Welcome

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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Worship and Dining Out


The other day I was thinking about how to understand the role or part of the laity in worship or better in Divine Service. The analogy I came up with was one of comparing attending Divine Service to going out to a nice restaurant, after all, is not Divine Service food for the soul as dining out is food for the body? Now please understand, an analogy is only as good as the points one is attempting to make, so please do not push this analogy beyond the points or you will completely destroy the point I am attempting to make.

When a person or couple go out to eat, to dine at a fine eatery, they sit down and allow the waiter or waitress to serve them. They sit, are given a menu, are offered drinks and appetizers, and a menu. They make their selections and wait to be served. They eat their meal, pay their bill and then return to their homes. At no time do they think, should I get up and help wait on other tables? Should I go and help or offer help to the cook or tell him/her how to prepare my meal? Should I help the server bring my meal? These questions would detract from the dining experience.

Now, what about Sunday Morning worship or Divine Service? When we come to Divine Service we sit down and allow our Lord to serve us. We follow the Divine Service offering our sins to the Lord and hearing His Word of forgiveness through our Pastor. We enter into His presence with words of praise from the Psalms. We hear our Lord speak to us through His Word read by our Pastor, the man appointed and called by God to deliver those Words. We sing hymns of praise in response as well as offer our first fruit tithes and prayers to our Lord. We are given our Lord’s body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and we have His blessing placed on us as we prepare to go out into the world.

Why would we question our role in Divine Service? Why would we suggest that we need to help God out, or help the one God appointed, the Pastor? Are we trained or called to distribute the gifts God has to give? Or are we called by God to come to the Divine Service in order that He might wait on us, that He might give us the gifts He has to give, through the means and instrument, through the man, the Pastor He has called in that place to give out those gifts. Attending Divine Service is the opportunity we have to come and be given to, to be filled with the gifts God has to give, our spiritual nourishment that we might grow in our faith and in our knowledge so that we might, as always, be better able, when asked, to give an apology, a defense of our faith, which is the most appropriate way of giving praise to God.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jesus Christ, the Church’s One Foundation - February 23, 2014 Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

This week we continue and actually conclude our trek through Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. Next week we move to Transfiguration Sunday and on Wednesday we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten Season. And again I will remind you that these are not my words to you. These are not Paul’s Words to you. These are God’s Words, through Paul to us here today.
 
We talked a little last week about how to grow the church. This week God’s Word through Paul is a little different as God, through Paul talks about how the Church, that is the Holy Christian Church is built. Paul talks about the fact that he laid the foundation and someone else built on the foundation he laid. Of course, the foundation that Paul laid is the foundation of Jesus Christ. So, truly, it is God who laid the foundation and the foundation He laid was through the preaching of Paul. Interestingly enough, these words harken back to Jesus’ Words to Simon Peter when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. At that time Jesus said that the Church was built on the foundation, not of Peter, but of Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Here we see these words confirmed in God speaking through Paul that the foundation of the Church, the Holy Christian Church is Jesus Christ.
 
God through Paul laid the foundation and others built on that foundation. Today God calls pastors through congregations to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and not to deviate from the foundation. Indeed, my preaching and teaching are not to be mine, but God’s Word in its truth and purity. I am not to deviate from the pure teaching of the Word of God, lest I be held accountable to God for any deviation.
 
Paul continues to explain that the building on the foundation will become manifest on the last Day. On the day of Judgement God’s Word will be the measure of the plumb of the building on the foundation. These words of God through Paul remind us that our job as listeners to what is taught and preached is to compare what is taught and preached to the very Word of God. As Paul says, we are to be as the Bereans, comparing everything we hear with the Word of God.
 
Through congregations, God calls Pastors to be His workers and the tools God gives to Pastors to do the work He has for them to do are the means of Grace. The means of grace are those ways that God has of giving us the gifts and blessings He has to give. In our world today our Lord does not usually distribute His gifts directly, or immediately, rather He gives His gifts mediately, through a mediator, through some means and in particular, His Word and His Sacraments. Why do you suppose I harp so much on making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, of being where the gifts of God are given out? Because God’s usual way of giving us His gifts is through His means of grace. It is kind of like the fact that you go to the grocery store to purchase physical food to eat, so we attend God’s spiritual grocery store, Divine Service and Bible Class to be given His spiritual food.
 
And what does God give. As one of my favorite professors said, and as I often quote on the Maundy Thursday bulletin, Jesus paid for and won, earned forgiveness of sins for us on Calvary, but that is not where the gifts are given out. The gifts are given out where the means of grace are present, Divine Service. The gifts are given out where the means of grace are most present.
 
And so, God calls pastors to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments and to forgive and retain sins, using the means He gives. God gives the means of Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is simple water connected with God’s Word, namely His name being put on us and through which God gives what He promises, forgiveness, faith, and eternal life.
 
