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!


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.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Truth and Freedom - October 25, 2020 - Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost/Reformation Sunday - Text: John 8:31-36

Happy Reformation Day! As I have said in the past, Reformation Day is one of my favorite holy or holidays and I think it is appropriate that we greet each other in this way, “Happy Reformation Day!” This year, Reformation Day is as it always is on October 31, which this year is not until next Saturday. Which means that next Sunday we will celebrate All Saints Day on the actual day of All Saints Day. Anyway, Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the act of one man, the sainted Dr. Martin Luther, after whom our church denomination is named,  who on October 31 in 1517 posted his 95 statements or theses for debate on the town bulletin board, which happened to be the church door. It was this act which set off what we now call the Reformation.

Dr. Luther did not suggest that he had found the real church which was lost. He did not suggest that God had given him any new revelation for beginning a new church. He was not trying to form his own new church, rather he was trying to make his old church, the Roman Catholic church of his day, aware of what he knew were false teachings and false doctrines which were being proclaimed, so that the truth of the Gospel might prevail. And if anyone understood these falsehoods, it would be Dr. Luther. Perhaps you have heard his story.

Dr. Luther was born to Hans and Margaretta Luther, November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He began his college education studying law, but at the age of twenty-two a thunderstorm and the death of a friend moved him to make a vow to enter the quiet life of a monk in monastery wherein he also began his studies to become a priest in the church. Young Luther believed that if he worked hard enough, if he studied hard enough, if he stayed out of the public life and could keep from sinning, then he might be able to earn heaven. This teaching is what was being taught in the church during his life and as we will see, this is also what he wanted to reform. In the language of our text for today, Luther became a slave to works righteousness.

The “truth” that young Martin Luther was taught and believed was that if you were good enough, if you kept from sinning, if you did what was right, then you would be justified, then you could stand before God as a just person, deserving eternal life and heaven. Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately for us, the more young Martin Luther tried to justify himself before God, the more he felt unjust and undeserving. More than once young Dr. Luther fasted to the point of almost starving himself to death. He would beat himself in hopes of appeasing, what he believed to be, an angry, vengeful God. And so, Dr. Luther really kept himself in a vicious cycle of trying to appease God, thinking he had to do more and so he tried to beat himself more, fast more, confess more, and that only made him realize he could not do enough to appease God, so he tried even harder.

Young Dr. Luther did not know the truth. He was like many people in our world today. We live in a world where truth has become relative. What may be true for me may not be true for you and what may be true for you may not be true for me, or so the world would have us believe. Today, in our world, truth is validated, not by facts, but by feeling. If I feel it, it must be true, at least for me. Or truth may be validated by one’s perspective, that is from my point of view this or that is truth, but it may not be true from your point of view. I am here to proclaim to you that there are not many truths, that each one of us does not possess our own individual truth, but that there is one and only one truth. There is only one absolute truth. I know that goes against the world and against our culture, but I, and the whole Christian Church for that matter, cannot do otherwise. The very reason we are in the mess we are in, having various truths, is because we do not know the Truth. In answer to the question of “What is truth?” the only answer we can give is the answer of Truth Himself, that is, that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Why do we have such a problem with truth in our world today? Because we live in a truth-less, Jesus-less world.

John tells us, in our Gospel reading, that it is faith in Jesus Christ alone which brings us into all truth and which makes us a part of God’s family. We are not a part of God’s family by physical birth nor DNA. We are not a part of God’s family by who we know. We are not a part of God’s family because we are so good and deserve to be a part. We are only a part of God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus makes Him our brother and God our Father, then we are a part of the family. When it comes to eternal life in heaven it truly is not what you know, but who you know, or better, who knows you!

