9th Sunday after Trinity—18 August 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 16:1–9), focusing on our Lord’s words: The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.: 1 [Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (ESV)

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8th Sunday after Trinity—11 August 2019

5212053Jeremiah 23:16–29

16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.  17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ” 

18  For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?  19  Behold, the storm of the LORD!  Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.  20  The

anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart.  In the latter days you will understand it clearly.  21  “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.  22  But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. 

23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God afar off?  24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.  25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’  26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart,  27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?  28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD.  29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (ESV) 

Matthew 7:15–23

15 [Jesus said:]  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (ESV)


Our text is verse 16 from today’s Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 23:16): Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.  (ESV)   

and also these words of our Lord from today’s Gospel (Matthew 7:15–16): [Jesus said:]  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.  (ESV)

Happy anniversary, Trinity! Sixty-four years ago this past Wednesday, Trinity held her first service. And today, you have lots to celebrate, for you are members of a struggling church. Now, I do not mean just Trinity or even Lutheran Church-Canada. I mean the one holy catholic (with a small “c”, meaning universal) and apostolic church of Christ. God’s Church on earth is and always has been a militant Church. The Church has always been oppressed and persecuted by the world and its might. Even from within the Church herself have continually risen prophets and preachers who have spread false doctrine and who often obtain quite a following. Sadly, there will always be heretics who harass the Church, causing division and offense.

In Jeremiah’s day, there were false prophets who persuaded the Israelites to despise the Lord’s Word. Instead of calling the people to repentance, these heretics preached a lie, saying It shall be well with you…No disaster shall come upon you. And lulled to sleep by these deceitful prophets, the people forgot the Lord’s Name and they followed after Baal, the god of the world. And in their own lifetime, disaster came upon them. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, all because they rejected the Lord’s Word calling them to turn from their evil ways.

And so it continues today! Wherever the pure Gospel is preached, there will be found false prophets, preachers of false doctrine. You see, Satan can never allow the Church to possess her heavenly treasures in peace. And so the Church on earth must remain militant; the Church must continually use the Word of God not only as the green pastures and still waters that feed our soul and quench our thirst for salvation but also as a weapon with which to battle unceasingly against false teachers. 

We often wish that the Church’s enemies would just leave her in peace, but that cannot be! For if the Church ceases struggling, she can no longer remain the Church. Here is how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians: for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (11:19). If the pure doctrine were never attacked, then Christians would soon become lazy and complacent. But when heretics and false teachings multiply in Christ’s Church, then we are driven to study Scripture earnestly so that we may know that we are holding fast to the true doctrine. Perhaps you have experienced a family member or neighbour or colleague questioning or ridiculing your faith, and you are suddenly thrust into a struggle to hold on to the faith. But that struggle is a good thing, and even necessary, for the faith of every Christian must be tested in order to be proved true and genuine. St. Peter writes of the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—[…resulting] in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). 

God knows how to turn evil into good, and so He even makes false teachers serve to our benefit. The great Lutheran theologian and first president of the Missouri Synod, C.F. W. Walther, wrote that Heretics are nothing else than the whetstone of the Church, whereby she learns to use the sword of the Spirit with increasing expertness (Gospel Sermons, Volume 2, Eight Sunday after Trinity (1842) ). I remember as a child my father teaching me how to use a whetstone to sharpen knives. Walther is saying that the heretics and their false teachings actually sharpen the Church in her study and use of God’s Word. As Walther says: The more false teachers attack an honest teacher of God’s Word, the more exactly he must carefully search [the Scriptures], and the more he grows in divine knowledge and certainty.

God knows how to turn evil into good, and so He uses heretics to keep the Church from becoming lazy and complacent and to sharpen the Church in her study of God’s Word. Heretics force the Church to give a response to their heresies and to give a defense of the faith. Faced with false teaching, the Church becomes more diligent in her study of Scripture, and the end result is that the Church grows in divine knowledge and certainty. False teachers certainly do much damage—they persuade some to abandon the faith and they cause division and offense in the Church. But in spite of and even through them, God is working to strengthen His Church on earth.

Heretics are the whetstone of the Church, whereby her study of Scripture is sharpened. At times, though, the teachers of false doctrine become the means whereby God also executes His severest judgments upon His Church. You see, when the Church grows complacent, then the Gospel becomes as rare as a passing rain shower. Here is how Walther explains it: [God] may give a land or a church faithful servants for a long time. If they think little of their pure preaching, if they don’t thank God for it, if they think more highly of earthly treasures than the pure Word and Sacrament, if they are ashamed of the pure doctrine, if they want to do nothing to maintain the office of the pure ministry, if they hear God’s Word with a sleepy heart and finally learn to despise it completely, God then allows such thankless scholars to lose the heavenly treasure. They who had despised the bread of the divine Word should now be fed with the stone of the powerless doctrine of men. 

In Luther’s day, the Gospel bore abundant fruit through the work of faithful pastors and lay people, who prized the Gospel above their own lives. But even then, Luther saw how many of his fellow Germans were failing to appreciate the pure Gospel, and he said that the day would come when the land would be overrun again by false teachers. The Church despising the Gospel and then being overrun by false teachers—that is a pattern that has been repeated throughout history, and it is a pattern that will intensify in the latter days. As St. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians, when people refuse to love the truth and so be saved, God then sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false (see 2:10-11). 

God have mercy on us and help us all in our desperate need. For we are inclined to think little of the pure Word of God. We do not thank God for the great gift of having the Bible in our homes to read each day and for the privilege of hearing God’s Word preached each and every Sunday. We value our homes and possessions more than we treasure the pure Word and Sacraments. We read and hear God’s Word with sleepy, distracted hearts. And we do not like to get hung up about doctrine. In fact, we sometimes are embarrassed by the true doctrine of Holy Scripture, for what we are supposed to believe makes us so out-of-sync with today’s culture. 

There is only one true God, and He is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is true God and true Man, who died to save sinners. Those who are baptized, confessing the Trinity and Jesus as God-in-the-flesh, they go to heaven; those who do not believe go to hell. Baptism saves. The pastor’s absolution is really Christ’s absolution. The bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper are the Lord’s true Body and Blood. On the Last Day, the body will be raised and glorified for all eternity. And concerning today’s burning issues: the universe was created by God and death came about only after Adam and Eve fell into sin; unborn children are fully human beings who should not be robbed of their lives; people are created either male or female and not genderless; sex is God’s gift to a man and woman within the boundaries of marriage, and human beings have no God-given right to commit or to assist in committing suicide. Just you try writing a letter to the editor of the Niagara Advance about any one of these Christian beliefs and the responses will show you just how out-of-sync you are with today’s culture.   

We live in an age in which Christians are tempted to be embarrassed by what they believe and to think little of true doctrine. And so, God is calling His Church to repent. God is calling Trinity congregation to repent—not just you, but also me, your pastor. “O Lord, for all the ways we have neglected Your pure doctrine and have prized our lives and possessions above your Holy Word and Sacraments, please forgive us, please refresh us with Your Holy Spirit. May we so treasure the Gospel of Jesus that it may remain with us always and keep us faithful unto death.”

