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As the End Comes, Love by His Spirit and Fulfill the Law

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, MN, 11/27/2022.

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“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”[1]

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Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table given the sampling he shared – and says that these are summed up in the one command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Some of you might be thinking:

Why though, is Paul talking about love as a debt here?! After all, as Christians, haven’t all our debts been paid? Is there not a sense in which we really and truly are free from the law?”

Good catch! Your instincts are sound.

For instance, in the book of Galatians, Paul also talks about how Christ has set us free for freedom and that anyone who tries to be justified by following the law has fallen away from grace![2]

At the same time though, note also what he says there in Galatians about the origin of this love that also fulfills the law:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

So when Paul is saying that there is a sense in which we are free from the law, he is certainly not saying that we are free from love.

Rather, in Christ who fulfills the law on our behalf, we really know love, and we are free to love…

And to love, is indeed freedom, liberty.

For if you remain in Christ’s love you continue to love… and, paradoxically, you owe nothing… for love is the fulfilling of the law…[3]

So when Paul speaks of a debt here, he is speaking of a metaphorical debt of sorts…. :

“Realize, my friends, how God is love and you are now found in that love.

Live!

In!

It!”

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So, in the end, we can’t and won’t say, with one famous 20th century philosopher, that “hell is other people”.

For we love.

True freedom — true peace and paradise! — and being able to really express one’s self in love… go hand in hand.

And even if some in the world twist this lovely truth…. they nevertheless have some inkling of this, some understanding of this, to some degree…

This is why, for example, in the book of Galatians when discussing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says regarding these fruits – that is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – that there is no law against such things.

There is no law against love!

And yet, just what is love?

Famously, when the Bible talks about love, it associates it closely with God Himself, it being at the core of Who He is.

We do not only say that God is loving, but that the One Who Loved the World by Sending His Only Son (that we might believe in Him) IS LOVE.

And, why shouldn’t I Corinthians 13, often read at weddings, be our go-to passage here?:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…”

And later, Paul closes: “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[4]

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So here in Romans 13, Paul is primarily saying this:

Let this love flow! Live in it!

One might think here about how earlier in the book of Romans he speaks about the Holy Spirit’s working in the hearts of Christian people:

“…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

That is quite the picture, isn’t it?

As the love of God has been poured out into our hearts, brothers and sisters, let it flow — let it overflow[!] — to others…

At the same time, even as this love comes to us spontaneously — erupting forth from the faith in Jesus that God creates in our hearts! — that doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes still need some guidance, encouragement, and reflection on how to best direct our activity.

That is also why in Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins this section of the book where he teaches and exhorts the Romans regarding all the ways they can show love by saying:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

And so here we are directed once again to the importance of the consistent presence and use of the Word of God in our lives….

So that our souls, our minds, might ever be transformed… renewed… and able to test in an informed way what God’s will is – and how it can best be applied by us in our individual circumstances…

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As you, my friends, have been baptized into God’s family and have the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit written upon your heads…

…this topic should attract a significant amount of your attention.

God’s will will always be for us to love, and to increase in love for one another…

I think that this is why here in our reading he addresses these commandments that are so familiar to us so quickly.

In a sense, it seems like they are almost like an afterthought for him, as if they are obvious…

Again, we recall that Paul says:

“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law…”

Here is how I read this: the Apostle is saying that of course love follows these commandments!

And love is not doing any harm — or better, evil or ill to the neighbor[5] because it – motivated by faith in Christ and thankful for His gifts to us – is so busy doing good… that is, always operating in a I Corinthians 13-fashion![6]

After all, do those who always hope and who fail to envy think coveting is good?

Do those who are patient – and who are always looking to protect – think that stealing is acceptable?

Do those who are humble, kind and not easily angered think that murder is permissible?

Do those who always persevere, who honor others, and who are not self-seeking commit adultery?

Of course not![7]

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Fair enough. Love fulfills the law, we can agree.

That said, perhaps you, like me, have wondered this though: Where is love and praise to God in our Epistle reading today?

When Paul talks about fulfilling the law in love, why does he only talk about some of the second table of the commandments?

We might think, for example, about how when Jesus explains to a Pharisee what the greatest commandment is, He first speaks of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, before only then mentioning loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.[8]

So here, when we think of love – that I Corinthians 13-kind of love – we might ask,

“Doesn’t the Lord first and ultimately want us to never be self-seeking… and to always trust, hope, and persevere… to always be be patient and not easily angered… when it comes to Him?When it comes to our relationship with Him?”

Certainly! – and here one thinks about the importance of things like spending time in His Word, worshiping with His people, receiving His gifts, and being constant in prayer – something He invites us to do, and to be confident that He hears and answers….

At the same time, we might also remember Jesus’ hard-hitting Sermon on the Mount from the same book.

There He says:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

So here, perhaps a bit on the contrary… it appears that Jesus is summing up the law (and the prophets) in much the same way that Paul is doing so… giving the impression that it is simply the second table of the commandments that fulfills the law!

So, what is happening here?

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A couple key points.

First of all, there is a very significant sense that even when the Christian does something like regularly hear God’s word, has worship, and receives God’s gifts, God does not intend that this would be something we imagine we do simply for our own sake, but for our neighbor as well!

On the contrary, it is good that we externally and publicly proclaim God’s word in prayer and song, showing loyalty, commitment, and love to God before our neighbor!

Though we should do none of this in order to be seen and praised by men, it does us well to remember that we certainly are unable to not be seen by men either!

We can’t not be seen!

And so all of this helps to put our neighbor on notice or to remind them that the proclamation that we make — and God we bear witness to — is a highly significant and important thing indeed, the most Significant and Important Thing!

There may well come a day when we will have to meet secretly, for example, and not in this large and beautiful sanctuary. That however, is not ever something we should seek!

The second point though, is that while all of this first table stuff is also for our neighbor, it will nevertheless not be as immediately relevant to them as the good deeds that we do for them in the vocations that God has given us (as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, teachers, students, employers, employees, rules, citizens, pastors, laypersons, etc).

This is, again, why Paul so confidently states that the fruits of the Spirit – love being the foremost – have no law against them.

God truly calls us to love all of our neighbors in the Name of Jesus, and He means for us to increasingly do this from the heart, as it is truly to His glory.

For it is to the glory of God to be known in the creation as the God who is love, the One who sent His Son into the world to sacrifice Himself for it that the world would be saved and not condemned!

We are His messengers, and we show this love by living as His people, following our Shepherd, in thought, word and deed…

And this is all by God’s design.

He also knows that our neighbor is not wrong to expect, at some level, that we are called to love them…

Hence, to them it will make sense that God is concerned to emphasize the second table of the commandments here too…[9]

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This, however, can go very, very wrong as well… and it has.[10]

We need to remember, after all, that even if Satan does not trust God, He still knows God’s word well — and will exploit it.

For the last three hundred and fifty years in particular, sinful man, fooled by the devil, has made two very significant moves we should be aware of. 

First of all, using a passage like Romans 13 or Jesus’ statement about the Golden Rule, the first table of the commandments has increasingly been chased out of public life.

Don’t ever focus on that first table stuff about loyalty to God! We like the second table commandments where it talks about people being good persons! That, Christian, is what religion is for! Not loyalty to any particular God or church!

That is the first step. The second step is like it.

Using passages like I Corinthians 13, where Paul says something like “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast… but do not have love, I gain nothing”, one might wrongly promote the idea that good internal intentions – and never what one ultimately does with their body – is what really matters.

So… in history, as we have seen, what eventually didn’t matter that much was whether one really followed things like the second table of the ten commandments either!

As long as one was a loving and good person on the inside, they should do what they wanted to do… following their heart.

So much for Jesus’ observation that our hearts are evil!

Of course now we are seeing the fruit of this in a myriad of ways…

Just recently, some 60 United States Senators voted to make Gay Marriage legal in all 50 states, just in case the Supreme Court decision Obergafell, were to fall like Roe v. Wade.

Why did they do this?

Because, as people say today, “love is love”. Many of those involved in promoting their homosexual “lifestyle” believe they are being themselves… being truly authentic.[11] How dare anyone suggest – or worse, assert – that their actions are somehow intrinsically, that is by nature, disordered or harmful.

How dare anyone decry or even just challenge their assertions that “love is love” and that “if the hearts fit, the parts fit”!

Nevermind that homosexual activity harms both the individuals participating in them and the society that they are a part of.

We must, they tell us, not even suggest this as a possibility.

So, now, because of the rise of this thing we call “authenticity”, the “authenticity” of a “Sovereign Self” and individual, things are seen as love which are in fact, not love…[12]

Where will things go from here?

Well, we are seeing that become clearer, day after day, aren’t we?…[13]

Garbage is increasingly shoved into our faces and we are asked to eat it and say we like it.

And even though I, as a vicar, might say all this, you may want to think twice about what you say at your job, for example!

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In any case, all of this naturally leads us into the end of the Epistle text today…

…where Paul guides, encourages, and helps us see clearly what God’s will is for us again as regards walking within His law, walking in love….

As we read it, more recent generations of Christian believers may have found it jarring that Paul would bring up the sins that he does [!] as potential temptations for Christians…

We should not be so shocked. Insofar as we are in this world, the Christian is continually both saint and sinner.

Though we are genuinely new creatures in Christ who have truly begun to desire the good gifts and will of God, we also will have our “old nature” or “old Adam” around our neck until we die.

So, what does Paul say to us? What kind of timeless guidance does the Holy Spirit think we Christians need?:

“…the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Make no provision for the desires of the flesh”.

What Paul is saying here is this:

You are a Christian, you have known and know God’s mercy and peace. You are a member of His household, so put your body to good use.

No plan B! Put on Christ and kill old Adam! Cut off your evil desires in their tracks!

And by the Holy Spirit that lives within you… love always the Ten Commandments!

You — follow them, both externally and internally.

In other words, run in the way of love more and more, and love one another ever more deeply!

In this way, you will honor your Father in heaven, and glorify His Name.

the One who died for you, so that even now, this morning, you might know He forgives you for all your sins and be at peace with Him…

For He is the One who died for all — and desires that all persons know Him… and be saved to the uttermost… be fully glorified in Him!

God grant this conviction… and corresponding love – this corresponding action – to each one of us!

Amen


[1] Started this way:

 “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…”

– Romans 13:1

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Do what, more specifically, understanding the present time?

When we wake from our slumber… because our [final] salvation is nearer now then when we first believed… what is the Apostle Paul expecting us to do?

Well, he does go on to say more here, but we will be most helped if we first go back to the previous few verses…:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

And love, Paul also proclaims, goes hand

Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table

[2] Let me, for instance, read you a portion from Galatians 5:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?…”

He goes on to say: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!””

As the Apostle Paul talks so much about freedom from the law here – certainly with the focus on things like circumcision and other ceremonial practices the “Judaizers” were attempting to force on the Galatian Christians – note what what he says here about the origin of this love that also fulfils the law: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

[3] More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

[hath fulfilled] The perfect tense conveys the thou C ght that such “love” at once attains the fulfilment (as regards principle and will) of the precepts of the “Second Table.” It does not move from one to another by laborious steps, but leaps, as it were, to entire obedience. By its very nature “it has obeyed,” ipso facto, all the demands.

It is obvious that St Paul is not concerned here with the fact of the actual incompleteness of the obedience of even the holiest Christian. He has to state the principle; he takes the ideal, at which all sincere effort will aim.”

Bengel’s Gnomen:

Romans 13:8. Μηδενὶ, to no man) From our duties to magistrates, he proceeds to general duties, such as we owe to one another.—ὀφείλετε, owe) a new part of the exhortation begins here.—ἀγαπᾷν, to love) a never-ending debt. Song of Solomon 8:7, at end of ver. If you will continue to love, you will owe nothing, for love is the fulfilling of the law. To love is liberty (italics mien). The Lutheran commentator Lenski concurs, speaking of this paradox.

[4] The full quote: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

[5] Just any neighbor? More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[6] Expositor’s Greek Testament:

Romans 13:10. ἡ ἀγάπη … κακὸν οὐκ ἐργάζεται. This is all that is formally required by the law as quoted above (οὐ μοιχεύσεις, etc.): therefore love is πλήρωμα νόμου, law’s fulfilment. Of course love is an inspiration rather than a restraint, and transcends law as embodied in merely negative commandments; but the form in which the law actually existed determines the form in which the Apostle expresses himself. It is apparent once more that νόμος is the Mosaic law, and not law in general; it is from it the prohibitions are derived on the ground of which the Apostle argues, and to it therefore we must apply his conclusion, πλήρωμα οὖν νόμου ἡ….

[7] One recalls what Martin Luther said about how the faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ naturally flows into love! In his preface to the book of Romans, he said the following:

“Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.)

So far Martin Luther. But notice what he also says here also about love and praise to God: “Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

[8]Yes, we might recall events like those recorded in Matthew 22 where a Pharisee, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

How does Jesus reply?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

[9] Again, from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[10] One way this happens is when we rightly know others should love us but we are wrong in what we expect from others. See the footnotes here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/is-forgiveness-required-of-christians/ ; and here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2021/04/11/resurrection-life-communist-life/

[11] “So how did all of that happen? I think the author Meic Pearse gives us a nice summary.

First, he tells us why obedience is the cardinal virtue among “premodern” societies:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

Next, we hear about how the Western world and beyond has, in fact, come to be under Christian influence:

“….what the [Lutheran and then Protestant] Reformation did achieve was a long-term stress on the idea of integrity and inwardness that has become a leading feature of Western culture and which remains long after the religious motives which thrust it into prominence have been discarded by an ever-more-secular society. Its diffused, secularized form has become the inheritance even of the historically Catholic regions of the West so that it is today a key differentiation between “the West and the rest.” (54)

As early as the beginnings of the 1600s, he says we detect the shift to the secularized form he mentions: “The first shift had[, in the wider society,] radicalized traditional morality by internalizing it; the second shift radicalizes interiority and discards traditional morality…”: “The psalmist’s ‘truth in the inner parts / …wisdom in the inmost place’ (Ps 51:6) gave way to Shakespeare’s ‘To thine own self be true.’” (57)

One last shocking paragraph:

“Because stress on interiority had long been part and parcel of moral discourse under the first shift[, popularized by the Reformation], it was possible for advocates of the second shift to borrow its language and to sound more ‘moral’ than those who opposed them (because they were [the ones who] were more ‘honest,’ less ‘hypocritical’ and so on)—even as they cut loose from morality as traditionally understood. In the Romantic worldview of Rousseau, the individual is intrinsically good, while society is evil. For him, there is no question of people needing to put ‘chains on their own appetites’ but rather to break the shackles that society imposes on individuals: ‘Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.’ It is society that drags people down into badness; so the way to a better individual is by freeing them from the ‘chains’ of social constraints—and letting them be ‘true to themselves.’ By the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such thinking had spread beyond the narrow circle of intellectuals and been absorbed by the wider middle classes; it was beginning to affect popular thinking about morality….” (58)

Now, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day – people like Nicodemus – believed in traditional moral codes in their full rigor.

And so, when Jesus talked to him about coming into the light and not hiding in darkness: the idea was twofold:

Not only will God’s children embrace me, God’s Gospel incarnate in human flesh, but they will embrace me as I fully am, as the One who fulfills God’s Perfect Law, that is, who is the embodiment and fulfillment of traditional morality

…living life as it is meant to be lived to the full…”

More: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/flee-corrupt-authenticity-and-come-into-the-light/

[12] See footnote above.

[13] Well, a couple weeks back I heard about a woman named Aella. She is at once a political scientist (she is a libertarian), an amazing numbers-cruncher/data scientist, and a prostitute.

She recently did a survey to find out who is interested in bestiality, and a surprising amount of people responded positivity. Of those who were into it, the largest group was the male-to-female transgenders. Strong interest also correlated with sexual assault as a child. 

“Love is love”, they say, but soon, if not already, you will be said to be unloving because of your beliefs. And new laws will be made.

And Libertarians like Aella might well say to you “Doesn’t God say we fulfill the law if we just don’t harm folks?”, as they fail to see that we don’t harm folks not so much because it is in our own interests to not do this (with what we consent to and legal contracts and the like), but because true love – a love that goes hand in hand with the 10 commandments an that they have rejected – is at the core.

The man who shared the bit about Aella, also recently had the following to say about some of the Chritian events he had attended in Europe:

“One Christian leader said yesterday, “We all know what the problems are. We should stop talking about them, and only focus on solutions.” She’s right. Again: nobody has all the answers, so we have to work them out together. For me, though, it was so, so upbuilding just to know that I am not alone, that I have brothers and sisters in the faith who see themselves as on the same path, and who are eager to collaborate. Jan Simulčik, a Slovak historian of the underground church, who served it as a college student in the 1980s, told me that it was only when he was with the young men in his underground church activist cell that he truly felt free. I got a glimpse of that this week in Vienna. To be clear, I don’t mean to compare what we Christians today are dealing with to the grim situation that believers struggled with under Communism. Still, to share a couple of days with a highly diverse group of Christians from all over the continent, and trade stories — including miracle stories of conversion (on my Substack last night, I wrote about a young Austrian woman to whom Christ appeared, leading her to convert — helped me, personally, to feel free in a way I have not for a while…”

And what are some of the things that they might talk about in those meetings?

Well, everything that we have been talking about so far this morning would be a great topic…..

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Posted by on November 27, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Leaving it All in Our Good God’s Hands

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“…not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life..”

