Sunday, August 7, 2011

A sermon

Here is a sermon from one of my classmates at the seminary, Pr Eli Davis (He is serving Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Caruthers, California).  He posts them on Facebook for his members, and gave me permission to post it here.  I thought you would be interested in seeing how two different pastors preach the same text to two different congregations.  Enjoy!

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, but I’m not going to start there. A friend of mine this week make a strange statement. He said he wasn’t sure if he believed a verse out of Hebrews chapter five about Jesus. So here it is. “Although he was a son, he learned to listen through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the cause of eternal salvation to all who listen to him....” And he’s got a point. Something in this verse sounds wrong. How can God who knows everything learn? That just doesn’t make any sense.

So with that question unresolved, we come to today’s text. And this text comes right after last week’s text. As soon as the disciples have gathered the twelve baskets of leftovers, Jesus immediately compels them to board the boat and set sail without Him. Jesus then lets the crowds go, and heads up the mountain from the wilderness. And finally, Jesus is alone.

But the last time Jesus was alone, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. Not eating. Tempted by Satan with the words “If you are the Son of God.” Tempted to turn stones into bread. Tempted on a mountaintop with worship. Tempted to throw caution to the wind and dive into danger to prove who was God. And to each of these Jesus said no.

But this trip into the wilderness, this trip up the mountain, Jesus was alone. And as nice as that was, that shouldn’t have happened. Satan should have been there waiting for him. Ready with temptations. But no. Nothing.

Do you know why? Because Jesus had passed the last test. His humanity had been through an unbelievable physical trial. No food for 40 days. Under this incredible bodily stress, Jesus stood up to sin. Stood up to Satan. But this trip into the wilderness, Jesus was going to learn something new.

And there’s our question once again. How can Jesus who knows everything ever learn? And yet He does. Think about it. When He was born, He had to learn to walk. He had to learn to talk. Jesus had to learn everything there is about being a human being. Just like we do. Including learning to live in a world overrun by sin. Jesus also learned to withstand temptation even in the most impossible circumstances. Something we’re not good at under good circumstances.

And the last trip He learned under incredible physical stress. This trip, though, would put Jesus under intense mental stress. Remember, His home town rejected Him. His disciples didn’t understand Him. His cousin John was just murdered because of Him. And on the brink of escape, an enormous crowd of needy people swamped him with their sicknesses and hunger.

And so, Satan’s three temptations are back. But this time the answers have changed. This time, Jesus doesn’t face Satan alone. This time, Jesus faces sin the same way we all do. From our own brothers. “Send the people away so that they can go into the villages to go buy food.” “They need not go away, You give to them something to eat.” The temptation of bread returns. But this time the temptation is to say no. The temptation is to escape, and let the crowds suffer on their own. But instead, Jesus has compassion. Instead, Jesus answers yes.

Last time, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This time, Jesus is alone on the mountain. And the temptation isn’t to worship Satan, but to worship self. Jesus is desperate for a break. But He is needed once again as the disciples are beaten by the waves and overcome by the wind. The temptation is to say no to those in need. But once again, Jesus has compassion. Once again, Jesus says yes.

Then comes the temptation to put Himself in harms way. The first time, Satan said, “
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, 
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”” The temptation is exactly the same. Throw yourself into the tempestuous water. See if you strike your feet on the stones on the bottom of the sea. See if the angels protect you. Even Peter echoes Satan’s words. “If you are the Son of God.” “If you are, then command me to come to you on the water.” But again, the correct answer this time isn’t no, but yes. “Come,” Jesus said to Peter. Once again, Jesus has compassion.
Even when Peter sinks from doubt, Jesus reaches out His hand and takes ahold of him. For Jesus came precisely to save. Jesus saved the hungry and sick on the shore. Jesus saves the disciples from the storm. Jesus saves Peter from his own doubt. And in the midst of everything that Jesus suffers, Jesus learns to be our Savior.

And learns is the right word. Because everything that happens to Jesus, happens to prepare Him for the cross. The physical stress and temptations in Matthew chapter four. The mental stress and temptations in Matthew chapter fourteen. Both come together Maundy Thursday evening through Good Friday.

Because in Christ’s passion we have wilderness, where Jesus is abandoned by all. We have bread, My body given for you. We have the mountain, Calvary. We have the question, “If you are the Son of God.” We have the doubt. We have the physical pain. We have the mental anguish. All of which Jesus had spent is entire life learning how to bear. And He carried them all to death on a cross for you.

The God who knows all things became man in order to learn how to bear our sin. The Son learned to listen through suffering. Listen to you. Understand your pain. Comprehend your grief. And by hearing, Jesus took your sin into Himself. When we confess our sins at the beginning of service, we give those sins to Jesus, and they remain His.

And therefore He became the source of eternal salvation to all who listen to him. Listen to His absolution. Listen to His forgiveness. Listen to His proclamation. Listen to the promises made in the sacraments. That “Baptism now saves you.” That “This is my body, this is my blood for your forgiveness.” Through listening, Jesus hears you cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!” Through listening, you hear as Jesus reaches out His hand and takes ahold of you. Even in your physical pain. Even in your mental anguish. For He knows it all first hand.