Of course, as we confess, our faith life does not end with Holy Baptism, but as God tells us, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching and so God gives the means of His Word. The Word of God does what it says and gives the gifts it presents. Through the teaching and preaching of the Word of God we are given faith, we are given forgiveness of sins, we are strengthened in the faith our Lord gives to us.
 
And even more, God gives forgiveness of sins through the very means of confession and absolution. As we confess our sin, either in corporate confession, that is all together on Sunday morning, or in private confession, which is encouraged and is good for the soul, so when we hear the Pastor speak those words of forgiveness, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgiven you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we hear those words not as if our Pastor is speaking, but as if God Himself is speaking to us and we know for sure, we have forgiveness of sins.
 
And yet there is one more. God gives forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through the very means of His Holy Supper, the Lord’s Supper. As we come to the Lord’s table, we are given His true body, as we say, “in, with and under” the bread and His true blood, again, “in, with and under” the wine, so we participate in His perfect life, that is His perfect life becomes our perfect life. We participate in His perfect suffering, that is His perfect suffering becomes our perfect suffering. We participate in His perfect death, that is His perfect death becomes our perfect death. We participate in His perfect resurrection that is His perfect resurrection becomes our perfect resurrection. And we participate in His perfect eternal life that is His perfect eternal life becomes our perfect eternal life.
 
Ultimately, the work of the works of the worker of God, the pastor, is judged in comparison with the Word of God alone. It is the Word of God which is the standard for my preaching and teaching. If I should teach or preach something contrary to the Word of God, it is you duty, privilege and even responsibility to call my attention to such err so that it might be corrected, so the Kingdom of God might grow.
 
But Paul is not done. He gives a warning and a promise to Pastor’s in particular, but I might suggest to all of us who offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, that is to all who wish to share God’s Word with others. First Paul says that the worker is not to think too highly of himself in the case of the Pastor, and himself or herself in the case of any Christian seeking to share the good news with others. Indeed, none of us is above God’s Word, nor are we to speak more than or other than His Word, which is usually where people get into the most trouble, adding to or taking away from God’s Word in order to make it more reasonable or logical from our sin tainted human perspective.
 
Again we have Paul’s reminder that man’s wisdom is foolishness compared to God’s wisdom. This comparison is true mainly because human wisdom has been tainted by sin. Thus, as I have said many times, when human wisdom, or what is taught as human wisdom, which we might understand as scientific fact, contradicts God’s Word. I am going to stick with God’s Word as being right and correct and figure that human beings have made a mistake somewhere along the way.
 
Finally Paul reminds us that we are Christ’s. Because of God’s great love for us, a love seen in His creating our world and His redeeming our world. Because of God’s great love for us, He has purchased us, not with gold or silver but with His Holy Precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Indeed, we are His.
 
What does this mean? Let me give you a heads up in case you might miss it, but look who is running the show. It is God who has given us the Church, indeed we might rightly say that it is God who has given us to be His church, His local congregation here in this place for over 114 years,  and this is not of us, but of God’s doing and God’s giving. Many people have come before us and many people will come after us. This really is not our church, but this is God’s Church made up of God’s people in this place. And God’s promise is that as His Word is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered, His Church will remain and that means even despite us at times.
 
God has laid the foundation for this church with His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. And God expects those same means of grace are used to grow His Church, in other words, God calls Pastors through this congregation to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and forgive and retain sins. God also calls us to take His Word and work seriously, in other words, God expects us to take our eternal well being seriously. To think that we or any member of our family is going to be in heaven simply because our names are on the roles of this congregation is to be deceived and is to be a fool in God’s eyes. We do not boast in our craftiness, in our having our names on the roles, especially if our names are on the role but we make no effort to be a part of this congregation. No, rather we stand humbly before God week in and week out, begging Him for the forgiveness won, earned, and paid for by Jesus on the cross, knowing that as Jesus has paid the price for our sins, He delivers that forgiveness, and life and salvation, through His Word taught and preached, through confession and absolution and through His sacraments rightly administered. Indeed, our desire is to be given the gifts God has to give, unworthy though we are.
 
Yes, God grows His Church. He grows His church through the new lives of members born to this congregation as well as the new lives brought to faith by the Holy Spirit through His Holy Word. Our boast is only in the Lord and that we are His.
 
We are Christ’s, by grace through faith given to us. It is all gift and it is all from God. God gives and we are given to. God gives life at conception. God gives faith through Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution. God gives faith and strengthening of faith through His Holy Word. God gives forgiveness and strength of faith through His Holy Supper. God gives, God gives, God gives and we are given to and we rejoice that we are His.
 
