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  • Advent 1

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Advent 1 - 2017

    Matthew 21:1-9

     

     

    Our Lord rides into Jerusalem lowly on a donkey. And yet His entrance into Jerusalem doesn’t look too lowly. We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a humble and lowly entrance, because we know who Jesus is and why He is coming into Jerusalem. But His coming was fit for a King. Look at what happens. When He wants a donkey, he simply takes it. When he rides on it, a mass of people throw their clothes on the ground for him to trample. As He passes by they sing psalms to Him and call Him their King. This is no lowly scene, especially when we see that our Lord knows the future, knows that there will be a donkey and foal waiting for Him, knows that at one word – The Lord has need of them – their owner will simply give them up. He has power. People listen to Him and bow before Him. And He rides in pomp. There are no trumpets only because He doesn’t come in war and hasn’t called for them. But He receives the welcome of a King regardless, with palm branches waving in the air and the city coming out to meet Him. The donkey He rides is fit for a king. A king rode a horse when He went out to battle. He preferred, at least in ancient Israel, a donkey for his usual ride. There’s nothing lowly about this scene.

    Except Jesus Himself. He is lowly. If it were a mere man, an earthly king coming into Jerusalem, we would see no lowliness here. He would soak in the accolades, proudly ride over people’s cloaks as they throw them before his feet, revel in the glory of the moment as people sing his praises and wave palms branches in his honor. But our Lord is no earthly king. The scene is a lowly one only because of the rider of the donkey. The Prophet Jeremiah calls Him the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. He is the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth. He created donkeys. He doesn’t belong on one. No earthly show of pomp could possibly do justice to who He is. It will take an eternity to praise this God.

    When the prophet Zechariah prophesies and says, “Behold your King is coming to you, lowly and riding on a donkey,” he is saying something strange, not because a king would never ride a donkey, but because this King has no need to ride a donkey, nothing forcing Him to come to sinners in their own flesh and blood, nothing keeping Him from coming with an army of angels, with the sound of trumpets, to lay waste to sinners who deserve His punishment. What is strange and wonderful about this scene is that this King comes not in wrath, not to judge the people for their sins, not to take out His anger against their idolatry and selfishness and sin, but to have pity on them and take their punishment on Himself, to lower Himself to the utter depths, to make Himself the object of insults and mockery and torture, to be pierced on a cross, to give us a righteousness that is ours because it is His, and He is the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    It’s not as if Christ comes with a mock humility. He isn’t pretending to be less than He is. He’s the King of the Jews, He’s the prophesied Messiah. And so He comes as King and receives the praises of His people. But He comes exactly as the King He has promised to be. He comes in fulfillment of the prophecies he himself has made, exactly as Zechariah said it would be.

     

    And this means He comes in complete humility, not a mock one. That’s what’s prophesied, “Behold your King comes to you lowly.” Lowly. Because here the almighty God comes as our Brother to humble Himself for us. More than this, the righteous God who by all that is good and right should be throwing sinners into hell is instead allowing sinners to give him honor and praise. Think of that, the God who receives the endless praises of angels in heaven, accepts the praises of those who deserve his punishment. And this is what He wants. This is why He humbles Himself. He wants to make his enemies his children. He’s accepting the praise of sinners precisely because they receive him as the God who comes to be pierced for them.

    The prophet Zechariah goes on to prophesy, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” The lowly King is the pierced King, and the shouts of joy at His coming to save Jerusalem are combined with a mourning and grief at what it cost our God to save us.

    This is always how it is for us Christians. We rejoice to see our Savior come into Jerusalem to lay down His life for us, because it means our punishment is ended, we have no fear that our sins will keep us from our God, we cannot doubt that this God is for us, that He wants us as His children. As Luther puts it in His beautiful hymn,

    Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,

    With exultation springing,

    And, with united heart and voice

    And holy rapture singing,

    Proclaim the wonders God hath done,

    How His right arm the victory won;

    Right dearly it hath cost Him.

    We rejoice at our salvation, but we see also how dearly it has cost Him. And so we confess our sins, we mourn them, we ask our loving God not only to forgive them for the sake of His cross, but to remove them from us, so that we learn to love our God and one another, and to hate our sin because it has pierced our God.

    Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new Church Year. Advent means coming. And so we look today at Jesus’ coming lowly into Jerusalem to win the victory over our sin and death. And the coming of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem shows also how He comes to us and how we are to receive Him.

    He comes as King. Now, of course, He is no ordinary king, but He is most certainly a King. Kings rule over their subjects. They demand respect. Jesus does not come as a teddy bear, as some fleeting and temporary comfort, or as the popular T-shirt during my college days put it, as your home-boy, as a good buddy. He comes as your King to rule over you. We pray Thy Kingdom come. We ask this of our Father in heaven. We are asking Him to rule over us. That’s what kings do. Kings aren’t presidents. They aren’t elected. They don’t pander to public opinion so that they can get more votes next time around. They rule.

    But our Lord does not rule with force of arms. That’s the point of His riding on a donkey and not on a horse of war. He comes in peace to rule over us as a father rules his house, to earn for us what keeps us alive, to protect us from every evil and keep us safe from danger. And so we receive Him as our King, we ask Him to rule over us, to feed us with His Word and His body and blood and to lead us to love Him as He loves us.

    As we prepare to receive the body and blood of our Lord this day, we sing our Hosannas. We are welcoming our Savior. Hosanna is a joyful cry, a joy that comes after sorrow. Hosanna means “Save us.” And we need saving.

    And our Lord comes now to save us, to deliver His Kingdom to us. He comes to us who mourn over our sins and yearn for deliverance. Every Divine Service we sing the cry of Hosanna before the Lord’s Supper, because we know as surely as the crowd that met Jesus in Jerusalem that our King is coming to us.  He comes under the humble elements of bread and wine. He doesn’t come in a display of power.  He comes as if he is weak.  But he isn’t weak.  He is our almighty God coming to us with the very body and blood that has won us release from all misery and seals to us eternal life with the God who loves us. He comes to us where we are, He shows us that He was pierced for us, that He is our King who washes us clean by his blood, and sets us before His Father as His children.

    We just sang, “Lord, How shall I receive You, how welcome You aright?” We receive our Lord here today, in repentance and in joy. We sing, Hosanna, Lord, save us. We welcome Him aright as our King and Savior. We receive Him as He truly is, the Lord our Righteousness.

     

     

    Advent 1 - 2016

     

  • Advent 2

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Advent 2, 2016

    Luke 21:25-36

     

    Jesus’ second coming is as sure and certain as his first. His first Advent was in humility. He allowed Himself to be despised and rejected by men, to appear lowly and weak, to die a miserable death on the cross. All this to redeem this sinful world from the sin that binds it. But just as Jesus’ power and glory were hidden from human sight at His first coming, so the effect of that coming is hidden from our mortal senses. Jesus’ death has conquered death, but what do we see? We see death and decay. Jesus’ blood has washed away our sin, but what do we feel? We struggle day after day to put down the sinful passions of our flesh. We hear the Word of the cross, that we have been redeemed from sin and death, but we see and feel the opposite – we see death and experience the guilt of our sins. The power and reality of our redemption, of our freedom from sin, is hidden in the humble Word of the cross just as Christ’s glory and power were hidden in his death on the cross.

     

    This is why we look forward to Christ’s second coming. The second coming of Jesus, His second Advent among us, will clearly reveal all that was hidden. The power that Christ hid under humility will be visible to every eye. The redemption that He won, the freedom from sin and death and the accusations of Satan, will find its powerful fulfillment in those who trust in Him. The sin that we trusted was forgiven but still felt and experienced in our flesh will be gone forever. The death we believed was conquered but still saw infecting us and all around us will never rise to haunt us again. Amid the destruction of the heavens and the earth, as the moon crumbles into nothing and the sun fails from shining, our eyes will see one thing and one thing only – the Son of Man, our Savior, coming in a cloud with power and great glory to finally rid our bodies and souls from the last vestiges of sin and mortality.

     

    The cloud in Scripture is an image of God’s almighty presence and saving activity. God descended as a cloud on the Tabernacle and the Temple of Jerusalem to bring his children forgiveness. He led the people of Israel in a cloud by day safely from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus ascended to heaven on a cloud to claim all power over heaven and earth. And on the last Day Jesus will come with clouds descending, that is, with all power and might to bring His Word of Judgment to fulfillment.

     

    The judgment Jesus renders on Judgment Day will not be different from the judgment he renders now on those who believe His Word. The Christ who came in humility to die on the cross and the Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead is the same Christ. And His Word is the same. The Word that is now embraced by the faithful and rejected by unbelievers is the same powerful Word that Jesus will speak on the last Day. It appears a humble Word now. A sinful pastor speaks it. Faulty and fumbling believers hear and confess it. The world mocks it, explains it away, and ignores it. But the power of this Word does not derive from those who preach it or those who confess it. And it is not made any less powerful when scoffers reject it. No, the power of the Word of Christ’s cross may not seem much to unbelievers today, but it is the same power by which God created the heavens and the earth from nothing. And all flesh, believer and unbeliever alike, will see the power of Jesus’ Word when it reduces all things to nothing on the last day, as St. Peter declares, “By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

     

    But until then, we trust in a Word that is easily despised and brushed aside, because it looks powerless. We see this in popular culture all the time, as people openly mock Jesus with no thought that they are mocking the eternal God to whom they will have to give an account. We see academics accuse the Bible of being nothing but faulty and historically inaccurate documents, as if sinful and finite man can disprove the holy and eternal Word of God. We see our politicians and social elite openly mocking the most basic standards of God’s law in the promotion of feminism, sex outside marriage, abortion, and homosexuality. They despise God’s Word because it appears toothless and weak to them. The Word of the cross seems foolish, because their care is not for forgiveness, not for a righteousness they don’t have, not to be reconciled to their Creator, but instead for how they can please themselves and fulfill their desires on this earth by using and abusing the creation while ignoring its Creator. Judgment Day, the fact that God will actually judge them for their sin and their unbelief, seems just another powerless word, irrelevant and impractical to the modern man.

     

    But the Day of Judgment is as sure as the Day of Christ’s coming in the flesh on that first Christmas Day. As surely as He came, He will come. And He will judge sinners for their sin. Judgment Day is no joke. Those who have lived their lives as if God didn’t exist, who are too busy with the cares of this life and the pleasures they can enjoy before they die to consider that they were not put on this earth to please themselves but to honor their God, who have found comfort not in the cross of Christ and in the righteousness He has won by His first coming, but in the pleasures of food and drink and the approval of men, they will meet Judgment Day with terror. What they considered far off, what they thought would never come, will come as surely as the sun rises in the east. In fact, more surely, because on that Day the sun itself will pass away, heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word of Judgment will never pass away.

     

    And so Jesus’ preaching of Judgment Day is both a warning to us and great encouragement and comfort.

    It’s a warning first of all. And a warning that we need. As we wait for the fulfillment of God’s Word on Judgment Day we still live in this world and we struggle with our sin. And we have to wait, we have to be patient to see the final fulfillment of God’s promises. Patience isn’t a virtue our culture of instant gratification likes. There’s nothing quite like immediate satisfaction, is there? That’s what our world is addicted to. I can get what I want when I want it, and I want it now. And unlike God’s promises, the world’s promises are readily obtainable and experienced in the here and now. And the more we experience the joys this world has to give, the easier it is to begin living as if this present world is all there is. After all, it’s what we feel and see and experience. And the Day of Judgment, the fact that God will come to judge those who live for themselves and ignore Him and His Word, it can become just some theoretical point of doctrine that we confess on a Sunday but ignore in our daily lives.

     

    Dear Christian friends, believing the Word of God, being a Christian, takes patience and endurance, and it’s a patience that you will not get on your own. You won’t get it except through hearing God’s Word. That’s how faith works. This is what Paul tells us in our Epistle – what has been written in the Bible has been written for our learning, that through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. We have to wait to see the final fulfillment of God’s promises. We don’t get immediate satisfaction through some spiritual high that renders us internally pure and impervious to doubt and anxiety and lust. No, we receive forgiveness from God’s Word and then we see sin boil up again inside us. We believe firmly the promise of resurrection and eternal life and then we find ourselves doubting and fearing death. God’s Word tells us that we are saints, but we don’t feel it, we don’t experience it. We have to wait patiently to see and feel this sainthood, this holiness and innocence. We wait, in other words, for Jesus to render His final Judgment. And the only way to wait for this is by receiving patience and encouragement through God’s Word, constantly, every day.

     

    This is why Jesus warns us to watch ourselves lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life. When I stress that you should be reading devotions every day, praying every day, that you should read the Bible every single day, that you should make it your priority to make it to Church, I’m not doing that because I want you to follow some Lutheran rules. You need the patience and encouragement of Scripture. You need to hear of your sin and your Savior every single day. Because the cares and temptations of this world will beg your attention every single day. If it’s not drunkenness and dissipation, there are all sorts of other worries that fill our minds. We worry about our children, about our jobs, about our health, about how to care for our earthly bodies and our earthly needs. And with all these worries, we will end up living our lives as if this world is all there is, unless God’s Word rules our hearts and keeps us awake to the true reality. Every worry that we experience, every care that we have for this world, God’s Word answers by telling us what we need first and foremost, by reminding us of our greatest need – to be rid of our sins, to be members of the Kingdom of heaven, to be reconciled to our God and have eternal life through the blood of His cross.

     

    This is why Jesus points us to the signs of the end of the world and tells us to take comfort in them. It seems strange. The signs are destruction and havoc. The failure of the economy and distress on the earth. Why would Jesus tell us to take comfort, to straighten up and lift our heads at these terrible things? Because it is God having mercy on us when He shows us that we can’t trust in this world, when He reminds us that everything in this world will be destroyed, when he takes our stuff away in which we trusted, when he shows us that all the things that beg for our attention will finally fail us. And if all creation will fail, where do we turn?

     

    We turn to the Creator, to our God, who won’t fail us. His Word won’t fail us. This Word made all things, will reduce all things to nothing, and will remake everything perfect and uncorrupted on the Last Day. Everything the unbelieving heart of man puts its trust in and cares for will vanish, but the Word of Christ’s cross, the Word that Christians trust in as their greatest joy and hope, the Word of God’s Judgment that declares sinners righteous and guarantees an eternal life of love and innocence with God, this Word will never pass away.

     

    Don’t ever imagine that this Word of God is weak and ineffectual. This is the Word of your Redemption. That is the great comfort of Christ’s second coming. He will show with power the truth you trust. As you wait to see it with your own eyes and behold your Redeemer face to face, hear it again today and confess it with joy.  Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is your Lord. He has redeemed you a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. And He did it not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, yes, come quickly. Amen.

     

     

  • Advent 3 - Gaudete

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Advent 3, Gaudete, 2016

    Matthew 11:1-10

     

    Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice. The first word of our Introit this morning was “rejoice,” and in our opening hymn, we sang, “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.” We even see the theme of rejoicing in the change from violet candles to a rose candle on the Advent wreath – I know it’s a pink candle, but the official liturgical color is “rose,” though I’m not sure if there’s any difference between pink and rose. The point is that the candle today isn’t violet. Violet is a color of royal repentance. Violet is purple and black combined. Purple is the color of Kings and black is the color of sin and repentance. Advent is a season of repentance, of waiting for the celebration of the birth of our King, while acknowledging that we need this King daily in our lives to rule over us by the forgiveness of our sins. But here on Gaudete Sunday, we rejoice in anticipation of Christmas. And we remember that for Christians, repentance and joy belong together. So long as we have His word, we are never without Jesus. And that means we can rejoice in the Lord always. We have been baptized into Christ. Our Father in heaven has claimed us as his own dear children. He remembers his promises and his oath to us even when we doubt or forget them. He is faithful to us always. And so we can rejoice always.

     

    When we turn to our Gospel lesson for this morning we don’t see John the Baptist rejoicing. He is in prison. He preached in defense of God’s institution of marriage to King Herod, and King Herod, instead of repenting of his sin and quitting his sexual immorality, dug in his heels and in addition threw John into prison. Now, for a preacher, who has nothing to do but to preach God’s truth, there are few things more depressing than having this truth rejected by his hearers. Because the preacher can’t do anything about it. A preacher, if he’s a true preacher, is sent by God Almighty to preach the unchangeable and unbending Word of God. John wasn’t at liberty to bend God’s truth. No preacher is. King Herod wanted to live in defiance of the sixth commandment. He wanted to choose for himself what marriage would look like. And He wanted God’s approval for his sin. But John wouldn’t give it. He was no reed shaken by the winds of popular morality. And so John felt the pain and helplessness of seeing God’s Word rejected.

    And that’s no reason to rejoice, is it? No. When pastors preach in defense of marriage, when they insist that God made man and woman to be united till death parts them, when they call out no-fault divorce as a mockery of God’s institution of marriage, when they teach against living together outside marriage and against so-called homosexual marriage, they will see God’s Word rejected. And that’s a hard thing. It makes pastors want to cave, to bend, to please their hearers instead of pleasing God and sticking to His Word. And many pastors do, they bend, and in so doing, they leave people in their sins and rob them of Jesus and the good news of forgiveness he preaches to the poor of spirit, to those of contrite heart. So pray for your pastor. Pray for all faithful pastors. Pray that God would strengthen them to hold to His holy Word and nothing else, no matter the consequences.

     

    For John the Baptist, the consequences of preaching God’s truth were high. Not only did Herod reject God’s Word, he threw John into prison. John, who was used to preaching to large crowds in the wilderness, was now all alone in a cold dungeon. And he knew what awaited him. He was no fool. He saw the writing on the wall. Herod would execute him. And it is as John confronts all this stark reality, that he hears of the works that Jesus was performing.

    Now, you will not find a man with stronger faith than John the Baptist. Jesus himself proclaims that of those born of women, none is greater than John. John devoted his life to God and made sacrifices which none of us has had to make. He faithfully carried out his task as the forerunner of Jesus. His faith was in the right place and his preaching pointed people to the right Man, to Jesus. John willingly and happily pointed everyone, including his own disciples, away from himself and toward Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is a wonderful example of an uncompromising Christian preacher and he is a wonderful example of a Christian believer.

     

    But here it seems he doubts. He falters. Whether it’s the prison, the loneliness, the fear of his impending death, or doubts about whether he did all that God had commanded him to do, he’s in doubt. This shouldn’t surprise us. John, after all, was a sinner. He was born in the natural manner, and that means he was born in sin, that is, with flesh that does not fear or trust in God, but is turned in on itself and its own desires. Doubt of God is nothing but an expression of sin. In fact it’s the primal expression of sin, it’s the breaking of the first commandment, the greatest commandment, which tells us to trust in God above all else. And on this side of glory, you will not find a Christian who doesn’t doubt, because you won’t find a Christian who isn’t still a sinner.

     

    Now John doubted because he was in the direst of straits, alone and waiting death, but we in our modern age, we doubt for altogether different reasons. We dwell in houses that rival the houses of Herod and other ancient kings, we wear soft clothing and enjoy all the modern extravagances of antibiotics, ibuprofen, and central heating. We shield ourselves from the realities of death in our safe and secure communities. We are more connected with others through television, cellphones, and social media than ever before. And in our extravagance the doubts of extravagance arise. The doubt pops up whether God even exists, whether our modern world needs Him anymore, whether the stories of Scripture are really without error, whether our sin is so terrible that it actually deserves God’s eternal judgment, whether Jesus really is the Christ, the Son of God. And we Christians also deal with the doubts of John. We wonder whether we have done enough in our vocations, whether we’ve been good enough mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, pastors, teachers, workers, we wonder whether our faith is strong enough to stand before God our Maker.

     

    Doubt doesn’t mean that you don’t believe. Doubt doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian. It means that there is a battle being waged inside of you. You are God’s child. He’s claimed you. He has given you of His Spirit who dwells in you. But the indwelling of the Spirit is not simply a dwelling. It is His activity. His working. And the Spirit’s working is to end the rule of sin in you, to convert your thoughts and feelings to the heavenly reality of the goodness of God’s holy commandments, to enliven your trust in Christ as your Savior from every evil of body and soul. The work of the Spirit is not to rid you in this life of the sin that manifests itself as doubt and fear. No, you won’t be rid of that sin, you won’t be rid of that doubt and fear, until you are translated to heavenly glory. The Spirit instead wages war against those doubts and fears and desires. He fights through the Word of God, which calls all our doubts and fears out for what they really are. They are lies, and that means they are nothing. They have no substance. The Spirit meets our doubts of God and our fears of the unknown with the surety and saving truth of Jesus’ holy words. And so as we find ourselves in John’s place, in doubt, we take our cue from John who sends his disciples to Jesus to hear his Word.

     

    The question John poses to Jesus through his disciples is, “Are you the Coming One, or should we look for another?” This is not a question of unbelief. It might be a question infected with doubt, but it’s a question of faith to the right Man begging him to speak the words that will end doubt. John knows what he needs to hear. He knows what his disciples need to hear. He knows what renews and strengthens faith, what conquers doubt and calms fear, and that is the Word of Jesus. Faith survives in no other way.

     

    How else can John stay in prison and await his death while still knowing that His Father in heaven has not abandoned him but loves him and has his best interests in mind? How else can we go through this life and make the Christian confession in the face of a world that invites us to doubt and question our God and His Law and His grace? We need to hear the words of Jesus.

     

    Listen to how Jesus responds to John, to his disciples, and to us, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” These are not some feel good words, some ineffective words of mere good intent. Jesus isn’t saying, “Hang in there, John. Things’ll get better soon.” The fact is, as far as human standards go, things aren’t getting better for John. He’s not getting out of jail. Jesus isn’t going to swoop in and rescue him. Herod’s going to cut his head off. And things may not get better for us, as far as human standards go. Jesus hasn’t promised to make our lives perfect, with no sickness, no cancer, no struggles, no pain, no doubts. We certainly pray that he spares us from the persecution and martyrdom that John experienced. But we also know that Jesus isn’t the heavenly aspirin pill that our church-growth mega-church false prophets hopelessly promise to itching ears. No, Jesus doesn’t give false hope.

     

    Instead he gives true hope and points to the amazing reality. The prophecies are being fulfilled before their eyes. Isaiah, the same Isaiah who prophesied John’s coming, prophesies of Jesus the Christ. Listen to his words,

    “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance. With the recompense of God he will come to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened. And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing.”

     

    This is what Jesus does. He comes to His broken creation and heals it. Every miracle Jesus performed was a proof and confirmation of his power over sin and death. What is the root of blindness, of leprosy and disease, of being lame, of death? It’s sin. Sin is the cause. And when Jesus comes to conquer sin, to bear our transgressions and lay down his life in our place, he is also conquering everything that sin burdens us with. He’s conquering our sicknesses, our pain, our every bodily hurt, and our death. That’s what the forgiveness of sins gives.

     

    This isn’t something we see right now. Just as John didn’t witness Jesus come and break him out of prison, so we won’t always see God heal our sicknesses or save our loved ones from bodily death. But God will give all this to us and more, he will recreate us and this world in perfection. We know this not simply because he healed others in the past. We know this because He has died and risen to conquer sin and to heal everything sin touches. We know this because He continues to preach this good news to the poor in spirit. This good news is the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation – full life, everlasting life, full bodily and spiritual life, without a shred of sin, and we will see this and receive it when God welcomes us into His heavenly glory.

     

    Jesus declares to John, as John sits in prison, poor and afraid and doubting, that the poor have the good news preached to them. Those were the words John needed to hear, above all others. And these are the words we need to hear. Only the poor in spirit, only those who can’t conquer their doubts and fears and guilt by their own powers, receive the good news of Jesus as truly good news that brings happiness and rejoicing. And that’s what it means to be a Christian. Not to be so strong in faith as to move mountains, not to have conquered all your doubts and fears, but to desire the riches that only Jesus’ Word can give. We, like John the Baptist of old, are the poor. We have listened to the preaching of repentance and we know we have failed to live up to God’s standards of righteousness, we know we have no spiritual riches of ourselves to give to God. Instead we come to hear Jesus’ words Sunday after Sunday, we come with our doubts and our fears and all our problems of body and soul that sin has placed upon us. And Jesus fills us with good things, with the good news. He feeds us with the body and blood that were given and shed to conquer our sin and give us life. He gives us confidence to stand on His Word and trust in Him. He tells us that we don’t need to look for any other, that He is the One who came for us, who comes for us now, and will come again to give us the inheritance of his Kingdom, which will have no end.

     

    And so we have every reason to rejoice this Advent season. Gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Advent 4

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Advent 4, 2016

    John 1:19-28

     

    We live in an age of identity crisis. Simply put, people don’t know who they are. And the reason is obvious. If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know who you are. For over a century we’ve been taught that we evolved from slime and from the beasts. While the academics and universities have gleefully accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution as an explanation of human origins, the painful fact remains that we humans cannot believe or live our lives thinking that we are simply highly-intelligent animals who are born only to die with no higher identity and no basic meaning for our lives. And so what do people do? They seek meaning wherever they can find it. They don’t know who they are so they try to form their own identity by the things they do. Whether it’s their careers, their so-called sexual orientation, their favorite sporting activity, or their political persuasions, people will try to find something in their lives that gives them meaning and tells them who they are. Just the other day on the radio I heard a man say that he was trying to find meaning in his life by identifying with the mountains, but was having a hard time of it because the mountains seemed cold and impersonal. Well, mountains are impersonal and they are cold – especially today – but so are all the hopes and dreams and goals people have outside of knowing who they are as God’s creatures, created and redeemed in the image of Christ. It’s a hopeless task to create your own identity by what you do or what you like! That’s going about life completely backwards. You will never find lasting value and meaning for your life without knowing first who you are and where you came from. And you will never know how to act and what goals to set in life, unless you first know your God-given identity.

     

    And in this we can learn from John the Baptist. The Pharisees send priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” They ask him his identity. John had attracted large crowds to himself. All Jerusalem and the surrounding area flooded out of the city and into the wilderness to hear John’s preaching and to be baptized by him. Everyone was talking about him, speculating about who he was. Was he the Christ, the promised Savior? Was he Elijah, the prophet of the Old Testament who had gone up into heaven without dying, and who some expected to come back from heaven before the final judgment? Or was he maybe the prophet that God promised in the days of Moses? But look at how John responds. They ask him, “Who are you?” And he begins by confessing the negative. He begins by saying who he isn’t. “I am not the Christ,” he confesses.

     

    And this is where we begin too. Before we can know and confess who we are, we first need to confess who we aren’t. And it seems like an obvious confession for us, doesn’t it? “I am not the Christ. I am not God.” But it isn’t obvious at all. Of course, we don’t go around claiming we are gods and demanding that people worship us, but our fall into sin came about precisely because Satan put this very thought into Adam and Eve’s heads, that they were gods, that they could set their own rules and their own goals without any regard to who their Creator said they were and what He said they should do. Listen to the Tempter’s words to Eve as he seduces her into eating the forbidden fruit, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” That is the original temptation. And that is our original sin. To be like God. To set our own standards and our own goals and determine the value of everything by our own desires. And this lie dwells deeply rooted in our minds and our hearts. It’s what it means to be a sinner. The god we worship by nature is our own self. And that means we want to set our own rules, to make our lives meaningful and give ourselves an identity by serving the false god of self.

     

    And so when we ask ourselves who we are, we must first confess who we are not. We are not God. We can’t determine our own identity, we can’t make our life meaningful, no matter what goals we set and no matter what we do. And this simple admission is what it means for us to repent, not merely to be sorry for the things we do wrong day by day, but to repent of our inclination and inborn desire to make something of ourselves instead of receiving our identity from God and His Word to us.

     

    John the Baptist knew this repentance. He lived it. He refused to draw attention to himself. Even though he knew quite well who he was, how impressive his credentials seemed to those around him; even though he knew that he was the great forerunner of Christ prophesied by Isaiah, the great messenger who the prophet Malachi declared would come in the power and spirit of Elijah; even though Christ himself would say that of those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist, still John remains humble. He denies that he is anything, because He knows His identity is nothing outside Jesus. John, as every preacher of God’s word must do, believed his own preaching. Listen again to the words of John given to us by the prophet Isaiah, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” Apart from God, apart from His Word, we, and all we make of ourselves, all our goals and dreams, are like grass that withers, like flowers that fade.

     

    But the Word of our God endures forever. It tells us that there is more to this life than living for a brief time only to return to the dust. It frees us from a vain and hopeless search to establish our own identity by our own works and goals. It bestows an eternal identity. This is the Word that spoke all things into existence, that made us the creatures of a loving God. It is the Word that warred against sin from the beginning of time and promised the reconciliation of God and man in the coming Savior. It is the Word that became flesh in Jesus, to live and to die to erase the meaninglessness and aimlessness of our sinful human lives, and to give all those who trust in Him an identity as children of God. And it is this same Word that determines even now who we are and what our future is.

    This is why, when John the Baptist finally tells his interrogators who he is, he again draws attention away from himself and toward Jesus. John declares, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John calls himself a voice that speaks of the Lord. Because all these questions of who we are, of our identity, are meaningless until we know who Jesus is. Jesus gives meaning to human life.

     

    All John’s preaching and baptizing, all the teaching and baptizing of the Christian Church today, is for the sake of giving people an identity in Christ, of making them Christians, that is, little Christs. The preaching of God’s Word raises the valleys and brings low the hills. It sets the mountain of all our self-determined meaning crashing to the ground, by showing that all our earthly pretensions are like the grass that withers and the flower that fades. But then it raises up the humble, who have learned that no matter what they do and no matter how high they might rise in this life they are walking in the valley of the shadow of death, and they need to be raised up and given life in Jesus.

     

    And Jesus gives it. He unites us to Himself in Baptism, and gives us the worth and identity of being children of God. He comforts us with the knowledge that our warfare is ended, our iniquity pardoned, that we have received from the Lord’s hand double for all our sins. He tells us who we are. We are those who have been bought by the blood of God Himself, saved from the wrath of God by the love of God, and made inheritors with Christ of everlasting life. That’s meaning. That’s significance. That’s an identity.

     

    And because this Word of God makes us who we are and gives us our identity, it also replaces all our broken goals and failed dreams with a bright and glorious future. We can make goals for our lives that will not fade away like the flowers of the field, but will endure forever, because they stand on the foundation of God’s Word, which lasts forever. Even our death has significance, it’s meaningful, because it is a translation from earthly struggle to heavenly victory. And the works that we do in Christ, these too, follow us to eternity. The lives and goals we build on the identity the Word of God gives us are precious and enduring.

     

    We don’t lead aimless lives. We know who we are and where we came from. Unlike the purposeless and meaningless goals of getting rich enough or enjoying ourselves as much as we can before we die, the goals of Christians are as everlasting as the Word that inspires them.

     

    Our goal is first and foremost to remain steadfast in God’s Word, united to our Savior in faith, and striving to love Him with all our hearts. And we will reach this goal perfectly and eternally when we meet our Savior face to face in glory. Our desire is to lead godly lives in obedience to God’s commandments, and this desire will finally be fulfilled in heaven where we will live in eternal love for both God and neighbor. We fathers and mothers don’t just want to take care of our kids’ earthly needs, we want to be Christian fathers and mothers who let our children know that coming to Church and hearing God’s Word is far more important than sports or anything else that distracts us in this world, because we know that our children are the only gifts God gives us that we can keep forever and bring with us to heaven. We have the goal of maintaining strong Christian marriages by self-sacrifice and continued prayer and hearing of God’s Word, because our lives are formed by the self-sacrificing love of Christ our heavenly Bridegroom. And we want to support the Church so that future generations can hear who their God is and who they are, that they are the creation of a loving God who has not only made them and given them all they have, but has accomplished their salvation from sin and death and bestowed on them lives worth living to the fullest.

    We build our lives on the foundation of Jesus and His Word, commending ourselves to God, in whose loving mercy we can rejoice always. Thank God that He has made us His children and given us an everlasting identity in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

     

     

  • Christmas Eve

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Christmas Eve Service 2016

     

    We all remember how the typical fairytale begins. Once upon a time in a land far, far away… We aren’t told the time when the story happened and we don’t know where it happened. And this is purposeful. We can enter into the story without worrying about inconvenient historical facts and people and we can enjoy an imaginary world. We can forget about life for a while and get lost in the story. There are good guys and bad guys, pretty princesses and handsome princes, and a good moral lesson. But we know at the end it’s just a story in an imaginary time and an imaginary place with imaginary people, once upon a time in a land far, far away.

     

    The Christmas story begins very differently. It takes place in time, in our human history – in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed. And it gets even more specific, nailing down exactly when the history takes place – when Quirinius was governing Syria. And it takes place in our world – Caesar’s decree covers the entire known world, and specifically the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, a little town south of Jerusalem in Judea. And the people involved are not mythical kings and queens who after a bit of heroic struggle live happily ever after. No, they are real people with very real problems, Joseph who has to pay his taxes and so is forced to come to a crowded town with no room in the inn for his pregnant wife; Mary, who has to labor and give birth in a stinky stable surrounded by beasts. The baby Jesus who finds his crib in a manger out of which animals have recently fed. And poor shepherds in a field at night, working men trying to earn a living in a hard world. These are real people, who lived in history in real time and space, not once upon a time in a land far, far away.

     

    The fairytale not only has a predictable beginning. Its end is always the same. And they lived happily ever after. Well, isn’t that nice? Nice, but completely unreal. Whether we’re talking about the beautiful princess or the gallant prince, in the real world they will grow old and will experience the sadness this world offers to everyone, whether rich or poor. You will never hear in a fairytale how the prince and princess, once the romance has died down, find it hard to live with one another and end up bickering and fighting over foolish things. You won’t hear how the couple will sin against each other, say words they wish they could take back, and make a mess of their lives by their selfish pride and their greedy desires. You won’t hear that the handsome prince, now an old king, gets dementia as his ailing wife struggles to take care of him. And you won’t hear that their lives end, that they suffer the death that comes to all, whether prince or pauper. No, all of that is covered up with that convenient fairytale ending, “And they lived happily ever after.”

     

    The fairytale is designed to distract you from the real world, so that you can have a bit of a release from the concrete and hard realities of this life. You can imagine for a time that you are the brave prince or the beautiful princess, without a care in the world, because whatever bad things happened, they happened in the past, you overcame them, and now you can live happily ever after.

     

    And this is the way people want to think. They want the fairytale life. Instead of acknowledging the reality of life in this sinful world, they choose to ignore their own sin, forget about the fact that there is no peace in this world, and that the reason for the chaos and tragedy that surrounds them is rooted deep in their own human nature, which has been corrupted by the devil and leads to death. All of that hard reality people manage to brush away and go on with their lives with the naïve and senseless thought that they will live happily ever after.

     

    And so we need to hear the Christmas story. Because instead of giving us a rosy picture of life and ignoring our problems by brushing them aside with a heartwarming and quaint tale, the Christmas story confronts our very real situation in this life. The Christmas story isn’t simply the history of Mary, Joseph, a little baby, and some poor shepherds. It is the story of God breaking into this world, into our human history, to become a man, join our human race forever, and save us from our very real problems of sin and death and God’s judgment against us.

     

    The real world, the world in which we live and move and have our being, is that told to us in the Christmas story, the Christmas history. Take a look at the shepherds. They’re doing their jobs, working the night shift, with all the problems that this life brings. They’ve got families that resemble ours, grandparents with failing health, children with hungry mouths, and wives with worries. But as the angels come to them, all their other worries pale in comparison with the fear they experience as they see heaven descend on them. Because here they are confronted with the reality that we on this earth so easily ignore as we try to live life like we’re living a fairytale. They’re confronted with the majesty of God, reflected in the faces of these heavenly messengers. And that means they are confronted with their own sin. They stand before the glory of God and realize that their petty fights with each other, their coarse and nasty talk, their selfish thoughts, their laziness and apathy toward God and His Word, these aren’t simply innocent mistakes to be passed over, but are offenses to the almighty God who demands righteousness and love and perfection. And they have nothing to respond, nothing to offer God as an excuse as they look into the faces of those who constantly behold the righteous God. That’s reality. That’s the real world. And as they are confronted with this most serious of realities, they are sore afraid. That means they’re terrified. Why? Because they’re accountable to God and they can’t give an account, that’s why. Because they are being confronted with the justice of God and they can’t bear it.

     

    This is always what happens when angels visit people in the Bible. People are frightened. Angels aren’t the fairytale creatures we’ve made of them in our modern world. They’re not the cute, gentle, effeminate statuettes we have around our houses during Christmas and that we see in the shops. When angels come to visit people in the Bible, the people are always terrified. What are the first words of Gabriel when he appears to Zechariah? To Mary? “Don’t be afraid.” “Fear not.” Why does Gabriel say this? Because they’re all afraid, that’s why! With the angel who stands before almighty God in heaven comes the realization that we can’t ignore our God. God, unlike Santa’s harmless and fantastical knowledge, knows with eternal clarity if we’ve been bad or good, and the punishment for being bad isn’t a lump of coal. It’s death and eternal corruption. So to see the angel is to be confronted with this startling reality – we can’t ignore God, we can’t ignore our obligation to him to love, we can’t ignore our sin, our failure to love, we can’t ignore the lack of peace in our own hearts, we can’t ignore the bad will we have toward God and those around us, we can’t pretend we’re living in a fairytale, outside the history of God’s creation and our fall into sin.

     

    But these words, “Fear not,” spoken by the angel to the shepherds, these are words of comfort and joy and peace to those who have been wakened to the reality of life in this world. Because these words introduce the greatest sermon ever preached, the great announcement that a Savior has been born to all people, which is Christ the Lord.

    Fear not. God has not come to judge. He has not come to condemn. No. Go to Bethlehem and see your God. He has become a baby. He has seen your sin, and instead of punishing you for it, He has come to bear it Himself. How could God show you any more clearly that He loves you, that He means you no harm, that He wants to be with you and calm your doubts and your fears and forgive you all your sin? He has taken on your flesh and blood. And the blood that pumps through the veins of that little Christ-child He pours out for you, as He goes from being a helpless baby to an obedient child, to a perfect Man, and then offers His life – think of that! – the life of very God he offers for you, to pay your debt and win you peace with your Creator.

     

    You see in that little Babe of Bethlehem that there is no need for you to run away from God and ignore reality. Because the reality is so much greater than anything our imagination could think up. The reality is that God has entered our history in humility as a little child. He has joined you to Himself, He has come into the mire and chaos of this sinful world, to know your struggle and to take up your cause, to be your Savior and Brother. He has given you all that you need to live confidently and happily in this life, no matter what comes your way, because you have a God in heaven who still shares your flesh and blood and has faced down all the hardships and troubles of this life in humility and innocence. And it’s all for you. Unto you a Savior has been born. The body that Mary held in her arms and the blood that was shed on the cross give you peace with God, give you His eternal goodwill, and an everlasting future with Him. That’s the message of the angels. That’s the message of Christmas. God is with us. God is for us. And so we sing and confess:

    Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art, be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee. For God’s own Child, in mercy mild, joins thee to Him. How dearly God must love thee. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Christmas Day

    Pastor Christian Preus

     

    There are four major accounts of the Christmas story in the New Testament. So far this Church Year we have treated three of them. The one everyone is most familiar with is Luke’s account, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” Luke’s account stresses the humility of the Christ-child, born in a stable, laid in a manger, and visited by shepherds. Jesus needed to come in humility so that He could suffer for us and be our Savior from sin. Matthew’s account doesn’t mention a stable or a manger or the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Instead, it stresses that Jesus was born a man, a Jewish man, from the line of David, to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. And he needed to be a man, so that he could be our substitute, and pay for our sins in our place. And then we have John’s account. John stresses that Jesus is God, the eternal Word, who is the Creator of all things. Jesus needed to be God in order to be our Savior, because only God’s life and death for us could pay the eternal debt we owe for our sin.

     

    St. Paul gives us our fourth major account of Christmas in our lesson for this morning. Listen again to what he says by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Isn’t that a remarkable summary of Christmas! St. Paul summarizes all the accounts of the Gospels in one beautiful sentence. God sent forth his Son. Jesus is God, just as St. John records. Before He took on flesh and blood, before he was born of a woman, before he humbled himself under the law, He was with His Father in eternal love and union. He is the eternal God, the Son begotten of His Father from eternity.

     

    In the fullness of time, Paul says, echoing Matthew. God had promised by his prophets and determined in the counsel of His eternal will that Jesus would be born at this specific time, a human being just like us, born of a woman, just like us. And then He was born humble, born under the law, submitting himself to a life of lowliness and servitude. And why all this? Why did our Savior have to be God, to be man, to humble himself? St. Paul answers just as Matthew, Luke, and John do, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” To free us from the condemnation our sin deserves. To make us children of God. To give us God’s goodwill.

     

    But St. Paul’s account of Christmas isn’t just a summary. It beautifully agrees with the other Christmas accounts – as we should all expect from God’s Word, which is perfect in unity and in harmony with itself. But St. Paul gives us more than a summary. He also focuses in on a very important aspect of the Christmas story, one that we tend to lose sight of. And that is that Christmas isn’t only about the Son. It’s about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity.

     

    Of course, only the Son took on flesh. The Father didn’t. The Spirit didn’t. Only the Son became a man. But that doesn’t mean the Father and the Spirit are somehow removed from Christmas. No, because the eternal Son of the Father took on our flesh, and shed His blood for our redemption, we now receive adoption as sons of this same Father. And this is a spectacular privilege. It means we can call on the Father as the Son does. The Son, who has existed from eternity with His Father, has always had His Father’s approval, always experiences His love, expects nothing but good from Him. And this privilege He wins for us on the cross and gives to us by His Spirit through His Word.

     

    We didn’t always have this privilege. The law tells us something quite different about ourselves. It tells us that we don’t deserve to be called sons of the Father. It tells us we don’t look like sons of the Father. It tells us that our actions aren’t in line with the actions of sons. And the Law is right. We don’t deserve it. We haven’t behaved as sons. We’ve acted in fear, like slaves, or worse, like ingrates who ignore our Father. The Law is right. By nature we aren’t sons, but slaves. But even though the Law is right, even though we don’t deserve to receive adoption as sons, even though we haven’t earned this privilege, the Law must answer to the Son of our Father in heaven. Because the Son is a natural Son of His Father. And He has become our Brother. He has obeyed the Law. He has done His Father’s will. He has done exactly as a Son should. And He has done it all for us. He gives it all to us. He has given us His own privilege to call on His Father as our Father. And so when the Law accuses us, we point to the Son. “Try to accuse Him, but you can’t. He’s done everything perfectly. And I am His and He is mine. Everything He has is mine. His kingdom, His Spirit, and His Father. He has given them all to me.”

     

    And because we can’t reply to the Law’s accusations in our own weakness, our Father sends us the Spirit of His Son. And by His power we identify as sons of our Father in heaven, coheirs with Christ of everlasting life. We cry out, “Abba, Father,” to God as to our loving Father who desires nothing but our good, who will give us what we need, and will treasure us as He does His own Son.

     

    Thanks be to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for giving us this eternal joy of Christmas. Amen.

     

     

  • Christmas 1

    Pastor Christian Preus

     

    There are four major accounts of the Christmas story in the New Testament. So far this Church Year we have treated three of them. The one everyone is most familiar with is Luke’s account, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” Luke’s account stresses the humility of the Christ-child, born in a stable, laid in a manger, and visited by shepherds. Jesus needed to come in humility so that He could suffer for us and be our Savior from sin. Matthew’s account doesn’t mention a stable or a manger or the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Instead, it stresses that Jesus was born a man, a Jewish man, from the line of David, to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. And he needed to be a man, so that he could be our substitute, and pay for our sins in our place. And then we have John’s account. John stresses that Jesus is God, the eternal Word, who is the Creator of all things. Jesus needed to be God in order to be our Savior, because only God’s life and death for us could pay the eternal debt we owe for our sin.

     

    St. Paul gives us our fourth major account of Christmas in our lesson for this morning. Listen again to what he says by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Isn’t that a remarkable summary of Christmas! St. Paul summarizes all the accounts of the Gospels in one beautiful sentence. God sent forth his Son. Jesus is God, just as St. John records. Before He took on flesh and blood, before he was born of a woman, before he humbled himself under the law, He was with His Father in eternal love and union. He is the eternal God, the Son begotten of His Father from eternity.

     

    In the fullness of time, Paul says, echoing Matthew. God had promised by his prophets and determined in the counsel of His eternal will that Jesus would be born at this specific time, a human being just like us, born of a woman, just like us. And then He was born humble, born under the law, submitting himself to a life of lowliness and servitude. And why all this? Why did our Savior have to be God, to be man, to humble himself? St. Paul answers just as Matthew, Luke, and John do, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” To free us from the condemnation our sin deserves. To make us children of God. To give us God’s goodwill.

     

    But St. Paul’s account of Christmas isn’t just a summary. It beautifully agrees with the other Christmas accounts – as we should all expect from God’s Word, which is perfect in unity and in harmony with itself. But St. Paul gives us more than a summary. He also focuses in on a very important aspect of the Christmas story, one that we tend to lose sight of. And that is that Christmas isn’t only about the Son. It’s about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity.

     

    Of course, only the Son took on flesh. The Father didn’t. The Spirit didn’t. Only the Son became a man. But that doesn’t mean the Father and the Spirit are somehow removed from Christmas. No, because the eternal Son of the Father took on our flesh, and shed His blood for our redemption, we now receive adoption as sons of this same Father. And this is a spectacular privilege. It means we can call on the Father as the Son does. The Son, who has existed from eternity with His Father, has always had His Father’s approval, always experiences His love, expects nothing but good from Him. And this privilege He wins for us on the cross and gives to us by His Spirit through His Word.

     

    We didn’t always have this privilege. The law tells us something quite different about ourselves. It tells us that we don’t deserve to be called sons of the Father. It tells us we don’t look like sons of the Father. It tells us that our actions aren’t in line with the actions of sons. And the Law is right. We don’t deserve it. We haven’t behaved as sons. We’ve acted in fear, like slaves, or worse, like ingrates who ignore our Father. The Law is right. By nature we aren’t sons, but slaves. But even though the Law is right, even though we don’t deserve to receive adoption as sons, even though we haven’t earned this privilege, the Law must answer to the Son of our Father in heaven. Because the Son is a natural Son of His Father. And He has become our Brother. He has obeyed the Law. He has done His Father’s will. He has done exactly as a Son should. And He has done it all for us. He gives it all to us. He has given us His own privilege to call on His Father as our Father. And so when the Law accuses us, we point to the Son. “Try to accuse Him, but you can’t. He’s done everything perfectly. And I am His and He is mine. Everything He has is mine. His kingdom, His Spirit, and His Father. He has given them all to me.”

     

    And because we can’t reply to the Law’s accusations in our own weakness, our Father sends us the Spirit of His Son. And by His power we identify as sons of our Father in heaven, coheirs with Christ of everlasting life. We cry out, “Abba, Father,” to God as to our loving Father who desires nothing but our good, who will give us what we need, and will treasure us as He does His own Son.

     

    Thanks be to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for giving us this eternal joy of Christmas. Amen.

     

     

  • New Years Eve - need

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Baptism of the Lord, 2017

    Matthew 3:13-17

     

    Jesus never does anything for himself. He’s incapable of that. When God commands us to be selfless, to love others before ourselves, he isn’t giving us some arbitrary command. God doesn’t give commands like the government makes rules, thoughtlessly dictating that we should pay this or do that with no rhyme or reason to its regulations. No, when God commands us to be selfless and to love others above ourselves, He’s giving us a command that has its source in God’s very nature, in who He is as God and who He has created us to be in His image. The Father has existed in eternity in complete love for His Son. The Son has existed from eternity in utter devotion to His Father. And the Spirit who proceeds from both the Father and the Son is united with them in a perfect and selfless love. God is love and He has always expressed Himself in this love, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was this selfless love that moved God to create us. It was this selfless love that God created us to imitate, as He formed us in His own image of love. And it is this selfless love, which we by our sin have rejected, that God continued to show, as He became a man in the Person of the Son to save us from our sin and restore His image and His love to us and our fallen nature. God is love. Jesus is God. And so whatever Jesus does, He does out of love, not for himself but for His Father and for us.

     

    And this means that when Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, he’s not doing it for himself. In fact, nowhere in all Scripture do we see more clearly that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit act together in love for us.

     

    At first glance it seems bizarre and backward. John preached a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And here comes the only One who has no sin, who has no need to repent, asking to be baptized by John. We can understand why John responds the way he does, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John was right. John, the sinner, needed to be baptized by Jesus. And Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. Not for himself. He is perfect and sinless and holy. He doesn’t need forgiveness.

     

    There’s no clearer teaching in the Bible than that Baptism forgives sins. John preached a Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. So did the Apostles. Peter’s first Pentecost sermon ends with an appeal for all to repent and be baptized for the remission of sin. And this same Peter writes in his first Epistle, “Baptism saves us.” Paul writes to the Romans that Baptism joins us to Christ’s death and gives us His life from the dead. He writes to Titus that it bestows the Holy Spirit, gives us rebirth as children of God, that it declares us righteous and makes us heirs of everlasting life.

     

    It’s startling how many preachers and churches deny these clear words of Scripture. God says Baptism saves. They say it doesn’t. God says Baptism gives the Holy Spirit. They deny it. God says Baptism forgives sins. They claim this can’t be. God says we are joined with Christ’s death and resurrection in Baptism. They won’t believe it or teach it.

     

    And the reason so many deny the clear teaching of the Bible that Baptism saves is because they think Baptism is man’s work, our work. Our modern evangelicals know this essential point of Christian teaching very well, that we are not saved by our works. And they’re right. We’re not saved by our works. It’s the height of human arrogance and the most cutting insult to God for us to claim that we can earn God’s favor by what we do. As if God were some dealmaker who can be bought off by our bribes! As if our works were so impressive that they could pay for our sins! No. The various evangelicals of our day, the non-denominational and the Baptists and whatever other name they go by, they are confessing the Biblical truth and the universal teaching of the Christian Church, when they assert that we are not saved by our works.

     

    But Baptism isn’t our work. If it were our work, if it were our work of committing ourselves to God, it certainly wouldn’t save us, it certainly wouldn’t forgive us, it certainly wouldn’t give us everlasting life. But it’s not our work. It’s God’s work.

    And this is what Jesus’ Baptism teaches us so clearly. To John’s objection that Jesus should be the one to baptize him, Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Whose righteousness is Jesus fulfilling by His Baptism? His own? Of course not!

     

    Jesus didn’t need what Baptism had to give. No, it was the other way around. Baptism had need of what Jesus gives. Without Jesus the water of John’s Baptism was plain water. Without Jesus the words of John’s Baptism were empty words. But here in His Baptism Jesus binds himself to these words and to this water. He descends into the Jordan to soak up all the sin of all the world and bear it within His holy body all the way to the cross. He rises from the Jordan with his righteous life and innocent death now sanctifying the Baptismal waters. Jesus will repeatedly refer to His suffering on the cross as His Baptism, because it is here at His Baptism that Jesus is anointed as the Lamb of God who will die for the sin of the world. This is how tightly Jesus connects His saving life and death for us with Baptism, so tightly that St. Paul declares that as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and if we have died with Him, we will also live forever with Him.

     

    [Now while it’s true that only the Son of God became a man, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, and only Jesus bore our sins and suffered and died, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, still the Father and the Holy Spirit are intimately involved in our redemption from sin and the devil. This is why at Jesus’ Baptism the Father’s voice thunders from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Why is the Father pleased? Because Jesus has now pledged Himself to do what the Father sent Him to do, to live a life of righteous obedience in our place and to suffer and die for our innocence, so that we could become brothers and sisters of Christ and children of our heavenly Father. And the Holy Spirit descends as a dove upon Jesus. Why? To seal and anoint Him for His work as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so that this same Spirit can now come to us in the waters of Baptism and make us inheritors of all Christ’s work for us. And Jesus Himself, the Son, He is baptized in order to submit Himself to the eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity’s boundless love, planned before the foundation of the world.]

     

    So when the Bible says that Baptism saves it’s saying that God saves us in Christ Jesus our Lord. God does the work. We don’t. God gives us in Baptism everything Jesus earned for us by His Baptism, by His life and death for us. It’s important for us not to confuse what God does for us in Baptism and what we do in response to our Baptism. We do make a commitment to God in response to our Baptism. We do make the good confession when we are baptized. But it’s God’s commitment to us in Baptism that comes first, and it’s His promise to us in Baptism that saves. It’s God’s work that inspires our work of confession and commitment to Him.

     

    Look around the world and you will see the beautiful confession Christians make when they are baptized. We confess that we value our Baptism, our being made children of God, as the highest treasure of our life, that we would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Christ or deny Him by word or life. The man in India who is baptized into the Christian faith often does so knowing that he will lose all claim to any social status, that he’ll be cast out of Hindu society, all because he claims the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as his own. Now that’s quite the confession. In Germany right now, there are thousands of Iranian Christians who are facing deportation to Muslim Iran where they will face execution by their government and persecution by their own families for being baptized into the Christian faith. There’s a confession. It may seem that we who live in the States have a weak and paltry confession compared to those Christians facing persecution around the world. But the confession that we make as baptized Christians is always the same – it is identifying ourselves with the name of our God, and living our lives with the conviction that God’s name be hallowed and His will be done in our lives. It means bringing the Word of God into our houses, teaching our children that it is their greatest treasure, and renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways. It means proudly and publicly wearing the name Christian as our greatest honor and striving to live a chaste and decent life in this world of sin. This is always the way it works for the Christian. God’s work in Baptism creates a living faith and faith responds with living the Christian life and confessing Christ in our daily lives.