– Luke 21:18-19

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Our Gospel reading from Luke this morning is not for the faint-hearted…

In that, yes, very extended reading, we see how Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of earth as well!

Both appear to get blended together in this prophecy… As an analogy, think about how one looks at mountain ranges in the distance… it is not always easy to tell which one is closer and which is farther off!

Let’s first look at the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70 A.D. (not C.E.). The Jewish historian Josephus – an actual eyewitness to the event! – gives us an idea of what this was like….

First, he says that very soon before the Fall of Jerusalem there was a star resembling a sword that stood over the city, a comet that continued for a whole year, and chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were said to be seen “running about among the clouds” before sunset. He also recalls how priests in the courts of the Temple who were performing their work felt a quaking, hearing a great noise in the Temple, and finally, heard many voices saying “Let us remove hence…” (The Wars of the Jews, 6.288-300). The contemporary Roman historian Tacitus, possibly utilizing Josephus, shares a similar information…[1]

We recall Jesus spoke of fearful sights and great signs from heaven…

Josephus also tells us that Roman soldiers first marched on Jerusalem after a band of Jews took a fortress and slaughtered a Roman Garrison – and then these Roman soldiers were surprisingly defeated by Jewish insurgents! This was in 66 A.D., and at this time the Christians left the city. Eventually, more Jews across Judea, fleeing from incoming Roman legions, took refuge in Jerusalem and there fell under siege. Finally, Josephus gives us a detailed blow-by-blow account of the siege of Jerusalem: how Rome executed their win. In the end, he claims that over 1,000,000 Jews were killed during this apocalyptic event, which He attributes to God’s justice.

We recall Jesus telling His followers that as God’s judgment of Jerusalem would come, they should flee the city…

“In the first century, the historian Pliny wrote that Jerusalem was the most splendid city of the east, always full of pilgrims and tourists bringing prosperity.” The Temple, a complex administered by 25,000 staff including priests, musicians, guides, janitors, and vendors, was the crown of the city. Josephus wrote, “When strangers first saw it from a distance it looked like a mountain covered in snow with gold glittering everywhere since it was so bright white wherever it was not clad in gold.” Again, “Josephus [also] wrote that there was no doubt that this was a judgment from God,” and he believed this in part “because the Romans had orders not to harm the Temple itself, but in the fog and violence of war, it was completely destroyed.” Since the gold of the Temple had been melted after the Temple had been set on fire, all the walls and buildings except the foundation walls of the Temple Mount were pried apart[2] — each stone removed — so the precious metal would not be lost….

We recall Jesus telling His followers that not one stone in the Temple would be unturned…

+++

In 70 A.D., the world was blown apart for God’s chosen people, the Jews. Why?

As Jesus said in our reading for this morning, “these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…”

I am guessing that you know this is not the first time that Jerusalem and the Temple of God were destroyed.

About 650 years before this, in 586 B.C., it had occurred for the first time. In those days, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar leveled and torched the city, and had also looted, leveled, and obliterated with fire the entire Temple complex. After this, he killed some of the city’s inhabitants while taking the best, brightest, and most attractive as captives.

This was a devastating time for the people of God.

In order to make sure that this would never happen again, the people of Israel had, for a long time, doubled down on following God’s law.

At least, externally.

You see, if they could obey God’s law perfectly on the outside – since no one was perfect on the inside – then they could not only be assured that God’s blessings would come their way. They could also be sure that they could control God and his anger.

In sum, if they followed his rules, he would basically be obligated to reward and not punish them… To reciprocate. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…

But God, you see, won’t be manipulated like this. God always wants not just a contract and the fulfillment of common interests, but our hearts.

But the church forgets. In Luther’s day, the concept of “congruous merit” arose, which stated that “on the ground of equity” we could claim a reward – even the reward of eternal life! – from God for our works. 

In other words, were God not to compensate us, He would actually be committing an offense by violating that which is fitting. He would be unfairly discriminating against us![3] 

Even today, that a “Great Divorce” on God’s part would actually be justice… justified… doesn’t seem to be a possibility for many modern persons claiming Christ….

..we perpetually underestimate the depth and seriousness of original sin – and sins to boot.

As I think I’ve said before…

So much then for “we are only unworthy servants”! 

So much then for the parable of the eleventh hour! 

So much for radical grace and mercy! 

So much for “what do we have that we have not received?”! 

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Throughout human history, man has tried to manipulate God. Control Him. Tame Him and put Him in His place.

Israel’s neighbors performed child sacrifice and performed fertility rites in their temples for their gods in order to bring rain and favor — and the Israelites were mightily tempted to do the same and did do the same..,

In sum, it seems to be like this: if we can learn the “laws of the supernatural”, the “principles of the supernatural”, we can actually control God where his actions are predictable because of our own worthy persons and deeds.

This is a stupid and despicable lie — and this is arguably why, more or less, God destroyed Jerusalem twice…

Today, there are still many who do this kind of thing in the church… attempting to manipulate God with their actions and feelings.

And man in general, man outside the church, is basically doing the same thing. They are trying to manipulate and control God, even if this is something they might often have little awareness of.

Contemporary man, at least our elites, often wants to be “secular” — where secular to them means “apart from God” or even takes on “anti-God” connotations.

Whereas ancient man and religious man still today is tempted to try and master the “laws of the supernatural”, contemporary secular man, in an analogous fashion, attempts to harness what they call the “laws of nature”….

+++

[Summary of the below section: When the world is treated as if it is a machine (Newton), it is easy to forget God… “If you know how something works you can control it, use it to your advantage, or at the very least you can harness it…”]

Isaac Newton, the 17th century scientist who we remember as discovering gravity when an apple fell on his head, was himself a Christian, and certainly changed the world when he recognized that regularities in the creation could be carefully and consistently observed and mapped mathematically, allowing for all manner of accurate predictions.

Still, he also said that “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Some 150 years later we hear of the famous event when the brilliant “French Newton” Pierre-Simon Laplace (23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was asked by Napoleon where God fit into his mathematical and astronomical work, and Laplace famously replied “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Now, Laplace was not necessarily saying that God did not exist. He was, however, saying that the question of God was more or less irrelevant in his scientific work.

The church has always said “lex orendi, lex credendi”, which when translated from the Latin roughly means “the law of prayer is the law of faith”. In other words, how one thinks, how one prays, what one does, will influence what one believes.

And so, in practice, when science is thought about wholly in terms of the “laws of nature” many felt and feel justified in methodologically excluding God from the picture and relying only on natural causes and explanations.

And, on the one hand, this makes some real sense to us. For all the times that they are wrong and we have wrongly cursed them, we also know that weathermen and women get a lot right – and we are happy that they search out things in terms of natural causes and don’t just concluded that “God is sunny and happy today…” or “God is stormy and angry tonight…”

And yet, this is also something desperately wrong about all of this, in essence, forgetting God – thinking of God’s creation — or “nature” if we want to avoid talking of the Creator — as a machine that we can understand well, control, and endlessly tweak (for again, if you know how something works you can control it, use it to your advantage, or at the very least you can harness it…).

Things get particularly bad when things like “social sciences” and then its offspring Marxism got rolling… where the fact that man has a soul as well as a body was left behind… a fact seemingly made “irrelevant” for how business gets done in the “real world”….

In my view, the brilliant Lutheran thinker George Hamann – recently discovered in the academic world – nailed the issue already 250 years ago when he, speaking of the new science that was captivating everyone, said:

“…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”.

And because so many scientists today, unlike Newton, do not know the Creator of the creation but have excluded him from serious discourse… no actual, serious science like that which Newton and Laplace practiced is in increasing jeopardy in America and the Western world today.

Nevermind the increasing lack of trust in big pharma, there is also the “replication crises” …where things that had seemingly been more or less proven and accepted as true in the past are increasingly unable to be replicated by those running the experiments again…

+++

Many elite Americans think they still understand what good science is.

They don’t. At its best, those truly in the know recognize that there are vast differences between hard and soft sciences, know that dissent and challenge is critical to its proper use, get that striving for objectivity is key and is greatly hindered by conflicts of interest, and know enough to not claim too much for its powers…

My view is that those who have the lawn signs in their yards that proclaim “love is love”, “kindness is everything”, “no human is illegal”, and yes, “science us real” probably don’t see science the same way… (to say the least)

In fact, I’ll assert that most of these folks are actually “irrational” to the hilt… even as they use the proven rationality of truly successful science as a cover, a veneer, a patina, for both the goal of helping them fulfill their own desires… and to help them fit in with those they have come to admire in the world…

In sum, they know that claiming the authority of science for your desires, moral claims, and goals will certainly make these things appear more weighty, important…

…even as even real science continues to slip, making claims it can’t possibly support and prove…

That said, again, we can’t deny the power that men like Newton, Laplace, Boyle, Maxwell, and Einstein showed us… Rocket ships, nuclear bombs, and smart phones will do that to you, after all… And so again, knowing what really has been made possible, elite modern man wants, expects, to be in more or less full control…

Elon Musk certainly grasps science much better than the “woke” social justice warriors he decries, but he still has a lot of faith in its ability – too much faith – to offer us rational control over all of life’s problems…

+++

At the very least, we often want to know what the weather is going to do and when…

All of us, to this or that degree want, expect, to be, in control… to manage our lives…

So enter this Gospel reading for today….

You think you are in control? More, you think you can manage Me, sideline Me, put me out of the game?

Not a chance. This world is passing away, and I, in fact, am going to blow it apart!

“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among the nations, bewildered by the roaring of the sea and the surging of the waves. Men will faint from fear and anxiety over what is coming upon the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory…”

On the extreme left of the cultural and political spectrum, maybe many can “spin” the earthquakes and famines, tsunamis, and plagues Jesus speaks of as something that we, if we would just be good politically correct humanitarians! – could responsibly manage…[4] But the Environmentalists and Green New Dealers are going to have a bit of trouble managing these things Jesus says are coming, spinning these things, to say the least…

Meanwhile on the extreme cultural and political right, men are more likely, I , submit, to be fatalistic in a sense, thinking, for example, that wars between nations – roughly equivalent to what we would today call ethnic groups – will indeed happen… So why try too hard to be peacemakers?

And among Christians who are indeed inclined to state they believe strongly in the Bible’s authority, there is often a belief that we can know pretty specifically when the end is coming – as man’s “free will” cooperates with God’s Spirit to know the day and the hour… For if you know that after all, then you can tell people more specifically when they need to decide to follow Jesus and to submit their hearts to Him…

Men go wrong in so many ways…

But this Gospel lesson today, my friends, cannot be constrained.

It is in fact God’s law, God’s judgment, seen by us in its full force…

It makes us aware of our sin quite well, that is, what our sin deserves…

We who would seek to put our Creator in His place…

+++

My fellow believers, God’s law is not against us having some control, some management, in our lives.

In fact, one of the qualifications of a pastor is that he is one who manages his household well! (I Tim. 3:4)

At the same time, this text this morning reminds us who God is, both literally and as it reminds us who is ultimately in charge. Many things, simply put, are out of our hands…

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

We see this also in the comfort that Jesus gives to those who are persecuted in His Name.

“Do not worry, do not plan…. on what words you will say. I will give you the words that you need when the time comes…”

Don’t worry, it is out of your control. I’ve got this. Your back.

Go ahead and plan, go ahead and speculate a bit here and there, but always hold such things lightly

Perhaps you see or think you can prove that there are more earthquakes or plagues or tsunamis than ever before… and so this escalation shows the time is nearer still… but don’t forget that Jesus is telling us here to always be ready for the end to come…. the fig tree is always at least a little bit green…

You have the grace of God, grace that will keep you as His faithful witnesses – even unto death and the end.  He will make you ready for the slaughter at any time, even as you are ready to share God’s mercy – in its manifold forms – with your enemies.

So baptized children of God, in these last days where the church’s faith and love and mission focus is weak… be who you are, be who you were always created to be… live a Christian life! This is what you have been called to…

This is about being those whose trust is increasingly not in one’s self and one’s own strength, but in Christ.  For the sake of our neighbor. Like Paul, in Christ, we become less concerned about ourselves (see Rom. 9:1-5)..

For your neighbor’s sake, be actively seeking to be where He is at – about His Father’s business in the world… For you this means your various vocations: husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, layperson, employer, employee, citizen, neighbor, etc. It is all for His glory so, whatever is at hand, do it for His glory!

For your neighbor’s sake, strive with all your heart to increasingly live within (not by) the 10 commandments according to their positive applications…

(the possibilities are endless!) For your neighbor’s sake, strive to consistently discipline your “old man” by fasting, praying, and giving alms…  And above all, for your neighbor’s sake, seek to sit at your Lord’s feet more and more that you might grow in your understanding and realization of every word that proceeds from His mouth…

Yes, seek to know and do God’s love more and more – unto the perfection that we will only know on the last day….

Like the Christians who fled falling Jerusalem, flee all idleness, carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life!

…and manage yourself, your time, your talents and treasures wisely…

Even as you remember He is in control because of His love for the world… for you.

In this alone is true peace and freedom and confidence found…

+++

The fall, the end, of Jerusalem, was terrifying.

The fall, the end, of the world, will be terrifying.

But know that all things work out for the good of those who love Him…

Because He loves the world, coming ultimately to save it and not condemn it…

Remember this is the Jesus who said on more than one occasion: “How often I wanted to gather you together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jesus foresaw the coming destruction, and He mourned over this….

He mourned because He knew that because of their impenitence that in 70 A.D. the world was going to be blown apart for God’s chosen people, the Jews.

For “these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…”

And as Jesus lamented over the Fall of Jerusalem, I believe Jesus laments over the Fall of the world.

But don’t think that He won’t go through with the final judgment – or with sending the condemned, the damned, to Hell…

For those who will not have this Good and Fearsome God will not have His people either…. eventually. So He will rescue His people from their enemies forever and ever.

There will be a gulf forever separating the sheep and the goats, with the latter being unable to molest the former…

So when you read:

“At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Again: Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near!

Do not be terrified, but Rejoice!

Not a hair on your head will perish, for Jesus means to for your life in the fullest sense, your soul, to be with Him forever.

Our text talks about believers enduring here… note that this is speaking about something more passive.

We patiently receive that which God sends to us, both afflictions, and the power to endure the same, secure by faith in His Son and the forgiveness He brings!

So, you… be out of control!

Unlike this fallen and perishing world, recognize your Maker who still makes the events of all our times…

…and who will never give us more than we can handle…

For things that are not under our control but wholly in His good hands should always be our comfort….

So cling to Him through this coming ride, and you shall win your souls…

Amen

Image complements of https://splcdenton.org/


[1] 12 1 The temple was built like a citadel, with walls of its own, which were constructed with more care and effort than any of the rest; the very colonnades about the temple made a splendid defence. Within the enclosure is an ever-flowing spring;​40 in the hills are subterraneous excavations, with pools and cisterns for holding rain-water. The founders of the city had foreseen that there would be many wars because the ways of their people differed so from those  p197 of the neighbours: therefore they had built at every point as if they expected a long siege; and after the city had been stormed by Pompey, their fears and experience taught them much. Moreover, profiting by the greed displayed during the reign of Claudius, they had bought the privilege of fortifying the city, and in time of peace had built walls as if for war. The population at this time had been increased by streams of rabble that flowed in from the other captured cities,​41 for the most desperate rebels had taken refuge here, and consequently sedition was the more rife. There were three generals, three armies: the outermost and largest circuit of the walls was held by Simon, the middle of the city by John, and the temple was guarded by Eleazar.​42 John and Simon were strong in numbers and equipment, Eleazar had the advantage of position: between these three there was constant fighting, treachery, and arson, and a great store of grain was consumed. Then John got possession of the temple by sending a party, under pretence of offering sacrifice, to slay Eleazar and his troops. So the citizens were divided into two factions until, at the approach of the Romans, foreign war produced concord.

13 1 Prodigies had indeed occurred, but to avert them either by victims or by vows is held unlawful by a people which, though prone to superstition, is opposed to all propitiatory rites.​43 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the  p199 mighty stir of their going was heard.​44 Few interpreted these omens as fearful; the majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world.​45 This mysterious prophecy had in reality pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, as is the way of human ambition, interpreted these great destinies in their own favour, and could not be turned to the truth even by adversity. We have heard that the total number of the besieged of every age and both sexes was six hundred thousand; there were arms for all who could use them, and the number ready to fight was larger than could have been anticipated from the total population. Both men and women showed the same determination; and if they were to be forced to change their home, they feared life more than death.

Such was the city and people against which Titus Caesar now proceeded; since the nature of the ground did not allow him to assault or employ any sudden operations, he decided to use earthworks and mantlets; the legions were assigned to their several tasks, and there was a respite of fighting until they made ready every device for storming a town that the ancients had ever employed or modern ingenuity invented.

[2]The southwest portion of that wall is exposed today, and is called the “Wailing Wall”.https://charlietaylorministries.com/topical/josephus-the-fall-of-jerusalem-in-70-ad/

[3] Even if, strictly speaking, as God, He was under no obligation and violated none of our rights in doing so…

[4] From: https://humanevents.com/2022/02/17/revealed-the-2010-essay-that-explains-what-the-woke-want/:

“For twentieth-century fascism and communism, science supplied the best justification, whether socialist science or race science. Today’s justification is humanitarianism.[…] Impassioned hatred of enemies]” Still, even if humanitarianism is now the justification, it is nevertheless also supported by the idea that science itself indicates to us that this humanitarianism is best. We talk about morality now more therapeutically and medically now, in terms of being unhealthy (“toxic”, “polluting”) and healthy, not good or evil…

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

True Purity that Endures Forever

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“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

– I John 3:2b-3

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I recently read a crazy story[1] about a man who drove with his German Shepherd to the grocery store on a summer day. He left the window down, quickly popped into the store for a minute to grab a six-pack of beer, and came out to find himself confronted by an approximately 45-year-old woman who immediately said to him:

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? THIS IS ANIMAL ABUSE!”