God knows what is in our hearts. As Paul so rightly says, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it,” in other words, on the last Day God will see if we have rejected the gifts He has been giving, or if we have be given the gifts He has been giving. We are God’s temple, created by God, given faith and forgiveness, given all the gifts and blessings He has to give so that on the last Day we may rejoice that we are truly His and He will gather us and all the saints and take us and all the saints to be with Himself in heaven for eternity, where we will stand before His throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

God Gives Growth - February 16, 2014 - Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Again this week we continue our trek through Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. And again I remind you that these are not my words to you, these are not Paul’s words to you, rather these are God’s Words through Paul to all of us today.
 
The problem about which Paul is writing is nothing new to us in our world and in the church even today. As the teacher or preacher so well points out in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun, indeed the same problems the church was dealing with years ago continue even in our world today. The problem that God through Paul points out is that the people are not spiritual or better said, they are not mature in their faith. As Paul so bluntly says it, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (v. 3b). If I may be so blunt, it sounds like Paul has been to one of our voter’s meetings.
 
The people are thinking in earthly terms instead of spiritual terms. We might say they were naval gazing instead of looking to the Lord, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Today we might express their problem as seeking a theology of glory which is natural to our sinful human nature. We tend to look at the outside. We tend to think in terms of who is doing what and how many people are in attendance, as if these outward signs have anything to do with the spiritual well being of a congregation or its individual members.
 
Paul goes on to express how the people are honoring the workers. Not much different than today. How many people look up to the good motivational speakers who pack the people into the mega churches? Yet, when the message is presented, it is not a message of the cross of Christ, but a message of glory, a message of law, and truly a message of which we are not capable of accomplishing. As I have said before, although there are those that would teach that one can become more and more like Jesus, that one can be the person Jesus wants them to be, that is not the message of God’s Word nor the message of the cross. As a matter of fact, if we could be the person God’s wants us to be then we would have no need for Jesus, which means such messages are actually anti-evangelistic. No, what we believe, teach and confess is that the more we grow in our Christian faith and life the more we realize just how filthy and sinful we are and how much we need to cling to Jesus for forgiveness. Indeed the more we grow and mature in our faith the more we will recognize our own sinful depravity, our need for a spiritual physician, our need for forgiveness of sins and the more we will have a desire to be in Divine Service and Bible Class each and every Sunday and whenever and wherever the means of grace are offered and God’s gifts are given out.
 
And so there is division. There is a division between those who look at the externals and those who look to Jesus. But, Paul is not finished.
 
To help the Corinthians and to help us to understand, Paul uses an illustration. Paul speaks of planting and watering. Indeed, a farmer may be the one who tills the soil, makes the rows, plants the seeds and waters the seeds, but God is the one and the only one who gives the harvest. We do not convert people. We do not grow God’s church nor His kingdom.
 
Paul goes on to explain that he and Apollos planted and watered as they went and preached the message of Christ’s perfect life, His perfect suffering, His perfect death and His perfect resurrection. They preached what you hear every week from this pulpit. They preached the fact that we are all conceived and born in sin and that every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. They preached that we are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. They preached the fact that we daily sin much in thought, word and action, in sins of omission and sins of commission. They preached that we cannot be the good people God would have us to be indeed we cannot be perfect which is God’s command. They preached that apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus, yes, apart from the cross of Christ there is no salvation. They preached Christ, but they did not convert anyone. They knew that it was God who gave the growth, it was God who converted the people.
 
And so Paul puts it to us that we are merely the workers. Indeed, as I have expressed many times, we are evangelists, and unfortunately we are not good but bad evangelists. We are bad evangelists when we wear the name Christ, Christian, and when our lives are lived in a manner unpleasing to our Lord. We are bad evangelists when we speak ill about our congregation, the members of our congregation as well as our pastor. Yet, we can be and we are good evangelists as we live and work in our vocations, as we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, as we have opportunity to give a defense of our faith, acknowledging that it is God who is the provider, not only of the opportunities, but also of the courage we are given and the very words we may speak and ultimately it is God who works and gives faith when and where He pleases.
 
What does this mean? Paul is correct, we tend to not be spiritual. Our tendency is to fall in line with the rest of the world, to live and let live so to speak. We tend to fall in line with popular culture. We tend to think little or less and less of our spiritual well being and the consequences of our lives in this world, especially in how the way we live might affect our eternal well being. We want God’s blessings, but we do not want to have to jump through any of His hoops to get them.
 
When it comes to the church, to our own congregation, we see what other churches are doing, how some seem to be prospering and growing, at least it looks that way on the outside, and so we may want to put our trust in “church growth” principles, based on man’s studies. We think in terms of glory and numbers of members as if these things means that any particular church is doing well spiritually.
    And so we have a tendency to honor or dishonor church workers depending on our view of results. The human way of thinking is that if a congregation has a lot of people attending the pastor must be doing something right, but if a congregation does not have a lot of people attending then he must be doing something wrong. Where we fail is that we can only look at the outside. Only God can look on the inside and see if the individual members of a congregation are growing in their faith, which is true spiritual growth and true church growth.
 