     

    But when you look at all you do to live a Christian life, when you look even at your faith and your confession in word and in deed, when you look at how you have strived to be a Christian mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, worker or friend, you will always have to admit one thing. You haven’t done enough. Your faith can’t move mountains. You’ve kept your mouth shut when you should have confessed Christ. You’ve sought the honor of the world instead of the approval of God. And the devil will point you to these works of yours. He’ll show you that your confession has faltered. He’ll show you that doubts have racked your faith. He’ll show you the lust and greed and selfishness of your life. He’ll tell you you’ve failed to live the Christian life and so you can’t claim to be a Christian.

     

    And it is precisely here, when you know that you can’t stand on your own doing, that you rest in your Baptism. Because here is God’s doing for you. Here you can say, “No, I haven’t done enough. But I know One who has done enough and more. Yes, I have failed to live up to my Baptism. Yes, I have fallen into the very sins that I swore I would never do again. But even though I have failed, even though my confession has faltered, my Baptism hasn’t. God’s promise to me hasn’t. No, here in my Baptism is my God with all His might and love and power. Here God gives me a clear conscience, because He has freed me from all my sins. Here he has delivered me Christ’s victory over sin and death, has made me His child, has made Himself my Father, has given me His Spirit and the guarantee of everlasting life.”

    Dear Christian friends, you are baptized into Christ. Whenever you fail, whenever you doubt, whenever you see that your life isn’t what it should be or could be, return to your Baptism and see what God has given you and who God has made you. You’re not defined by your failures or your sins. The promise of your Baptism is forever sure. It’s God’s guarantee sealed by the blood of Jesus. Your Baptism is God’s promise to you, His unfailing commitment, that Christ is your Brother, that everything He is and has done is yours, His name and His righteousness are yours. His Father and His Spirit are yours. He has done everything for you, to make you children of God. God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ. Amen.

     

     

  • Epiphany 1 - Baptism of our Savior Jesus Christ

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Baptism of the Lord, 2017

    Matthew 3:13-17

     

    Jesus never does anything for himself. He’s incapable of that. When God commands us to be selfless, to love others before ourselves, he isn’t giving us some arbitrary command. God doesn’t give commands like the government makes rules, thoughtlessly dictating that we should pay this or do that with no rhyme or reason to its regulations. No, when God commands us to be selfless and to love others above ourselves, He’s giving us a command that has its source in God’s very nature, in who He is as God and who He has created us to be in His image. The Father has existed in eternity in complete love for His Son. The Son has existed from eternity in utter devotion to His Father. And the Spirit who proceeds from both the Father and the Son is united with them in a perfect and selfless love. God is love and He has always expressed Himself in this love, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was this selfless love that moved God to create us. It was this selfless love that God created us to imitate, as He formed us in His own image of love. And it is this selfless love, which we by our sin have rejected, that God continued to show, as He became a man in the Person of the Son to save us from our sin and restore His image and His love to us and our fallen nature. God is love. Jesus is God. And so whatever Jesus does, He does out of love, not for himself but for His Father and for us.

    And this means that when Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, he’s not doing it for himself. In fact, nowhere in all Scripture do we see more clearly that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit act together in love for us.

    At first glance it seems bizarre and backward. John preached a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And here comes the only One who has no sin, who has no need to repent, asking to be baptized by John. We can understand why John responds the way he does, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John was right. John, the sinner, needed to be baptized by Jesus. And Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. Not for himself. He is perfect and sinless and holy. He doesn’t need forgiveness.

    There’s no clearer teaching in the Bible than that Baptism forgives sins. John preached a Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. So did the Apostles. Peter’s first Pentecost sermon ends with an appeal for all to repent and be baptized for the remission of sin. And this same Peter writes in his first Epistle, “Baptism saves us.” Paul writes to the Romans that Baptism joins us to Christ’s death and gives us His life from the dead. He writes to Titus that it bestows the Holy Spirit, gives us rebirth as children of God, that it declares us righteous and makes us heirs of everlasting life.

    It’s startling how many preachers and churches deny these clear words of Scripture. God says Baptism saves. They say it doesn’t. God says Baptism gives the Holy Spirit. They deny it. God says Baptism forgives sins. They claim this can’t be. God says we are joined with Christ’s death and resurrection in Baptism. They won’t believe it or teach it.

    And the reason so many deny the clear teaching of the Bible that Baptism saves is because they think Baptism is man’s work, our work. Our modern evangelicals know this essential point of Christian teaching very well, that we are not saved by our works. And they’re right. We’re not saved by our works. It’s the height of human arrogance and the most cutting insult to God for us to claim that we can earn God’s favor by what we do. As if God were some dealmaker who can be bought off by our bribes! As if our works were so impressive that they could pay for our sins! No. The various evangelicals of our day, the non-denominational and the Baptists and whatever other name they go by, they are confessing the Biblical truth and the universal teaching of the Christian Church, when they assert that we are not saved by our works.

    But Baptism isn’t our work. If it were our work, if it were our work of committing ourselves to God, it certainly wouldn’t save us, it certainly wouldn’t forgive us, it certainly wouldn’t give us everlasting life. But it’s not our work. It’s God’s work.

    And this is what Jesus’ Baptism teaches us so clearly. To John’s objection that Jesus should be the one to baptize him, Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Whose righteousness is Jesus fulfilling by His Baptism? His own? Of course not!

    Jesus didn’t need what Baptism had to give. No, it was the other way around. Baptism had need of what Jesus gives. Without Jesus the water of John’s Baptism was plain water. Without Jesus the words of John’s Baptism were empty words. But here in His Baptism Jesus binds himself to these words and to this water. He descends into the Jordan to soak up all the sin of all the world and bear it within His holy body all the way to the cross. He rises from the Jordan with his righteous life and innocent death now sanctifying the Baptismal waters. Jesus will repeatedly refer to His suffering on the cross as His Baptism, because it is here at His Baptism that Jesus is anointed as the Lamb of God who will die for the sin of the world. This is how tightly Jesus connects His saving life and death for us with Baptism, so tightly that St. Paul declares that as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and if we have died with Him, we will also live forever with Him.

    [Now while it’s true that only the Son of God became a man, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, and only Jesus bore our sins and suffered and died, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, still the Father and the Holy Spirit are intimately involved in our redemption from sin and the devil. This is why at Jesus’ Baptism the Father’s voice thunders from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Why is the Father pleased? Because Jesus has now pledged Himself to do what the Father sent Him to do, to live a life of righteous obedience in our place and to suffer and die for our innocence, so that we could become brothers and sisters of Christ and children of our heavenly Father. And the Holy Spirit descends as a dove upon Jesus. Why? To seal and anoint Him for His work as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so that this same Spirit can now come to us in the waters of Baptism and make us inheritors of all Christ’s work for us. And Jesus Himself, the Son, He is baptized in order to submit Himself to the eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity’s boundless love, planned before the foundation of the world.]

    So when the Bible says that Baptism saves it’s saying that God saves us in Christ Jesus our Lord. God does the work. We don’t. God gives us in Baptism everything Jesus earned for us by His Baptism, by His life and death for us. It’s important for us not to confuse what God does for us in Baptism and what we do in response to our Baptism. We do make a commitment to God in response to our Baptism. We do make the good confession when we are baptized. But it’s God’s commitment to us in Baptism that comes first, and it’s His promise to us in Baptism that saves. It’s God’s work that inspires our work of confession and commitment to Him.

    Look around the world and you will see the beautiful confession Christians make when they are baptized. We confess that we value our Baptism, our being made children of God, as the highest treasure of our life, that we would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Christ or deny Him by word or life. The man in India who is baptized into the Christian faith often does so knowing that he will lose all claim to any social status, that he’ll be cast out of Hindu society, all because he claims the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as his own. Now that’s quite the confession. In Germany right now, there are thousands of Iranian Christians who are facing deportation to Muslim Iran where they will face execution by their government and persecution by their own families for being baptized into the Christian faith. There’s a confession. It may seem that we who live in the States have a weak and paltry confession compared to those Christians facing persecution around the world. But the confession that we make as baptized Christians is always the same – it is identifying ourselves with the name of our God, and living our lives with the conviction that God’s name be hallowed and His will be done in our lives. It means bringing the Word of God into our houses, teaching our children that it is their greatest treasure, and renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways. It means proudly and publicly wearing the name Christian as our greatest honor and striving to live a chaste and decent life in this world of sin. This is always the way it works for the Christian. God’s work in Baptism creates a living faith and faith responds with living the Christian life and confessing Christ in our daily lives.

    But when you look at all you do to live a Christian life, when you look even at your faith and your confession in word and in deed, when you look at how you have strived to be a Christian mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, worker or friend, you will always have to admit one thing. You haven’t done enough. Your faith can’t move mountains. You’ve kept your mouth shut when you should have confessed Christ. You’ve sought the honor of the world instead of the approval of God. And the devil will point you to these works of yours. He’ll show you that your confession has faltered. He’ll show you that doubts have racked your faith. He’ll show you the lust and greed and selfishness of your life. He’ll tell you you’ve failed to live the Christian life and so you can’t claim to be a Christian.

    And it is precisely here, when you know that you can’t stand on your own doing, that you rest in your Baptism. Because here is God’s doing for you. Here you can say, “No, I haven’t done enough. But I know One who has done enough and more. Yes, I have failed to live up to my Baptism. Yes, I have fallen into the very sins that I swore I would never do again. But even though I have failed, even though my confession has faltered, my Baptism hasn’t. God’s promise to me hasn’t. No, here in my Baptism is my God with all His might and love and power. Here God gives me a clear conscience, because He has freed me from all my sins. Here he has delivered me Christ’s victory over sin and death, has made me His child, has made Himself my Father, has given me His Spirit and the guarantee of everlasting life.”

    Dear Christian friends, you are baptized into Christ. Whenever you fail, whenever you doubt, whenever you see that your life isn’t what it should be or could be, return to your Baptism and see what God has given you and who God has made you. You’re not defined by your failures or your sins. The promise of your Baptism is forever sure. It’s God’s guarantee sealed by the blood of Jesus. Your Baptism is God’s promise to you, His unfailing commitment, that Christ is your Brother, that everything He is and has done is yours, His name and His righteousness are yours. His Father and His Spirit are yours. He has done everything for you, to make you children of God. God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ. Amen.

     

     

  • Epiphany 3

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

    Matthew 8:1-13

     

    “When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those around him, ‘Amen, I say to you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”

     

    Usually when we hear this word, “marvel,” in the Bible, it’s people who are doing the marveling and they’re marveling at God. You can look, for example, at the great salvific event of the Old Testament, the Exodus. Here God frees His people from Egyptian slavery, gives His Law on Mt. Sinai, and leads them through to the promised land. And all throughout this Exodus, God shows his signs and wonders. The people marvel at a God who turns the Nile into blood, who blackens the daylight sky with pitch dark that penetrates to the bones, who strikes down the firstborn in Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowliest servant, who leads the people through the Red Sea on dry ground and drowns the armies of hard-hearted Pharaoh, who rains down bread from heaven, and makes water flow from a rock. Throughout the Exodus, it’s God who performs His signs and wonders. And it’s man who marvels.

     

    The same thing is the case in the New Testament, the history of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection for the salvation of the world. Jesus works signs and wonders. He turns water into wine, He heals leprosy, He raises the dead, He calms the storms and walks on water. And men marvel at him. Who is this, they ask, that even the sea and wind obey Him?

     

    But here in our Gospel lesson for this morning it’s the reverse. Here it’s God who marvels. There’s something to pay attention to. What could possibly impress Jesus? Think of that! The one who works marvels, whose word creates from nothing, who with the touch of His hand heals the leper, who is the eternal and all-knowing God in human flesh, He marvels at a mere man. And this is no great religious man, either. He’s a centurion, a Roman, a Gentile, not a Jew, not a member of the respectable religious class. So why does Jesus marvel? It’s not because this man has done something spectacular, something amazing to the human eye. Jesus isn’t marveling at human achievement or human potential. He’s not marveling, like we do, at the great human genius it takes to build the pyramids or the human strength it takes to scale a mountain or the human virtue it takes to found a hospital or orphanage. In fact, Jesus isn’t marveling at this man’s greatness at all.

     

    He’s marveling at his humility. He’s marveling at this man’s faith. “Amen, I say to you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” And so we turn our attention today to that which caught Jesus’ attention. Faith.

    Faith is nothing if it isn’t humble. The centurion tells Jesus, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” That’s the confession of faith. One of humility, one of acknowledging that we deserve nothing from God. This is not what we think by nature. By nature we think God owes us.

     

    It’s funny that the relationship between a child and her mother can be used to illustrate both the humility of faith and the arrogance of false belief. On the one hand, the child looks with absolute confidence to her mother, trusting that she will take care of her and give her everything she needs. And that’s a beautiful picture. It’s a beautiful thing to see a humble little creature, completely helpless, and depending with complete confidence on the love and care of her mother. That’s how we should consider ourselves before God – completely helpless and weak and dependent on His love and care.

     

    But on the other hand, a child learns to think very quickly that since her mother gives her everything she wants, she must actually deserve it. Kids simply feel entitled to whatever they want. As my mother used to say, children think the universe revolves around them. And O how true that is. G.K. Chesterton once said that original sin is the one teaching of the Church that can actually be proved empirically, by observation. My daughter will come up to me and simply yell at me until I either discipline her for yelling at me or give her what she wants. If she wants a popsicle she thinks she deserves a popsicle. If she wants her coat off, she thinks I’m her personal slave who should drop everything to help her take it off. This is how kids think.

     

    And this is how we naturally think of God. Our natural impulse is to behave as petulant, spoiled toddlers, and arrogantly demand what we want or need as if we deserve it. God becomes the one who owes us. And if He doesn’t give it, He’s to blame, He’s the bad guy. I want money, I want health, I want peace in my family, I want long life, I want to be affirmed in my self-chosen lifestyle, I want eternal life, and if you don’t give me what I want, God, if you don’t approve of what I want, then what good are you to me? The confession of the First Article of the Creed, that God gives us all that we need to support this body and life, and that He does so only out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me, this beautiful confession of faith is utterly foreign to our sinful human minds.

     

    And so it is the marvel of God's word that He teaches and convinces us to be humble before Him. The Word of God reveals to us a God who isn’t beholden to the desires of our sinful will, but instead acts according to His good will. The Word of God teaches us that we are not only creatures of God – and what right does a creature have to demand anything of its Creator? – but that we are fallen creatures who have earned nothing by our disobedience but to be cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And given our unworthiness, the marvel of God’s Word is that God still speaks to us, still reveals himself to us, still invites us to call upon Him in every trouble.

     

    This is what the season of Epiphany is all about. God has revealed Himself to us in Christ, so that we don’t need to search for some god out there who will give us what we think we need. Instead, our God has searched us out. He shows us what we need by revealing our sin and our unworthiness. And then he shows us that He has fulfilled our every need by taking on our flesh and bearing in his own body all our sins and sorrows, making us worthy to call on God by the forgiveness of our sins.

     

    To know Christ and his cross is never to arrogantly demand things from God as our just deserts, but to expect good from Him according to His merciful will in Christ.  The marvel of faith is that we say with the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” I am not worthy of your care and your mercy. And so I don’t appeal to myself or my desires. Instead I appeal to You and Your desires, Your will. I pray Thy will be done. I appeal to Your Word and the certain promises You give. There is my confidence. Not in myself, but in You and Your will.

    And so it is that the Christian faith is not only a humble faith but also a confident faith. Not confident in ourselves, of course, not confident in what we have done or what we deserve, but confident that the God on whom we call is willing and able to help us. The leper cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if YOU are willing, YOU can cleanse me.” The confidence of faith does not rest on our subjective emotions, on how good we’re feeling at any particular time in our spiritual progress. No, Christian faith has its confidence always and only in Jesus, in His work. There is something objective, something outside of us, to which we can cling in our every need.

     

    The Word of God that humbles us is also the source of our confidence. Humility and confidence are not enemies, they don't contradict each other. We are humble when we look at ourselves, knowing that we deserve nothing from God. But we are confident when we look to Jesus and His Word to us, knowing that here it is certain beyond all doubt that God is for us, that no matter what troubles and sorrows we go through in this life, our God has revealed his heart to us in Christ Jesus, in His perfect life and innocent death for us and our salvation. Here is a God from whom we can ask anything, whose will we can gladly consent to, even if, for a time on this earth, it is His will that we go through pain and suffering. As we sing in Paul Gerhardt’s beautiful hymn, “When life’s troubles rise to meet me, though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me. God, my loving Savior, sends them; He who knows all my woes knows how best to end them.” Yes. God’s will be done. He knows best. I don’t. And I can commend everything to Him, trusting in His mercy through Christ our Lord. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

     

    Look at the confidence of the centurion! He admits that he is unworthy that Jesus should enter under his roof, and yet in the same breath he prays, “But only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.” He places all his confidence not in himself and his own worth but in Jesus, and the power of Jesus’ Word. He knows that he stands before the God who with a word spoke all things into existence. He knows that he is making his request of the One who has taken on human flesh to pour out His almighty power in saving this world from sin. And so He entrusts himself and his servant to the will of His gracious God. And he does so not in desperation, not as a shot in the dark, not as the last resort of a hopeless desire, but in complete confidence of the power and goodwill of God.

     

    And that is the marvel of faith at which Jesus marveled. It’s not the work of man, it’s God’s work, the work of His Word. Know this and take comfort in this as you go through the trials of this life, when doubts annoy and sins rise up. Your faith doesn’t depend on you. It depends on God’s Word to you, the Word that has power to save you and bring you to everlasting life, because it has its source in Jesus’ life and death for you. What a privilege that our God speaks to us. Praise be to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

     

     

     

  • Epiphany 4

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

    Matthew 8:23-27

    1. Jesus, priceless Treasure,

    Fount of purest pleasure,

    Truest Friend to me.

    Ah, how long in anguish

    Shall my spirit languish,

    Yearning, Lord, for Thee?

    Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!

    I will suffer naught to hide Thee,

    Naught I ask beside Thee.

    2. In Thine arms I rest me;

    Foes who would molest me

    Cannot reach me here.

    Though the earth be shaking,

    Every heart be quaking,

    Jesus calms my fear.

    Lightnings flash And thunders crash;

    Yet, though sin and hell assail me,

    Jesus will not fail me.

     

    Leading up to our Gospel lesson for today Jesus has two confrontations that can teach us a lot  about His calming of the storm. We remember from last week that Jesus showed his almighty power and his unbounded mercy in curing leprosy and healing the servant of the centurion. He went on from there to heal many others, including St. Peter’s mother-in-law – and yes, St. Peter, the first pope according to the Roman Catholic tradition, did have a mother-in-law, which means, of course, that he had a wife, and that should tell you more than a little about how unbiblical the practice of forced priestly celibacy is. In any case, the miracles of Jesus were powerful and undeniable and people flocked to him and asked to be his disciples, his students, his followers. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t run to a man who could cure every disease by the word of his mouth?

     

    But when they come to Jesus, they find that this man Jesus isn’t just about miracles. One man, a teacher of the law, comes and says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus replies famously and brutally, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And we can only conclude that this teacher of the law decided not to follow Jesus after all. His rosy picture of following the great miracle worker was dashed. Immediately after this, again, another prospective disciple says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” And Jesus tells him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Another painfully blunt response from Jesus and another very disappointed man.

     

    Jesus knows nothing of modern church growth tactics. He knows nothing of dressing up the Gospel and the Christian life to be as attractive as possible to the highest number of people. He doesn’t do statistical studies to see what people are looking for in a Church. He doesn’t cater to people’s felt needs. No, He is brutally honest. You want to be a Christian? You want to follow me? Why? Because you saw a few miracles? Because it’s the popular thing to do? Because you figure that I’m going to make your life happy and carefree with my magical powers? Well, Jesus says, look at what it means to be my disciple. It’s no bed of roses. My pillow is a rock. Foxes and birds have more bodily comforts than I do. And your life? Your life if you follow me will be a life of forsaking all else, of putting Me above everyone, yes, even your own father, even your own family, and finding your true family in the Kingdom and family of God. And this will hurt. It will daily crucify your flesh and your worldly desires. To follow me means to bear the cross and suffer. And at this pronouncement of Jesus, people walk away, either in despair or confusion or anger.

     

    And so it is to the great praise of the disciples of Jesus in our Gospel this morning that they actually follow him. They follow him into the boat. And they do so understanding that to follow Jesus is to suffer in this world. They understand that a disciple is not above his master, and that if their Lord has no place to lay His head, they can expect nothing better. And still they follow Him. Because they believe Him and they love Him. Not because He makes life easy for them. Not because He solves all their financial woes or gives them a foolproof 9-step program for self-improvement. But because He is their Savior from sin and the One who reconciles them to their Creator. That is where their treasure is. Not in this world’s comforts. Their treasure is quite simply Jesus.

     

    We need to be aware in our day that most of what passes for Christianity directly contradicts Jesus’ clear words. Jesus never promises prosperity and an outwardly peaceful life if you believe in Him. It’s quite the opposite, actually. He promises a cross and teaches us to suffer in faith. So-called evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and self-help gurus like Oprah will throw around the name of Jesus as if you can have your best life now, have the perfect family, the perfect job, and the self-confidence it takes to make it big in this world if only you give your life to Jesus. Pseudo-Christian religions like Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses will coopt the name of Jesus while teaching nothing, absolutely nothing, about Jesus’ cross and forgiveness through his blood, instead promising that if you follow Jesus you’ll be able to live a more successful life.

     

    This is not the religion of the Bible. It’s not Christianity. This is the tit for tat religion of paganism. It’s exactly what all pagan religions have always taught. You do something for God, and God does something for you. You give your life to him, he’ll make everything better for you. It’s the exact opposite, the exact opposite, of what Jesus promises. Jesus promises you reconciliation with God freely, with no payment in return. Instead, He Himself makes the payment with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. More than that, Jesus creates in you a clean heart by His Spirit, through His Word, so that you not only trust in Him and delight in your identity as children of your Father in heaven, but you learn to be content in any situation, even in suffering, because you know and trust and love the God who has done everything for you in Christ Jesus your Lord.

     

    We just had a convocation the last couple days entitled, “Why I am a Lutheran.” [It was a great convocation and it was great to see so many of you there. And those of you who couldn’t make it, put it on your calendars for next year. It won’t disappoint.] Well, let me sum it up for you. You’re a Lutheran not because of your German or Norwegian heritage or because your parents told you to be, not because you’re a partisan of Martin Luther, not because you’ve got ties to friends or family at this church, not because it’s convenient or people are nice to you, not for any of these reasons, but simply and purely because the Lutheran Church is devoted to the words of Jesus, to the words of the Bible, which you love with all your heart. Sola Scriptura, we say, Scripture alone. Solus Christus, we say. Christ alone. These aren’t just slogans. They’re our life. And the only reason you should be proud to be a Lutheran, the only reason you should come to this Lutheran Church is because you know and believe that here you will hear the pure and unadulterated Word of God, here you can demand it from your pastor, not to water Jesus’ words down, not to promise you things just to make you feel better, but to give it to you straight, that God’s promise to you is not the wide road of worldly ease and comfort, but the narrow road of trusting in Christ’s cross and the forgiveness of sins He has won for you.

     

    And when God creates faith in your heart by the Word of forgiveness in Christ’s cross He always sends you your own cross, your own suffering in this world, a suffering that God uses to direct your affections away from this world and to Him. The disciples followed Jesus into the boat knowing this. They knew that being a Christian, that following Jesus, meant they would suffer in this world. Jesus had said so. And they believed Jesus.

     

    The disciples immediately experience trouble. As soon as they follow Jesus into the boat, they learn what it means to suffer. And this wasn’t some chance happening. There are no chance happenings, of course, but especially here we see that God is in charge of the wind and the sea. God sent that storm, Jesus sent that storm, even as He lay sleeping in the boat, because He wanted to teach His disciples through suffering to trust in Him.

     

    The cry of the disciples was the cry of faith as it suffers in weakness. They saw the trouble facing them and they didn’t just fear for their lives, they felt the terrible doubt of God’s goodwill toward them. Save us, Lord, we are perishing, they say. It’s important for us to realize that when the disciples say they are perishing, they aren’t just talking about the threat to their bodies. The NIV’s translation, “Save us Lord, we’re drowning” isn’t quite right. That’s not what the text says. It says, save us, we are perishing. And that word “perishing” is important. The disciples aren’t simply thinking of drowning or getting struck by lightning. No, it never works that way for Christians. When you get the news that your mother is dying of cancer, when you yourself fall sick and are at death’s door, when you face danger and fear for your life, when you lose your job and can’t support yourself or your family, this is a crisis not only of life but of faith. Does God care? That’s the question that creeps in. Why has God sent this tragedy into my life? Why does He send me these storms of woe? In fact, in the Evangelist Mark’s account of this same episode, the disciples cry out, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” That’s the question, as Christians suffer in weakness of faith, “Lord, don’t you care?”

     

    What faith always needs, what it lives on and clings to, is Jesus’ Word. And this is exactly what the disciples get from Jesus. And it’s exactly what we need from Jesus. Not wealth, not a life without trouble or suffering. That’s not what we expect from Jesus. No, we expect His Word of forgiveness and peace with God. Because we know who Jesus is and what He has promised. We hear what the disciples heard. Here is the God who with a word calms the wind and the sea. He has complete power over all creation and he has complete control of everything that goes on in this world. He is the all-powerful God.

     

    And yet look at Him! He lies asleep in a boat. He has become a man. He has joined our human race. And not only that, He has taken on all our infirmities, suffers all our human pain. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. But here is God, slumbering and sleeping, exhausted, because even then He had taken all our sins upon Himself and is making His way to the cross to suffer and die for us. And this is why Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? You will not perish, not when I am with you, not when I am on your side.” When you are in the boat with Jesus, when you follow Him and trust in Him and belong to His Church, you will suffer the storms of the devil and this world and your own sinful flesh, you will suffer weakness of faith and fear, but you will never perish. Because the God who controls the wind and the sea, your Creator, is with You. He wears your flesh and blood. He lays down His life for you. He faced the storm of God’s wrath against sin and He won you peace through His suffering. He speaks His word to you, the word that even the inanimate wind and sea obey, and this Word does what it says. I forgive you all your sins, God says through his pastor, and your sins are gone. This is my body, Jesus says, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins. And so it is. And to have this, to have Jesus’ words, this is to have everything, it is to have God himself with you now and forever. It is to have joy in suffering and strength in our weakness.

     

    Thanks be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

     

     

  • Transfiguration

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Transfiguration, 2017

    Matthew 17:1-9

     

    In his second Epistle St. Peter tells us that he witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus. He was, as he himself says, an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty. He saw with his own eyes the divine and eternal light shining like the sun from the face of Jesus as his clothes became as white as light. He witnessed Moses and Elijah appear from heaven and converse with Jesus. He heard the voice of God the Father speak from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He was a witness to all this majesty and wonder. And so it seems absurd that St. Peter would go on to say that we, that’s you and me, have something more sure. We, who didn’t see the Transfiguration, who were not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty, we have something more sure than Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s what St. Peter says. Listen again to his words, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” How can this be? How can it be that the prophetic Word, the words of the Bible, the words we have right here and right now, that we read and hear preached in this Church, are more sure than Peter’s witnessing Jesus face-to-face in all His heavenly majesty?

     

    Peter isn’t poohpoohing his witnessing of the Transfiguration. In fact, it is extremely important that we Christians understand that St. Peter and the rest of the apostles were eye-witnesses of Jesus. Peter, James, and John saw him transfigured with their own eyes. All the apostles, along with more than 500 others, saw him risen from the dead. What we have in their writings is not cleverly devised myth, but eye-witness testimony that is undeniably history.

    Here is where the Bible is so far different from any other so-called holy book. The Book of Mormon, for example, isn’t a record of eyewitness testimony at all.  It doesn’t even claim to be. Instead, it’s allegedly Joseph Smith’s translation of golden tablets that were brought down from heaven by the angel Moroni and written in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, a language that doesn’t exist and of which history has absolutely no record of ever existing. More than this, Joseph Smith didn’t witness anything that takes place in the Book of Mormon. The events of the Book of Mormon are supposed to have taken place some 2000 years before Joseph Smith was born. He didn’t claim to witness these events, he only claimed to translate the golden tablets using special, heavenly spectacles that allowed him to read a non-existent language. Nor can any event recorded in the Book of Mormon be confirmed in the least degree by the witness of history. The holy book of Islam, the Koran, is likewise no eye-witness account. Not only does it get many historical facts undeniably wrong, it again doesn’t even claim to be an eye-witness account. Instead, Muhammed claims that the Angel Gabriel dictated the book to him, telling him of sayings and events that Muhammed himself never witnessed. [There’s good reason why the Apostle Paul tells us not to believe any other Gospel but that which was preached to us by the eye-witness of the apostles, not even if an angel should preach it to us.] Neither the Book of Mormon nor the Koran, nor for that matter, the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus or any other holy book, can claim eye-witness accounts of history. But Peter could. Peter did. The Bible does. The Bible is a book of writings written over a period of 1500 years by men writing in real languages who actually saw and witnessed what they record for us.

    The apostle Peter, together with James and John, actually saw Jesus transfigured. Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty. And this is important. It means we are reading history when we read the biblical accounts, we’re reading of events that actually happened and were actually witnessed by the people writing about them. But the Bible isn’t simply a recording of eye-witness accounts. Historians can get things wrong, of course. They can focus on the wrong thing. Eye-witnesses can see an event take place right in front of them and completely miss the significance of the event. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Peter when he first witnessed the transfiguration.

     

    He saw it. He witnessed divine light coming from Jesus’ face. He saw Moses and Elijah by Jesus’ side talking with Him. But he didn’t know what it meant. Sure, he understood something of what he saw. He saw the man Jesus, with whom he had spent the last two years of his life, whom he had seen walk and talk, eat and drink, laugh and cry, speak and sleep. He saw this Jesus, who was clearly a man, a human being with a human body and soul, a man who shared all our human characteristics, he saw this Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, clearly manifested as God. He saw the divine light of God’s unborrowed majesty shining from Jesus’ face. For a brief time, Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John to see Him as He really was, not hidden under humility, not despised and suffering and lowly, but in full demonstration of his divine majesty. And Peter also hears the voice of God the Father confirm what his eyes are witnessing, “This is my beloved Son,” the Father says. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

    In theological terms, Peter saw that Jesus had two natures, divine and human. He was fully man and fully God united inseparably in one Person. This is what we and our children learn to confess in the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” We confess this by faith. Peter saw it. He was an eye-witness of it. He knew it with scientific certainty. He could, on the Mount of Transfiguration, see with his own two eyes that Jesus was both man and God.

    And yet even though he could see all this, he still missed the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Look at Peter’s bumbling response to what he saw on that mountain, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Of course it was good for Peter and James and John to be there with Jesus. It was good for them to see with their own eyes that Jesus was God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. It was good that they become eyewitnesses of his glory. But it was not good to remain there. No, what was good was for Jesus again to hide his glory, again to humble himself, to go to Jerusalem and be betrayed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. That is what was good. To know Jesus as the Son of God is not to know him, unless you also know Him in the suffering and death of His cross, unless you know why the Son of God has become a man.

     

    No human eye, not even the eye of St. Peter, could look at Jesus’ shame and pain and humility as he suffered on the cross, and say, “This is good.” No, it’s bad. Suffering is bad. We know that from personal experience. Peter saw Jesus’ glory and said, “It is good.” And when he saw Jesus’ suffering, he denied him three times and abandoned him to die alone.

     

    Peter needed something more sure to tell him what his eyes couldn’t. And that’s exactly what God gives him. The Father cuts off Peter in mid speech. God tells Peter to stop looking, to stop talking, and to listen. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

     

    Listen to Him. While Peter looked on at the glorious scene, Moses and Elijah were busy talking with Jesus. St. Luke tells us what they were talking about. They were talking about Jesus’ death, his departure, his crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Think of that. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Elijah was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Here is the prophetic Word, the Bible, personified, and what are they talking about: Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners.

     

    Why has God become a man? What is the significance of Jesus showing Peter and James and John His eternal majesty and Godhead, as Moses and Elijah looked on?

     

    This is what the prophetic Word tells us. This is what Jesus tells us. All of the Bible, all Scripture, all Christian preaching focuses in on Christ crucified for sinners. What looks to the human eye and to human reason like shame and death, is God’s glory and the life of the world. Jesus shows what it means that He is His Father’s beloved Son. He goes down from the mount of transfiguration where his glory shone bright as the sun, and he heads to Mount Calvary. There the glory of God is hidden. There on Calvary, the beloved Son cries out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me.” There, God himself bleeds and dies.

     

    But there is our glory. Not on the Mount of Transfiguration, but on Mount Calvary. There our sins are washed away. There God is reconciled to us. There God’s promise to win us life and salvation is fulfilled. There our suffering is answered by God’s suffering for us.

     

    And this is why the prophetic Word, the Word of Christ’s cross, is most sure and certain. Not only is it sure and true eye-witness history, it is the power of God to save us. And so it is good to be here in Church. Here we don’t see the glory that Peter saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. But we have something more sure. We have God’s glory to save us sinners, to strengthen us, by the Word of His cross. We have his body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We have God’s glory given to us, as the innocence and holiness of Christ is declared to be ours, as His Spirit is made our Spirit, and as His Father is made our Father. And so we cling to this Gospel as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

    Amen.

  • Septuagesima

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Septuagesima, February 12, 2017

    Matthew 20:1-16

     

    Hard work pays off. That’s a principle we try hard to instill in our youth and, hopefully, in ourselves. If you work hard, your work will be rewarded. If you’re lazy and complacent, you won’t get far in life. That’s what’s fair and just and right. And this isn’t simply the wisdom of the world. No, this is what the Bible teaches. It’s a Christian virtue to work hard at whatever vocation God has called you to do. “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat.” So says St. Paul. “The worker is worthy of his wages.” So says Jesus. God even applies this law to brute beasts, saying, “Do not muzzle the ox as he treads out the grain.” Even the ox deserves the reward of eating some grain for his work. That’s what’s fair. And the Bible here is echoing what God has set down in nature, what everyone knows, or should know, simply by virtue of living and thinking in this world. It’s simply the way things go, or at least the way we expect things to go. Hard work pays off. That’s what’s fair.

     

    So how unbelievably foolish and reckless the actions of this vineyard owner in our parable for this morning seem. He pays out a denarius, that’s a full day’s wage, to people who laid around all day lazy and not working, and then worked for a measly hour. You can’t run a business that way. Any business would fail, the owner would go broke, if he paid people for not working. But that’s what this owner of the vineyard does. He rewards those who do nothing, absolutely nothing, to earn the reward. According to the wisdom of this world, according to the old adage that hard work pays off, his actions are simply unfair.

     

    Jesus here offers us a picture of the Kingdom of God, which is the Christian Church here on earth. And God’s work in this Kingdom simply doesn’t make sense according to the rules of this world. Here God gives freely, with no regard to our work. It’s called grace. God’s grace rewards people not according to what is fair but according to what God Himself wants, according to his mercy. And the reward is lavish – eternal life, joys without number, the right to be called children of God. All given freely and without any price on our part.

     

    But this grace of God is the cause of endless offense to the natural human mind. We are programmed to think in terms of fairness, of work and pay, labor and reward. And so we naturally think that since this is the way it works in the world, this is the way it should work with God. This is why every religion ever created by man, whether we’re talking about ancient paganism, Hinduism or Buddhism, Islam or Mormonism, or modern-day Judaism, they all teach that God rewards people based on their works. It’s a simple analogy. If my work for men is rewarded here on earth by men, then my work for God should also be rewarded in heaven by God. All religions, outside of the Christian religion, come from the mind of man, and this is the only religion our minds can think up. That’s why all other religions besides Christianity are at root the same religion, a religion of works, of expecting God to reward us with heaven for what we do on earth.

     

    Notice what the religions of the world don’t take into account. They don’t take into account that each and every one of us is equal before God. Instead, they deny this equality by measuring each person according to how much work he or she has done. “Hard work pays off” means that those who don’t work as hard aren’t equal with those who do work hard. Those who work 12 hours aren’t equal to those who work 1 hour. That’s just what’s fair.

     

    That’s how it works in the world, but not in the Kingdom of God. Here there is an equality of all people. And this is the equality that all false religions ignore. It’s the equality of being born in sin and under the judgment of God, of being turned in on ourselves and lacking fear, love, and trust in God. It’s the equality of not being able to do a thing to earn anything from God. In this, we are all the same and equal, every man, woman, and child born (or unborn) on this earth.

     

    And this is what Jesus teaches us in our parable for this morning. Here Jesus compares the religions of the world with the true religion, the Christian religion, the religion of grace.

     

    The workers who are called first represent those who follow the religion of this world. They make a contract with the owner of the vineyard. They will work a full day and they will receive payment for their work. This is exactly what the religions of this world practice. People make a contract with God. They work hard and they imagine God will reward them for their work. They deny that they are equal with others, because they’ve worked harder and deserve more from God. They ignore the fact that, like everyone else, they can’t earn a thing from Him, that by nature all their works, no matter how good they look, are nothing in God’s sight, because they are stained by the selfish intentions of their hearts. And so they go on working, thinking they’ll be rewarded for their work.

     

    They demand the just reward for their work. They demand what is fair. And God gives it to them. He is a just and righteous God. He can’t accept the works of sinners as if they gained life, because the wages of sin is death. And so to those who demand from God fairness, who demand that they be rewarded according to their works, God says: “Take what belongs to you and go.” You have your reward. And it isn’t with Me. It’s not in the Kingdom of Heaven. You want what is fair. There it is. To be cast out from the vineyard, from the Kingdom of God. That’s justice. That’s what’s fair. That’s what your hard work earns you.

     

    Dear Christian friends, never demand what is fair from God – demand it from this world, but not from God. The other workers in the vineyard, the ones called at the third and sixth and ninth and eleventh hours, these represent Christian believers. They don’t ask for what is fair. And the owner of the vineyard never tells them He will give them what is fair. The owner of the vineyard doesn’t say, “Work hard and I’ll give you a denarius.” No, he says, “Go work and I’ll give you what is right.” Notice, he doesn’t say that he’ll give them what is fair. He tells them he will give them what is right. And who decides what is right? The owner of the vineyard does! Not the workers. And so these workers are distinguished by their implicit trust that the owner of the vineyard will give them what He thinks is right. And this is the Christian religion. We are called to work in the Kingdom of God, and that means trusting in God’s promise to give us what He deems is right according to His good and gracious will in Christ Jesus our Lord. We don’t make a contract with God and say, “I’ll work this hard and then you’ll owe me this much.” No! Of course, we do our work here on earth, as fathers and mothers and children and workers and neighbors, we do our work as members of Christ’s Church, but we trust God to reward us not on the basis of our works but solely on the basis of what He deems right, solely on the basis of His underserved kindness, His grace and love toward us in Christ Jesus our Savior.

     

    And look, just look, at the difference between the work of the Christian and the work of the one who thinks he is earning his reward with God. Those who want to earn their reward with God by their works are described as bearing the heat of the day, and then again, as jealous of others who get just as much as they do. They’re miserable. And that’s the life of trying to make yourself right with God by your works, of demanding what is fair from God. It’s misery and self-conceit.  You’ll either think you’ve done enough to earn God’s favor and so increase your guilt before God by your arrogance, or you’ll be in constant fear that you haven’t done enough to win God’s favor. What misery! [Martin Luther described this misery as he himself had experienced it when he tried as a monk to earn his way into God’s favor. Listen to the third verse of his beautiful hymn, “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice.”

     

    My own good works all came to naught,

    No grace or merit gaining

    Free will against God’s judgment fought,

    Dead to all good remaining.

    My fears increased till sheer despair

    Left only death to be my share.

    The pangs of hell I suffered.]

     

    Now look, on the other hand, at how the works of the Christian are described. They are easy and light. Jesus focuses in on those who worked only an hour. They worked in the cool of the evening. They didn’t bear the scorching heat and the burden of the day. Their work wasn’t tedious. It was joyful.

     

    These are the works of the Christian – whatever they may be, whether supporting the preaching of the Gospel with your time and money, or getting out of bed on a Sunday morning and coming to Church, or changing your child’s diaper, or working hard to support your family – these works are made easy and light. Because you, the Christian, aren’t doing them to earn something from some taskmaster God. You’re doing them because you know and trust the gracious God, a God who doesn’t give you what is fair, doesn’t give you what you deserve, but gives you what He deems right, even if all the world says it’s all wrong – He gives you His grace, gives you what He Himself has earned for you by His life and death in your place.

     

    You see not only that you are equal with all other sinners and can’t work your way to heaven. No, you see a greater equality, the equality of God’s grace. It is offered to all. And that means it is offered to you. The Son of God took on the flesh of all humanity, and that means He took on your flesh. He bore the sin of all to the cross, and that means He bore your sin to the cross. He suffered the wrath of God against all sin of all people, and that means He suffered for you. St. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all, because all sinned…so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:12, 18). Do you see the equality on both ends? All sinned and all are under condemnation. All are equal. But in the one righteous act of Christ, in his suffering and death for the world, there is justification, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and innocence, and life for all people.

     

    Thank God that he doesn’t give us what is fair. Instead He shows us what was right and good in His eyes, and that is to have mercy on us. When you feel that your work and your life as a Christian is laborious and hard, when you feel that you are bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat, remember who your God is. He is the One who bore the burden of all your sin. He is the one who endured the scorching fire of punishment from His own hand, to deliver you from death and win you everlasting life. He has called you in your Baptism to live under the shade of His grace. God’s people called out for water in the desert, and He gave it to them through the Rock – and this Rock, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose pleasure and glory it is to give life to those who can’t earn it for themselves, this Rock, our Redeemer, continues to pour forth water in our wilderness, continues to give us life and quench our thirst for righteousness in the body and blood given and shed for us. He continues to make the last first, to raise the fallen, and exalt the humble. He continues to call all who are weary and heavy laden to find their rest in Him, to live under Him in His gracious Kingdom, and to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Amen.

     

     

  • Saxagesima

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Sexagesima, 2017

    Luke 8:1-15

     

    He who has ears to hear let him hear. This is, of course, what we were created to do and why we have ears in the first place. God created us in His image to have converse with Him, to listen with our ears to His Word and so learn to love and trust in Him above all things. Before their fall into sin, this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. They used their ears to listen to God. And among the first words God spoke to Adam was His command to work the ground. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The soil was perfect. There were no roads trampled by feet. There were no rocks that had to be dug out. There were no thorns and briars to choke the plants as they sprung up. Every seed that was planted fell on good soil and produced good fruit.

    And so it is very fitting that our Lord Jesus compares the preaching and hearing of God’s Word to a sower sowing seed. Just as God created the soil to receive seed and produce fruit, so He created our ears to happily take in His Word, so that we could abound in love and faith toward Him. That’s how His goodness created things to be.

    But when Satan attacked, when he twisted and perverted God’s Word and said to Eve, “Did God really say?” When he led our first parents to use their ears to hear lies about God, to despise God’s command and distrust His promises, then the curse of sin descended not only on Adam and Eve, but on the very soil of the ground. Cast out of paradise, Adam had to work the ground, he had to remove rocks and tear out thorns and weeds. No soil was good without him working to make it good.

     

    And so it is with us, with our ears, and God’s Word. Ears that were created to hear refuse to hear. No human ear naturally hears God’s Word with gladness and willingly. God makes this clear through the Apostle Paul, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” But just as the farmer still sows his seed, regardless of the cursed soil that works to resist it, so God still speaks His Word to ears that hear and yet don’t understand and refuse to believe. God continues to do what He has done from the beginning of time – because God doesn’t change – He continues to preach His Word to ears He created to hear it.

     

    This is what Jesus teaches us in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Our Lord speaks of sowing His word on four different types of soil. The first is hard and won’t take the seed at all. This Jesus explains as those who hear God’s Word but then the devil snatches it away so that they will not believe.

     

    The devil is real. Our modern world has turned him into a caricature, a cartoon, with a red costume and a pitchfork, and tells us that no enlightened mind can believe in such a being, any more than we can believe in trolls and goblins and other evil characters of fantastical children stories. And, of course, you shouldn’t believe in such a character, because he doesn’t exist. The devil’s not a goblin. He’s not a fairytale character or a Halloween villain. He’s a powerful spirit, a fallen angel. And he’s a liar. And by his lying he is the origin and source of all our sin and pain and ignorance of God. His lying against God’s Word, the same lie he spoke to Eve in the garden, is the most dangerous thing in all the world. False doctrine is what we call it. False teaching about God and who He is, lies about who we are and our relationship to God. That’s the devil’s project. And it leads people who have heard God’s Word to reject God altogether and to spurn the salvation God freely offers in the Word of Christ’s cross and resurrection.

     

    If you fear and hate the devil, fear and hate false doctrine. It’s demonic. We can just as little smile or wink at false teaching as we can flirt with the devil. When people leave the Church because they don’t like confessing they’re poor, miserable sinners, when people stay in the Church but can’t stand all this talk about the blood of Jesus shed for sinners, when they listen instead to the ego-stroking of religious con-artists who tell them nothing about sin or Christ’s cross but instead sell them some feel-good message of human potential and living your best life now – this is the devil tearing them away from God and His heaven. When children are fed the academically respectable myth that they evolved from slime and are nothing but highly intelligent animals, this is the devil robbing them of knowing their Maker and gracious Father.  And a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Every attack on God’s Word, whether it’s denying the headship of a husband in his home or demoting the blessing of children to a financial liability or belittling the gracious working of God in Baptism and in His Holy Supper, no matter how slight and harmless the false teaching may seem – it is the devil’s ploy and aim to lead people away from God and life with Him. Because this is what the devil cannot stand. He hates God and he hates us. He cannot stand God’s children listening to their God and loving His Word. He can’t stand our happiness and our forgiveness in Christ. And he uses every lie imaginable to lead us away from this Word.

     

    But in addition to this, in addition to God’s Word being snatched out of people’s hearts by the false teaching of the devil, God’s Word also lands on rocky soil. The rocky soil represents those who hear the Word and at first receive it with joy. They hear the good news that God forgives all their wrongs for Christ’s sake and that He offers eternal life with Him in the perfection of heaven. What a joy to hear! Who wouldn’t want to hear and believe this beautiful message! But then the testing comes. Life doesn’t go the way people want it to go. The joy of present forgiveness and future salvation runs up against the cross and suffering that come with being a Christian. And a shallow faith, a faith that looks forward to the joy of heaven but refuses to remain and stay fixed on the cross and the sufferings of our Savior, this faith can’t endure the trials of this life. It wants the good life now! And so it leaves faith in the Word of Christ’s cross and chases after someone or something that will promise it the worldly comfort it wants in the here and now.

     

    Satan attacks the Word with lies, the cross becomes too much for people to bear, and then the Word falls also among thorns that choke faith to death. Jesus describes these thorns as the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. Now, you should certainly care about your life and provide for it by working hard in whatever vocation God has called you to. You can certainly get rich and use your riches well, to benefit the Church and your community. And God certainly blesses us with pleasures of all kinds, of food and drink and sleep and marital bliss. But these all can become thorns that choke out faith in God’s Word. And this happens, it happens far too often. It happens when we value God’s blessings above God and care more for the pleasures of this world than the joy and instruction of God’s Word. But God won’t take a back seat in our heart. If the Word of God isn’t first in your life, it’s last. You can’t file away God’s Word in the recess of your mind, thinking you can access it at some later date, while meanwhile placing all your affections on the things of this world. That’s self-deception. All the pleasures of life, all our cares and riches, these are passing away before our eyes. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we will bring nothing out. Everything our hearts put their trust in in this life will fail and falter, die and fade away. But the Word of our God remains forever, and the joys it promises and delivers are everlasting.

     

    Jesus parable of the sower and the seed hits home for all of us. It strikes a nerve. Because we’ve all seen it happen. We’ve seen people, our own loved ones, reject God’s Word because they’ve believed the lies of the devil that are promoted as academically or socially or politically or religiously acceptable in our day. We’ve seen people abandon the faith because it all got so hard and some other church or group offered crossless promises of happiness here on earth. We’ve seen people choose drugs or sex or drink or family or fame or fortune over God’s Word. And it hurts to see this. It’s one of the crosses a Christian has to bear – to see the Word of God rejected and despised and people fall away from the God who loves them. And so we pray God to open the door of faith to all. And since we know that God desires all to be saved, we support the preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of God’s Word, which alone can fight off Satan’s lies and create faith in the hearts of man.

     

    But Jesus’ parable cuts deep also for another reason. Those who trust God’s Word are called the good soil. So says Jesus. Listen again to His words, “These are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” But is this us? That’s the question we have to ask. Is the devil not attacking us with his lies? Are we not tempted day after day to doubt God’s Word and believe in the spiritual integrity of our own goodness? Do we not want to flee from trials and pain in this life and then boast in our strengths instead of glorying in our weakness? Do we not catch ourselves putting the pleasures of this life above hearing God’s Word? How can we be described as good soil?

     

    Well that’s the point. God has no good soil to work with. We’re certainly not good soil in ourselves. God didn’t see something special in us. He didn’t find good soil. He didn’t first find faith and then plant His Word. No, He made the good soil, He created the faith. And He makes good soil through the preaching of His Word. The answer to the devil’s lies and the trials and temptations of this world is God’s powerful working in His Word. The fact is that Satan does attack you, that you do have rocks and thorns that rise up to tempt you. To be good soil, to have faith in God’s Word, is not to be free from temptation and sin. To be good soil, to have faith, means not that you are good in yourself, but that God’s Word has made you trust in the goodness of your gardener. He fights off the birds, he rips out the rocks, and uproots the weeds. And that all hurts – by the way. If the soil could feel and talk it would cry out to its gardener, why are you plowing into me? Why are you tearing and ripping things from me? It hurts. But the soil is no good unless it goes through this pain. And so it is with us. God puts down our self-satisfied esteem of ourselves, He sends us crosses to bear and allows us to suffer, He destroys our idols and teaches us that everything we put our trust in besides Him will flourish only to fall. And all this hurts. But we know, because God tells us in His Word, we know that He does all this to allow His Word to sink deep within our souls, to thrive and flourish and rise up to eternal life. He made Paul weak so that Paul could find his strength in Him. And so He does for us.

     

    It is God who makes the soil good. And He does so through His Word. This is our hope and the hope of the entire world, even those who have fallen away. So pray that God continues to grant this great miracle to you, the miracle of His Word. And He will. He’ll give you ears to hear and a heart to believe His Word, to treasure it above all else. What lie of the devil is so sweet that it can compare with the truth of God’s Word, that God Himself has taken the burden of your sin upon Himself and bled and died to win you forgiveness and everlasting righteousness? What pleasure of this world can compare with the knowledge that you, a sinner, are reconciled with the holy God and have eternal joys stored up for you in heaven? What suffering in this world can compare with the glory that is to be revealed in you when your Lord Jesus comes to restore His creation and bring you to be with Him forever? Here you find your greatest treasure. To know God and His boundless mercy in Christ. To know that your God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has held an eternal conversation about you and your salvation and your future bliss with Him. To see that every trial you pass through in your life as a Christian is not God pushing you away or punishing you but drawing you closer to Him and chastening you as His own dear child. This is the power of God’s Word. It does not come back to Him empty. It is the power of salvation to all who believe. It conquers the devil, the world, and our flesh. It makes good soil out of rocky and thorn-infested ground. God grant that day after day, week after week, through every turn of our lives here on this earth, He plant His Word deeper and deeper in our hearts, so that it produces the fruit of faith in Christ our dear Lord and Savior, into whose death we have been baptized and whose resurrection to eternal life we shall certainly share.

     

    Let us pray: On my heart imprint Thine image, blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, have no power Thee to efface. This the superscription be: Jesus Crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and Salvation. Amen.

     

     

  • Quinquagesima

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Quinquagesima, 2017

    Luke 18:31-43

     

    There’s a lot of sight language, a lot of talk about “seeing” in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Jesus, of course, gives sight to a blind man – a miracle that the prophet Isaiah explicitly predicted of the Christ, as we learned in our Old Testament lesson – never until Jesus had anyone given sight to a blind man. And so Jesus reveals that He is the promised Christ by this miracle. But before Jesus gives sight to this blind man, he explains to his disciples what it means to be the Christ. And fittingly, he begins his speech with the word, “See.” “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.” But here Jesus isn’t using the normal word for “see,” he’s using the word usually translated, “Behold.” We don’t use that word much anymore – behold – and I suppose that’s why our translators gave us the word “see” instead. But when Jesus says behold, He means much more than simply “see.” He means, “Look! Pay attention! What I’m about to tell you is more important than anything else that’s occupying your mind. Stop letting your mind wander. Forget what you’re going to do later in the day. Forget about your petty concerns, your ambitions, your anxieties, and listen up. Because all human history, and that means your history, your life, finds its fulfilment here.” There is nothing more important, more pressing, more relevant to your life than that Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God, is delivered over to the Gentiles, mocked, treated shamefully and spit upon, flogged, tortured, and killed, to rise again on the third day.