He asked her what she was talking about and she said, “IF YOU EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A HOT CAR AGAIN I WILL FIND YOU AND CALL THE COPS. YOU’RE AN ABUSER.”

He responded, “It’s only 80 degrees out. The AC was blasting before I went in, so the car is cool. I was only in there for a minute. And also, the windows are down. Look at my dog. She’s totally fine.”

“I WILL CALL THE COPS ON YOU.”

The man: “Cars don’t just randomly heat up super quickly with the windows down. We’re not in a record heat wave or anything, we’re in a sunny summer day with a breeze. You can’t get mad at someone just for having their animal outside during the summer.”

“YOU’RE AN ANIMAL ABUSER. I’M GOING TO CALL THE COPS AND THEY’RE GOING TO ARREST YOU.”

On and on the evidently true story goes. He gets in his car only to be trailed by the woman. Deciding not to go home, he pulls into a dirt road and she skids her car lengthwise across the entrance to the road, blocking him in so he can’t escape. She then gets out of her car and screams and swears at him… again.

When she threatens to call the cops and he tells her to “Do it. Bring them here”, she pauses for a minute, maybe contemplating how bad things might look for her. So instead, she takes a picture of his license plate, shouts “Got it” and leaves with tires screeching…

The man continues: “I knew for sure she’d call the police, so once I was home (making sure I wasn’t followed) I did too. I called the department number and told them about the incident, my side of the story, about her reckless driving, and they told me a cop would call me back. Which he did, quite promptly.”

From there we learn that “the woman [had] stormed down to the police station to file a report in person” and the cop who took the report was the one he was speaking to. A K-9 officer, he said he kept waiting for her to get to the part where the he had done something wrong. The cop actually apologized to the dog owner, and they were able to have a good laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation.

Commenting on the incident, the author talks about how it was so important for him during this whole situation to keep his cool (he mentions he was an emergency medical technician in college), and then makes the point that this woman, even though she showed a very ugly and even evil side of human nature, probably really believed that what she was doing was for the good… She was no sadist, who enjoyed causing harm and pain and misery to other people…

So, what to make of all this? What this story reminds me of is any person who has a fanatical devotion to an idea of moral purity and loses touch with reality…

We might sometimes get a kick out of this fanatical and misled devotion to purity… but we also know such things are not always funny…

+++

Our text today also talks about purity, but in a good way… in the right way…

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

I’m going to try to unpack this Scripture this morning by speaking about 3 themes:

  • God’s final purification
  • How we are made pure
  • Living in that purity

First, God’s final purification

Again, our text for this message comes from I John 3:

The pure in heart—that is God’s people—will “see him as he is…” — and hence, fully be like Him!

And the immediate context for this Appearance, this Meeting, this Seeing God, is the end of the world!

Man certainly makes his own attempts at purification, but of course God’s purification, His final purification, stands out!

The Moon the color of blood,

the sky being rolled up like a scroll,

the veil being removed!

…a loud trumpet,

and Angel armies accompanying the King of Heaven and Earth, riding on a White Horse.

The Great Last Judgment of the sheep and the goats.

These are the kinds of things the church talks about now, at the end of the Pentecost season: the “Last Days”… the end of the world!

Here, though, remember: God’s people are ultimately not to be afraid, but encouraged!

Again, when this day comes you, the “pure in heart,” are told to “Lift up your heads!”

You are not to fear this judgment, for this judgment is one for your enemies…

The True Judge of Heaven and Earth comes to save those who trust in Him, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted,

The pure.

The time for those who hate us is not long… we will be rescued by our Conqueror when He comes again.

Perhaps it will even be something like the scene in the story the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — where the royal priesthood of believers wield swords and participate in the final battle….

This battle where The Evil One will be defeated forever….

With the result being that people from all tongues, tribes and nations – will be saved by the Rider on the White Horse, Faithful and True, the Son of God.

It will be “Back to the Garden of Eden…. And more

“Let them praise his name with dancing

and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;

he crowns the humble with victory[!]”

So we read in the Psalm appointed for today.

How can we not rejoice?

For this world, the empty way of life… all which opposes the goodness God brings… is indeed passing away.

Much more awaits us.

And so:

“…we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Now, if you are like me, perhaps you think at this point “Have I ‘purified myself’?

I mean, it seems kind of important.”

As Lutherans, we don’t really talk this way, right?

So what does this mean?

+++

Yes, how are we made pure?

And, well, first, what does it mean to be pure?

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity.

(also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good… truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says “you have purified yourselves.” How?

By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this wonderful truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other.

Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means to be pure.

Our text in I John says much the same thing and throughout his letter in fact John has a lot more to say:

  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and His blood cleanses us from all sin!
  • Keep His word, His teaching, His commandments, abide in Him… [by this, the love of God is perfected in us…]
  • You know the love of the Son of God who laid down His life for us. So, beloved, let us love one another!
  • Do not love the world, or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, the pride of life… Even if they hate you because of the paths of righteousness in which you walk!
  • As the Son is, so we are in this world! We love because He first loved us.
  • If we abide in the Son and in the Father, we have the promise of eternal life.
  • And we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming….

Again, this is what it means to be pure. These things have to do with being pure…

Our full text for the day is in many ways a great summary of all these things… I think the King James version said it the best:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

+++

As a bit of an excursus here, the world knows nothing of this great love that makes us pure…

Instead, not having the love of God, it can only try to purify the world with its power…

We see it in the story I told about the woman determined to punish the German Shepherd owner, futile quest though it may have been…

And we certainly see it in contemporary politics, where passions sometimes seem to rise to a fever pitch…. Election day, as I am sure you know, is coming up…

Contemporary skepticism about our elections aside, attitudes towards elections, I think, often deteriorate such that they become, in microcosm, a sign of “the world’s quest for purification”…

Four years ago, when things were also crazy but nevertheless still far more sane than they are today, I was reminded that down in Texas, one candidate was saying “Y’all means y’all” while in California another chose a more direct approach to communicate roughly the same thing: “we stand united against hate”.

In either case the message actually mimics biblical themes of purity: those who understand what is good, what is righteous, will “resonate” with these themes… they will unite with us… against the hateful, the evil, the impure…

Others, of course, take some real offense here to such affirmations and counter with their own slogans, seeking to gather enough actual voters to give them a majority…

And then, if we pay attention to international news or even just history, we see can see how if politics and political systems fail we will be in danger of war…

And here, the German military historian, Carl von Clausewitz, said that war is simply politics by other means. Expanding on this, “The political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

The “political view”, of course, is often not only the defeat, but the humiliation and punishment of the opponent. The impure enemy.

And devotion to ideas of moral purity and what must happen to those who are impure can get pretty ugly… and sometimes, people don’t even get a chance to raise an army and fight…

We might think about the Nazi death camps, Stalin’s purges, Ruwanda, or the Cultural Revolution that took place in Mao’s China…

And it might be very easy for us to be led to hate here as well, hating those who are against us or who we hear do such kinds of evil…

Even as we often might also develop our own exaggerated ideas about the evils of others… perhaps about the “inhumanity” of those who commit such atrocities….

Perhaps with the cartoonish Disney villains we knew as children in our minds, it might be hard for us to realize that people who do really bad things often also really do mean well…

Devoted to what they consider a noble and pure vision – they find themselves led into awful evil… into heinous acts….

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How can we avoid getting caught up in this ourselves? And how should we respond to those who hate us?

By recognizing that we are God’s saints, and that we are here to be a Sign of Contradiction in the world…

He calls us saints by Christ’s blood, and He, by love, continues to make us conform to His Son’s image….

So how can we Live in Purity? How can we “Keep yourselves pure…”  as the Apostle Paul urges in I Tim. 5:22?

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

It is this:

He, and He alone, is the One who is Good – and the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

In Christ’s work — completed through a foolish cross no less! — we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

And so when it comes to us… the implication is that we have – and we create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior to others… this is about True sight, True seeing…

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride and selfishness….

He is ready to Refine us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

…and in this world you must look to provide for family first,

…but all are your brethren, God’s “offspring” all, they are all men and women for whom Christ died…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off from others, but we call people — even our enemies who might still listen — into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save,

…and His heart is now ours. Where He is, there also will His servant be…

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestle, in the church… and beyond…

And this will also, on occasion, require a love that is tough and maybe even a real fight… Where hard actions that are absolutely necessary must and will be done…

And here, we look to our faithful Lamb to shepherd us through such difficult decisions… as He rightly channels our desire to see His divine goodness and justice reign…. 

Always remembering that even our best-hearted attempts to purify what we all know needs purifying will nevertheless always be infected with the leaven of sin that remains in our hearts!

As Paul says: “ Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” For as we talked about last week, even the Christian’s good works remain to some degree tainted by our sinful desires and loves, and will be in need of the blood of  Christ…

And He is indeed is always eager to forgive us, to cleanse us, to purify us…

So know that, believe that, and be at peace saints of God!

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life – this pure water – freely!

Anyone who is thirsty…

With Him, we’re ready.

We’re in the clear, clean and pure…

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with His Name firmly affixed to our heads…

We are His. So come Lord Jesus, and Purify…

Amen


[1] https://erikhoel.substack.com/p/karens-and-the-nature-of-evil  “Karen” in recent years has become a term of derision for a kind of certain kind of stereotypical “middle aged woman”. The Urban Dictionary tells us she is “typically blonde, [and] makes solutions to others’ problems an inconvenience to her although she isn’t even remotely affected…” I was unaware of how charged this particular idea/meme had become, finding these articles as well: https://www.vox.com/21317728/karen-meaning-meme-racist-coronavirus; https://www.dispatch.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/08/05/column-racist-behavior-is-never-acceptable-including-lsquokarenrsquo-label/112801446/.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

How to Best Fear the Maker and Give Him Glory

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church in Clam Falls, Wisconsin on 10/30/2022

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“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”

-Rev. 14:7

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Reformation day, the day we remember and even celebrate a certain pastor and professor’s recovery of the Gospel in the medieval church, just over 500 years ago:

The recovered Gospel… that is the good news of the free grace of God – not by works – offered in Jesus Christ…

At the funeral of Martin Luther, in the German city of Eisleben on February 22nd, 1563, four days after his death, his pastor Johannes Bugenhagen, said, “…[W]hat shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears?”

And he then preached for about forty minutes, and his sermon text was the text that we read in Revelation today in place of the Old Testament reading…

It begins by saying “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people…” The Greek word for angel here is ἄγγελος, and it means either a heavenly or earthly messenger.

Reasoning that Luther had been monumental in the church in his recovery of the heart of this eternal Gospel, Bugenhagen applied this text to Luther.

Luther was that angel, that messenger.[1]

We’ll come back to that idea a little bit later on[2].

For now, we can definitely say this:

However one might feel about Bugenhagen’s assertion, Luther did indeed vigorously proclaim that eternal Gospel which brought joy and peace into the hearts of men!

And yet, how much can our world today understand this?[3]

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After all, today, people as a whole really, really, don’t fear God…

Alternatively, when we talk about our lives and their meaning – when we stop being distracted by our screens that is – we are a nation of self-help.

The Victorian Brit Samuel Smiles started this in the late 19th century as his ideas caught fire around the world…

…and years later Dale Carnegie taught us how to make friends and influence people.

Today even “pastors” like Joel Osteen have joined the self-help chorus.

Recently however, I heard a pastor and theology professor speak about the resurgence in popularity of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism!

Evidently, going by the name of “mindfulness”, “resiliency training,” or sometimes simply “grit”, this revival of Stoicism can be seen in a number of quarters: on the psychologist’s or counselor’s couch[4], in the corporate boardroom, and particularly, in the U.S. military… popularized especially by Admiral James Stockdale.[5]

Even though this modern form lacks the comprehensive worldview of the ancient form – which believed in all the traditional forms of virtue Christians would uphold and that would serve the common good of one’s fellow man – this new Stoicism nevertheless still has some real practical value for those who are attempting to survive in the contemporary world…

With personal happiness and peace of mind through “imperturbability” as its goal, it not only talks about the enduring value of some virtues like justice, courage, wisdom and self-control – but also like its ancient form proclaims to its disciples that we can’t always change others or the events that surround us but that we can change how we react to such things

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of the best-known Stoic thinkers, aptly summarizes the Stoic mindset: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

In other words, we can all to some extent “remain aloof” and control our emotional responses to the things that happen to us, whether this be “fate”, as in the ancient world, or the “laws of nature” we speak of today.

“Mind over matter,” so to speak…

To sum it up, as the author puts it, it “offers its adherents a resource for life’s challenges, steels the nerves for hardships, and provides perspective”…

Luther wisely said “[I]f if you want to begin with, and treat of, physical freedom, you will become so muddled and confused that you will lose both freedom[ of the body and the soul]” … and in some ways, it seems like Stoicism might agree with him here!

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We cannot deny that in some regards a resurgence in Stoicism has a lot of good practical advice that, really and truly, is not wholly incompatible with the Christian life….

  • You are not that significant, so prioritize your brief life!
  • Be a realist in the world and seek increasingly to be prepared… practice good habits and techniques to help you in this quest.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and be tolerant of others and thankful!
  • And remember, you will die….

But again, even as death is acknowledged here…

it is not feared.

For the Maker – the Creator of all! – who tells us that the wages of sin is death

is not feared…

…but instead is seen as impersonal, one with nature, insignificant to our greater questions…

Again, against all modern man’s doubt, this is what the Bible tells us, and will continue to insist ( : ) ), is the problem: man does not fear the Creator!

As better as it might be than living by one’s every feeling and whim, self-mastery under one’s own self-power is still not what God has in mind for any man…

And for Stoicism today and for that of the ancient world… being right with, being pleasing to a personal God who is here and not silent is not what man has in mind either…

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There are more problems. I said we really, really, don’t fear God today. Why do I say this?

The author of the article, chaplain John Bombaro, points out one more thing… Modern stoicism, again, is modern, contemporary…

…and so, it, being popular, in almost all cases has been highly influenced by and therefore fits well into the predominant value system that is dominating the Western world in general and America in particular

And he notes contemporary Stoicism not only getting rid of any of the aspects of the ancient version that one might think could never bring personal peace, but also shows that it really fits in with the self-justifying environment we find in today’s modern life

That environment, he says, is humanitarianism.

Among our “best and brightest”, if you simply feel an affinity for what is considered “humane” by our society and culture – like today abolishing ethical, biological and all national borders for instance – you are a “good person”…

You certainly need not worry about things like death after judgment, the afterlife, and where you stand with God!

As Bombaro rightly puts it, Stoicism fails to realize that “from its conception, the heart is a thorny bramble…

And especially the modern Western heart. I think this is really illustrated well in the following quote as he mercilessly critiques this contemporary form of Stoicism:

“due to the failure of the rationalistic Enlightenment, our postmodern milieu is decidedly post-rational. Behavior is largely the result of visceral reactions, sentimentalism, and emotionalism — the core behind today’s radical individualism. What is more, one’s feelings and behaviors are quite divorced from a sense of duty or traditional roles. Such norms have been demolished, right down to gender roles and parental duties. People may be imperturbed by others, but it’s the kind of narcissism that actually doesn’t care about others. Hence the meteoric rise of abortion, homelessness, crime, alienation, isolation, loneliness, suicide, conspicuous consumerism, and entitlement. All of this should sound familiar from the lips of the Pharisee who, in his laudable self-control, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:11-12). But neither was he justified.

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In many ways, I think this critique can also point out the flaws of the better, more ancient form of Stoicism as well.

In other words, while that ancient form is better at borrowing insights from the law of God, published definitively in the 10 commandments, but also written on the human heart…

…it nevertheless fails to see that even a man who is righteous in the world’s eyes can have desires can be self-centered, turned in on themselves… twisted and disordered and unable to reach what is truly good…

Men and women of the cross, baptized into Jesus Christ, this goes for us as well…

Let us never forget that our Lord said that no one was good but God alone and that even His own disciples, though they rightly gave good gifts to their children, were in fact evil.

In the book of Romans that we heard this morning, it is made clear that the law of God reduced every human heart to silence.

Again, Stoicism, for all its good aspects, still falls into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself… in both the modern and ancient forms….

And the Muslim or religious Jew or Mormon? Some may indeed fear God and His law… but they still will not be justified by their works…

And even when our perishing pagan neighbors sense that something good and wonderful has transpired through him, their reflection before God ultimately reeks of self-glorification and a veiled ingratitude:

Ultimately, in line with the world’s pattern and in fact in serving the world’s spirit the creation and not the world’s Creator, Jesus Christ – both the religious and “non-religious” predictably think, every time:

“I’m a good person”, “I did it”, “I must have done something good”, “What a good boy am I”… 

+++

No. They are not.

To feel this, to think this, to say this… is to mark one’s self for Satan and his servants.

Again, my fellow Christians, note that after they had been following Him for a good long while, Jesus called his own disciples wicked.

Luther was well aware of this evil and corruption that persisted within, and felt it in his bones… down to the core of his terrified conscience…

My friends, do you think you, apart from Christ’s cleansing blood, can escape that judgment?