That God would do all that boggles my mind. God became man, and took on everything that entails. The all knowing needed to learn. The all powerful needed to face real weakness. The perfect one had to endured all sin. The author of life needed to die. God became everything we are. All so that we could be given what God has. Although he was a son, he learned to listen through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the cause of eternal salvation to all who listen to him.… And we in His boat worship him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God. Thanks be to God.

And now the compassion of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

mystery, reverence and heresy's destruction

As an apology (defense) against caving into culture, especially in our context of postmodernism (where everyone creates their own truth, just as long as it doesn't clash with someone else's truth--not really truth at all if it is only true for you, though), a professor at Wheaton College, Matthew Milliner, has come up with what he calls "9.5 Theses against the Emergent Church."  Most of them were very good, but the one I found most interesting and most helpful was this one, #8:

8. Heresy is boring, not exciting because it eviscerates mystery. If you’re attracted to heresy because it makes you feel naughty then that’s kinda creepy. If you’re attracted to it because you don’t want to “limit God,” then the religion that serves a God who became a particular first-century Palestinian Jew might not be for you.

"Heresy...eviscerates mystery", it deprives mystery of its essential content and purpose. I would add that it's no wonder then that American Christianity suffers from a lack of reverence and proper fear.  As I posted on Facebook the other day, "mystery encourages reverence."  The Faith is mysterious, it must be, otherwise it shouldn't be called "faith".  A non-mysterious belief system is really a non-faith; at that point it is a religion of man.  If you look at your religion and think: 'wow, I can understand all of this', then you may also want to consider this: you have proven yourself foolish time after time in the insignificant, earthly matters, so why do you think you can grasp the heavenly, eternal things?

Let us ever cling more confidently and boldly to the mystery and the holy Mysteries (especially here the Sacraments).  To do this, we must deny ourselves and our own will and intellectual ability and pick up the foolishness of the cross.  Let us consider Solomon's words of wisdom in their full weightiness: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." (Proverbs 3.5)

Read all of Milliner's Theses here:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

a brief reflection on Absolution in our Lutheran Confessions

From our Lutheran Confessions:

"the preachers on our side diligently teach that confession is to be retained because of absolution...for the comfort of terrified consciences and because of other reasons." (AC XXV.13)

Two things strike me as I reread this today: 
1) The preachers of the Church of the Augsburg Confession (true Lutherans, in other words), they teach the people diligently about Absolution.  It's one thing to teach about something, but it's altogether more intense, more intentional to teach something "diligently".  There was a focus, a plan, there was a goal that the Lutheran preachers had in mind.  Specifically, that goal was the retention of Private Absolution (here called 'confession').  Which brings me to my next reflection on this statement. 
2) The preachers were so intense and intentional about retaining Private Absolution because of: a) "the comfort of terrified consciences," and b) "other reasons."  What were those other reasons?  Just in the short amount of time that we have been posting regular hours for Absolution, I've recognized a few of these "other reasons."  First, the relationship between the pastoral office and parishioner is enriched.  This really can't be helped.  The parishioner is trusting the pastoral office (and so, is trusting Christ) with, not only the secrets of the heart, but the dirty secrets of the heart, the sin.  The penitent is releasing those secrets in a real, tangible way: to a man.  But not only to any man, to the man in the pastoral office.  No matter which specific man is in the pastoral office, those parishioners who make use of this Blessed gift (dare I say "Sacrament", like the Confessions say) are strengthening their relationship with the pastoral office in this place.  And that's a good relationship to have strong.  After all, the pastor is one who is steward of your soul, who also must give an account for your soul on the last great day.  The more you open up to the pastor, the better is He able to do what He is called to do: to care for you individually.  This is certainly a worthy "other reason."  
The other thing I've noticed in the life of those who receive Private Absolution, is the increase of spiritual insight (I don't know what to call it); being "in tune" and focused on things spiritual.  Perhaps this is just more of an observation at this point, rather than a theological point.  Of course, the more 'spiritually observant' you are, the more you see your need for the Savior and the more you are drawn to repentance.  And, as Luther said in the first of the 95 Theses, "the whole life of the Christian is one of repentance." 

And these are just drops in the ocean of the "other reasons", or other blessings that Private Absolution gives to you.  Chief among them, of course, is the absolution, the forgiveness of sins.   Come for the main thing first, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then see all these other things come to you as well. 

Peace be with you.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A few wonderful articles for you to read...

The first one is from Dr Paul Grime.  He is currently a professor at Fort Wayne seminary.  He also served as the director for our new hymnal LSB.  This article is a look back over the past 5 years and what effect the hymnal has had on our synod, both positives and negatives (mostly positives).  Enjoy.
Read the article by clicking on the following:

The next one is from a pastor in Illinois, Rev Heath Curtis.  He has done a lot of study and writing on the liturgy.  Here is one of his most recent topics:

Enjoy.  Post comments below if you'd like.  Or email me with questions.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fight and be at peace. Both?