We live in times when the Church is struggling to confess God’s pure doctrine. But then, the Church has always struggled and will continue to struggle to remain faithful. Until our Lord’s return, there will be prophets and preachers who spread false doctrine and who cause division and offense within Christ’s Church. And so we must pay heed to our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.

There are many outside of Christ’s Church who are seeking to undermine the faith of Christians. However, we are not surprised when unbelievers openly attack our faith. But false prophets come from within Christ’s Church and their attacks often catch us off-guard. False prophets may be clergy or lay people, men or women, highly educated or high school dropouts. But what all false prophets have in common is their intention to harass and divide and destroy the Church, like ravenous wolves bent on decimating a flock of sheep.

False prophets come from within the Church; outwardly, these prophets seem to be followers of Jesus, but their goal is to devour the sheep. And so our Lord Jesus tells us to beware. In other words, be on your guard, be alert, so that you are not deceived. Our Lord then tells us how to recognize false prophets: you will recognize them by their fruits. In this passage, the word fruits does not refer to good deeds but to what is being preached and taught. And this is why it is necessary for you to be a good student of Holy Scripture. You cannot always identify false prophets by their behaviour, for these prophets can be pious and successful and greatly admired. But you are to judge these prophets by their fruit, by what they preach and teach, especially by what they teach about the person and mission of Jesus.

In fact, your calling is to judge all preaching and teaching, even that of your own pastor. As Walther puts it: Someday everyone will have to justify his own faith and life before God. He [or she] will not be able to fall back on some man and say, “So and so taught me this, and I believed and followed him.”. Now, with all my heart I pray that I am a faithful servant of the Word. But I do not want you to follow me blindly. Rather, I want you to exercise the responsibility God gives you to judge whether what I preach is in accord with God’s Word. And you also bear the obligation to judge your own confession, to see whether it agrees with Scripture.

Which means you must have a love and passion for God’s Word. You see, to be able to distinguish false prophets from the true preachers and teachers of God’s Word, you yourself have to know the pure doctrine of Scripture and be certain of it. Now, you will never master the entire content of the Bible. But, as Luther says, You must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us (AE 21:254). To help you with your study of pure doctrine, Luther wrote the Small Catechism. The Catechism is meant to be read and prayed daily. Include the Catechism every day in your devotions, and I promise that you will never exhaust the riches of pure doctrine to be found within its pages. And as you read and pray Scripture and the Catechism, pray God to preserve you from all false prophets who would take away your trust for salvation in Christ alone.

The Church of Christ is sorely afflicted and oppressed, harassed from the outside and from within. Nonetheless, the welfare of Christ’s Church is entrusted to God Himself. In spite of all the false prophets and false doctrine, in spite of all the Christians being martyred for the faith, in spite of the frail faith of weak Christians like me and like you, we, the Church, the Body and the Bride of Christ, we are being built up and sustained by God and His Word of grace. His grace is His love which we do not deserve, His holding us in His high favour because Jesus, God’s Son, suffered and died, to make us all sons of God, so that we may receive the inheritance of heaven. We are baptized into Christ, and so we have been made holy, sanctified, through faith in Christ alone. And today, we have again heard the Word of grace, that God forgives us all our sins and keeps us in the inheritance of heaven won for us by Christ. 

Did you notice that at the start of my sermon, I said something rather odd? I said: “today, you have lots to celebrate, for you are members of a struggling church”. Perhaps you think it odd that being members of a struggling church should be a cause for celebration. But think about it: Christ’s Church on earth is the Church militant, the Church fighting against false doctrine and unbelief. We can celebrate because we do not fight alone. Yes, on this the 64th anniversary of Trinity’s first service, we can celebrate that the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has been faithful to our congregation all these years and He renews us and keeps us clinging steadfast to His Holy Word. Oh, we’ve had our struggles and our failures over the years; and yet, we celebrate that the Lord is faithful and that the Word of the Lord endures forevers and keeps us faithful until we die and are received into the Church Triumphant!

The psalmist writes: [O Lord] I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure (Psalm 119:162).  And so you rejoice over God’s Word of grace in Christ. Treat it like the treasure it is and study and meditate upon it your whole life long. For that Word of God is powerful and will overturn all the lies of the evil one and also build you up in the pure doctrine of Christ, so that you may be certain of and rejoice in your salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen. 

7th Sunday after Trinity—4 August 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Introit and Gradual (Psalm 47:1–2; Psalm 34:11, 5): 

1 Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! 2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.    and      11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  (ESV)

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6th Sunday after Trinity—28 July 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Epistle (Romans 6:1–11): 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.  8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

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5th Sunday after Trinity—21 July 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Epistle (1 Peter 3:8-15): 8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;  11  let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (ESV)

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” I would counsel you never to pray the first half of St. Peter’s prayer, for I suspect that as Peter matured in the faith, he himself realized that this was not quite the right thing to pray. It is one thing to say with the prophet Isaiah: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! (6:5). Until our dying day, we should—we must—confess that we are lost, unclean sinners who deserve God’s condemnation. But it is quite another thing to ask the Lord to depart from you because of your sins. Now, it is true—you are a great sinner; you are by nature unclean and thus you sin daily, in thought, word, and deed, by the evil you do and by the good you fail to do. But no matter how far from the Lord you may have fallen, you should never ask the Lord to depart from you.  Rather, you should take refuge in the Lord, knowing that you have no good apart from your Saviour Jesus (see Psalm 16:1-2).

On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter fell rather far from the Lord; three times he denied knowing Jesus. As Peter was still speaking his third denial, the rooster crowed. And then something marvelous happened: the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). The Greek says that Jesus looked intently at Peter. Do you see what our Lord is doing? Awaiting trial at the high priest’s house, Jesus may have overheard Peter’s denials. At the very least, Peter could see Jesus from the courtyard. And now, what Jesus had prophesied at the Last Supper has come true: Peter, who had boasted of dying with his Lord, now had denied his Lord. And what does Jesus do? He comforts Peter. Jesus is bound in custody, and so He is not free to walk over to Peter and place a hand on his shoulders. Jesus instead speaks to Peter with His eyes, His eyes that penetrate into the depths of Peter’s uncleanness. With His eyes, Jesus says: “Peter, remember how I had proclaimed that I have come to go after lost sinners and find them. Well, now I have going after you, not to condemn you, but to find you, to call you to repentance, so that you may be saved. And remember, Peter, how I had proclaimed that there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:8). Peter, tonight, you are that one sinner.” When Peter’s eyes met Jesus, he did what the Lord was calling him to do: he left the courtyard of denial and wept bitterly in repentance.

At the Last Supper, Jesus had said to Peter: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32). By God’s grace, Peter did turn from his sins. And at Easter, the risen Christ absolved Peter, saying Peace to you (Luke 24:36). How gracious is our Saviour Jesus, that He picks up Peter, who had fallen so far into the depths of sin, and He forgives Peter and gives Peter the grace to strengthen his brothers and sisters in Christ.