     

    But it doesn’t seem so. The disciples didn’t understand it. It’s not that they didn’t understand the vocables, the bare words and syllables, of Jesus’ speech. It’s not like Jesus was mumbling or whispering. They understood perfectly that Jesus had just told them he was going to be betrayed, beaten, and killed. They just didn’t want to think about it or consider Jesus’ suffering and dying on a cross. It was distasteful. Nevermind that this is the great and constant topic of Scripture. Nevermind that from the promise of God in the garden that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan all the way to John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” all the prophets spoke of Jesus’ suffering and death. Nevermind that David explicitly prophesied, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” Nevermind that Isaiah decreed with unmistakable clarity, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” It’s not that the message wasn’t clear. It’s not that they hadn’t heard it. It’s that they didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to dwell on it. Not only is it a hideous thing to talk about – it seems hopelessly irrelevant and out of touch with their daily lives.

     

    And so it is today. God’s Word is clear. It consistently presents us Christ crucified for our sins. But do we want to hear it, to dwell on it? Do we understand how relevant it is to our daily lives? Do we look forward to Sunday morning, so that we can hear this message? Do we dwell on it in the morning and when we go to bed at night? Do we make it our goal and our joy to teach it to our children and confess it to the world? Or do we hear it now and again and then relegate it to the periphery as we go on with what we think is relevant and important in our lives, as if Christ-crucified for our sins has nothing to do with our family relations, with our social life, with our daily work and play?

     

    This is the way of the world. And it is a blindness as real and as devastating as that of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel lesson for this morning. And this blindness to the foundational relevance of Christ’s death and resurrection in our lives has also infiltrated the Church. What do people look for in a church? What do you look for in a church? Most people want a social society, a support group, because we’ve convinced ourselves that our problems are all social and psychological. What does the suffering and death of Christ have to do with my marriage problems, with my problems at work, with my family relations and my hopes and dreams? And so Church becomes the place for socialization and entertainment, because people can’t understand how the cross of Jesus has anything to do with their daily lives. And the same goes for their attitude toward Jesus. What do people want from Jesus? They want a friend, a spiritual buddy. But a Savior? A Savior who is tortured and disgraced and killed to pay the penalty for sins? No. This all seems so unreal and out of touch with the hopes and ambitions of our lives.

     

    And yet this is exactly what people need, exactly what we need. You can’t have a friend in Jesus unless you have Him as your Savior who suffers and dies for your sin. When Jesus calls his disciples friends – the only time he does it – he joins it to his death, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Your greatest problem, your greatest need and concern in life is not social or psychological, it’s theological – it has to do with God and your relationship with Him. And this is what the suffering and death of Jesus broadcasts so loudly. Here your life and all your problems comes into focus. Here you see how serious and singular your problem is and how serious and singular is God’s love. You’re a sinner. And God takes your sin seriously. As the Psalmist says, “God is angry with sinners every day.” Every day. And so what need every day, what you need from Church, from God, from Jesus, every day of your life, is mercy. And God has mercy in no other way than in the cross of Jesus.

     

    This is why the Church has echoed the cry of blind Bartimaeus for the last 2000 years in the words of the Kyrie: Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Again and again, every Sunday, we pray these words. The world tells us to stop, rebukes us, tells us to be more relevant and not so gloomy, but the Church locks her eyes on Christ’s cross and cries out all the more, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”

     

    One of the reasons we keep the liturgy, the old order of service that Christians have been following for the last 1500 years or so, is because when people replace the liturgy with something else, with modern rock music and praise songs, the first victim is the Kyrie. They stop singing it. There’s lots of praises and alleluias. But the cry of Bartimaeus recedes into the background. But this cry, “Lord have mercy upon us,” embodies what it means to be a Christian. To address Jesus as Lord and Christ and ask Him for mercy, to look at the suffering and death of Jesus and see it for what it really is – God’s love and mercy for you a sinner, to see that you live every single day of your life by the forgiveness of sin found in Christ, and that everything you have in life, your house and home, family and friends, food and drink, everything, God gives you for the sake of Christ’s bitter suffering and death.

     

    So don’t go to a church where they don’t say, “Lord have mercy.” It doesn’t matter if they have “Lutheran” on their sign. Don’t go. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got great youth activities or real nice people or exciting and entertaining music. The Christian Church cries out, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” because the Christian Church knows what it means to be a Church, and that’s not simply a society of likeminded religious individuals, but sinners gathered around their Savior to hear His words and receive His mercy. The Christian Church takes the words of Jesus to heart – Behold – look at what I have come to do, to be treated with contempt, to be hated, to be spat on, to die. Don’t turn your eyes away. Don’t close your ears. You need this. You need mercy from God and here on the cross is where it’s at. Only here. You need the Son of Man to wipe away your sin and your guilt and to bless your life by the shedding of his holy and precious blood.

     

    And this isn’t to poohpooh human relationships and the troubles we have in our lives. No, quite the opposite. It’s to identify them for what they are. What is sin except a lack of love? And what does this lack of love do to our lives and to our relationships? It not only puts us at odds with God, in fear of Him or in careless apathy of His commands, but it makes us impatient with others, makes us arrogant and rude, irritable and resentful of those around us. When we cry out for mercy to God we aren’t crying out because of some unfelt, abstract, and irrelevant sinfulness. No, our lack of love, our sin, is concrete and personal. We see it in our daily lives. We see how our harsh words, our judgmental attitude, our anger and our impatience, our lackadaisical attitude toward the truth damage our relationships with others even as they make us guilty before our God. We can’t separate our everyday lives from our daily need for God’s mercy.

     

    And as we see our lack of love we see how Jesus’ love is the most relevant and priceless thing in our lives, how our cry of mercy to our Lord is the greatest and most practical prayer we could possibly make. Show me the man or woman who does what love requires! “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” How happy our marriages would be if we had this love! How wonderful our relationships with our family and friends and neighbors! We wouldn’t bicker or gossip at home or here at church. We would forgive every wrong done to us and bear with the weaknesses of everyone, even the people we find annoying and overbearing. We would never doubt God or question His will. But where can we find this love? Where do you find it?

     

    You find it in the mercy shown you in Jesus’ cross. There is love. As the Son of God goes patiently and willingly to the cross, not irritable or resentful at the burden that His Father lays on Him, but bearing all things, enduring all things, trusting that God’s will is good, even as He suffers the wrath of God against our sin. There is love, as the only One who has ever loved perfectly offers up His love for the loveless, his perfect obedience for the disobedient, offers this divine love up to His Father and declares it to be yours, wins you life and joy by His death and sorrow. There is love.

    Jesus’ love is not simply an example for you to follow. It is your righteousness before God, the source of all His mercy, and the source of your love for Him and for all around you in your daily lives. When you receive mercy and free forgiveness from Jesus, God plants His love in your hearts. He daily renews you to love as He has loved, to forgive those who do you wrong, to bear with the weak, to hate evil and love what is good and beautiful and right according to God’s holy Word.

     

    We are approaching Lent. It’s three days away. We’ll meet back here on Ash Wednesday. I’m looking forward to it. I love Lent. It’s the time when we sing the most explicitly Christian hymns, hymns that focus our eyes on the cross of Jesus. We’re going to be singing every Wednesday, “On my heart imprint Your image.” Now this is a hymn that you can sing and pray every single day, and not just during Lent. To focus your heart and mind on God’s mercy in Christ’s cross, to learn again every single day how it is your life, how it forms who you are and how you act and what you say. Let us pray:

     

    On my heart imprint Your image, Blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, never may your work erase. Let the clear inscription be: Jesus crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation. Amen.

     

     

  • Lent 1

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Invocabit, 2017

    Matthew 4:1-11

     

    Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “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.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

     

    Every command assumes a status or identity. The commands I give my kids assume certain things about them. If I give Mary a command, for instance, it should fit her character, her identity as a 1 year-old girl. So, “Mary, go shovel the driveway!” is a nonsense command. It simply doesn’t fit with her abilities and her station in life. First off, Mary’s a young lady, and she has perfectly capable brothers who should learn to be men and shovel the walk for the ladies that God puts in their lives. And then, most obviously, Mary can’t shovel the driveway – she can’t even lift a shovel. She’s one. Or say you walk into Governor Mead’s office and say, “Governor, go make me some coffee!” Now, while Governor Mead is perfectly capable of making you coffee, it’s simply inappropriate for you to command him to do it. He’s the governor, not a barista. The point is that when you command someone to do something, you’re assuming things about that person.

     

    So too with Satan’s commands and temptations. They assume something. First, they assume something of Jesus. But they assume something of Jesus that shouldn’t be assumed. Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan’s command assumes that the Son of God is the kind of person who puts his own wants and desires first, who doesn’t trust that His Father in heaven will provide for His bodily needs. That’s like me telling Mary, “If you are my one year-old daughter, go shovel the driveway.” It’s nonsense, utter nonsense.

     

    It is precisely because Jesus is the Son of God that he won’t, that he can’t put material things above God’s Word. It’s precisely because Jesus is the Son of God that he can’t turn those stones into loaves of bread. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God means that he doesn’t live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. And Jesus’ identity as God’s Son means he never puts God to the test, that he never seeks his own advancement, but instead worships God alone and serves Him only. That’s Jesus’ identity. And everything he does accords with that identity. He is holy and righteous, the ever obedient, loving Son of His Father. And He can be and do nothing else.

    You have an identity too. You aren’t the Son of God, of course, but you are a son of God, a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. God put his own name on you, claimed you as His own, rescued you from sin and death, washed you and cleansed you in the waters of Baptism, all that you may be His own and live under Him as his dear child. You have been so united to Christ by faith, to His righteousness, that you are truly a Christian, a little Christ, a little Jesus, whom God identifies as perfect and holy in his sight.

     

    And that’s why God gives you the kind of commands that fit a holy and righteous person. God gives you the kind of commands that fit your identity as a son of God, as a child of the Father, as a Christian. That’s what the 10 commandments are. They are God’s commands to His children, to live as His children. God tells us to live by His Word, and not by bread alone, to trust God’s Word and hold it more precious that any material good. He tells us to expect from Him everything we need in this life, to acknowledge Him and pray to Him as the provider of our food and drink, house and home, our job, our children, and all we have. He tells us never to test Him, but instead to live in the calling to which he has called us, whether as fathers or mothers or children or workers or wives or husbands. He tells us never to act as if we are in control or as if our will determines what should or shouldn’t be done, but to pray, “Thy will be done,” and consult His Word to see what His will is. He tells us to honor and serve Him as our only God and Savior. And He says all this to you because He has made you His holy, righteous child. And He want you to act like His holy and righteous child. This is your goal and joy as a Christian, to live life as a child of God, to live in the identity that God gives to us in Christ Jesus our Savior.

     

    But this is the difference between you and Jesus. Jesus always lives up to His identity. He is the Son of God. When He became a man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, He remained the eternal Son of God. And He always acted and always acts like the Son of His Father. Satan tempted Jesus immediately after Jesus was baptized. And at His Baptism the Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” But in the wilderness, after 40 days of fasting, in the weakness and humility Jesus assumed for us men and for our salvation, He doesn’t look like the Son of God. He looks like a mere man, a mere son of Adam, as if He, like Adam, could fall into temptation and fail to live up to His identity as a son of God. But Satan failed against Jesus. He failed because Jesus is not simply a son of God, not simply a son of Adam, but the eternal, holy, righteous God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of the Father from eternity. And Jesus always lives like it.

     

    You, however, don’t always live up to your identity. You are a son of God, a child of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, because that’s what God made you in your Baptism. But you don’t always live like it. Satan’s commands and temptations that clearly make no sense when they are addressed to Jesus make a sick sort of sense when Satan puts them into your head. And the commands that your loving Father gives you, the commands of the 10 commandments that should be so easy and natural for you to follow, seem oppressive and impossible to your sinful flesh.

     

    So this is what Satan does. First he succeeds with you where he failed with Jesus. He gets you to live on bread alone. He gets you to put an extra hour of sleep or a sporting event or a job or some other insignificant thing over God’s Word. He gets you to test God, to expect all the wrong things from Him, to look for his promises and gifts not in His Word but in your own flighty feelings. He gets you to care more about the approval and recognition of popular society than the approval and recognition of your God. He succeeds with you. He leads you into sin. And he doesn’t stop there.

     

    No, then he lies to you. Then he tells you that you can’t possibly be a son of God. You can’t possibly be holy and righteous. You can’t possibly identify as a child of the Father in heaven. Because you’ve sinned. You’ve failed exactly those tests and temptations that Jesus passed. And if Jesus proved that He was the Son of God by passing the tests, what have you proved by your failure? Ducks quack. Dogs bark. Good trees bear good fruit. Children of God obey their Father. And children of the Devil obey theirs.

     

    So Satan attacks. And his aim is always the same. To get you to doubt your identity. Instead of saying, “If you are the Son of God,” he says to you, “If you were a son of God, you would have put God’s Word above your own pleasures. But you didn’t, did you. No, you failed.” And Satan forces his terrible, inevitable conclusion on your conscience. You are no child of God, no Christian, no saint.

     

    And here is where you must realize that you depend completely on God’s Word, that you need it not just sometimes, not just once a week or once a month in church, but in your everyday life. Because without this word of God all Satan’s accusations are true. Every single day, Satan can point to your works and show you are a sinner. And he’s right. But the act of the Christian every day, the act of faith, is to point in turn to Jesus and say, “There is my righteousness, there is my identity. I know I have failed to live up to it, and God help me not to fail again, but my Baptism hasn’t failed, the body and blood of my Savior haven’t failed, the victory of my Jesus is still the same. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of the serpent. And he’s done it for me.”

    And this is where we must cry out with Jesus, “Away with you, Satan.” Do not let his lie stand. Satan is a liar and a murderer.  And more than this, he is a failure. And that’s where his miserable identity rests, in his failure against Jesus.

     

    But your identity does not rest in your failures. Who you are is not determined by your giving into temptation. Your sins do not define who you are. No. You have received your identity from God. Let God be true and Satan a liar. That’s what faith cries out. God has spoken His absolution on you. He has called you His child, He has forgiven you your sins, He has given you to eat and drink of the body and blood of your Savior. That’s your identity. So claim it.

    Jesus is your identity. When Jesus won in the desert, when Jesus conquered Satan in the wilderness, He didn’t do it for Himself. Everything He did, He did for you. When He answered Satan’s lies with the truth, when He repulsed Satan’s temptations with a righteous devotion to God’s Word, He did it for you. And He did it for you not simply to give you an example, but to win the very righteousness that now clothes you. You won in the desert against Satan, because Christ won for you. Jesus’ victory is your victory.

     

    As long as your identity is in Jesus, in His righteousness, which God has showered upon you in your Baptism and gives to you day after day in His Word of forgiveness and Sunday after Sunday in his body and blood, as long as your identity is in Jesus, Satan has nothing on you.

    And since your identity is in Jesus, live like it. When Satan comes with his temptations answer him as Jesus answered him, with God’s Word. Live by God’s Word. Study it. Confess it. Pray it. Believe it. This is what is pleasing to your Father in heaven, that you cherish His words to you. His commands and His loving promises in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

     

     

  • Lent 2 - Reminiscere

    Christian Preus

    Reminiscere, Second Sunday in Lent, 2017

    Matthew 15:21-28

     

    The traditional name given to this second Sunday in Lent is Reminiscere. Almost everyone pronounces it wrong, so it’s OK if you do too – you can say Reminiscair or Reminiscairay, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we know what it means. Reminiscere is Latin for Remember. It’s the first word of our Introit this morning, “Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” And this word, Remember, addressed to God, is about as significant a word as you can ever speak. God, of course, can’t forget. When we say “Remember” to God we aren’t reminding Him of something He’s lost sight of or forgotten. What we’re doing is holding God to His promises, because that’s what He wants us to do. We’re pointing to what God has told us and, in all reverence and holy fear, we are insisting that He do for us what He has promised to do.

    Think for a moment what this means, that we say “Remember” to God. It means that He has actually spoken to us, that He has actually told us who He is and what He has done and what He will do for us. Otherwise, it makes no sense to say, “Remember” to God. The little child says, “Remember,” to his father, because His father made a promise. I promise to play monkey in the middle after supper. And the boys say, “Remember, Dad. Remember what you said. You said you would play monkey in the middle.” They hold Dad to his word. And the only reason they can do that is because Dad has actually spoken, he has actually promised. If Dad hadn’t promised, they wouldn’t say, “Remember.” And so this is the first thing we need to realize when calling on God. We say, “Remember” because God has made specific promises to us. And we, like children, hold God to the specific promises He has made.

    He has promised in His Word, in the Holy Scriptures, that He is our Savior from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. He has revealed Himself to us as our Father, who has sent His only Son to take on our flesh, to live a life of perfection in our place, to die and shed his precious blood to pay the penalty that our sins deserved and to crush the devil and death and hell under his holy feet. He has promised us His Spirit, who through His Word imparts to us the forgiveness of our sins won on the cross and our Lord’s victory over the powers of death and hell. And He wants us to remind Him of this His mercy and His steadfast love, which have been from of old.

    The way of the world is to behave like a spoiled child. Dad makes a promise to play ball, but the kid wants to play his videogames by himself or look up naughty pictures on the internet with his friends, and so he doesn’t care a bit about his dad’s promise. He doesn’t want to play ball. He never says, “Remember” to his dad, because his dad’s promise means nothing to him. So goes the world. The world doesn’t want God’s promises, because it clings to very the sins that God promises to forgive.

    St. Paul declares that God’s will for us is our sanctification, to keep from sexual immorality, to control our bodies in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. Gentiles here simply means unbelievers. These passions of lust are exactly today, as in Paul’s day, what the unbelieving world that does not know God chases after and desires rather than the holiness that God our Father promises in the forgiveness of sins and the imparting of His Spirit. And it is an act of love for us to condemn these sins. The world calls us mean and intolerant and unkind for pointing to sin and calling it what it is. But it is only in calling sin the evil and offense against God that it is, that people can know their need for forgiveness and run as children to their Father to claim God’s promises as their own. And we need to understand, as St. Paul tells us, that sexual sin is especially dangerous to people. As we’ve seen in the last decades since the sexual revolution, people define themselves and seek their identity according to their sexual desires. And if they’re finding their identity in sex outside marriage or homosexuality or in choosing their own gender, they’re finding their identity outside God and His Word. And that’s a miserable identity. So we Christians, when we see family or friends fall into these sins, it is our duty of love to call sin sin, trusting that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love, always willing to forgive all who seek His mercy in Christ our Lord.

    But Paul’s warning isn’t to the world, you notice. It’s to us who know God’s promises. It’s to us who claim God as our Father and Jesus as our Lord over sin and death. And it is in Paul telling us God’s will for our lives, our sanctification, our keeping from sexual lusts and the passions of the flesh, that we see our own need to call on God to remember His mercy.

    We certainly can’t appeal to ourselves, to our deserving anything, because of who we are or what we’ve done. The same desires that rule the world are the lusts that we feel, that infest our minds and haunt our hearts, and that remind us day after day that we are sinners who deserve God’s punishment and not his steadfast love. The same Psalm 25 from which we learn to say “Remember” to our God, also teaches us to cry out, “Remember not the sins of my youth, O God, or my many transgressions!” You call on God to remember, not because you have some special claim on account of your holy life or your membership in a church or your freedom from lust and passion. It’s quite the opposite. If you look at yourself and what goes on in your life, if you remember how the world and its pleasures captivate your mind’s attention, you’ll see you have no right of yourself to call on God. You don’t say, “Remember what I’ve done. Remember how faithful I’ve been. Remember how pure I have kept myself, how I am free from lust and passion. Remember that I’ve loved you and sacrificed my own desires.” No, you say instead, “Remember not the sins of my youth. Remember not my lust and my greed and my doubt and my fear.” You point away from yourself. You point only to God’s mercy in Christ.

    Look at the woman in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Who does she think she is to approach Jesus? To call on him for mercy? She’s a Gentile, a Canaanite. She’s not an Israelite. She doesn’t hold membership at a church or a synagogue. She lives among pagans who offer their children to Moloch and live in the lusts of their passions.

    And Jesus reminds her of all this. Think of that! Jesus reminds her how unworthy she is to call on God. At first He refuses even to answer her. He simply ignores her. Then, when the disciples ask Jesus to send her away because she’s making so much noise, Jesus tells her that He hasn’t been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She’s not worthy of Jesus’ attention. And when she bows down to worship Jesus and again asks for help, Jesus calls her a dog, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus could not make it any clearer to her that she has no right of herself to ask anything of Him.

    Now Jesus isn’t being mean. He’s showing her what it means to be a sinner crying out for mercy to God. And he’s showing the same thing to us. It means you claim nothing of yourself. It means you are willing to confess, “I a poor miserable sinner,” and mean it. It means you answer the Law of God that calls you unworthy, that insults you and calls you a dog because of your sins, with a hearty Amen.

    The woman says Amen to everything Jesus says. Jesus calls her a dog, and she says Amen. But she still makes her claim on Jesus. Because her claim isn’t in herself, but in Jesus. She begs Him to remember His mercy. Because she knows who Jesus is and she knows His promises. She knows that He has come to conquer the devil and hell and sin for her. She has no confidence in her own worthiness, but she has every confidence that Jesus will stay true to His promise. She identifies Him for who He is. She calls Him Lord. She calls Him the Son of David, the promised Christ. She asks for mercy. And even when this same Lord and Son of David calls her a dog, she clings to His word. She’ll be the dog, she’ll take the crumbs, she’ll take the scraps of His mercy. She reminds Him that His promise is even for dogs. And she binds Him to His promise. Like Jacob wrestling with God at the River Jabbok, she insists on her Lord’s blessing. And Jesus gives it.

    And so it is with us. We make no claim of ourselves. We instead remind God of His promises. Without them we are lost under the rule of our own desires and the tyranny of the devil, doomed to the hell that our sin earns and the devil urges on us. We run to the God who has made His promises to us and sealed them with his own blood, and we say, “Remember.” Remember that You came to save sinners. So here I am, a sinner, and I need the help You promised me. Do not leave me alone to face my sin and my fear of death. Remember that you have borne my sins for me. Remember that you have tasted my death on the cross of Your passion. Remember that you have promised me your Spirit to rule my heart and my mind by the forgiveness of my sins. Remember that you promised me peace in your resurrection from the dead and the sure hope of eternal life with you.

    And God remembers. He remembers His promises. Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t just give us crumbs of bread, but His own life, His body and blood that were pierced and shed for our transgressions. He doesn’t treat us like dogs, but like children. He washes us clean and welcomes us to His table. He gives us His Spirit and makes His Father our Father, so that we as dear children pray daily to our Father who art in heaven. And He hears us and grants us everything we ask according to His most gracious will and Word. He cares for our daily lives with fatherly attention. He delivers us from every evil of body and soul, and finally, when our last hour comes, He will lead us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. “Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.”  Amen.

     

     

  • Vespers

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Mid-week Lent 2

    March 3, 2004

     

    Text: Hebrews 9:6-14

    Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience – 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

     

    Our text from Hebrews draws our attention to the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the clear connection with the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

     

    The Day of Atonement was a once per year special day for Israel. On this day the high priest would offer special sacrifices that would make it possible to continue the daily sacrifices for another year. He would make a sacrifice of cleansing for the sins of himself, for the people, and also cleanse the very altar itself. How did all this cleansing take place? Through very specific sacrifices and ritual.

     

    First, the high priest, the only one allowed to enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple in which was the mercy seat, the top of the ark of the covenant, had to bathe himself and put on plain linen clothes instead of the usual ornate vestments of the high priest that were made of gold and precious stones. Thereby the high priest signified his own humility, and how he himself needed the forgiveness of sins. Then he would burn incense at the curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place of the Temple. This incense created a cloud of smoke that would hide the high priest from the glory and majesty of God. Then a bull calf was sacrificed specifically for the high priest. The blood was kept, and the high priest would go to the curtain of the Most Holy Place. Then he would sprinkle the blood on the curtain, and on the mercy seat. This blood was for himself. He would do the same with the blood of one goat, which was for the people. After this, he would mix the blood of the bull and the goat and use it to sprinkle the altar of burnt offering, the place where all the daily offerings were made to the Lord. Unlike the blood sprinkled in the Most Holy Place, this sprinkling of blood at the altar occured in the sight of all the assembly. The impurity of the people due to their sins would thus be cleansed from the altar, allowing it to be used for the next year. In one final action, the high priest would turn to one other live goat, and then we read from Leviticus:

     

    Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

     

    As one reads the careful instructions for the high priest, one is struck at the solemnity of this Day of Atonement, and how precisely the priest needed to follow the Lord’s directions. The use of blood is also striking. Blood prepares the way for the high priest, blood prepares the way for the people, and blood prepares the altar; all is done so that the priest and people may receive the forgiveness of their sins.

     

    The author of Hebrews is well aware of the Old Testament instructions and ritual. We read: "But into the second part [of the Temple] the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance." Clearly, the emphasis is on the blood, without which the high priest may not enter before the presence of God. The blood is the life, and the giving up of the life of the bull and the goat cleanses the people of their sin, not because of any special quality of that blood, but because this is what the Lord commanded and promised.

     

    Our text proceeds from the lesser to the greater, from that which had to be done over and over again, to that which only happened once. So we are told of our Savior: "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Yes, the blood is the life. And the blood of Jesus, spilled at the cross of Golgotha, far surpasses any blood of the goats and calves. This blood of the Son of God is the blood that allows Him entrance into the Most Holy Place, for He needs no other blood than His own. There is no blood holier; there is no blood with more life. Jesus blood is so pure and powerful that it cleanses our sin completely; His blood is so filled with life that it is eternal, without end, forever and ever.

     

    We need this blood on us and on our children. Our impurity is so thick that we are corrupted for all our life and for eternity. It is a stain set so deep that none of our attempts to scrub or purge it from ourselves will work. The sacrifice of the Son of God shows us the immensity of our sin; but even more it shows us the greater love of God for us who are unclean, stained, and polluted with sin.

     

    "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" By God's wondrous love the blood of Christ Jesus is sprinkled upon us. In Baptism, we see the water red with the blood of Christ, not in some gory display, but as a washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, known by faith to those who believe the promise of God in Baptism. In the Holy Supper we receive this blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood filled with the life of Jesus, eternal life, given and shed, poured out, for you.

     

    The sacrifices of the Old Testament are at an end. The sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all on the day we call Good Friday. It need not ever be repeated again. But by God’s grace we are able to know of this death that means life, this suffering that means peace, this Jesus who is our Savior. "...with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." This is God’s precious gift for you. Believe it in Jesus' Name. Amen.

  • Lent 3 - Oculi

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent, 2017

    Luke 11:14-28

     

    Our Gospel lesson for this morning follows immediately upon Jesus teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. He teaches them to call on their Father and His Father to deliver them from evil – that’s the whole summary of the Lord’s Prayer, that God would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally when our last hour comes give us a blessed end and take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” And then what does He do? He shows them how their heavenly Father delivers them. Jesus takes a man who can’t hear God’s Word, who can’t speak God’s praises, who is oppressed by the devil, and He delivers Him from evil. He conquers Satan. He shows himself to be the stronger Man, who has come to disarm the devil of all the weapons in which he trusts and divide the spoil with the righteous who trust in Christ’s Word. Jesus and Jesus alone conquers evil. He makes an open mockery of the devil and all his power, by triumphing over them in the cross and rising again from death to declare with power that it is finished; Satan’s accusations, death’s reign, sin’s punishment – finished, conquered by the willing and innocent suffering of the eternal God.

    Christ’s victory over evil is finished. And yet we still pray deliver us from evil. We still pray that we may finally overcome and obtain the victory. How is this? How can the victory be already won, evil already conquered, and yet we still have to pray deliver us from evil? Because it’s Christ’s victory, and Christ’s victory is ours only through faith in His Word. This is why Satan, who has been conquered by Christ, attacks nothing more fiercely than the Word of Christ’s triumph and those who trust in it. That’s why he made the poor man in our Gospel lesson deaf and mute, to keep him from obtaining Christ’s victory by hearing God’s Word. And that’s why Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” God wants His Word preached and believed. Satan wants it silenced and rejected. And so we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” The Kingdom of God comes upon us, God’s victory over death and sin, His reign over all our enemies, comes to us when our heavenly Father sends us His Holy Spirit – the finger of God, as Jesus calls Him – so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and forever in eternity.

    We see two reactions to Jesus delivering the poor man in our text from evil, two responses to Jesus’ victory over the devil. Some marvel. That’s the proper response. That’s what faith does. It marvels at the marvelous. It marvels that the almighty God comes down to join us in our pathetic mortal state, that He who is far above us descends to our level and makes our miserable plight His own, makes our enemy His enemy, fights for us, dies for us, spends Himself for us, takes care for us.

    I remember first coming to Casper and marveling at the mountain. Its trees, its cliffs, its smells, its sounds. I couldn’t get enough of it and I still can’t. But I met people and I continue to meet people for whom that mountain has lost all sense of wonderment. It’s just there, they’ve gotten used to it, it’s nothing special. People go days, weeks, without even noticing the thing. And that’s fine, I guess, to each his own, though we should always love and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, whether we’re talking mountains or plains or oceans, because in so doing we’re appreciating the goodness and beauty of God who created them.

    But when it comes to God’s Word, you can never lose your wonderment. Grow tired of the mountain or the lake, but never God’s Word. Do we realize how blessed we are that God even speaks to us? The eternal and holy God who has every right to ignore us and pass us over in silence and leave us in the ignorance of our sins, He takes care to speak to us. But more than this, much more than this, He speaks good things, marvelous things, things that should make the lips He has created sing to the Lord a new song, a continual hymn of thanks as we recount and remember His marvels, all of which He graciously performs for us. Us, who though we deserve nothing from Him but to be left to the devil and all the evil that so often fascinates our sinful minds, He comes to us and delivers us from sin and death and every evil of body and soul. Now that’s something to marvel at.

    And yet it’s the most natural thing in the world for sinners to stop marveling. Look at the reaction to Jesus in our Gospel lesson. Some marvel, but others belittle Jesus and His work, saying He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Beelzebul means Lord of the flies. They see what Jesus has done and declare it as trivial as swatting away a fly. Big deal. A man casting out a demon by the power of a demon. Just think of that! Here Jesus does what only God can do. He conquers the Devil and evil. And people think nothing of it. They don’t give thanks for Jesus’ work. Instead they demean it. And instead of crying out to him, “Dear God, I have evil too, the devil presses on me and tempts me. Deliver me from evil also!” They look past the greatest marvel man could ever hope to see or experience.

    And so it goes today. It’s tragic how weak and flighty sin has made us. The most marvelous thing in all the world, what we should ponder day after day, to know the height, the depth, the breadth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses understanding, how easy it is to stop marveling at Christ’s delivering us from evil. How easy it is to find yourself praying the Lord’s Prayer and thinking instead of your job or your breakfast or some other insignificant thing. How easy it is stop praying the Lord’s Prayer altogether, stop praying deliver us from evil, stop thinking about evil and Christ’s triumph over it. And it happens. Christians, on whom God has placed His name and to whom God has given the victory over sin, death, and the devil, stop marveling at the Word of God. They take it for granted, ignore it, and finally lose all wonderment. And then they lose faith and Christ’s victory over evil entirely. Because faith survives solely and completely on the Word of Christ.

    Jesus warns us how this happens. “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Our Baptismal rite contains a sort of exorcism. The pastor asks us at our Baptism, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And we answer, “I renounce him.” And then through water and the Word God delivers us from evil. The Holy Trinity intervenes in our lives, expels Satan, forgives all sin, gives us His name and joins us to the death and resurrection of Christ.

    God gives Baptism for us to live in it. It’s not a onetime thing that can be forgotten. It begins a lifelong struggle against sin and evil, a lifelong fight against the devil, a lifelong identity as a child of God who claims Christ’s victory over evil and lives by the Word of God. But when those who have been baptized imagine that their home is nice and tidy, that they have no need any longer for Christ’s deliverance from evil, when they feel no need or desire to come to Church or hear His Word, when they embrace their sin or imagine that they’re good enough for God on their own, when they go on with their lives as if the evil of this world is someone else’s problem maybe, but doesn’t affect them. Then Satan comes back to the house from which he came, and he comes with force. He fills them with the self-conceit of the Pharisees and makes those who once marveled at God’s love think nothing of Him or His victory over their sin. Because they think their sin is nothing. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.

    What a warning to us. Whoever is not with me is against me, Jesus says. There’s no neutrality. The reason people aren’t impressed with Jesus is because they don’t think much about evil. They don’t think much of the evil that surrounds them, and they don’t think much about the evil that dwells in their own heart. This is the devil’s game. He convinces the world that he doesn’t exist and then he convinces them evil doesn’t exist. But evil's not an abstraction. And it's not self-defined. We know it for what it is because God's Word tells us the evil with which the devil tempts us, the evil that affects our daily lives. St. Paul calls covetousness, desiring what isn't ours, wanting more and more stuff, being discontent with what God has given us, he calls this idolatry, he calls it worshipping another god. It's evil. And it's our daily temptation. He warns against dirty language and filthy jokes that reveal that our hearts are set on worldly things and find their delight in what displeases our God. It's evil. And it's our daily temptation. He declares that those have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God who make a practice out of sexual immorality, who dishonor their bodies with acts that we shouldn't even put into words. It's evil. And it’s these temptations that are all around us Christians, on our TVs and screens and phones, and in our hearts and memories.

    This is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We are praying that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And though we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

    Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. The Word of God presents to you the great Conqueror of evil, the One who delivers you His victory over sin, death, and the devil. You need this Deliverer, you need Him every day of your life. The Gospel is not something you marvel at once and then shove to the back of your mind as you go about your happy way. No the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are evil, and they’re not going away, and so you pray, “Deliver us from evil” every single day, if you’re not praying it every single day, start today. Pray, “Deliver us from evil” and know what evil is and who delivers you from it.

    We need Jesus our Deliverer from these and all evils. We need Him to send us His Spirit to keep us from practicing these sins, so that we don't grow cold and callous and embrace them, but instead fight the good fight of faith and do battle against the temptations that daily afflict us as we live out our lives as God's children. We need Him to bless us with His body and blood, to give us His forgiveness and His victory on the cross over the sin that we have committed and for which we pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses." We need Him to assure us that He is the stronger Man, that He has not only defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil, but He is with us even now in our weakness, that His Word is far more powerful than our enemies, that our Baptism has united us to the One who continues to fight for us and who pleads by the beautiful marks of his passion and death before His Father's throne that we be kept from the evil one and ushered through this life to our heavenly home. We have the most powerful Word of our Lord's victory for us. This is the Word that forgives sin, that conquers the devil, that saves from death, and delivers from all evil. It’s ours, and as long as it’s ours, Christ and all He has is ours, His Spirit, His righteousness, His Father, and His victory. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it, now and forever. And so we can sing and confess with confidence: As sure as God's own word is true, not earth nor hell's satanic crew, against us shall prevail. Their might a joke, a mere facade, God is with us, and we with God. Our victory cannot fail.

     

    Let us pray

     

    Amen Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Great Captain now thine arm make bare. Fight for us once again. So shall thy saints and martyrs raise a might chorus to thy praise. Forevermore, Amen!

     

     

  • Lent 4 - Laetare

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Laetare, 2017

    John 6:1-15

     

    Abusus non tollit usum. I thought I’d start out this sermon speaking in tongues. That tongue was Latin and that’s a famous Latin phrase that means “the abuse of something doesn’t take away its proper use.” This is a very good thing to remember. The abuse of alcohol, for instance, is bad. It brings pain on people and families, and turns a person inward to serve his selfish cravings. But that doesn’t mean alcohol doesn’t have its proper use. God gave it to lighten the heart of man. Jesus used it and we use it in the Holy Supper. It’s a good thing when used properly. The same goes with intimacy between husband and wife. It’s a good thing, expresses the love of a man with his bride, brings children into this world. People abuse it, of course, they practice it outside of marriage and use it only for selfish pleasure, but that doesn’t mean we should all become monks and nuns and swear it off. No, we see all sorts of good things abused, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their use. Abusus non tollit usum.

    And the same goes with doctrine. People abuse what God says. As we’ve seen in the last three Sundays, this is the devil’s game. He twists and perverts God’s Word and abuses what is good to teach something evil. But the abuse doesn’t take away the proper use.

    God teaches us that He will provide for our every bodily need. He shows himself to be generous in pouring out what we need to support our body and life. He is our Creator and he cares for the stuff of his creation – and that means our bodies and our earthly lives. That’s what Jesus shows us in the feeding of the five thousand. He looks at the hungry and he feeds them. He shows them He is their provider who cares for their every bodily need.

    But this teaching gets abused. There’s a type of preaching that poses as Christian called prosperity gospel. It’s not the gospel at all, it completely denies the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and replaces it with a hopelessly selfish concentration on getting healthy and wealthy. But its preachers act like it’s Christian. They take the Bible’s teaching that God wants to provide for our needs, that He is generous in doing so, and then they twist it and abuse it. They appeal to our selfish impulses, our consuming occupation with being wealthy and healthy and well-situated within our communities, and they feed us with the notion that our greed and selfish desire are good and virtuous, that all we lack is the right program to get whatever our hearts desire from God. And they leave it at that! That’s it. That’s their gospel. You want stuff. God will give it if you do this and that. What a sad, pathetic gospel! Here we are, sinners, whose end is inevitably to lose all our wealth, to lose our health, to die and appear before the God who condemns all selfishness and greed and sin, and these preachers ignore our deepest need and tell us to concentrate on the very things we will inevitably lose! Here God in His Word offers sinners forgiveness and eternal life in Christ who has redeemed us from sin and death and the power of the devil, and preachers posing as Christian sell us fleeting hopes of temporary wealth and health, and purposely avoid talking about sin and death and Christ’s victory over them.

    The reason for this is obvious. The preachers of prosperity gospel are giving people what they want. It’s very American. The customer’s always right. People want God to give them stuff. They don’t want God punishing or forgiving sin. So they shop around for a god who will promise them stuff and won’t bother them with talk about sin and forgiveness and Christ’s cross. We all understand supply and demand. God’s Word has a rich supply of forgiveness, a rich supply of reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus. This is what God supplies to sinners in the Gospel. But the market is driven by demand. It doesn’t matter how big the supply is if there’s no demand. And people simply aren’t demanding what God’s supplying. What’s in demand is stuff. That’s what people want from their gods.

    And this is nothing new.

    When Jesus fed the 5000, when He mercifully filled their bellies with bread and fish, they wanted to make Him king. They loved Him and adored Him, because He provided for their bodily needs. They wanted nothing else from Jesus but stuff. So what did Jesus do? Jesus withdrew from them. He hadn’t come to be an earthly King, to give people a free meal, but to shed His blood for sinners who were under God’s wrath and lost in their sin. So he withdrew from them.

    But if we keep reading in John we see that the crowd doesn’t give up. They know what they want from Jesus. So they chase after Him. They remind Him that their fathers ate manna, ate bread from heaven in the days of Moses. They want the manna too. Give us stuff, Jesus. And when Jesus preaches to these same people that what they need above all else is spiritual food, because no matter how much physical food He gives them, they’re still going to end up dead like their fathers who ate manna in the wilderness, when Jesus tells them that what they really need is to eat His own flesh and blood offered up on the cross for the life of the world, they turn away from Jesus in anger. Most of His disciples leave. They wanted food. They wanted stuff. They wanted a worldly Savior. But Jesus insists on being the Savior from sin.

    But the abuse doesn’t take away the use. The remarkable thing is that Jesus still fed the 5000, and He did so because He loved them. He knew they would abuse it, that they would make their belly their god and seek after earthly things. But He gave them food anyway. Because that’s what God does. He mercifully provides for the bodily needs of His creatures. He’s always done it. He still does it. That’s why we confess in the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer that God gives daily bread even to the wicked and unbelievers. God doesn’t stop being God and doing what God does just because sinners abuse His Word and actions.

    No, God made you a bodily creature. And that means God created you to be dependent on stuff. And He intends on giving you that stuff. You need food. You need clothing. You need a roof over your head – especially here in Wyoming. And you should desire good health and wealth enough to live and benefit your neighbor and your church, you should want good family relations, and all sorts of other stuff God gives His creation to enjoy. God’s the One who gave you a body that relies on food and shelter and health to function, that has the amazing and wonderful capacity to enjoy and appreciate the earth. He’s the One who gave you the mind and the strength to work hard so that you can provide for yourself and your family and put a roof over your head. Every new advancement in medicine, the job you have, the food on your table, your every ability and skill is God’s provision. God actually cares about your body. That’s why He created it and that’s why the only Son of the Father wasn’t ashamed to take your flesh and blood on Himself to redeem both your body and your soul.

    God gives us stuff because He loves us. He gives us stuff to direct our heart and minds to His fatherly care and mercy. But we worry about our stuff and our lives because our minds and hearts are fixed on the things of this world. We cling to our money and envy those who have more than we do. Our hearts are drawn to a prosperity gospel, to an obsession with enjoying ourselves as much as we can before we die. And that’s no way to live life. It’s just not. Not only is it sinful and idolatrous, it’s self-defeating. It causes us to fret about all the stuff we can lose and to doubt or ignore our highest good. Here we have a God who has provided for our present and eternal welfare, and we spend our time anxious about stuff. Repent.

    Stop worrying about stuff, Jesus says, your heavenly Father knows that you need clothing and food and house and home. He knows it and wants to give it. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

    What you ask from God first is for His gracious rule, His Kingdom, His righteousness, for forgiveness in Christ’s cross and the promise of innocence and perfect love and a sinless body and soul in heaven. This is the Christian concentration. And when you see that God gives this to you, when you see that God makes you His child in Baptism, that Jesus has lived and suffered and died to win you righteousness and life everlasting, that He gives you His body and blood broken and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, then you can entrust your earthly life to Him, content with what He gives you, then you see the earthly gifts that God gives you not as something to fret and worry about, but as the provision of the God who has spared nothing to make you His child and the object of His every concern.

    Despite the abuse of the doctrine of God's providence, despite the fact that people and our own sinful flesh want to look to Jesus as a mere supplier of our bodily desires, the fact remains that Jesus does provide for your every bodily need. And this is a cause to rejoice, as we sang in our Introit, "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad in her, all you who love her." Because outside the walls of Jerusalem Jesus shed His blood for you. Jesus' Advent, his coming into this world in your flesh and blood, his living and his dying, his resurrection from the dead, these don't win you some merely spiritual redemption. No, you cannot separate the forgiveness of sins from God's care for your body. We don’t answer the devilish error of the prosperity gospel, of concentrating exclusively on God's care for the body, we don’t replace this with the gnostic nonsense that God cares only for our souls! No! The God who created you body and soul has redeemed you body and soul.

    The eternal Son of the Father has taken into his person your body and soul, he has subjected his soul to grief and his body to death. When God through your pastor forgives you your sins and gives you the body and blood of Christ, He is promising you also that the body you live in, the body that now feels pain and worries and sees that death is its end, He will raise this body in everlasting glory. And every earthly blessing He bestows on you is a happy foretaste of the perfection He will give to your body when every trace of sin is removed and death is unknown in the courts of heaven.

     

    When you pray Come Lord Jesus at the dinner table you are praying that the Jesus who gave food to thousands by His almighty power will nurture your body so that you can again come to the Lord's table and receive the true manna from heaven, the flesh and blood offered up on the cross for your eternal life in body and soul. Thank God that He feeds your body! Rejoice that He feeds your soul! Don’t worry about your life here on earth. The God who has spent His life for you will guide you by His Word, by His body and blood, through this life to Himself in heaven. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

     

     

  • Lent 5 - Judica

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Judica, Lent 5, 2017

    John 8:42-59

     

    Jesus says to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is our Lord Jesus Christ’s clearest and boldest confession that he is the eternal God, the Lord almighty who created heaven and earth and revealed himself in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Not only does Jesus claim that he existed before Abraham, he calls himself by the great name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, “I AM,” in Hebrew, JHWH, in English translation, the LORD. Jesus’ claim is not simply that he is divine. Many a king in the ancient world claimed divinity – whether Gilgamesh king of Uruk, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, or the Caesars of Rome. These all claimed to be gods. But Jesus’ claim is different. His claim is exclusive and particular. He claims not to be a god among many, but to be the one and only God, the God who alone rules heaven and earth, the God who doesn’t just give laws and demand worship and glory in His own almighty power, but descends to earth, becomes a man, and lives and dies for His sinful creation.

    There is no God besides Jesus. This is most certainly true. The Father does not exist without his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit does not exist except as he proceeds from the Father and the Son. The god of Islam is not God, because he’s not Jesus. The god of the Jews is not God, because he’s not Jesus. This is why Christians don’t pray with Muslims or Jews, or pretend we have the same God or share some common Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian religion. We don’t. Jesus is our God. We point to the crucified Christ and say, there is my God. Can a Muslim or Jew do that? Of course not. But that’s what Abraham did. He rejoiced to see Jesus’ day, and He saw it, and was glad. And that’s what we do. We find the one and only God in Jesus, the crucified Son, whom the Father gave up to death on the cross, so that by the shedding of his blood we may live through His Spirit.

    Jesus’ exclusive claim is offensive to our world. Jesus calls Himself the Son of the Father, the God of Abraham, the God whose Word gives life and delivers from death. He says that every other religion and every other god is of the devil, who is a liar and a murderer of souls. And in response the Jews call Him a Samaritan. They accuse Him of having a demon. They mock Him. They pick up stones to kill Him. His Word offends them to the core.

    There’s a popular sentiment today that Jesus is inoffensive, that He embodies all the tolerance and universal understanding our modern progressives value so much. Some people want to make Jesus into a great moral teacher, a great moral philosopher who taught people the virtues of love and self-sacrifice. And who would be offended at such a Jesus? Others want Him to be a great social revolutionary, the champion of the poor and downtrodden and minorities, a true liberal hero for our age. But Jesus won’t allow people to view Him as a mere mortal, a mere teacher of ethics or of tolerance or of social justice or of whatever. Jesus won’t be put on the same plain as Moses and Confucius and Gandhi or any other social or moral revolutionaries. No. His claim is decidedly not that He is a great man. His claim is that He is the only Son of the Father, the great I AM, the holy LORD God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has become a lowly man, a man despised and rejected and hated, to win for His sinful death-bound creatures everlasting life.

    This is why the Jews were offended at Jesus. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the only response to Jesus is either to call Him liar, lunatic, or Lord. He must either be a wicked deceiver or a raving madman, or else, or else, He is who He says He is, the Lord. The Jews in our text called Him a liar and a lunatic. They didn’t try to call Him a good teacher or an exalted Rabbi or a noble revolutionary. They didn’t try to find a compromise. They couldn’t. Jesus didn’t give them the choice. They could either accept Him as the eternal Son of God whose Word alone gives life and saves from death, or they could reject Him entirely. There was no middle ground.

    And the same goes for us today. We are not called to make Jesus’ words more palatable to the modern mind and the emotionally fragile dispositions of the current generation. Jesus doesn’t want our help to make Him less offensive to sinful flesh. His teaching can’t be conformed to the doctrine of tolerance so popular today, because Jesus doesn’t tolerate other gods. He insists He’s the only God, the only Son of His Father. And Jesus doesn’t tolerate sin – not greed, not gossip, not disrespect to authorities, not sexual immorality of any kind, not self-righteousness or unbelief. Jesus isn’t tolerant of sin. He comes to destroy its power over us, to shed His blood and offer Himself without blemish to God, in order to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God, as our Epistle lesson tells us.

    In fact, the offense Jesus gives is necessary, it’s necessary for us and necessary for the world. Yes, it hurts our pride to be called sinners. It’s distasteful to our self-esteem to admit that our lives deserve not praise but punishment from God. But it is impossible to love Jesus, to believe in Him, to keep and treasure His Word, unless this offense is done to our sinful flesh. Because Jesus comes as the deliverer from death and sin. He comes to save those enslaved by the lying and murdering of the devil. He comes to save the helpless, the loveless. He comes to save real sinners from their very real sins which lead to a real death and a real hell. And He alone can do it. Because He alone has obeyed the Law. He alone has satisfied God’s justice. His death alone redeems from transgression. This is the offense of the cross, it’s the scandal of particularity, that in this Man, Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, in Him alone is life and salvation and forgiveness. Outside of Him and His Word there is only death, sin, and the devil.

    And the Jews in our text knew what Jesus was saying. It was personal. He was accusing them of sin. He was telling them they needed Him. Not just to be their teacher. Not just to be their coach or their therapist. Not simply to give them rules for living. But to be their Savior, to live for them, to die for them, because they were lost in their sin, at enmity with God, whom they had no right to call on as their Father, because their works were the works of the devil. No, they needed Jesus to save them. And there’s the offense.

    But this offense to our flesh is at the same time the happiest news in the world to the Christian. God has come to save me. My sin is too much for me. The devil hounds me every day. He presses me hard and tempts me to doubt God’s Word. And the evil within my flesh tempts my treacherous heart to sin. The world entices me with the broad and easy road, with all kinds of seductive, sinful vices. I feel the pain of my mortality, the ever-present reminder that I will die. I can’t save myself. So to hear Jesus say, “If anyone keeps my Word, he shall never see death,” this is pure joy, heavenly joy. This is why Christians come to church over and over and over again. To keep Jesus’ Word isn’t to hear it once and again and store it in the back of our minds until we think we might need it. No. It’s to keep it as our life, our constant relief from sin and fear of death. It’s to think on Jesus day and night. It’s to rejoice to see the day of Jesus, to take His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

    Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day. It gave Abraham joy, eternal joy. That’s what the Word of Jesus brings to those who keep it. And Abraham had that joy. He saw the day of Jesus. And he saw it vividly. As death confronted Abraham, as he had to face the death of his only son by God’s decree, he heard the Son of God intervene from heaven and provide a ram for a sacrifice in Isaac’s place. Two thousand years before He took on flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, it was Jesus who taught Abraham to trust in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, taught him that He would not require the death of sinners but would suffer their death for them. And Abraham believed God, he believed that the Son of God would come, that he would take on his flesh and be born of his seed, that he would end the terror of death by crushing the head of Satan our accuser and submitting himself to death's dark sting. This is Christian joy. Abraham was a Christian. His expectation from God, all his thoughts concerning God revolved around the promise of Christ, the promised Seed and Savior.

    This is what it means to keep Jesus’ Word. Keeping Jesus’ Word is rejoicing in the fact that we have an eternal Father in heaven who loves us eternally in his only begotten Son, the Son who has become one with us, has taken on our flesh and blood in Jesus, and sends us his eternal Spirit to convince us of our sins and point us to the One who has taken these sins upon himself and gained for us forgiveness and righteousness before God forever. Keeping Jesus’ Word means having a pure conscience before God, having the joy of Christ as our Mediator before God.

     And this is the joy Abraham had.

    And so Jesus’ claim to be God almighty, to be the God of Abraham, this is no mere point of arcane historical trivia. It is the greatest truth and comfort also for us here today. Only when we know that Jesus is God do we know who God is and who we are. Since Jesus is God, since he is the eternal God made flesh, since he has become our brother by becoming a man like unto us in every way except sin, since he has taken our place and become our substitute before the throne of God's justice, we can know, approach, and call on God, the Holy Trinity with confidence, we can make requests of our Father in heaven as dear children ask their dear father. God loves nothing more than this, that we his children keep His word, that we rejoice in Jesus, glorying not in ourselves but in our God who has made us his own in our Baptism, where we were given the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by putting on the robe of Christ's righteousness. Here God gave us his Spirit and promised to us that he will be our God and that we will be his children, that we will live forever with him, that all of our sins, having been washed away in the blood of Jesus' cross, are removed from us forever.  We hold God to this promise, we confess and rejoice in this promise. And we bless the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who is the one and only God and ours forever through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Amen.

     

     

  • Vespers

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Mid-week Lent 5

    March 24, 2004

     

    Text: Hebrews 12:22-24

    But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    In this chapter twelve of Hebrews the author is drawing our attention to a distinction between two mountains in the Old Testament. One is Mt. Sinai. The other is Mt. Zion. We are told that it is Mt. Zion that we have come to, not Mt. Sinai. The difference between Sinai and Zion is the difference between night and day. It is the difference between the Law, Sinai, and the Gospel, Zion.

     

    Mt. Sinai is known for being the place where God gave Moses and the children of Israel the law, especially the Ten Commandments. There were special rules for Mt. Sinai given to Israel by the Lord. These rules are recorded in Exodus 19:

     

    ...For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.'...

     

    Clearly this was not a mountain that encouraged people to come near it. In fact, it was a mountain to be careful about. This became even clearer after the Lord began speaking the Law to Moses. Listen to what happened:

     

    Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off (Ex 20:18).