No.

In any philosophical or even religious system of men, elite or not, well-thought-out or not, “the need for rescue from ourselves and renewal from above, as well as reconciliation [is rendered] unnecessary, much less reconciliation through blood atonement…” (Bombaro)

But this is a lie.

Again, the whole world, and every man according to the nature he receives at birth, is unspeakably wicked, each one finally devoted to his own comfort, self-satisfaction, and glory…

Romans 3 says it doesn’t matter who we are talking about.

All have violated His commands.

All have sinned.

Missed the mark.

Trespassed.

Fallen short.

All of us deserve the wrath of the Only One who is just.

All philosophies or religions – whatever their good aspects – still fall into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself…

But Romans 3, again, says:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Even the good deeds some might think they can point to are insufficient… spoiled.

Not done in God’s love and for God’s love to the benefit of our neighbor.

This is what God’s law shows us, as it shuts us up.

But to what end?

Here, Luther helps us again: “To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And then, finally, we are ready to hear again our reading from Romans:

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Amen!

This, and this alone, gives us true peace with God!

The contemporary philosopher Sartre said “hell is other people” and Stoicism, in offering “imperturbability from others”, would give us some kind of peace but in a way that necessarily kills love for neighbor…

But Jesus Christ removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh[6], granting us not only peace with God, but reconciliation with all others in the family of God!…

As He puts it: “Peace I leave with you; 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.”

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Now, sometimes when I was young, I thought “that would be a really good place to stop the sermon” when the pastor kept going, but folks – there’s more I’m eager, excited, to say on this Reformation Day!

So please be bear with me brothers and sisters!

If you would with me, let’s now think about our text again, with some help from Hebrews 9 which says…:

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).

That second time is what our reading from Revelation is talking about.

It should be a time of comfort and joy for us!

The creation made new! Our fearsome enemies will not prevail but be defeated![7] In fact, in the book of Luke, when Jesus speaks of His coming again, He urges us to “lift up [our] heads”…

And so we, as ones who are truly His people, can fear God not with a servile kind of fear, but a rather a “filial fear”, giving us the picture of a child honoring, respecting, and revering his father…

All that said….

Let’s be honest and deal with the facts here…the context of our reading certainly gives us the impression that this will nevertheless be a frightening time for most everyone![8]

As we go on in chapter 14, we see this arresting picture describing the fate of those who reject Christ:

“[they] will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:10)

And perhaps here, we might tremble as well…

For, again, which one of us is without sin? Which one of us has a completely undisturbed conscience?

What do we do when Satan, eager to accuse us and make us doubt we are Christians, throws our undeniable and many sins in our face – and looks to drive us to doubt and then despair?

Always remember, even though this world is an exceptionally evil place – and even though we Christians continue to struggle with evil – this is precisely why Jesus came, comes now by comforting us with His Spirit, and will come again in glory to make all things new….

Even as Christ will come the second time to judge and “not to bear sin” know that this wrath that is nevertheless poured out upon the world in the last days is wrath that Jesus Christ Himself would take on Himself, take into Himself.

And He, in fact, did, if we have eyes of faith to see.

For it was the price of all sin, the wages of every sin that has ever been committed, that nailed Him to that cross…

So yes, Jesus Christ would, Jesus Christ did, taste this passion of God’s hot indignation, and drained that bitter cup down his throat to the dregs….

For He could do no other. For our God, whose mercies are new every morning, is never one who ultimately desires the death of the wicked!… 

It doesn’t matter if you are Martin Luther, super-sensitive to your sin via God’s law

…or like those who Luther lamented were largely untouched by the law’s sting…

Satan wants you to believe God desires the death of the wicked, because this is what he believes himself.

If he can’t get you to dismiss the Christian faith entirely (his first choice), he wants you to believe that you or your neighbor are too wicked for God… he wants you to believe this message isn’t for you, your neighbor, or both…

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That is so very wrong… as these warnings, heard right now, are always meant for our final good, particularly now as the days grow darker and the world increasingly deceives, propagandizes, tyrannizes… demands our loyalty to it and not the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world…

And so at this point – finally, right? ( : ) ) – I want to bring things back around to the meaning of this Angel or Messenger in our text. I am reading you a bit from a great sermon I found online about this text…:

“Th[e] good news about Jesus is the eternal gospel that is going to be proclaimed. All the Caesars of this world, all the Sanhedrins, the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth, all the civil and religious powers that try to extinguish the gospel – they cannot stop it. That is the message of this text in Revelation. And it certainly was fulfilled in the case of Luther and the Reformation. It is not restricted to Luther alone, of course. This text gives encouragement to the church in all ages. But it was fulfilled in a very notable way in the case of Luther.

Luther was in a battle. He sensed it deeply. He felt the assaults of the devil. He faced fierce opposition. Both civil and religious powers lined up against him. Luther was excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the emperor. And the reason was precisely because Luther was God’s “angel,” his messenger. He restored the gospel to its place of prominence, flying directly overhead, like the sun shining in midheaven, the bright light of its noonday brilliance dispersing the clouds that had shrouded the message in darkness.

For Luther, that eternal gospel was too precious a thing for him to compromise or back off. He would rather be criticized as obstinate than to yield in the pure proclamation of the gospel. What gave him the courage to confess the faith so boldly? The gospel itself. Luther knew how much the pure gospel meant to him, freeing his conscience from the burden that had long weighed him down. And so Luther placed his confidence in God as his mighty fortress, no matter the threats of pope or emperor. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”

Luther was so very right.

To honor the Creator the most is to believe Him, to trust Him and His promises. This is our highest worship.

Believe me when I say, on His behalf, to you:

The Lamb has been slain and by his blood ransomed people for God, people loved by God, from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” And He is the One who “loves us and who frees us from our sins by His blood”.

This is the Eternal Gospel, and it is for all of us. For you too!

“Fear not!”, Christ says,

“I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[9]

So let us overcome all in Him!

Amen


[1] “…believe it or not, beginning already in Luther’s lifetime, people identified this angel of the Revelation with . . . the messenger of the Reformation, namely, Martin Luther. They saw Luther as this angel having an eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation. As early as 1522, just five years into the Reformation, a man named Michael Stiefel wrote a poem called, “On the Christ-Formed, Properly Grounded Teaching of Doctor Martin Luther.” In the opening stanza Stiefel says, “John wrote for us of an angel who would set forth God’s Word with complete clarity.” And there Stiefel plays on Luther’s name, because the German word he uses for “clarity” is lauter. Lauter, Luter.

That was in 1522. In 1546, at Luther’s funeral, the preacher, Johannes Bugenhagen, made a similar comparison. He said: “This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized.” So from then on, the linkage was established: The angel of Revelation 14 became associated with the person of Martin Luther. And that’s how this text came to be a reading for Reformation Day.” From: https://stmatthewbt.org/2019/10/26/an-eternal-gospel-to-proclaim-revelation-146-7/

But were they right? Were Stiefel and Bugenhagen justified in seeing Luther in this vision from Revelation? And how does this apply to us today? That’s what we’ll consider now, under the theme, “An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim.”

[2] One more critical of this says: “Hoenegg could see Luther as proclaiming judgment upon Papal darkness, but this interpretation seems too uncertain. What would a passage like this mean for the Christians in the midst of pagan darkness, if it could only refer to the Reformation and to Luther? Would that not also mean treating the book of Revelation as a play-by-play of the End Times? Better, I think, to recognize that the angel proclaims a judgment upon sin which comforts God’s people. Sin and the devil will not triumph. Though you suffer now, God will render judgment upon His enemies. Luther and the Reformation is a historical example of the faithfulness of the holy God, whose victory will be complete.” From here: http://wordfitlyspoken.org/2017/10/reformation-revelation-146-7/

[3] Luther, however, also was not immune to discouragement when it came to this accomplishment…

Many of the Reformation’s critics, for example, contended that the Christian lives of the Reformers and their followers were worse than – or at least no better than – those they criticized…

One of the biblical texts that Luther always emphasized was the following:

“For each tree is known by its own fruit. Indeed, figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from brambles. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.44-45).

The Gospel message creates new persons in Christ! New trees with new and good fruit!

Luther understood the power of sin’s pull on all of us, but of course he still believed that the Gospel would produce a significant change in each individual who believed.

Therefore, he truly felt the sting of this accusation that those following “his teaching” were no better than their opponents. 

And he had to deal with the fact that he sometimes actually agreed with this critique…

And so he wrestled with why there was truth to the accusation. Why were those hearing the Gospel still so weak in good works and the new life?

The answer, surely, has to do with the fact that men – even those who were listening to Luther’s sermons week after week and who he believed were believers – are often obscenely blind to the magnitude and depth of their own corruption

…and correspondingly, their ongoing need for the Gospel.

Luther knew he – even as a teacher, a doctor of the church! – struggled to articulate how bad things were as well. For example, he said that:

“So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is.”

Likewise:

“…who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin…”

Thinking about the kinds of people that he knew and loved in his day – and where they stood with God – Luther said this:

“[Some] fear God for the sake of God alone; they do the best they can and very conscientiously avoid evil.

Others fear God for the sake of God, and, at the same time, for the sake of the threatened punishment; their works are less good and perfect…”

And, as he put it elsewhere, there are also those who simply fear God only because of the threatened punishment. “These,” Luther tells us, “only seem to do good…”

For they are not even Christians yet… but are only at the very beginning….

And yet also, in his lecture on Psalm 51, Luther talks about how en route to his discovery of the Gospel, he, on the one hand, was greatly disturbed by death as the wages of sin

but on the other hand very few others seemed to be concerned about this impending punishment…: 

“I believed that everyone’s heart was as disturbed and as fearful of the perils of death as my own. But when I carefully investigated the situation, it became evident to me that among 10,000 persons there are hardly 10 who give thought to this important matter…”

In other words, Luther owned up to his own naivete here about the positive effects the Reformation would have.

Even though the Bible made it clear that man had knowledge of the reality of God, his law, his own culpability and even that he deserved death for this (Romans 1), it also said that he suppressed this knowledge…

Because we are able to suppress our natural knowledge of God and counter it with beliefs, idols, of our own making, man in general, unlike Martin Luther, does not live in fear of God, fear God

And it has always been so…

[4] Bombaro writes “Put into the more recognizable terminology of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), modern Stoicism aids persons to understand their minds, specifically the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. CBT uses techniques like negative visualization to aid people to inoculate themselves from undesirable thoughts and feelings by intentionally imagining possible negative outcomes and imaging how you might respond in accordance with your role or duty. This gives the person a sense of power and control over themselves in any situation through preparedness. Further, it liberates the will, empowering the person to “be themselves” without caring much about what others think or societal expectations.”

[5].https://www.amazon.com/s?k=admiral+james+stockdale+stoicism&crid=GE4JREPOSUY7&sprefix=admiral+james+stockdale+stoicism%2Caps%2C94&ref=nb_sb_noss

[6] As prophesied in Ezekiel:

“…I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

[7] This sermon sets the scene well: “Our reading for this morning occurs in the middle of a section which begins in chapter 12. This section describes the “end times”, which begins in chapter 12 with the description of the woman and the dragon, which we looked at about a month ago when we celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This vision portrays Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and the cosmic, heavenly events associated with it. Chapter 13 then tells of two beasts, who join the dragon to form an “unholy trinity” and to torment God’s people. In verse 7 of chapter 13, John says, Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation (Revelation 13:7). John’s vision tells us that God’s people over all the world will be tormented by the dragon and the beasts and no one on earth will be able to stop them. Or, to use the famous words of Martin Luther, The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal (LSB 656:1). In other words, Revelation 12 & 13 are painting a picture of “the old evil foe” jumping on top of Christ’s church and trying to prevail over it. From here: http://lcrwtvl.org/2020/10/102520-reformation-the-eternal-gospel-revelation-146-7/

[8] Not all wrong!: “Choosing Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the selection is entirely too short. It separates the first angel of Revelation 14 from the other two, and in the process somewhat distorts the intent of the passage. These three angels are harbingers of God’s coming wrath upon the earth. The second angel, for example, follows after the first, crying: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The third also follows after and foretells the coming torment of those who worship the beast. Their torment will be unending and they will have no rest day or night. Therefore, while the first angel calls forth a cry to fear God and worship Him, the emphasis falls upon the judgment. Fear God and give Him glory, because He is about to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness in judging the earth. This judgment is indeed a source of joy for His people, as the Psalm declares “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12-13). But the message of the three angels is one which should cause the earth to tremble and not to rejoice. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12). http://wordfitlyspoken.org/2017/10/reformation-revelation-146-7/

[9] “…this gospel comes from heaven. It’s God’s gospel. It’s not man-made, so man cannot destroy it. It’s an eternal gospel. It will last forever. And God means to have it proclaimed. His messengers will preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people. What is this eternal gospel, the good news that is being proclaimed? To use the language of Revelation, it’s about “the Lamb who was slain,” the one who “by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It’s about “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” It’s about Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He, Jesus, our exalted Lord, comes to us and says: “Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

” From: https://stmatthewbt.org/2019/10/26/an-eternal-gospel-to-proclaim-revelation-146-7/

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Sermon Video: Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All 

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Waseca, MN. Oct. 16, 2022

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“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

-2 Tim 3:3-4

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Brothers and sisters in Christ!

As he has since chapter one of 2 Timothy, here the Apostle Paul continues to talk about the importance of successfully guarding the pattern of sound teaching he passes on….

“Sound teaching” is teaching that is rooted in truth and in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, and hence this sound or healthy teaching will make you healthy and holy….

On the other hand, what do we see in our world today?

It is far, far worse than junk food… it is garbage. 

The information we get from our media – and even in our business, government and educational institutions as well! – has progressively fled from notions of objectivity and impartiality (even if some are loathe to admit this) 

…and now, accusations of “fake news” or “disinformation” appear across the political spectrum, as those opposing one another seemingly use words as best they can to win…

…to win. 

And here is a thought:

In this context, how might we interpret the popular statement “knowledge is power”? 

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Here, my former vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard… 

Some in that profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like: “[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.

This, I believe, goes hand in hand with something I just saw from a popular, local Twin Cities reporter. She said, “The truth makes me tick…”

On the other hand, I read (red) others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.

That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as what another academic librarian says…. It’s not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge’”.

Power is knowledge.

Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Got that: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related. Don’t necessarily go together.

Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…

Just this past week listening to a podcast I heard someone say that what ultimately matters between one set of ideas and another is what is effective… what is effective in the class struggle… the rich vs. the poor…

Your political orientation, left, center, or right… might not matter though… Increasingly, whatever direction one leans, everything seems to take a back seat to effectiveness, basically power… 

Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.

Do you see how the role of things like common definitions and facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?

What is important is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not…

We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.

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Do you see why I am bringing this up?

People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with what we heard from the Apostle Paul this morning about “sound doctrine”. That is, his idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]…”

Why? Because the definitions of words change, can change, and we will change them as best we see fit and desire… Because all things, after all, evolve.

Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!

Even human nature is liquid, fluid, alterable… Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.

For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit, it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not “tradition” in any sense!

This, my friends, is the modern myth. 

This is what the contemporary itching ears want to hear….

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In Christianity, on the other hand, knowledge can be said to be power as well, but for a very, very different reason.

Knowledge is power because our understanding of knowledge is that it is not just conceivable useful trust but justified, true, belief.

If we do not believe something, it cannot be knowledge that we personally possess.

If we sincerely believe that something is true but it is false–it is not –this can hardly be called knowledge.

Finally, knowledge is something that can be justified – believing something is warranted because good evidence and reasons can be given…

This is the classical definition of knowledge, and it goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

It doesn’t matter if your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

If Christ is not raised – really raised from the dead! – all your words and works are ultimately in vain!

Sometimes well-meaning Christians say we uphold Scripture and not tradition. This though, is misled.

We do uphold traditions not contrary to Scripture—and our greatest tradition is Scripture itself, and the greatest content of the Scriptures is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Christ crucified and risen for the world’s forgiveness, life, and salvation…

So, like the runner in the relay race, pass on the baton.

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Today, in the world, as has always been the case, there is a battle for men’s souls.

Stories like Harry Potter, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings are right. 

It is all about good vs. evil.

Behind the veil, there is a spiritual war between light and darkness.

But don’t be afraid, because knowledge is power.

And as the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to Timothy, your power is through the Holy Spirit who creates a new man, an “inner man,” in us….

He does this through the Word of God, through the Scriptures, our great treasure. 

The Bible, my friends, is the very word of God Himself!

Pick it up. Read. Learn. Inwardly digest.

Struggle through it and with it. Buy a study Bible. Get kid friendly Bibles and stories and read them with your children and grand children…

And remember this jewel, this treasure, comes as a whole. It is not a necklace where we can get rid of some of the beads we don’t like, for example.

It is the jewel, the tradition, that must be handed on at all costs… 

It is not so much “Scripture or Tradition” or “Scripture and Tradition”: again, the Scriptures are basically the Tradition 

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Struggle with this concept if you must.

For I hope you know…the world around you is very, very skeptical…

What’s that you hear from them?

The Scriptures are old… 

They are discredited….

They are irrelevant… 

There are all kinds of reasons to doubt them… 

Maybe they just “contain” the “Word of God” – perhaps just the tender and gentle stuff about Jesus?

If they fancy themselves more sophisticated, you might hear: “Didn’t Martin Luther, the 16th c. Reformer, for example, throw out the book of James and Revelation?” 