And so there is division. Indeed Satan has his way with us and we do not ever realize we have become his minions. Every time we speak ill of our congregations, its pastor and members, we are aiding and abetting the enemy. Personally, I believe we must be doing something right if Satan has to spend so much time harassing and haranguing us.
 
The question we might ask and the question God through Paul answers is this: How does the Church Grow? The simple answer is that God grows the church. And how does God grow the church? God grows the church through the means He has given to grow His church. God grows His church in ways that, as talked about last week, sinful tainted human wisdom does not comprehend. God grows His church through simple earthly things like water and His Word, namely His name being put on us at Holy Baptism. Through Holy Baptism God gives faith, as He has promised. He writes His name on us. He puts faith in our hearts. He writes our names in the book of heaven. He forgives us our sins. He makes us and claims us as His children.
 
God grows His church through the very means of His Holy Word. As you have heard me say many times, God’s Word is efficacious which means that God’s Word does what it says and gives the gifts God has to give. Through our hearing and reading the Word of God we are given faith, we are given forgiveness of sins, we are strengthened in the faith we are given.
 
God grows His church through the very means of confession and absolution. Why do you suppose we have confession and absolution at almost every service we have? Because through confession and absolution God gives us forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation. Indeed to not be forgiven means we remain in our sin and to remain in our sin would mean eternal spiritual death, hell. But with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
God grows His church through the simple earthly elements of bread and wine combined and connected with His Word in His Holy Supper. Through the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord in His Holy Supper He gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in our faith. And again with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
God grows His church. God grows His church through the means He has given to grow His church reminding us first and foremost of our need to desire to be given to and the desire to be where those means are given out, Divine Service and Bible class. God grows His church as He sends the Holy Spirit to give faith, when and where He pleases. Notice it is God who is running the verbs, who is running the show. We might ask, where do we come in when it comes to growing God’s church, what can we do? First and foremost we can be given to, because it is only as we are given to, it is only as He first loves us that we can love others and share our faith with others. Second, we can, but only with God’s help, offer our lives as living sacrifices for the Lord. Indeed as we live counter to the world, as we live, with God’s help, God pleasing lives, others will see and as they ask, as we have opportunity, God will give us the opportunity and the courage and the very words to speak in defense of our faith. That defense may simply follow Philip’s witness, to invite them to “come and see” Jesus. Notice then, as Paul is reminding us in our text, we simply till the soil, make the rows, plant the seed and water the seed. It is God who gives the growth and He gives the growth when and where He pleases.
 
Finally, we are simply left to rejoice and give glory to God. We give glory to God when we see how He gives faith when and where He pleases. We give glory to God when we rejoice in His life, suffering, death and resurrection. We give glory to God when we rejoice in the faith that He has given to us. We give glory to God when we rejoice in His loving us so that we might love others. We give glory to God when we recognize that only He can look into the hearts and see the faith He gives and strengthens. We give glory to God when, with His help and by His urging we desire to be given His gifts whenever and wherever they are offered.
 
God’s Word to us today through Paul are words of forgiveness, correction and encouragement. We are not left to depend on ourselves, no matter our natural tendencies. Instead we are relieved that we might depend on God who gives the growth, when and where He pleases. And we rejoice that He calls us God’s fellow workers as we are indeed God’s field and God’s building. Finally, we are encouraged to rejoice and give glory to our great God. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Wisdom of Christ Crucified - February 9, 2014 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

This week we pick up where we left off last week as we continue our walk through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and again I remind you that as Paul is writing to the Christians at Corinth, or better said, as God, through Paul is writing to the Christians at Corinth, so these are God’s Words, through Paul to us here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield in the year 2014. These are not my words to you. These are not Paul’s words to you. These are God’s Words to us.
 
We have already been reminded by Paul that outside the Church, that is outside of faith in Jesus Christ alone there is no salvation, only eternal condemnation. We have already been reminded that the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing. And we have been reminded, again, that we get it right when we get right who is doing what, that is when we believe we are running the show, when we are running the verbs we are getting it wrong, but when God is running the show, when God is running the verbs we are getting it right. Thus if and when we are to boast, we boast only in the Lord and what He has done, does and will continue to do for us, namely give us faith, strengthen us in the faith He gives to us and keep us in faith until He comes again or until we go to Him.
 