     

    The giving of the Law, the commands of God that demanded obedience, perfection, love with no hint of selfishness, all of this combined with the thunder and lightning made Mt. Sinai a terrible place. The reason was because here God showed Himself in the way of the Law. The Law cannot deliver us from judgment because all it does it show us our sin. The Law is so perfectly fair that our sin leaves us with no hope. God is rightly angry against all sin, for sin is a denial of God, a turning away from Him. So Mt. Sinai becomes the place of terror, of threats, and of fear.

     

    That is why here in Hebrews we read: "but you have come to Mt. Zion." Mt. Zion is the hill of Jerusalem, the place where God's Temple stood, the place where sacrifices for sin, and offerings to God were made day after day. Even more than that, Mt. Zion is where our Savior Jesus came to be the perfect, one-time sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant, the promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness to all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.

     

    Mt. Zion is about promises, grace, undeserved love, charity, and salvation. For these treasures of salvation were bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, who spilled His blood on Mt. Zion in order to buy us back from our deserved destiny of eternal death. These are the wonderful benefits which our Savior desires all to receive from His generous hand.

     

    Besides the mountains of Sinai and Zion, there is mention made of the blood of Abel in this text. Abel, you recall, was the second-born son of Adam and Eve. The first-born son was Cain. These two brothers were also as different as Sinai and Zion. Cain chose the false worship of God, bringing his offerings with no faith, simply going through the motions. His offering was rejected by the Lord. Abel, on the other hand, is described this way in Hebrews:

     

    By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks (Hb 11:4).

     

    Abel approached God by faith. We may think here of the difference Psalm 51 makes between mere outward offerings, brought without faith, and repentance: "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise."

     

    Abel, the second-born son is murdered by Cain. When the Lord speaks to Cain He tells him, "The voice of your brother’s blood calls out to me from the ground." This blood of Abel called out for justice, and the Lord rebuked Cain, making him a fugitive on the earth.

     

    Now hear again from Hebrews 12, "[you have come] to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." The comparison between the blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus is of blood that calls for justice, and blood that washes away sin, leaving only forgiveness and salvation. The blood of Abel did not help Cain. In fact, Abel's blood was judgment against Cain, just like blood found on a murder weapon often leads to the murderer. The blood of Jesus does not call out for vengeance, but it calls out peace between God and man, it calls out the love of God for you and me. "Even though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Jesus' blood on us does not cause God to send us away in anger, but it brings God to us as our loving Father, as the Father who has sought and found all who are lost.

     

    By God's grace Mt. Sinai and the Law are not our destination, but we have come to Mt. Zion, "the holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." This is what God intends for you, that you may rest secure in the knowledge that you are God’s child, and will dwell in the city of the living God forever. Amen.

     

  • Palm Sunday

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, 2017

    Matthew 21:1-11; Matthew 26-27

     

    After reading the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, it seems superfluous to preach a sermon on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You just heard from God’s own Word why Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came to suffer and die, to give up his body on the cross and shed his precious blood for the forgiveness of sins.

    So you can consider what you just heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel to be your sermon for today. And I mean that. It’s not that I’m not going to preach a sermon right now – I am – but you are being blessed with two sermons today. I call the Passion Reading a sermon because we too often think of the Word of God as something unclear, something arcane. The pastor reads it to us and then he spends 20 minutes or so having to explain to us what it means.

    But that’s not the case. Scripture is clear. And Scripture teaches. It’s the ground and foundation for all teaching in the Church. It teaches me and it teaches you. It’s a sermon in and of itself. And especially when we are talking about the history of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering and death, it is of the highest relevance and practicality to your life. That’s what a sermon should do. When I preach a sermon, I’m not explaining a text that is so unclear that it needs a trained theologian to explain it. No, I’m showing, or I’m trying to show, how this clear Word of God applies to your life.

     

    And that’s exactly what the passion account does to explain the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. What does it matter for you, today, that Jesus road into Jerusalem? Because He road into Jerusalem to be your King, He road into Jerusalem to establish His Rule over you by winning your forgiveness before God in his death on the cross, He road into Jerusalem to institute the Supper of His Holy Passion, where He delivers to you, today, his holy body and precious blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. And that’s the sermon you just heard straight from the Bible. So let me encourage you during this Holy Week not only to pay attention to Scripture when it’s read here in Church, but to take it home with you and let it preach its sermons to you.

     

    The Apostle John tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey they didn’t understand its significance. It was only after they saw Him crucified and risen that they understood why Jesus came riding into Jerusalem lowly on a donkey. And the same goes with us.

     

    I’m assuming most of you have seen a donkey. It used to be the custom to bring a donkey in on Palm Sunday and act out the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. The kids, I’m sure, loved it. In fact, I’m sure they loved it a bit too much. You go to church, see a donkey, throw some palms in front of it, and that’s all the excitement you need for one day. And then you come home from church thinking about a donkey instead of Jesus. That’s not good. And that’s why we try hard to remove all distractions from the Word of God. We want people coming home from church thinking about Jesus their Savior, not about the funny joke pastor told, or the awesome band, or the donkey, or whatever.

     

    That being said, it would be nice to have a donkey here. Just so we could look at it. I remember seeing in the same summer  - and this was exciting for me, because I basically grew up in the city away from farm animals – I saw in the same summer, up close, a Clydesdale, a huge, majestic, beautiful horse, the kind of horse that puts you in awe of its power and sheer size, and then a donkey. The donkey is not an impressive animal. It’s a humble one. You won’t see a knight riding a donkey, or a king. And that’s precisely the point. Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, that He will be a humble King, lowly, riding on a donkey, a beast of burden.

     

    And this is what Jesus’ passion showed the disciples and shows us today. Yes, He is a King. But He’s not a King concerned with worldly might or riches. He’s not a King who promises wealth or earthly comfort. He’s not a King who exacts taxes and drafts your sons to die in His wars. No, He’s a King who comes humbly to bear your burden, the burden of your sin and corruption, and all that goes with it, the pain and heart-ache and loss and death, this is what your King came to take on Himself, to bear humbly to the cross. That’s how He established His Kingdom, for which we pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come.”

     

    He’s God. Jesus is. That’s how He knew where the disciples could find a donkey. He knows everything. But look at how God uses His almighty power! To fetch a donkey, so that He can ride into Jerusalem to die. That’s how God uses His power. That’s what the centurion saw, the centurion who declared, “Surely, this was the Son of God.” What a scene! Here’s a man, dead, hanging on a cross, tortured to death by His enemies, bloody and bruised and swollen beyond recognition, a ghastly and pathetic sight – and the centurion looks at Him and says, “Surely this, this dead man, is God Himself.” Yes. Yes. He had it exactly right. That’s God. That’s how God uses His power. To fetch a lowly donkey. To ride into Jerusalem, right into the hands of His enemies. To submit Himself to mockery, shame, and death. To use the machinations and scheming of sinful men to accomplish His will of love for the world, so that all people, even a pagan centurion, can look to the cross to see their God, a God whose anger against sin, whose punishment against iniquity, finds its end in His own willing sacrifice and death. A God who instead of punishing us takes our punishment on Himself, becomes obedient unto death so that we don’t need to fear it, but can fall asleep in confidence, knowing that you alone O Lord, who have died for us, will make us dwell in safety, make us live eternally with You.

     

    Behold Your King comes to you, lowly, riding on a donkey. He came lowly to them, and they praised Him as their King, shouting Hosanna, Save us Now, to the Son of David. Behold, Your King comes to you today, lowly. But powerful to save, all the same. We sing today the same words, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Because our King, our Jesus, He comes to us. Lowly, through the Word of Scripture that you have heard, lowly through water and the Word, lowly through bread and wine, the humble carriers of the body and blood of God Himself. This is how His Kingdom comes to us. This is how our God rules over us. And what a wonderful rule, what a beautiful Kingdom!

     

    And it’s the Kingdom in which we live our daily lives. As we approach Easter and meditate on our Lord’s passion this Holy Week, we remember who we are. We’re Christians. Let’s think like Christians, let’s think on Christ our Savior, as St. Paul tell us – let this mind be in you which is yours in Christ Jesus. If you want to think Christian thoughts, thoughts of humility before God and love for your neighbor, of forgiveness for those who sin against you, of comfort even in suffering and joy even in weeping, of life even in the midst of death, meditate on Christ’s passion, His suffering, who though he was in the form of God made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here is your salvation. Here is your life, now and forever. Let us pray:

    On my heart…

     

     

  • Muandy Thursday

     

  • Good Friday

     

  • Holy Saturday

    Sermon not yet added

  • Easter

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Easter Sunday

    Mark 16:1-8

     

    Easter is a happy day, the happiest day for us Christians. No joy in the world can compare to the joy Easter brings to the Christian heart. Death is our enemy. And Jesus has conquered it. Sin is our burden, and Jesus left it in the grave. Hell is our punishment, and Jesus has descended in triumph to announce the end of its claim on us. Easter is the triumph of Christ over all our fears. And that’s because it’s the fulfillment of Good Friday. It’s our heavenly Father’s verdict that he has accepted everything Jesus suffered that day on the cross for the sake of us sinners. It is the final exclamation point to Jesus’ beautiful words on the cross, “It is finished.”

     

    There is a tendency in our day, so full of scoffers and enlightened doubters, who belittle Christ’s resurrection and deny its occurrence, there is a tendency in our day for us Christians to focus on the historicity of Jesus rising from the dead. And make no mistake, there is nothing more historical than Christ’s bodily resurrection. There is hardly an event in all history better attested than that Jesus was no longer in that grave, his body was gone, Mary and Salome couldn’t find it. And in the face of the disbelief of the women at the tomb, in the face of the famous doubting of Thomas, in face of the fear of the disciples who couldn’t figure out where Christ’s body had gone, in the face of all this doubt and fear of sinners who couldn’t believe in the resurrection, because it was so extraordinary an event, so unparalleled in their experience, they were all, every one of them, forced to confess what could no longer be doubted – Jesus had risen. They witnessed him alive. Their doubts and disbelief couldn’t deny what was right in front of them. The man who was dead, Jesus of Nazareth, whose heart had stopped beating, whose lungs gave their last breath, whose body was cold and laid in the tomb, this Jesus of Nazareth was alive. More than 500 people saw it, 500 people who had the same doubts as our moderns, 500 people who couldn’t doubt anymore because the facts wouldn’t allow it. It happened. Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

     

    But that’s not the end of the story. This was no isolated historical incident. Easter is the great joy of us Christians precisely because Jesus’ rising from the dead wasn’t just an unusual historical occurrence, wasn’t just a point of historical trivia. Jesus had raised many from the dead, after all. Their resurrections were historical. People saw them. Lazarus was dead four days and Jesus raised him in front of a crowd of people. There was no denying it. But their resurrections amounted only to this historical fact – they were dead and then they were alive. That’s a reason to be happy for them. But not for ourselves. It has no bearing on us today, on us who must each face our own death.

     

    And that we must. No matter how much you try to go about life ignoring death, it catches up to you. Our bodies grow old. We have aches and pains we didn’t used to have. We can’t do what we used to be able to do. Makeup and lotion can cover up wrinkles, and surgery can replace worn-out knees and hips, but it all leads to the inevitable anyway. The only way not to get old and die is to die young. And unless our dear Lord Jesus returns before our time comes, we will each have to face our death personally. That’s our history, the history of the whole human race and yours personally. There’s no avoiding it.

     

    Death comes upon us as an unnatural thing, something we weren’t created to face. That’s why we dread it so much. If it were natural, just a matter of the circle of life, we wouldn’t think anything of it. But we do. Because it’s not natural. It’s the curse our sin. The soul that sins shall die, says the Lord. And especially Christians, we who know the Word of God, that the wages of sin is death, we who confess that for our sins we have deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment, we see death for what it really is – our greatest enemy.

     

    And that is why Easter can never be simply some intellectual piece of history. It is history, for sure, the greatest event in the history of the world, in fact, the historical event by which we number the years, that has shaped the course of human events, the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, for two thousand years. But it is more than this. It is our history. It is the history of God Himself taking up our cause against our death and our sin. This is why we come to God’ house this Sunday, and not just this Sunday but every Sunday, to celebrate Easter. Because Easter has everything to do with you, your sin, your death, and your resurrection and eternal life.

     

    Easter is God’s answer to Good Friday. That’s why we celebrate it. The remarkable characteristic of all the Easter accounts is that with all their differences of emphasis and perspective, they all feature prominently the disciples’ unbelief as they hear of Jesus’ resurrection, the emphatic absence of their celebration. The women are terrified, run away, and tell nobody. The men doubt and do not understand, as St. John explicitly says, “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” Why were they in doubt and disbelief, why didn’t they understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead? Because they didn’t understand what happened on Good Friday, that’s why. Because they didn’t understand that Good Friday was a good Friday. They knew the history. That Jesus, their teacher, died a miserable death, even though he was innocent of all the charges against Him. They saw a man die that Friday under Pontius Pilate. And they came to Jesus’ tomb with spices to anoint the body of a dead man. What they didn’t understand is Jesus’ death was no mere miscarriage of human justice, but the great moment of God’s justice. What they didn’t understand is Good Friday had everything to do with them, with their sin, their death. And so they couldn’t understand that Easter had everything to do with their life and resurrection.

    If you want to celebrate Easter, look to Good Friday and see it for what it really is. Jesus of Nazareth is your God. He created you. He is the almighty Ruler of the universe.  God can't die. He's eternal, immortal. He can’t die. But He was dead. He lay lifeless in a tomb. And there can be only one reason for this: He died your death. This is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who saw your wretched state before the world’s foundation and mindful of His mercy great, planned for your salvation. He took on your human flesh, took on your frailty, humbled Himself to take upon Himself the load of your sins, to suffer your death and punishment in your place, to answer His own justice with His innocent obedience.

     

    Think of that. The reason we die is because we're sinners. But that's why God lay dead in a tomb. And if our sins were on Him, then they are not on us. If our death was on Him, then it has no power over us. And it was. He died the sinner’s death, not because he had sinned, not because any deceit was found in His mouth, but because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. He died to fulfill His own prophecy, to fulfill the Scriptures, the same Scriptures the disciples didn’t yet understand, the prophecy spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

     

    He was wounded for our transgressions,

    He was bruised for our iniquities;

    The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

    And by His stripes we are healed.

    All we like sheep have gone astray;

    We have turned, every one, to his own way;

    And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

     

    That’s Good Friday. Jesus’ death was your death. It was a death for sin, the only reason death exists. It was a death for your sins, the only reason you die.

     

    And that makes His resurrection your resurrection. That’s Easter. That’s the joy of Easter. The grave could not hold Him, because it had no claim on Him – the sting of death is sin and Jesus paid fully for the sins He carried. And that means the grave cannot hold you, it has no claim on you – your sin and death has been left in the grave. Christ’s history is your history. He is your Substitute, your Savior, and your Lord. Because He lives, you will live.

     

    We celebrate today Christ’s victory over death, over our death. Take it to heart. It is the most precious message you could ever hear. And you need to hear it. You can’t do anything in the face of death, because you’re the very reason for your own death. You need God to do it for you. You need Easter. And Easter doesn’t come to you by you being transported back to that historical date of the first Easter. No, it comes to you now as you hear the glorious message of the angel that is preached here in Christ’s Church. It comes in your Baptism where God united you to Good Friday and Easter, to Christ’s death and resurrection. It comes in Christ giving you His crucified and risen body and blood which take away sin and end death’s reign now, today, in your time and history.

     

    So be happy today, rejoice, and treasure the angel’s words, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid of your past sins, don’t be afraid of your sickness or your failing health, don’t be afraid of death, don’t be afraid of the devil or the world. Jesus has conquered it all. He has fought for you, died for you, risen for you. This great history of Jesus of Nazareth, your Lord and your God, is your history, it defines your life now and in eternity. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Allelluia!

     

     

     

  • Easter 2

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Easter 2, Quasimodo geniti, 2017

    John 20:19-31

     

    When people first come to a Lutheran church and hear the congregation confess their sins and then the pastor forgive them their sins, you will often hear the words, “That’s catholic.” And by catholic, they mean, “Roman Catholic.” We could object and say, no, no, this is Lutheran. We’ve always done this. But that wouldn’t be quite right either, at least not if we’re saying this is merely a Lutheran thing, something we Lutherans came up with. It’s not. Jesus came up with it. That’s why we do it. We don’t do things because Luther told us to. He’s not our pope. We do things because Jesus told us to. And Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms to his apostles, to the first pastors, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus tells his pastors to forgive sins. He commands them to do it. It’s no serious thing to disagree with Luther, because Luther can be wrong – he was the first to admit it. And it’s certainly no serious thing to disagree with the pope. He’s usually wrong, even if he doesn’t admit it. But to disagree with Jesus, that’s not something Christians may do.

     

    But the objection remains and is very prominent and insistent especially here in America– how can a man forgive sins? I’m a sinner. Sinners can’t forgive sins. They need forgiveness themselves. And that’s true enough. But the forgiveness I give doesn’t come from me. Christian Preus doesn’t forgive you your sins. He doesn’t have the power or authority to do that. But Jesus does. And Jesus commands pastors to forgive sins. That’s why the pastor doesn’t just say, “I forgive you your sins.” He says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins.”

     

    The words I speak aren’t my words. You shouldn’t care what Christian Preus has to say, at least not when I’m up here. You didn’t come to hear me talk. You came to hear Jesus talk, to listen to God’s Word. That’s why, by the way, I don’t come up here in a suit and tie or in jeans and a t-shirt. Not that a pastor couldn’t do that – there’s no dress code commanded in the Bible for pastors – but if the pastor did, you might just get the impression that it’s him, and his personality, and his words up here. Pastors dress the way they do to take the focus off themselves, off their own person, and show that they speak not for themselves but for Jesus. Because it’s Jesus you need to hear.

     

    And Jesus commands pastors to forgive sins. He’s insistent on this very thing. And mark why He’s so insistent. Because He earned it. That’s what we just celebrated on Easter and it’s our greatest joy every day of our lives. Jesus, the man Thomas confesses to be both God and Lord, this Jesus who showed His pierced hands and feet and side to his apostles, who showed them the proofs that He had suffered the punishment for all sinners, for all sins, and swallowed up the wrath of God in his own person on the cross. This Jesus has earned the forgiveness of all sins. The first thing Jesus does when He sees his disciples after his resurrection is say, “Peace be with you.” This is the peace that the angels sang on Christmas to the shepherds, peace with God, peace because the sins that separate sinners from God, the sins that have deserved His anger and punishment, these sins were taken off us and placed on the holy Lamb of God. And He has left them in the grave. And so Jesus, not simply because He is God, but because He is also man, our substitute who has taken on our flesh and paid for our sins, Jesus alone has the authority to forgive us our sins. And He has commanded the pastors of His Church to do exactly this.

     

    We shouldn’t be surprised that despite Jesus’ clear words, people still object to men forgiving sins. This is our natural human reaction. We think we need what we consider a more authentic spiritual experience. We’re not content with words. This is, in fact, exactly what happened with Thomas. Jesus tells his disciples to forgive sins. And they do what Jesus told them to do. They tell Thomas that Christ is risen, which is nothing but a proclamation of the forgiveness of Thomas’ sins. And Thomas won’t listen. They’re just men. They’re just sinners like he is. Thomas wants a more intimate experience with Jesus Himself. He wants to see Jesus, put his hand in Jesus’ side and his fingers in the holes of Jesus’ hands. He’s not content to hear the Word of forgiveness from men.

     

    And so it goes. People want to experience Jesus outside His Word. But Jesus won’t have it. He rebukes Thomas. He scolds Him precisely because He wanted more than the words of Jesus spoken through men. Jesus tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus obviously hasn’t promised to appear to us here on this earth so that we can put our finger in His hands and our hand in his side. But He has given us His Word, and it’s a word that is priceless beyond compare, a Word purchased by His own blood.

     

    If we want a spiritual experience with Jesus, we listen to His Word, because Jesus has bound His Spirit and His Word together. That’s why when He tells His disciples to forgive sins, He first breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We receive Jesus and His Spirit in His word of forgiveness. And since Jesus hasn’t sent angels to preach His Word, we can hear it preached only from sinful men, men like the apostles who were cowering in fear in the upper room, timid and imperfect men who have nothing of worth to say of themselves, but only what Jesus told them to say, only what we now have written in God’s Word – as the Apostle John says, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Jesus has promised to give everlasting life through His Word. And He’s commanded men, sinful men, to preach this Word.

    We call this the pastoral office. It’s Jesus’ doing. He is the Lord of the Church, He is our one and only Teacher. He is the true Pastor, the true Shepherd of our souls. He is the one who creates His church and commands His church to call faithful pastors who are able to teach His Word and are given the task of announcing forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

    Jesus created the pastoral office in and for His Church. He didn’t send pastors to lord it over His church, to give them some exalted status in the church, some higher sanctity or holiness than the people in the pews. No. Jesus sent and sends pastors to serve His people. “As the Father has sent Me, so also I send you,” Jesus says. What did the Father send His Son to do? What does Jesus say? “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” The Father sent His Son to serve. And the Son gives His Word and Spirit to His Church and sends pastors for the same reason. To serve.

     

    Pastors serve by giving Jesus’ words to Jesus’ sheep. My sheep hear My voice, Jesus says. The voice of Jesus is always the voice of forgiveness in His name, the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. And His voice isn’t just heard in the absolution. It’s heard in the reading of the Bible, in the pure preaching of the Gospel, in the water and word of Baptism, and the body and blood of His Supper. When Jesus tells the first pastors to forgive sins, he’s telling them not simply to speak the words, “I forgive you your sins,” but to speak the whole counsel of God. This is exactly what He says to the same apostles later, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

     

    This is how Jesus remains with His Church, how He is with us always, even to the end of the age, how we know the power of His resurrection and receive the Spirit and all His gifts. Through the hearing of His Word. This is the Word pastors are commanded to preach, but it’s also the Word that belongs to all Christians, to the whole Church. All things are yours, St. Paul says, all things. He said this to the Corinthians when they had begun to think that they could form themselves around the personality of a pastor instead of under God’s Word. Some claimed they were disciples of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Cephas. We see this in our day as thousands gather around the personality of a Joel Osteen or some other megachurch leader, and then when he dies or falls into scandal, the whole church falls. Because they were built on the charisma of a man instead of the Word of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Listen to St. Paul’s words, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”

     

    The pastoral office belongs to the Church. It doesn’t belong to an individual pastor. It belongs to you and it is for you. That doesn’t mean everyone should individually come up here and preach. God is a God of order. But it does mean God sends and calls pastors through you, His Church. It means this congregation has Jesus’ own authority to forgive sins in His stead. It means you yourselves have the Word that forgives sins and can speak those words whenever there is need. It means you call pastors and you hold your pastor to the Word of God, you make sure he teaches it, make sure he does what Jesus commands him to do, that he forgives the sins of those who repent and withholds forgiveness from those who don’t, that he teaches the whole counsel of God, not just what fits his fancy or what is least offensive to the world around us.

     

    No, the Word of God is written so that we may believe in Christ and believing have life in His name. Never be bored with God’s Word, with its teaching. It’s the Word of everlasting life. It’s the Word of Christ’s resurrection, His conquering triumph over your sin and your death. Even when it’s spoken through the mouth of a sinful man, it’s the Word Jesus Himself speaks, a Word of peace with God, a Word that creates faith, bestows the Spirit, and brings us into communion with our Father in heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ grant that we hear it in faith and live by it now and into eternity. Amen.

    Alleluia! Christ is risen!

     

     

  • Easter 3

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Easter 3, Misericordias Domini, 2017

    John 10:11-16

     

    The image of the Good Shepherd is the most beloved portrayal of Jesus in the entire Bible. Even if someone has never read the Bible, he’s probably seen a picture of a bearded Jewish man carrying a sheep on his shoulders. The scene is calm and peaceful. A green meadow with rolling hills, a stream flowing with clear water, white, innocent sheep, and a noble shepherd smiling over them. It’s the kind of scene that poetry is made for. It’s the perfect picture of peace and comfort.

     

    But the scene Jesus paints in our Gospel lesson isn’t so peaceful. It bears little resemblance to the tranquil scenes we so often see. Jesus paints the picture of a wolf, the enemy of the sheep, salivating at the sight of his next meal. Jesus shows the sheep foolishly and helplessly wandering toward the very wolf who can’t wait to scatter and devour them. And he pictures hirelings, false shepherds, who are fleeing the scene, abandoning the sheep, because they don’t care at all for them but only for themselves and their own livelihood. Jesus paints Himself as the good shepherd, not simply standing there holding a lamb, but running after the wolf, as the wolf refuses to back down, and meeting His own death as He slays the enemy of the sheep.

     

    Now both scenes are true, both come from the Word of God. The peaceful pasturing of the sheep, safe with their shepherd, is a picture of heaven. It’s the picture of what we inherit as sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd and delight to hear His voice. It’s the picture of what we Christians will possess in fullness in heaven and what we know now only by faith in the Word of Jesus – perfect peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Here there are no enemies. There’s no danger, no wolf, no death, no division. The sheep continually drink from streams of living water as their Shepherd and God watches over them in safety.

     

    But that’s not the scene in which we live. It’s the scene we hope for, look forward to, after our battle is fought and won here on this earth. But it’s not the place in which we live. We live where the wolf prowls, where the devil attacks and scatters, where false shepherds leave us to the mercy of a wolf who knows no mercy. And because these dangers surround us, we can rely only on the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and takes it up again in His resurrection. And we rely on this Good Shepherd only by hearing His Word. He laid down His life and rose again to preach the Word of everlasting life. The victory of Easter comes to us in this Word. My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says. The same Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep keeps them from the attacks of the devil and all evil by His Word.

     

    The temptation we face daily is to imagine that we live in the heavenly scene right now, to think that we can live on this earth without any trouble, to forget we have an enemy seeking to devour us, forget that we must face divisions and false shepherds and devil and sin while we live here on this earth.

     

    This kind of thinking is what we call utopian. It’s the dream that we can have heaven now on this earth. Utopia is an interesting word. Topia means place. U means either “good” or “no.” And so U-topia, fittingly, has a double meaning. It means “good place” at the same time as it means “no place.” The good place is no place. Earth is simply not a place where good reigns, where there is no devil and no sin and no danger. And we can’t make it a good place, no matter what we imagine. Every human attempt to make a utopia here on this earth fails.

     

    When Jesus calls us sheep He is locating our only hope and safety in the voice of our Shepherd. Sheep have no powers to defend themselves. They’re completely helpless animals. And the wolf wants to devour and scatter them. They are safe only in listening to a shepherd who actually cares for them and wants to protect them. If they listen to the sweet voice of others who have neither the power nor the desire to protect the sheep, they are left as food for the wolf. And so Jesus warns us against listening to any religious talk, any human dreams of peace and good on earth, outside of the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus warns us against false shepherds who run away from the wolf instead of facing him down, false shepherds who teach us that everything is all right and ignore the danger that surrounds us. False shepherds are false teachers. And they always work by ignoring our need to hear the Word of Jesus that delivers us from evil.

     

    Jesus says there will be one flock and one Shepherd. He promises unity. And the unity He promises is created only by His Word, the Word that warns us against the danger of our sin and the devil and places Christ Himself before our eyes as the one who dies and rises again to win us forgiveness and life. My sheep hear my voice. The only good place that exists in the face of the devil and sin and evil is that place where the Good Shepherd reigns with His Word, where the God who died and rose on Easter speaks and creates one flock that hears His voice.

     

    But our eyes see something very different. We don’t see unity under God’s Word. We see divisions. How many denominations are there, all teaching different things? Baptists and Anglicans and Methodists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, and the list goes on and on. And the so-called non-denominationals are just another denomination, who in swearing off creeds have created one of their own. There are divisions among Christians. That’s obvious. We see it. The world sees it. And they look with cynical unbelief at Jesus’ promise of one flock under one Shepherd.

     

    And so the false shepherds of our time have called for us to erase the denominational lines and divisions. Let’s drop our differences and unite together as one church, show the world that we are united, create our churchly utopia here on earth.

     

    But how can we create this utopia and unity? As long as we teach that the pope is not the head of the Church, that only Jesus is the one shepherd of the one flock, we won’t be able to unite with the Roman Catholics who teach that the pope is the pastor of the entire church. As long as we teach that our works don’t earn us favor with God, that faith alone saves because faith alone receives the undeserved forgiveness won by Christ on the cross, then we won’t be able to unite with the Eastern Orthodox or the Roman Catholics who teach that good works earn God’s favor. As long as we teach that Baptism is a life-giving water of forgiveness or that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Christ, it will be impossible to unite with the various Protestants who deny these things. As long as we insist that the devil is real, that sin is what the Bible says sin is, that the Bible is the unerring Word of Jesus our Savior, it will be impossible for us to unite with the liberal, so-called mainstream denominations, who imagine away sin and the devil and the need for the truth of God’s Word.

     

    And so they urge us to stop. For the sake of unity, stop teaching doctrine. Be tolerant of every teaching. Don’t preach the Law that makes divisions between sin and righteousness. Don’t teach the Gospel that locates the hope of all people in one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and excludes every other way to salvation. Don’t teach the helplessness of the sheep or the strength of their enemy the devil or the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for them. If you stop teaching all this, we can unite. We can have our churchly utopia here on earth.

     

    But this is no unity at all. It’s just ignoring our common problem, the real problem that divides us. And that’s not God’s Word. What divides us is sin and the false Word of the devil. True unity comes only as Jesus says it comes, when the sheep listen to the voice of their Shepherd who has died for the sin that divides us from our God and one another.

    If we compromise the Word of Jesus, who then will be our Shepherd? What good is a flock without a shepherd? Aren’t we sheep? Sheep can’t protect themselves. They can’t ward off the wolf. They can’t survive without a shepherd. And if the sheep imagine that the wolf doesn’t exist, they’ll still be eaten, because wolves can’t be imagined away.

     

    And so it is with us. We can’t imagine away our enemy. We can’t imagine away sin or death or hell or the devil. And what’s more, we can’t do anything against them either. We’re sheep. Sheep don’t unite themselves together and form a coalition to fight wolves. Sheep don’t fight wolves at all. They get eaten by wolves. They run away, and hope he gets tied down eating some other sheep. We are sheep. And that means we need a shepherd.

     

    And the only Shepherd who can do a thing against our enemy is Jesus. And He has, and He does. This is why we hold the pure Word of Jesus so dear, as our greatest treasure. Why we don’t dare compromise it. Why we don’t seek to create our own unity by our own bright ideas. Why we seek instead that good place where we can hear Jesus’ Word in its truth and purity. And Jesus’ Word does create unity, a beautiful unity with God Himself. It unites all who hear and believe it into one flock, joined to the One Shepherd, so that as the Son knows the Father and the Father knows the Son, so we know the love and care of our God. Even if we can’t see this unity with our eyes, we know and believe in One holy, Christian and apostolic Church. We know that wherever Jesus’ Word is taught and heard, there Jesus gathers His flock, forgives sins, and rescues from death and the devil. Because we know that the love of our heavenly Father has been poured out to us in His Son’s great sacrifice for us, his sheep. Therefore the Father loves me, Jesus says, because I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.

    Amen, Lord Jesus. Amen.

     

     

  • Easter 4

     

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Easter 4, Jubilate

    John 16:16-22

     

    Jesus speaks both a hard word and a happy word in our Gospel for this morning. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Jesus goes on to compare his disciples’ life to a woman giving birth, going through terrible pain first and then experiencing inexpressible joy in the end.  Jesus promises abundant and sure happiness for those who believe in Him, but he does not hide the hard facts – with that joy and before we experience the fullness of that joy, there will be pain, there will be sorrow and heartache in our lives. That’s what Jesus says.

     

    And when Jesus speaks, we listen. Even when his words are hard, even when he promises what our flesh doesn’t want to hear. Even when he promises us, guarantees us, that we will suffer, that we will sorrow, that we will have pain. We listen. We listen to him speak the truth, even if the truth hurts. Because He is God and we are not. He is in charge and we are not. He is Love itself and knows what is best for us, and we do not.

     

    Christians listen to Jesus. We base our hope, our everlasting joy, on what Jesus has done – his life, death, and resurrection to take away the sin of the world – and on what Jesus says. That’s the nature of faith. That’s the insistence of faith. Faith trusts Jesus, trusts Jesus’ promises. Faith doesn’t look to the changing circumstances of our own lives and conclude from them how God feels about us. It doesn’t look and see that things are going well, that the kids are healthy, that there’s money in the bank, and then conclude that God must love me because He’s blessed me. It doesn’t see that things are going poorly, that Mom’s contracted cancer, that I lost my job, that Grandma was just moved to hospice, and then conclude that God is mad at me, because He’s sent me sorrow. No. Christian faith looks alone to Jesus, to Jesus’ words, and learns from them that our Father loves us and cares for us no matter the changing circumstances in our lives.

     

    In our Old Testament lesson for today, the people of Israel were determining whether God loved them or not on the basis of their own circumstances. And their circumstances were very bad. War, death, disease, drought, starvation. Terrible things. And so they concluded that God must not love them, must not care for them, must in fact have it out for them. “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God,” they said. And they said this because they based their faith, based their belief in God on what they saw going on in their own lives.

     

    This is our constant temptation too. Instead of looking to God’s promises, to God’s Word, instead of letting God tell us what he thinks of us, we are tempted look at our situation here on earth and determine whether God is pleased with us or not, whether he has cared for us and will care for us in the future.

     

    Now for many of us, if we look at our lives right now, we’d probably determine that God loves us. I mean, things are going pretty well. We have food, shelter, and even some luxuries. We’re looking forward to some happy events – the birth of a child, a wedding, a family reunion. It seems God is blessing us. And we could go on thinking that until the next terrible thing happens. We can go on thinking that until pain hits, sorrow hits, death hits. Because they will. They always do. And then what will we think of God? That He’s punishing us? That’s He’s mad at us? That He’s forsaken us? And what will we think of other Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ who sit next to us in the pews, who even right now are going through pain and disease and misery in this life? Has God abandoned them? Are we who are enjoying the good things in life more in favor with God than these sufferers?

     

    God answers these foolish and godless questions of our flesh with a thunderous declaration: “To whom will you compare me,” he says through the prophet Isaiah. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Israel cries out that God has abandoned her, because she looks at the bad things all around her and knows that God sent them, that He could take them away if He wanted, that He could give them instant peace and joy on this earth, but He hasn’t. And God answers by telling them that this is not how things work. Sinners don’t get to judge the almighty and everlasting God by their sinful, human standards. God answers by telling them that if they want to know what God thinks of them, they must shut their eyes and listen to his Word, to His promises.

    And this is what we do today. Jesus promises us two things today. He promises that we will have sorrow. And He promises that we will have joy. Both will come to us.

     

    You can expect sorrow in this life. Truly, truly, you will weep and lament, says Jesus, but the world will rejoice. You have pain and sorrow because you are still in this world, this world of sin, this world full of sickness and disease and death, this world full of temptations that try to draw you away from the only true God and his promises to you, this world full of persecution and insult against the Christian faith. You have pain and sorrow because you still carry around your own sinful flesh, because you still desire what you know you should not desire, because you still fail to do what you know you should do. You have pain and sorrow because the devil is still prince of this world, and his aim is directed specifically against Christians, to separate you from the God who made you and died for you. You have pain and sorrow in this life, just as Jesus said you would.

     

    But you also have joy. And I’m not simply talking about the joys that you can see here in this world – of seeing children born, of watching the grandkids play, of reading a good book or seeing a good show or eating a nice meal. Those too are joys that God gives, and every one of us here today could count up these earthly blessings that God has given us. And we do right to thank God for them and enjoy them as gifts from God’s loving hand.

     

    But we can’t base God’s love for us, our relationship with God, on the earthly gifts and joys God gives. These are the joys that so often turn into suffering, because we can lose all of them. Job did. Many a Christian has. We can lose kids to death or – God forbid – to unbelief. They can break our hearts instead of bringing us joy. We can lose jobs and money, not be able to pay for the nice meals or the nice house or have time to read a good book. We can get painful diseases. We can lose friends and spouses. We can lose all the simple joys in life. We can become like Job. And still the joy that Jesus promises us will not be taken away from us. Still we can know that our God loves us.

     

    I want to tell you a story of such a man, like Job, who lost everything. His name was Paul Gerhardt. He was a pastor in Germany during the 30 years war, a war that ravaged Germany with disease, famine, and murder for 30 whole years. Gerhard lost his wife. He lost his dear children. He lost most his congregation. All to death. Hundreds of people he loved, he saw die, and he buried them all. He lost everything. And in the middle of it all, he wrote this hymn, a hymn we would all do well to memorize, to sing in our times of sorrow and pain: Why should cross and trial grieve me? Christ is near with His cheer; Never will He leave me. Who can rob me of the heaven that God’s Son for me won when his life was given?God gives me my days of gladness, and I will trust him still when he sends me sadness. God is good. His love attends me day by day, come what may, guides me and defends me.

     

    From God’s joy can nothing sever, For I am His dear lamb, He my Shepherd ever. I am His because He gave me His own blood For my good, By His death to save me.

     

    The God who allows you to suffer in this life, even if you can’t understand why He allows it, gives you the answer you need in the word of the cross and resurrection of Christ. He has won everlasting happiness and righteousness and purity for you by his bitter suffering and death to take away the sin of the world. He has spilt his own blood, the very blood of God, to win you the certainty that God does love you, that he does care for you, that he will guard and keep you forever as his dear child. And this is true no matter what happens, no matter what. Come what may, come happiness or sorrow, come pain or pleasure, come death or life, the Word of Christ’s victory over sin, and everything sin brings, His victory over your death and sorrow and pain, this Word remains forever true, sealed by the blood of God and guaranteed by His resurrection.

     

    You can expect sorrow in this world. You can expect it because Jesus said it would come. You can expect it because you live in a sinful world. You can expect it because the devil still prowls around like a hungry lion seeking whom he may devour. You can expect it because you still have a sinful heart. But Jesus has conquered the world. He has conquered sin. He has conquered death and the devil. And you belong to Jesus. You have in your Baptism been connected to him so tightly that no sorrow or suffering, neither death nor hell nor any other power on this earth, can separate you from Him or Him from you. His promise to his disciples is that they will have sorrow for a short time. That is the hard word. But the hard word is also a temporary word, it lasts only a little while. The joy and happiness that are yours in Christ Jesus are everlasting. “I will see you again,” Jesus says, “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” It is an everlasting joy. It is yours in Christ, in His Gospel, so cling to it and treasure it all your life, and you will see it fulfilled on that glorious day when we see our Savior face to face.

    Amen

  • Easter 5

    Pastor Christian Preus

    John 16:5-15, Cantate, Easter 5

    May 14, 2017

     

    The name for this Sunday in the Church Year is Cantate. It means Sing. It’s the first word of our Introit/Psalm for today, Psalm 98, which begins, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

     

    The new song is the song of Christ’s victory over sin and death and hell by his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It is exactly the song that Jesus teaches in our Gospel lesson. God, the blessed Trinity, has done marvelous things. When Scripture speaks of God’s right hand and his holy arm, it is speaking of Jesus Christ Himself. He has worked salvation for His Father. And the Lord has made this salvation known through His Spirit, He has revealed His righteousness to all nations through His Word. When we are told to sing in the Bible, and we are told to sing quite a lot in the Bible, we are being told to sing this new song, to sing of God’s marvelous working in Jesus Christ our Savior.

     

    Today, Cantate Sunday falls also on Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day! Mother’s Day is, of course, a secular holiday. We made it up here in the United States sometime in the early 20th century. It’s on the one hand a chance for the card companies and flower sellers to make some money. As with every holiday, whether Christian or secular, our consumerist society has turned Mother’s Day into just one more day for obligatory spending, where children and husbands must, on penalty of great shame, pump money into the economy to buy stuff their moms and wives really don’t need.

     

    Now I’m not knocking Mother’s Day. And I’m not knocking flowers or chocolates or whatever else you want to buy your mothers or wives. But I am saying, because God says it, that all the things we buy these women we love and all the things they receive with grateful hearts are things that perish with the using. The flower fades, chocolate is returned to the ground one way or another, and moths eat the finest of clothes. There is something much more precious that our mothers need. If anyone is going to celebrate mothers, honestly appreciate them and show them love, it must be we Christians. And we know how to show this love, because we know the new song. Our Lord Jesus has taught it to us by His Spirit.

     

    Within a week my wife and I will have experienced the opposite ends of motherhood. I will bury my grandmother and our baby will be born. Death took one mother away from us and birth will give motherhood anew. At the same time we see death rob us of our loved one and God bless us with another one to love. But the birth of our child will not replace Grandma. Solace and comfort after death does not come from the endless replacing of one life with another. Just as my grandma died, so will I, so will our new child, so will you, so will every life born sinful into this sinful world, until our dear Lord Jesus returns in His glory. And all the comforts the world can give, all the fleeting comforts our flesh seeks after to forget our sorrows for a brief hour, they all come crashing down and vanish like a dream in the night. You and I and the mothers in our lives need a comfort that is true, that will not fade away as we do, that endures forever, that can sustain us when life is ending and when new life is given. And this is the comfort the Holy Spirit has given to us in the new song of triumph in our Lord.

     

    It is the song of truth and therefore of true comfort to us who suffer the ravages of sin.  As my grandmother lay dying, her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren sang to her this new song. What they sang was what Grandma taught her children to sing and confess, because she knew that this song of our Lord’s triumph over sin and death was the best gift she could give to her children and the best gift they could return to their mother. Listen to a couple stanzas of one such song, “From God can Nothing Move Me,” that my grandma heard in her final hours.

     

    [Christ] canceled my offenses,

    Delivered me from death;

    He is the Lord who cleanses

    My soul from sin through faith.

    In Him I can be cheerful,

    Courageous on my way;

    In Him I am not fearful

    Of God's great Judgment Day.

    For no one can condemn me

    Or set my hope aside;

    Now hell no more can claim me,

    Its fury I deride.

    No sentence now reproves me,

    No guilt destroys my peace;

    For Christ, my Savior, loves me

    And shields me with His grace.

     

    This hymn and countless others like it give us Christians comfort because they are true, because they confess the truth of the new song, the song sung in heaven by the saints and echoed here on earth by us sinful Christians who are even now saints ourselves by faith, washed in the blood of the Lamb.

     

    We don’t sing and we don’t confess merely for the sake of sentimentality. A country song might remind us of our loved ones because we sang it with them. Some happy song may remind us of good times as a child. These songs have their place, and it’s certainly a good thing to remember the good times God gave us with our loved ones. But these songs, even if they cause all sorts of emotions to spring up in our souls, cannot give the comfort that the truth brings. They can’t bring life to the dead or deliver us from the evils of this world. Only the new song of Christ-crucified can do this.

     

    This truth is our comfort. Our Lord Jesus calls the Holy Spirit whom He sends from the Father the Comforter and the Spirit of Truth. Comfort and truth go together. Ignorance is not bliss. The truth is bliss. And Jesus speaks this truth to us.

     

    Christ Jesus tells His apostles that the Spirit will lead them into all truth. Not just some truth. He gives them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And what the Apostles preached, what we have written for us in the New Testament of Holy Scripture, is the truth that no darkness can overcome, not death, not the devil’s lies or temptations, not our sinful flesh, nothing.

     

    When the Comforter comes, Jesus says, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. He has and He does.

     

    And we need this. We need the truth the Spirit alone teaches, because the world around us is filled with lies that appeal to our flesh at the same time as they reject the truth of the Spirit’s Word. And the lies of the world can never bring comfort. They bring ignorance, ignorance of ourselves, of God, of our present and our future with Him. Comfort is found only in the truth.

     

    This is the truth we have heard today from the New Testament, from the Apostle John, who heard and received Jesus' promise of the Comforter and Spirit of Truth.

     

    It's simply beautiful how Jesus puts it. The Comforter will convict the world of sin because they do not believe in me, Jesus says. First Jesus calls the Spirit the Comforter, and then He says this Comforter will convince the world of sin. How's that comforting? To be convinced of sin? Well, it isn't. Not to unbelievers, not to the one who refuses to see in Christ Jesus the payment and ransom for all sin. But the Comforter can only comfort with the truth, and the unavoidable truth is that we are sinners with sin far too serious for us to understand or know or deal with, sin that promises only death and hell.

     

    It's a remarkable thing that Jesus doesn't mention all our sins, doesn't list off all the nasty things we say and think and do to each other, all our doubts, our selfish and arrogant thoughts, our perverted desires. They'd be too many to count anyway. He mentions only one sin - that they do not believe in Me. And that's enough. That sums up sin in one simple word: unbelief. What does it mean not to believe in Jesus? It means not to believe that it took God to pay for your sin. Not believing in Jesus means thinking your sin is so insignificant and light that you can make up for it with outward kindnesses, or even worse, that your sins don't need making up at all. But the fact that it took God to become a man to suffer and die for our sins, this convicts the world of evil the depths of which only the Spirit can show us in His Word.

     

    But to know our sin and believe in Jesus the sin-bearer, to believe the truth that the Father's eternal Son took on your flesh and bore the curse of God against your sin, that He took all of it on himself, the whole world's sin, every unjust word spoken, every perverse and lustful desire dreamed up in our hearts, every disobedience and doubt and lie and coverup by which we seek to justify ourselves before God and men, everything that has ever offended the holiness of the Most High God, that God Himself has paid for it with His own suffering, with his own blood, this is to have the true comfort of the Comforter and the Spirit of truth.

     

    If our sins are on Jesus they are not on us. That's why the Comforter convinces the world of righteousness. Jesus again puts it beautifully, The Comforter will convict the world of righteousness because I go to the Father and you see me no more. The righteousness we own and possess is not the righteousness of the world, not the righteousness of obeying a few religious rules, not the righteousness we can see and feel and show to others so they can point to us and say- look at that holiness! What a good mother! What a good person! No, the righteousness we have, the sinlessness we possess, is hidden from our sight, because our righteousness has gone from the cross to His Father in heaven. There the Lamb of God, who has bled for us, intercedes before the throne of His Father. He Himself sings the new song in heaven with all the saints, that His death has destroyed death and his rising to life again has won for us everlasting life, because the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is righteousness and eternal life by faith in Christ's cross. Listen to this song, sung by the saints in heaven to our Savior Jesus, as the Holy Spirit sings in Revelation: “And they sing a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the Book [of life] and open its seals, for You have been slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood, from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made us a Kingdom and priests for our God, and we shall reign upon the earth.’”

     

    And for those who are in Christ, for my grandma, for my little one who is yet to be born, for all believing mothers past and present, for all Christians great and small, known and unknown, for you who trust in Christ your Lord over sin and death, who have been baptized into His death and resurrection, and receive His body and blood in Holy Communion, there is no judgment except the judgment against our accuser, the devil. Our Lord has crushed him and his lies and his accusations and claims against us. Our Lord has done marvelous things. He has made known His salvation. He has revealed His righteousness and life as ours now and forever.

     

    The Comforter speaks the truth. And to us who sing the new song of life in Christ, there is nothing more precious than this truth. Mothers, sing it to your children. Children, sing it to your mothers. Happy Mother's Day. Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

     

     

  • Easter 6

    Pastor Christian Preus

    John 16:23-33, Rogate, Easter 6

    May 21, 2017

     

    “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

     

    The Lord Jesus says you will ask Him nothing, and in the same breath He says that whatever you ask the Father in His name, the Father will give you. What is Jesus saying here? He isn’t saying that you should address all your prayers only to the Father and not to Him. He’s not drawing some distinction between the Father answering your prayers and Jesus answering your prayers. No. Jesus and the Father are one. What the Father hears, the Son hears. And the Father’s answer is the Son’s answer. The Father and the Son are distinguished only in the fact that the Father is the Father, unbegotten from eternity, and the Son is the Son, eternally begotten of His Father. They are one God from eternity, with one will and one essence, together with the Holy Spirit. And so every prayer addressed to Jesus is addressed also to His Father.

     

    But Jesus is making a distinction here. And it’s an important one for us to learn and relearn and hear all our life. Because without this distinction, we can never offer any true prayer to God.

     

    Listen again to Jesus’ words, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

     

    Jesus actually uses two different words for ask. You can’t tell this by the English translation, because it translates two different Greek words as this same word, “ask.” But when Jesus says, “In that day you will ask nothing of me,” He’s using the word erwtaw (I hope you don’t mind me teaching a little Greek), a word for ask that means, “question,” or “seek information.” This is the kind of asking that disciples, that is, students, ask of their teacher, like, “How many Gods are there?” “Who is God?” “Who is the Christ?” “How do I get to heaven?” This is the same word that our translators later render as “question,” when the disciples say to Jesus, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you.”

     

    And then when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give you,” he uses a different word for ask, aitew, a word that means, “request” or “beg.” This is the kind of asking that children ask of their mother, like, “Mommy, can I have a bandaid?” It’s not asking for information. It’s asking for help. And so it is a bit ironic that our translators decided to translate these two different words as one word. Because the fact is that there is a world of difference between them.

     

    In that day, Jesus says, you will ask me nothing, that is, you won’t need to question me, or get more information from me, because you will know everything I have done for you. You won’t need to question whether your Father in heaven loves you, even if you go through pain and tribulation in this world, even if your conscience accuses you and Satan throws your sins and your failures in your face, even if death rears its ugly head, because you will know Me and love Me, Jesus says, the One whom your Father has sent into your flesh to conquer the world and sin and Satan and death. You won’t need to question whether your Father cares for you and is watching over you in this present world, in your daily life, because you will know that the Father’s Son has taken care for your eternal life, that you are the cause of His incarnation and the object of His tender mercies, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, that you are the continual concern of the angels whose delight it is to do your Father’s will.

     

    You will know all this, Jesus says, and you will have no need to question me, because “the hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.” Jesus spoke in figures of speech. He spoke in parables. He compared His Kingdom to a vineyard, to a field, to a buried treasure, to a master and his servants. He spoke of the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness to save the people from a serpent-poisoned death, and he spoke of it as a picture of Himself and His being lifted up on the cross to deliver us from the poison of sin, inflicted by the serpent of old, Satan. He used figurative language, picture language, that his disciples frustratingly couldn’t quite understand, all to describe what He now will show His disciples clearly in this His great hour.

     

    The hour of Jesus is His death. The cross, the crucifixion of Jesus, the suffering and death of the eternal Son of the Father, this is no figurative language. It is not like the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom of God. It is not a picture of God’s love, not an image of salvation. It is God’s love, it is our salvation. It is where and when and how the Lord of heaven and earth establishes His rule over this fallen world, His triumph over sin and death, His loving rescue of us sinners doomed to hell from the clutches of our enemy, the Devil.

     

    It is only in knowing Jesus’ cross that we know God as our Father. It is only when we have no need to question who Jesus is that we can know to ask help from God as dear children ask their dear father. To call on God as our Father is to call Him by a tender name, to cry out to Him in our need, as a little child begs for what he needs from a daddy he knows will give it.

     

    But outside of the Word of the cross, the Father’s face is turned against us. Outside the cross, He is not and we cannot call Him our Abba, Father. Without the cross, He sees our sin and His wrath burns against us. Without the cross there is no access to Him, no prayers heard by Him, no love or fear or trust in Him.

     

    The Father has located all His love for you, for me, for the entire world, in the cross of Jesus. “God loved the world in this way,” Jesus says, “that He gave His only Son into death, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In this way, the Father loves us. If you want to see God’s love for you, you find it in Jesus crucified, bearing away the wrath of God against the sin that separates you from Him, swallowing it up in His holy and innocent suffering and immeasurable love to you and His Father. And so Jesus beckons us, tells us, assures us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

     

    It is because we have been made to trust in this, this cross of our Lord Jesus, that Jesus gives the command that delights the Christian heart, “Rogate,” the name given to this 5th Sunday of Easter, which means, “Ask.” Ask anything from your Father in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake, and He will give it to you. You ask in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake, not for your own sake, not on your own merit, not in your own name, not because you’ve earned the right to call on God as your Father, because you haven’t, but because Jesus has won it for you, because the Son of the Father has come from the Father and goes back to the Father by way of His cross, has reconciled you to the Father and made His Father your Father.

     

    Don’t ever think your sins, your nasty thoughts, the doubting of your flesh, the accusations of the devil, don’t think they can keep you from asking your Father in heaven for anything. Pray as a Christian. Claim what Jesus has won for you and given to you. It is yours. You are Christ’s and Christ is yours. You have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You have been reckoned the righteousness of the Father’s Son, won on the cross. You have eaten and drunk the body and blood of the eternal Christ, who unites you to Himself by His Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins, so that the Father sees His Son in you and you in His Son. So ask anything of Him. He loves you, because you love Jesus and have believed that He has come from God to you.

     

    You must know who God is before you can call on Him to ask of Him and pray to Him. All the prayers in the world, no matter how heartfelt, no matter how sincere, no matter how long and desperate and loud, will never be heard or answered unless they are prayed to the Father who sent His Son to die and rise again and pour out His Spirit through the Word of His cross. The Muslim, the Mormon, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jew, the generically spiritual American who believes in “God” but cares nothing for the blood of Christ-crucified, their prayers are to a god who doesn’t exist, who is as powerless to hear them as the golden idols of the ancient pagans. Only the Father of Jesus answers prayer, prayer prayed in Jesus’ name. Because Jesus alone, by His cross, is the mediator between us and God.