Why are you listening to what that preacher says? Who has transplanted him from the Middle Ages to here?

Christian, don’t you know the Bible not only tells us about Jesus, but is full of some other more questionable things as well?

Obedience.

Submission.

Kings.

Masters.

Patriarchs.

Don’t you know we are Americans?!

I mean, yes, I know in the Gospel reading a couple weeks back it talked about how a Master just expects his servant to do what he asks and the servant seems to think even a Good Master should do this, but… But we don’t ever believe we unworthy servants only do what is asked of us (Luke 17:10)…

We certainly don’t think fear should ever be a component of how anyone is “ruled”! We don’t think that really has a place anymore.

And things like the death penalty, for example, don’t belong in this world….

Biblical ideas like headship we know lead to abuse. 

And we like it when everyone is equal in every single way! We like it when people are free! We like harmony! – and when we can get lost in the music with those of like-mind!

Haven’t you felt the power of the crowd? Haven’t you lost yourself in the excitement, gotten taken up into something that is bigger than yourself?

Don’t you like that, want that, feel that… too?

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Well, no. Tempted sometimes though.

I do have an alternative that I find compelling however…

It’s called the Christian church, and while its patriarchs and matriarchs don’t rule like the rulers of the world, they have guarded and passed down the sacred treasure.

The sacred jewel.

Do not be deceived brothers and sisters! 

Stir up the fireplace! Now! Do not let the flame go out!

You have not been given timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline….

The sinful world wants a lot of things, and in many of the things it wants, there are echoes of good.

It wants unity! It wants harmony! It wants equality! It wants justice! It wants freedom!

It wants everyone to feel good about who they are and their neighbors as well. It wants, as the commercial said, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…

In a sense, it is good and right to want all of these things.

That said, there is mass confusion about what these things ultimately look like, and how one can achieve them.

It doesn’t matter if you have the impression your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

Rhetoric without truth dies.

Again, if Christ is not raised – really raised! – all your words and works are in vain!

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Satan loves all the confusion he is causing today.

And he hates the clear Gospel and that you have it.

He hates that men like Luther didn’t really throw out the book of James and Revelation, but rightly pointed out their relative importance compared with books like John and Romans…

He absolutely hates most of all what Martin Luther did, bringing out the stark clarity of the situation he found himself in….

He hates that Luther was “mean”… meaning he didn’t care if persons didn’t like him because of the message he preached.

He hates that such a man clearly revealed his, Satan’s, hand…

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Now. I don’t want to give the impression that I think Martin Luther always handled things perfectly.

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus…”

It is true that “faith and love” are to form the atmosphere, so to speak, in which the “sound words” are to be preserved.

That said, let us not forget the battle we are in, the need for tough love…. and the admonition to be as wise as serpents.

A little parable to share….

I read it about three years ago and think it is particularly appropriate to our day and age and the questions and challenges that face us….

….

“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.

When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:

“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.

He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.

But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”

One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.

“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.

“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.

His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.

It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”

The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.

A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.

“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”

The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.

But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.

Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gem.

The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:

The king is Christ. The gem is, [ultimately,] his salvation.

The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.

And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.

So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”

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You see, first the world tells you they don’t like the way you say it.

Then, you discover that they simply don’t like what you say….

Folks, there have been times when the message of the Scriptures has been far from men’s hearts… this seems to be happening again today…

Like we are told about the account of the ring of power in the movie about the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge…”

In the movie, the loss of the ring arguably seemed a good thing in one way: because that ring of power increased corruption and evil. 

When the Scriptures are far from our hearts though, that is when our corruption will come… has come….

It is a good thing the true power that defeats evil and corruption, God’s Word to man, has never been wholly lost…

And now, in these last days, we have it even clearer. The  Apostle Paul writes:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…

A pattern of very, very sound words!

Merry Christmas!

These are life giving words!

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Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Do not let things like suffering and persecution in the world discourage you – or slow you down… 

When Jesus rhetorically asks “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”, know the answer is “Yes” and cry out “Lord, make me trust you always through it all, to the end…”

He will. 

When Paul begins to encourage Timothy in chapter one, he brings up how his faithful mother and grandmothers passed on the faith to him. As one ancient commentator (Theodoret) put it, “nothing helps like a domestic example”.

That is true. I remember when I was a teacher in Slovakia for two years, hearing the stories of the serious Lutherans who had come through communism because of faithful grandmothers who taught them.

Thanks be to God for faithful traditioners such as these!

So Paul writes “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…”

Be faithful to God’s word. Be faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pass The Message On.

Realize that the best way to guard the faith is not to play defense, but to go on the offensive. To learn it, to inwardly digest it, and to proclaim it.

This is not something that you can do in your own strength, but with the strength God provides: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us…”

By grace through faith, not by works…Christ has been crucified for your sins that you might have peace with God… 

…and by His work has overcome the world!

He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The same yesterday, today, and forever!

The victor over sin, death, and the devil.

And the King will return, to finally set all things right.

Pray and don’t give up, for Christ prays for you and does not give up. (Heb. 7:25, Rom. 8:34)

So, by His Holy Spirit…

continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….

And Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All.

FIN

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17wNH5T_3jstUP3uSIHnUYZLMNbtqnU5G1AA81amkObc/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Should Lutherans Borrow the World’s Understanding of “Race Realism”?

An unflattering take, to be sure, but it helps us get an idea…

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Lutherans are increasingly being confronted with the fact that they are ill-equipped to deal with the Bible’s use of terms like nation (from the Greek ethnos) and race (from the Greek genos). For example, at the time of writing this post, this tweet I retweet here had 228 likes!:

The LC-MS has also not always handled conversations about the racial issues in the most productive way:

Alas, these are the political times in which we live, with many very concerned because of all the accusations of “systemic or institutional racism” and “white supremacy” and the like (post from me on that too)…

So, naturally, enter the Lutherans who want to borrow the notion of “race realism” from the world. On the one hand, I think I get that. For example, I do not think anyone concerned about truth can ignore Charles Murray (the impressive Chanda Chisala certainly doesn’t and James Flynn – Murray’s all-time friendly and classic rival! – thankfully didn’t, and hence we got some very educational debates!). 

On the other hand, I believe that an uncritical adoption of the contemporary understandings of the term “race” — with its conceptions primarily focused on aspects of phenotype and now genotype — is something that Christians should be cautious about and even push back on. Primarily, we should make sure that we first and foremost know what the Bible says about these things, and stay closely in line with it.

So, do you have a serious answer for Rook, or do you just ignore him and hope he’ll go away or someone at Twitter will ban him from that platform (for the record, I don’t think Twitter should have ever banned anyone, especially a thoughtful Christian man like Rook)?:

If you think attempts at a good answer are important, I hope that you might find this post helpful…

The following is an attempt on my part, with I admit my limited knowledge of the topic, to answer a popular blog post from a noted Lutheran “race-realist” — recently shared with me ending with my addressing Rook’s comments near the end of the post as well. I am arguing below as best I can with the knowledge that I believe I have on the topic. I am certainly open to being challenged, corrected, and given additional materials to consider. As an aside, I do have another article which touches on these issues and addresses more topics than are covered below (particularly in the footnotes) in a scholarly article I’ve had published (available upon request: infanttheologyatgmaildotcom).

Let’s begin. Quotes from the blog post are in blue below and my responses follow. 

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“There are some issues so obvious that one would be excused for presuming that they need not be explicitly addressed, but we live in an era when men and women look at their own naked bodies in the mirror and remain uncertain as to which gender they are — and, worse, many encourage them in such delusions. Biological sex — either man or woman — corresponds directly with gender — either male or female; this is part of the structure of reality. Similarly, race is a fundamental part of human nature — an immutable facet of reality. But let us lay the foundation before truly coming to the conclusion.”

The definition of “race” here will be critical, and it is why I find another tweet from Rook to be an issue insofar as it is not meant to spur on further inquiry and conversation (I will admit that saying something like this right away would have been a more appropriate way to respond to him then what I did)…

Or here:

Nobody who is serious or reasonable can have a hard time defining what “sex” is, even if, admittedly, as a friend quickly pointed out to me, many in the realm of “science” have begun to fudge here. “Race” however, is trickier and I submit, is not as “tight” a term. Looking at historical usage, found even in the Bible (see Rom. 9:1-5, for example), it clearly has to do with blood, blood-relatedness, parentage, descendants, relatives, etc. At the same time, it can also have a looser meaning, such as “countryman”. So Paul, in Romans 9 for example, is talking about his relatives by blood, his cousins, kinsfolk, broader tribe, and by extension, his fellow “countrymen”… So, who, really, can be my countryman? Who can, or even should, be my neighbor? (more below)

“Every single living human being (and all the dead ones who were born after the Flood) descends from one of the three sons of Noah. We know the names and genealogies of the sons of Noah — we know nothing of their wives. I am a son of Japheth and Japheth’s wife — I do not know the name of the ‘Eve’ of the Japhethitic line. Naturally, I am also a son of Adam and Eve, for Adam is the federal and natural head of all men and Eve is the mother of all living, which is to say all men. Some will, then, ask how we can have different races if all are, ultimately, descended from Adam and Eve (this is often ‘advanced’ via the vapid: ‘one race — the human race’). To properly and fully address this question, we must delve deeper and establish another foundation: genetics.”

That we are all from Noah’s sons is indisputable for Christians. I am guessing that this fellow is correct here, and most of his and my DNA does come from the line of Japheth. What can we know about all of this from ancient historical sources? I certainly am no expert on this topic, but I do find this article fascinating, and wonder if there are other contemporary counterparts, religious or secular, to Bodie Hodge’s work here. (I find it interesting that, if I recall from the reading I have done, Shem’s line according to the best records we have from the ancient world today seems to indicate that most in China and Africa have their DNA from Shem).

“Man is body, mind, and soul1. For our purposes, here, we will be focusing on the first: body. Man is a creature — more, man is an animal; as an animal, man is subject to many physical realities — heat and cold, hunger and thirst, fatigue and the demands of rest and sleep. Further, man, as an animal, is beholden to the realities of biology. Much (most, in fact) of who and what you are was determined by biology, was totally outside your control; in fact, it was even largely outside your parents’ control — for instance, your hair and eye color, your height, your intelligence, and your hairline were all more or less determined centuries ago. To simplify (the details we will be ignoring do not matter here): Your DNA determines who and what you are. The Levitical priests tithed to Melchizedek because they were already present in Abraham’s DNA. Now, we must address two additional matters: 1) information and 2) descent or selection.”

I find nothing objectionable here.

“First, information. Everything is information — at least, everything that is not simply raw material is information (and, even then, we are in a very grey area). You are information, which is to say you are a particular organization of matter (n.b., matter and energy are equivalent for all relevant purposes). The organization is the information, or, to be more accurate, the organization is the expression of the information. In the case of living creatures, this information is stored in DNA. As to your body, you are your DNA. Information can be effectively destroyed, but it cannot truly be created. (For our purposes, of course, this does not matter, as it would only strengthen the inevitable conclusion if information could be created.) This last point leads directly into our next matter.”

No problems with this. Of course, we can have certain genetic predispositions towards certain things as well, which may or may not be activated due to our nurture (in my day, we always talked about “nature vs. nurture”)

A “hard cases make bad law” kind of situation? If so, why?

“Second, descent and selection. You are the result of thousands of years and hundreds of generations of selection. Your DNA carries less information than Adam’s. This selective loss of information has led to who and what you are; you are the expression of what information has survived this selection process. All the races of men were present in Adam, but it has taken many generations to express those races. And, now, we have a working definition of what a race is: a race of men is a group of human beings who have a distinct expression of the overall set of human genetic information. Races are, by and large, stable over time — definitionally so. We must, however, note that, as they are simply stable subsets of the overall human — or, say, Adamic — genome, which is to say information subsets, races may go extinct — information can be destroyed. The destruction of a race may take place via a number of mechanisms: sub-replacement fertility, inbreeding, outbreeding, and, of course, war.

Again, this is mostly fine. He does say this though: “And, now, we have a working definition of what a race is: a race of men is a group of human beings who have a distinct expression of the overall set of human genetic information…”  How is this “distinct expression” in particular recognized? And how should we distinguish this from that in a helpful or good way? Are we just left with things like this where we just need to take the word of certain scientists doing this kind of work who are, today at least, highly controversial in their fields? The author makes it sound like the work being done in this area is pretty easy to do and produces pretty obvious results, but my impression from the literature is that it is not, and that there are all kinds of complications in this process (hence Britannica’s summation of the different views) “Races are, by and large, stable over time — definitionally so. We must, however, note that, as they… may go extinct…” This is more compelling, particularly as he goes on to speak about how this might relate to different breeds of dogs, a move that Ken Ham also makes in his lectures and book on the issue of race. Still… (see below)

“Now that we have our pieces in place, let us employ an abstract example to further drive home the nature, the reality, and the mechanism. Let us start with Progenitor, who has in his DNA genes A01A10, J1J5, S1S5, and H1H5. P passes all of the A genes to each of his offspring, but passes the J, S, and H, genes to, respectively, J, S, and H. Over time, these tribes will become races, if they remain separated from each other (i.e., if they do not interbreed). It is, of course, irrelevant that a member of J could father offspring by a member of S; we are discussing tribalization and ethnomachy, not speciation. This leads to our next example — a concrete one.”

Here, I think we begin to run into some problems. What would a member of J having offspring with a member of S have to do with speciation? Speciation is the formation of a new species, i.e. in this case something different than man… 

“There are many breeds of dog; ‘breeds’ is simply the term we use for ‘races’ when speaking of animals. (Incidentally, dog breeds even correlate to human races in most instances and in many ways.) If you breed Golden Retrievers, their offspring will be Golden Retrievers — you will not end up with Poodle, Chihuahua, or Dachshund puppies; this is so because Golden Retriever is a race of dogs. And so with men: A Dutchman and a Dutchwoman who have children will have Dutch children, not Chinese. Race and descent are not only obvious, but are readily verifiable. To deny the reality of race is to deny the reality of Creation — is to deny the Creator.

Like dogs, all men are, ultimately, descended from a single ancestor — Adam. Like dogs, there are different races of men, and, as with the breeds of dogs, you cannot get two parents of one race to produce children of another race. How do we explain this reality? As highlighted, supra, the DNA of any living person today carries less information than did the DNA of our forebear Adam. Over time, various groups lost certain information from their gene pools, and this has resulted in the present differences we observe between and among racial groups. (We will leave aside the issue of mutations, although it is worth noting that mutations strengthen the case.) The differences between and among the races of men are grounded in our DNA — grounded in the very essence of who and what we are. As for culture, culture is downstream of genetics.”

Again, as regards loss of information this is not incorrect. To say that culture is downstream from genetics, however, ultimately does not work because the highest aspect of culture is the cult, or worship. I cannot emphasize this enough. Our worship of the true God, which hence creates good culture and formation, does not derive from our biology. I am not going to say that no elements of culture are highly influenced or even derive from biology, but there is no way to really prove what does and does not. Truly, nature is important. I would not think anyone who preferred to marry a tall person or an intelligent person or a calm person – or insisted this must be the case – was doing something wrong. The issue of culture here, no matter how much of it is about nature or how much about nurture, is important as well: clearly, when marrying, for example, such concerns are paramount, or should be.  

Dogs: I think comparing human beings with dogs *might* be a halfway decent comparison but I am not entirely sure (a bit more controlled with dogs I’d say!). If it is though, keep in mind there is also stuff like this to think about: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/the-great-debate-are-mutts-healthier-than-purebreds (my wife has worked in the veterinary industry for almost 30 years and can confirm this….) It is a complicated topic, to be sure. I don’t think I’ll be trying to create a new breed anytime soon myself! (which, by the way, is most often done by mixing the breeds over many generations: https://www.quora.com/How-would-someone-create-their-very-own-new-dog-breed)

“That there are different races of men — and that these races are different from each other — is obvious to all men — and, hence, has been recognized from the beginning. Scripture, too, affirms that there are different εθνη, which is to say nations, which is to say races. There are those who would contend that ethnos (Gk. s: εθνος; pl: εθνη) is not the same as race, but that is, of course, ridiculous. Much of this is simply etymological — German, Latin, and Greek — which I do not intend to cover, here. We need only look (in the Septuagint, obviously) to the Table of Nations (Genesis 10) to see how Scripture employs εθνη. ‘Tribe’ and ‘clan’ are synonymous, and so are ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’. From one man, God made all nations (races) of men, and such is part of God’s good plan for Creation. To deny the existence of race is to deny Scripture, is to deny Creation, is to deny God.”

While I agree this is sometimes obvious, there are other times — when comparing the distinct Hungarians and Slovaks, for example (I note they would fit this author’s imperfect definition of races above) – where perhaps not every untrained eye can see this. If the dog analogy holds true, we can perhaps say that someone who is trained in evaluating different breeds can catch “tricky” things that the  less skilled can not (where one breed might be confused for another one that is similar-looking).

In sum, contending that ethne and race (genos) are basically the same in the Bible appears to be correct. That said, genos seems to be leaning a bit more towards the blood aspect than ethnos. The author of this post wants these to only be about nature/bodies/creation across the board. The difference is that I believe that this is not purely about nature but includes elements of nurture – in other words, those who talk about “social construction” as regards ethnicity are correct to a certain degree (see above). What I mean by this is that race emphasizes things more like flesh, blood, common descent, extended family. And yet, there is no need to insist on purity of blood or genes here for the word “race”. Again, it and ethnos are more synonymous than they are not.  