Young Dr. Luther’s problem was that he was not a part of the family. Young Dr. Luther’s problem was that he was a slave to everything except Jesus. For young Dr. Luther, the Scripture reading, “The just shall live by faith,” meant that he had to be just, he had to live a just life, he had to do what was right in order to stand before God and be declared righteous. It was only after his eyes were open by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that Dr. Luther came to understand the truth. The truth is that “the just shall live by faith,” means that we are declared just and right before God, not by our own accord, but by faith in Jesus Christ. We, you and I, can never do enough good things, we could never fast enough, we could never beat ourselves enough, we could never do anything enough in order to pay the price, to work off the cost of what our sins have earned. And believe me, our sins have earned plenty. We are born in sin and daily we add to our sin. And the cost of our sin, the wage of our sin is death, eternal death, hell. Maybe, before we turn to the Gospel, too quickly, we need to spend some time with young Dr. Luther in the Law. We need to spend more time in the Law, because until we realize that left to ourselves we are deserving of nothing less than eternal life in hell, the Gospel will mean little or nothing to us. To young Dr. Luther the thought of deserving hell was devastating and that is what drove him to do all he could to redeem himself. Perhaps we might need to spend time contemplating our destiny apart from Jesus Christ, because, you see, a part from Jesus Christ, we are, you and I are, deserving of eternal death in hell. And that ought to be pretty scary for us.

But there is good news. The good news is that hell is what Jesus suffered for us, for you and for me, in our place. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself and paid the price, the wage, the cost for our sin. He suffered eternal death for us. That is what young Dr. Luther realized when he came to a proper understanding that, “the just shall live by faith,” means that we are made just in God’s eyes by faith. By faith Jesus’ life becomes our life. By faith Jesus’ suffering becomes our suffering, by faith Jesus’ death becomes our death. And by faith Jesus’ resurrection becomes our resurrection. Notice that it is no longer we who are doing anything, but it is Jesus who is doing the doing.

When Dr. Luther understood the Gospel, that Gospel set him free. Dr. Luther understood that no amount of fasting, no amount of beating himself, no amount of anything could pay for his sins. No amount of money could pay for his sins. His sins, the cost, the wage, the price for his sins had been paid, in full, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. Dr. Luther rejoiced in his new found freedom in the Gospel and from that day forward began boldly to proclaim that same freedom to others who, like him, were devastated by the constraints of the Law.

Which brings us back to our Reformation celebration. You see, as Dr. Luther grew in his faith and understanding of the truth of the Gospel, he began more and more to see the false teachings which had made their way into the church of his day. You might say that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the selling of indulgences, that is the selling of the forgiveness of sins. The story goes that on one of his walks through town, Dr. Luther stumbled over one of his parishioners who was on the ground drunk as a skunk. When Dr. Luther told him that he would be waiting for him to come to confession later in the week, the man held up a piece of paper and boldly stated that he did not need to come to confession anymore because he had paid good money for his sins to be taken care of. In other words, he had paid money for his sins to be forgiven so he no longer had to worry about sin, instead, he could live life as he wished with no repercussions, or so he thought.

It was this event as well as many other similar events which stirred Dr. Luther to sit down and write his 95 theses or statements for debate. These statements were written in Latin, the language of the educated, because he was looking to debate these concerns with others who were educated in the theology and teachings of the church. His sole intent was to correct and to reform what he knew were some false teachings of the church. He knew that church would be full on All Saints day, November 1, so on the eve of all Saints Day, on All Hallow’s Eve as it is called or as it has been mispronounced today on Halloween, he posted his statements for debate.

You might remember that a man named Gutenberg had invented what is called the printing press at about this time, about 50 years earlier and so Dr. Luther’s statements were quickly translated into German, the language of the people, printed and distributed for everyone to read and that is what started what we now call the reformation.

I believe there is an adage which reminds us that we need to study and be mindful of our past history lest we are doomed to repeat such history. We live in a world not unlike the world of Dr. Luther’s day. We live in a world where it is believed by many that it is our character, it is our good deeds, it is our sincerity of faith, our living an obedient life,  it is our living as God’s people which will bring us to some sort of eternal existence. Jesus tells us that we are saved by His grace alone, through faith in Him alone. Both faith and the object of faith are important. It is our faith which brings us the truth. It is our faith which makes us members of Jesus’ family. It is our faith which makes us the people we are, little Christ’s or Christians. We are to have faith as a child, not trusting in anything of our own, being completely helpless, but trusting and clinging to Jesus alone who sets us free.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is dealing with His own people, the Jews, who had similar beliefs to the people of our world today, people who believed they were saved by pointing to themselves. The Jews believed they were saved by their DNA by being born Jewish. Today people believe they are saved by pointing to themselves as well, by their good deeds. Just as Jesus reminded the Jews of His day so He reminds us today, we are not saved when we point to ourselves. Jesus points us to where we are saved, outside ourselves to Him and Him alone. Jesus said it best in our Gospel reading when He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As His disciples, being given faith, through the waters of Holy Baptism, strengthened and kept in faith through His means of grace, the Lord’s Supper, holding on to His teaching, the very Word of God, and being given forgiveness of sins, through Confession and Absolution and knowing that with forgiveness is life and salvation, we rejoice and say, to God be the glory. Thus, we rejoice and celebrate this day we call Reformation Day. We give thanks for the work of Dr. Martin Luther, but even more we give thanks for a clear understanding of our salvation, pointing, not to self but to Jesus and Jesus alone. Indeed we are sons of God, set free by the Son of God so we are free indeed. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Invited, Chosen? - October 11, 2020 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Matthew 22:1-14

