for the sake of walking our own paths of unrighteousness. We miss the truth of His Word for the relativistic half-truths of this world. We miss the world to come because we live in and for this world alone.
 
What is the answer? God provides the answer, His Son. Yes, we are very much like the people of Jesus’ day even like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, we have a short memory and every week and yes, even every day we need to be reminded again and again of all our Lord has done, does and will continue to do for us.
 
God’s answer is the same answer since the beginning of time and the Garden of Eden. God is the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. God is the one who created all things out of nothing and who created us to love us and now as always He continues to love us lavishing us with all the gifts and blessings He has to give. God is the one who provides for us, and all our needs. God is the one who provides for us a Messiah, a Redeemer, one to trade His perfect life for our imperfect life. God is the one who provides Jesus to live for us in our place. God’s demand is perfection and because we cannot be perfect God provided Jesus to be perfect for us.
 
Jesus lived in perfection and then because of His great love for us, He took all our sins upon Himself, freely without coercion. Jesus took our sins and then paid the price for our sins suffering eternal spiritual death and hell for us on the cross. Jesus gives His life for ours. On Calvary Jesus paid for our sins and earned our forgiveness. Jesus died and rose. Yet, we know that the gifts Jesus earned are not delivered on Calvary, but are delivered through God’s means of grace.
 
God gives us the means of grace, the very means, the instruments, the tools through which He delivers the gifts of grace He earned. In order to eat a bowl of ice cream you need a spoon to move the ice cream from the bowl to your mouth. In much the same way, in order to be given the gifts God gives we need an instrument to move His gifts from Him to us and that instrument is the means of grace, namely and in particular Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolutions, the very Word of God which does what it says, and the Lord’s Supper. So, again we are reminded of our need to make regular and diligent us of the means of grace.
 
As we remember our Baptism we remember that with water God’s name was put on us, faith was put in our hearts, we were given forgiveness of sins and our names were written in the book of life. Through the very means of Holy Baptism God delivers to us the gifts Jesus earned on the cross of Calvary.
 
As we do every Sunday morning, as we confess our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission, not doing what God would have us to do and our sins of commission, doing those things God tells us not to do, when we confess our sins then we then hear God’s Word of Absolution, the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven.” As we hear these words we know that this is what we have, what His words says, forgiveness of sins. And with forgiveness we have life and salvation.
 
As we hear God’s Word, either on our own through personal and family devotions, in Sunday School and Bible Class and especially in Divine Service, God’s Word does and gives what it says. God’s Word gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
As we come to the Lord’s Supper Jesus gives His body and blood to eat and drink, in, with and under the bread and wine. As we eat and drink His body and blood we participate in Him and His sacrifice so that His life, His perfect life becomes our perfect life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Through His Holy Supper we are given strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
 
Once again we see that God provides for all our needs. God created all things out of nothing, providing us with a world in which to live. God provides for each of us life at our own conception. God provides a Savior, a Redeemer in His Son, even in Himself taking human form in the flesh in the person of Jesus. Jesus earned forgiveness of sins for us and through His means of Grace He distributes all the gifts and blessings He has earned, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and eternal life.
 
God gives and we are given too. And even when we fail to recognize our needs, even when we fail to admit our sins, even when we reject all that God gives, He is there ready to give anyway. What a great God we have, what a loving God we have, what a gift giving God we have. And thanks be to God He continues to stir in us the desire to make regular and diligent use of His means of grace through which He gives us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
 
This morning, as we need to be reminded every Sunday morning, we are reminded that not only did God provide for His people in the wilderness, not only was Jesus the bread of life for the people of His day, He continues to provide for us today as He is our bread of life, filling us with His presence, giving us His good gifts and blessings, stirring in us to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.