Do you think by saying this Paul means to exclude Ruth and Rahab? If they had been a bit darker?

“The conclusion is inescapable: As Christians, we are not permitted to deny the reality of race. Conveniently, denying the existence of race is something only a fool or a sophist would do anyway. As Christians, we are morally obligated to affirm the truth, no matter what our culture may think, no matter how uncomfortable that may make others, no matter how inconvenient doing so may be for us. All truth is one.”

The author of this post is too sure of himself here, I am quite sure. : ) I know the science better than the average bear, having a degree in biology and graduating with the highest honors, and particularly as I pay some attention to these things, I think I can say what I say with some authority. 

Overall, I don’t dispute a lot of what the author says here, even as I would certainly say a lot of it differently. I think the core thing, however, is that when we talk about who we “are” by nature it is indeed an important foundation – and one that many have wrongly not taken as seriously as they should – but it is also put in a new context in the light of the Gospel. 

This is why Luther, for example, sees Cain and Abel as for being the two types of men, the damned and the saved. For example, if you want to talk about the true interracial marriage that doesn’t mix, Paul deals with that in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (though I will not condemn anyone who prefers to marry in their ethnic group, so long as they do not insist others must do exactly as they do)! It is because ultimately, when it comes to the most important question, what is absolutely critical is that we share Abraham’s faith. I don’t deny the importance of nature, but believe that this message is what should always take precedence in our Christian proclamation (particularly where we very consciously profess our Christianity publicly). We should also be ready to make clear how the modern conceptions of race (in the modern conceptions, there are clearly fewer modern “races” than there are ethnicities) is problematic from a biblical perspective. 

Here is something I think is super important, and gets to the quote from Rook above as well…

We know that the blood descendants of Abraham have really always kept to themselves quite a lot, protecting their heritage (which yes, was corrupted post New Testament). At the same time, in the Old Testament we see how there are also sojourners and other in Israel who are to be treated with kindness. We also see how people like Ruth and Rahab, foreigners, are assimilated, enculturated, incorporated into wider Israel, becoming one with them and their God. In the New Testament, we also see how other foreigners don’t become full-blown Israelites but nevertheless become “God-fearers” and are respected… And those in Acts who come to Jerusalem for Pentecost also seem to have had a “dual ethnicity” in a sense, given that they are called both “god-fearing” Jews and also bear the name of their respective nations (and of course spoke those languages): “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome…; Cretans and Arabs”!

For more background on the realities of God’s people prior to the Advent of Jesus Christ, see, e.g., Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism (ed. Homolka, 1997), particularly the essay by Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, and Crossing Over Sea and Land, Michael Bird (2010). In his conclusion, Bird says “I do not doubt that virtually every Jewish group thought that being initiated into the commonwealth of Israel and living under the Torah was good and desirable for Gentiles, whether it was politically expedient was another matter” (151). Schindler also argues that [even in Jesus’ day], “Jewish ‘chosenness’” is defined “not as exclusive but as exemplary; not as separatist but as representative; not as closed but as open; not as rejecting but as all-embracing and compassionate.” He also, intriguingly, writes the following:

“The notion that Judaism is not a propagating faith is far from the truth. It has been the practiced truth for the last four centuries, but it was not true for the four millennia before. Abraham was a convert and our tradition lauds his missionary zeal. Isaiah enjoined us to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and insisted that God’s house be a ‘house of prayer for all peoples’. Ruth of Moab, a heathen by birth, became the ancestress of King David. Zechariah foresaw the tie when men and women of every tongue would grasp a Jew by the corner of his garment and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.”

During the Maccabean period, Jewish proselytizing activity reached its zenith; schools for missionaries were established, and by the beginning of the Christian era they had succeeded in converting 10 percent of the population of the Roman empire – roughly four million people (think about Jesus’ words about the Pharisee’s missionary zeal!) Yes, it is true that there were countervailing pressures even in Biblical times. Thus, Ezra…. (Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism).

Got a counter to this?

Back to our example from Acts 2. Regarding those from Rome, we are told these are both “Jews and converts to Judaism” so we know that these are not just members of “the race of Israelites” who were scattered and retained the purity of their bloodlines. Peter even calls the whole crowd “fellow Jews” (v. 14) and “fellow Israelites” (v. 22), and Israelites is the term the Apostle Paul goes on to use in Romans 9:4 (following the key 9:3 passage) to refer to the Israelites who are kin. So, it seems even prior to the coming of Christ with the falling away of the Israelite theocracy, many were becoming incorporated into the people of God, the Christian nation, the Kingdom of God, in pretty much the fullest sense. And of course all of this became much easier as regards matters of culture, adopting a new way of life… with the shadows and the distinguishing markers falling away in Christ… (see Col. 2:16-17).

I don’t think it works to argue here that these “dual ethnicities” here basically correspond to the Two Kingdoms, and this is because prior to Christ – and Acts is describing Israelites from around the world that are not yet in the church – God’s Kingdom was understood to be as one, a theocracy, and it went hand in hand with ethnicity and race. Hence, Paul writes as he does of his people, God’s chosen race and his fellow Israelites, in Romans 9:1-5… We also must not forget that in spite of the fact that with the Advent of the church God’s people are no longer one nation or ethnicity or earthly kingdom… and in spite of the fact that Christians have historically needed to honor God by defending their own nations against other Christian nations militarily… the overall effect of the Christian faith — prior to its ultimate rejection in these areas — was to bind not only the souls but bodies of men and women from different nations together through a common faith, identity, and forms of life. Hence my article on the importance of Liberal Christian Nationalism vis a vis identity politics, published already 6 years ago.

Maybe this kind of information, which I see as going hand in hand with the view I am making a case for here, is flawed or worse. If it is, I’d like to see a scholarly counter. What this ultimately says to me is that biology is certainly significant and it’s effects are not to be underestimated or denied (thinking of examples here is important, I think, and we can note that there is a powerful example when it comes to doctors, who as they diagnose can see patterns of disease among certain clusters of like groups, and where taking account of phenotype might be critical), but we ultimately must confess that to assert that culture is downstream from genetics, for example, is to allow the world to trump the power of the faith. 

I believe that the Scriptures were written as they were for such a time as this. It is not just Peter and Paul, after all, who are teaching us how to understand what they mean by fellow Israelites, but God, who speaks here with one voice. My last word, however, praying and begging God that salutary common ground may be recognized, is this: Generally speaking, the natural family offers or should offer provision and protection, which in turn is an echo of eternal salvation. That is why all of these questions are indeed as critical as they are. 

Correspondingly, of course, modern conceptions of race will only detract from Gospel comfort as well. That might not be popular, but I believe it is true.

(see here also)

Matthew Cochran, though, is probably not all wrong either in his concerns…

Grant us wisdom Lord!

FIN

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Why We Need Moses and the Prophets Today

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“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

– Luke 16:31

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Yes, again, the Bible talks a lot about money.

And it is not only God, who, speaking through the Apostle Paul, believes that the love of money is the root of all evil (not a root of all kinds of evil, as I think more anemic modern translations put it).

Again, thoughtful persons throughout our history, often thoughtful persons with a lot of money too, have talked about all the problems that money can cause… about the pain and suffering it can bring….

And many see it as driving most everything and creating most every evil. Hence, many incorrectly say that the Bible says that money itself and not the love of it is the root of all evil… 

It in itself is not evil, but money can certainly cause many griefs, exacerbating our issues with foolish and harmful desires. 

Again, even many unbelievers realize – and are right to realize – that the world is indeed “broken”, as they say. With many broken people as well…

This realization mirrors the Bible’s evaluation of the world: The fallen creation groans, groans like a woman in labor, in expectation for its redemption…

Even though, again, there is a wrongness here too regarding the beliefs of many in the world… as many suppress the true nature of the problem — thinking, like the influential 18th c. Frenchman Jean Jacque Rousseau, that man himself is not fallen by nature and that it is only “society” that is bad… causing man’s issues and ultimately being at blame for his problems (instead of man being evil by nature, intrinsically evil, that is, infected by sin…)

So, finding the main problem *outside of themselves* they who are at heart, at bottom, naturally good (they believe), look to inspire others to move ahead with hope… looking for this or that change now! 

Transformation now! 

And a part of this is that many want justice to come…. They want men like the rich and selfish man in Jesus’ parable dealt with, and dealt with swiftly… 

Action!

So, they themselves being the change they are looking for, want a Jesus who helps them transform the world, who can level society by cutting many down to size, and even to help them “heal it and make it a better place…” 

…but do they want this last sentence of the parable?

Do they want this last sentence of the parable?

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“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

This final statement in the Gospel reading for today exalts the Old Testament of the Bible, which you may have heard, is the best-selling book of all time.

Truly, there was a time in this country when what Jesus says here would have not seemed so jarring, so shocking, so out-of-place on the face of it…

It was not long ago in America that you might be able to find people who were not Christians or who weren’t sure what they believed but at least knew that they were supposed to respect, to have reverence for, the Bible.

For even if it was little read, it was nevertheless widely believed to be the Word of God… if not to at least contain the Word of God…

Those days appear to be behind us now…

Not long ago, I spent the day working with a self-proclaimed “crazy Mexican” who was about my age. We had a good time talking about a number of topics, some religious ones too.

You see, earlier in that day, he had said “thank you, Jesus” in a way that was like a sincere prayer, and I took that as an invitation to inquire further. 

I found out that he did not think that God was a personal Creator distinct from his creation but that He was actually impersonal and that the world itself was God. Jesus was not the Creator who at one point became man but simply a good example for us about how any one of us is God and should act appropriately. And the Bible was not God’s Word but a flawed but otherwise valuable book written by wise human beings. 

I also listened to a podcast this past week with Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller. It was a replay of a 2019 interview she had with the popular liberal religion scholar Karen Armstrong. 

Armstrong was talking with Miller before an audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul about “The Lost Art of Scripture” and had some ideas that my Mexican colleague would seem likely to embrace. 

Conflating all world religions as being one in the same, she spoke about how God is existence itself, being itself, which, without any further explanation, undoubtedly meant to her audience that God and the creation or cosmos are one in the same…

Muddling everything together, she said that “Scripture wasn’t telling us doctrines that we had to believe” but rather wasn’t coherent and it created a muddle… and that when we speak of the Divine, we simply go beyond what any words or thoughts can do…

Scripture, she also claimed, isn’t something that we should go back to to live from. Rather, it is an “innovative art” that must always move forward…

You can bet that when Ms. Armstrong said that “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she was not thinking about how she could help her audience to better understand Luke 16:31, and to realize how important it is to realize how we should submit to the biblical texts, much less Moses and the prophets….

I know this for sure because right after saying “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she goes on to say “…and that means change it…”

To my Mexican friend, I had explained that some more liberal Christians explain the Bible in this way. They say that “some Christians put a period where God means to put a comma… God is still speaking…” and he liked the sound of that.

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And it seems to me that the recently deceased Barbara Ehrenreich, who as an advocate for the poor wrote the best-selling book Nickel and Dimed about her experiences going undercover as a blue-collar worker, would also like the sound of this.

Queen Elizabeth may have passed away recently, but I heard a number of socialist commentators focus on Ehrenreich this past week, praising her for being Our Queen, the Left’s Queen, the Real Queen….

On another podcast I listened to, a man named Gabriel Winant shared something which he thought summed up Ehrenreich’s thought and philosophy. 

Basically, Ehrenreich felt that if we could fully embrace female sexuality and communism as well, rejoicing in the “softness and the permeability of the world around us”, the barriers that divide men and women, the “high” and the “low”, would “crumble in the face of this new energy” and we could all live in harmony; instead of “holding ourselves back in lonely dread…” we could be revolutionaries in the cause of life” (bold mine) 

Revolutionaries indeed. 

As another commentator speaking of Ehrenreich’s influence put it, “we need to transform the totality of social existence…”

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When you are rich, powerful, and successful – when you have most everything your heart wants – you might have a hard time thinking that you need to hear from God, that you need a prophet… In fact, the Bible tells us so.

In like fashion, when you are among the intellectual elites who believe we must  “transform the totality of social existence…” countering the patriarchal and fascist violence that has reigned throughout history, now even “raping the earth” as it seeks Dominion…

…you also might not have much use for a message from some “Father-God” purportedly passed on from one corrupt generation to the next… 

If you’d like to learn more about this kind of viewpoint — and it is good for some of us at least to know our enemies well — I’d recommend reading, for example, Riane Eisler’s book, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future.

The 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx – one of both Ehrenreich’s and Eisler’s inspirations – also did not have much respect for tradition, particularly Christian tradition.

After all, what had the past brought us except endless oppression of the poor, the great masses of mankind, by the rich, the bourgeois? And who since then, many say today, has caused our environmental issues with their desire for riches and rule?

And so Marx said, and many following in his train have said: “Philosophers [or scientists] have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point[, however,] is to change it.” 

The point is to change it…

Of course, you can’t blame everything on Karl Marx. He didn’t come out of nowhere, after all. Many others had been noting problems before him and had a variety of ideas about how to fix things.

And a lot of those ideas about how to fix things, of course, had to do with getting rid of the influence of the Bible.

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Nevermind that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery… 

Also, in the Greek and Roman world, work was something that was undignified and that those at the bottom, not the top, did. 

How well are we aware of these facts?

And nevermind that now that for all the progress and hope that many of these revolutionaries claim to see…

…racism as a concept is increasingly used only to discourage, frustrate, and demoralize anyone we feel is to blame for the world’s problems, generally those with insufficient levels of melanin

…and in spite of concerns about changing the climate, changing one’s own biology is somehow just fine…. We can no longer be so limited in our imaginations and so it makes sense for girls to cut off their breasts and maybe even become “pregnant men”, boys to cut off their “toxic” member, etc…

…it is OK for schools to deceive backwards, oppressive, even toxic parents who won’t support the transgender revolution. So the revolutionaries not only hide what’s going on but throw fuel on the fires…

…all now all sexual relationships are to be celebrated simply because “love is love” – if the “hearts fit” the parts, whatever they may be, fit as well.

…not only this, but attractive and intelligent college women, for example, see no shame in starting an “Only Fans” site or getting a “Sugar Daddy” as a side gig not even because they feel they need it, but because they think it’s fun and can make some extra spending money…

…and, of course, we all know that “woman’s health care” means their ability to not only contracept but even kill the precious gifts in their wombs.

…finally, we actually seem to be inviting a time when truth only matters insofar as it helps us in war and is selectively used to damage our enemies…

…and even outright lies can be good if they harm the right people

Do not be afraid of the world and the seeming sophistication you often seem to sense from them… 

At bottom, it is corrupt, shallow, parasitic, and foolish. The only relatively good, true, and beautiful things it manages to know are all the good gifts it receives from God and twists and tweaks to its own liking….

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Since the fall, and especially since Cain, the world has always been against God, against Jesus Christ, against those who follow in the train of Abel, Cain’s brother. 

And in an interesting twist, those who reject God most forcibly and explicitly tend to be the powerful who, generally speaking, live lives that seem outwardly respectable to many people… 

So many today, though perhaps somewhat uneasy about some of the things I mention above…

…nevertheless seem eager to push forward, following those elites they think are in the right. 

This was certainly the case with the religious leaders in Jesus’s day. Even as they violently rejected Jesus, these men were the respected pillars of society, the upper and upper middle classes of their people…

And so not too many seemed opposed to killing Jesus when the leaders pushed things this way.

This is true today as well. 

Men and women aspiring to be among the leaders, the cultivated, the sophisticated, the cosmopolitan, see the kind of suffering that Jesus speaks about in in this parable…

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

Instead, immediately, they either go to or are highly sympathetic to this or that form of thinking that has always been with us but that Marx perfected…

…where all of life is seen through the oppressor-victim lens and even the God of the Bible — particularly as He shows Himself in the Old Testament — is not immune from their condemnation…

So fixing the world that this Oppressor God made, putting it all under their control and slowly and surely repairing it according to what they believe is right — and deftly taking out of the game those raising objections — becomes the overriding obsession…

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And then, God’s changing the rules of your game is out of the picture…

Again, Jesus says ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Elsewhere, in the book of John in chapter 5, he says something that is similar as well:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” 

Whatever direction the world seeks – whether it seems indifferent to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ, or, in our age, exceptionally hostile to that same Jesus – it will always pursue its own glory, apart from glorifying God. 

The Bible considers the world foolish, and so should we. 

Don’t be so concerned to be “normal”.

The Apostle Paul, after all, speaks of how God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… Those who are weak and of no account in the world God chooses…

The Christian faith definitely talks about the reality of mystery and seeing through a glass darkly but before that, it is keen to speak the truth and implies the knowability of the truth….

…and even to speak of proof for His work (see Acts 1:3). 

In Acts 17, addressing the truth-seekers or philosophers of the day in the Greek city of Athens, the Apostle Paul was also bold to claim….

“[God] now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

In other words, please don’t whine that you can’t believe in Jesus Christ. 

Please don’t think you can carefully define and delineate what proof is apart from a consultation with the Almighty.

However practical your ideas about what knowledge is may seem… 

However much traction they might actually get in the world… 

God, particularly in His Christ, definitely gets a say….

…to say the very least!

And yet, again, for many, none of this seems to matter… Look at our parable today, where the rich man from hell in effect complains to God about something he should have done but failed to do… 

Everything is God’s fault. 