In our text for this morning Paul talks about wisdom. The word he uses is the word sophia and Paul distinguishes between the wisdom of this age or world that is human wisdom and true wisdom which comes only from God. So, first let us look at the wisdom of the age or human, worldly wisdom. The wisdom of the world really only explains the processes of the world God created. What is called science and scientific fact in our world cannot prove what is taught as fact that is the religion of evolution. Even philosophically the religion of evolution cannot be proven. Evolution cannot be proven mainly because noone was there to observe evolution happening. The religion of evolution is not based on observable facts, but on historic conjecture that is that by looking at the world in which we live in today some people believe they can explain the world of long ago and even the creation of the world, and this is simply not the case. Worldly wisdom fails to distinguish between historical science and observable science and instead confuses the two which is why it fails.
 
So, rather than concede the truth of God’s Word, the wise men of this world simply make unsubstantiated claims and as those claims are disproved they simply rewrite their explanation. Anyone can look at the science books of the past and compare them with today and see that the only constant is the constant rewriting of explanations.
 
The main problem with human wisdom is the fact that we are conceived and born in sin and so the sin that is in our whole DNA affects our human reason so that our human reason is flawed. Human wisdom, tainted human wisdom does not seek to honor the Creator, rather tainted human wisdom seeks to remove the Creator and instead it seeks self glory. Look how smart I am and how I do not need a Creator God, that is the boast of human wisdom.
 
Godly wisdom on the other hand is indeed true wisdom. Godly wisdom comes only from God which means that too often it is not understood by sinful humanity. Human wisdom does not understand the Godly wisdom of how God can use the simple earthly element of water and His Word, namely His name to give and create faith in Holy Baptism. Human wisdom does not understand how God can be three persons in one Godhead. Human wisdom cannot understand how God can use the simple earthly elements of bread and wine and His Word to give us His body and blood and thus to participate in His life, suffering, death and resurrection. Human wisdom does not understand how God’s Word can be efficacious, that is how God’s Word by itself can do what it says.
 
Indeed, human wisdom probably has the most difficulty with understanding how Godly Wisdom is hidden in the crucifixion. How can death be a good thing? How can God die or even allow Himself to die? Death is not viewed as strength but as weakness. Death is not viewed as victory but as defeat, at least according to fallible, sin tainted human wisdom.
 
Thanks be to God that even though we are conceived and born in sin, even though our minds, our thoughts and reasoning are tainted by sin, that He gives us His Holy Spirit who gives us a right understanding, even an understanding mind so that we do have Godly Wisdom. As God gives us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism, as God gives us forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution, as God strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word and through His Holy Supper, so He gives us His Holy Spirit who works in our hearts, lives and minds to understand the gifts of God, the power of God and the love of God, yes, to understand the things that are not discernable to the sinful natural mind.
 
What does this mean? This means that we begin by confessing that our human wisdom is flawed. Indeed our human wisdom is flawed and can be seen to be flawed in its constant correcting itself. As I have said before, when there is a discrepancy between what God has said in His Word and what tainted human wisdom puts forth as truth, my rule of thumb is that tainted human wisdom has made a mistake and needs to go back and see where they got it wrong. God’s Word has never been wrong and has never and will never change. God’s Word is truth and is the foundation upon which we build a true and right understanding of all things.
 
This also means that we confess that our sinful human nature cannot, of itself completely and fully understand God or the things of God. Here again as we hear God’s Word and study God’s Word, we know we have a right understanding when what we believe, teach and confess does not contradict what God says in His Word. When we speak what we believe, teach and confess it is always only what God says, never adding to it, nor taking away from it. Indeed, we truly understand God’s Word only as the Holy Spirit works that correct understanding in our hearts and minds.
 
God reveals His wisdom in His creation. God the Father, along with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in unity, created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He created time on the first day when He created light and then on the fourth day when He created the sun, moon and stars He put them into the time system He created on day one. God created all creatures to reproduce after their own kind, so that one kind does not, has not and never will turn into a different kind. God created humanity to be the pinnacle of His creation and the earth to be the center of His creation so that there is no other planet like our planet. We are the center of our Lord’s universe and we are special to Him. In His wisdom, even knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and spoil His creation, our God shows His love for us in that He created us anyway.
 
And so, God reveals His wisdom in His redemption, in Christ crucified. Certainly knowing that Adam and Eve would sin could have discouraged God from creating humanity, but it did not. Certainly after Adam and Eve had sinned God could have destroyed all He created and started over, but He did not. No, instead, God demonstrates His wisdom and His love for us in His plan of salvation for us and all humanity.  As we said earlier, the world does not and cannot understand how death can be a good thing, how death can be a powerful thing, how death can be anything except defeat, because this wisdom of God is hidden from those who do not have faith and do not accept the things from God as Paul says.
 