     

    It is the great tragedy and irony of our age that we Christians, we who have no need to question God about anything, because He has revealed all to us in Christ, we who have the eternal God’s command to pray and His promise to hear us, that we who alone have access to the ear of the Almighty, we don’t pray. Even the prayer before meals is becoming obsolete. We fall asleep watching TV and then crawl into bed without a thought of our Father. We wake up in the morning seeking our daily bread without thinking of the One who provided it, who kept us safe and delivered us from evil in the night. We lazily drone through the Lord’s Prayer, mouthing the words without feeling them in our hearts. And meanwhile those who do not know God pour out their hearts in prayer and uselessly spend themselves in their religious meditation. So this is the scene: Christians too lazy to pray and everyone else offering their sincere prayers to the wind.

     

    But make no mistake about it, the Christian who doesn’t pray isn’t long a Christian. Jesus commands us to pray not because He wants to burden us with another religious obligation, but because the nature of Christian faith is to call out to God in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Dogs bark, ducks quack, and Christians pray to our Father in heaven.

     

    We ask Him for little things and big things, because we have no need to question His love and care for us. We ask Him for continued blessings when we are enjoying the good things in life and when our faith is strong. We ask Him to deliver us from evil and temptation when we are facing the sorrows of sin and pain. We pray daily for our daily bread, for everything we need to support this body and life. We ask Him that His name be hallowed among us, that His kingdom come to us, that His good and gracious will be done in our lives, which all means that we ask Him daily to keep us in the true faith, keep us His children by the pure preaching of Christ’s cross, lead us to live godly lives full of love of God and our neighbor, of prayer and hope, not in word only but in deed and truth,  and to hinder everything and everyone that would replace the peace of Christ Jesus our Lord with the fleeting peace and comfort of this world. We pray that He would forgive us our sins, knowing that He will, because our sins were on Jesus, and by the forgiveness we receive from His Word, the forgiveness we received in our Baptism, the forgiveness we receive in eating and drinking the body and blood of the Son of God, by this forgiveness we live and pledge to forgive all who sin against us. We pray to our Father because we know Him as the Provider of every good thing in Jesus Christ our Savior who has given us fully of His Spirit and all His cross has won for us.

     

    Fathers, pray with and for your children. Mothers, pray with and for your children. Wives and husbands, pray with each other and for each other. Children, pray for your parents. Everyone, pray for yourselves and for your fellow Christians. Pray at meal, pray when you go to bed, pray when you wake up, come to church and pray. And see your Father answer every prayer you pray in Jesus’ name. He will. In this life or the next, He will. Because He loves you.

    In the world, Jesus says, you will have tribulation. That means trouble, persecution, trial, fear, doubting, unbelief. But take heart, Jesus says, I have overcome the world. So whatever grieves you in this world, whatever tempts your heart, whatever keeps you from praying, commend it all to your Father in prayer, and ask Him for what you need in this life and the next. And receive the peace of Christ, who has overcome the world and delivers you His Kingdom through His death and resurrection, through His glorious ascension to His Father, where He lives and reigns for you, and sends down His gifts in Word and Sacrament, from heaven, where you will live resurrected and glorious forever, by faith in Christ your Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Ascention Day

     

  • Easter 7 - Exaudi

    Christian Preus

    Exaudi, Sunday after the Ascension (Easter 7), 2017

    John 15:26-16:4

     

    The Christian Church has always faced persecution. Jesus said it would happen, and we see His words ring true. Especially today in the Middle East you cannot help but see Jesus’ prophecy fulfilled. Just a couple of days ago Islamist terrorists once again slaughtered 28 Christians in Egypt and wounded dozens more. The Christians met their death because they were Christians, because they held Christ as their God and their Savior. There was no other reason. The Muslim terrorists thought they were doing their god a favor, just as Jesus said, by killing those who trusted and confessed Jesus. And so it was with the apostles, all of whom, with the exception of St. John the Evangelist, were killed at the hands of those who did not know the Father and His only Son.

     

    In the face of this persecution, Jesus promises the Helper. Now you would think that since Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth, He would send a Helper with a host of angels to fight in arms and force against those who persecute and kill the children of His Father. But the Helper He promises does no such thing. Instead, the Helper speaks. And the Helper speaks to keep us from falling away. He is poured out on the apostles on Pentecost and through their words He is poured out on us. And He bears witness of Jesus, only Jesus, He tells of what Jesus has done to redeem the sinful world with His blood and win for us peace with God in heaven. This is the help and the Helper Jesus sends.

     

    This seems off to us. We prize our bodily needs. We find it appalling that there is so much suffering in the world. We tend to think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which places our bodily needs above all else. The starving child in Africa needs food and a bit of human mercy. And after that, perhaps, he needs to hear about Jesus. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t think like we do. He doesn’t obsess like we do about our bodily needs. He knows that we are fleeting and vapor, that our days are spent in toil under the sun and fade away like the grass of the field. He comes with the message of salvation in Christ. He bestows Christ’s righteousness on hearts and turns hearts of stone to a living trust in their heavenly Father. And only then does He inspire Christians to show mercy to the body, to the poor and needy. He knows far better than we that what the affluent suburbanites and the working man and the housewife and the starving and oppressed masses all need above anything physical is to be reconciled to God through the cross of Jesus, to know the Father who loves them.

     

    This offends our reason and angers our world. It offended the masses seeking bread from Jesus when Jesus taught them of their need for heavenly food instead of filling their bellies with the bread that perishes. It offends today as Christians give money for the preaching of the Gospel in third-world countries, where there is the obvious and seemingly more imminent need for food and clean water. Now Jesus obviously cared for people’s physical needs. He’s the God who created us body and soul and assumed our body and soul into His eternal person. He gave food to the starving, pitied their bodily suffering, and relieved their sicknesses. And Christians do the same. Orphanages, hospitals, the entire idea of altruism toward the poor and needy, these arose with Christians. Because Christians know the value of human life, life created in God’s image and redeemed in Christ’s blood. But Christians know the value of human life precisely because they know Christ. The virtues of caring for the poor, even among the heathen of our world today, are the last vestiges of the Christian impulse to help those in need. Where that is removed, you get Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany or Mao’s People’s Republic of China, where people are treated like dispensable means to other people’s ends.

     

    The hierarchy of our needs as humans begins and ends with Jesus, with His suffering and death to win us back to God and free us from the punishment that our sins call down from heaven. Look at Jesus’ ministry here on this earth. He preached the Gospel. He healed, yes, but when the people pressed him and asked for nothing but bodily remedies, he left to another place so that He could again preach the Kingdom of His Father. When men brought a paralytic to him, a man who couldn’t walk and was wasting away in his body, he told the poor man, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” To everyone who saw it this seemed absurd. The man’s need was obvious. He needed to walk. But no, he didn’t. He needed forgiveness. Whether or not he could live a happy life without his legs is a paltry and irrelevant concern compared to the fact that he couldn’t live without the forgiveness that Jesus gives. Jesus, of course, healed the paralytic also. Because He cares for our bodies. But He had the priority of His Father, the priority of the Spirit whom He sends. What good would it do for a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?

     

    And this must be our priority too. It is amazing to see how much Christians give. The people of our church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, give millions in aid here at home and overseas. Their money goes to feed the hungry and build shelters and homes and to preach the Gospel all over the world. But the sad thing is that we are much more willing to give for people’s bodily needs than for their spiritual. You show a picture of malnourished and deformed children in the Dominican Republic to a congregation here in the States, you tell their stories of poverty, and you’ll get the money you need very quickly. And that’s a good thing. But you simply tell a congregation that these people don’t have a pastor, that they don’t know Christ, that they desperately need to hear the Word of God, to be baptized and brought into the faith, to know their Father and be delivered from the devil, and wallets are suddenly not so open and hearts not so ready to give.

     

    Why is this the case? Because we instinctively put people’s physical needs above their spiritual needs. And this, in turn, is because we instinctively do the same for ourselves. Obviously, we Christians know in our minds that to be redeemed from sin and reconciled to God is the most basic need any human could ever have. And yet we still act as if our greatest needs are merely physical. Christian fathers and mothers should spend more time teaching their children the word of God than watching their sporting events. Christian husbands should love their wives not for the bodily pleasure they can give but by talking about Jesus and reading Scripture with them. Christians should prefer going to church and hearing the words of everlasting life, eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, finding relief for their consciences in the message of their Father’s reconciliation through His only Son, than doing anything else that may please and satisfy our bodies. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

     

    What do we need? What do our children need? What do the sufferers around the world need, above all else? What did those Christians in Egypt need, even more than a functional government that could protect them from death at the hands of terrorists? The Helper tells us. We need Jesus. More important than living a long life, more important than putting food on the table, more important than your career, or your children’s or grandchildren’s worldly success, far more important than sports or the other trivial things we pampered Americans put at the top of our wish list – all of which have to do with our bodies and our earthly comfort, far above all this is our great need to be delivered from sin and death and the devil, to know the salvation our Father has worked through His Son, to hear and trust in Christ our Redeemer throughout all our lives and in every temptation, so that we do not fall away, but live under our Father’s care now and in eternity, no matter what happens to our bodies on this earth.

     

    The worst thing that could have happened to those Christians in Egypt is not what happened to them. The enemies of Christ killed their bodies, not their souls. And even those bodies will rise again. The Helper who saved their souls by giving them the Word of Christ will take care of their bodies when the time of Christ’s return comes. The devil, whom those murderers call Allah, he failed in his attack on them. He used force against bodies and souls that share in Christ’s resurrection.

     

    And the same goes with us. We Christians don’t suffer much bodily persecution here in America. We don’t walk around in fear in Casper that the government or Islamic terrorists will kill us or lock us up for confessing Christ. Thank God for that. But death is not the worst thing that could happen to us. It really isn’t. Death cannot end our gladness, we sing, we are baptized into Christ. Because we have already died with Him and risen with Him to new life. Because our death is not really death, but a sleep in Christ. We have the words of everlasting life.

     

    What we face is the trial that every Christian faces, the fiery trial against our souls that St. Peter speaks of. St. Peter is simply wonderful here in his bluntness, because he’s speaking the blunt words of Jesus. He says, don’t be surprised when it happens. Don’t think it’s something strange. Of course, the world and your own sinful flesh will rage against Christ and the Gospel. Of course your flesh will recoil at the Spirit’s working in you to value Christ and His redeeming sacrifice above your own earthly life and all its pleasures. Of course the world will insult you for your confession of Christ and call you to live by its own wisdom. It did the same to Christ. And a disciple is not above his master. Don’t be surprised. Count it a blessing that you share in Christ’s suffering.

     

    And for this Jesus sends us the Helper. He addresses our greatest need. The Helper speaks. And we who know our need listen to Him. We come with consciences stained with sin, having listened to our flesh and put our earthly concerns above the God whom we are to fear, love and trust above all things. And we find day after day, Sunday after Sunday, that our Father does not hide His face from us, He does not send us away in our shame, but receives us as His children. He gives us a new heart, removes the stony heart that cares only for this earthly life, and gives us a heart that finds its true joy in Jesus and the righteousness He has won by his cross. He gives us the body and blood of Christ that have secured our peace with God and give us the strength to live as Christians in this world. He gives us the only life worth living, a life lived under God our Father, a life that looks to Jesus for every good of soul and body. And so we live by the words of Jesus, now in this world and forever in eternity. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Pentecost

    Pastor Christian PreusPentecost, 2017John 14Our world is full of hopeless optimists. Now, on the one hand, optimism is a good thing. This is our Father’s world and we should trust that He will direct all things to good, as He promises to do for those who love Him and are called in Christ according to His purpose. But for a long time we have seen, in our country especially, the kind of optimism that simply thinks too much of our sinful human race. I remember watching a show in the hospital when my daughter Mary was first born, where a man declared it his mission to end all gun crime. To end it. The poor man’s son had died from a stray bullet shot between rival gang members. A terrible thing we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. And we can and should sympathize with a man like this. We can understand his pain and agree with his sincere desire that all gun violence would end, that no one would have to go through the pain of losing his innocent child to a bullet ever again. We can pray for it and commend it to our Lord, who promises us that whatever we ask in His name He will give. But one thing is certain, this man won’t end gun violence. There is no power on this earth, no man so persuasive, no governmental policy so stringent or well executed that could possibly put an end to gun violence. The government could ban guns and raid houses and outlaw the manufacturing of firearms and ammunition, and guns would still exist and evil people would still use them to kill innocent people. But if you visit a college campus you’ll see clearly that this man’s quest is common thinking, as naïve enthusiasts, young and old, actually think so much of the innate goodness of humanity that they imagine we can end not only gun violence, but wars, bigotry, sexual harassment, domestic violence. You name the evil, they are optimistic we can end it completely. As the recent campaign of the NFL against domestic violence ends every commercial: Together, we can end it.Now, at first glance we see this optimism and agree that we should in fact work as hard as we can to create peace on this earth, to protect the innocent and preserve our families and communities from violence of every kind. And that’s most certainly true. God has given us government for exactly this purpose, to punish evil and reward good, so that, as we pray often on Sunday mornings, we may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and reverence. We pray for just laws and faithful police officers and godly citizens. But we can’t be naïve about what the optimism taught at our universities and promoted all over television and social media entails. People actually think we can put an end to evil on earth. They do. Because they have been taught a completely unrealistic and false view of mankind and our potential.It’s the same sort of optimism we see in the history of the tower of Babel, where men trust so much in their own potential for good that they get together to build their own way to heaven and unseat God. This is the optimism that animates every single false religion in the world, the optimism of humanism, which asserts against the obvious that humans are born good and are only turned bad by outside influences. People only need to be educated, the right policies only need to be put into place, the government merely needs to make a few more laws, and we can have peace on earth.But this is a hopeless optimism. Because it’s nothing less than a denial of sin, a denial of sin and its very real consequences on this earth. It’s the teaching of evolution, that we can progress and progress until finally by our own exertions, by our own wisdom, by putting our own economic and social and educational theories into practice, we can obtain a utopia here on this earth, a paradise where there are no violent crimes, no wars, no poverty, no sin.Now it’s a noble and beautiful thing, pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, to work for peace in this world. But we Christians must remember that the peace that this world offers is imperfect. It’s incomplete. And whatever peace is achieved is not only incomplete but temporary. The War to End All Wars had to be renamed World War I after a short 20 years. That’s the way things go in this world. Peace doesn’t last. Human solutions fail. Crime, poverty, war, they can be checked, even reduced for a time, but never ended.The peace of this world is temporary. The peace of this world is imperfect. And that’s because the peace of this world depends on us. And we simply aren’t dependable. We’re fickle. Our innate sinful impulse is to look out for ourselves first. Human selfishness, human greed, human lusts, they make complete and permanent peace on earth impossible. We see this every day. We see it in the world around us. I won’t list off the wars taking place across the world right now, or the crimes that continue to take place in our country, our state, our city, because it would take too long and you can read the newspaper or listen to the news to find an endless list of proofs that evil still reigns in this world. And besides this, we don’t need to see the sin of others. We can see it in our ourselves, see the consequences of sin, the lack of peace, in our own lives, in our own families, in our own souls. And Jesus was right, of course. The poor you will have with you always, he said. He prophesied wars and rumors of wars. And He made it clear that the ruler of this world would be roaming about till Christ’s return. Jesus expressly says that in this world we will have trouble. There is no lasting peace in this world. It’s our fault, the fault of humanity. And it’s a false and misleading dream to think we can clean up our own mess and completely rid ourselves of evil.Instead, we take comfort in Jesus’ words to us today. He assures us that the peace He gives us is not like the peace that this world can give. The world’s peace is imperfect and temporary precisely because it relies on human effort, and human works and effort can never take away sin. The peace that Jesus gives is perfect and everlasting because it comes from our eternal and perfect God, who deals with our problem at its very root, at its very source, by taking away the sin that makes peace impossible.My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Every single one of those words is important.My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Jesus gives you His peace. You don’t work for it. He doesn’t give us a social or political program to carry out, at the end of which we’ll have created peace for ourselves. He doesn’t give us a jumpstart and send us on our way to find our own peace. He simply gives peace. It’s free. By grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t make it. You can’t think it into existence. No. You can only receive it as He gives it to you in His Word.And whose peace is it? It’s Jesus’ peace. My peace I give to you, Jesus says. God almighty, the eternal, the one who lives in unsurpassable peace, He gives His peace to you. It is His peace because He bought it, because he came down to this earth, joined our human nature to himself, and purchased peace with His own blood. He offers his perfect obedience, his perfect righteousness to the throne of God in heaven for us, for this world of sinners, just as He gave up His own peace, His own comfort, His own security, by becoming the One who takes all evil on Himself, all the sin that made peace between God and man and between man and man impossible, he takes it all to Himself and buries it in His sufferings, in His death, the sufferings and death of the eternal God Himself. And with such a price paid, with such love poured out, with such blood spilt, there can be no doubt that this peace, His peace, is eternal and perfect. This is the peace that Jesus gives.And it is Jesus who gives it. My peace I give to you, Jesus says.  When God speaks things happen. When Jesus speaks it is so. The God who by His Word brought all things into existence from nothing speaks a no less powerful word when He says, “Peace.” When your soul is without peace because of what you have done, because of what you have failed to do, when there is no peace in your conscience because you have fallen again into that same sin that you promised never to do again, when your fears and doubts and failures overwhelm you as you look at the sinful world around you, listen to Jesus speak His peace. What He says is so. There is peace, peace between you and God. Because Jesus who won your peace with God speaks this peace to you. And what Jesus says is so.And it is to you that Jesus speaks peace. My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Now, of course, he said those words to 11 men gathered around a table the night he was betrayed. But it is to you also that He speaks them. This is the message of Pentecost. The peace that Jesus spoke to His disciples is the very same peace that the Holy Spirit pours out on the world through the apostles’ preaching. It is the peace that Peter preached that first Pentecost when three thousand souls had God’s forgiveness poured out on them in the waters of Baptism. It is the peace that Jesus Himself through His Holy Spirit poured out on you in your Baptism, the peace of Jesus’ own resurrection that left all sin in the grave. It is the peace that He continues to pour out on you every time you hear from your pastor Jesus’ words of peace, of your forgiveness.And Jesus has made sure of this. He has made sure that you would hear His words of peace to you. When Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Spirit of truth to lead them into all truth, He was promising that they would know and preach and write down the truth of Jesus winning God’s peace with the world, God’s peace with you. When you read or hear Jesus speaking peace in the Bible, it is the peace Jesus won for you by his cross. When you hear your pastor speak peace through Christ’s cross, you are hearing Jesus speak peace to you.And this is true peace. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid. True peace is peace of the heart. Let not your hearts be troubled. You don’t need to be afraid. Even if your world is falling down on you, even if friends and family forsake you, even if pain and death approach, even if loneliness and anxiety attack, even if it looks and feels like there is no peace at all on this earth, you have peace, true peace. Because you have a God who loves you as a Father loves his dear children, a God who can find no fault in you because he has washed all your faults away in the flood of his blood, a God whose glory is to forgive you and remain with you forever. That’s peace. That’s true peace.The world will continue to be without peace. No matter how it tries, no matter how many programs and philosophies it comes up with, it will never achieve the peace it desires. It will only get a temporary peace that merely covers up and paints over the real problem of sin. But we have a peace that is perfect. A peace that never ends. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. He forgives our sins and by that forgiveness also inspires new life in us, to love our Lord Jesus, to love that He is our Lord, to love the peace He brings by His death which He offered up to His Father for us and for our salvation, and to love one another, because we have all been bought with the same price. And it is the Holy Spirit who will perfect our holiness. He will raise our bodies and unite them to our perfectly cleansed souls, so that we live eternally in the bliss of our Lord Jesus, loving Him, loving each other, loving that we are loved by our God, our Father and His Son, our Brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus. Let the world rage about us. Let our past sins try to bring us sorrow. Let pain and anxiety do their worst. We have peace. Peace with God in heaven. Jesus has won it. Jesus has spoken it. The Spirit proclaims it. It is ours now and forever. Amen.  

  • Trinity Sunday

    Trinity Sunday, 2017

    God is Trinity. He’s three in one and one in three. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three gods, but one God. There’s no way we humans could have come up with this, no way we could think up this God. God had to reveal Himself to us, show us who He is. To be three distinct persons and yet one God, one God and yet three persons, this doesn’t make any logical sense. One doesn’t equal three and three doesn’t equal one. That’s basic arithmetic. But God’s not a mathematical problem. He is who He is, and we know Him only by who He says He is, not by what our minds can cook up.

    But sinners insist on doing things the other way around. We try to figure out God for ourselves, by our own reason and strength and emotions. And in so doing we only think up the kind of god or gods that you’d expect sinners to think up. Sinners make gods in their own image. The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes made fun of the Greeks for creating gods who looked and behaved exactly like themselves. The Ethiopians have black gods and the Europeans have white gods. If horses had gods they’d look like and act like horses too, he quipped. And Xenophanes was right. The gods of the ancients looked and acted like people. Zeus was obsessed with power, just like the powerful men of his time. Apollo was obsessed with young women, just like the young men of his time. Dionysus was addicted to food and drink and Aphrodite to sexual pleasure, just like the pleasure-seekers of all ages. They made their gods in their own image.

    This is all we are capable of. We know only what our eyes see, our minds think, and what our hearts desire. Every attempt to figure out God using our own genius turns God into an image of ourselves. Just look at our modern examples of false gods that humans have invented from their own minds! The vengeful god of Islam is nothing but a reflection of Muhammad’s desire to pay back his enemies and conquer those who spited him. The constantly reproducing Heavenly Father of Mormonism is simply the image of Joseph Smith’s desire to have as many wives as he could and populate the world with his offspring. The generic god Americans have come up with, with all his varied roles, is only the reflection of our varied desire for wealth or emotional stability or political victory, or whatever else it is the people of this nation think we need or want. The people of our time are no different from any other time. There’s nothing new under the sun. Left to ourselves we create a god in our own image. And we end up worshiping ourselves. Our vision of God using our own reason and strength is a vision of what our sinful minds want Him to be or think He should be. That’s how humans think. And that’s how all human religions function.

    But that’s not Christianity. Christianity isn’t a human religion. It doesn’t sprout from the human mind. It’s the religion that comes from God Himself. And God reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, the Father unbegotten, the Son begotten from eternity, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, One God, now and forever, as we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed. And this God neither looks nor acts like humans expect him to.

    And thank God for that! Thank God that He speaks to us and reveals Himself as He truly is. There is no greater blessing in all the earth than this. Never take it for granted. No wealth in the world could compare with knowing who God is and who you are as God’s creation. Because when God reveals Himself to you, He doesn’t just give you some information about Himself, some facts to be memorized in Catechism class and stored away in the back of your minds. No, He reveals Himself to you as your Father, as the Son who becomes your Brother, as the Spirit who enlightens you and unites you to the mercies of the God who calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

    God is Trinity. And in knowing this, in knowing Him, you have life. And I’m not talking about some abstract, spiritual life, I’m not speaking some religious jargon here. I’m talking about real life, your life, now, in this world. It is because you know the Trinity that you know where you have come from and where you are going. You don’t have to guess about God’s care for you. You don’t have to wonder why you’re here on this earth. You are freed from the miserable and aimless life of simply pleasing yourself until you go down to the grave.

    Because in knowing God, the Trinity, you also know yourself. It’s the exact opposite of what’s commonly preached in our day in our secular society. They’ll tell you to first learn to know yourself and then you can learn to know God. But how will you know yourself, just think of this, how will you know yourself unless you know where you came from, that you are the creation of the Father who made all things and continues to care for them, that He created you in His image and expects from you to love Him and fear Him and trust in Him above all things? How will you know yourself unless you know the Son, the Son who took on your flesh to become your Brother, who lived a life of perfection in your place, who submitted Himself to His own wrath and punishment against the sin that you see in yourself every day? How will know yourself unless you know the Spirit, who grants you forgiveness in the Word of Christ’s cross, who washes you clean from your sin in your Baptism, who leads you to know and love your God and your neighbor and to look forward to an eternity of bliss with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in heaven?

    You know yourself by knowing the Father who made you, the Son who redeemed you, and the Spirit who makes you holy. And this extends to every aspect of your life. Don’t look at that mountain out there without thanking the Father in your heart that He gave you eyes to appreciate the beauty of His creation. When you look at your child or your grandchild, see them for who they are, not simply connected to you by blood and carnal generation, but the precious objects of the Father’s creating hand, for whom He cares, for whom His Son spilt his blood, to whom the Spirit grants life from the dead by the waters of Baptism and the Word of Christ’s cross. When you suffer pain and temptation, when sinful desires seize you and doubting and anxiety rack your soul, look again to the Father who made you in His image to love Him, see the Son who loved where you failed to love, turn to the Words of the Spirit who shows you the misery of sin and the joy of the righteousness and eternal life the Son of God has won for you.

    The Proverb tell us, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” You acknowledge God, you know Him in all your ways, in everything you see and experience and do in this life, only by Him first making Himself your God and telling you about Himself in His Word. This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus and us in our Gospel for this morning. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit He cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which of born of the Spirit is spirit.”

    Tristin, Syerra, Dezirea, you have been born of the Spirit. God came to you, you who couldn’t know him by yourself, because you were spiritually dead in your sin and without any knowledge of who God was or any love or trust in Him, God graciously came down to you, the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart in your Baptism, gave you to know and love and trust in Christ, the Son of your Father, who was lifted up on the cross for you, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. You know who God is. Because He has made you His and forgiven you your sins. And He has taught you His Word through your parents and your pastor. So acknowledge Him in all your ways, all your life. What you confess today before the Church is what God has taught you about Himself and about yourself. You will confess today what the people of this congregation right now have confessed also, that you believe in the Father who made you and cares for your every need, the Son who shed His blood for you, paid for your sin, and saved you from eternal death, and the Spirit who has made you the children of God and heirs of everlasting life. And it is because you cannot live without this God that you will pledge to come frequently and faithfully to Church and will suffer anything rather than fall away from Christ’s Church. You confess this, I confessed this, your parents confessed this, the people of this church confessed this, because we all need what only God can give, and He gives it only in His Word. Always remember this. No matter what happens in your life, no matter what ups or downs your life takes, come to church. Here you were born again to be God’s children. Here you hear His Word and know Him and learn to know yourself. Here you will receive the body and blood of your Savior which removes all doubt of who you are and where you are going. You are Christ’s and Christ is yours.

    And He gives you everything, because He gives you Himself, and He is everything. When you come to the Lord’s Supper and receive the body and blood of Christ that was lifted up on the cross for you to take away your death and your sin, you are receiving the forgiveness of the God who knows you better than you know yourself, who loves you more than you can imagine, who wants you with Him forever in heaven, who put His name on you in your Baptism and made you His and Himself yours. Treasure this all your lives. Thank God that He has made Himself known to you in Christ your Savior. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, grant you His grace now and throughout your lives to love Him as He has loved you, to remain in His Word and faith until He brings you to everlasting life, where we will celebrate the feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. God grant it to us all, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 1

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 1, 2017

    Luke 16, The Rich Man and Lazarus (Father’s Day)

    We just sang Lord Thee I love with all my heart. We Lutherans love that hymn. It’s sung for weddings, funerals, it’s sung around countless Lutheran tables. The children of Mount Hope Lutheran School have it memorized. We love it. And I’m sure it’s partly because of the tune. It’s a powerful tune. We often pick the hymns we like based on the music without paying any particular attention to the words. But we really do have to pay attention to the words – that’s the point of hymns and that’s the point of having glorious music with our hymns, to make us concentrate on the words and bring them into our heart as our own confession. But, in fact, I think that if I were to ask many Lutherans the question, “Do you love Jesus with all your heart?” they’d answer “No” without realizing that they’re completely contradicting the words of the hymn they love to sing so much. So, I’ll go ahead and ask you all the question right now – Do you love Jesus with all your heart? Because if you don’t, you shouldn’t be singing, “Lord Thee I love with all my heart,” no matter how good the beautiful melody makes you feel.

    Now, the reason many a Lutheran is going to say “No” to the question, “Do you love Jesus with all your heart?” is because Lutherans are taught correctly from the Bible, which is God’s own Word, that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We believe and experience Paul’s great confession, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells.” We know that we are born breakers of the 1st commandment, without fear, love, or trust in God.

    More than this, we know from our own experience, when we examine ourselves at the end of the day and especially before partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we know that we have put things above Jesus and loved other things more than we’ve loved Him. So we say, “No” I haven’t loved God above all things. In fact, the confession of sin in our hymnal for setting 1 of the divine service – that’s the one we never use here, though we’re going to be singing part of it today for our first communion hymn – in the confession of sin we actually confess to God, “We have not loved you with our whole heart.”

    And that’s true. You haven’t. You know that. That’s why you go on to confess, “We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” St. John makes this perfectly clear, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Every time we fail to love our neighbor we betray a lack of love for God. Speaking harshly to your spouse, wives disrespecting their husbands and husbands failing to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Parents, and especially fathers, failing to read God’s Word to their children and instruct them in the faith. That’s a lack of love, both for God and your children. And children, you’ve disobeyed your parents and acted like you didn’t hear what they told you, so you could get out of something you didn’t want to do. You have, haven’t you? Of course you have. I know kids. I used to be one, and I’ve got six of them. People who deny kids are sinners should have a couple kids and they’d change their minds. Bachelors, you’ve lusted in your hearts. Husbands, you’ve done the same. Single ladies, you’ve been discontent with God’s time and dictated your will to Him instead of praying and meaning, “Thy will be done.” Our lives betray a lack of love.

    And so we must all confess the same thing. We deserve what the rich man got for his lovelessness. We have not loved God with our whole heart. And God threatens punishment to those who do not love Him and keep His commandments. Can we then confess that we do love this God with our whole heart? Can we sing this glorious hymn, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart?” and actually mean it? Or do we have to explain it away and say, “Well, I only love you with half my heart, because the other half loves the mountains, sports, sleep, sex, food and my own sinful desires more, and, in fact, I’m planning to spite You and keep up doing exactly what I know you tell me not to do?”

    No, of course not. We don’t let sin define us. We die to sin daily. We hate our sin and war against it with the sword of the Spirit. We define ourselves, identify ourselves in our Baptism where we have died and risen with Christ. The Christian loves God with the whole heart. That’s what faith does, no matter how strong or weak faith is, no matter how unworthy we feel because we have failed to love, even as our sin wars against the Spirit and our conscience condemns us for what we have done and what we have failed to do. Faith looks away from all the stuff our sinful flesh lusts after, it spurns all the riches that perish with the using, it casts out the fear of God’s anger and punishment, and in sorrow over sin it places Christ before itself and says, “There is my righteousness, my joy, my deliverance from sin and misery, my everlasting salvation.” Faith clings to Jesus Christ alone and treasures Him with utter devotion. It owns and possesses His love for us. We love because He first loved us. And that’s the point. We need to understand this. Christians do love their neighbor. They do love God above all things. Because faith overflows with love for the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Gospel of forgiveness in Christ’s cross is no excuse to live and rejoice in sin. It’s the opposite. When you hear me, your pastor, declare you forgiven by the command and in the stead of Christ, God is most certainly forgiving you your sin and delivering you from the hell you deserve. But in so doing he’s inspiring you to love with your whole heart the God who took on your flesh and washed away your eternal death by His bitter suffering and precious blood.

    You love God with your whole heart when you believe and trust that Christ has loved you. And this is no sissy love, it’s not the love touted in our society – to be nice to everyone, tolerate everything, ignore our sin and the sin of others for the sake of getting along. That’s not love. True love is the love of God the Father that sent His Son to the cross to suffer the punishment of sin in your stead. Let me quote you a little poem my dad taught us kids around the dinner table:

    Of what this paltering world calls love,

    I will not know; I cannot speak.

    I know but His who reigns above

    And His is neither mild nor weak.

    Hard even unto death is this,

    And smiting with its awful kiss.

    What was the answer of God’s love,

    Of old, when in the Olive Grove,

    In anguished sweat His own Son lay,

    And prayed, O take this cup away?

    Did God take from Him then the cup?

    No, child, His Son must drink it up.

     

    That’s love. It’s a love that only the Christian understands, because only the Christian can say and mean, I have not loved God with my whole heart, and I have not loved my neighbor as myself, but that is not me, that is the me I hate, that is the me I constantly want drowned in the Baptismal waters, that’s my flesh that has died and drowned on Christ’s cross and cannot claim me. Yes, I do love God with my whole heart, and I do love my neighbor as myself, because I cling to the love that God has for me and for my neighbor in Christ’s cross and suffering. And this love I desire above all things. This love unwearied I pursue. Above wealth, above long life on this earth, above worldly comforts, above everything that tempts my treacherous heart to sin, I desire the love brought me in Christ’s body and blood given and shed for me.

    And you desire this love above all things because you know what your sin deserves. It is no coincidence that the denial of sin in our world today comes also with a denial of hell. No one wants to believe our Gospel lesson for today. No one wants to believe in a place of continual torment and unending anguish. No one wants to believe in, much less love, the God who sends people to hell eternally for their sin. That’s why the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, every liberal Protestant church body in America denies hell – and you should avoid them as you avoid the devil himself, because they’d rather believe their unloving feelings about God than what God actually and lovingly says in His Word. They refuse to believe Moses and the Prophets and so they have not been convinced even though Jesus has risen from the dead. And the same goes for our sinful flesh. It refuses to submit to God’s Word, refuses to believe that we deserve hell for our sins. No one wants to believe it because no one wants to face the horror of sin.

    But the Christian does. That’s what we do. We look at our sin in all its horror, that it has earned hell for us, and we say from the heart to our God, I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserved your temporal and eternal punishment. We confess what our flesh refuses to admit. And in so doing we subject our flesh, all our sinful desires and thinking, to the Word of our God, whom we love above all else. We say of all our sins, every unloving act, every dirty thought, every unbelieving doubt – you would drag me to the hell I deserve, you would take me from my God and His goodness, and I despise you for it. Because I love the God who has saved me from you. Perfect love casts out fear. My sinful flesh fears God and His wrath and runs away, denies hell, ignores it, goes its merry way, thinks nothing of neglecting poor Lazarus as the dogs lick his sores. But God has given me the faith of my father Abraham, who believed God’s Word and obtained eternal righteousness. Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, because You have loved me with that hard and glorious love of your cross, you have taken my punishment on Yourself and have drunk the cup of wrath that belonged to me. So let no false doctrine beguile me, let Satan not defile my heart, give strength and patience unto me, to bear my cross and follow Thee. Let me serve and help my neighbor and know that in so doing I am serving You who have loved me and given Yourself for me.

    When you sing and confess, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart,” you are making the Christian confession that you desire above all else to rest in the wounds of Christ and be free from sin and all its misery. And the Word of Christ, his cross and resurrection, the Word spoken by Moses and the prophets, it gives you what you love. So cling to it. Fathers, teach it to your children. It’s Father’s Day. The father who loves his children gives them the Word of God that saves him and them. And as you abide in His Word, look forward to the day when all sin and weakness is gone forever as you behold in your resurrected body the glorious face of the Son of God. Lord, Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, and I shall praise Thee without end. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 2

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 2/Presentation of Augsburg Confession

    Luke 14:15-24

    Today is the 487th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. That may not mean much to modern Lutheran laymen, but it should. It really should. Because it’s your confession. The Augsburg Confession was originally the confession of laymen, not pastors. It was written by a layman and presented to the world by laymen, not pastors. It was the people who stood up and confessed what the Bible taught against a hostile world 487 years ago. And it is the people of the church who must confess now in our age, both here at church and in our homes and our lives.

    We, pastors and people alike, are a creedal church. That means we actually put into words our confession, clearly and without shame, so that our children and all the world can see what we believe, teach, and confess according to the Scriptures. Now there are a lot of churches today who replace creeds with slogans. Deeds, not creeds, they say. Or, we believe the Bible, not creeds. But this is nonsense. Literally, it’s nonsense, it makes no sense. Saying you believe in deeds, not creeds, is itself a creed. Creed is a Latin word that means “believe,” so to say you believe in anything is a creed, even if you say you don’t believe in creeds. It’s still a creed. You can’t get away from creeds, you can’t get away from confessing the faith if you’re going to be a Christian. Jesus says, “Everyone who confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father in heaven, and whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven.”

    And so the Christian Church must be a creedal church, a church that confesses the faith. We hold to the three ancient creeds, the Apostles Creed, which we confessed at our Baptism, the Nicene Creed, which we just confessed, and the Athanasian Creed, which we confessed a couple weeks ago on Trinity Sunday, because we are confessing the Word of our God to us, who he is, what he has done for us sinners in sending His Son to die for us. And this is what we confess also in the Augsburg Confession. It is a clear, simple, and forceful confession of what the Bible teaches and what we believe – not just pastors, but the people in the pews. When I became your pastor, I made an oath to God that I would teach according to the Augsburg Confession, because it agrees with the Bible. And you made an oath to hold me to this confession. Because we are all under one God and one Word of God. And so it is good, right, and salutary that we should learn a bit about this Augsburg Confession today.

    On June 25th, 1530 the Lutheran princes appeared in Augsburg, Germany, before the most powerful man in the world, Emperor Charles V, and they made the Christian confession. They did so at the peril of their own lives. The situation was so dangerous that Luther’s prince wouldn’t let him go, thinking he’d be arrested and executed. Emperor Charles V was a staunch Roman Catholic and was none too pleased that the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ was being preached in Lutheran lands and that the Roman Church had lost its hold over much of Germany and Scandinavia. But the Lutheran princes came before him anyway. They left behind their jobs, their wealth, and their families to confess the faith before a man who had armies at his disposal to crush them. They knew what they desired most. And it wasn’t their positions of honor, it wasn’t their money, it wasn’t a carefree life with their families – it was Jesus, His Word of forgiveness to sinners who could not save themselves from the punishment their sin deserved.

    And this is what they confessed. They confessed what the Bible teaches, that God is Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons. They confessed that all people are born in sin, without fear, love, or trust in God, and would be condemned forever under God’s wrath if they were not saved and made children of God by the power of the Spirit’s Word and Baptism. They confessed who Christ was, the Son of God who took on our human nature, lived, died, and rose again to be our Savior. They confessed that we are justified, declared righteous before God, not by any merit or works on our part, but solely through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven and we are received into God’s favor because of Christ, who by his death has made satisfaction for our sins. They confessed that this faith comes to us, is given to us, by the preaching of the Word and the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through which the Holy Spirit comes to us and makes and keeps us Christians. They confessed that good works follow as a fruit of faith, that we must do good works, not to save ourselves, but in thanks to God. They confessed that we who hear and believe God’s Word, even though we continue to sin, are Christ’s Church, cleansed from our sin and heirs of everlasting life. They confessed that Baptism saves us because it gives us Jesus, that the Lord’s Supper saves us, because it gives us Jesus’ body and blood broken and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. They confessed the faith of the Bible.

    Now, why were they willing to make this confession at the risk of their lives and their positions and their wealth? Why were they willing to lose everything for the sake of this confession? Because they had tasted the feast of which our Lord Jesus speaks in our Gospel lesson for this morning. They were the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind whom God invited to his banquet and fed with the precious Word of Christ-crucified for them. For centuries, the people had gone to church and heard their priests speak in a language they couldn’t understand, and if he gave a sermon at all, he only told them how they should keep from this sin or that, that they should spend their money on masses and indulgences to buy their way out of purgatory, that they should do this and that humanly contrived work to escape from hell. They didn’t know God as their gracious Father. They knew Christ only as a judge who threatened them with punishment. They were told to trust in their works, and all this could only lead them to despair, because there’s nothing at all a sinner can do to earn the favor of the righteous and holy God.

    But then they heard the pure Gospel. They heard God’s invitation to eat at His table, to come before Him as they were, poor in spirit, not having any spiritual riches with which to pay Him, crippled and lame, not able to climb the ladder to heaven and come to Him by themselves, blind, not knowing the way to Him by their own reason and strength, God invited them, called them, brought them weary and heavy laden to receive from Him rest for their souls. They learned that their sins were laid on Jesus, that he had descended the ladder from heaven to earth, that their Father in heaven had sent His Son into their flesh not to condemn them but to save them, to live a perfect life in their place and shed his divine blood to pay the penalty for their sins. They tasted for the first time the blood of Christ, shed for them, and knew the joy and certainty that the body and blood in their mouths was the very body and blood that had paid their debt and won them release from sin and death.

    And then they didn’t need a rule or a command to go to church. They didn’t want to make excuses about buying fields and testing oxen and getting married, they knew who they were and what they needed above everything else. They were the humble and lowly who wanted nothing more than to be exalted in Christ, to taste of their forgiveness, to learn to know again and again that they had a Father in heaven who was reconciled to them and forgave them no matter how many times they failed and fell again into temptation and sin, that He loved them constantly with the love of Christ’s cleansing cross. And that’s why they could make the confession they made 487 years ago and risk everything for the sake of hearing the Gospel and tasting of Christ’s Supper.

    Can we make the same confession? Or have we grown tired of the invitation to Christ’s Supper? Has it lost its appeal? Do we feel any need for it? Would we rather take care of our jobs, our land, our recreation, our sports, spend some Jesusless time with our families? Luther described the preaching of the Gospel as a raincloud, which passes from one place to another. Those who reject it and despise it lose it altogether. This is what has happened all over Europe, what once was full of the preaching of Christ and joyful hearers, where there are now only small islands of Christians amid a sea of scoffers. The people rejected the Gospel and now they have no Gospel to hear. There’s a terrible silence. The invitation was given, excuses were made not to hear it, and the master of the feast declared, “I say to you that none of those who were invited shall taste my supper.”

    How do you think that happened? It didn’t happen overnight. What happened is what is happening here, in our country. Fathers and mothers bring their kids to church once and a while, but never teach them the faith at home. They use the church as a social club, and when they find a more exciting social club they end up not coming to church at all. They lose the desire to receive Christ’s body and blood, because they never think of their sin or worry about God’s anger against their sin, and then they just imagine church is a burden, a duty, that we have to perform, while there are much more exciting things to be doing elsewhere. That’s how it happens. And it is happening. And for our ingratitude the raincloud of the Gospel is moving away from us and to the poor and maimed and lame and blind in Africa and South America, where, thank God, sinners actually still yearn for the feast of Christ’s forgiveness.

    So what do we do? What do you do when you find God’s invitation to hear His Word and taste of His Supper a burden instead of a joy? When you see that you’d really rather sleep in, or go to a sporting event, or spend a day with the family, or camp or hunt or fish? You pinch yourself. I mean that. Pinch yourself. See who you are. You are flesh and blood. And then see what God says of that flesh, how it rages against God, the author of every good thing, how it draws you away from Him and everything good and true and beautiful. And then look around to see that you are still in this world, with all its enticements and temptations, with its sexual depravity, its broken and unhappy homes, its misery and its death. And finally, know that you have the devil about you raging to get your mind and your soul to find your happiness everywhere but in the God who made you and won you as His child. See again that you are poor, no matter how many earthly riches you have, that you need the riches that only God can give. And when you see this, you won’t want to put your work over church, but to work so that you can come to church and support the preaching of the Gospel. You won’t want to put your family over church, but to love them by teaching them the Word of God at home and bringing them to church, so that you can enjoy time with them forever. You will find in Christ your rest and your joy, the one thing needful that exceeds everything you could ever hope for in this life.

    We have been invited to the feast of our God. Think of that! We, who are poor and maimed and lame and blind, unworthy sinners, God wants us to dine with Him, to enjoy the rest that comes in the body and blood of our Savior, to feast with Him until we attend the eternal feast of heaven. He has searched us out, given us His riches, bound up our wounds, made us to walk with Him and to see Him for who He is, our Creator and Redeemer and Comforter. There is nothing in all the world better than this. This is our confession, the same confession our fathers made 487 years ago. And by God’s unending grace it will be our confession before the throne of God, where we will feast with the Lamb in his Kingdom that has no end.

    O may we all hear when our shepherd doth call with accents persuasive and tender, that while there is time we make haste, one and all, and find him our mighty defender. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 3

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 3, 2017

    Luke 10:1-10

    The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are parables of repentance. Jesus says so, twice. When Jesus says something once, we listen, because he’s God. When he says something twice, we listen all the more and pay attention. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” Jesus says. And again, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And so today we learn from Jesus what it means to repent.

    Now, there’s no doubt that Christianity is all about repentance. John the Baptist came preaching repentance, and our Lord and Savior Jesus followed after him, using the same words, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” That little word, “Repent” sums up all of Christian preaching, all of Christian faith, all of Christian life. When we hear Jesus teach us about repentance, we are hearing our God teach us about himself, about us, about our life here on earth, about our everlasting life in heaven. And so we listen, we listen to the one who has the words of everlasting life.

    Most people, when they think of repentance, think of one thing and one thing only. Being sorry. When we hear that so-and-so repented, we think that so-and-so said he was sorry. And this is part of repentance, of course, but it’s certainly not all of it. Actually, being sorry isn’t even the main part of repentance. No, you can be as sorry as can be, you can cry and weep and beat yourself up about some sin, and still not repent at all. Look at Judas, that infamous betrayer of the Lord of Hosts – he was sorry. He wept. He brought back the money. He wished he hadn’t done what he did. Did he repent? Did he return to God? No. He hung himself in despair. Being sorry just doesn’t cut it. Being sorry doesn’t make everything right again. Being sorry’s only the acknowledgment that you’ve made a mess of things – it doesn’t clean up the mess.

    Jesus does. Jesus does by forgiving you your sin. That’s the real content of repentance. Forgiveness. And when you receive forgiveness for your sins, you’re not the one doing anything, are you? No. You’re receiving. It’s God who’s doing the work. It’s Jesus who forgives. It’s Jesus who has earned the right to forgive by his life, death, and resurrection, by his taking our place and paying the penalty for our sins by his blood and suffering. And so when we speak of repentance, we’re actually talking about God’s work, Jesus’ work on us.

    And this is exactly what Jesus teaches in our Gospel for today, in the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and also in the next story, the next parable, the parable of the prodigal son.

    Who does all the acting in the parable of the lost sheep? The sheep I suppose does some work. It wanders off. It gets itself lost. But that’s not good work. Does the sheep do anything to get itself unlost? Does it find its way back to the fold by itself? Or does it walk part of the way back? Does it work up enough sorrow, enough regret, enough remorse for leaving the flock to force the shepherd’s hand and compel him to come rescue it? Of course not! It does nothing. Absolutely nothing. The shepherd does everything. He seeks the sheep out. He finds it, helpless and alone. He picks it up. He lays it on his shoulders. He walks back to the fold and returns the sheep to its brothers and sisters. The shepherd does all the work. The sheep does nothing. That’s Jesus’ picture of repentance, of the Christian life.

    Or the lost coin? What capacity does a coin have to get unlost? I lose my keys almost every day. Never have my keys helped me in the least to find them. They just sit there, lost, not in the place that they’re supposed to be. And it’s up to me to search and search until I find them. So with the coin. The woman sweeps and moves the furniture. She does all the work. The coin does nothing. It just gets found. That’s Jesus’ picture of repentance, of your life as a Christian. Complete reliance on God.

    Could Jesus make it any clearer? Could he describe repentance any more vividly? Could he make it any more obvious that repentance is not your work but God’s work? The shepherd seeking his sheep is Jesus who out of great mercy seeks us out. The woman in search of the coin is God who takes pains to find us. That’s Jesus’ explanation and description of repentance. Repentance is God’s act of finding us, of bringing us to faith, of inspiring trust in Him within our hearts, of giving us the righteousness of Christ, the innocence that we lack, and forgiving us all our unrighteousness. That’s what repentance is all about. We rely on God for it. Our entire life as Christians is a life of reliance upon the God who has mercy on us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Now Jesus tells these parables to the Pharisees. He tells these stories to the Pharisees because the Pharisees are upset, they’re angry, that Jesus is welcoming sinners and tax-collectors into his presence and forgiving them. The Pharisees know nothing about repentance. Their religion is as far from the Christian religion as possible. Their religion is the religion of this world, the religion of our world today, a religion of works, the only religion that man in his sin could invent for himself. People who hold to this religion have no need of forgiveness, because they don’t think they’ve sinned, or, if they do think they’ve sinned, they imagine that sin is something so trivial that it can be made up for by sufficient sorrow and enough good works. The Pharisees couldn’t conceive of the religion that Jesus practiced, that God had come into the world, into the flesh to teach. They couldn’t conceive of this divine religion that made sinners out of every single human being, that revealed the inner depth of sin and exposed every human heart as dark and evil, that revealed the sinner’s only hope as God’s infinite grace and love, as God’s forgiveness and acceptance in Christ Jesus alone. They couldn’t conceive of the religion of grace because they were depending on their own thoughts, on their own opinions, on their own reason, instead of depending on Jesus’ words.

    When we refuse to depend on Jesus’ words, when we think that we are wiser than Jesus, we try to redefine repentance to make ourselves look a little better, paint ourselves as at least a little independent, not completely dependent on God and his mercy. Instead of stressing God’s work, instead of focusing on God’s finding us, we want to focus on our work of sorrow, our work of regret. Am I sorry enough for my sin? Have I cried enough? Have I shown God that I am worthy of his mercy? But no, you haven’t done enough. Not even close. Even if you cried all night, all week. Even if you came to church and knelt down before the altar for an entire day until your knees bled, you would not earn one iota of God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s forgiveness. You can’t earn it.

    So thank God that He gives it freely. The God who became a man, took on your nature to become one of our race forever, the God who suffered in his human body, bore all our sins to the cross, died the death that we deserved, and rose to give us eternal life, the God who accomplished our salvation by Himself, without our help, is the same God who seeks us out, lost and defiled, and makes us his children, gives us all that he earned by his life and death, and He does it all by himself, without our help. All by his pure and unsurpassed love.

    But we mustn’t misunderstand Jesus. He’s not saying that Christians don’t need to be sorry for their sins. Christians are by definition sorry for their sins. They’re sorry, but they don’t think they’ve earned anything by their sorrow. When the tax-collectors came to Jesus, when the prostitutes and thieves, home-wreckers and family destroyers, when they came to Jesus, they came for one reason and one reason only. They needed forgiveness. They wanted forgiveness. And no one wants forgiveness unless he’s sorry for his sins. They didn’t come to Jesus and say, “I think I’ve worked up enough sorrow, enough contrition, to earn a little forgiveness.” No! Of course not. They came in sorrow expecting forgiveness because they knew Jesus, they knew he was merciful. So while it’s not your sorrow that earns you forgiveness, it is simply absurd to imagine that a person would desire forgiveness for a sin that he isn’t sorry for. That’s like the Pharisees desiring forgiveness. That doesn’t make any sense. They don’t think they’ve sinned. You can’t want forgiveness for something you don’t think is wrong.

    But we Christians don’t obsess over our sorrow, dissect it, and treat it like it earns us something with God. No, we acknowledge that even our sorrow over sin is a gracious work of God. It’s God’s Law, it’s God’s Spirit who convicts the world of sin. It’s Jesus’ preaching that drives sinners to know their sin and depend on Him for forgiveness. Repentance is all God’s work, from the sorrow that we feel over our sin to the forgiveness we receive at God’s hand, it’s all the work of our holy and blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Our confession to God is the confession of the prodigal son, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son.” It is our confession, inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, who has convicted us of our sins, our very real sins, our sins that have offended our God and have hurt our neighbor, the sins that we promise not to do again and yet return to in the heat of our passions, the sins that drag our lives into despair. They are a burden to us because the Holy Spirit who dwells within us shows us their punishment and their pain. And it is the same Spirit who points us to Jesus as our only comfort, our only Savior, in our lost and sinful state.

    And here in God’s house, Jesus does exactly what he was doing when the Pharisees grumbled against him. He receives sinners. He receives you, welcomes you, and forgives you. It is Jesus himself who has sought you out. He found you and joined you to himself in your Baptism, where He announced to you, to heaven, and to all the world that his blood was shed for you, that he has tread your iniquities under his feet and cast all your sins into the depths of the sea, that he will guard and protect you until he brings you to be with Him forever in the resurrection. This same Jesus not only receives you but eats with you, welcoming you to the meal of his forgiveness, where he gives you Himself and all that he has won for you.

    In this place Jesus receives sinners. He forgives us. He preaches his love and mercy into our hearts. And we rejoice to be found among those sinners that Jesus our Savior and Shepherd has received into his fold.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 5

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 5

    Luke 5:1-11

    In a few days I plan, by God’s grace, to be about as far north in the lower 48 as I can be, on a lake, with my fishing pole in my hand, my three oldest kids asking me every 20 seconds whether I’ve caught a fish. And my guess is that I’ll have to tell them “No.” every time. Because I’ve never really fished in my life, and until a couple days ago, I had no idea what jigging was – I’m still not quite sure – and I’m still not certain I could tell the difference between a bass and a trout. Now, I’m telling you this not to embarrass myself or to entertain you with some irrelevant story – that’s not why you come to church, after all, you come to church not for entertainment but to hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus. No, telling you my lack of fishing expertise actually has a point. It takes quite a bit of knowledge, technique, skill and experience to catch fish.