At the same time saint and sinner.  We were reminded of this again in Bible class on Sunday as we're going through the seven letters in Revelation 2-3.  We are reminded of it constantly in our daily lives.  As St Paul diagnoses: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (Rom 7.19)  We want to do the good, we want to jump to action and serve and love and bless and pray and worship, but we don't.  We get in the way. 

In the same way, there is also another paradox that looms over us.  St Paul commands to Pr Timothy: "Fight" (1 Tim 6.12), yet in the same letter, just 4 chapters earlier, St Paul commands that we continue steadfast in prayer and supplication so that "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior." (1 Tim. 2.2-3) 

Two descriptions of the life that is pleasing to our Lord Christ: fight AND lead a peaceful and quiet life.  Fighting and peace, all in the same life.  A mystery.  Here are my thoughts:
  • Since we are saint and sinner, there are times when we fight against our own sinfulness (and the sin we find in the world, such as abortion), but there are other times when we remain peaceful and quiet (such as in worship and prayer).  This seems to be the constant tension within us: when do we fight, and when do we endure?  Not only that, but: what do we fight and what do we let go?
  •  The cross of Jesus was the ultimate battle.  The eternal war was won there, just as the great Easter hymn confesses: "The fight is o'er the battle won"
  • Peace is actually part of the fighting. Ephesians 6 states: "Therefore take up the whole armor of shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace."
A mystery, a paradox.  Fight...and be at peace.  God grant it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

reciting the Faith

First: is memorizing the Faith even possible?  Faith is expressed in belief, how can it be recited?  Can we memorize what we believe?  In other words: is it possible to formulate a set of statements that summarizes things that are meant for believing (more than understanding)?

Well, yes!  To say otherwise would do harm to the Faith on a number of fronts, but perhaps most dramatically it would make the Faith (and it's corresponding believing) internal and subjective.  In other words, we could never talk about "the" Faith, but only "my" faith or "your" faith.  But just the opposite is true.  We believe in something that is external to us, that is not dependent upon us or whether we believe it or not.  The Faith is true by itself, without my help, even despite me and what I think.  I cannot add anything to the Faith because it is already defined.

So, because it is external to us AND because it is already defined, therefore, not only is it possible to formulate a set of statements about it (like Scripture and catechisms), but it's necessary to do so.  And if the Faith is expressed in statements, then yes! those statements can be memorized and recited. 

The reason I write about this today is because I read a blog recently that made the following statement about using a catechism:
Don’t allow memorization to occur without understanding.

The gentleman who writes this blog is a modern evangelical-type (generic, American Christianity).  He has written a few books and blogs on the side. 

This statement that he makes is really not much of a surprise.  Many modern evangelicals are descendents of a movement called Rationalism (whether they know it or not).  The goal and main purpose of rationalism was to set faith/believing aside and  .  So even when these individuals (I'm sure you have friends in this camp) speak of faith and belief, what they mean is 'understanding'.  They are not speaking of the true Faith, the connection to God through which God gives His gifts to us, that absolute trust and confidence like a child.  They may even say "trust", "confidence", perhaps even "gifts" (probably not though), but if you dig a bit deeper into what they really mean, you'll find that the faith/believing that they are talking about is the work/action of man.  So, again, it's not surprising to hear a statement like the one above "Don't allow memorization to occur without understanding." 

As opposed to this, we believe the opposite.  Memorize first!  Why?  Because the child already believes the "statements" of the faith.  Baptism gives you the Faith.  The child (including you adults) already believe the 10 Commandments, Apostles' Creed, and Lord's Prayer.  The child already believes that Baptism saves, that the Lord's Supper is the true Body and Blood of Christ, that the pastor's forgiveness in Holy Absolution is God's forgiveness.  What we are doing (in having them memorize and recite Scripture passages and the Catechism) is giving them the words to express what they already believe. 

See how different this is between the Lutherans and the modern evangelicals?  In summary, we take Jesus at His Word.  They don't--they add stuff, like human understanding.  *Blach*!!  I'll take Lutheranism over that any day.  We'll have our kids memorize the Faith first.

By the way, if you would like an example of how this memorization is possible watch this.  This was Cade when He was 3 years old.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

forgiveness through man

The following is an excerpt from the Higher Things Daily Reflection for today:
One of the objections you will often hear from non-Lutherans is that “no man can forgive sins.” Or “I don't need the pastor to forgive me my sins; I can just ask God myself.” But what does Jesus say? He commands His apostles to forgive sins. If someone thinks pastors don't forgive sins, they're calling Jesus a liar or else they don't know what Jesus' said.

One of the main blunders of heresy is that it tries to understand the Gospel, God's gifts.  What this devotion does so well is explain the Doctrine in light of faith rather than reason.  How?  It points us to the Words of Jesus.  Jesus' Words are to be believed.  It's not a problem if we don't understand them.  It's not a problem if we think one thing contradicts another thing in Scripture.  Jesus' Words are eternal and true--He is the Truth.

So, pastor, how is possible that man can forgive sins?  Isn't it ONLY between me and God?  
My response (as always): Listen to Jesus.  What does He say?  
Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."

Come to Holy Absolution: Fridays 1-3 and 6-8.  Receive God's true gift to you in this tangible way.