That brings us to today’s Epistle, which God has used mightily to strengthen the faith of Christians not just in Peter’s day but today as well. Peter is writing to Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Today, Christians are scattered throughout the world. Peter is writing to Christians living under the threat of persecution from the Roman emperor Nero.  Today, too, Christians are being persecuted. In some countries, the lives of Christians are not safe; they never know when they might go to church one Sunday and be bombed or gunned down; even in their homes and businesses, they are not safe—they live under the threat of violence because of their faith in Christ. Even in the supposedly free West, Christians are being cast out of the workplace and schools for confessing what Scripture teaches about gender, sexuality, marriage, and the sanctity of human life from conception to death. And the government is increasingly dictating that the Church of Christ abandon her beliefs and practices and bow at the altar of government policies. 

We are living in a time of open and subtle persecution. And in our struggles, we see that our Lord’s prayer for Peter is continuing to bear fruit. For Peter—who turned from his sin and who was absolved by his Lord—Peter has written an epistle that will strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith until our Lord returns.

Today, we consider these words of Peter: Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.  

Now, if you are eager to do what is right and to live out your faith in humility, you would think that no one would want to harm you. But think again. The twentieth century was a century of law-abiding, devout Christians having their property confiscated and being banned from certain professions and banished to such places as Siberia and tortured and killed. And thus far, the persecutions seem to have continued into the twenty-first century with no let up. But St. Peter is telling you that even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, for the sake of Christ, do not be afraid of your tormentors. 

Actually, it is more than not being afraid of the people—the judges, politicians, and other agents of the state—who want to squash Christianity. The Greek says: do not fear what your tormentors fear. These words echo what the prophet Isaiah said long before: do not fear what [unbelievers] fear, nor be in dread (8:12). Those who would torment us for being Christian, what is it that they fear? Well, they fear the very things which we Christians are quite content to suffer for Jesus’ sake: the confiscation of our property, the loss of our jobs, the threat of being tortured and killed. Unbelievers fear losing what they cannot keep, but Christians cling to the Lord even in the greatest of losses: And take they our life, / Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Though these all be gone, / Our victory has been won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth (LSB 656.4). 

Living under the threat of open or subtle persecution, we Christians are not to be afraid, for we know that we are blessed in Christ and that no one can take that blessing from us. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on [Christ’s] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).

Knowing that God has blessed you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ, and that no one can take that blessing from you prepares you to do two things. Let’s consider the second thing first. Knowing that you are blessed forever in Christ, you are prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. God prepares you to proclaim your faith to those tormenting you. This means confessing the Creed—I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who created, redeemed, and sanctified me. And it would also be good for you to learn by heart the Small Catechism, which is a sound summary of the faith which you can use when someone asks you why you are a Christian.

But there is more. Making a defense of your faith in Christ also has to do with how you suffer. Unbelievers will take note and watch how you endure suffering, especially when you are being tormented for being a Christian. An early church tradition has it that when Peter was being led off to be crucified, he said to the soldiers: “would you please nail me to the cross upside down because you see, I consider myself unworthy to die in the same manner as my Lord.” You can just picture the soldiers scratching their heads in amazement. Do you see what Peter was doing? He was showing the soldiers that he did not fear what they feared and that his hope was in the Lord.

And the same is true with you. Unbelievers are watching you to see how you respond to suffering. They will recognize by the way that you respond to difficulties that your hope is in God rather than in pleasant earthly circumstances. Often, the way Christians respond to suffering preaches a stronger, more powerful sermon than one preached with words. For the way you endure suffering proclaims to the world that your hope is in the Lord and in His promise of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.

Knowing that God has blessed you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ prepares you to do two things. To make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. And then, also, in your hearts [you are to] regard Christ the Lord as holy. 

In your suffering, regard Christ the Lord as holy. Or perhaps a better translation would be:

Sanctify the Messiah, the Christ as Lord in your hearts. Now, what does it mean for us to sanctify God? How can we sinners sanctify God? Must not God sanctify us? Well, the answer is found in Luther’s explanation to First Petition to the Lord’s Prayer:

Hallowed be Thy name. 

What does this mean? 

God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

How is God’s name kept holy? 

God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

To sanctify Christ Jesus as Lord in our hearts has to do with the purity of our faith. Of course, it is God Himself who gives us His grace to teach His Word in its truth and purity and to lead holy lives according to it. Your sanctifying Jesus in your heart is not your work but God’s gift to you. And what’s more, sanctifying Jesus in your heart is something that God gifts you to do in the context of suffering.

We have been talking about enduring persecution, for that is the context of Peter’s epistle. But God is calling you to sanctify Christ in your hearts in the face not just of persecution but of all suffering. Martin Luther has this to say about how you are to sanctify Christ when suffering: You must sanctify [Christ] in your hearts…when [y]our Lord God sends [you] something—whether good or bad, whether it benefits or hurts, whether it is shame, honour, good fortune, or misfortune—[you] should consider this not only good but also holy, and [you] should say: “This is pure precious holiness, and I am not worthy of being touched by it.”… If [you] sing “Thanks be to God” and “Thee, God, we praise,” and say “God be praised and blessed” when misfortune strikes [you]—that is what Peter… call[s] sanctifying the Lord properly (Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles, pp. 103–104).

Dear brothers and sisters, how are you doing at sanctifying Jesus in your hearts in the face of suffering? God has given you the privilege of showing unbelievers that you do not fear what they fear and of proclaiming the hope of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting and also the honour of sanctifying Christ by thanking God for whatever He sends you—good or bad. The day may come when you are actually persecuted for being a Christian—your home may be confiscated and you may be imprisoned, even tortured and killed for confessing Christ. But for now, your calling is to endure the everyday sort of suffering with a grateful, thankful heart that trusts God to keep His promises to you in Christ. So how are you doing? In truth, you and I have joined Peter in the courtyard of denial. And there, in that courtyard of sin, something marvelous happens. Our Lord Jesus turns and looks intently at us. And this time, He speaks to us with not His eyes but with His Word of Absolution—I forgive you all your sins. And He comforts us not by placing His hand on our shoulders but by placing in our mouths His true Body and Blood, so that we may be renewed in the faith and in our calling to sanctify the Lord Jesus in our hearts.

In Psalm 16, we read these words: [O God,] you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. These words express the faith of Jesus, who knew that His Father would not abandon Him to hell or let His Body decompose. This is our Lord’s own confession of His Easter resurrection and His victory over sin, death, and the devil. And baptized into Christ, you and I share in the new life and victory of Jesus, God’s Son, who died in our place for all our sins and denials, that we may live in His blessing that sustains us in our suffering and in the face of persecution, His blessing that keeps us in the faith to life everlasting. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Matthew Fenn’s Installation

5212053Pastor Matthew Fenn’s Installation

at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stratford, Ontario——14 July 2019

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lips, Ears, and the Office of the Holy Ministry

(Luke 10:16a; Romans 10:17)

Our texts: 

Lips—Luke 10:16a: “The one who hears you hears me…”

Ears—Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Have you ever noticed how physical the Christian faith is? For starters, our saving faith in the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—involves all five of our senses. With our eyes, we read the Bible. With our ears, we hear the Word preached. With our noses, we smell such things as altar candles and fresh greens placed upon the Advent wreath and sacramental wine. With our sense of touch, we feel baptismal water splashed upon us. And with our tongues, we taste the blessed, holy Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus.