    Simon Peter was a fisherman. He knew how to fish. And using all his techniques, fishing at the right time, in the right place, with the nets at the proper depth, Peter caught nothing. It happens. And after a night of fishing and catching nothing, Peter heard our Lord Jesus command him to put out the nets. It made no sense to put out the nets. It was the wrong place, the wrong time. And more than this, it was a nuisance to put out the nets. They had finally cleaned them of algae and folded them up. But Peter responded to Jesus, “At your word, I will do it.” Peter did what made no sense to him. He simply obeyed Jesus’ word.

    Now this is a picture of the Church and how it grows. That’s what Jesus says. It’s why he later tells Peter that he will be catching men from now on. The Church catches people, brings them into her fellowship, makes Christians of them and children of our Father in heaven, by obeying Jesus’ word. Even if Jesus’ word doesn’t look to us like it will accomplish anything, even if it seems a nuisance and a hardship to preach it and confess it. Jesus is very clear in telling us how to catch men. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to keep all things that I have commanded you. The Church grows and thrives, men and women and children are brought into the ship of the Church, by the net of the Gospel, by preaching Jesus’ word without apology, by baptizing and administering the Holy Supper of our Lord.

    But this seems too paltry a thing to human reason. It always has. It just doesn’t seem to work. Church-attendance in America has been plummeting for half a century now. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has lost a quarter of its membership in the last 40 years. And the rate of decline in the other Protestant church bodies is even more staggering, and the same goes for the Roman Catholic Church. People stop coming to church or they never join. And the people of the church have tried to take matters into their own hands and try whatever techniques they can to bring people back. They’ve turned to the earthly experts, to marketing strategists, in what’s become known as the “Church Growth Movement.” The key, we’re told, is to give people what they want, to assess their felt needs and conform the church’s teaching to what people are looking for. What are people looking for in a church? The church has to provide it, whether child-care or relevant messages or contemporary music or a casual atmosphere – coffee shop churches are becoming quite popular.

    The marketing experts told us that if we preach the doctrine of the Bible, we’ll alienate people, so pastors water down their sermons, stop preaching sin and the Savior from sin, because that’s not what people want. People want to know how to be successful in life, how to live their best life now, and so the experts told us to preach sermons on how to succeed in finances, how to thrive in their personal relationships with others, how to overcome the various earthly hardships that affect their lives. The experts told us the historic liturgy puts people off, so churches replace it with emotional songs and “praise” services that focus on our feelings instead of on Christ-crucified for sinners.

    And what has all this resulted in? Church attendance continues to decline and churches end up calling themselves churches without ever preaching Christ crucified. And as the experts tell us to redouble our efforts, to employ more and more marketing strategies, to put out more and more surveys to see what people are looking for, we must return again and again to the only expert who has anything to say to the Church, Jesus Christ our Lord.

    He shows Peter that all his strategies won’t work, not even in fishing, unless God blesses His work. But of course Jesus isn’t interested in teaching Peter how to fish. He’s interested in teaching His Church and His pastors how to catch men. And this happens not by employing our own strategies or techniques, but by trusting that Christ will build up His Church by the preaching of His Word. Because that’s what Jesus has promised. And His promises don’t fail.

    Only the Word of Christ can build the Church because only the word of Christ shows people what they really need and gives it to them. We don’t know what we need unless Jesus tells us. And the people of the world can’t tell us what they need either, because they don’t know what they need. That’s the whole point. If they knew what they needed they’d be knocking down church doors to hear the Gospel. We all think we know what we need from God. We’ve all got problems we’d like solved. If only the pain or sickness would go away. If only so-and-so would stop giving me a hard time at work, if only my wife or my children would listen to me, if only I could lose a few pounds, If only I could get a raise or get a job, if only people would respect me, if only my family would get along, if only I could rid myself of my bad habits. We’ve got all sorts of problems we’d like solved. But left to ourselves we ignore our greatest and most pressing need.

    It is the Word of God alone, who certainly cares for all our needs of body and soul, it is God who shows us our real need, the need that underlies all our problems. And this is the preaching we need to hear from Christ’s mouth through His pastors in His Church. We don’t need Jesus the financial planner, Jesus the self-help counselor, Jesus the relationship expert. We need Jesus our Savior from sin. We need to see what Peter saw in that boat as he beheld the righteous God before Him and cried out, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And this is a need we will only see when we stop worrying about all our selfish concerns, about what we can do to improve ourselves on this earth, only when we stop and listen to Jesus.

    You need church because you need Jesus. You need the body and blood of Christ. You need the preaching of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’s cross. You need His absolution. You need your Baptism.

    Do you know this need? Do you see what Peter saw? Peter didn’t care about his fish or his livelihood or all his earthly worries, not when He saw the truth of who stood before Him. We stand before God the almighty and nothing is hidden from Him. He knows your thoughts. He knows what you have done and said. He knows the jealousy and the apathy, the lust, the doubts and worries of your heart against Him and His Word. He knows the words spoken and the thoughts imagined against your neighbor. And the righteousness of the righteous God requires punishment for sin. You will meet your Maker. You will be in Peter’s place. You will see His glory and His righteousness and you will see that you cannot stand before him in your sins. And what you need now, what is far more relevant than anything else you feel you need on this earth, is to be able to appear before this God pure and holy, without sin, innocent and righteous.

    So hear what Jesus spoke to Peter spoken to you. Do not be afraid. The almighty God has not come down upon this earth to catch fish but to catch men. He has come for you. He has become sin to give you His righteousness. He has paid the price you were required to pay with his own blood and suffering. He has swallowed up His own wrath in the hard love that bore your iniquities and carried your sorrows to the cross. And He gives His life and His goodness and His righteousness to you. Every sin that separates you from your God He has blotted out. He sets you before the throne of God’s justice pure and holy, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. He gives you His own inheritance as children of God by washing you clean by water and the Word. He sets before you the body and blood that were pierced and shed for your sins and now are placed into your mouth so that your heart can know and confess that Jesus’ righteousness is yours now and forever. And since you are God’s child and heirs with Christ of everlasting life, you can commend all your cares to your Father in heaven, knowing that He who has taken care for your greatest need cares for your every need of body and soul.

    We confess what we have heard and believed. And we have heard marvelous things from Christ our Savior. We suffer only God to guide us. Because He has taught us our need and He has given Himself to be our Savior. His net has caught us, and we pray that through the preaching of His Gospel, the Holy Christian Church would burst with men, women, and children rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, in faith toward Christ and in fervent love toward one another. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 8

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Matt. 7:15-23

    Trinity 8

    The difference between God’s Word and the false word of man couldn’t be greater. The prophet Jeremiah compares the Word of God to fire and the word of false teachers to straw. The Word of God brings life, the false word of man leads only to death. The Word of God is truth, the word of man is a lie. The Word of God has divine power, the false word of man has no power at all, except what sinful men invest in it. The Word of God and the word of man couldn’t be more opposite.

    So why is the false word of man, the false doctrine that says false things about God and about you, why is it so hard to resist? Why is it so hard for people to distinguish it from the true Word of God? Why are there so many false teachers, so many false prophets, so many sects and heresies in the world?

    Because sinful man doesn’t like what the Word of God says, that’s why. The Word of God doesn’t pull punches. It doesn’t flatter. It doesn’t hide the hard facts. It doesn’t avoid the topics of evil, and death, and hell. No, the Word of God gets in your face, gets into your heart, and tears it apart. That’s its power. It teaches you that you’re a sinner, it reveals to you that you care more about yourself and your petty concerns than about your fellow man or about your loving God. And after it has offended you, then it piles it on and tells you that you are powerless to do anything about it, that left on your own you’ll just continue hating in your heart, serving yourself, and ignoring the God who created you.

    This is the powerful Word of God, the Word that the Jeremiah calls a hammer that breaks the rocks in pieces. And this powerful, true, fiery, and divine Word is exactly what Jesus our Lord preaches. When Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets,” he is finishing his preaching of the Sermon on the Mount. He’s addressed a crowd of thousands and told them that if they want to try to keep the law, they’re going to have to gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands. He’s told them to look into their hearts and see murder, adultery, and theft. And Jesus still preaches this sermon today. He preaches it to you and to me. And everything he says is true.

    That’s why people, that’s why our own sinful flesh, wants absolutely nothing to do with the Word of God. You don’t want anyone calling you a murderer or an adulterer, just because you got angry or lusted in your heart. You don’t want to admit it. I don’t want to admit it. Because admitting it hurts. It kills. It destroys our pride, covers us with shame, and reduces us to a guilt that we cannot bear on our own. This hammer of God’s law is devastating. It crushes our hearts of stone and leaves us powerless, broken, in pieces.

    And because this law of God so offends people, false prophets, and by that Jesus simply means false teachers – prophet just means teacher, false prophets refuse to preach it. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s time were preaching that all would be fine, that the people could continue ignoring God’s Word and warning and forging their own way without any consequences. They refused to preach what Jeremiah preached – that God is angry at sin, at their sin. They hated this message, and so did the false prophets of Jesus’ time and so do the false prophets of our time. They can’t bear to wield the hammer that crushes sinful hearts. But anything short of this hammer of God’s law is flattery, false, and fickle. Everything short of the Word of God that condemns sinners as helpless, poor, and miserable is not God’s Word but man’s word. So beware of it. That’s what Jesus tells us today. Beware of false teachers who come to you like sheep, as if they are good Christians teachers, and flatter you about your potential, flatter you and tell you that your sin isn’t really sin, flatter you and tell you that by your own works, by your own choice, you can bring God into your life. Beware of these flatterers. Cling to the Word of God, and watch its power disrobe these false sheep and show them to be the ravenous wolves they are, who do nothing but scatter and kill, leaving you in sin and ignorance.

    You will know them by their fruits. You won’t know these false teachers by their appearance. They can be outwardly nice and pious. They can be eloquent and convincing and educated. They can look like sheep. But you will know them by their fruits. The fruit of a teacher is his teaching. If a preacher or a teacher, no matter his family name, no matter the LCMS logo on his church sign, no matter his prestigious doctor’s degree, no matter his smiley face and his great way with the kids, if a preacher or a teacher doesn’t preach God’s wrath against sin, against your sin, if he doesn’t preach Jesus’ words that you are helpless to save yourself, he is not preaching God’s Word, but his own word. And Jesus tells you today to mark and avoid him. Even if he uses religious language, says, “Lord, Lord,” talks in glowing terms of Jesus, works wonders by drawing people into church, if he does not preach to you God’s Law that condemns your sin, then you know that Jesus himself will say to him on the last day, “Depart from me, you worker of lawlessness.”

    Christian preaching, the good fruit that comes from the good tree, is the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners. You cannot preach Christ unless you preach what Christ has done. And Christ has taken away sin, real sin, sin that hurts us and others and alienates us from the God of love. I take no pleasure in preaching the law’s condemnation to you. Neither did the prophet Jeremiah. He complained about it, because all it seemed to do was make people mad at him. But I can’t preach to you Christ the Savior from sin unless God’s Word has convinced you that you are a sinner who needs saving. That’s why Jeremiah preached the Law, why Jesus preached the Law. That’s why all true teachers of God’s Word preach the law that condemns sin. Because we need to know that we need and have a Savior in Jesus.

    Jesus speaks a word of love in our gospel. It’s not the sissy love promoted by false teachers who excuse sin, but the hard love of the God who spent Himself by bearing our sins on the cross. Beware of false prophets. When false teachers tell the homosexual who is caught up in his sin that he isn’t sinning, they’re only making him more miserable and robbing him of Jesus and the comfort of God’s forgiveness of this sin in Jesus. When false teachers tell a man and woman living together outside of marriage that they can live in their sin, they’re robbing them of God’s forgiveness of this sin in Jesus. When false teachers ignore God’s law and neglect to tell you that drunkenness and gossip and self-pride are sins that offend God and call down his anger, they are robbing you of your forgiveness for those sins in Jesus. Jesus preaches the law because he loves you. And he warns you against false teachers who refuse to preach God’s law because he loves you. Because he wants you to be with him and find forgiveness and fellowship with God in him, your Lord over sin.

    The Word of God is powerful, not only to break our hard hearts with the hammer of the Law, but to create new hearts by the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners. Jesus does not leave sinners in their sins. When sinners confess who they are, when they see that they need a Savior, when God’s Word has convinced them by the working of the Holy Spirit that they are helpless, Jesus preaches a new Word. He teaches us what it means that He is our Lord. He points to Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes on your flesh to bear your sin in his body, and by his death to remove that sin from you as far as the east is from the west. He points to Himself as the righteous One who obeyed every iota of God’s Law in your place with unsurpassable love, divine love, love that has won a righteousness that is every bit as real as your sin, a righteousness that covers your sin, a righteousness that is freely given to you in the Word of Christ’s cross, making you a saint, a holy and righteous child of God.

    The Word of Christ’s forgiveness is the most powerful thing in all the world. It is invested with the power of God’s own blood shed to pay full satisfaction for all sins ever committed. This Word of forgiveness in Christ is nothing like any word of man. It creates from nothing, gives righteousness and perfection where there was no righteousness, no perfection. It makes the enemies of God into his children. It gives the poor in spirit the riches of the eternal God. It picks up shattered lives and puts them together again. It comforts those who mourn. It gives honor and glory and joy to those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake.

    You have this Word, dear Christian. It is your birthright. Your heritage. By this Word you were born as a child of God in your Baptism. And when God made you his child, he gave you everything he has. He gave you His Word, the Word preached here in this pulpit, the Word of forgiveness and union with Christ in the Lord’s Supper, the Word of Scripture. It’s yours. So claim it. The Word that brings Jesus, that destroys death, that forgives sins, that delivers everlasting life, it’s yours. It belongs to you as surely as you belong to the God who loves you and has claimed you as his own.

    So live in this Word. Read it. Sing it. Confess it. Demand it of your pastors. Demand that they show you Jesus as your Lord, that they condemn your sins as real sins, so that you can rejoice in a real Savior, in Jesus your Lord, who really died to bury your sins in his blood and suffering, who really rose to guarantee forgiveness and eternal union with the God who loves you.  And then rejoice in this message. Let the world rejoice in their own words. You, dear Christian, have God’s Word. A Word that grants eternal peace, a Word that does what it promises, a Word that will carry you through this life in the forgiveness of Jesus until you hear His voice in heaven.

    Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 9

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 9

    Luke 16:1-13

    The job of a pastor isn’t to talk about money. The Church is the house of the Gospel, where poor sinners come to hear the words of everlasting life from their loving God. God sends pastors not to increase the revenue of a church, not to advise members on how to budget their money, but to preach the Word of Christ-crucified for sinners. So if the Christian preacher preaches on money, it better be because the Gospel requires it.

    Now, on the one hand, the Gospel of Christ has nothing at all to do with money. Christ has redeemed us with what? Not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. That’s what we confess. What we are given in the Gospel is something money simply cannot buy. The sins that separate us from God are not so trivial that they can be bought off, not with our works, and certainly not with our wealth. They require a greater price, and it is our God and Lord Jesus Christ alone who has paid that price by his innocent life and bitter death in our place.

    But on the other hand, the Gospel does have something to do with money. And that for the simple reason that the Gospel has to do with everything. Everything. And that includes your money. It is certainly true that my job as your pastor is to preach the Gospel to you, and it is certainly true that you come to church to hear the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ, but it is also true that this Gospel isn’t some bare message of forgiveness that gives you a spiritual high but otherwise has no bearing on the rest of your life. No. The Gospel is your life. It forms every single aspect of your life. It makes you a child of God. It unites you with Christ and gives you His Spirit. It bestows on you your identity as heirs of heaven. It inspires in you a desire to love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. It makes you a new man, a new woman. And since it affects your entire life, it will most certainly affect the way you think about your money.

    And that’s why Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who is the author of the Gospel teaches us about money and the Gospel in our lesson this morning.

    Jesus tells the story of a clever manager. His boss discovers that he’s been wasting his money, and so he tells the manager to give an account of his doings and give the books back. The manager, who’s a very bad man, a thief and a cheat, also knows how to work money, knows what money can do. And so he goes out and tells one man who owes his master 100 measures of oil to write down 50, and then goes to another man who owes his master 100 measures of wheat and tells him to reduce it to 80, and so on and so forth. The man’s out of a job, but now he’s got friends who will take care of him. And he got those friends because he was clever with money. Even his master, who’s been cheated of his money, is forced to praise his ex-manager for his shrewdness.

    The point of Jesus’ parable is simple. If those who are unrighteous, unbelievers, deniers of God, know how to use money for their own advantage, how much more should Christians know how to use money for the advantage of others. The unrighteous manager used money to make temporary friends. The Christian should use money to make eternal friends. “And I tell you,” Jesus says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

    And of course Jesus is right. He’s always right. Christians should know how to use money better than unbelievers. Jesus isn’t talking about being able to save money, horde it up, invest it for greater returns. He’s not talking about being good businessmen and increasing our wealth to exorbitant heights. He’s talking about knowing what money is and what it’s for. Christians should know this better than anyone. And why? Because we have the Gospel.

    The Gospel shows us who God is, that all He has created He has created for us who are His children through Christ our Lord. The Gospel, in showing us our Creator and the One who has laid down His life to redeem us from our sin and death and to render us precious in the sight of God our Father, the Gospel shows us that our life has purpose, that we have not been put on this earth to live for ourselves, serving our own pleasures, but to love as we have been loved by our God. The Gospel gives us an eternal perspective.

    That’s why the Bible so often describes sin and unbelief as darkness and Christ as light. When you know Christ, you can see the world for what it is, see everything, your children, your house, your job, your wealth, your money, for what they are, because you know God, and when you know God you know God’s creation. You know what life is about, why to live it, how to live it, what things are for. You can put everything in its proper place, under the God who created all things and redeemed you to be His child and heir. And so you know that God hasn’t given you whatever wealth you have so that you can get as much pleasure out of life as you can before you go down to the grave, but because He cares for your needs, and by caring for your needs He teaches you to care for the needs of others. And we know what the greatest need of every man, woman, and child in this world is. And that is to hear the Gospel, which sets Christ before us as our righteousness before God and our eternal life.

    God doesn’t call us to be naïve. He points us to the obvious here in our Gospel lesson. Money actually does get things done in this world. God works through means after all. He heals your sicknesses through medicines. He removes your infected appendix through surgeons. He gives you His body and blood through bread and wine. God works through means. And money is a powerful means by which God almighty works. God uses the money and wealth of His children to promote the preaching of the Gospel. Not because He needs our money. He doesn’t. He possesses all heaven and earth, all wealth. But because He wants to strengthen our faith and teach us to value Him above all else, to sing and actually mean, “One thing’s needful, this one treasure, teach me Savior to esteem. Other things may promise pleasure, but are never what they seem. They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us and true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us. This one lasting treasure which all else exceeds, brings joy beyond measure and fills all my needs.” This treasure is Christ and him crucified for us, risen from the dead, our brother who bears our flesh and blood, who has made us one with God and secured for us an eternal life of love and sinlessness.

    God has so ordained that we Christians make eternal friends for ourselves by the proclamation of this Gospel. He has entrusted the preaching of the Gospel not to angels, but to us sinful mortals, who require daily bread to keep us alive. God works through means. And that means he works through you to preach the Gospel. If you want the Gospel to be proclaimed, if you want the children yet to be born to hear it, if you want your grandchildren and great grandchildren to know the love of Christ, to be made your eternal friends through Baptism and the preaching of the Word, support the mission of this Church. Use your money for the proclamation of the Gospel. Give generously now and put it in your will, so that your last confession, even after your death, is that you love the Gospel and you love people and you want the whole world to hear about Jesus, who is love incarnate. And never do it because it’s some law. Jesus doesn’t want forced gifts. He doesn’t want your money if you don’t want to give it. This church will take it, of course, because we need to balance a budget, but Jesus doesn’t care a thing for unwilling giving. Why would He? He already owns heaven and earth. He doesn’t need our money. But the Lord loves a cheerful giver. So give because you want to, because you actually believe that the Gospel is the most precious thing in all the world and you can’t think of a single thing you’d rather do with your money than to benefit the Church and the preaching of the Gospel.

    St. Paul says in our Epistle for this morning, “Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.” We stand by faith in Christ. And St. Paul warns us that temptations surround us, tempting us to exchange our trust in Jesus for trust in some false god. And among the false gods of this world, whether its sexual pleasure, popularity and fame, worldly security and long life, love of money is by far the most popular false god there is or ever has been. It’s the feeder of all the other false gods. If you don’t have money you can’t have worldly pleasure. As the Holy Spirit declares, “The love of money is a root of all evil, because of which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

    So whether you are rich or poor or somewhere in between, if you find yourself clinging to your money, or worrying about getting more money, or dreaming about all the good times the money you invested will be able to give you, hear again Jesus’ words. “No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.” And hear again His words of comfort: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The way of escape from our greed and our doubt is always to turn over and over again to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    Look at your life, see who you are, through this light. See that your God possesses all things in heaven and earth, that He has so loved His creation that He has spilt His blood to buy it back from corruption and death, and that He has by baptizing you named you an heir of all things in Christ. You have no need to dream of what you can buy on this earth. You have been given the riches of God without charge. You belong to the God who owns everything. And He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for your salvation, will in Him surely give you all good things.

    What’s more, you know what true wealth is. You know the joy and treasure of having a clean conscience before God, to be able to come before your Maker again and again, with all your faults and your failures , and to have Him never turn you away, but forgive you and restore you and name you His child because of your Lord Jesus Christ. You know what true wealth is, that you have not only to look forward to some retirement, but to an eternal life with eternal friends, all washed in the blood of the Lamb. And in the meantime, you live life on this earth receiving the gifts of your God in thankfulness, suffering what He would have you suffer for His name’s sake, and rejoicing in the body and blood given and shed for you, in the gifts He freely gives to your body and soul, now and forever. Amen.

     

     

  • Trinity 10

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 10, 2017. Luke 19

    Some years ago the popular question for Christians to ask was, “What would Jesus do?” There was a sort of campaign to popularize the question, and it became the temporary slogan for Christian identity in the United States. Bumper stickers with the acronym, “WWJD,” popped up everywhere, and young and old wore WWJD bracelets. The idea was that in every situation, in every decision you make in life, you should ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?,” and then act accordingly. I bring this up not because the WWJD slogan is very popular nowadays – I don’t think it is, it’s met the fate of all popular fads, going out of style as quickly as it came into style. But because the sentiment behind the WWJD movement is more powerful than ever in American Christian culture today, and that is to champion Jesus as a moral example.

    Now some Lutherans immediately opposed the WWJD slogan on the grounds that “What has Jesus done?” is a much better and more biblical question than “What would Jesus do?” And of course that’s true. The Christian religion doesn’t speak in hypotheticals. We aren’t really interested in what Jesus might do. We’re interested in what He has done for us in very specific historical situations. That’s why our hymns, by the way, are chock-full of references to the history of Jesus of Nazareth. Just think of “Savior of the Nations Come” or “Dear Christian one and all rejoice.” We sing about God’s incarnation, his taking on human flesh and his birth from the virgin Mary. We sing especially of His death under Pontius Pilate, the crucifixion of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We sing of Christ’s resurrection, his victory over death and the grave. Because this Jesus, His taking on our flesh, His living a life of perfection in our place, his suffering the punishment of our sin, his conquering of death, He is the Church’s one foundation, not because of what He would do, but because of what He has done already.

    But it’s more than what Jesus has done in the past. If we’re going to ask a question about Jesus’ doings we aren’t just talking about the past. We’re talking about the present and the future. What does Jesus do now? is the question. Saying “What would Jesus do?” sounds like you’re asking about what a dead man would do, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of thing you ask about your deceased grandpa, “What would grandpa do in this situation?” That’s not how we should talk about Jesus.

    He’s not dead. That’s the point of the Christian religion. Christ is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. And He’s not inactive either. The silly idea that he’s sitting up in heaven in a literal chair at the Father’s literal right hand should be far from every Christian’s mind. Jesus has risen and ascended to heaven to fill all things, as St. Paul tells us, to establish His Kingdom not only in heaven but on earth, where we His saints struggle against our flesh in this world of sin and unbelief. And so Jesus acts now. He does what He has promised to do. He works through His Word. He forgives us our sins. He teaches us that God is our Father. He sends the Spirit into our hearts to trust in Him and to lead godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity. He leads us to sorrow over our sins and consider them great indeed, and to run again and again to His body and blood, given and shed for us in history, and now placed into our mouths so that we can know and never doubt that our God is reconciled to us and wants to be with us forever. So again, it’s not about some hypothetical question, “What would Jesus do?” It’s what He has done, what He does now, and what He has promised to do in the future, to bring us into His Kingdom which has no end.

    But after saying all that, it will be a good exercise for us to ask the question today, “What would Jesus do?” and to answer that question by looking at our Gospel lesson. After all, we must confess that Christ is our example. If we are to call ourselves Christians and trust in the Christ who lived in perfect obedience to the Law of God, we certainly ought to strive to live as Christians, as little Christs. St. Paul urges this on us constantly, saying very explicitly in 1 Corinthians 11, “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ.”

    But I’m afraid the Jesus that people usually think of when they ask the moral question, “What would Jesus do?” is the Jesus of an American Christianity that has lost sight of the Jesus of the Bible. He’s not the Jesus of our Gospel lesson, who cares so much for His sinful people that He weeps over their sin, because He knows how grievous it is and what punishment it deserves from God. He’s not the Jesus who condemns the false doctrine that has led to His people’s destruction, the Jesus who cleanses His temple of evil, all the while teaching and instructing His people about the truth of God in lively contrast to the errors of man. No, that Jesus is too controversial. Instead an all too unbiblical Jesus occupies the American mind in the search to find an example to live by.

    What people want to imitate is a Jesus who doesn’t get mad, a Jesus who doesn’t want to offend anyone, a Jesus who tolerates and never judges, who keeps his opinions to himself and wants to get along. He’s nice, in other words. He wouldn’t start an argument over the dinner table about religion, as Jesus did so often with the Pharisees. He wouldn’t call someone out for living a sinful lifestyle, as Jesus did with Zacchaeus and the woman at the well. He certainly wouldn’t get angry and throw people out of the Temple. It’s as C.S. Lewis lamented in his book Mere Christianity, which by the way isn’t that good a book, so I’m not recommending it, but it’s definitely got some great parts to it – C.S. Lewis laments that the word “Christian” has simply become synonymous with “gentleman.” When you call someone Christian, you’re just saying he’s morally upright, or kind, or nice. But Jesus simply doesn’t fit this western ideal of what it means to be nice and good.

    And He doesn’t fit it precisely because He would make a sorry Savior if He did. Our sin, our death, our accuser the devil, cannot be conquered by giving us an example to live by. Jesus is not like any religious leader of this world, never a mere exemplar who gives a moral path to paradise, to heaven, to nirvana, or moksha. Instead, He acts and things actually happen, not simply for Himself but for those whose nature He has assumed into His Person. He does good and He wins for us righteousness before God. He suffers evil and dies, and He wins for us deliverance from evil and victory over death. He rises from the dead and He opens to us the way of everlasting life. That’s Jesus. And this we cannot imitate by asking, “What would Jesus do?” Instead, we receive it, we are given it, we grasp hold of it by faith, and this faith clings to the Word of God in all its fullness.

    And so to imitate Christ isn’t a game of monkey see, monkey do. It obviously isn’t. Take our Gospel lesson for today. It’s a perfect piece of history, with historical circumstances that we simply can’t replicate. You may not do what Christ did. Historically, you can’t, because the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. And ethically, morally, you may not. You’d be breaking the 1st, 5th, and 7th commandments if you entered some other church and began driving people out with a whip and overturning their tables. We can’t do that because we’re not Jesus; that’s the point; we haven’t been given the office of Jesus, we’re not the Savior, and the Temple isn’t our house.

    Instead, if we are to imitate Jesus, it has to be an imitation that is worked on us by God’s Word. And this imitation consists precisely in loving God’s Word because it delivers us from our misery and makes us children of our Father. In this we have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus as He wept over Jerusalem and drove the false teachers from the Temple. It’s a zeal for the Word of God, a love for people, for God’s creation, a hard love that looks at the reality of sin and its just judgment and clings to the Word of Christ’s cross as the power of salvation and eternal life for all and on all who believe.

    To imitate Christ is to have the Word of God which governed Jesus’ actions and emotions rule our minds and feelings also. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because she has rejected her Savior, because she doesn’t know what makes for her peace. He sees that she will be destroyed because of her unbelief, when she should be uplifted in her confession of Christ and His cross. And the Almighty’s reaction to this is not to abandon her in her sin. It’s to do what He came to do, to win peace with God by His cross and give this peace by the word of His cross. And because this is Jesus’ concern, He enters the Temple in anger and drives out those perverting God’s worship. This is Christlike and therefore kind and beautiful and good. It’s history that we cannot mimic because it is the history of our salvation. And yet it is exactly what we imitate when we trust in Christ and learn to be zealous for His Word. Jesus acts with conviction and emotion, and it is a conviction and emotion grounded in and springing from a devotion to the message of His own death for sinners.

    So if we want to do what Jesus would do, we will take the Word of God seriously. That’s what Jesus did and does. He takes God’s Word seriously. He lives, dies, and rises in accordance with it. He does it, he teaches it, he defends it, he loves it. And this word isn’t a word of niceties and rules. It’s a Word of love, of hard love that deals with the reality of our sin. And we who are real sinners rejoice to see this hard love of our real Savior, who spares nothing to wash it all away by His precious blood.

    Our Lord wept over the unbelief of Jerusalem. Let us weep over the unbelief of our world. And let’s not weep with a limp resolve, resigned to a world that will just get worse and worse. No, we belong to the Jesus who, even as He tearfully prophesied the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, boldly entered that Temple with a whip and lovingly protected the Church with His teaching. Our Lord has given us no whip to drive out the false teachings of man. The only weapon He has given us is His Word. And this Word is powerful to save. We know this because it has saved us. This Word is what makes for our peace with God. It is what our Lord Jesus died to give us, our heritage and our treasure, because it not only tells us what Jesus would do, but gives us what He has done, which is our salvation and eternal life. It is the Word by which He enters today His Holy Temple, His Church, and cleanses us of all our sin, keeping us children of our Father, at peace with God through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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  • Trinity 11

    Pastor Christian Preus/  Trinity 11, August 7, 2016/ Luke 18:9-17; Genesis 4 1-15

     

    The Tax-Collector’s Prayer and Ours

     

    Two men walked into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. What I was really tempted to do for this sermon was to preach on the Pharisee’s prayer. After all, the Pharisee’s prayer addresses most of the things that are wrong with our culture today. Just think of it. Our culture is permeated with ingratitude, as so many children gleefully rebel against the morals of their parents and feel entitled to do and say whatever their hearts desire. The Pharisee, in contrast, the Pharisee is grateful. He gives thanks. What a relief in our day and age just to hear someone say thank you and show some respect! But more than this, the Pharisee has some morals. He works hard for his money and rightfully disapproves of the lust for mammon that leads to theft and extortion. Now who can deny that our society needs a lesson on greed, extortion, and theft, our society that is simply addicted to the acquisition of stuff, our society that places material things, cars, phones, clothes, nice houses, ATVs, and mountain views, places these things in the temple of its heart and worships them as god! Really, the Pharisee seems to be addressing his prayer directly against our culture of sin, especially as he takes aim against adultery. There has never been a culture more inundated, practically drowning, in illicit sex like ours. You can’t watch a show on TV, you can’t watch a football game, you can’t look up a news story, you can’t walk onto a college campus or into a shopping center without seeing sex sold to you, as our culture teaches our daughters to flaunt their bodies as the object of man’s carnal lusts. So yes. I was tempted to preach on the Pharisee’s prayer.

     

    But I’m not going to preach on the Pharisee’s prayer. Not because it says anything untrue. Everything the Pharisee says is true. Stealing is bad. Adultery’s wicked. Unthankfulness is rude. And you should tithe.  You should give to the poor. Everything the Pharisee says is true. But his prayer is a terrible prayer. It’s actually no prayer at all. Prayer addresses God. The Pharisee doesn’t. He talks to himself, makes himself, in fact, into his own god. Prayer recognizes that we are needy, that we need something from God. The Pharisee asks for absolutely nothing from God. Prayer acknowledges our own sin and cries out for mercy. The Pharisee acknowledges only the sins of others and cries out about his own righteousness. No, even though everything the Pharisee says is right, he prays everything terribly wrong. He doesn’t know what sin is, what mercy is, and so he doesn’t know who God is. But true prayer, the Christian prayer, seeks the only God there is, the God who has mercy on sinners for Christ’s sake.

     

    THE CHRISTIAN PRAYS, “GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME A SINNER.”

     

    That was the tax collector’s prayer. It is the perfect prayer, the Christian prayer. It is our prayer, every word of it. So let us today look at this little prayer that so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, and let us again learn to pray with the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

     

    I. God, have mercy on me a sinner. Prayer calls on God. That seems so simple and obvious, doesn’t it? And yet most prayers are offered not to God, but to some construct of man’s sinful human thoughts and desires, some made-up idol of the heart. If we want to pray to the true God, we will have to find that God not in the misleading desires of our hearts, but in God’s Word, in the Bible. Because there is no God but the God who reveals himself in the Bible. And this God, the true God, the God of the Bible, he is remarkably consistent. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, no matter where you find Him in the Bible you’ll find him acting the same way. You will see him condemning and punishing sin and unbelief and you will find him promising mercy and salvation to all who humble themselves before him, confess their sins, and look to Him for salvation. Look at our Old Testament lesson for today. Here also are two men, Cain and Abel. They both appear before God with sacrifices, just as God had ordered. They look the same in outward appearance. But God sees the heart. He sees that Abel approaches him in faith, confessing his sin and seeking mercy for Christ’s sake. And he sees Cain is faithless, that he goes through the actions of prayer and sacrifice, but doesn’t confess his sins and doesn’t want mercy from God. And so God accepts Abel, Abel who has acknowledged his sin and called out for mercy, but Cain, Cain who has trusted in himself and rejected God’s mercy, God rejects Cain. This is the God of the Bible, the only God there is. He is the God of the humble. He is the God of mercy.

     

    Our prayer addresses this God of the Bible, the God who has mercy on sinners for Christ’s sake. The Pharisee sadly didn’t know this God. O, he knew the stories, of course. He knew the stories of the Old Testament better than we do, to our shame. But he could not understand, despite all his learning, he could not understand the great and yet simple message of these stories. He failed to see that the God who condemned Cain for his murderous hate condemns even the most righteous of men for the sin that dwells in their selfish hearts. He failed to see that God saw and condemned his own sin. He failed to see that God looked with favor and mercy on Abel, not because Abel was so righteous in himself (No one is!), but because Abel, forsaking his own righteousness, confessed his sin and trusted in the mercy of the promised Christ, foreshadowed in the lamb offered up to God. The Pharisee did not know the God who has mercy on sinners. And so the god he worshipped simply was not God. This stands as a warning to us. False gods aren’t just those made with gold and sitting in a pagan temple, they are the selfish and self-righteous desires that we set up in the temple of our own hearts. And so we approach God with humility, confessing our sin and looking to His mercy in Christ.

    This is what the tax collector did. He didn’t know the stories of the Old Testament as well as the Pharisee. He should’ve, but he didn’t. But he did know that the God he worshipped had promised to have mercy on sinners. And so he prayed, II. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

     

    Now the word that the tax collector uses here for “mercy,” it’s not the regular word for mercy. It’s actually the word for propitiate. But since there aren’t too many people who know what propitiate means, and since “be propitiated to me” would be an extremely awkward English translation, our translators decided to translate the word as “have mercy.” But you know what? We should really know what propitiate means. Not so that we can sound smart, but because it’s a very comforting word. It’s a word that is so overflowing with the blood and love of Jesus that it really should be on our lips and in our songs. To propitiate simply means to appease, to  reconcile, to make peace. So the tax collector really said, “O God, be reconciled to me, a sinner, be at one with me, be at peace with me, a sinner.”

     

    This word “propitiate” is a bloody word. There is no bloodier word in all of Scripture. No Jew uttered this word without the image of lambs slaughtered, without the remembrance of blood flowing from the altar of God, without the memory of the sounds and smells and sights of the bloody sacrifices in the temple of God. And that’s because there is no mercy without blood. There is no forgiveness of sins without blood. There is no atonement, no reconciliation between God and sinner (between you and God) without blood.

     

    When we cry to God for mercy, when we pray that he be at one with us, we must think of blood as did the tax collector. The tax collector stood in the temple. He saw the altar on which countless lambs were slaughtered. That’s how he knew to call on God for mercy, to call on God to be at peace with him. God’s mercy on sinners is not a minimizing of sin. God can’t do that. He can’t minimize sin. God’s not the overly lenient daddy who looks the other way when his kid mouths off and disrespects him. God’s mercy is not him saying, “O, well, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal.” No. God’s mercy is tied to blood. He takes sin so seriously, he takes our sin so seriously, that he requires blood for it. But instead of requiring that blood from us, he took on our flesh and demanded that blood from himself, in the person of his Son, our Lord Jesus. That’s God’s mercy. Every lamb slaughtered in that temple pointed to the blood of God himself, who in a love unsurpassable, in a mercy immeasurable, descended from his heavenly throne to take upon himself the chastisement for our peace, to become the lamb of God who would be slaughtered to take away the sin of the world.

     

    So with the tax collector, we cry out to God for mercy, looking to the blood of Christ’s cross, and knowing that the God who would go so far as to die for us is surely at one with us, is surely reconciled with us, surely loves us as his own dear children, and will never part from us, no matter the sin that haunts us and weighs us down.

     

    There is one more word in this perfect prayer of the tax collector. He says, and the Christian says, III. “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sin is never some abstract thing. It’s personal. It affects my life. It drives a wedge between me and my God. It causes me pain and sorrow. And it will lead to my inevitable death. It threatens the eternal separation of God and his love from me. Don’t ever let the world’s sin so overwhelm your thoughts that you forget the sin that is crouching at your door. You’re a sinner. You. And it is for you that Christ shed his blood. It is on you that God has mercy. And so you pray, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

     

    I began this sermon by saying how much I wanted to preach on the Pharisee’s prayer, because it addressed all the sins of our day, all the greed and materialism, all the ungratefulness. But the truth is that there is only one prayer that addresses these sins, that takes them seriously and takes God seriously. And that is the prayer for mercy, the prayer of the tax collector and our prayer, that God would look on us in the great love with which he loves us in Christ Jesus our Savior. God grant that this be our prayer now and until we see him face to face. Amen.

     

     

  • Trinity 13

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 13, 2017

     

    They say there’s no such thing as a bad question. At least, we tell that to kids who are eager to learn. They ask questions because they have an honest and healthy thirst for knowledge. And really, there’s nothing better for the Christian father or mother or teacher than to hear a child ask questions about God. Questions like, “What does God look like?” “If Jesus is God and God can’t die, then how did Jesus die?” “Is my dog in heaven?” these aren’t bad questions at all. They show that children are actually thinking about who God is and want to know about the promises their Father has made; they’re wondering about God and applying His Word to their lives. If only more grown-ups would wonder about God and ask questions about Him like little children! It is as Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And so we Christians, both young and old, should learn to ask wonder and questions about God and His Word in childlike faith.

    What does this mean, in childlike faith? When Jesus teaches us to ask from God, He instructs us first of all to address God as our Father. Our Father who art in heaven, we pray. And this is not just some formal address to God. It confesses who we are and who God is. He is our dear Father. We are His dear children. And this is not by nature – we weren’t born into this world children of God, we were born, as St. Paul says in Ephesians, children of wrath. But God has become our Father through His eternal Son, who has taken on our flesh and become our Brother, lived for us and spilt his blood for us to fulfill His Father’s will and reconcile us sinners to our God. And because we have been baptized into the Father’s Son and have been made heirs of God by faith in Christ’s name, we have all the rights and privileges of children before our heavenly Father. So we ask about Him and of Him as dear children ask their dear father.

    That’s not how the lawyer in our Gospel lesson asked his questions. And his questions prove that, despite the common saying, there is such a thing as a bad question. Of course there is. Listen to how the Holy Spirit introduces the lawyer’s question: “And behold a certain lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test.” His questions weren’t the questions of a dear child asking his dear father. They were bad questions. They were bad and wrong because the lawyer didn’t approach God with wonder, like a child who wants to learn about the God and Father he loves. No, he asks questions like a disinterested philosopher, like some academic who wants to put God under a microscope and examine him. But that won’t do. God won’t be interrogated by sinners. He only receives questions from his children.

    Now, the lawyer asks two questions. And it has often been pointed out how ridiculous the lawyer’s first question is. And it is. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question makes no sense. It’s a bad question. You don’t do anything to inherit. You inherit based on who you are, not what you do. Children inherit because they were born or adopted, not because they earned the right to become inheritors. No son would ever ask his dad, “Dad, what must I do to inherit from you?” That’s simply not how it works. You don’t do anything to get an inheritance. You receive an inheritance because your Father loves you and owns you as His child.

    But the lawyer asks two questions, and really, the second question deserves our attention, because it’s the question that prompts Jesus to give us the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer has recited the Law of God to Jesus, and like a good lawyer, he recited it perfectly. He knew the Law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Since the lawyer had asked a question about what He should do, Jesus answers and tells Him what he should do, “Do this and you will live.” Notice, by the way, that Jesus doesn’t say, “Do this and you will inherit eternal life.” He says, “Do this and you will live.” Because, again, you can’t do anything to inherit. But if you obey the Law perfectly, then, it is true you will live.

    And this is what makes the lawyer’s second question so terrible. He asks, “Who then is my neighbor?” Jesus has just told him that He will live forever if he loves God with all his heart and his soul and his strength and his mind, and his neighbor as himself, and the man can only think to say, “Who then is my neighbor?” What about the first part? What about loving God with everything you are and have? The lawyer skips over all this and instead asks what he thinks is a clever question.

    The lawyers back then debated about God’s law and one of the debates they had was who exactly a neighbor was. Your next door neighbor? Your family? What about non-Jews, were they neighbors? And so the question, “Who is my neighbor?” isn’t even sincere, it just shows that this man didn’t give a hoot about his neighbor. He only wanted to continue to debate Jesus, because Jesus had just bested him in an argument.

    But the question the lawyer desperately needed to ask was not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “Who is my God?” How can I love Him? This Law of God is too much for me. My heart is pulled in so many different directions, I don’t have the strength to love this God, my mind is filled with all sorts of opinions about Him, but I don’t know who He is or how to love Him. That’s the proper response to Jesus’ words, “Do this, and you will live.” Do this? But I can’t! Teach me how to love the God who threatens hellfire against those who disobey Him! Teach me to love the God who sends sorrow and pain into my life! Teach me to love the God who sends hurricanes and earthquakes and who seems so far off in heaven while I am here on this earth living my few short years! How can I love Him with all my heart, and with all my soul and strength and mind?

    And the beauty of it is that Jesus answers this very question. The lawyer asks who his neighbor is wanting to justify himself, and Jesus answers by telling him about the God who justifies the world. You are the man. You are the man jumped, and beaten, and robbed, left for dead on the side of the road. That’s what your sin does for you. It leaves you powerless to save yourself. And the Law can’t help you. It won’t help you. It will leave you to help yourself, even though it knows you are helpless. That’s the priest and the Levite who pass you by on the other side of the road. The Law tells you to love with all your mind but it cannot give you the mind to love. It tells you to act with all your might, but it doesn’t give you the strength to do it. It leaves you helpless and dead in sin, doomed to waste away at the hands of the robbers and murderers that your sin and the devil are. That’s why the priest and Levite pass by. The Law can’t and won’t help you.

    But then a foreigner comes – that’s what a Samaritan was, a foreigner, from whom you would expect no help at all. The God who seems so far off in heaven, who seems to leave us all alone to fare for ourselves in this sinful world, who gives us a Law that we can’t possibly keep because we are poor sinners, this God comes near. And you have no strength to ask Him questions. Instead you simply receive His help. And He gives of everything He has. He pours out His blood for you like wine, he soothes your wounds with the oil of His saving Word. He sets you on His beast and brings you to the inn, to His Church where He cleanses your wounds and promises to come back for you. Jesus is the good Samaritan. He is your God. He doesn’t tell you to help yourself. He takes everything on Himself and at His own expense He brings you safely into His Father’s house.

    The Greek word used for inn in our Gospel is pandocheion. It’s not the normal word for an inn. It literally means “receiver of all.” And this word didn’t drop from the Holy Spirit unawares. The Church receives all who are left helpless to save themselves. If you want Jesus to care for you, to forgive your sins and bring you to everlasting life, to bring you through this world of troubles to everlasting peace, come to the place Jesus has promised to be. Because it’s not money, not silver and gold, not a couple denarii, that He has paid to forgive you here in Church and keep you children of His Father. It is His precious blood that He spent on Calvary and that He now gives you here for your inheritance of everlasting life.

    And this is a God you can love, because He has loved you. This is a God we can ask from and about as dear children ask their dear Father. This is a God from whom we can expect an everlasting inheritance.

    Our Gospel lesson began with these words of our Lord Jesus to his disciples and it’s how I’ll end this sermon: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it." What did they see? What did they hear? They saw and heard that the Son of God had become their brother, so that He could make them children of His Father. That’s what they saw and heard. They heard what you hear here in Christ’s Church, what kings and prophets longed to hear, that the Father has replaced our inheritance of eternal death with the inheritance of eternal life by sending His Son into the world to live our life in our place and suffer the punishment we deserved, to give us His inheritance and make us heirs with Him of eternal life.

    It will take an eternity for us to ask all the questions our Father in heaven will answer, and thanks be to our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have that eternity. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 14

     

    Trinity 14, 2017

    Click here to read Trinity 14, from 2016

    I don’t like to correct Bible translations, because it gives the impression that you, as you read your English translations at home, can’t know what the Bible really says, because you don’t know Greek and you have to trust that the translators got it right. But the fact is that the Bible translators of the English Standard Version (which we use here in our services) and the New King James Version and the Beck Bible have given us wonderful and accurate translations that say what the Greek says. You can trust that what you are reading is God’s own Word, that it’s clear, and that you don’t need to go take Greek lessons to figure out what the Bible says. Though, if you want to take Greek lessons, I’ll be happy to teach them.

    But in our lesson for today, there are a few words that need some explaining. When the Samaritan comes to Jesus, your translation says the following, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.” The Greek doesn’t say “at Jesus’ feet.” It says at His feet. And that’s a wonderful thing. Now obviously it’s true that the Samaritan fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. That’s why the translators translated it that way. It’s true. But the fact that the text actually says, “At His feet,” tells you what you should think of this Jesus. The Samaritan came back to praise whom? He came back to praise God. And then he fell at whose feet? He fell at God’s feet! Because God has feet. They’re the feet of Jesus, who took on those feet and made them His own in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. To praise Jesus, to fall at His feet, is to praise God, to fall at His feet.

    And more than this, when your translation says that the Samaritan came back praising God, the Greek actually says, “giving glory to God.” Glory. You know where that word shows up earlier in Luke. It’s when the angels sing to the shepherds. And you know what they sang, because you sing it every Sunday, “Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, goodwill to men.” The glory of God is found in that little baby, with His little feet, swaddled in a manger in Bethlehem. Because God became a little baby to save sinners from their sins, to cleanse their souls just as He cleansed the bodies of the 10 lepers, to make peace between God and man by the blood of the cross. That’s God’s glory. And that’s the point. The Samaritan came back to give glory to the God who had become a man to save him not just from leprosy but from every evil of body and soul.

    And that’s why Jesus says what He says to the Samaritan. Your translation says, “Your faith has made you well.” And that’s true enough, so long as we know what it means for faith to make us well. The Greek says, “Your faith has saved you.” The Samaritan’s faith isn’t what took away his leprosy. There were 9 others who had no faith. They were cleansed without it. Jesus’ word did what it did, even though their trust in Jesus was only that He was a miracle worker. But the Samaritan’s faith was something quite different. It was Christian faith. He acknowledged Jesus not simply as a healer but as the God who had come down from heaven to save him. And so his faith saved him, not because his faith was so great a work, but because it took hold of Jesus, our God and our Savior.

    And this is the central message of this Gospel lesson, in fact, of the entire Gospel, and it makes sense of everything Jesus says. Why, after all, was Jesus so disappointed that the 9 lepers didn’t come back to give Him glory? They had obeyed Him, hadn’t they? Isn’t that enough? To obey Jesus? They went to the Temple to show themselves to the priests, and that’s exactly what Jesus told them to do. Why should Jesus be so upset that they followed His instructions?

    Because they gave no glory to God, that’s why. Because they didn’t recognize that the God who healed them of their leprosy was right in front of them, in flesh and blood, that He was going to Jerusalem to die for them, to make peace with God, and that he had the words of everlasting life to give to them.

    Let’s follow these 9 lepers. They were Jews, which means they were God’s chosen people, to whom the Old Testament Scriptures and the Temple had been committed, to whom Jesus had come. But for years they had been separated from their community, from their families, their children, from their church. They had leprosy, and that meant they could only be with other lepers. That was the law. Now, they find themselves cleansed of leprosy. And they go to the Temple. Why? It’s not because Jesus told them to. It’s because going to the Temple will give them what they want. They want to rejoin their community, their families. And that’s what the priests are going to give them, something they didn’t get from Jesus, something more. The chance to join the religious community again, join their families and friends and lead a respectable life.

    The way they viewed the Temple is the way many today view the church. It’s a social hangout. It fulfills a basic human need. You can be around likeminded friends. You can feel good about yourself, like you’re living a decent life, like you belong to something worthwhile.

    But the church isn’t a social organization. We have to realize this. It’s not where we come because that’s what our parents did. It’s not where we come because we feel we fit in. It’s not where we come because everyone is so friendly – though if a church isn’t friendly, that’s a shame and a scandal, because we have been called in Christ to love one another.

    But that’s not why we come, for social gratification, for psychological wholeness. No, we come to Church because we have a need far greater than a feeling of belonging here on this earth. That’s what the Samaritan understood. Now, the Samaritan couldn’t go to the Temple. He wasn’t a Jew. He didn’t belong to their social club. Their laws didn’t apply to him. Whether he had leprosy or no, he was an outcast. But he could have gone to join his family, to join his friends, to join his social community. He could have. But he didn’t. He went back to Jesus. And in going back to Jesus he went back to what the Temple was really meant for, what the Church is really meant for.

    The Temple was where sacrifices were made. It was where God came to visit His people with the forgiveness of sins, where the blood of beasts was shed and sprinkled on the people, to foreshadow and preach that God would come, would take on our human flesh and blood, to sacrifice Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And the Samaritan saw in Jesus the fulfillment of all these sacrifices, the true Temple, which Jesus Himself said would be destroyed and raised three days later.

    The Samaritan knew what every Christian knows. That our chief problem is not the sciatic pain, not the cancer that eats away at our bodies, not losing our job and our livelihood, not the psychological pain of not fitting in, of having friends forsake you or family break your heart – not all this pain that the Samaritan had experienced as a leper and that we experience in this corrupt and fallen world. These hurt us like leprosy hurt the Samaritan, but they are symptoms of a far greater disease that eats away at us and lets us have no rest. And that’s the sin that sits in our own hearts and separates us from our God and our Creator.

    That’s why the leper came back to give glory to God and fall on his face at His feet. Because he needed more than to be cleansed from leprosy, more than to rejoin his family and friends. He needed Jesus. He needed God’s glory. He needed to hear those words, “Your faith has saved you.” Because he knew that while his leprosy separated him from his family and friends, his sin separated him from His God, and this was simply unbearable. Far more unbearable than leprosy, than social seclusion, than the physical and emotional pain of being alienated from family and friends, is the reality that our sin separates us from our God and everything true and good and beautiful.

    But now this God was in front of him, now this God had shown His glory and His mercy to his body, and he knew and trusted that this God would also forgive him and cleanse his soul. That’s what it means to give God glory. It means trusting Him as the One who has descended from heaven to save us from our sins and all their consequences of body and soul. It’s God’s glory to forgive sinners through the Word of Christ’s suffering and death. It’s God’s glory to save us in Jesus, so that for eternity we will be with Him, our bodies free from all that pains us and our souls cleansed from sin and every evil, at peace with God. That’s why the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest” at Jesus’ birth. That’s why we sing, “Glory to God in the highest” immediately after we pray, as the lepers prayed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” This is God’s glory, right here in Church, where we fall at His feet and He raises us up and tells us to go on our way, cleansed from every sin with the promise of full salvation and peace with our Maker.