Over the past few weeks as we have made our way through the Gospel of Matthew, we have witnessed Jesus as He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. We witnessed His popularity, especially by those trying to kill Him, which got there dander up. We witnessed as He proceeded to cleanse the temple. There was also the thing about the fig tree. We witnessed as He was questioned as to His authority, which He does not answer, but in so doing does answer. We listened as He told the parable of the two sons to get across the idea of who is a part of God’s Kingdom. And this parable piggy backed on the previous parable with the understanding that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law are missing it. They are not sons, they are not members of the Kingdom. Following that parable is the parable we have this morning, the parable of the Wedding Banquet and more “accusations” against the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

Our text begins, “1And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come (v. 1-3). The king of the kingdom of heaven is of course God Himself, Yahweh. He is the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the One who invites. Those who were invited were God’s chosen people, in particular, the Children of Israel. Of course, as we hear this parable today, we might realize that we too are included in those invited, that is we are a part of God’s chosen people, that is by faith in Jesus we too are children of Abraham. So, God’s call is to us and all people.

Because those called first failed to respond to the invitation, the servants were sent out again. “4Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them” (v. 4-6). The response to this second invitation was a response of excuses, a response of a rejection of the invitation. There are many in our world today, including us at times, who refuse and reject the gifts of God. Some reject the gifts of God because the cares and concerns of the world overshadow what is most important, one’s own spiritual life. Too often, or even how often do we so busy ourselves that we do not have time for what is most important, our relationship with Jesus. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday millions of people have something more important to do than be in God’s house being given the gifts God has to give, which is gift refusal, which is invitation refusal.

The response “7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (v. 7). The warning we get here from Jesus Himself is that the ultimate punishment for refusing His gifts is death, eternal death, hell. Certainly we understand that the punishment for original sin is physical death, but indeed, to continually refuse and reject God’s good gifts and blessings to the point of physical death is hell.

But the King, Yahweh is not done. He sends out a second invitation. We might imagine this invitation is an invitation in particular to the Gentiles. “8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests” (v. 8-10). The Pharisees and the teachers of the law understood what Jesus was saying and what He meant in His parable. They understood that He was speaking about those detestable Gentiles. Since God’s chosen people, the Children of Israel, Jesus’ own people refused and rejected Him, He sent His invitation of faith to the Gentiles.

The kings desire, God’s desire is that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ. God’s desire is that the kingdom of heaven is filled. God fulfills His desire by calling to and giving faith. As we confess, He calls, gathers and enlightens the whole Christian Church on earth and He does this through His means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments. And so, the banquet hall is filled.