Thus, God gives us His wisdom through the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel. Certainly, while the tainted human wisdom of the world does not and cannot understand why God does what He does, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and in the hearts of all believers to understand the depth of the love of our God. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s love in His creating a perfect world and how God had the best in mind for His creation. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand that although God’s command is that we are perfect, because of Adam and Eve’s sin, sin conceived and born in us, we cannot be perfect. Thus the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the fact that it is because of our imperfections and sin that Jesus, who is truly God who took on human flesh and blood in order to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place. Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s prophecies perfectly. He did what all humanity was commanded to do but could not do, perfectly. And then because of His great love for us He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and paid the price, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place. He did what had to be done according to what He had given and created for us because of His great love for us. Indeed, the Holy Spirit stirs in our hearts and minds to see, know and understand this love God has for us, which is truly Godly wisdom.
 
Godly wisdom, given to us by God Himself, that is given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the means He has given Himself to work, His Word and Sacraments, is to know and understand that it is God who gives. God gives faith, forgiveness and life and we are given to. God gives life at conception reminding us that every life, even the life of the pre-born child is special to God. God gives faith through the waters of Holy Baptism and through His Holy Word. God gives forgiveness of sins through His Word, through Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. God strengthens and keeps us in faith through these same means of grace. God gives us the gifts Jesus earned and paid for, for us. God gives and we are given to and as we are given to, our desire is to be given to even more. Our desire is to be where the gifts are given and distributed when and where they are distributed.
 
God’s desire is that all people are saved and yet we live in a world in which many people continue to refuse and reject God and the gifts He has to give. We live in a world which does not understand the wisdom of God, but instead trusts the fallible, sin tainted wisdom of humanity. And yet, God continues to pour out on us, His children, His Wisdom as it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. My prayer for you is that the Holy Spirit will continue to work through the means of grace, the Word and the sacraments as you make regular and diligent use of these means of grace giving you faith, giving you forgiveness of sins, strengthening and keeping you in faith until Christ comes again, or until we go to meet Him. So that when we do meet our Lord we may stand before His throne with all the saints and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Sunday Worship a Biblical Command?

Certainly we have all heard the question, “Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?” Some have suggested that a fair, simple answer is, “No, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian because Jesus fulfilled the law, so we are no longer subject to the law.” Is that answer completely true? Let us take a look at what God says.
 
Again, it has been said that Jesus came and fulfilled the law so that we are no longer under the law. That statement is only one third true. There are actually three different laws in the Bible. There is the civil law, the moral law and the ceremonial law. When Jesus was born, He was born under all three laws and He obeyed all three laws completely and fully. Most especially is the fact that He completely fulfilled the ceremonial laws which were the laws that regulated the sacrifice that pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Thus, logically, if He fulfilled all the laws that pointed to Himself, they are no longer in effect. However, there still remains the civil and the moral laws. The civil law is simply the law of the land. We live under the civil law of the United States of America. If you think we are no longer under the civil law, go run a red light (don’t actually do this) and see what happens. The moral law is the Ten Commandments and although Jesus did fully obey the Ten Commandments He did not do away with them so that even today we are still governed by the Ten Commandments.
 
When it comes to Sunday worship we are not talking about civil law, nor ceremonial law, but we are dealing with the moral law, that is we are dealing with the first three commandments. According to the first commandment we are commanded us to not put anything before God because anything we put before God is truly our god and is idolatry in other words we break this commandment when we fail to put God first on Sunday mornings and instead put some other idol before Him, i.e., fishing, golfing, hunting, sleeping in, etc. May God keep us from such idolatry.
 
According tot the second commandment we are commanded to have care for how we use God’s name. Luther explains this commandment by telling us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In other words, we obey this commandment especially by praying, praising and giving thanks which we do best in Divine Service.
 
According to the third commandment we are commanded to have a day of spiritual rest, i.e., Divine Service. Luther explains this commandment by telling us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” In the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism the following three questions and answers are quite telling: “37. Does God require the church to worship together on any specific days? A. God requires Christians to worship together. B. He has not specified any particular day. C. The church worships together especially on Sunday because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.” “38. When do we sin against the Third Commandment? We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God.” “39. How is this done? We despise preaching and the Word of God A. when we do not attend public worship; B. when we do not use the Word of God and the Sacraments; C. when we use the Word of God and the Sacraments negligently or carelessly.” We might summarize by saying that although God does not specify any particular day of worship, He does require that Christians worship together regularly, i.e., on Sundays as that is the day we have agreed as the day of worship in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. And we understand that we sin the sin of omission (and commission) in despising God’s Word by refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives by absenting ourselves from Divine Service, not partaking of the Sacrament, failing to remember our Baptism, and neglecting to read God’s Word.
 
The Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer tells us to hallow God’s name and we do that, we hallow God’s name especially by being in Divine Service. Luther explains, “Hallowed be Thy name.” “What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.” “How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” In the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism the following questions and answers are helpful: “210. How do we keep God’s name holy? We keep God’s name holy: A. when God’s Word is taught among us in its truth and purity; B. when we live according to the Word of God.” “211. How is God’s name profaned? God’s name is profaned, that is, dishonored, A. when anyone teaches contrary to God’s Word; B. when anyone lives contrary to God’s Word.” We might summarize by being reminded that we hallow God’s name especially through our making regular (each and every day) and diligent (each and every Sunday) use of the means of grace and we profane God’s name by refusing and rejecting, even teaching something other than what God is teaching on Sunday morning.
 