And there is more to the physicality of the Christian faith. For today, God is placing among you a real, physical man to serve you in the Name of Jesus. In order that you may receive faith and be keep faithful unto death, God has instituted the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, you receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (see Augsburg Confession, Article V: The Ministry). It is not because of your worthiness but for Christ’s sake that God has sent you a man with a rightly ordered call to publicly teach in the Church and to administer the Sacraments (see Augsburg Confession, Article XIV: Order in the Church). 

Today, we pray for both Pastor Fenn and the Church of Christ, especially the congregation Pastor Fenn has been called to serve—St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stratford. As we pray for God’s blessings upon both pastor and congregation, I invite you to consider the Office of the Holy Ministry and also Pastor Fenn’s ministry here in terms of the physicality of the Christian faith—specifically, in terms of lips and ears.

First, the lips. In Luke’s Gospel, our Lord says to His disciples: The one who hears you hears me (10:16a). Now the first thing to notice about these words is that our Lord wants to be heard. He wants to speak to His people. He is not a silent, mysterious God, so that we have to wonder about who He is and what He desires and what is His will. No, He is a God who speaks. He speaks from the very beginning, when His Word created everything that exists, and He speaks until the very ending, when at His Word the angels are dispatched to gather His faithful into His Kingdom. 

Your Lord and Saviour Jesus is a speaking God, and He wants to speak to you. He wants to give to you all that He is and all that He has. To give to you His Word, His Name, and His Presence. And to do that, there must be one who speaks in His stead and by His command. For the Word of God does not come to us from the ruminations or meditations of our own hearts. Rather, in His wisdom, God in Christ has established the Office of the Holy Ministry. To speak His Word to His people, so that the one who hears [the Lord’s called and ordained servant also] hears [the Lord].

To the dear flock of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lord of the Church has given you a pastor to stand in His stead and by His command. A pastor who speaks for the Lord and who gives in the Lord’s Name. A pastor who will be an undershepherd who will follow the example of the Good Shepherd and give of himself to you. 

Your pastor, Pastor Fenn, will be here for you and giving to you in the Divine Service. But not only here. He will be with you in the sickroom, in the hospital, in your homes, in the funeral home, wherever you are, to young and old, rich and poor, high and low alike, in joy and in sorrow. And he will speak and give to you all what he has been given to speak and to give by our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord in Holy Absolution, the Word of the Lord combined with water in Holy Baptism, the Word of the Lord combined with bread and wine in Holy Communion. 

The Lord’s Word and sacraments, Pastor Fenn will give to you whoever you are and wherever you are. But these only can he give. He is not free to speak whatever he wants. He is not free to do whatever he wants. He can only give what he has been given to give. He is not an employee with one hundred or more employers. He is not a hired hand, here today and gone tomorrow. He comes to you in Christ’s stead, as the Lord’s minister for your sake.

There is great wisdom in NOT calling your pastor by his first name, for he is NOT Matt to you. Rather, he is your pastor, the Lord’s undershepherd serving you in the Name and authority of the one Good Shepherd. Make no mistake about it! In your pastor’s giving you the Word of the Lord, you will not be hearing just the voice of a man! The one who hears [the Lord’s called and ordained servant also] hears [the Lord]. You have Jesus’ promise that you will be hearing Him—the Lord Himself—speaking through your pastor. Not because your new pastor is so learned, and not because he is better than you or so pious and holy—but because you have Jesus’ promise. Because Jesus has given you a flesh-and-blood man in the Office of the Holy Ministry that Christ Himself has established. 

And so when you hear your new pastor say in the absolution, I forgive you all your sins, you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd Jesus. When your new pastor baptizes adults and children, it is your Good Shepherd Jesus making sinners into His children. When your new pastor speaks the Words of the Lord over bread and wine in Holy Communion, it is your Good Shepherd Jesus who is your host and your meal. Luther said: The voice and the hands are those of a man, but it is really and truly the voice and hands of your Shepherd, giving to you. Giving you Himself and all that He is and all that He has.
Pastor Fenn, remember always in whose stead you are standing. Who you are representing. And whose words you are speaking. It will not always be easy. It will sometimes take great courage. And it will sometimes bring you hardship and heartache as you worry about God’s people. Preaching will be both a joy for you and a struggle, as you wrestle with the Word of God and how to proclaim it faithfully, with both clarity and love. Prayer, meditation, and tribulation will make you a theologian and a pastor. But this promise of Christ that we hear today is not only for your flock, but also for you. To reassure you that the one who hears you hears [the Lord Jesus Himself]. That you know that Christ will work through you and will bless your efforts. And those blessings may be in ways that are not always easy to see. It may sometimes seem as if your work is unappreciated and not making any difference at all! But as you remain faithful, the Lord’s Word will do its work. His Word is making an everlasting difference in the lives of those who hear and believe.

When it comes to the physicality of the Christian faith in this congregation, the lips of Pastor Fenn are crucial. For the lips of your pastor must continually be speaking in [the Lord’s] stead and by His command, calling sinners to repent; proclaiming forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus’ Name; connecting the Word to water, wine, and bread—all so that you receive faith and remain faithful unto death. Yes, the faithful lips of Pastor Fenn will be vital to the well-being of this congregation. But there is another body part that must be active in Pastor Fenn’s ministry and in the life of this congregation. Of course, I am speaking of the ears. For as St. Paul writes in Romans: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (10:17).

Your new pastor will need to spend much time each week hearing—listening to—the word of Christ. Here at St. Peter’s, you have designated a room for Pastor Fenn to work. I would encourage you to refer to that room not as Pastor’s office but as Pastor’s study. In common use, the word “office” denotes a place where business gets done. But the word “study” better reflects what your pastor needs to be busy doing every day—studying, meditating upon, listening to, praying over, and taking to heart the Word of Christ that he is called to preach to you. Please give your pastor the quiet space and time each week to have his own faith renewed through the joy of hearing—listening to—the Word of the Lord.

And then, of course, for the well-being of this entire congregation, it is vital that everyone devotes themselves to the hearing of the word of Christ preached by your pastor. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. And so, do not neglect the gathering together of the saints on the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 100 percent of the baptized membership—minus the sick and shut-in and those on vacation—were in the Lord’s house every Lord’s day? But every pastor knows the same sad reality—that on any given Sunday, many of the flock will be absent. Dearly beloved saints of St. Peter and of all congregations represented here today, one of the greatest things you can do to encourage your pastors in their ministry is to come every Lord’s Day to hear the Lord’s Word and to feast on His true Body and Blood, given and shed for you to forgive you!

Today, as Pastor Fenn is installed as pastor here at St. Peter’s, we take note of the physicality of the Christian faith. That God has decreed the sending of rightly called, ordained, flesh-and blood men as servants of the Word. And that the life of the Church requires the use of body parts—the pastor’s lips to speak for Christ and the pastor’s and the people’s ears to hear the Word of Christ. And of course, the Lord provides ways for even those with impaired sight and hearing to access the Word, so that no one is left out. Above all, the pastor’s speaking and our hearing must be rooted in hearts devoted to Christ. 

