Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36 - Reformation - October 30, 2011 
  God's Word Sets Sinners Free

On the Eve of All Saints’ Day (Halloween) in the year 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  These theses were intended to serve as an outline for debate concerning the selling of indulgences for the remission of sins.  The sale of indulgences was a fundraiser in Germany designed by the papacy to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  “When the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”  This absurd claim was the catch-phrase that was used in selling these worthless promises.  People longed for freedom from the bonds of hell.  And they were willing to pay to free their loved-ones from the imaginary prison of Purgatory.  And so these poor sinners clung in desperation, not to the words of Jesus, but to the words of the Pope in Rome.  It was a shameless racket.  But it was a successful one, because these poor souls didn’t know any better.  They didn’t know the truth, and so they remained enslaved to lies. 

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Martin Luther sought the truth in the word of God.  And so according to this clear and certain promise of Jesus, not only did he discover the liberating light of the Gospel for himself, but through him, God brought it back to the Church that had lived in darkness for so long.  St. Paul’s admonition to Timothy and to all pastors has rung true now for countless generations, and we have seen it: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).  Luther not only saved himself, but now nearly 500 years later, thanks to his faithful service to the Church we continue to hear the Gospel that saves us too. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trinity 18

Matthew 22:34-46 - Trinity 18- October 23, 2011 
  Christ's Love for Us Fulfills the Law

It seems like each generation laments that the next generation is the worst one yet.  While it is true that there is an increasing disregard in our country for any distinction between right and wrong, those old words of wisdom still hold true: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  It’s not that things keep getting worse with each succeeding generation; it’s just that there is more and more and more of the same – sin.  Sin begets sin, and so it goes.  The decaying moral character of the culture around us is nothing new in the history of the world.  It’s what has always happened when the Gospel is rejected.  When folks reject the doctrine of the Church which is taught to us in Scripture, it soon follows that decent morality is rejected as well.  When Christian teaching goes, so does Christian living.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trinity 17

Luke 14:1-11- Trinity 17- October 16, 2011 
  God Resists the Proud, but
Gives Grace to the Humble

The Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”  What does this mean?  “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” 
The 10 Commandments were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai about 3,500 years ago and were intended specifically for the children of Israel.  God gave many other commandments through Moses as well.  Most of them, like those commandments about how to dress and what to eat and so forth never applied to anyone outside of Israel.  This was the ceremonial law, and it was peculiar only to God’s chosen nation.  However, such commandments that prohibit murder, adultery, and stealing obviously did extend to all nations.  This is the moral law, written in the hearts of all men.  This is what we call a conscience.  The law carved in stone on Sinai only reiterated what was already written in all of our hearts. 

Moses was a prophet.  The Law that God gave to him (both the 10 Commandments and all the other ceremonies and regulations) was intended to prepare the children of Israel and teach them about the specific things that their God would someday do to save sinners while living as a man here on earth. 

And then Christ came and lived as a man here on earth.  He fulfilled the law – He fulfilled the ceremonies that pointed to Him, and He filled the moral law that only He could obey.  By doing so, Jesus redeemed Israel from all her woes, and became a Light to lighten the Gentiles.  In Christ there is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile, because Christ is the end of the law – the whole law – for all who believe. God’s people are identified not by where and how they worship, but by whom they worship. We worship Jesus. We worship the Father in Spirit and truth. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trinity 16

Luke 7:11-17- Trinity 16- October 9, 2011 
  God's Word Has Power to Give Life

Our Gospel lesson begins this morning with a marvelous clash of moods.  There are two groups.  One crowd is following Jesus who heals the sick and makes the lame to walk.  The other is following a dead body in procession to bury it in the ground.  The one group exhibits excitement and wonder and hope. The other exhibits the sadness and despair that accompany the cold reality of death.  All of us here have experienced both of these moods.  We have all found ourselves at various times in one or the other of these two groups. 

Death comes and loved ones go.  We miss them.  We gather together in church in order to celebrate the eternal life and hope that God had given to those we lose, and we commend our grief to God.  We hear the Gospel preached.  We hear words of comfort.  We learn to grieve as those who have hope in Christ.  It is not as though we doubt any of this.  But the bitter reality remains.  No words can change the fact that the body of the one we love must be laid in the earth from whence it came. 

Death is real.  No one denies this.  The pious Christian, as much as the unregenerate heathen, acknowledges this with bitter resignation.  What people do deny is the cause of death.  Theories abound that attempt to exonerate man from any real guilt and due punishment as though death were just a part of life.  But we turn to God’s word to learn the truth.  “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;” God said to our first parents, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  This was no idle threat.  GOD’S WORD HAS POWER.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trinity 15

Matthew 6:24-34- Trinity 15- October 2, 2011 
  The Service of God vs.
the Servitude of Mammon

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”  This is the 1st Commandment and it sets the foundation for all the rest.  But what exactly does it mean to have a god?  What is a god?  Here is the answer that Martin Luther gives in the Large Catechism: 

A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.  So far Luther. 
Martin Luther defines what a god is by describing what faith does – by describing what takes place in the heart.  He learned this helpful insight from Jesus.  “Where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also.”  Faith, whether it be faith in God or faith in something else, always proceeds from the heart.  It is with the heart that we worship, it is with the heart that we seek, and it is with the heart that we serve that which we desire most.  What do we desire most?  That is by definition our god.  What we most desire becomes our master.  Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”