One good way to help understand what it is that we believe, teach and confess is to contrast our doctrine with the opposite. So, what is the opposite of God’s command? The opposite would be the Pharisees with whom Jesus spoke about: “16And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 17And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:16-17 also see Luke 5:31-32). The opposite of recognizing one’s sin, is to think one is not a sinner, even to think that one has no need of being in Divine Service and Bible Class, even perhaps that one already knows it all or is simply a really good person. While the desire of one having faith is to be where the gifts of God are given and to be given those gifts, for the one lacking faith there is no desire for the gifts of God or for being where the gifts are given and thus there is a refusal and rejection of those gifts. Even King David, a man after the Lord says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1). And Luke tells us about Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16, also see Acts 17:2 concerning Paul’s custom).
 
What does all this mean? Although God’s command to worship on a particular day is no longer in effect, His command to be in Divine Service every week is in effect, but even more we can see one’s faith and faithfulness or lack of faith and faithlessness in one’s desire or refusal of the gifts God gives and in being where the gifts are given or absenting oneself from the place where the gifts are given. As for me, I speak with David and I would encourage you to do the same: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1).

*Quotes from Luther's Small Catechism

Sunday, February 2, 2014

God’s Election of Unsophisticated People - February 2, 2014 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

This morning we continue along reading through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as a matter of fact, the first verse of our text for this morning is the last verse from our text from last week, “For the word of the cross is folly to hose who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v.18).
 
In our Epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the Christians at the church in Corinth, and again, I remind you, that at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is writing to us Christians here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, February 2, 2014. He is writing to you and me. A few verses before our text Paul express the concern and the fact, that outside of the church, that is, outside of faith in Jesus, the message of the cross is foolishness. Yes, Paul is writing to us today. Today we live in a world where tolerance is key to survival, that is unless you appear to be tolerant, then no one is tolerant to you, so much for tolerance. Have you ever noticed how the people who yell for tolerance the most are very often intolerant to those who are unlike them? Today we live in a world where we are encouraged to be our own people, to be original (like everyone else), to be your own person. We are encouraged to believe whatever we want to believe, as a matter of fact, it was not too long ago that an article in a newspaper, in the religious section enthusiastically spoke about people taking bits and pieces from several different religions and made their own religion, and this was presented as a good thing. And so, in our society today we are encouraged to do whatever we want to do, to be ourselves. The problem is, when the Christian, that is when you and I, come into contact with the rest of the world. Jesus tells us, and we believe Him, that He is the only way, the only truth and the only life and that apart from Him and faith in Him there is no salvation. So, when we express this to our tolerant society, we are seen as intolerant and foolish. Well, how would it be if the world acknowledged that the Christians were right? That would be devastating for them. No, we are considered foolish because the rest of the world does not want to give up living the way they want to live.
 
With that said, let us get to our text. In our text, Paul calls us to think about our own existence before we were called to faith. For many of us that was just before our Baptism and right after we were born, but for some that was when you were older. Paul says, that not many of us were wise, at least not by human standards. Today the human standard for wisdom is marked by tolerance and open mindedness. We are not considered wise because we cannot see past our own intolerance and praise others for their open mindedness and diversity. The world looks down on us and thinks, “if only the Christians could see and understand that there is an existence apart from Jesus. If only they could see how there are many paths to the same goal of eternal enlightenment.” Yes, according to the world, we are not considered wise.
 
Paul also calls us to think about our influence. The real word in our text is the word “power.” By human standards we are not very influential or powerful. Here again the words “tolerance, open mindedness, and diversity” are the words our world likes to hear. The world does not like to hear the words we speak from the Bible, “the (one) way, the (one) truth, the (one) life, eternal life.” And so, according to the world, we are not considered influential or powerful.
 
Paul calls us to think about our nobility. By human standards we are not noble. I would guess that Paul knew the people to whom he was writing, but even in our world today, there are not many people who are noble or for whom nobility is an issue any more. But, according to the previous standards, because we are not wise nor are we influential or powerful, we certainly could not be considered to be of noble birth.
 