    That’s what the Samaritan got. And that’s what we get. It’s not merely some temporal happiness of social belonging. It’s the everlasting joy of knowing that nothing, not the emotional pain that racks our minds, not the disease that corrupts our bodies, not the sin that infects our soul, nothing can separate us from our God, because our God is Jesus, the everlasting Son of our Father, who set His face toward Jerusalem, walked with his feet to Calvary, suffered and died and rose again, and now gives us His Spirit and makes us heirs with Him of everlasting life. That’s the clear teaching of God’s Word. And for this we thank God and give Him glory now and forever. Amen.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 15

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 15, 2017

    Matthew 6:24-34

    Click here to read Trinity 15, 2016

     

    Some time ago a fellow informed me that my wife and I had too many children. He was honestly trying to be helpful. Apparently my wife and I didn’t understand how much it costs to raise children and what kind of monetary risks were involved. So I responded to him by asking which of my children I should get rid of if I have too many of them. Well, that made the conversation turn from discussion of managing money to being very and awkwardly personal. And that’s the point. My children are personal, they’re persons, created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. And that goes for all children, born and unborn. That goes for your children. They aren’t commodities. They aren’t pets or animals that we can buy and sell. If I have too many birds, I can let some of them go or sell them for a penny in the marketplace. But our heavenly Father considers children of far more worth than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. He made them to be His children, and He can’t have too many of them.

    The reason I bring this up is because it illustrates how pervasive our worship of money is. The concern for money, what things cost, is so deep-seated in the modern mind, that we begin to treat even human beings as commodities and we assess their worth and whether or not they should exist based on money. Here God creates and gives the blessing of children, and instead of thanking Him and trusting that He will provide for them as their Creator, the American mind immediately considers how much a kid is going to cost. I don’t think anything could show more clearly how money competes with God in the American heart.

    Jesus makes a distinction between two gods in our Gospel. One is the god of money, what Jesus calls mammon, which is money and everything money can buy. And the other is the true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s no accident that Jesus singles out this one false god to put in opposition to the true God. We can have all sorts of other false gods, after all. The Muslims have a false god, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have their false gods. We make sex or alcohol our false gods. We even make our children our false gods. A god, as Martin Luther reminds us, is anything we love, trust, and fear the most. But Jesus singles out this god of money, of mammon, because this god is the idol who most vies for God’s competition, not just in the hearts of the heathen, but especially in the hearts of God’s children.

    And this false god infiltrates every single aspect of our lives, no matter how personal or public, how important or trivial, whether it’s our job, our children, our family, how we live our lives, what we do on a Sunday morning, what we eat and what we drink or what we wear. He acts as God. That’s what money does in our hearts. He makes us afraid if we don’t have him, makes us love what he can give us, makes us trust that he will provide for our happiness. I’m calling money a “him,” because it’s not as if money itself is bad – it’s not, in and of itself it’s a gift of God, that can be used for good or for evil. God doesn’t say that money is a root of all evils. He says the love of money is. And it is the devil, the father of lies, that makes us love and trust and fear money. So when I call money a “him” I’m talking about the devil, who inspires love of money in our hearts and makes this love of money rule our lives and make us miserable.

    But God created us to love Him. God, the true God, wants to rule every aspect of our lives. He calls us his servants – the Greek word is actually “slave” – and He calls Himself our Master. A slave eats because his master gives him food to eat. The slave acts because his master orders him to act. The slave gets his clothes from his master. Every aspect of his life is ruled by his master.

    And that’s why Jesus pits the false god of money to the true God. The false god of mammon is a cruel, wicked master who demands everything from us. He promises what he can’t deliver. He promises happiness and gives sorrow and regret, constant worry and anxiety about getting more stuff, with the ever nagging realization that no matter how much we get, no matter how much money fills our earthly desires, it will all pass away when this short life ends and we take nothing with us down to the grave. Mammon demands worship and Mammon’s worship is our worrying about our life.

    Against this cruel master, Jesus sets before us a loving Master who treats his servants like children, who tells us to call Him Father, who promises that He will care for us because we are more beautiful and precious to Him than all the wealth in the world, who relieves us of our worries by taking our worries and placing them on Himself, who rules us by giving us His righteousness and the promise of eternal life with Him.

    And so Jesus is talking to you, to Christians, to His disciples, when He says that you cannot serve both God and money. Because He knows your heart. He knows what you worry about. He knows that you make decisions in life based on your love of money, your trust in what it can do for your lives, and your fear of not having enough of it. And Jesus wants to relieve you of this slavery. And that’s not a onetime thing, either. It’s not as if once we realize God is our true Father we never worry about money again. Far from it. The motto of the Reformation is simul iustus et peccator, at the same time sinner and righteous. We are sinners. We are constantly worrying because the devil constantly pulls our hearts to trust in mammon, in everything we can get in this life, in everything that can be taken away from us in this life. And so we need constant reminding that life is more than food and the body more than clothing, that our life is an eternal life, with an eternal purpose, with a treasure in heaven where neither rust destroys or moth devours.

    So let’s look again at what mammon promises us and what God promises us.

    Mammon promises that if we put him first, if we make it our top priority to live comfortably and get money, then we will be happy. And then he gives us rules to follow, which, if followed, will bring us the promised happiness. And what are the rules that mammon gives us? If money is the top priority, the acquisition of stuff, then we need to remove obstacles to the acquisition of stuff. And so mammon teaches us to avoid marriage, to avoid having children, to view marriage and children in economic terms, to assess a child’s value and worth according to the amount of mammon it will cost to raise it and the amount of mammon we can give to it, so that it can then become a mammon-worshiper like us. That’s what this false and cruel god teaches. It’s a vicious cycle. And America has obeyed his decrees, has feared the consequences of denying his edicts, and has trusted in his power to deliver on his promise. That’s why 50 million unborn children have been offered at the altar of abortion in America, why marriage and having children are despised, because Mammon told us we couldn’t afford them. Mammon infiltrates our families.

    But he does more. He wants to rule everything. He infiltrates our jobs, our churches, our free time. It’s Mammon that tells us that we don’t have enough money to support the church, that if we put our money in the plate we won’t have all the happiness that money could give us. It’s mammon that lures us into thinking we will find our happiness not in going to church to seek the Kingdom of God, but in whatever else we would like to do on a Sunday morning.

    And it’s mammon that leaves us panicking when we don’t have enough money to do what we wanted to do, when we don’t know if our retirement is large enough, when we can’t pay our kids’ way through college or pay the medical bills. Mammon leaves us worrying.

    But God does no such thing. He does the opposite. He takes our worries away. He shows us that everything we have is a gift that He has provided freely to us. He promises that He is the giver of every good thing, whether children or food or drink or house or home, wife, husband, job, money, all we have. And He gives all these things to us because He loves us with a Father’s heart. And He teaches us to be content with whatever He gives, whether we are poor or rich or anywhere in between.

    Look at the lilies of the field. They’re more beautiful than anything make-up or surgery of the most expensive clothes can provide. And your Father finds you more beautiful than the most majestic landscape, because you are His child. Look at the birds of the air. They never worry, because God provides for them. And yet your Father finds you more precious than all of them put together.

    And so that you can know this, so that you can own God as your Father, so that you can find relief from the worry and the cares that this sinful life brings, Jesus gives His loving command to you. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. That word, “Seek,” is the continual exercise of the Christian. We don’t seek the Kingdom once and then find it and move on to all the other things of life. We seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness every day. We lay our worries at our Father’s throne, confess that we have sought money and all its pleasures, loved what it could give us and ignored our God. And we seek from God His righteousness because we have none of our own to give Him.

    And our God day after day gives us His Kingdom and His righteousness. It is the righteousness of the suffering Servant who obeyed His Master perfectly, the eternal Son of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, who was made man, suffered for us, placed all our sorrows and worries on His own back, and paid to His Father what we could not pay. His is a perfect righteousness that gives an everlasting Kingdom under the care of our loving God. And it leaves us without a care in the world, leaves us free to live a life in love for God and to trust that He who has provided for our eternal life will certainly give us and our children everything we need in this life. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 16

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 16

    Luke 7:11-17

     

    Jesus tells the widow of Nain, “Do not weep.” She was weeping. She was wailing. So was everyone in the large crowd who accompanied the dead body of her son outside the city gates. That’s what you did at funerals in Jesus’ time. You wailed and cried for the one you loved.

     

    It wasn’t just accepted practice, it was expected. When Herod the Great, that great murderer and tyrant, was on his deathbed, he was so concerned that no one would mourn and wail at his death that he ordered a whole crowd of noblemen assembled at Jericho to be killed, so that their families and friends would wail, and the day of his own death would be filled with mourning instead of rejoicing. And in ancient Rome rich nobles would routinely pay people to show up and mourn at their funerals, the louder the better.

     

    We live in a much more reserved culture. At funerals, we hold back our tears and hide our emotions under stoic faces and clichéd words of sympathy. If people today see a woman weeping and wailing out loud, crying uncontrollably at the funeral of her son, they feel compelled to explain it away somehow, to say something like, “O poor woman, she’s taking this really hard.” Or, “O, she probably hasn’t slept for days.” As if she shouldn’t take it hard! As if death were not a fitting occasion for wailing and weeping! Meanwhile, we mask the terror of death by using euphemisms like, “passing away.”

    Now, I’m not advocating that we reinstitute ancient practices of mourning – after all, the practice of weeping and wailing at funerals became just as affected and fake and ridden with social baggage as our current Western practices – but we can at least learn from the weeping of the widow of Nain the proper reaction to death.  And that is not to treat it as something we can avoid or downplay or explain away as some natural scientific process. No. Death is a horrible and unnatural thing, worthy of weeping and wailing and mourning and beating of the breast. It is not some natural curve in the circle of life. It is an unnatural intrusion into God’s plan for his human creatures. So when we see ourselves or other people or funeral homes try to dress up death as some sort of spiritual, blessed transition, with no reference to sin and no reference to Christ, the Savior from sin, we should remind ourselves of the history of the widow of Nain. We should remember her weeping and her wailing. And we should realize that it is only Jesus who in the face of death can say and really mean, “Do not weep.”

     

    The widow of Nain had plenty of reason to weep. Her only son was dead. It’s hard to lose a husband. It’s harder to lose a child, your own flesh and blood. Death had stolen both from this widow. And with them death stole all the comforts of this life – not only companionship and friendship, but for this poor widow even her livelihood and income. And on top of all this, death had dealt the blow that it always does to those who are left living in its wake, and that is the nagging and fearful realization that it will come one day to claim you. And there is no escaping it. It is as the hymnist writes, “And death pursues me all the way. Nowhere I rest securely. He comes by night, he comes by day, and takes his prey most surely. A failing breath and I, in death’s strong grasp may lie, to face eternity today. As death pursues me all the way.”

     

    Death pursues you because you’re a sinner. And God has ordered death to pursue you. It is God’s decree, the order of His holy Law - The soul that sins shall die, says the Lord. The sting of death is sin, says the Apostle Paul. And so in the tragedy of death we weep and we mourn not simply because we have lost a loved one, not simply because we know that death will take us too, but because of our sin, because we are the cause of our own death, because in every death that we see we witness God’s judgment against our sin and our selfishness. And every objection that we levy against God – but it’s unfair, but he was so young, but I was born this way – every objection only highlights our inability to do anything in the face of God’s judgment, every objection only magnifies our sin and sharpens the sting of our death.

    And so the widow of Nain was doing the right thing in weeping and mourning at death. God grant that we follow her example. Because in so doing we follow Jesus’ example also. Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. It is good and right and salutary for us to weep and mourn at death, to weep and mourn at the sin that causes death.

    But for everything there is a season. There is a time for weeping and a time for joy. Jesus commanded the widow of Nain not to weep. It is only Jesus who can issue this command. Time does not heal all wounds. Jesus does. Jesus’ command was no rebuff, no censure or scolding. It was a promise. A promise that soon would come the time of joy.

    We hear a lot of empty words from well-meaning people. We hear words of condolence at the death of a loved one. But none of those words can take away the pain. None of those words can change the fact of death. They ring empty – unless, unless they give us Jesus.

     

    Because Jesus’ words are different. They proceed from his compassion. And that compassion is not some good intention, some mere well-meaning of Jesus’ heart. No, Jesus’ compassion is literally compassion, a suffering with us. Jesus felt that woman’s pain. Jesus and only Jesus knew what that woman was suffering. Because he took her suffering into himself. That’s why he came into this world, that’s why God became a man, to bear our griefs and to carry our sorrows – as Isaiah prophesied.

     

    God has joined our cause, God has joined our ranks, He has made our enemy his enemy. That’s what Jesus broadcasts in our Gospel. He doesn’t do it in secret. He doesn’t hide his declaration of war. Crowds and throngs of people surround him, and he openly announces that he has come to destroy death. Not only this, he shows how he will do it. He touches the coffin, an act that should have made him unclean, should have stained him with death. He touches death and then he speaks words that end death. “Young man I say to you arise.”

     

    Remarkable. That’s the way it works. Jesus’s words are powerful because they are the words of God himself. They do what they say. They are always backed up with action. It is important for us to understand the sequence of events here. Jesus sees the woman in her sorrow and weeping. He has compassion on her. He confronts death publicly. And then he speaks the Word that gives life.

     

    This is exactly what Jesus has done for you. He has seen your sorrow. He has seen your fear of death. He has seen the helplessness of your sinful condition. And he could not bear to see it. He couldn’t stand to see his creation die. And so he had compassion. He humbled himself, took on the form of a servant, used all of his divine power and goodness to take your sin and sorrow and worry into his own body, to feel your temptations and your trials. He lived a life of perfection under the load of your sin. He had compassion. And then he met death head on, publicly, on a Roman cross, under Pontius Pilate. Think of that! The very God whose just judgment against our sin is death refuses to allow death to take the creation he loves, and so He takes our sin upon Himself, dies our death, and gives us forgiveness and life. On the cross, life itself confronted death. And death was destroyed. Its power was ended forever. Jesus triumphed over it by the blood of his cross and publicly announced his victory in his resurrection. He didn’t do any of it in secret. His incarnation, his compassion, his death, his resurrection – he did it all openly for everyone to see.

     

    And now he speaks words for everyone to hear. The words that Jesus speaks to you today are backed up by the compassion of God himself, who has conquered death by the blood of his cross. They have the same power that raised the widow’s son from the dead. But unlike the widow’s son, who was raised from the dead only to die again, our resurrection from the dead will be eternal. Because it is Christ’s resurrection that we share in in our Baptism. It is Christ’s victory over death that we receive in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. It is the public proclamation of our forgiveness and our justification in Christ’s resurrection that we hear in the words of absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the words of eternal life. This is how God visits His people.

     

    And so we can await with confidence the day that all mourning and weeping will cease, when our dear Savior will wipe every tear from our eyes. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 17

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 17, 2016

    Luke 14:1-11

     

    God instituted the Sabbath Day to be the great equalizer between human beings, between men and women, children and parents, workers and bosses. Have you ever considered this? It’s true. Listen to the words that God speaks after giving the third commandment: “Six days you shall work,” God says, “but on the seventh day you shall do no work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, … nor the stranger who is within your gates.” You see what God has done here? No one does anything. And so all are equal. All distinctions are void. The master can’t say to his servant – go fetch me some water. The husband can’t say to his wife, go make me my meal. The mother can’t say to her daughter, go do your homework. No. They are equal. And they are equal precisely because no one can do any work.

     

    Isn’t that an amazing thing! God makes people equal by forbidding them to work. Because whenever work is involved, there are bound to be distinctions between people. This guy works for that guy, this woman works outside the house, this one inside the house, this man works in a factory and that man in an office, that kid is better at math than that one, and so on and so forth.

     

    And these distinctions are necessary in this world. Let’s not forget that. A woman is a woman, a man is a man, a wife a wife, a husband a husband, a child a child. Wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to devote themselves in love to their wives. Children are to obey their parents. Workers owe respect to their bosses and citizens are under their government. That is all by God’s mandate and institution. Before men and in this world, there must be distinctions among us.

     

    But when it comes to our relationship with God, there is no distinction. And this for two reasons. First, as St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All. All are equally sinners and under the curse of God’s law. Before men we can distinguish between sins – and we should: we shouldn’t throw a kid in jail for stealing a candy bar or slap a man on the wrist for murder – but before God who searches the heart all have sinned and deserve nothing but punishment. And so all are equally condemned before the tribunal of God’s justice.

    Second, St. Paul says, “and have been justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” All are equal, because Jesus has borne the sin of all. Forgiveness is offered to all. And everyone who trusts in Christ is equally clothed in Christ’s righteousness, equally an heir of everlasting life. It is as St. Paul says in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are…heirs according to the promise.”

     

    When God instituted the Sabbath Day and commended it to the people of Israel, he was teaching them this very thing. He was teaching them that they could and should make distinctions among themselves all week long as they worked and lived in their various vocations as mothers, fathers, children, workers, and subjects. But when they came before Him on the Sabbath Day, they should forget all about their works and realize that they are all equal before him, all sinners and all justified by the redemption of Christ Jesus their Lord. And we who find our constant Sabbath rest not on a Saturday, but in Christ, in hearing his Word and receiving His forgiveness, we all come before Jesus as equals, as sinners in ourselves and saints in Him.

     

    And so it is a remarkable thing that Jesus should come to a Pharisee’s house and find the lawyers and Pharisees making distinctions among themselves on the Sabbath. They chose the best seats for themselves. They thought themselves more worthy of these seats of honor than others. They made the Sabbath Day an excuse to show off their own credentials and bask in their own glory. So no wonder they completely ignore a man suffering from a debilitating disease, a man who needed their help and their mercy. No wonder they have no love for this poor slob with dropsy, with his low social status and lack of public honor. And no wonder they look at Jesus with suspicion, as a rival to compete with. If all you concentrate on is your honor and the praise your own works deserve, you can only view others as either competitors or inferiors. The situation into which Jesus walked that day was the most flagrant abuse of the Sabbath imaginable.

     

    So Jesus teaches them and us a lesson about the Sabbath, about what it means to find our rest in God our Maker and Redeemer. It’s only in being humbled, in confessing your sins, in recognizing that you are no better than anyone else in this room or in this world that you can find your rest in Jesus. You can leave your credentials at the door. Leave them for the world to wonder and glory at. God isn’t impressed with the achievements of sinners. People may be. But God isn’t. He sees your heart. And that’s a terrifying thing, because you know what you’ve felt and thought in that heart. You know the pride and the filthy thoughts. You know it and God knows it. And so there’s no pride and boasting before Him. When you come before Jesus, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many degrees you have, who your family is, or how much you make. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much you’ve given to the church, how regularly you come to services, how long you’ve been a member, how much you volunteer. What matters is only that you are a sinner in desperate need of God’s mercy.

     

    Jesus teaches this by both word and example. He heals the man with dropsy. The man with dropsy was a nobody. He was a loser. He couldn’t take the seat of honor, because he was a hideous embarrassment. But it was he who caught Jesus’ attention. It was he who received mercy. It was he who was made well and exalted, who found his rest and peace in Jesus.

     

    People who know their shame and ugliness don’t think of exalting themselves. This is the example Jesus gives us. So know yourself. Regardless of your status out there, whether you’re poor or rich or somewhere in between, whether you’re an intellectual or you struggled in school, whether you are well known or unknown in the community, know and confess with all Christians that you are a poor, miserable sinner. You confess those words every Sunday. Confess them from your heart. Never let them be words that pass through your lips but never enter your soul. Regret your sins as sincerely as a man with dropsy regrets his disease. Because that’s God humbling you. And we need to be humbled. God only exalts the humble.

     

    And God delights in exalting the humble. God humbles you in order to raise you up. He shows you your sin and helplessness in order to give you his righteousness and rest for your weary soul. And He exalts you in a way that far surpasses any of the glory and honor sought after by this sinful world. God doesn’t give you political power or worldly honor. He doesn’t raise one of you up over and above another. He doesn’t force you to compete for his favor by your superior works. No, God raises you up in Jesus. He exalts you all together by making you one in Christ Jesus, your Lord. This is the Jesus who humbled himself to death so that he could find his exaltation in the forgiveness of your sins, so that he could win you as his brothers and sisters, children of His Father in heaven. He is your Lord, and you are one body with Him, so that all he has is yours – His righteousness, his Spirit, his Father, they are yours. The Baptism into which all of you have been baptized has guaranteed this, uniting you all together with Christ Jesus in a bond that is inseparable, with his death and with his resurrection to eternal life.  Jesus is your Sabbath, the one in whom you have rest from all your works, the one before whom you can be happy to take whatever seat he gives, because simply to have Jesus is enough. To have Jesus is simply everything.

     

    And since we all have the same faith in Christ our Lord, since we are bound together by the same hope of eternal life that God has graciously revealed to us in His holy Word, we can love one another with sincerity. We can look past each other’s faults, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. We can live right now the life of love to which we have been called and which we will live out for eternity in heaven. We can be eager to hold on to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We have been humbled together and we have been exalted together in Christ Jesus our Lord. And so we give thanks to our Father, who is over all, through all, and in us all. Thanks and praise be to God forever and ever for his unsurpassable mercy in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 18

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 18, 2016

    Matthew 22:34-46

     

    Jesus teaches us today that God’s Law is summarized in one word – love: love for God and love for your neighbor. And this is a lesson that we need to learn over and over again. Because what we normally think of when we think of the Law is a set of rules to obey. Do this. Don’t do that. Don’t go over 55. Don’t run with scissors in your hand. Don’t cheat on your spouse. Don’t steal. Be respectful to parents. Read your Bible. Go to Church. Rules. And rules are necessary. Rules can keep people from doing bad and harmful things. But there is a big difference between following rules and obeying God’s Law. There is a big difference between rules and love.

     

    When I was a child we would spend a good part of our summer up at a lake on the boundary between Minnesota and Canada. We’d get together there with uncles and aunts and cousins. It was a wonderful time. One summer, my uncle brought up an oversized, inflatable raft. And boy he loved that thing. He loved it so much that he made all sorts of rules to protect it. Don’t touch the raft. Don’t throw rocks in the lake when the raft’s in the water. Don’t splash and make noise when people are relaxing on the raft. Don’t run by the raft. Don’t bring sticks by the raft. Rules. A lot of them. And the rules served their purpose. We kept away from that raft. But did those rules make us love that raft? No, in this case, they did the opposite. They made us hate the raft. We obeyed the rules, of course, but we didn’t do it because we loved the raft. We did it because we were afraid to disobey our uncle. In fact, when a bear came later that summer and mauled the raft, dragging it into the forest and using it as a chew toy, we were very happy.

     

    Rules can make you obey. They can make you afraid. They can force you to behave. But rules can’t make you love. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had all sorts of rules. 613 rules to be exact. 613. 365 rules of what not to do and 248 rules of what to do. They searched the books of Moses for these 613 rules, and they figured that if they kept all these rules they’d be obeying all of God’s Law. But that’s simply not the way it works. God’s Law is to love, to love God and to love your neighbor. And there’s not a rule in the world that can make you love. Love comes from the heart.

     

    In fact, rules can get in the way of you loving. Jesus confronted this continually. He saw people who needed his help on the Sabbath Day. And so he healed them. He healed them because he loved them. But in so doing he broke a rule. Notice what I just said there. Jesus broke a rule. But he didn’t break the Law. The Law is to love. Jesus loved perfectly. He had mercy on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath. That broke a rule. But the rule wasn’t there to forbid love, you see. Quite the opposite, the rule was there to show the Jews how to love, so that people could rest from their labors and listen to God’s word. But the Pharisees had put the rule above love. They prized keeping a rule over loving. They had completely dissociated the rule from love. And in so doing they made the rule cruel and useless. In so doing, they broke the Law.

     

    We need to keep this lesson in mind. Don’t make it your goal simply to obey rules, as if that’s what God wants of you. No. God wants your love. He does give you rules, of course. But you keep those rules because you love. The reason you worship God alone and keep away from idols is because you love God, your Creator and Redeemer. The reason you use God’s name properly and don’t throw it around like a cuss word is because you love the name of the God who made you and saves you from death and hell. The reason you come to church and do devotions and sing hymns and read the Bible is because you love God, love His Word, love the message of salvation. But if you are coming to church, saying your prayers, and keeping your language clean in order to justify yourself, in order to trick yourself into thinking – “I obeyed the rules, so I’m good with God,” well then, your rules are completely useless. God’s not impressed. A dog can learn to obey rules. God wants your love.

     

    And the same goes for loving your neighbor. Of course God has given you rules telling you how to treat your neighbor! Honor your father and mother. Don’t murder. Don’t cheat on your husband or your wife. Don’t steal. Don’t gossip. Don’t desire what’s not yours. Those are all rules. And they’re good rules. We should obey them. But we obey these rules because we fear and love God and because we love our neighbor. That’s why Luther’s explanation of every single one of the commandments starts with, “We should fear and love God so that…” Just think of that. God doesn’t want you slavishly obeying rules. He could have created robots who do that. But he didn’t. He created us. And he created us to love. God desires our love. And when we love, we see how delightful it is to keep God’s commandments.

     

    So when the Pharisees ask Jesus what the great commandment in the Law is, they are expecting to get into a debate about which of their 613 rules was the most important. But Jesus didn’t come to debate about rules. God didn’t become a man to legislate a few more commandments. He didn’t come to philosophize about morality and ethics. No. He came to love, and to love completely and perfectly. So Jesus tells the Pharisees what the Law is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

     

    And Jesus’ answer silenced the Pharisees. And it must silence us also. How can we answer this Law of love? If you give me 613 rules, I can learn to obey them. I can. I can obey the speed limit, keep myself from swearing, never yell at my wife, never drink too much. I can do all those things. I can. But to love perfectly? To love God with all my heart? To love my neighbor as myself? Who can do this? How can we answer this Law of love?

    We can’t. We have failed miserably to love perfectly. We have to remain silent. But Jesus can. He has loved perfectly. And he doesn’t remain silent. He’s not done talking to the Pharisees and he’s not done talking to us. He has told us what the Law requires. He has told us of the love we were created to give to God and to each other. And now he tells us of His love.

     

    Jesus asks the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They answer, “The son of David.”  Now, that’s not the wrong answer. The Christ is the son of David. He did take on the flesh of Mary his mother and was born of the line of David. But no mere man born from the sinful flesh of David could be the Christ. The Christ is the great fulfiller of the Law of love. The Christ is the one who sits at God’s right hand until his enemies of death and sin and hell are made his footstool. The Christ is the one of whom David speaks, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”

     

    And this is what Jesus declares of himself. David’s son is David’s Lord. Jesus is God in the flesh. This is the greatest news imaginable. This is the essence of Christianity. Not a set of rules to follow, but the love of God fulfilled in Christ our Lord. God became a man to love us to death. God became a man to make Himself our Brother. God became a man to make our enemies his enemies, to put them all under his pierced feet as he conquered them in the passion of his cross. All sin, all death, all the powers of hell, conquered and defeated under Jesus’ feet. God became a man to show us perfect love, a love that is much more than an example for us to follow, a love that actually belongs to us, a love that has become our righteousness and innocence and perfection before the Father in heaven.

     

    When you confess that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, you are confessing that your sin and your death have been conquered and that your eternal life is secure with God in heaven. This is what David preached 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. Your Lord and brother Jesus Christ has earned the right to plead and intercede for you before God. That’s what it means that Jesus sits at God’s right hand. It means that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who speaks for you before his Father in heaven. “Do not look at their sin,” Jesus says, “because I have borne it to the cross. Do not allow death to conquer them because I have died for them. Do not let hell swallow them because I have suffered it. Instead, look at Me. I have lived for them. I have loved for them. I have taken their punishment on Myself. I have taken away their lovelessness and given them my perfect love. Yes, dear Father I have died for them. And what is more, I have risen for them. I am their Brother and you are their Father. Our Spirit is their Spirit.”

     

    And your Father in heaven looks at that perfect love of His Son when he looks at you. He doesn’t see your sin. He is blinded by His Son’s love. He looks at you and he sees perfection, the perfection of the love of Jesus.

    And as you cling to Jesus and his love, you will learn more and more what it means to love. Your love won’t be perfect this side of heaven, but as you abide in Christ Jesus and his love, you learn more and more not simply to obey rules but to find joy in loving the God who loves you and in loving your neighbor. That’s what you were created to do. That’s what God in Christ Jesus has recreated you to do. And by Christ’s great love, you will love perfectly and forever in heaven. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 19

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 20

    Matthew 22:1-14

    In marriage, a man becomes one flesh with his wife. Whatever she is and has becomes his, and whatever he is and has becomes hers. When the first marriage took place, the grateful Adam declared, “She is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And so it is no wonder that God continually describes His redemption of us, his sinful creatures, as a kind of marriage. The personal union of God the Son with our human nature is a marriage. God has united the human race to himself in a bond that is inseparable, and he has done it so that being one flesh with us, he might become our substitute and lay down his life to save us from sin, death, and the devil, so that everything he has becomes ours and everything we have becomes his. He acts as the perfect, faithful husband to his unfaithful, stained bride. This is God’s marriage to the sinful human race. And it is to this marriage, this wedding, that God calls and invites us.

     

    When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of heaven and compares it to a wedding feast, he isn’t simply talking about heaven, at least not as we commonly think of it. He’s speaking of the Church. He’s speaking of the preaching of Christ-crucified received by penitent hearts that sorrow over their sin and yearn for forgiveness. He is speaking of God’s washing sinners clean in Baptism and clothing them with Christ’s righteousness. He’s speaking of feeding Christians with the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for the remission of their sins. And this Kingdom of heaven here on earth is a foretaste of the heaven we will inherit in eternity. The content of heaven is Jesus. “Yea, heaven itself were void and bear if Thou Lord were not near me.”  The invitation to the wedding feast is an invitation to belong to the Church, to join the Body of Christ, and become His Bride. And that means it’s also an invitation to heaven itself, which is the final perfection of the unity with Christ that we experience here on earth. Heaven is to be forgiven eternally, to be sinless, to listen to God’s Word with complete joy, to find ourselves loving as God has loved us, to have perfect fellowship and communion with our God in Christ our Lord forever.

     

    But as Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast makes clear, few people want this heaven. And so few people accept the invitation to the wedding feast, that is, the Church, here on earth. Of course, people do want some sort of heaven. Everyone would rather live forever in joys and pleasures than simply die and lose whatever pleasures they enjoy on earth. But people want a heaven of their own choosing and an eternity that answers to their own sinful desires instead of to God’s Word.

     

    We live in an age of entitlement. In the ancient world the pagans commonly thought that after death their souls would live in Hades, where they would eke out a miserable existence forever. The great mythic warrior Achilles famously decreed that he’d rather be a servant on earth than a king in the afterlife. But today, our culture has created a mythology of heaven far more glamorous than that of the ancients. We’re taught to expect a heaven that promises us whatever pleasures we desire here on earth. We’re fed the doctrine of self-esteem, and the more we esteem ourselves the more we think we actually deserve whatever heaven we’ve thought up for ourselves. Sin and forgiveness, Christ and his satisfaction of God’s judgment against sin, these are left out of the discussion all together.

     

    The modern world speaks of a natural right to freedom of religion, which ends up meaning that I can make up whatever religion makes me feel good. And that’s exactly what happens. In a classic breaking of the 2nd commandment people will use the name of Jesus to promote the religion that springs from their own desires. We’ve all heard it before. My Jesus would never send anyone to hell. My Jesus wouldn’t want me to be unhappy in my marriage. My Jesus is OK with my lifestyle, my divorce, my fornication, my homosexuality, my choice of abortion, my life decisions, whatever they may be. And just as they form Jesus into their own image, so the heaven our culture imagines for itself is a heaven of its own making. The new show, “The Good Place,” is a fine example of popular opinion. Heaven is the place where you go if you’re good enough according to the world’s standard, a place where you can indulge your pleasures of drinking, lust, and gluttony in a remarkably Christless paradise.

     

    This is a far cry from the heaven our gracious God offers us, which of course is the only heaven there really is and is offered by the only God that really exists. The heaven our God offers answers to our greatest need. In heaven the barrier between us and our Creator is erased. In heaven ends all the hurt we cause others and ourselves because of our selfish words and actions. Heaven is an eternal life of love to others and godly enjoyment of God's created gifts. And all this is given for the sake of Christ. All this is given because our God has become one with us and suffered the punishment to take away our sin. The Kingdom of heaven shines by Christ’s light. He is the center.  This is not the eternal life that sinners think up for themselves. The eternal life God offers is the product of His gracious, merciful, and eternal thoughts, not our fleeting fantasies. The thoughts of God are given to us only in His most precious Word. They don’t rise from the feelings and desires of our hearts. This is what God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”

     

    So, no wonder Jesus speaks of so many rejecting the invitation to the wedding feast. You come to a wedding feast to share in the joy of the Bride and Groom. You come to drink to their happiness, to celebrate their joy. And God’s invitation to hear and believe His Gospel, to belong to His Church, to inherit His heaven, is nothing other than to forget about your sinful thoughts and self-defined happiness, and to find your joy and heaven in Jesus, to rejoice in Christ, to drink up his forgiveness, to wear his robe of righteousness, and to delight in his love.

     

    The men in Jesus’ parable wanted nothing of this. Some of them simply didn’t care. They bore no hostility. They just thought that they had better things to do – work, play, or whatever else. Others were violently offended at the thought of the King’s invitation. They persecute God’s messengers and despise the thought of casting off their own dirty clothes to wear the pure wedding garment of the King’s Son.

     

    And Jesus, who always refuses to be conformed to our sinful thoughts and feelings, declares that the King brings judgment against those who have rejected Him and His Son. He destroys their cities and leaves them in their own desolation. But He remains a loving King. He invited them to his feast. He wanted them to receive his joy and blessing. His is a desire to save all from their sin and give everyone true and lasting happiness.

     

    So he sends out his messengers again. The fact that his loving invitation has been rejected and spurned cannot stop him. He sends out the invitation to everyone. Come to the feast. The highways are filled with his preachers calling everyone to the wedding feast of His Son. They invite both the good and the bad, the poor and the rich, the educated and the uneducated, the young and the old. And the King rejoices to see His Church filled, to see the wedding hall overflowing with guests. He rejoices to see sinners cast off their clothes stained with a lifetime of sin and guilt, and put on the glorious garment of His Son’s righteousness. He gives them His food and His drink to satisfy their need and desire for forgiveness.

     

    But the story of the wedding feast, the story of the Church here on earth, is still not without its tragedy. Just as some out in the world simply reject their Maker’s invitation to be reconciled to Him and to be joined to Christ and His Church, so there are some who spurn Christ while pretending to be part of His Church.

     

    They come to church. They speak and sing the liturgy and prayers and hymns with everyone else. They sit in the pews and politely listen as the Word of God is proclaimed. They eat Christ’s body and drink his blood. They even give their money. But they don’t believe a word of it. They leave church and live and think the rest of the week as if God and Christ mean nothing to them. They don’t care at all that their Creator became a man to suffer and die for their sin, but consider themselves worthy of eternal life without the garment of Christ’s innocence. They want eternal life of course, but they have no desire for eternal life with their God, with Christ their Savior.

     

    And God casts them out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, which is really to say, he gives them what they want. If you don’t want Christ and his forgiveness, then you want the world, its prince, and the sad chaos they offer. That’s a hard saying, but one that we need to hear. God’s not fooled. If we don’t grieve over our sin, if we don’t want Jesus, if we don’t desire to be clothed in his righteousness, then we don’t belong in God’s Church or in God’s heaven.

     

    But thank God that though He knows that some abuse his gifts, that some reject his Word even while pretending to love it, his good and gracious will is never to stop inviting and calling everyone to His Church. Because He sees your need, dear Christians. He knows that you are weighed down by your sin, by fears of death, and by the temptations of this world and its prince. He knows that you wrestle with doubts and worries and the lusts of your flesh. And it is his eternal and loving desire to take it all away, to cleanse you of your sin and to clothe you in innocence.

     

    Never doubt that God’s invitation and calling is for you. Come before Christ with all your failings and find rest for your weary soul. Your Bridegroom has joined you to himself forever. He has taken on your flesh and washed away your sins in the flood of his holy blood. He has won for you the garment of His own righteousness. He has laid down his life for you his beloved bride. He fights for you even now as He cleanses you of your every sin and presents you to His Father in heaven as a holy bride, spotless and without blemish. He gives you the food of everlasting life in His body and His blood given and shed for you his bride. He fills you with His Spirit and leads you to trust in Him as your sure defense. As surely as he has taken on your flesh and become one with you, so surely will he be your Savior now and forever. You belong to Him. You have heaven with Jesus. And what a heaven it is, a heaven far more wonderful than anything we could have thought up ourselves. It is a life of eternal love and rejoicing, free from all sin and selfishness and hurt, an everlasting feast where you will rest in Christ’s redeeming love and receive the constant care of Your God, united in love for Him and for one another in a joy that will never end. Thanks be to God our Father, and our dear Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

     

     

  • Trinity 20

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 21, 2016

    John 4:46-54

     

    The old saying is that there are no atheists in foxholes. People start believing in God when they figure they need Him, when they feel helpless to save themselves. And for a father, like the officer in our Gospel lesson, there simply is no more helpless situation imaginable than your child being sick and near death with no cure. This is pure helplessness. If you could give your life you would, but you can’t. If you could hand over all you own in exchange for the medicine that would heal your child, you’d give it and more – but the medicine doesn’t exist. And unlike the soldier in the foxhole, who has a gun and strong legs and companions willing to help him, you have nothing, no resource. So you turn to the last resort. You pray to God for a miracle.

     

    Now of course God shouldn’t be a last resort. We should acknowledge him in all our ways, and know that he directs our paths, as Solomon teaches us. But we live in a culture of practical atheism, and this attitude also infects us Christians. Most people don’t acknowledge God in their daily lives. Even people who know in their minds that there must be a God, a Creator or a First Cause, they find it quite natural and easy to live life without any thought of God and what his existence actually means for our daily life. After all, whether you acknowledge God as Creator or not, Tylenol and Ibuprofen still bring down the fever of your child, vegetables and fruit and exercise still contribute to a healthy body, hard work still pays off, and the union of an and woman still results naturally in babies. We call this attitude practical atheism because God’s existence becomes just some theoretical fact that has no bearing on practical life.

     

    But even in a culture of practical atheism, people will eventually find God necessary.  Even if people forget God when things are going well, they often remember Him when they have no other place to turn. He is the last resort, what the ancients called the deus ex machina, the God who comes down and saves the day when things look hopeless, if the doctors can’t help or we can’t catch a break in any other way. And, of course, God is always happy when we turn to him for help and ask for his mercy. This is the daily life of a Christian, and it is what God desires for every human being made and redeemed in His image, even for people who have lived like practical atheists all their lives. In fact, sometimes God sends misfortune precisely so that we stop living as if he doesn’t exist, so that we realize that we are helpless without Him. Look at Nineveh. Look at Namaan, the Syrian leper. Look at the thief on the cross. God uses pain and impending disaster to turn sinners to himself.

     

    But when we turn to God, even if for a last resort, we need to turn to God as he has revealed himself in His Word, in our dear Lord Jesus Christ. God is a God who speaks. He tells it as it is. He is the Creator who made us in His image. He lays down the Law with all its requirements and all its judgements against sinners who have cast off His image in the fall. And He gives definite promises of life and salvation grounded in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. He is in control and He has set the terms in His Word. We don’t dictate to God what He should do. We don’t set the terms. We instead turn to God’s Word and pray to Him for mercy solely on the basis of the Word of Christ crucified.

     

    If you approach God without knowing His Word, you are approaching an unknown God, a veiled God, a God about whom you can be certain of nothing. Luther called this God the hidden God. He is the God whom people seek when they try to pray to or find God without the guidance of the revealed Word of Scripture. This is what happens with our practical atheists so often. They finally find a need for God, but their expectations of this God are based on their own need and circumstance instead of on the Word of God. So when tragedy strikes, instead of learning who God is and what his promises are from the Word of God, they seek to negotiate with the hidden God: “If you heal my son, I’ll worship you and give offering.” “If you save me from death in this lightning storm, I’ll devote my life to you.” “If you take away my wife’s cancer, I’ll know you really love me.”

     

    The Romans had a phrase for this kind of negotiating with God. Do ut des. I give so that you give back. I’ll pray to you and worship you, God, if you heal my son. Then if God heals your son, you keep your end of the deal too. But if he doesn’t. Well, why should you give anything to this cruel and useless God who doesn’t help you in your time of need?

    And, of course, that’s exactly how God must seem in times of tragedy for those who don’t know God as he has revealed himself in Christ. God is in control, isn’t he? If he’s in control, if he can do anything, why didn’t he save my son! I prayed to him! I asked him to help. And he didn’t answer. He just let my son die. And there’s a terrible kind of truth to this. God is in control. He does let people die. People pray and ask for help, and though God can give the help that’s requested, he declines to do so. And if this is all you know about God, if all you see is the hidden God, and you refuse to allow God to tell you about Himself and His love revealed in His Word of Promise, then the tragedies and pain in your life will only leave you bitter and resentful against God.

     

    This is why it is so dangerous to seek out God without His Word. Don’t do it. It’s the origin of all heresies in the Church, all false thoughts about God and about His will for your life. If you seek God outside His Word you’ll either run away from Him, or deny His very existence, or form Him into your own image to make him more palatable to your emotions and thoughts. There is nothing more dangerous than basing your thoughts and feelings toward God on your own experiences instead of on God’s Word. Let God be God. Let Him tell you who He is and what He has done and what He will do for you. And the only way you do this is by listening to the Word of Jesus.

     

    This is what the officer in our Gospel lesson did. He listened to the Word of Jesus. Now what kind of a life this official had led, we don’t know. He was probably some pagan Gentile who had lived most of his life either as a practical atheist or a devotee of some polytheistic tit for tat, negotiate with God, prosperity gospel. But what we do know for certain is that he had a need that drove him to God. All other resources had been exhausted. The doctors can’t help his kid. His son is about to die. And so he turns to Jesus for help.

     

    He travels twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana because he’s heard the Word. Jesus had revealed his glory to his disciples at the wedding in Cana by changing water into wine. He had revealed that he was God, who had control over the very elements of the creation he had spoken into existence. He had been declared the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And since the official had heard this word concerning Jesus, he came to Jesus for help.

    That’s what faith does. Even if your faith is weak it takes its strength from the One it trusts, and faith trusts in Jesus. Even if you are weighed down by trials and sins and doubts, if your faith takes hold of Jesus, no matter how weak and puny your faith is, it is taking hold of the One whose words create life and strength and certainty.

     

    This man’s faith was weak. But it still held on to Jesus. And when weak faith holds on to Jesus, Jesus strengthens it. Look at this man. He tries to set the terms with Jesus. He asks Jesus to come to his home and save his child. He thinks Jesus needs to be present at his house for his child to live. He trusts Jesus, but he still doesn’t know how good and powerful Jesus is, that Jesus simply speaks and it is done, that he is no mere miracle worker or doctor who applies special remedies, but the very God who spoke life into existence and has come into the flesh to give life again to a world dying in its sin. And so Jesus rebukes this man for the weakness of his faith, saying to him and everyone else around, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will by no means believe.” And the man cries out again for help. “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  A second time he reveals the weakness of his faith. It’s as if he had said, “Yes, Lord, my faith is weak. Yes, I came seeking signs and wonders. Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief.” And so Jesus gives him the wonder that he needs. It isn’t the wonder he expected. Jesus doesn’t go down to his house. He doesn’t allow the man to see with his own eyes the miraculous moment when death and sickness leave his child. Instead, Jesus performs a wonder far more wonderful, the wonder of his life-giving voice. He speaks the very word that creates faith, conquers death, and speaks forth life. “Go, your son lives.”

     

    And wonder of wonders, the man believes Jesus’ word. His faith is strengthened. He trusts that when Jesus speaks it is so. Before he even saw that his son was alive, he trusted that it was so. His faith wasn’t grounded on his own experience, on what his eyes saw, but solely on the Word of Christ.

     

    Think of that. This man had only heard. He had not seen. He wasn’t at the wedding of Cana. He didn’t see the water turned into wine. He didn’t see Jesus heal or raise the dead. He only heard his Word. And now that Jesus has spoken the word of life to him, he believes that Jesus’ Word and all the power of his saving Word applies to him and his son.

    And of course, his son lived. Jesus’ word did what it said. It always does. You haven’t seen with your own eyes Jesus wonders. You weren’t there when they crucified your Lord. You weren’t there when he rose from the dead. You haven’t seen these wonders. But you have the same Word that the poor father had. You have the Word of life.

     

    God doesn’t promise us that he will swoop down from heaven and come into our houses and heal our diseases according to our own wishes. He has promised something so much greater. And it is to this promise that we cling, it is on the basis of this promise that we pray to God for mercy. Your diseases, your pain, your death – Jesus has taken them away. You may not see it with your eyes now. You may have to wait till you get home to heaven before you see it, just as the father in our Gospel had to wait till he got home to see his son alive and well. But Jesus has come, God has become a man. He has restored his creation by bearing our sins in his body and removing them from us by the blood of his cross. And this same Jesus continues to speak in His Church. The same Word that gave life to that little boy gives life to you, and not merely temporal life on this sinful and pain-filled earth, but everlasting life in a restored and perfect creation. When you hear the Word of forgiveness, the absolution of your sins, you are hearing God’s own blood-bought truth, and it is a truth you will see with your own eyes when you finally get home: Your Son lives. Christ has risen. Your sin is gone. You are filled with life. You have been recreated in the image of God, as surely as Jesus has died and risen from the dead. Jesus says so. That settles it. Amen.

     

     

     

     

  • Reformation Sunday

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Reformation Sunday

    John 8:31-38

     

    Jesus speaks to us today about freedom. Now freedom is probably the most sacred concept in America. We value our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion, to worship in peace, without the government coming in and telling us that we can’t say this or that because it might offend some special interest or disrupt the status quo. Other countries are much less fortunate. In Iran, a Muslim who converts to Christianity can expect prison or death at the hands of the government, and it is illegal for a Christian pastor to preach the Gospel to a Muslim. Thousands of Iranians have had to flee for their lives to Europe or America simply because they confess Christ. And the situation is hardly any better in Syria, Iraq, and other middle-eastern and far-eastern countries. And as we look back today at the time of Reformation, we see that Luther confessed the Gospel of Christ Jesus to his life’s peril, that he was declared a heretic and an outlaw in the Holy Roman Empire simply for teaching that we are justified and forgiven before God in heaven outside of any works, solely by faith in what Christ our Lord has done for us. And so we in America, even as we see that there are powerful people in our society who want to restrict our constitutional right to preach and publicly confess what Scripture teaches, especially on basic issues of marriage and the difference between man and woman, still we thank God that we have the freedom of religion, the freedom to speak what we believe and publicly confess as Christians.

    But when we hear Jesus speak about freedom, we need to realize that he is not speaking of the political right of freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Not at all. You will not read in the pages of Scripture even a hint of the modern idea that people should be free to worship in whatever way they see fit.  The political right to worship as we please means that people have the political freedom not only to worship the one true God, but to bow the knee to the idol of their choice. Freedom of religion may be a freedom that our Constitution grants us, but it is certainly not a freedom that God grants us. God does not give us or anyone else in this country or this world the right to worship whomever or whatever we please. Quite the opposite. God commands us to worship only Him, only the Father, whom we know through His Son Jesus Christ, whose Word and Truth bestows the Holy Spirit upon us and directs our hearts and minds to the cross of Calvary.

    God’s Word says nothing about freedom of religion, but it says much about freedom. God does grant us freedom. He grants us a freedom that we cannot lose, even if we are robbed of the political right to freedom of religion. Even if – God forbid – foreign invaders come in and outlaw Christianity, still the freedom Jesus grants us remains secure. Because the freedom that Jesus gives depends not on some government and its constitution or the thinking of enlightened reason, but on God’s Holy Word. If you abide in my word, Jesus says, you will be my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. So long as we have God’s Word, we have the freedom we need most. And thank God that though heaven and earth, even our country and its constitution may pass away, Jesus’ Word will never pass away.

    When we celebrate the Reformation and remember the work of Martin Luther, we are celebrating this Word of Jesus and the freedom it gives. Despite people wanting to credit or blame Luther with every modern innovation under the sun, including the idea of religious freedom, the only freedom Luther knew and preached was the freedom Jesus speaks of in our Gospel lesson for today, the freedom that Paul speaks of in our Epistle lesson, the freedom that the angel of Revelation preached. And that is true freedom, Christian freedom.

    Whenever we use the word freedom we are speaking of a freedom from something. Physical slaves want freedom from being owned and possessed by their master. Teenagers want freedom from Mom and Dad’s rules. The Jews in our text spoke of freedom from foreign oppression. And we in America speak of freedom from government intervention. All freedom is freedom from something. And the freedom Jesus offers us is a freedom from sin. And since sin brings with it death and enmity with God, the freedom from sin Jesus gives is also freedom from condemnation and separation from our Creator. When Jesus says that the truth of his Word will free us, that the Son will free us, he is speaking of freeing us from our sin.

    All sin is sin against the first commandment. This is what we must realize first and foremost. The First commandment is an invitation to love and trust in God as our Father. And every sin we commit treats God as a taskmaster and slave-driver. And so sin enslaves us. That’s its nature. When we put our own interests above others, when we serve our lusts, when we fear death and doubt God, we are enslaving ourselves to ourselves, and acting as if God is nor our Father. Slaves work for their master. That’s what slaves do. And to work for sin is to work for yourself, to be constantly trying to justify ourselves, to make ourselves look good before the world, to please our master, our own ego. Because that’s what sin demands. It demands that we serve our own reputation, and claim whatever we do as deserving of recognition and respect before both God and men.

    When Luther first posted his 95 Theses and started the Reformation, he was quite certain of his slavery to sin. He wanted to find a gracious God, but all his works and all his strivings just made him think of God as a cruel taskmaster who demanded works that he just couldn’t do, no matter how he tried. It was when Luther read and studied Jesus’ Words that he realized finally how a person becomes free from sin, how a person becomes a son instead of a slave. And it’s not by working. Sons don’t work to become sons. Children are born and adopted. They don’t earn their status.

    If you abide in my word, Jesus says, you will be my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And knowing this truth starts with knowing your sin. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. And no slave remains in the house forever. Those are Jesus’ words. That’s the truth. To be Jesus’ disciple is not to be sinless. It’s to remain in his Word. And it’s Jesus’ word that tells us that whoever sins is a slave to sin. It’s Jesus’ word that says, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

    He says this to you. If you commit sin, you are a slave to sin. That’s you. Jesus isn’t slapping us on the wrist here. He’s speaking in the starkest terms about our sin, so that we realize how desperate we are without him and that we can’t work our way out of this. We know we sin daily. We fear death, we doubt God, we worry about the future, we serve our own desires with words that shouldn’t be spoken and thoughts that shouldn’t be thought.  And in so doing we not only hurt ourselves and others, we enslave ourselves to further serve our sinful nature and all its cares and worries.

    The remedy for this is not to mope around feeling sorry for ourselves, which is only to further enslave ourselves, nor is it to try to appease God by our various works, as if slaves can become sons by sucking up to their masters. No. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. That is the beautiful reality. And the joy of the Christian life is abiding in this Word of Jesus.

    The Word of Jesus reveals to us who our God is. Jesus reveals the truth, that our God is not a taskmaster who demands that we work our way up to him – because that can’t be done, slaves can’t become sons by working – He is a gracious Father and loving God. He sets us free himself and makes us children purely by his grace. The Son sets us free by becoming our propitiation, the sacrifice to take away all God’ anger against us. The cross of Christ sets us free to be children of God, to look at God not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence, the way my little Mary confidently asserts her right to jump up into my arms and give me her cheek to be kissed.

    When you sins weigh you down and doubts about God plague you and make you feel like a slave, turn to the Son who frees you, see that God himself has paid the price to free you from your sin, and he has done it because He loves you as His child. And He welcomes you, his child to act as his child, to ask for forgiveness and look to Him for everything. He has freed you and He wants you to live in this freedom as His sons and daughters. This is the most precious freedom you have. Freedom from any guilt or shame before your God, freedom to act as and be dear children of your dear Father. And as you abide in Jesus’ Word, this freedom is secure for you forever. The Word they still shall let remain. And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, the victory has been won. The Kingdom our remaineth. Amen.

     

     

  • All Saints Day

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Feast of All Saints, 2016

    Revelation 7:9-17

     

    Let us pray, “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing. And in its narrow chamber keep, my body safe in peaceful sleep, until thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, thy glorious face, my Savior and my Fount of grace. Lord Jesus, Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, and I will praise Thee without end.” Amen.

     

    Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We celebrate those Christians who have died, who have fought the good fight of faith, and in the end have received the salvation of their souls. We celebrate the countless Christians who remain nameless, unrecorded by history, and unknown on this earth, we celebrate the famous apostles and martyrs and preachers of the past, we celebrate the grandfathers and grandmothers we have lost, the uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, children and grandchildren who have passed from this vale of tears to God in heaven, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. These are the saints who are among the great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne of God and looking at their heart’s desire in Jesus Christ our Lord. And it is good and right for us today to remember these saints who are so dear to us but dearer to our God.

     

    Because when we celebrate the saints we are celebrating the God in whom these saints glory. To be a saint is to be holy. Saint and holy are exactly the same word – one is from the Latin and the other is Germanic, but both mean the exact same thing - to be set apart as righteous and pure and innocent.