But it’s not, of course. God’s word might bring truth, conviction of sin, the knowledge that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord… but the Spirit is also quenched by sinful man and God allows this….

God, in love and fulfilling what He said He’d do, performs miracle after miracle in the Old and New Testaments, clearly revealing His Promised Messiah in the latter… and some will still not believe…. 

Empiricism, that is, a philosophical outlook focused on what we can learn from the outward evidences our senses experience, is evidently overrated. 

After all, shortly after Jesus tells this parable, an actual man Lazarus is raised from the dead by Him and this is attested to by no small army of witnesses…

…and the conclusion is that both Jesus and Lazarus — exhibit A testifying to Jesus’ being the Messiah — must be killed…

“Come, let us reason together” the Lord would always say to us…

And man whines “I can’t – you’re too mean!” or shouts “No! I won’t!”

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We still need the law and the prophets today because we still need to respect… to defer to… submit to… all of God’s words, understanding and appreciating them rightly in the Light of Jesus Christ…

What helps is hearing the word. 

Hearing the truth, spoken in love, embodied in love. 

In many places, in many ways, from many people…. 

Often. Very often. And then, finding yourself, perhaps to your surprise, increasingly hungering for that word…

Let us hear again, anew, the prophet Isaiah: 

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

“To the law and to the testimony!

Believe.

And none of this, by the way, means that we cannot also be encouraged and strengthened when we hear loving, knowledgeable, and wise Christians defending the faith with their own well-formed reasoning… 

As a matter of fact, this kind of thing can ultimately be helpful in renewing our appreciation and hunger for God’s word…

For example, in a couple other podcasts I listened to this week — yes, I have been doing this more lately — I heard some excellent thoughts from a couple pastors dealing with questions and concerns that Christians often have about the book of Genesis, one of the books of the Bible that has faced some of the most withering attacks over the years…

In his great daily Bible Study podcast The Word of the Lord Endures Forever, Pastor Weedon said the following:

We should not bend Genesis to fit with whatever the current assumptions of scientific thought may be. God’s revelation, alternatively, needs to be brought to bear on our human reason. 

He also talked about how Jesus Himself believes that the five books of the law, Genesis – Deuteronomy, were written by Moses, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The theories of many scholars today who don’t believe this lead to wild speculation.

Also the host of the daily podcast Issues ETC. answered a challenging question about the age of the earth and Genesis.

He pointed out how incomplete so many of the scientific theories are, quite knowledgeably, and how they are laden with improvable and even improbable assumptions. He also essentially spoke about how the only way that we could know what has really happened is to depend on someone who is there, and God is in fact the Eyewitness (with a capital E). 

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Ultimately, it is good news that Christ, who is your Creator God, died for your sins and rescues you from death, the wages of your sin. 

It is not cosmic child abuse perpetrated by the evil Father-God. No, the Son was “all in” with the plan.

God’s word is not unreasonable. Even if fallen human reason refuses to give credence to and in fact refuses to understand God’s Word, that does not mean that Christians — who have been commanded to love God with all of their minds and have the mind of Christ — cannot begin to use their Spirit-guided reason to exalt and illuminate the Scriptures, but to also answer objections that the world raises to them… 

Death catches up with us all. This world is not all there is. 

We can and should make a difference to our families, our next-door neighbors, and those God throws in our paths, even every living creature, for we are told He loves His whole creation…

But none will heal the world with their Utopian fever dreams… 

Ultimately, only God offers the help that is good and that will last forever. 

Now, more than ever, the church needs to flee to the headwaters, to the pure fountain that leads to eternal life, to the Word of God…

And to take every thought captive to it.

Have you heard the story of St. Augustine’s conversion? It is told in his book Confessions which you can read in full. The world’s first autobiography by the way….

In his account, we learn that at age 31, at the top of his game, Augustine was a professor of rhetoric in the great court of Milan. He was in a prestigious position but also tortured because his view of the world wasn’t working and also encouraged him to give himself over to behaviors and pleasures that were ruining his life… It was at this time, in a public garden behind his house, where the man who had cried out “Make me chaste God, but not yet” heard a little child’s voice, singing out, “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” Tolle lege is Latin for “Take up and read.”

Augustine took this as God’s voice to him, opened up the Bible, and came across a Bible passage from Romans that seemed just for him: 

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

It was at this moment that Augustine’s life changed.

We might not all have a story like that, but God’s sheep will hear his voice… 

You too, tolle lege… tolle lege… always. 

Because there you will find that Jesus Christ is risen, and, praise the Lord…

…that He is for you and not against you.

Amen

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vHTvwqSW2OzRHtZT0Jxk6tV16ay7aGVq/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=114064425610182039594&rtpof=true&sd=true

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

What’s Wrong with Being Sleek and Strong?

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Sept. 11th, 2022

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“…I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy…”

– Ezekiel 34:16b

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To be sure, the book of Ezekiel has many interesting parts, but one in particular that catches my attention is the story from chapter 8[:1-18] featuring Ezekiel’s vision of idolatry in the Temple.

In this vision, Ezekiel is taken by God “in the Spirit” to the LORD’s Temple, and, there in Jerusalem, is shown the idolatry that is happening within this most holy place…

In the very inner courtyard of God’s house, by the north gate, is the idol that caused God to be jealous…

Ezekiel is then led to look through a hole in the wall and to make the hole bigger… where he sees the “hateful” and “evil” things that are being done in there. “Go in and see the wicked abominations they are committing here,” the Lord says…

And the prophet witnesses disgusting crawling things, unclean animals, and “all the idols of the people of Israel, carved on the wall all around.” (Ezekiel 8:7-10)

The horror is amplified when we hear:

“[in front of the idols] stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising…”

This Jaazaniah, by the way, was likely the head of the seventy elders; he was “at least a person of great note and esteem”….

And, as a relevant aside here, most of you are probably well aware that God severely judged His people in the Old Testament for violating His law by chasing after and worshiping the false gods of their neighbors. One summarizes matters like this: 

“Leviticus and Deuteronomy[, for example,] contain detailed and lurid lists of what [these false gods demanded] including: the worship of demonic idols, taboo sexual acts, and even the sacrifice of children to the Canaanite gods.

God[, for example, had made] it clear to the Israelites that it is ‘not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations…’ (Deuteronomy 9:5).

[God’s people] were not to be influenced by the wicked practices and the cultural systems that fostered and endorsed them[!]”

So, back to the inner courtyard of the Temple… 

Ezekiel is horrified to see twenty-five men, between the porch and altar area – the most sacred part of the court! – who have turned their backs to the Temple of the LORD and are instead facing east, worshiping the rising sun (Ezekiel 8:16). 

These were almost certainly God’s appointed priests…

“I will not look on them with pity, nor will I spare them. Although they shout loudly in My ears, I will not listen to them,” the Lord says to the prophet. 

It seems these twenty-five in the temple had thrown in their lot with the rulers of the world, of whom Psalm 2 says this:

“The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

‘Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.’”

God and His deputies as the Supreme Oppressors. 

Truly, these twenty-five priests in Ezekiel’s vision were wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

False prophets or shepherds…

I think most of us are used to the image of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

If only it were so simple though…

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In our Old Testament text for today – as we hear about how God will be sending His Good Shepherd to care for His flock – we learn that He has a problem not only with false shepherds but with those he characterizes as strong, sleek and fat!

Are those who are strong, sleek, and fat some other kind of animal outside His flock? I mean, “Are sheep ever sleek?” we might wonder… 

Are these wolves perhaps?

Actually, no…

God is talking about some of His flock, His sheep, perhaps some of the rams and he-goats… the noble, the wealthy, the leaders.…

They, you see, are causing some problems… 

They use their power primarily to chase their own vanities, to feed their own bellies, to seek their own satisfactions and pleasures… with nary a concern for the rest of the flock…who, it seems, are as consumable resources to them…

These sleek, strong, and fat ones are not prosperous or successful in a sense that pleases the Lord, but their earthly blessings have in fact hardened their hearts and made them forget the LORD… (see Deuteronomy 32:15, Isaiah 10:16-17, Acts 28:27).

And yet, they don’t necessarily think this is the case… 

Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they believe themselves wise… strong… self-sufficient… attractive… blessed!

Inwardly they are not humble before God… who they believe – for the most part at least – to be absent and disinterested…

And hence, they are unable to see… they do not recognize the ones Ezekiel gives voice to… 

the scattered, 

the lost, 

the strayed, 

the injured, 

the plundered,

the weak, 

the lean… 

the ones that these sleek, strong, and fat ones have taken nary a care for, and steamrolled over… trampling the pastures and muddying the waters so the other sheep suffer.

But, you see, these are the ones that God, the prophet is telling us, in fact prefers… and who He will defend!

These are the ones who His promised Shepherd, His One Shepherd, His Servant David, will not ignore…

Unlike Israel’s faithless shepherds, this Shepherd will govern the flock with justice and equity!

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In the Gospels, we know that the self-righteous Pharisees — generally held in high regard by the people and also in fact God’s duly appointed shepherds of those people (see Matt. 23!) — did not truly have the best interests of God’s people in mind…

Not only did they not restrain the sleek, strong, and fat sheep, but they joined their ranks! 

Jesus accused them of greed, for example, on a number of levels, going so far as to say that they devoured the houses of widows…

Again, in our reading from Ezekiel we see that Yahweh, the True God, judges between sheep and sheep as their Shepherd, rejecting the proud and accepting the penitent and broken-hearted….

And this, we are also told in this chapter, is exactly what the Shepherd He is sending, the New King like David, will do… 

And this, of course, is what Jesus does!

Ezekiel foresees the Good Shepherd, the One who seeks and finds the lost sheep… 

This is the one who even “…welcomes sinners and eats with them….”

And this great love of God is what took Him to the cross at Golgotha, where He, as our Scapegoat forced outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13), was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and punished that we might have peace and the healing of all our wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise…

I even detect Ezekiel foreshadows the Good Shepherd of Golgotha when he writes in our reading: 

“I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…”

For on that dark day in which Jesus was crucified, all abandoned Him and were scattered by His persecutors. But He sought out His disciples again, just as He does each one of us… 

This is our God, the God who loves the scared, stupid, and straying sheep…

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And yet, many who hear this good news will continue to reject it… even attempting to do so in spectacular fashion….

One might think it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but in 18th century England, as the Bible’s concerns grew further and further from Europe’s intellectuals and ruling classes, some folks appeared to have taken some real pleasure in aping, or at least “recapitulating”, the story we heard in Ezekiel 8…

The headline from the website, History Hustle, says it all: 

“The Hellfire Club, an 18th-Century Ritual Cult for the Famous and Powerful.”

Philip Wharton was a powerful and wealthy politician who was also the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.

He clearly was a respectable figure in public life, but he also, along with many friends, lived a double life as a drunkard, rioter, and infidel. 

He was also a womanizer who wasted his fortune with gambling and acts of debauchery. 

His “Hellfire Club” was, according to another history site, a satirical “gentleman’s club” that went so far as to “ridicule religious beliefs through the act of mock religious ceremonies with the supposed president of the club being the devil”. 

While his club and Parliamentary career ended just three years later in 1721 after his political enemies cracked down on him, the club was revived by another noble, Francis Dashwood.

He gave what was once “The Hellfire Club” a much more respectable – and, yes, mocking – title, The Order of the Knights of St Francis or The Brotherhood of St. Francis

Dashwood actually constructed a series of complex tunnels and chalk and flint caverns for the club’s meetings on his estate in Buckinghamshire, England beneath the Church of St. Lawrence. 

Once again, “[the space] was decorated… with mythological themes, phallic symbols and other items of a sexual nature.”

These are today known as the Hellfire Caves or West Wycombe Caves, and in addition to various halls and chambers they also include a Banqueting Hall, the Triangle, and the Inner Temple, “accessed by crossing a faux river meant to represent the River Styx (a river in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld)…”

Members of the club included several prominent 18th-century figures. 

The article states: 

“Many rumours of black magic, satanic rituals and orgies were in circulation during the life of the club, with the notable English writer Horace Walpole stating that “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed; and the nymphs and the hogsheads that were laid in against the festivals of this new church, sufficiently informed the neighbourhood of the complexion of those hermits.”

Even though such details about this club are well-known and not disputed, of course there have been others like it as well and rumors of many more among the elites, even today…

All in “good fun”?

Can this kind of thing ever really be like that? 

In any case, given the casual way things like “The Hellfire Club” are discussed by those who look into it, the seriousness Ezekiel clearly felt over similar activities seems very far from us today, even already 250 years ago….

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Of course, not all rejection of God is so spectacular… 

The reality is that all of this is much more ordinary and mundane…

Dramatic accounts of uninhibited idolatry and sin-seeking aside, ultimately, those who are strong, sleek and fat – as well as those who are lost, weak, and lean – should be understood to exist in a spiritual sense first and foremost.

The first – our strong, sleek, and fat ones – are those who allow their bellies to rule them, and who, in pride, forget God, even if some do create idols that they call “God” or even “Jesus Christ” (as the Apostle Paul says in II Cor. 11, they have a “different Jesus).

The latter – the lost, weak, and lean – are those whose desperation over their lost condition enables them, by God’s Spirit, to see and embrace God’s forgiveness,  love, and rule. 

Unlike the former, they do not mean to subtly undermine in word or practice the teaching that brings blessing and salvation. 

For they understand at some level that false teaching really does kill people spiritually — and that good teaching gives us the care and food we need…

So this may even involve a confession of doubting God’s words which kill and make alive…. That means to deliver what we truly need in our heart of hearts…

In any case, as you can see, there is a world of difference here between these two kinds of people…

Externally both might, in fact, appear righteous… 

They both might live respectable lives in the light of day. They both might seem to largely conform to the second table of the 10 commandments, they both might even profess the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed in a worship service! 

And in this life, truth be told, we must give some real weight to these external appearances – until the “mask slips” and rebellion becomes obvious we might say… 

We must, for all practical purposes, consider them a part of the church. They are us until they show themselves clearly not to be….

Until things come to a head and repentance is clearly and persistently scorned and ignored…

Until they will not confess what the Spirit confesses in the Word, ignoring the pattern of sound words…

Until they themselves realize that when God says “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” he definitely means them…

Only God, in His Time of Judgment, will perfectly separate the sheep from the sheep, that is, the goats. 

Until that time, as Jesus taught in another of His parables, the wheat and the tares often must grow together… for the tares cannot be forcibly separated from the wheat without damaging it…. 

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But, you see, as dire at this all is, we still want to be among them….

For the pull of the forbidden fruit is strong….

Maybe not overtly, with something intentionally god-mocking and perhaps worse like the Hellfire Club… but more subtly… perhaps in ways not even consciously known to us…

You see, as Christians we so often forget that we serve a humble and simple Savior.

And we serve the God who told Gideon his army was too big and that it had to get smaller and weaker. 

Our God, in this world, finally dwells in weakness with the weak on the cross…

But we, in this same world, place a premium on appearing so confident, being physically attractive, behaving in ways that show we are relevant and cool and “influencers”…

In short, appearing to be culturally powerful and not weak…

We want to be the people or at least follow the people that others are inevitably drawn to, attracted to… 

And the church gets sucked in too. Perhaps we convince ourselves that we are trying to share God’s word in a relevant way when we are…

…really just trying to fit in

…really just trying to remain economically viable within a culture increasingly distant from Christian influence

…really just trying to not have to suffer the cost of the cross….

And we see that the world is scandalized by both God’s law and gospel, so how can all of this be tweaked?!

Well… the world does seem to like the idea of grace, as the tune “Amazing Grace,” which doesn’t mention Jesus, is quite popular with many non-believers. The world loves grace at least when this is turned into the notion of unconditional love where nothing one does ultimately matters… (“unconditional love”, by the way, for me and those I like of course, not necessarily for my enemies…)

Again, even if we convince ourselves that we don’t want to compromise God’s word, we still too easily can become those who those — that is, the world as a whole! — that would abuse the notion of grace… and make grace a license for sin, as the Apostle Peter warned…

The strong, sleek, and fat, will, hating God’s law and gospel, ultimately reject it.

And we, seeking to be acceptable to them at some level, will at the very least attempt to confuse matters, trampling on the pasture of God’s food and muddying the water of his drink….

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Yes, even the weak and doubting but nevertheless true sheep can be tempted to please the sleek, fat and strong… 

And so, shockingly, some among us “traditional” Lutherans might have the absolute temerity to suggest:

  • That sin is not to be understood as anything said, done, or thought against the law of God.
  • That the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the law and the law is only present where Christ is absent.
  • That any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification.
  • That “nothing [is] more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”
  • That God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it.
  • That with God’s eternal law behind us, because of the Gospel which frees us… it would be impossible for us to sin, no matter how hard we tried.
  • That the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.” 
  • That God did not punish His Son on the cross for our sins.
  • And, perhaps worst of all, that Jesus Christ commuted His own personal sin….

“Relevant” and culturally compatible indeed!

People who say such things will also be eager to say that they are free from the law, and you absolutely will not, like the legalistic Galatians, put them back under it! 

Well, it is indeed true that Christians are free from the law in a sense: from the condemnation of the law! 

What this means though is that we now live in the truth and in the “perfect law that gives liberty,” as the book of James says.

Freedom ultimately means being at peace with God and living in God’s law, fulfilled in love, because of the Gospel, that is, because of God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation for us in Jesus Christ.  