Without hearts devoted to Christ, our speaking and our hearing the Lord’s Word would be in vain. Our Lord judged the Pharisees and scribes for paying lip-service to God: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8). And He also condemns those who [only] hear [the Word], but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature (Luke 8:14). Dear saints in Christ, often have our hearts strayed far from the Lord, choked by this life’s cares and riches and pleasures. God grant us all the gift of repentance, so that, like St. Mary, we may treasure up the Lord’s Word in our hearts (see Luke 2:19). And remember that to all who confess Christ not just with lips but with the heart, our Lord Jesus gives this great promise, which cannot be broken: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).

Dear saints of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lord of the Church has given you Pastor Fenn so that through his speaking and your hearing the Word of Christ, you may pass over from death to life. Thank God for giving to His Church another flesh-and-blood called and ordained servant of the Word—Pastor Fenn! 

Do you see how physical the Christian faith is? The faith involves the use of all your five senses and of lips, ears, and heart, and also the calling of a flesh-and-blood man. And there is even more to the physicality of the Christian faith. For God so loved the world—so loved you—that He gave His only-begotten Son to be conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary—to be God-in-the-flesh for you. 

Consider what the Lord’s body endured out of love for you. His head was pierced with a crown of thorns; His face was defiled by the spit of Roman soldiers; His ears were greeted with the insults of sinners; His mouth was made to drink the vinegar and the gall; His hands and feet were extended on the cross and pierced with nails; His body was scourged and pierced with a spear; His eyes were darkened in death. The only part of the Lord’s body that remained uninjured was His tongue, so that He might pray for those who crucified Him—so that He might pray for you: Father, forgive (Luke 23:34). (See Johnann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations: Meditation 2: “An Exercise of Repentance from Our Lord’s Passion”.)

Do you see? The physicality of the Church and of saving faith is rooted in the physicality of the Incarnate Son of the living God, come to save you from your sins, come to give you eternal life, come to serve you through your flesh-and blood pastor. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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*The section on the lips was adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Douthwaite.

4th Sunday after Trinity—14 July 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Introit, with two additional verses (Psalm 27:1-5, 7-8): The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.… Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (ESV)

“Life is too short to hold a grudge”—perhaps you have heard that saying. I guess it is okay, as far as it goes. But if you tried to make this saying the theme of today’s readings, with all their talk of being merciful, then you would come up short. 

There are a lot of nifty sayings that, if followed, might make life here on earth better. “It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.” “Your attitude is always a choice.” “Live each day as if it were your last because tomorrow may never come.” “Life is too short to hold a grudge.” Sayings such as these do indeed contain a kernel of truth and wisdom. But if you live your life only on the basis of these sayings, then you will have nothing of eternal value. 

Today’s Scripture readings proclaim things with eternal value. First, we have the account of Joseph reaffirming his forgiveness to his brothers, who had done him wrong. And then we have the Epistle and the Gospel with their strong admonitions: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.… Repay no one evil for evil,… never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”… Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. These are not pithy sayings derived from human wisdom; rather, these are God’s words to sinners who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. These are not sayings intended only to improve our earthly lives; rather, these words flow out of and connect us to the life we have in Christ, the abundant life that never ends.

Today’s readings all have to do with showing mercy to those who have sinned against us. Of course, what unites these readings is our Lord Jesus Christ. Which brings us to the Introit: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? This verse makes a sharp division between fear and faith. First, there is reason to fear, for there are the adversaries and foes who are attacking the psalmist, in this case David. The context is David and his men on the run from King Saul and his army, who are attempting to hunt down David, to destroy him. Then there is something greater that fear. There is David’s confident faith that the Lord is his Light, his Salvation, and his Stronghold.

King Saul, knowing that God had anointed David to be king after him, was jealous and he sought to destroy David. There were two ways in which David could have been destroyed. First, obviously, he could have been captured and killed by Saul. But second, and not so obviously, with the troops hunting David like a pack of wild animals, under such stress David could have very easily self-destructed by turning from his calling. And this was a very real possibility. You see, God had indeed anointed David to be king after Saul. But in what way should David assume the throne? Should he seek to assassinate the king? David actually had two opportunities to do just that. Or should David patiently wait for the Lord to bring him to the throne in the Lord’s way and timing? If David had taken matters into his own hands and had killed Saul when he had the chance, then David would have turned from his calling to trust in the Lord at all times and in every circumstance and he would have been thus destroyed as thoroughly as if Saul’s troops had run a sword through him!   

Like David, you have enemies hunting you down, seeking to destroy you, and you know their names—the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, the Old Adam. Your enemies would love nothing better than to destroy you outright through murder, suicide, war, drug addiction, or a car or plane crash or a natural disaster. But the devil knows that for all his efforts to destroy you physically, most likely you will still end up going to heaven. For the devil, too, knows our Lord’s promise: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25). And so your enemies are seeking to destroy you in the second, not so obvious way of turning you away from your calling as a child of God.

It is not a question of if you have turned from your calling in Christ, for you most certainly have. Have you worried about the future? Have you complained about your present troubles? Have you questioned whether God’s love is greater than your past failures? Have you given yourself over to greed, lust, laziness, and resentment? Are you holding a grudge against those who have hurt you? These are just a few of the ways you can turn from your calling in Christ. If you persist unto death in these ways of unbelief, then your enemies will have succeeded in destroying you even more thoroughly than if you were run through with a sword, for you would have gained the world but lost your soul for all eternity. 

We could sum up today’s readings in a single word: “mercy”. Show mercy. But let us expand upon today’s theme by talking about your calling in Christ.  In Holy Baptism, you have been called to live as God’s children. Your enemies are seeking to turn you from your calling. But God wants you to be renewed in your calling. And so He calls you to repent of all the ways you have turned inward upon yourself and away from Him. Repent. Yes, let us all repent, knowing that if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just [and will] forgive us our sins and… cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). And in receiving God’s forgiveness, we experience the same kind of victory David experienced. 

David’s enemies were so powerful that they had every expectation that he would stumble and fall. But in the end, the tables were turned. David trusted in the Lord and it was his enemies that stumbled and fell. And the same is true with you. Your enemies boast that there is no way you can remain faithful unto death and receive the crown of life. But by God’s grace, you confess your sins and you trust God to forgive you. And the Lord lifts you up high upon the rock which is Christ. Thus, it is not you but your enemies who end up stumbling and falling and being destroyed! And it is all because God is faithful to you.

God, in His grace for the sake of Christ, made you His own dear children. And He does not leave you to deal with temptations and troubles on your own. He who gave you saving faith through the waters of Baptism now keeps you in the faith, so that you make the same confession David made in today’s Introit.

The LORD is my light and my salvation…The LORD is the stronghold of my life. With this confession, you confess that the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is your Light who removes your ignorance. For on your own, you had no way of knowing how to dispel the darkness of sin, evil, and despair. And God is your salvation—He takes away your sin and He gives you heaven. And finally, God is your stronghold—He gives you safety and protection from all the enemies seeking to separate you from God’s love and thus to destroy you. And confessing that God is your Light and Salvation and the Stronghold of your life, you have nothing to fear.