“But,” Paul continues, and here I am wondering if he had not been reading the Gospel of Matthew, because in his Gospel Matthew gives what we call the beatitudes in which Jesus points out the difference in the way God sees things and the way the world sees things. And so, Paul also points out this difference. Paul says that God chose the foolish and weak to humble (that is to shame) the wise and strong. First, notice who is doing the work, who is doing the action. As my favorite professor always put it, and as you so often hear me say, “who is running the verbs.” It is not we who are choosing God, but it is God who is choosing us. God has chosen us, those who are, at least according to the world, foolish and weak. In the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel we would add Jesus words, that God has chosen us who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God has chosen those who acknowledge, confess and repent of their sins. As we confessed at the beginning of our service this morning, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we are so high and mighty, if we think more highly of ourselves and believe we have no sins to confess, then we get no forgiveness, because failure to confess is gift refusal. That is how it is with the wise and strong of this world who think they have no sin.
 
Paul continues by says that God chose the lowly and despised. Here we are reminded of the difference between the way we and the world look at things and the way that God looks at things. When we and the world  look at things we are left to look at the outside. God looks at the inside, at the heart. Very often we have a hard time looking past the exterior of an individual, but God always looks into the heart.
 
Paul says that God chose the things that are not, the nobodies, to nullify the things that are. Here again we see the difference between the thoughts and wisdom of the world and the thoughts and wisdom of God. God looks into our hearts and sees us dirty, rotten to the core sinners, enemies of Him who are out doing all we can to run away from Him, turn others away from Him and give Him as much grief as possible. Yet, for us there is hope.
 
However, before we move on, let us put Paul’s words into how we might say this today. Today, Paul might say something like, “You see what happened, fellow Christians, when God called you, not many of you were wise or in positions of power or influence, nor were you famous, nor were you born of special parents, at least not according to the point of view of the world. Instead, God chose the foolish things of this world in order to put those who are worldly wise to shame. God chose the weak things of this world in order to put those who are worldly strong to shame. God chose the lowly things, the despised things, the nothing things and the nobodies of this world in order to do away with those things the world thinks are something.” By ourselves, left to follow the ways of the world, we would reject Jesus and we would be eternally condemned. By ourselves we would have no hope.
 
Thanks be to God that Paul is not done. He goes on to tell us why God did what He did. In telling us why God did what He did Paul also tells us how we are saved. God did what He did “so that no one may boast before Him.” We cannot boast about our coming to faith in Jesus. We cannot boast about our choosing Jesus as our Savior. We cannot boast about our dedication our lives to the Lord. We cannot boast about how good we are or how good we think we are or how we are good at being the people God would have us to be. All we can boast about is in what the Lord has done for us. We cannot boast because it is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved. It is Jesus who gives us faith and He does that through His means of grace. It is Jesus who calls us to faith through the Word and the Sacraments. It is Jesus, who through the Word and the Sacraments comes to us to gives us His good gifts and blessings. Here we are  reminded of the importance of making regular and diligent use, every Sunday and every day, of the means of grace. But Paul is not done yet. Next he outlines the gifts of wisdom which Jesus gives.
 
Through the means of grace Jesus gives us the gift of righteousness. This is not our righteousness, for apart from Jesus we are left in our sins and we are completely unrighteous. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, His righteousness, earned by His suffering and death, has become our righteousness. We are justified, that is we are made “just as if I’d never sinned,” in God’s eyes, simply by believing in Jesus and His death for us.
 
But there is more. By faith in Jesus we are given the gift of holiness. Here we understand that what happens after we are made just and right in God’s eyes is that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives in order to help us to do the good works which God has for us to do, which works are a part of our holiness, our sanctification, our continuing to grow in our Christian faith and life.
 
And still more, by faith in Jesus we are given the gift of redemption. To redeem something means to trade it. We have talked about the S & H Green stamps of old. You go to the store. For so many purchases you received so many stamps. Once you filled a book of stamps you would take it to the redemption center where you would trade your stamps for some merchandise. It is similar with us. Jesus traded His life, His blood, His suffering and dying for us, for our life, for our eternal life.
 
So, were is the boasting? There is no boasting. Oh, sure, we may boast, in that we rejoice and give thanks to God for His indescribable gifts. We may boast in the fact that it is God who chose us. It is God who put His name on us. It is God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is God who put His name on us at Holy Baptism. It is God who put faith in our hearts through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. It is God who gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It is God who gives us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. Have you been noticing who is running the verbs?
 
Yes, we can boast but only in the Lord. And as we see, it is easy to boast in the Lord. To boast in the Lord means to take the I and me out of the subject line of all our sentences and to put in the name, Jesus. To boast in the Lord is to point to Him in all aspects of our lives. No matter how foolish to the world, no matter how weak or uninfluential it may seem to the world, no matter how lowly or despised, or anything it may appear to the world, we boast in living our lives through our thoughts our words and our actions, as we are living for the Lord.
 
Our God is a great and awesome God. Left to ourselves we would be lost in our own sin. We would be foolish, powerless, lowly and despised. But thanks be to God that He has come to us to call us out of the darkness of our sinful lives. He has called us to faith though His means of Grace. He has given us faith and He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith. Yes, we do boast in the Lord. To Him alone be all Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.