The law is not “for good order” only — as if it could order society well but not but not rightly instruct and lead every single heart! — but rather imperfectly (i.e. without really addressing matters of context) shows us what it really and truly means to be good

And Jesus, ultimately, fulfills God’s law, the 10 commandments, embodying for us what things unmistakably look like in real time. 

And so what the Apostle Paul calls “the law of Christ” externally looks the same as the fulfillment of the 10 commandments because it is the same. 

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If you say the law is not objectively the eternal will of God, for example, you are going to find that you are not really that concerned to follow it…. 

Or, for that matter, be convicted by it – or, at least not all of it. 

In other words, if you don’t think God’s eternal will involves walking in the law you have, in truth, kneecapped the law’s accusation that is continually necessary for us (particularly to prepare us for the Gospel which alone truly frees us from the law’s accusation before God!)

When the Apostle Paul writes that “[some] want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” he might have had others and other things in mind, but still, if the shoe fits…

May this not be the case with us!

And, we pray, not so for those who say such horrible things!

Perhaps when the tender, gentle, merciful, and longsuffering heart of Jesus overwhelms us we will cry out that God would not treat those who propagate these abominations as false teachers— whose judgment will be more strict— but only as false sheep, God willing, false sheep who might still be granted repentance and to regain their status as those who are truly the baptized…

Again, unlike the spiritually strong, sleek, and fat, some clearly know themselves to be sinners who realize that their desires are twisted and destructive and they need a Savior to save them from themselves before they subject all of their relationships to disorder or even destruction…

And please note, in case this is not obvious, that even if someone is physically sleek and strong they can still identify spiritually as weak, lost, and poor…

They realize that God’s words – the “pattern of sound words” delivered to them in the New Testament – are their only hope!

And I also believe strongly that those who in fact subtly persecute the humble who tremble before God’s law and remove none of its sting and accusation can indeed be helped!

For what is truly wonderful is to know that even the worst persecutors of the faithful can be saved… 

Let’s end with the Apostle Paul’s resounding words for those who know themselves not to be strong and sleek, but poor, weak, and lost…: 

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Upon reflection, the Apostle Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” precisely so we could know that, even now, even for us, even for each and every one of us, God forgives us, through the blood of His Son, all our sins.

In the Name of Jesus,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

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Posted by on September 5, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Ever More Giving like the Giver

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Aug. 28th, 2022

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“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.”

–Luke 14:12

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One of the things that I enjoy doing from time to time is listening to or reading sermons by Lutheran pastors who are online.

One can learn a lot by doing this – as well as get some good illustrations or quotes once in a while for one’s own sermons (as many of you know!) 

There is an LCMS pastor that I have been following for years who is a very interesting guy and who works very hard to do short and sweet sermons.

He says a lot of very good things and tries to do so in a very straightforward but interesting way – and he’s also able to make some rather big ideas pretty easy to grasp, understandable…

Sometimes though, he tries to be provocative and says some things that don’t sound quite right. 

For example, in a recent sermon he seemed to say that what a Christian did… how a Christian lived… didn’t and couldn’t have anything to do with their salvation. 

Emphasizing the work of God’s Holy Spirit, he went so far as to say that “There is nothing more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”

Well, what if they really are conflicted about a matter but ultimately choose what God desires? 

I don’t think he really thought through this statement. I hope not.

At the same time, I certainly think that we can understand some of what I believe he was trying to convey if we consider the importance of the doctrine of man’s justification before God.

After all, the Bible talks about how things like faith and repentance themselves are gifts from God – things that He grants to His people! 

The Bible says we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and the Bible says we are saved by faith, so which is it?

The answer is that the gift of faith receives the benefits that Christ wins, so it is both. If you ask faith why it saves it doesn’t point inward or to itself but only points to the blood of Jesus!

So that is what faith alone means! Because of the work of Jesus Christ, those who believe in Him have forgiveness, life, and salvation!

All this said, strictly speaking it is not true that we can have no effect on our salvation by the way we live. 

The Bible does, after all, talk about shipwrecking one’s faith…

For each and every one of us has an old Adam. Yes, even the Christian, who is a genuine, bona fide, new creature in Christ with new spiritual impulses that truly begin to fear, love, and trust in God… still has an old Adam. 

So even as the Christian is destined for a resurrection unto eternal life, we also still remain sinners until we die – and so we dare not mess around, coddling and feeding that sinner that remains in each one of us. 

The particular paths that we follow…

The particular goals we find ourselves drawn to, lured to…

The particular places that we end up, here or there…  

Can, and certainly do, deeply affect us… 

Remember, for example, that the phrase “bad company corrupts good character” literally comes from the Bible… (I Cor. 15:33).

In other words, how we walk… where we walk… with whom we walk… is critical. 

The struggle of faith – which includes even if it definitely is not limited to the struggle to walk rightly and safely! – is real. 

As an old Lutheran hymn puts it, “I walk in danger all the way…”

This is why we, Jesus’ sheep, need to always huddle up close to our Shepherd as He leads us through the valley of death and in the paths that are right, safe, and true! 

For as Jesus walked in God’s law by God’s Spirit, He enables and empowers us to do the same, and hence we too will fulfill the law of Christ (see Rom. 8:4, Gal. 6:2, Matthew 23:23).

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Another really interesting thing this pastor said is that when a person feels the accusation of God’s law, it is normal for them to start to hate God.

This, I think, is true – and it certainly coincides with Martin Luther’s experience! 

Luther was in a bad place where basically all he could hear were the commands of God’s law – which he knew he couldn’t do – and so he began to despair.

This is what happens when a person who takes God’s law very seriously – takes it as a word from God Himself – and yet does not possess the Gospel, that is, the message of God’s grace, mercy, tenderness, and long suffering in Jesus for sinners…

All this said, that is not all the pastor said. 

Being provocative once again, he also went on to say this to the person who hates God: “Without Jesus you would be right to hate him…”

Why would he say this?

Well, he helpfully went on to explain. 

It is because a person who feels this way does not really hate the true God, but their wrong idea of God. What they hate, then, is not the true God, but an idol (2x).

Are you following this? This actually tracks with the thought of perhaps the greatest – in terms of influence that is – theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth. 

Now, I think Barth was a big problem for the church and I think this kind of statement is problematic. 

I don’t doubt that we should be aware that people begin to not only resent God but even have very violent and palpable reactions towards God like Luther – and that we should be ready to deal with that – but at the same time, what does Romans 1 say? 

It says that what may be known about God, His eternal power and divine nature, is clear to all people, and that they suppress the truth by their wickedness. 

Neither glorifying Him nor giving thanks to Him, they are without excuse. Furthermore, even though they know God’s law condemns to death their sin, they continue to do it and approve of sin in others. 

Therefore, God’s law is meant to silence them, and hold them accountable as it makes them become conscious of their sin, of the knowledge that they suppress. 

Now, what I find interesting here is that in the midst of all of these very hard words about the objective guilt of man, God’s convicting man by His universal law, and the abject rebellion of man against God and His eternal will, it doesn’t say anything about how their view of this God they don’t like is an idol. 

No, this isn’t even implied by the text. In fact, they, like everyone else in the world – Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor, black or white, good or bad in the eyes of the world – know enough about God, no matter how depraved they are, to know that He is righteous…

That they are not…

…and that they are indeed accountable before Him, they will answer to Him.   

However much they might hate Him, that knowledge of God that they do have… that they retain even as they attempt to suppress it… is real knowledge and not some “idol”.

Instead, in Paul’s account, it is in suppressing this true knowledge that they proceed to create idols.

So, we should never tell people that they should hate God, but rather that they must stop hating Him… 

Ultimately, things are not about their subjective and imperfect perceptions, but their concrete evil belief and behavior, and about the God Who is There and Not Silent.

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Now, I hope that you found that enlightening…

It is a good thing when theological issues and questions begin to percolate more and more in us!…

In a world where cringe-worthy lawn signs and bumper stickers that announce man’s ignorance to the world are common, it is a good thing to learn to be different… to go much deeper… to think critically about matters divine. 

To be driven to the Scriptures to learn more, to be driven to our God… and not away from Him and false ideas about Him… 

That we might also more actively and publicly subject the world’s philosophies to critique in the light of God’s word! 

So where did this pastor get this idea from? 

Well, that is a much longer story, and I am not going to go there this morning (maybe someday in a Bible class [or you can start with the long footnote 4 here])

The main point, however, is this: 

This is not how the Apostle Paul or the other Apostles, or Jesus Christ, spoke… 

And we should endeavor to speak as they do… as the Apostle Paul put it, to speak according to the “pattern of sound words”… being careful not to go astray…

So, overall, where am I going with all of these things? 

Why start with all of this deeper theological stuff this morning? 

Well, regarding things not sounding quite right again…  maybe you also felt that way when you heard Jesus say what He said in the text I selected to preach on… 

I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it…

Jesus, are you kidding me? 

This sounds so wrong! 

Why are you saying this? 

Maybe we should talk about this…

I know I say or imply this all the time, but Jesus always keeps us on our toes, doesn’t He? 

Like that pastor, He says some very provocative things that cause us to wonder, that don’t sound quite right – and should cause us to want to dig a bit… look under this or that rock…

The difference, however, is that with Jesus there is always something solid that we will find…

So, let’s take a look at what He says again here, picking up at verse 12:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

A few things that jump out to me right away.

First of all, isn’t Jesus the guest of one of the Pharisees here? In light of His being invited to this banquet, it seems that this could be taken as His being a bit rude even if, strictly speaking, he is not criticizing his host. 

In other words, we might think: “Should Jesus right now be talking about what those who have invited Him over to his home for a meal should be doing?” Still, Jesus is not always about manners, to be sure!

Second, this seems to go along with what Jesus just taught about the importance of humility, that is, how everyone exalting himself shall be humbled and the one humbling his own self shall be exalted… 

Here, Jesus teaches about inviting those who society really would see as being at the extreme end of lowliness, the outcasts: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 

Many would have suggested at this time that people like this were cursed by God, probably because of sin in their lives. 

Something similar is believed in India even today, where the lowest class of persons is such because of bad karma that persists throughout generations, in effect inheriting the consequences of their ancestor’s sins…  

Third, it might seem obvious to some, but I really can’t  blame the Lutheran Study Bible for saying about this passage that “emphasis should be placed on generosity. Jesus is neither criticizing His host nor forbidding people to host their family and friends.” 

We can say this because  we don’t want to just take this saying from Jesus in bare isolation, apart from the fact, for example, that Jesus Himself attended a wedding feast that was no doubt full of family and friends! Jesus is making a point, instead, about generosity vis a vis reciprocity.

Fourth, going along with that, the thing that stands out to me the most: Jesus here seems to really be telling us that we should be placing a priority on inviting those of low status into our own homes, and that if there is a good chance they can somehow repay us then that we are doing this wrong. 

Further, even if we don’t and can’t earn our salvation, we should nevertheless remember that God will remember these actions on our part and will at some point return the favor Himself in ways that we can’t possibly imagine. 

So, it is not that all forms of reciprocity are bad, just that they are incomplete and do not measure up to God, who actually serves men who can not repay precisely because they can not repay… (Luke 6:35, see Fraanzman, CSSC)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can honestly say I do not feel like I have even really begun to really learn… and put into practice… what Jesus is saying here…

+++

Truth be told, I believe this passage, in addition to preparing the Pharisees for the next thing He’ll say, also is meant to simultaneously convict and guide them — and us as well!

And in every case this is meant to lead to an even greater proclamation of the goodness of our Father in Heaven, a showing forth and display of His greatness and mercy!

So folks — you who confess your sins and embrace God’s mercy in Christ— you are among the redeemed who have a great future ahead of you… with eternal dwellings that your Lord has already prepared for you!… 

So don’t just stop with having family and friends over or volunteering in this or that way in the community!

Don’t just stop at church by having a Harvest Supper or VBS…

For “when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid…”

Again, it appears that Jesus really does want to encourage us. To encourage us to live in light of the Kingdom of God today… and to think of matters of eternity. 

He doesn’t want us to do any of these things in order to get things like material blessings in heaven, but He wants us to know that these – along with people we really will know to be our loyal friends whom we enjoy! – will nevertheless be a part of our blessed life that is to come. 

Perhaps even those who are not Christians can begin to understand the appeal here. 

I think of some words, for instance, that I read a couple weeks ago from one of my favorite writers and bloggers, Rod Dreher. 

Speaking of a recent visit to Austria, he said this:

“A few weeks back, I took my son to see the Kapuzinergruft, the burial place of Habsburg royalty since the 17th century. It’s the crypt of the Capuchin church in central Vienna. It is a wonder. Viennese funeral culture is a thing of its own; people here adore a beautiful death. The elaborate tombs of the Habsburg greats have to be seen to be believed. As we walked through, paying our respects, it struck me that these tombs were like spent nuclear fuel rods. Through the bodies of these men and women, immense power once flowed. They used to rule much of Europe, when Europe was the richest and most powerful civilization on earth. Now they are all dead, and warehoused in a crypt underneath a church in a rich, beautiful, democratic city. Sic transit gloria mundi [that is “Thus passes the glory of the world.”] It’s important to visit the Kapuzinergruft for the same reason it’s important to visit the ruins of ancient Rome: to be reminded of what happens to all power and pomp in this mortal world…”

This is looking at things from the negative side but it highlights the corresponding greatness of eternal life and its relationships….

But really, all this said, how encouraged do you really feel? 

If you are encouraged by this kind of insight, how long do you think you can sustain that? 

After all, we saints are still sinners, and we, my friends, also live among a sinful people with sinful lips as Isaiah said…

So, overall, I’d say: 

Doesn’t Jesus’ message bother us?!

How hard it is for us to hear His message here!

How upsetting it is to know that God is, to say the least, unimpressed with our weak faith and our correspondingly weak priorities! 

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So, are you beginning to hate God yet? 

Be honest with yourself: if you don’t feel a bit of anger towards Him – with Him having such high expectations of you – could it possibly be because you are not taking Him seriously enough?!

I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with any of you. Again though, for me, these words seem wrong. Earlier, I said I thought this:

“I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it – Jesus, are you kidding me? 

This sounds so wrong! 

Why are you saying this?”

But now let me add this: 

“Lord have mercy! 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! 

Lord, I know all your words are good!… help me to live them to the fullest…”

That, I am sure, is the right response!

In our confession each Sunday, we confess that we have sinned before almighty God, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We sometimes call these sins of commission – the sins we commit – and sins of omission, the things that we fail to do that we should. 

The “what we have done” stuff is pretty easy to identify, as they are often readily brought to our awareness and confessed. 

We know these faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sins are our sinful habits and weaknesses that we must constantly wage war against! 

At the same time, there are sins of omission and these are a little bit harder to deal with and identify… 

We all know, for example, that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan definitely condemns the actions of the priest and the Levite… 

…but we cannot always know with certainty about all the things that we could have done and that God expected us to do… whether it was simply a good thing we could have done…

…or the best thing we could have done… (see I Cor. 7).

Nevertheless, we need to take this matter of our sins of omission seriously as well!

And it goes along with our passage this morning! 

This is where our shepherd is leading us – even as He also always gives us rest for our soul, desiring our burdens be light with Him, not giving us more than we can bear…

The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther talked about how everyone must be ready to prove his holiness (AE 21:86).

What he meant to say is that all of us who are believers in Christ should be elated by the knowledge of God’s love for them and also eager to be known as Christians!

…striving to live as Christians for our neighbor’s sake.

How? He talked about “the seven principle parts of Christians sanctification” or “the seven holy possessions of the church”:

“By [using, these seven things: the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Pastors, Prayer and proclamation, and suffering[i]…] the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification and vivification in Christ, according to the first table of Moses. By [this sanctification] we obey it, albeit never perfectly in Christ. But we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sins, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal.”

He goes on a bit later to talk about another sign that helps identify the presence of Christ’s church in the world, love for one’s neighbors, the fulfillment of the second table of the commandments:

“[We see Christ’s church] when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments – all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place. We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in [holiness, that is] sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means ‘grow’ and ‘do so more and more’ [II Pet. 3:18]” (LW 41:166)

The pastor I talked about earlier, God bless Him, was truly mistaken…

What a Christian does… how a Christian lives… certainly does have something to do with their salvation as a whole (in other words, not just their justification, but everything the wider understanding of salvation can entail).

God means for you to be justified, to be continually sanctified, and to be pressing towards final glory… shining more powerfully each day with Christ’s love, compassion, and mercy to the world (see Philippians 2:12-18 here).

So let us all reflect more on how profound and wonderful is the love of God in Christ that overcomes this world! 

This God who “lavish[es] his power and love on the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind..” (Fraanzman) 

As a matter of fact, right after our reading for today He goes on to tell the Great Parable of the Wedding Feast, where He speaks of going out at once into the streets and lanes of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…

You see, this, actually, in a very real sense, is us. 

This is who we are spiritually, without our Lord’s grace and mercy. 

When we see those of low acclaim and status in this world, we should not only feel God’s mercy arise in us but think of our own desperate spiritual state…

…and the love of our God in Christ that begins to heal us, even as He goes on to make all things new – and would through us as well! 

Behold, your God, crucified for your sins because He loved this poor, crippled, blind and lame world…even you… and was also resurrected in power!

As the Apostle John simply said, “we love because He first loved us”.

So, forgiven in Christ’s grace – and eager to do the good works He has prepared for you to do beforehand – go and serve your King!

Amen. 

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rDFfZIGfacvDTFAr5aGPlKZN_l8EvLarNLFrcXladjc/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2022 in Uncategorized