And there is more of David’s confession that you have made your own: One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.  You are not asking to hang out here at church every single day of the week. Rather, you are asking to enjoy God’s presence throughout your life. There is a sense in which God is present everywhere, but He has made specific promises to be present in a saving way in His Holy Word and Sacraments. And so you prize above all earthly riches the blessings of hearing and reading God’s Word and of being renewed in your Baptism through Holy Absolution and of feasting on your Lord’s true Body and Blood. And in your life you yearn to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, in other words, to acknowledge God’s goodness toward sinners for the sake of Christ. And so, even as you struggle against temptations and troubles, as God’s children you do not find a wrathful, terrifying God, but rather a beautiful God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).

One final bit of David’s confession which you have made your own comes from two verses following today’s Introit: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” To seek the face of God is to seek God’s face where it has been definitely and forever revealed. Now, on the mountain Moses had asked to see the face of God (see Exodus 33:17–23), but it was more than a thousand years later when, on yet another mountain, his petition was finally granted, when Moses would see Jesus transfigured, His face shining like the sun (see Matthew 17:3). For our Lord Jesus Christ is the face of God, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus Christ is the face of God. We are intimately connected to Christ through Baptism. And so our heart’s desire is to seek Jesus and to gaze upon His beauty, His grace and mercy. It was His grace and mercy that led Him to the cross to die on behalf of sinners. It was His grace and mercy in Holy Baptism that purified us from our sins and made us God’s holy children. And now, living in Christ, we are to show mercy to those who have sinned against us, just as Joseph forgave his brothers and just as Christ forgave us! 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.… Repay no one evil for evil,… Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful—these are not nifty sayings intended to make your life on earth better. Rather, this is Christ’s mercy at work. It is not your mercy, your forgiveness, but Christ’s mercy and forgiveness working through you so that those who have hurt you might turn from their sins and receive the light and salvation that is Christ. 

In my second-to last phone conversation with my mother, I shared with her these words from Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When I called again a few days later, she commented on how comforting she had found these words. And just a few days after that, she died and went to heaven. The Word of the Lord had done its work. The Word had called my mother to look past her sins and troubles and to gaze upon the face of God in Jesus and to confess Christ as her Light, her Salvation, and her Stronghold. And the Word is presently working the same miracle in our lives today. The Word is keeping us true to our calling in Christ, so that we show mercy and forgive and do good to those who have hurt us and so that we confess Jesus as our Light and our Salvation and our Stronghold. May God—in His grace working through His Word and Sacraments—keep us true to our calling in Christ, so that we join David and Moses and my mother in gazing upon our Lord’s beauty in heaven for all eternity. Amen.

2nd Sunday after Trinity—30 June 2019

5212053Our text is today’s reading from Proverbs (Proverbs 9:1–10): 1  Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.  2  She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.  3  She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, 4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  To him who lacks sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  6  Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”  7  Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.  8  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  9  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.  10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  (ESV)

A good father wants to help his children to not grow up to be fools. In the first few chapters of Proverbs, King Solomon is addressing his son, hoping to train him up to be a wise man. And so, Solomon personifies Wisdom as a woman in order to present an image that is attractive to his son. Furthermore, Solomon makes a sharp contrast between two women—Wisdom and Foolishness. Foolishness personified as a woman tempts men to go astray into the ways of adultery and death. Wisdom personified as woman invites those who are simple-minded to come to her feast and to walk in the way in insight.

Wisdom is valuable, but not just because it helps us avoid the ways of foolishness. Wisdom is valuable, most of all, because Wisdom is God, who offers His gracious blessings to the son listening to the father’s word. From the perspective of the New Testament, we realize that the real contrast here is between the foolishness of unbelief and the wisdom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In fact, you could say that Wisdom is the unique Person of God the Son, who shares the same divine essence as the Father and the Spirit, and who, with the Father and the Spirit, creates all things and gives the good gifts of the Gospel. In Proverbs 3, Wisdom is explicitly connected to God’s creation: The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens (3:19). Here, Solomon is portraying Wisdom as the eternal second person of the Trinity—Jesus—, through whom all things were made. As St. Paul says in Colossians: For by [our Lord Jesus Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him (1:16).

 

In short, Wisdom is Jesus, and the way of wisdom we are to follow is none other than the life to which we all have been called in Holy Baptism—the life of leaving our simple ways through repenting of our sins; the life of living and walking in the way of insight, of faith, as we feast on Wisdom’s Holy Word and Holy Supper.

The Wisdom of Jesus—the Gospel—is so powerful that it breaks down the dividing wall of hostility. Through His death on the cross, Jesus has killed the hostility that had previously existed between Jew and Gentile. The Gentiles did not do anything on their own to approach God. They were brought near. It was all God’s doing—and it cost Him a tremendous price. That change could come about only by the blood of Christ. In Christ, the Gentiles, who were formerly outsiders, now have been brought into God’s church. Hence, a whole new age has dawned.

Jesus’ death worked another marvelous change: it abolished the law of commandments and ordinances. When Paul here speaks of the “law,” we must be clear about what he is referring to. God gave Israel a threefold law: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, expresses God’s holy and unchangeable will for all people of all time. However, the civil law (dealing with God’s governance of Israel) and the ceremonial laws (such as dietary prescriptions for clean and unclean food) were restrictions binding only on Israel. For example, Gentiles were not forbidden to eat pork.

The purpose of these civil and ceremonial laws, unique to Israel, was to keep Israel a separate nation. The many carefully spelled out regulations were to hedge and protect Israel from heathen influence until the promised Messiah was born.

These rules and regulations, so useful for keeping Jews and Gentiles apart, also bred a great deal of ill will and hatred between the two groups. Thus the civil and ceremonial laws became a dividing wall of hostility.

The need to keep Israel a separate nation ended when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The civil and ceremonial laws had fulfilled their purpose. When Jesus on the cross declared, It is finished, He was speaking of the completion of our salvation, but His words also marked the end of the Old Testament and its rules and regulations. In his flesh, Christ on the cross abolished the law of commandments and ordinances. 

Christ’s cross put an end to the binding force of the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws, thus removing the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The removal of this dividing wall between these two groups of people was only part of Christ’s work. The real problem was not between Jew and Gentile but between both groups of people and God. Consequently, the far greater accomplishment of Christ’s cross was that His blood paid for the sins of the whole world. Christ’s perfect life and innocent death earned the merit that avails before God. Christ’s life and death secured your release from the guilt of your sins.

The blood of Jesus has brought about the reconciliation of sinners not only to each other but also to God. Jesus came and preached peace to us sinners, and now, through him we … have access in one Spirit to the Father.  Once we were strangers and aliens estranged from God and from each other, but now we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  

Here, we see the Wisdom of Jesus at work, reconciling sinners to God and creating in Himself a new man in the place of sinners divided by hostility, so making peace. Through the shed blood of Jesus, you have access to God the Father, who now claims you as His own dear children in Holy Baptism. And you are all members of the household of God, so that now you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  

Jesus, Wisdom, has done everything necessary to bring you near to God and to join you together with other baptized sinners into a precious structure—the Church—that is growing into the holy temple of the Lord.