The wedding hall is filled, but something is not right. One of the guest is there without proper attire, “11“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen” (v. 11-14). What does this mean that one guest was there without a wedding garment? This particular guest refused the garments of faith given to the guest. Instead he chose to be present, to present himself there with his own garments, his garments of his own good works. He crashed the wedding thinking more highly of himself. He crashed the wedding so that when we was confronted by the king he had no answer, he had no confession of faith. Instead of rejoicing and confessing the gifts given to him by the king and giving thanks for those gifts and blessings, he had nothing to say, he was speechless.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (v.14). With these words Jesus reminds us that God’s call is to all people of all place of all times, yet, not all people respond to His call. Too many people refuse and reject God’s call and gift of faith. Too many people, through time and eternity reject God’s call and instead want to stand before Him in their own robes of works righteousness, again, refusing the wedding garments provided by the king.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law understood, time after time, that Jesus was speaking about them in His parables. And time after time their response was to seek some way to get rid of Him. How do we respond to these parables of Jesus? How do we respond when we read God’s Word, when we hear God’s Word, when the Pastor preaches God’s Word and we know that word is read, heard, and preached to us? Do we rejoice when we are found out, when our sins are exposed? Or do we get upset, do we simply decide to stay away because we do not want to hear how sinful we are, do we have an inclination to think of how we can get rid of our Pastor? Certainly, as conceived and born in sin sinners we do not like having our sins pointed out, especially if they are our favorite sins. Certainly we do not like having our rejection of the gifts of God being pointed out. Certainly we do not like it being recognized that our attention is divided such that we are breaking the commandments and certainly we do not like being made to feel guilty about our sins. Unfortunately, it is not just the law that brings condemnation, but to those who constantly refuse and reject the gifts of God, it is also the recognition of our rejection of the gifts of God that brings guilt.

Today we are reminded once again that God’s call to faith is to all people. All people, of all places around the world, of all times throughout history, of all cultures, all people are invited to be given the gifts and blessings God has to give. All people are invited to be given forgiveness of sins. When Jesus was born He was born as true Israel. He was born and lived the perfect life demanded of His people Israel and of us today. He lived the perfect, obedient life. Then He took all our sins and all the sins of all people of all places of all times, including those sins we have yet to commit. He took all sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal punishment of hell for us in our place. And He died. But, death and the grave had no hold over Him as He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. And now He calls all people to be given that forgiveness that He paid for with His life.

Unfortunately, just as in His parable, so too today, many people refuse and reject His forgiveness. Some refuse and reject His forgiveness because they refuse to acknowledge and confess their sins. Some refuse and reject His forgiveness because they desire to continue living in their sin refusing to recognize that what they have done or are doing is sin. Indeed, one trip through the Ten Commandments reminds us of our sins, our sins of commission, that is our sins of doing those things we should not be doing and our sins of omission, that is failing to do those things we should be doing. As we heard a few weeks ago, the most loving thing we can do as Christians is to help our brother or sister recognize their sins so that they repent and are given forgiveness. The most unloving thing we can do is to let them go on sinning so that their sin remains and they are eternally lost in hell.

Yes, we all need to hear the Law, but it is not the Law that moves us to repentance. We all need to hear the Gospel and it is the Gospel, it is the knowledge of sins forgiven that moves us to repent and not refuse and reject the forgiveness which is already there. Remember, all sins have already been paid for, thus, our only option would be to reject that forgiveness which is done by not confessing. As we confess at the beginning of the service, “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 us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is truly this knowledge that our sins have already been forgiven that gives us the confidence to confess.

Indeed, as Jesus concluded His parable, many are called, but few are chosen. God’s desire is that all people are saved. Yet, just as in His parable, so too today, many people have many excuses for refusing and rejecting the calling and gifts of God. As with His parable of the sower and the seed, so too the cares and weeds of this world, the business of the things of this world, so much and so many things draw too many away from the gifts and blessings God has to give and thus so many refuse and reject the gifts of God.

Even in the church, those who have been called to and given faith, too often get caught up in the business, the cares, worries and concerns of the world to the detriment of their own souls. And there are those in our world who believe themselves to be apart of God’s kingdom by what they believe to be the good deeds they have done without a confession of faith. How often do we hear people pointing to themselves, to their good works, to their obedience in hopes of gaining life. And yes, each one of us must admit that from time to time we struggle as well.

Thanks be to God that we continue to be a part of those few who have been chosen. We have been chosen from our baptism and even before the world was created, as God looked through time and called us to faith, as God through the hands of the pastor put water on our head and using the mouth of the pastor spoke His name on us so that we are His. Indeed, we rejoice in our baptism, in our being called to and given faith, in our having God’s name put on us and our names written in the book of life. We rejoice and Sunday after Sunday we confess our sins and hear again and again those most precious words, “Your sins are forgiven.” We rejoice as we hear God’s Word again and again in the divine service and even in Bible class. We rejoice in our being given Jesus’ body and blood in His Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins. We rejoice in God’s gifts and blessings and we respond saying, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.