     

    And the only One who is in Himself truly holy, truly a saint, truly blessed, is the God of whom we sing every Sunday, “For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord” and “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth” and “Blessed is He, Blessed is He, Blessed is He.” Only God is holy and blessed in Himself. And yet we sing these words not simply to confess some transcendent holiness that is locked up in heaven in the unapproachable light of God’s glory, but to rejoice in the unfathomable mercy of our God, that He who alone is Holy descended from His throne in heaven to unite His holiness with our human flesh and blood. We sing “Holy, holy, holy” to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the God-man who has filled the earth with His glory. God’s holiness and blessedness have now been united with our humanity in Christ our Savior. It is the holy and blessed blood of God Himself that was shed on Calvary’s cross and it is the holiness of Jesus the God-man which now clothes those who have been sainted and cleansed by the washing of water and the word. If we call anyone else besides God holy, if we name them saints, if we say they are blessed, we are saying this only because they share in the blessedness of the One who is truly holy and blessed – the Lord God of Sabaoth, who comes to us and for us in Jesus Christ our Savior.

     

    Jesus Christ is the Holy One, who gives His holiness to us. And this gives us great comfort when we think of our loved ones who have faced death before us. We are connected to them, united with them in a bond that is far more than mere sentimentality, far more than remembering the good times of the past. We are united in Christ. The same Lamb who dwells with them in heaven dwells with us here on earth. And he dwells with us not merely with His presence, but with his activity. The God who wipes away their tears in heaven, the Shepherd who leads them to springs of living water, the Lamb who satisfies their hunger and quenches their thirst, the God whose loving face the saints in heaven behold, He works in us daily, giving us His Spirit through His Word, comforting us, helping us, forgiving us, directing our affections and our love to His love for us.

     

    The saints in heaven have the same holiness that we saints on earth have. They are called blessed and holy for the same reason as we. Of course, the sinful nature that still clings to us Christians on earth has completely died and vanished from the saints in heaven. They no longer have to struggle with their sin and their thirst for Christ’s righteousness is completely quenched. But the righteousness by which the saints in heaven live is the same righteousness that we have all received in our Baptism, where we washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

     

    This is why St. Paul addresses his letters to the saints of Rome, the saints of Corinth, the saints of Ephesus, the saints of Philippi and Colossus. This is why the Revelation of St. John continually gives the names “blessed” and “holy” to those who hear and believe the Gospel proclaimed within it. And this is why Jesus himself, in our Gospel lesson for this morning, says “blessed” nine times, and every single time He is talking about those who are alive on this earth.

     

    The Roman Catholic Church recently declared Mother Theresa a saint. Why? Why is Mother Theresa considered a saint and not my grandmother, who died around the same time? Because Mother Theresa did all sorts of visible good works. And her works were simply impressive. She started orphanages and hospitals. The world marveled at her goodness, so much so that she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her works of charity. And it is on the basis of these works that the Roman Catholic Church has named her a saint. Now we can agree that Mother Theresa did wonderful things. We can admire her self-sacrifice and charitable works. But if we are to call her a saint, we must do so on the same basis that we call my grandmother a saint, whose name none of you have ever heard, who did nothing of note in her life, but only raised a couple kids in rural Michigan. I cannot point to any wonderful work she did, I can’t wow the world with her story. But I can point to the Lamb in whom she trusted. I can point to the holy work of my Savior and hers, and know that she stands before the throne of God singing His praises. And I can thank God for this saint of his and for her humble work as a Christian mother, which God accepted not as something that made her holy and blessed, but something that the Holy and Blessed One worked through her to deliver to me a mother who would do the same.

    Hear again God’s Words to St. John: Who are those in heaven? Are they those dressed in their own good works? “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. THEREFORE, therefore, they are before the throne of God.” These are they of glorious fame who from the great affliction came and in the flood of Jesus’ blood were cleansed from guilt and shame. No good works, however great, are mentioned here. Only the blood of the Lamb.

     

    We are used to saying that people are “sainted” only after they die. But you and I were sainted the day we were baptized. We were cleansed that day, made pure and holy and blameless before our God in heaven. In my Baptism I put on Christ. I was called blessed by my Father in heaven. There God gave me the kingdom, comforted me in my weeping, made me an inheritor of everlasting life, filled my hunger and thirst for righteousness, and made me his son.

    Our voices today join with the saints in heaven. When we come before God today and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory” our song is echoed not only by the angels but by a multitude of saints in heaven that no one can count. They sing and we sing that God’s glory is not only in heaven, but here on earth. The glory of the Lamb in the midst of the throne in heaven is the glory of Christ crucified, it is the glory of the Lamb slain, whose blood has washed our robes and made them white. And we sing these wonderful words in eager expectation of receiving the body and blood of this same Lamb, the Lamb whom our loved ones in heaven, who came through the tribulation of this life and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb that they look upon with wonder in complete joy and happiness.

     

    This is the goal of Christians, as we sing in that beautiful hymn, “And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, my Savior and my Fount of grace.” The medieval church called it the beatific vision, the blessed vision of God, where we stand before Him in complete contentedness, shining in His brightness, knowing Him finally as we have been known. This is what our Lord Jesus speaks of today. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. This is what St. John tells us, that we who are children of God here on earth will finally see God as He is. This is our hope with which we purify ourselves here on earth.

     

    Today we sing with sadness and joy at the same time. We remember those who have gone before us. We feel pain because they are not with us and we feel sorrow that sin still clings to us. But we know also the joy that the saints experience in heaven with our God. This is the difference between us and them. It is not that we are not saints. That’s not the difference. We are holy and righteous before God in heaven because of the blood of the Lamb. We are saints. But we cry out to our God with a voice that still mourns, because we are still sinners. We still yearn to be rid of our sin, to have a clear vision of God, untainted by our doubts and fears. We cry out with the voice of those who are poor in spirit, knowing that we have nothing to offer our God except soiled and dirty garments. We cry out to God mourning over our sins, hungering and thirsting for a righteousness we cannot feel in ourselves. But we come before God’s throne today all the same. We do. We receive the blessings of the same Lamb as the saints in heaven. What we are about to receive in the Lord’s Supper is heaven on earth. It is. The Lamb who reigns in heaven descends to us here on earth. He gives us the holiness and blessedness that lights the faces of the saints in heaven. He gives us the very body and blood that washes our robes and makes them white. He gives us a foretaste of heaven. He gives us Himself, His blessedness, His righteousness. And He assures us that He will finally take us from this valley of sorrows, this tribulation, to Himself in heaven, where our eyes will finally see our heart’s desire in our holy and gracious God. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 22

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 22, 2016

    Matthew 18:21-35

    We all want justice. We can’t survive in this world without it. If the government fails to punish criminals, if murderers and thieves and rapists are allowed to go free without any punishment, we who obey the law will have to live in fear and chaos. This is why God, in his great mercy, has instituted government. God gives the government the power of the sword to exercise justice against those who do evil so that we who live decent lives can live in peace and quietness. We pray for this very thing every Sunday. We ask God for faithful rulers who will defend the innocent and punish the guilty. We pray for justice, and we do so because God commands us to pray exactly this. When we pray for daily bread we are praying for good government. We are asking God that the bad guys get punished and the good guys get protected. And even though it is never perfect in this broken world, we thank God for whatever justice we get.

     

    Even those who don’t know the only true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even those who pay no regard to God’s Word in Scripture, have some understanding of the need for justice. It’s so engrained in the human mind that you will be hard pressed to find a single society throughout the history of the world that did not have laws punishing crimes like murder and theft. This is why we teach our children about Hammurabi in Mesopotamia, Draco in Athens, and the civil laws of Moses, all of which show the basic human understanding that evil needs to be punished and good needs to be rewarded. And for negative examples we point our children to the French Revolution, to Nazi Germany, and to the various Communist regimes of the 20th century, all of which show the travesties and human suffering that occur when the government fails to uphold basic standards of justice. We need a government that gives to each person what that person deserves – punishment for those who do evil and reward for those who do good.

     

    The same goes with your daily life as a worker or an employer. If you do bad. If you don’t do your work, if you skip a shift, if you sleep on the job or refuse to obey your supervisor, well what does justice require? If your boss allows you to keep on doing a terrible job, if he simply forgives you and doesn’t fire you, his business will be harmed, your fellow workers will be harmed, society will be harmed. But if you do a good job, you will, in the normal course of things, be rewarded. That’s justice. And the forgiveness of sins can’t factor in.

     

    You parents and children see much the same thing in your daily lives. Kids need to be punished for mouthing off, for hurting others, and for being lazy and disrespecting authority. If they’re not punished and all they get is forgiveness – and I’m not talking about God’s forgiveness here – of course they should receive God’s forgiveness, but we’ll get to that later –, I’m talking about parents refusing to punish kids for doing wrong – if the kids never get disciplined, the household will be unordered and unhappy and the children will not have a decent shot at living a peaceful life in this world. Justice is necessary. Punishing the bad and rewarding the good, that’s justice.

     

    When we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning, where do we see justice? The servant owes the King ten thousand talents. What does justice require? It requires that he pay it all back. And the King knows this full well. This is why he orders that the man be sold, together with his wife and family and all he owns, and that payment be made. That’s justice. And the servant has some sense of what justice is too. He doesn’t talk of forgiveness. No, he begs for patience, so that he can repay the debt. He knows at least that justice requires him to pay what he owes.

     

    This is the thinking of this world. All the religions of this world, all the religions created by men, hold that we can somehow appease God’s justice ourselves, that we can work off the debt we owe to God. They see that this is how it works in the world, that evil needs to be punished and good rewarded, and so they figure that this is how it works with us and God. They consider it a light thing that we have not loved God with all our heart, that we have misused and abused his name, and that we have time and again refused to listen to His holy Word. And so they think that given enough time, they can pay back what they owe.

     

    But we can’t possibly pay our debt to God. Listen to the parable Jesus tells. The King has a servant who owes him 10,000 talents. 10,000 talents is a ridiculous amount of money. The average man was lucky to earn one talent in a whole year. The Greek word for 10,000 is the equivalent to our English zillion – when we say someone has zillions of dollars, we’re not thinking of a specific number, we’re thinking of an amount way too high to count. And that’s Jesus’ point when He uses the word myriad, or 10,000. Our debt to God is enormous. We have offended against the infinite God and we owe an infinite debt. And justice, the same justice to which we appeal daily in our lives and that God requires of our government, justice demands that we be punished.

     

    The servant’s claim that he will pay back his debt is just plain foolish. Justice isn’t on his side. He can’t pay back 10,000 talents, not in 10 lifetimes. But this foolish claim is the only claim he can think to make. What else is he supposed to say? Please, forgive me the zillion dollars I owe you? Please swallow the debt yourself and let me go a free man? How could he make such a plea to the King? Who would even think of being so forward as to ask for complete forgiveness without any payment?

     

    Who? Well, we would. But only because we know the King, we know His unbounded and unfettered mercy. We know that the King has commanded exactly this, that we not try to pay off our debts, but run to him and boldly ask him to forgive us a debt we cannot possibly pay. We know of something far greater than the Law, far greater than the eye-for-an-eye justice that the Law of God demands. And that is the justice of Christ’s cross. Our debt must be paid. But God’s mercy consists in this, that He has taken our debt on Himself. Our King of righteousness has shouldered our debt himself, and paid the punishment that justice demanded. Every time you read or hear that word “mercy” in the Bible, this is what it means. God has not left any sin unpunished. He has taken the full load of our debt upon himself and paid the price in his own body on the cross. Divine love has satisfied divine justice. To know this is to know our King and our God.

     

    We live by forgiveness. This doesn’t mean we ignore the need for justice in the world. Murderers and violent criminals need to be locked up for the good of society. And if we commit a crime on this earth we can expect earthly punishment for it. But even as we recognize the necessity for justice and law and order in this world, we also live in the heavenly reality that our sins are forgiven before our God.

     

    People sin against us. That’s a fact, and it’s a hard and painful fact. Hurtful words, slanderous accusations, physical harm committed against us and the ones we love – people rack up a debt in their sins against us. And justice would require that they pay the debt they owe us. But we live by a different justice, the justice of Christ’s cross. We ask God to forgive us our trespasses each and every day, and because we live by the forgiveness God gives, we promise to forgive all who sin against us.

     

    The servant in Jesus’ parable did not live in the forgiveness of his sins. He promptly forgot that the King had forgiven him his debt, and he continued to live as if the only justice that exists is the justice that requires us to repay our debt. And so he refused to forgive the tiny debt his brother owed him. And because this is how he lived, because he despised the forgiveness of the King, he got what the justice he demanded required of him. He got what he deserved. The King handed him over to the jailers until he paid off in full the eternal debt he owed. And Jesus warns us, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

     

    You will never be able to forgive your brother from your heart unless your heart is formed by God’s mercy. What the little children sang a few Sundays ago is the confession that forms our very lives: On my heart imprint Your image, blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, never may Your work erase. Let the clear inscription be: Jesus crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation. Only when our hearts cling to Christ’s great mercy can we forgive those who sin against us and who ask for our forgiveness.

     

    Because it is not really our forgiveness that we give. We live by God’s forgiveness and His forgiveness alone. And this is the forgiveness we give to those who sin against us. What good does it do you if your brother or sister, your husband or your wife, your friend or your enemy pays for their sin? It may give you some momentary satisfaction, but it will never take away the hurt and the pain. Only Jesus can do that. And He has. He has satisfied God’s justice for you and has given you the perfect satisfaction of being one with the God who created you and loves you.

     

    When people sin against you, when your mind goes back to the hurtful words and the nasty  things people have done against you and those you love, turn to the God who has had mercy on you. Remember again the debt that your King paid for you. Let your heart again be formed by the love and the peace that passes understanding. Direct your eyes to the cross of your dear Lord Jesus. Taste again the great joy of your forgiveness in the body and blood of your Savior. Here you will find forgiveness, not just for yourself but for all who sin against you. Let God be God, dear Christian friends. Let Him carry out the justice of this world. And let Him carry out the justice of his cross. He has carried your debt and your burden. And the yoke he lays on you is easy and light, because you live in His unbounded forgiveness and love. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Trinity 23

    O Jesus who my debt didst pay and for my sin wast smitten, within the book of life o may my name be also written. I will not doubt I trust in thee. From satan thou hast made me free. And from all condemnation.

     

    Judgment Day will see the works of all people exposed before the God who knows all. Every thought and word and action will receive judgment. This may give us some satisfaction when we look at all the evil in our world that goes unpunished. We all have a sense of justice, and we know that the standards of justice are not met in this world. But on Judgment Day, God will finally give the wicked their due. And that’s true. Judgment Day will right all the wrongs done here on earth. Everyone will finally get what they deserve. But when we look at our own lives, is this really what we want? Do we want justice? Do we look forward to the time when our every thought, word, and deed will be revealed for all to see? Do we want judgment? Or do we want mercy?

     

    When we examine our own works Judgment Day is a terrifying thought. We cannot stand before the righteous Judge with our works. In the account of the sheep and the goats, it is the goats who think they can stand before Jesus with their works. They are the ones surprised that Jesus won’t accept their works. They are the ones called cursed and sent into everlasting fire because they rely on their own virtue before the throne of God’s justice. We cannot stand before God on the strength of our works. In the face of Judgment Day, we instead flee for mercy to Christ our Savior and expose all our sins before Him now, knowing and trusting that the sin that He forgives is truly forgotten before God, erased from the memory of heaven. We look forward to Judgment Day not because we are confident in the value of our own works, but because we know the King and Shepherd who sits on the throne, who has laid down his life to make us the blessed inheritors of His Father’s Kingdom.

     

    And yet Jesus teaches us today, in the account of the sheep and the goats, how much he values the good works of Christians. This strikes us as surprising and even strange. We struggle with our sin every day, and we don’t dare offer our good works to God as if we’ve earned His favor by them, because we see that all our works are stained by our fears and doubts and selfishness. We confess that we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment. And we know that whatever good we do is so overwhelmed by our sins that we have to ask forgiveness from God every day of our lives. But Jesus commends the good works of His Christians all the same. And when we who trust in Christ our Savior appear before the throne of His glory, He will point to our good works and He will praise us for them.

    The righteous ask Jesus on that Day, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” The saints will be surprised on that Day, because it is impossible in this life for us Christians, who know that our every work is stained with sin, to fully understand how much our dear Lord prizes our works and counts them as works done to him.

     

    The righteous on Judgment Day are surprised at the praise of their good works, but the first words that Jesus speaks to the sheep on Judgment Day don’t surprise them. They are not surprised to be called the blessed of the Father. They are not surprised that Jesus welcomes them to inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. They’re not surprised at all. In fact, they expect exactly this. They have waited to hear exactly these words from Jesus from the day of their Baptism. The judgment we will receive from Jesus on the Last Day is exactly the judgment that He has already bestowed on us through water and the word. And the Kingdom He has prepared for us is exactly the Kingdom that He purchased with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and now delivers to us in His body and blood in the Sacrament. It is a Kingdom and inheritance that belong to us now, because the Son of Man has won it for us and given it to us in the Word of promise. That’s what it means to be the blessed of the Father. That’s what it means to be inheritors. We are by faith sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, and no one becomes a son or a daughter by working. We are born sons and daughters, adopted into the family of the Son, born from above by His Spirit, and we look forward to receiving the promised inheritance of our kind and gracious Father.

     

    It is only when the sheep hear Jesus speak of their good works that they respond with surprise. “Lord, when did we do these things?” They can’t fathom that Jesus would prize so highly the works they have performed while on earth. But He does. And this fact impresses on us the great honor of doing the works that so please our dear Lord Jesus, who has made us inheritors with Him of everlasting life.

     

    Now all of the good works that Jesus mentions – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, these are all works given to us to do in the Fifth commandment. They all have to do with the preciousness of human life. And it is no accident that Jesus mentions only these works, not works of the sixth or seventh or eighth commandments. Only the fifth. Jesus is teaching us that the Christian’s good works are precious because God has made human life precious. And it is only when we realize this that our obedience to any of the commandments means anything.

     

    Only Christians know the value of human life. This is what I teach the children in Catechism, and it’s a lesson that we all need to be reminded of all our lives. The value of human life depends entirely on the God who both created us in His image, and then when we had lost that image by our sin, became a man himself and bestowed the value of His own eternal glory on human life by uniting humanity to Himself. It was the Father’s will to make us blessed and holy, to recreate us in His Son’s image, by giving Him up for us on the cross and then bestowing Christ’s righteousness on us who trust in His Word of promise.

     

    This and this alone makes human life precious. Your intelligence, your wealth, your family name, your beauty, your strength, these do not make you precious in God’s eyes. The mentally ill, the mentally challenged, the deformed, the ugly, the unintelligent, the helpless unborn, the decrepit and senile, they are not any less valuable in the sight of God. We all receive our worth from the Son of Man, who took on our humanity and redeemed us to be precious before our Father in heaven.

     

    Every good work done by a Christian for a Christian is a work done for Christ. We call this fellowship or communion. We are called the Body of Christ. We are called His Bride. We Christians are united together and given immeasurable worth in Christ our Head. Jesus isn’t just speaking metaphorically or poetically here. He actually means that when we as Christians do good to our fellow Christians, we are doing good to Him. Because He is inseparable from His Church. Whatever happens to His Church He experiences as happening to Him. This is why when Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, He says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was persecuting the Church! He was persecuting pastors! But Jesus says that Saul was persecuting Him. He refuses to be considered separate from His Church.

     

    So if you want to do good for Christ, do good to His Church. And His Church consists of people. The people around you. It may seem mundane and too simple, these good works, but they are precious in the sight of God your Savior. You pay your pastor’s salary and provide for the teachers of your school. We need your bodily support. I and my family need you to do the good works of the fifth commandment for us. All faithful pastors are persecuted pastors. A faithful pastor needs the bodily support of Christians because he will get support nowhere else. The word he preaches gets him no friends in the world, because the world embraces the very sins that the pastor is called to condemn. And the world despises the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ that he preaches because it is obsessed with its own works and righteousness. And so the pastor would be hungry and naked and alone, he would be treated as a foreigner and be thrown in prison for preaching Christ, if it were not for the good works that Christians do for him. When you support your pastor here and other faithful pastors around the country and the world, when you support your teachers you are supporting Christ. And think about why you do it! It’s because Christ has first blessed you with faith through the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the way good works go. You receive from Christ His love and become united with Him, and then you give back to your fellow Christians, with whom you are united again in Christ. And you will see how precious this simple, despised, and mundane work is only on the Last Day when Christ praises it as being done to Him.

     

    All the good works you do for your fellow Christians will seem mundane and paltry. Think of the Christian mother. She works day and night to care for her children, she gives of her own life to clothe and feed and clean her little children, she sits up at night with her sick child, she is rarely thanked for her labors, but works away regardless of the fact that her children whine and complain and cry and keep her up at night. And she does all this because she knows that God has given these children to her, that God has created and redeemed these little things in His image and entrusted them to her care. And so she does the works that Jesus will commend on the Last Day. They don’t seem so glorious now, do they? Certainly not as glorious as becoming the first woman president or anything else this world praises as noteworth. No, to be a Christian wife and mother or a Christian father or a Christian teacher or an honest Christian worker providing for your family and your church, these seem lowly and unimpressive tasks. But the Last Day will show something quite different. The works of Christians to care for their fellow Christians are glorious in the eyes of God Almighty.

     

    Dear Christian friends, let us never tire of doing good for our fellow Christians, no matter how small they seem. Our Lord treasures them. And what’s more, our Lord never tires of doing good to us. He forgives our sins and makes us fit to stand before His throne, where we will hear Him on the Last Day welcome us to receive the inheritance He has promised us here on earth. And we look forward to that Day with joyful expectation to see our Shepherd and our King, and to be surprised to see how much He values not only us, but the works we do in His name here on earth.

    Let us pray:

     

    O Christ my Intercessor be, and for Thy blood and merit, declare my name from judgment free with all who life inherit. That I may see Thee face to face, with all Thy saints in that blest place, which Thou for us hast purchased. Amen.

     

     

  •  Trinity 25

    Pastor Christian Preus

     Trinity 25 - 2017

    In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus uses the most colorful pairing of words you’ll see in the Bible. The abomination of desolation. Neither of these words are in the vocabulary of the modern texter or twitterer – they have too much meaning and too many syllables. But those of us who grew up watching the abominable snowman on Looney Tunes at least have some idea of what abomination means. It means something so horrifying and filthy and disgusting that you want to run away from it, that your first thought is to cry out, Dear God, help me. That’s what an abomination is. And desolation we should know too, especially after a summer of wildfires here in the West, leaving behind miles and miles of desolate land – where there’s nothing, no life, no people, just nothingness, where it appears God himself has abandoned the place. And so the combination of these two words – the abomination of desolation – in the mouth of our dear Lord Jesus is something we need to take a good hard look at. In fact, the Holy Spirit tells us to do exactly this – this is the only time in the entire Bible where Jesus’ words are interrupted and we are told, “Pay attention,” “Let the reader understand.” When you see the abomination of desolation in the holy place, flee, run away, get out of there. When you see this hideous thing that reduces you to nothing, run for your life.

    Now notice where this abomination of desolation is. It’s in the holy place, in Christ’s Church. It’s not out in the world, the mass shootings, the slaughter of the unborn, the depravity of Hollywood, the sexual license, transgenderism and homosexuality and adultery and unbiblical divorce – these are all abominations, horrifying, as all sin is, things that make the Christian cry out, “Dear God, help us.” But they do not leave us desolate, they don’t leave us alone and without our God. God remains strong and victorious with His Word, and where that Word is it has the power to convict of sin, to lead people, the world out there and us, out of the misery of sin to receive the peace and life that comes from the blood of Christ. Not even the shooter who took the lives of 26 Christians in Texas last Sunday, not even that wicked man who entered the holy place, entered Christ’s Church and murdered God’s children, not even he, that abomination, could make them desolate. God answers the prayers of His children, He delivers them from evil, He ushers them from horror to heaven. This is why we sing and mean, “And take they our life, good’s fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, they still have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth” – God is with us and leads us through this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

    When Jesus speaks of the abomination of desolation in the holy place, he is speaking of the one thing we Christians should learn to shudder at over all our fears, over all the abominations in this world, over all our problems with family or at work, over all the abominable things we ourselves think and feel in our sinful heart and sorrow over. And that is the silencing of Christ’s cross in the Church, the silencing of our dear Lord’s death and resurrection to reconcile us to our God and win us the hope of heaven. Nothing could be more abominable than this silencing of Christ in the Church, because nothing else can leave us desolate and leave us without our God. Nothing else. Not life or death, St. Paul says, not political authorities or the temptations of the devil, nothing else, so long as we have the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

    That the abomination of desolation is in the church is the great problem of all times. The church should be the place where sinners find refuge, where they flee to their God and receive from him the words of eternal life, instruction in what is good and beautiful in God’s sight, and strength to face life in this sinful world. The Church, in other words, must be the place where we recognize sin in all its ugliness, and receive the blood of Christ our God and Brother as the most beautiful thing imaginable, our access to God, the erasing of His judgment against us, the certainty of our eternal inheritance in heaven. That’s what the Church is and must be.

    And it has always been this way. Now you know what the holy place was in the Old Testament. It was the place in the Temple where atonement was made for sin, where once a year, the high priest would enter to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice, to point to the great sacrifice of Jesus, when God Himself would take on human flesh to pay for our sins and make us one with God. That’s what atonement means. At-one-ment. We are made one with God. The God who sees our sin as abomination, as something so horrible that He must turn His face away from it, that He must abandon sinners, punish them for their sins and leave them desolate, without any hope of eternal life, this God spills his blood to remove all sin, all abomination from us, to bring us to Himself as His dear children, and replace our desolation with the comfort of His everlasting peace. That’s what the holy place meant. That’s what it pointed to. And this is the opposite of the abomination of desolation. It takes sin and abomination and desolation away.

    And so for the abomination of desolation to be there, there in the holy place, is the most terrible thing imaginable. This is why Jesus uses the words he uses, why we are told to pay close attention, to flee and run away from it, as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

    We confessed in our gradual: Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their own signs for signs. Your foes, the Psalmist says. God’s foes, his enemies, roar in His holy place. He’s not speaking here of the atheist professors in the universities or the godless secular propagandists in the media. He’s warning against those who set themselves up in the Christian Church, call themselves Christians, use the name of Christ, and all the while set up their own teachings for the teachings of God.

    Jesus warns us to flee them. You will know them by their fruits. The Roman Pope has for over 1000 years insisted that we are not saved simply by trusting in the blood of Christ, and instead directs sinners to their own works to gain heaven. He claims to be the head of the Christian church on earth, to hold the keys to heaven, but then in the very place where Christ’s work to free sinners from their sins must be preached, the pope robs poor sinners of the comfort of the Gospel, right there in the holy place, in Christ’s Church. Think of that, Christ, God Himself in human flesh, died on a cross and suffered the desolation of separation from His Father, He who knew no sin became sin for us, became an abomination though He is holiness and beauty itself – that’s what God did, so great is His love to save us. And yet the pope with no authority whatsoever from God’s holy Word declares we must merit God’s favor by our works. No. Jesus has merited God’s favor. God has done it all for us. He gives it freely through His Word, and we without any merit or works of our own receive what Christ our Lord has done for us. That’s the heart of Christianity, because it’s the heart of God. It is our greatest joy, our comfort in life and our stay in death. And that’s why Jesus uses such urgent and strong language to warn us against anyone or anything that would rob us of this treasure. Flee this abomination, Jesus says, it will leave you desolate, without God, trusting in yourself instead of in my perfect work in your place. And that goes not just for the Roman pope, but for any teacher in the Church who denies or ignores the atoning work of Christ our God. It’s a huge problem today. The liberal mainline Protestant churches of our time first denied that the Bible was God’s Word and then inevitably denied that what God calls sin is sin, and have long since stopped preaching that Christ died to save sinners. Even evangelical churches who claim to stand on the Bible will refuse to speak of sin and the blood of Christ, because it isn’t fun, it puts people off. And where sin is not preached, the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s blood is ignored, it doesn’t fit in. And so the Lord’s Supper is pushed away, the body and blood of Christ are not offered, confession and absolution is abolished, the universal cry of the Church, “Lord have mercy upon us,” is silenced.

    Now a lot of people, even people in a conservative Christian Church, a conservative Lutheran church like ours, don’t want to hear their pastor preach against the errors of other churches. I get it. Family and friends go to other churches, and it’s not as if the Lutheran Church is the only place you can hear about Jesus. And that’s certainly true. You can hear about Jesus in many churches not Lutheran. And in some of them, especially the conservative ones who still take the Bible seriously as God’s Word, you may very well hear about your sin and your Savior from sin. And thank God for that. But it is Jesus Himself who warns us, Beware of false prophets.  Not every church that bears the name Christian or even Lutheran teaches what makes the Holy Christian Church holy, what makes us holy and righteous before God. And our dear Lord Jesus Christ tells us to flee from these sham holy places in the strongest possible language. And He does it because He loves you.

    Your Lord’s urgency in warning you to flee from false teachers is so great that He puts it all in the context of the end times. The time is drawing near. The Son of Man will appear like lightning stretching from the east to the west. You will stand before the Almighty. And you will stand and not fall because you are clothed not with your own virtues and not with your own sins, but with the blood of Christ shed for you.

    And so what you need above all else, especially in these last days, is not physical comfort and safety, not a long life and a full belly, but a right relationship with the God who created you. And so you need to hear His Word in his holy place. You need to hear that you are a sinner, with real sins, that have not only hurt your neighbor but have offended your God and deserved his punishment. And you need to hear constantly how God’s love has moved Him to take your punishment on Himself, that the Son of God has removed your sin and your death and your hell from you by taking on your flesh and spilling His divine blood. You need to hear that you are God’s child and an inheritor of everlasting life, not because you earned it or deserved it, but because Jesus has cleansed you with His blood in your Baptism and given you His name and all that He has. You need to hear the preaching of Christ crucified.

    Where the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered. Where the flesh and blood of Christ-crucified for sinners is preached, where it is present on the altar for the forgiveness of our sins, there we Christians will gather to feed. Here we are safe from any desolation, any false christs or false prophets, because we have the true Christ with us. Whatever these end times bring, here in our Lord Jesus’ blood, we know we have a gracious God who will lead us through this vale of tears to himself in heaven.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Trinity 26

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Trinity 26 - 2017

     

    There’s a lot of talk about heaven in our day, but not much is said about Judgment Day. People talk seriously of heaven, because even if they know nothing else about God and life and sin, they know they will die, and so heaven, the thought of living eternally, sticks in the modern mind. And obviously, most people are far more comfortable talking about heaven than Judgment Day. Because people can imagine a heaven where they don’t have to give an account, where it is simply assumed that they’ll go, because they’ve lived a decent enough life. In fact, the Pew Research Center, when it asks the question about whether you believe in heaven or not, defines heaven as the place where people who have lived good lives are eternally rewarded. And since most people think they’ve lived good enough lives, whatever that means in our day, most people assume they’ll go to heaven.

    But Judgment Day is different. People can imagine a heaven without God, without Jesus. They do. But to imagine a Judgment Day without God is impossible. God is the Judge. Jesus is the Judge. And people can imagine a heaven where they don’t have to give an account for their life. But the very point of Judgment Day is that all will have to give an account to God of the life they lived here on this earth. People can imagine a heaven without a hell. But Judgment Day means, as Jesus says in John 5, that those who have done good will enter into everlasting life and those who have done evil into everlasting fire. And so people would much rather think of heaven.

    What’s amazing, though, as much as people in America talk about heaven when it comes to themselves and their loved ones, the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe in Judgment Day. Did you know that? Some 80%. Now why is that? The same reason the Greek philosopher Plato believed in a day of judgment, the same reason the pagan religions had judges in the underworld – we feel the need for justice. Evil people do wicked things on this earth and they get away with it. They never face the consequences in this life. You know this. You can think of people in history, like Joseph Stalin, who lived to a ripe old age after a life of riches and power, and yet spent his life killing tens of millions of innocent Christians. That cries out for justice on Judgment Day. But you also know of the people in your own life, who have sinned against you and against the ones you love, done terrible things, and have not met justice. And the fire burns within us, the desire for justice. It’s not fair. But it will be. God will judge them. They’ll get what they deserve. That’s why people believe in Judgment Day. Judgment Day for others. Heaven for me and my own.

    But that’s not why we believe in Judgment Day. We don’t need to think up its necessity because of other people’s badness. God reveals its necessity to us. And not just for others, for us. Judgment day is just as personal, just as directly applicable to you as your life and death and your hope of heaven. You will face your Maker. And this is the Creator who threatens to punish all who break His commandments. From Him your thoughts are not hidden, He has seen what you have done and thought and said. Before Him there are no secrets, no pointing the finger at others as if others being worse than we have been makes us good and deserving of eternal life. No presumption that we have merited anything from Him at all. No excuses. He is the Judge. And His verdict against all our sin, His judgment, is everlasting punishment. Judge not, Jesus says, but He says that to you, not to Himself. He does judge, and He will, and before this Judge no one can stand.

    And yet we will stand. We will stand and hear Him say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And that is precisely because Judgment Day is carried out not by some far off and impersonal God, but by the Son of Man. The God who took on human flesh, who fulfilled everything the Law required of us, He is the one who sits on His throne, the One who delivers the Kingdom, and He delivers it to us who are blessed by the Father. And our Father has called us blessed. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. The decree of our Lord’s judgment has landed on us already, the judgment of our Baptism, which is our blessedness, that we have died and risen with the Son of Man, that God’s wrath against our sin, His decree of eternal punishment, has been drunk to the last dregs by our Lord Jesus. He was in prison and no one visited Him. He was thirsty and they gave him gall to drink. He was naked and mocked, and they divided his clothes among them. We will look on that Day upon the One whom we have pierced, who bore our transgressions, and we will have no thought that our works have earned His beautiful sentence, the blessing of His Father, His invitation to eternal joy. But He will give it, because He has earned it for us and promised it to us.

    And so we look forward to Judgment Day, not just heaven, but Judgment Day. We don’t simply assume we’ll die, that we’ll follow the course of everyone else who has lived on this earth. We wait for the coming of our Lord, we expect it. The scoffers scoff. They tell us to look at history, that it has always been this way, that people always die and go down to the grave, and so it will be in the future. But the scoffers have missed the center of history. One man, the Son of Man, broke the cold pattern of death that mercilessly afflicts generation after generation. This one Man rose from the dead to everlasting life. He conquered death. And it is He who has promised to come for us. And this, not our bodily death, is what is inevitable. Our Lord will return.

    And we prepare for this return by hearing the Word that guarantees it. When Jesus addresses those who will inherit the everlasting Kingdom, He calls them by two names. First, He calls them sheep. He calls them sheep because, as He has said, My sheep hear my voice. He will address us as His sheep on that great Day because we listen to His voice here on earth, hear His Law, repent of our sins, and find our righteousness not in ourselves but in His word of forgiveness. Second, Jesus calls His sheep the blessed of the Father. In the Greek, the word for “blessed” is literally well-spoken of, euloghmenoi. To be called blessed of the Father means the Father speaks well of you. And the Father speaks these words to us who listen on this earth to His good words. He tells us these good words now. He tells us we are His children, that our sins cannot keep us away from Him, that His Son has paid for them, that we are His and He is ours.

    It is only after calling us sheep and blessed that Jesus will talk about our works, that we have seen Him hungry and fed Him, thirsty and given Him drink, naked and clothed Him, sick and in prison, and visited Him. And though we protest that we have not done these things, that we are poor sinners, that we claim our blessedness, our status as sheep, only in Christ our Shepherd, the last Day will reveal that our works, which we now see stained with our selfishness, which we daily need to repent of, have been accepted by our Lord as perfect, because all that is lacking in them has been forgiven, washed clean. And this beautiful fact, that our Lord prizes our love for others, for the least of His brethren, that He wants His sheep to see in our fellow Christians our Lord Jesus and as we love Him, so love them, this gives us more than enough to do as we wait for the Day of Judgment. Fathers, work hard to clothe and feed your children. Mothers, care for your children as God’s children bought with the holy blood of Jesus. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church. Wives, respect your husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Christians, don’t cling to your money, but care for your fellow Christians by giving it to them in their need. Not because any of this makes you holy or righteous or blessed, quite the opposite – those who claim their own works before the Judgment throne, who ask, Lord, when did we see you hungry and naked and did not help you, they will go into eternal punishment, because they trusted in their own goodness instead of the good words spoken by the Father – no, you don’t trust in your own love, you trust in Jesus’s love. You love because Jesus has loved you, because you are already blessed, because your Father wills it, and you are His children. Whatever you do to Christ’s sheep, you do to Christ. What a wonderful thing.

    The Bible ends with the words, “Behold, I am coming quickly,” and we answer, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” And this, this is a personal promise. Your Lord is coming for you. As surely as He lived for you, died for you, rose for you, as surely as He put His name on you in your Baptism, announces your forgiveness through His servant, gives you His body and blood, He is coming for you, so that you will always be with Him.

    And beautifully, there is no better way to think of heaven. Your Lord directs your heart to the certainty that Christ will return. This is what we prepare ourselves for, and there’s nothing frightening about it for you who desire to see your Savior. Your Lord will come to be your judge. Your Lord. He is your judge. Your Lord who spilt His blood for you. Your Lord who stilled God’s wrath against your sin. Your Lord who rose triumphant from the grave. Your Lord who feeds you with His Gospel. He is the One you wait for. And if death comes in the meantime, so be it. It doesn’t change a thing. Your Lord is the victor over death and the judgment He will render on Judgment Day is the same He has rendered to you in His Word. My sheep hear My voice. And we all, the saints in heaven and those on earth, we all confess with Job, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will stand upon this earth, and in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Even so, come Lord Jesus, yes, come quickly. Amen.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Thanksgiving Eve

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Thanksgiving Eve - 2017

     

    O Lord we praise Thee,

    Bless Thee and adore Thee,

    In Thanksgiving bow before Thee.

    Thou with thy body and thy blood didst nourish

    Our weak souls that they may flourish:

    O Lord have mercy.

    May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,

    that our sins and sorrows did carry,

    And Thy blood, for us plead,

    In all trial, fear, and need:

    O Lord, have mercy.

    Amen.

     

    The Lord’s Supper has been called by many names within the history of the Christian Church. We call the Lord’s Supper Communion, because that’s what it is and that’s what St. Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 10 – “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” The bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ, and in this communion, when we eat and drink trusting in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we ourselves have communion with our Lord and in Him with one another. Again, we call Communion the Lord’s Supper, because that’s what it is and that’s what St. Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 11, as he scolds the Corinthians for treating it as a regular meal – “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,” he says. The Lord’s Supper belongs to the Lord – He is the host, He invites the guests, He provides everything, and He gives Himself for food. The Corinthians were eating their own supper, celebrating a gluttonous and drunken feast, which is, by the way, no way to celebrate Thanksgiving, as if to stuff ourselves with food and overdrink is showing thanks to our God for all He has done for us.

    In fact, the way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to come to the Lord’s Supper. It is the highest Thanksgiving. That’s what the ancient Church called it. They called it the Eucharist. That’s Greek for Thanksgiving. Because this is what Jesus did when He first gave His Supper to us, “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body,” “In the same way also, he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus gave thanks to His Father and our Father. And in so doing He teaches us what Thanksgiving is.

    To give thanks to God you first need to know who He is. When George Washington called for the first national day of Thanksgiving in 1789 he was very clear that it was a day of Thanksgiving to God. Our time has lost sight of this. We hear people say they are thankful for this and that, without ever saying to whom they are thankful. In fact, it’s become politically incorrect even to mention God in relation to Thanksgiving. Watch for it on TV or in the Newspaper or the ads. You’ll rarely see the word God and Thanksgiving together. It might offend the atheists. And so today, saying, “I’m thankful,” simply expresses an inner emotion without direction, like saying, “I’m stuffed,” after a big meal. God has nothing to do with it. And so we look back with nostalgia on the day when people actually thanked God for all the benefits He’s given to us in this nation.

    But even here, when we look back into the past, we need to remember that when George Washington issued his call to the nation to thank God, he spoke in generic terms about God. He spoke about God’s providence, how he takes care of all the earth, and how he was gracious to the United States in giving them victory in war, but he never mentioned Jesus. And Washington did that on purpose. A good number of the Congressmen at the time didn’t believe that Jesus was God. They were deists, they believed God didn’t directly interfere on this earth, that Jesus was nothing but a good moral man of the past. And Washington himself, while he belonged to the Anglican Church, was also a member of the Masonic Lodge, which teaches that all religions are a pathway to the Grand Architect of the Universe.

    Now the call to thank God is obviously a good thing. To have a national day of Thanksgiving to God is a good thing. But only when we know who this God is, that there is only one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus our Lord. And we know this Jesus specifically, that He is the eternal Son of the Father, through whom all things were created in 6 days, through whom we ourselves were created, who in His great love for us has taken on our flesh, suffered and died to reconcile us to Himself, and we know this because He has given us His Word and according to that Word He now gives to us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

    This is how we learn to say thanks to our God – for our lives, for every single thing God has given us in this world, for our families and our government and our country and our church and our school. The Eucharist, the Thanksgiving of the Lord’s Supper, puts this secular American holiday of Thanksgiving into the proper perspective –we are not giving thanks to some generic God but to the only true God who gives us poor sinners His body and His blood, shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. He is the God who has given us all things, a God whom we can know and trust to continue to bless us, a God whom we can thank with all knowledge that He accepts our thanksgiving, because He has given His life for us and sends His Spirit into our hearts to cry out to His Father as our own Father.

    And this the Lord’s Supper teaches us.  Listen to the prayer we will pray in a few short minutes, as we prepare to receive Christ’s body and blood: “It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who having created all things, took on human flesh and was born of the virgin Mary. For our sake He died on the cross and rose from the dead to put an end to death, thus fulfilling Your will and gaining for You a holy people.”

    It is an amazing and beautiful thing that this is exactly what Jesus meant when He gave thanks to His Father on the night of the first Lord’s Supper. He gave thanks that His Father’s will would soon be accomplished, because He who had created all things had now taken on human flesh, that He would now go to the cross and suffer the pains of hell to rescue us from the punishment our sins deserved, to put an end to death by His death, and by His resurrection open the way to everlasting life.

    And this is the same thanksgiving we give today. The Lord’s Supper is the Supper of Thanksgiving not because it centers on our offering our thanks to God but because it gives us what we are most thankful for. We have not deserved all the blessings of this life for which we thank our God. We have sinned, we have been ungrateful, we have prayed and said thank you without even thinking what we are saying, and we indeed deserve nothing but punishment. But we pray that God would continue to give all His blessings to us because of His great love for us in Christ Jesus, and that He would make us truly thankful. And this He does again tonight. He answers our prayer. Our Lord Jesus speaks the Words that bless the bread and the wine and He gives to us in them His true body and blood, the seal and guarantee of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation, and hearts full of thanks to Him.

    So as we spend time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, as we eat and drink the good food and drink our God has provided for us, as we offer our thanks to God for everything He has given to us in this country, we know by this our Lord’s Supper, that He gives everything to us for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, and in Him He will continue to bless us here in time and forever in eternity. And for this we thank Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this night, tomorrow, and into eternity. Let us pray:

    Thy holy body into death was given,

    Life to win for us in heaven.

    No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;

    May this feast thereof remind us!

    O Lord, have mercy!

    Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee

    That Thy blood should bless and sustain me.

    All our debt Thou hast paid;

    Peace with God once more is made:

    O Lord, have mercy.

    Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Last Sunday of the Church year

    Pastor Christian Preus

    Last Sunday of the Church Year

    November 20, 2016

    Matthew 25:1-13

     

    Let us pray. Jesus Priceless Treasure, Fount of purest pleasure, Truest friend to me, Ah, how long in anguish, Shall my spirit languish, Yearning, Lord, for Thee? Thou art mine, O Lamb divine! I will suffer naught to hide Thee; Naught I ask beside Thee. Amen.

     

    When Jesus pictures Christ as the Bridegroom and His Church as the Bride He is teaching us something about Christian faith. Faith is specific. It locks its eyes on one thing and obsesses over it alone. Or rather, it focuses in on one Person and looks only to Him. There is no better picture of faith’s specificity than a bride waiting for her bridegroom. A bride isn’t obsessed with marriage in general. She’s not concerned about other husbands and other weddings. She isn’t speculating about the general societal good that marriage brings. No, her expectation is specific to one man, before whom all others pale in comparison, and she waits very specifically and very personally for him, to see his face, to feel his embrace, to be his wife.

     

    This is Christian faith. It isn’t some general knowledge of facts about God. It’s not some general faith in His existence. I can use the strength of my reason to convince myself that there must be a God, that there must be a first cause for all that exists, that there must be a goal to the design of the earth and everything in it. I may even be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists, at least to reasonable people, simply by applying the rules of logic. And against the scoffing of our materialistic and atheistic elites, this may be a worthwhile endeavor. But proving God’s existence, or having some general knowledge or assent that God exists, is a far cry from Christian faith.

     

    God has revealed Himself to be truly known and believed and trusted only in Jesus, the only Son of the Father, who took on human flesh, lived and shed his precious blood to win us God’s favor by the forgiveness of our sins. And Christian faith looks alone and specifically to this Jesus. It clings to His words and trusts them implicitly. It’s not content with knowing that there’s some God out there, some benevolent being. And it certainly can’t fathom likening other gods of other religions to Jesus. In fact, even when it comes to Jesus – and this is important – even when it comes to Jesus, Christian faith isn’t content knowing general, historical facts about Him – that He created the earth, that He became a man himself to die for sinful humanity, that he rose again from the dead and will come back to judge the living and the dead. Christian faith certainly believes all these things, but it also applies them to itself. Jesus laid down His life to cleanse me by his blood. He rose for me. He is coming back to claim me as His bride. That’s the voice of the Church, the voice of Jesus’ bride. The bride doesn’t simply assent to historical facts about her bridegroom. She applies everything he does and is to herself. She considers him her life. When she falls asleep, she falls asleep thinking of him. When she wakes up in the morning, her thought is of him. She is enamored with his voice and could listen to him speak every hour of every day.

     

    That’s why we Christians go to Church. Our desire is for Jesus. And Jesus hasn’t promised to meet us on a mountain or at the lake or at some sporting event or at home as we watch our TV. You may gain some general appreciation of God’s creative work in those places – if you’re not too busy doing something else – but the Christian’s desire is not for some general knowledge of God, but very specifically for Jesus, our Savior from sin. And Jesus has promised to meet us here, at church, where He has cleansed us with water and the word, where He speaks words of absolution, and where he gives His body and blood for us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. It really makes no sense for us Christians to skip church. If Christ is our all-consuming desire, if we know our need for the Bridegroom who covers our sin and our unfaithfulness, we will be where He has promised to meet us. The specificity of our faith demands exactly this.

     

    Look at Jesus’ parable! All ten virgins, the wise and the foolish, know where to be. Think of that! Even the foolish virgins know where to be! They all come to the bride’s house. Why? Because that’s where the Bridegroom has promised to meet them.

     

    That’s the way it worked in Jesus’ time. They didn’t have wedding ceremonies like we do. Instead, after the marriage was arranged, the bride would wait at her house as her husband prepared a place for her. And as the time approached for the bridegroom to come and take his bride to be with him, the friends of the bride would gather at her home in eager expectation for the coming of the bridegroom. Then when the bridegroom came, they would all parade together to the house of the happy couple, where they would celebrate the wedding feast.

     

    The ten virgins in Jesus’ parable are all at the right spot. It’s the only spot to be if you’re going to participate in the wedding feast and meet the bridegroom. They’re all at the bride’s house. And that’s where we need to be. We need to be where the Bride of Christ is. We need to be where the Church is. And the Church is wherever the Gospel is preached purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. That’s here. If we want to share in the joy of the Bride of Christ, if we want to meet the Bridegroom, we will be where He has promised to meet us. Not because there’s some law – Thou must go to Church (though there is, it’s the third commandment) – but you come to Church not simply to obey a rule, but because your very specific desire, above all the pleasures of this vain and pain-filled life, is to be with Jesus.

    The Church is where Christ promises to meet us through the preaching of the Gospel. That’s where it is. But the Church itself is made up of people. The Church is the communion of saints, all those who trust in Christ and are declared righteous by faith. And, of course, those who trust in Christ gather together to meet Christ where he has promised to meet us. But there are others who gather in the same place. The external Church contains not only those who trust in Christ but also those who attach themselves to the Church, but have no faith, no trust, no eager expectation to be with Jesus.

     

    This is why Jesus speaks of five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. They look the same. They’re all in the right place, at the bride’s house. They all have lamps. There’s no way to tell them apart by external appearance. So it is in the Church today. People come to church as if by the mere act of sitting in the pew they remain Christians, or they hold membership simply because their parents did, or they think it’s good for their children to grow up with the moral structure the Church can give. They listen to the same words as everyone else. They eat the same body and blood of Christ at the altar. But they have no faith. They spend their days without a thought of Jesus, with no longing to receive what only He can give. They think little to nothing of their sins and instead seek whatever fleeting pleasures this world can offer.

     

    In the parable, they are the five virgins who have no oil. Oil signifies faith. Think of how ridiculous it is for the foolish virgins to have lamps and no oil. Lamps don’t work without oil. That’s like carrying around a flashlight with no batteries in it. It’s supremely foolish. And that’s the point. What a foolish thing to do, to come to church and pretend to care about Jesus for one day a week or one day a month, and then give him no thought otherwise. And it’s not only foolish. It’s dangerous. Jesus will come again. He will come to take His Church to be with Him. And He will not be fooled. He won’t look at the Parish Registry to see whether we were confirmed at an orthodox church. He won’t be impressed that we mumbled the Church’s confession in the Nicene Creed. He will look at our hearts. And he will say to those who have no faith, to those who felt no need or desire to see their Savior, to the foolish ones who have no oil, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

     

    Christ gives this parable as a warning to every one of us. Listen to what he says at the conclusion of His parable, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Watch. Keep awake, Jesus says. You don’t know the hour of your death. God can take you at any time. And you certainly don’t know the Day of Christ’s return. It will come as a thief in the night. And meanwhile this world and its prince the devil will gladly lull you to sleep and tear you away from your Savior. There are a million temptations and pleasures that will demand your attention and vie for supremacy in your heart. The devil will make it seem innocent that you put sports, camping, hunting, children, job, money, food, sexual pleasure, you name it, above Jesus. There are a million tricks your mind will play to convince you that you can shove Christ and the forgiveness of your sins aside for another day, another week, another month, as you live your life your own way and forget about your Bridegroom for a little while. But watch, Jesus says, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

     

    So pray without ceasing. Listen to and hear and read and speak Jesus’ words every day, in the Bible, in the Catechism, in daily devotions, in hymns and songs. And come to church every Sunday. Don’t do it as some taxing obligation. Jesus doesn’t want to hear, “I know I should come to church, but… this or that or the other thing got in the way.” As if hearing the voice of Jesus could possibly be secondary. That’s not how the Bride thinks of her Bridegroom. That’s not how we think of Jesus. No. Come to Church because you need Jesus. Come to Church because it is your greatest desire to receive what Christ has to give. Come to Church because you need cleansing from the selfish things you’ve said and thought and done, because you need to hear Christ’s voice of forgiveness for the anger and hate that clouds your mind and infects your heart. Come to Church because you are afraid to die, because you live in doubt and weakness of faith. Come to Church, because you can’t make it through this valley of sorrows with all its temptations without Jesus and the forgiveness and admonition He gives to you.

     

    We Christians don’t watch for Christ in fear. In fact, it’s Christ who takes away our fear. He removes our fear of God’s punishment, our fear of death, our fear of the devil. He removes our sin. And so we meet Jesus with joy, as our Savior, our Head, and our Bridegroom. We meet Him with joy here on earth, as we receive Him in His Supper and His Word of forgiveness, and it is with joy that we will see Him on the Last Day. Because there is only one Jesus. The Jesus who will come to bring His Bride, the Church to be with Him forever is the same Jesus who laid down His life for her, the same Jesus who comes to His Church today with His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

    The five wise virgins were prepared with the oil of faith. They shared with the Bride the eager expectation of the Bridegroom’s arrival. So we too watch with the Bride, Christ’s Church. In fact, we watch as the Bride herself. Our eyes are locked on Jesus, who went to the cross to prepare an everlasting home for us. The place He prepared for us on the cross, the place of forgiveness and love and reconciliation with our God, He gives us here. We eat the Supper, and we feast on the Word of forgiveness, here on earth. This is the foretaste of the heavenly Feast above. Here, in Christ’s Church, we rest from our sins and our sorrows in the Savior who laid down his life for us His Bride, so that He might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water by the word, that He might present us to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that we should be holy and without blemish.

     

    And so we pray and we sing, “Now come, Thou Blessed One, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son. Hail! Hosanna! We enter all the wedding hall, to eat the Supper at Thy call.” Amen.

     

     

     

We are a confessional Lutheran congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Committed to teaching the truth of God’s Word, with Christ crucified for sinners at the center, our worship follows the historic liturgy of the Church. We sing the great hymns of past and present that reflect the reverence, dignity, and joy of the Christian confession.