All this that Wisdom Jesus has done for you and given you—it is possible to throw it all away through the foolishness of unbelief and of making excuses. In today’s Gospel, those who had been invited to the banquet all alike began to make excuses. In the end, the master said to the servant: none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. And so it can happen to us, that we persist in making excuses for not following the way of insight, of faith; that we persist in rejecting the gracious invitation of Wisdom Jesus to feast on His Word and Supper and instead follow the way of foolishness.

Have you ever followed the way of foolishness? Yes, you have. And so have I. We are all guilty of making excuses for following our sinful desires rather than Jesus. The Wisdom of Jesus is the wisdom of God pouring out upon us His blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word and Supper. But how easy it is for us to neglect the Lord’s Word, the Lord’s Supper! Of course, we should allow no trivial matter to excuse us from the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. And meditating on God’s Word should be a feast of which we partake daily. But the excuses are there, more often than we would like to admit. And the real danger is that our persisting in making excuses will eventually separate us from all that God would give us in the Wisdom of Jesus.

And often, at the root of our excuses is a disappointment, a bitterness, a resentment at how God seems to not be answering our prayers and providing for our needs. In short, at the root of our excuses lies the foolishness of sin and unbelief. And so, let us repent, trusting God to restore us in His peace and to make us anew in Christ. And thus refreshed in the Spirit, we can pray with psalmist the words of today’s introit: I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.

In today’s bulletin, I have included a new feature—a communion psalm, which I would invite you to quietly pray during the distribution, after the singing of “Just as I Am, without One Plea”. This communion psalm has a deep connection to today’s readings, for it shows us how to walk in the Wisdom of Jesus.

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord [, which is the beginning of wisdom].  The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. And so, O children of God, cry out to the Lord for His forgiveness. Confess your sins. Repent of the times you have given up praying because you thought what’s the use. Repent of the times you have thought in bitterness that your troubles were greater than the Lord’s love. Repent of the times you have made excuses and followed the way of unbelief, foolishly neglecting and forsaking all that Wisdom Jesus has done to give you access to God your Father and to make you members of the household of God.  And in your repenting, also rejoice; rejoice in the certainty that the Lord loves you and forgives you. For as the psalmist proclaims: when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (adapted from Psalm 34).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. In Christ Jesus, we so fear God that we repent of all our excuses and of following the way of foolishness. And in Christ, we understand, not with the brain but with the heart, that Jesus is Wisdom, who offers His gracious blessings to God’s children, so that we remain faithful to Christ all the days of our lives. And once again, this morning, we rejoice in hearing Wisdom Jesus calling us to come, eat of His Body and drink of His blood and feast on His Word and live, walking in the way of insight, of faith in our Saviour, who came preaching peace to us, that we may have access to the Father and be joined together as the Lord’s holy temple forever. Amen.

The Feast of Pentecost——9 June 2019

5212053Our text is today’s reading from Acts (Acts 2:1–21): 1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?  9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”  12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.  15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  17  ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18  even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19  And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20  the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.  21  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (ESV)

In December, with all the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and planning holiday meals, Christians like to remind the world that “the reason for the season is Christmas”—the birth of the Christ Child. And this morning, we could say that the reason for Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter is Pentecost. 

Make no mistake about it: Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became Man in order to pour out the Holy Spirit upon sinners. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus first was conceived by that same Spirit and had taken flesh from the holy Virgin Mary. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had lived a perfect life of love and obedience to His Father. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus suffered and died, descended to hell, and rose in victory on the third day. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. And now, it was on this day of Pentecost, fifty days after He rose from the dead, that Jesus kept His promise. Jesus poured out His Spirit, and the Spirit rushed into human history like never before. He came with a startling suddenness that was impossible to miss.

The Holy Spirit—the third person of the Holy Trinity—came that morning in wind and flame and the miracle of the apostles proclaiming God’s mighty works in languages they had never learned. St. Peter preached a sermon proclaiming the crucified, risen Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ, the Messiah, the One anointed to be the world’s Saviour. As Peter concluded his sermon, he invited the people not to wait around for a similar miracle. Rather, he pointed them to where they (and every generation since) may receive the Holy Spirit no less powerfully than the apostles had: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2:38–39).

No fewer that three thousand people took the plunge that day. Adults and children got into the baptismal water. There they received the exact same Spirit that had fallen on the disciples earlier: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came bringing joy abounding, the joy of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Name of Jesus.

The Festival of Pentecost was always held fifty days after the Passover. Pentecost was a harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Pentecost was also the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. And now, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost is transformed. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, proclaims that these are the last days, when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The last days are the Holy Spirit’s days, and so Pentecost begins the time of the Holy Spirit. What began with the Father at Christmas—Of the Father’s Love Begotten—and continued with the Son through Holy Week and Easter—Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—now carries on with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 

And the Holy Spirit transforms Pentecost into something greater that the ingathering of the winter wheat and the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. Now, in these last days, Pentecost is the ingathering of sinners into the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Pentecost is the celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ— the Good News of our sins forgiven, our shame and guilt washed away, our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, our souls upon death entering into Paradise with the Lord and our bodies being raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day. 

Can you see why the Holy Spirit has traditionally been associated with joy? The Holy Spirit gives us what we cannot receive by our own reason or strength; He calls and gathers us sinners into the Christian Church, what the writer to the Hebrews called the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (12:23). In the ancient world, the firstborn son received the father’s inheritance. That is why in the Bible, those who confess Jesus as Lord are called “sons of God”. For all believers have the rank of the firstborn son in God’s sight. They are heirs of God’s salvation, with all that it offers. God has entered their names in His heavenly family record even more carefully than the Jews did in their earthly genealogical records.

Scripture loves that expression: written in heaven. In Luke 10 Jesus tells his disciples, Rejoice that your names are written in heaven (v. 20) and in Philippians 4 Paul speaks of fellow workers whose names are in the book of life (v. 3). Each believer carries citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Every believer on earth has a room reserved in the Father’s house.

And so, as we observe Pentecost today, rejoice! Rejoice that the reason for Jesus, God’s Son, becoming Man and living a perfect life of love and suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was so that He might pour out the Holy Spirit upon you. Rejoice that in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has gathered you into the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.  Rejoice that today the Holy Spirit is performing a greater miracle than a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire and our speaking the Gospel in languages we have never learned. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is working in you the great miracle of a repentant heart, a heart that confesses all your sins and lays them bare before God, a heart that trusts God to keep His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. Rejoice that your sins, failures, sorrows, and afflictions—all of them put together—can never make null and void your citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is ever working to keep you in the faith your whole life long so that you may receive the room reserved for you in the Father’s house. 

The ongoing work of Pentecost is not in wind, fire, and miraculous languages but in Word and Baptism and Holy Supper. At the close of Pentecost, St. Luke notes: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the communion, to the Breaking of the Bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). And so, by God’s grace, you and I devote ourselves to the true doctrine of God’s holy Word, to the communion of saints, to the Lord’s Supper, and to the prayers and liturgy of the Divine Service. For in the assembly of saints gathered around Word and Supper and liturgy, the Holy Spirit is ever being poured out afresh for the renewal of our faith in Christ.

Pentecost. Fifty days. The ingathering, the Word, the Church. You are a part of it, for you are called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, kept in the faith by the Spirit.

Come, then, Holy Spirit, warm our cold and lifeless hearts with your Gospel fire.

Come, Holy Spirit, rattle our dry and dusty bones and make them live.

Come, Holy Spirit, loosen our tongues to speak the good news of Jesus.

Come, Holy Spirit, quench our thirst with the waters of Baptism.

Come, Holy Spirit, satisfy our hunger for righteousness with the Body and Blood of our Saviour.

Come, Holy Spirit, put the good news of Jesus into our ears, our minds, our hearts that we may hear, comprehend, and believe it.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Exaudi)—2 June 2019

Thanks to Pastor Elect Fenn, for preaching today’s sermon.

5212053John 15:26–16:4
26 [Jesus said:] “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (ESV)

A few weeks ago, on the morning of Easter Sunday, a man walked into a Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, and detonated a bomb during Mass, killing at least fifty people. At almost exactly the same moment, another suicide bomber killed over a hundred Catholics in a church in a neighboring city. Twenty minutes later, a third terrorist, prevented from entering a Protestant church, blew himself up outside the building, killing twenty-five people, including both churchgoers. By the time it was over, the wave of coordinated bombings had killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds more, making it one of the deadliest attacks since 9/11. The suicide bombers were all Muslim extremists working with the Islamic State. They killed Christians believing that by doing so they were offering worship to Allah. How did the Sri Lankan Church respond to such attacks? They have suspended Church services indefinitely until security improves. But, isn’t that what the extremists wanted all along?

As for the rest of us—comfortable, wised-up North American Christians not inclined to pose as martyrs—we tend to like our stories of martyrdom the way we like our miracles: as ancient and remote as possible, softened in the mists of legend. But the age of miracles is not past, and neither, alas, is the age of martyrdom. Our society is just as drastically opposed to Christianity as was the Roman Empire and sometimes just as violent as any Islamic Extremist.  This brings us to the point of today’s Gospel. When the going gets tough, how are we going to react? When we experience trials which test our faith and push us to the limits, are we tempted to thrown in the towel? 

I. The Threat of Falling Away 

Our Lord Jesus tells the disciples what they are to expect. They are to expect persecution and even death. We too can expect a world which does not even care to know Jesus. We can expect a world which is opposed to and hostile towards the Church. In this world you will have hardship. Jesus says it will happen. And he warns you of it today so that you will not fall away. 

The world will mock you for following a God who goes and gets himself killed on a cross. Yes, the world will think you are nuts for believing that the Almighty God of the universe delights to be called your Father and counts the hairs of your head. Yes, the world will be self-righteous and call you cruel and intolerant for daring to say that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. The world will call you misogynistic, and backwards for believing that abortion is murder. Television, social media, and movie screens are the world’s pulpits, and our children and are in the pews.

Here we come face to face with a hard reality: we can fall away. We can forsake God and Christ. We can stop going to Church, stop clinging to Jesus, and start thinking like the world around us. The hardships of life have a tendency to choke faith out. When the job is lost, when the diagnosis is dire, when the prayer is not answered the way you want it to have been answered, when the loved one dies too soon or too cruelly: that is when we can be tempted to doubt the Lord and his care for us. That is when we can waver – when we can be blinded and confused and scandalized by the lies of the the world. The world would like nothing more than to silence us and to get us to conform to its ways. The world wants to break us, and our fallen and sinful flesh wants nothing more than to take the easy route, give up, and throw in the towel. It doesn’t look like we have much hope compared with the world, does it? What are to do?

II. Kept from Falling Away

Think for a moment of the apostles. Fear gripped Peter’s soul as he stood in the shadows and watched Jesus’ interrogation. Before Jesus was brought to Pilate, Peter three times denied Jesus.  What about the other disciples on that night? They ran away. They did not stand by their Lord. Rather, they ran away into the night. When faced with persecution how did they react? For weeks these eleven men cowered behind locked doors because they were dreadfully afraid of the crosses which might await them. These are the men we look up to. They all fell away! Do we think we are any better than they were? Do we expect to fare any better?

Yet, after Pentecost, there they were, boldly proclaiming the Gospel publicly. Each one of these eleven men suffered terrible persecution because they confessed Christ. Ten of them were brutally murdered, and John was exiled. These same cowards who disowned Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion, were all themselves martyred. So what happened? 

What happened was the coming Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent and given to these men. When we’re going through the trails of this life, the comfort for us is that the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. They didn’t find the strength within themselves, the Spirit strengthened them. He brought back to their memories all that Jesus said and did with them. Remembering all of the words and promises of Jesus kept them from falling away. The Holy Spirit witnessed to the disciples concerning the Savior. This enabled the apostles to witness to the world. Their message was written down and preserved in our Bibles. If we feel like we’re  tempted to throw in the towel and give up, we’re not supposed to sit and wait for the Holy Spirit to jump out of the sky give us strength. If we want to be kept in the true faith unto life everlasting, we should go and hear the word of God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us today through the written testimony of the Apostles – God’s Holy Word. 

This isn’t a matter of saying, ‘Oh well, these things happen.’ It isn’t a shrug of the shoulders, resigning yourself to the world being a nasty place and there being nothing much you can do about it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us through the wind or through a burning in our heart. He speaks to us through God’s Word. As he carried men of God to write the Scriptures, so the Holy Spirit speaks through them. Jesus is speaking not just to apostles, but to the first pastors of the Christian Church. He is preparing to send out pastors into the world to preach. He speak through men. He speaks through your pastor, when he declares your sins forgiven. There is no comfort of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, there are no gentle reminders in our minds and souls of the death of Jesus, without preaching. We can’t remember God’s word if we haven’t heard it first. We need God’s word proclaimed to us!

And Holy Spirit, through the Word, bears witnesses to you about Jesus. The finished work of Christ is the source of the strength the Spirit gives to us in God’s Word. That is the testimony of the Apostles. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” All of the world’s opposition to Jesus did not succeed in turning him aside from what he came to do: to give his life that the world might be saved. ‘The world’ that will hate, persecute and ridicule Jesus’ followers has been defeated. When Jesus took upon himself the weight of the world’s sin; when he burst through death itself into God’s new creation; when he ascended into heaven to intercede on our behalf, he was not just proving a point but winning a victory. The cross is the victory of Christ and the defeat of the world. This victory belongs not to Christ alone,  it also belongs to the baptized children of God.

When the world threatens to undo us, when we are tempted to fall away, our pastors proclaim to us the Word of God which reminds us of Jesus’ own victory over the world and this proclamation keeps us in the true faith. Even in the midst of persecution, God does not abandon us. Through His Word He strengthens us. This strength comes to us as the Spirit leads us to Word and Sacrament to feed us, nourish us, and strengthen us to meet the tribulations we will face in this world. Through this word we are assured of the certain hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is the Word given to us in our Baptism, strengthened through Jesus’ true Body and Blood, and further confirmed as we hear and read that Word. This is the Word which calls us to repent daily, grants us forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and assures us of Jesus’ presence. This is how God has chosen to give you his Holy Spirit, to keep you in the true faith.