November 7, 2019 Through the Flood- Baptism Now Saves You- Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:8-22

rainbow

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 (ESV)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  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. For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;

let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.

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.”

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 honor 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; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.-  1 Peter 3:8-22 (ESV)

There are times when those of us who live in high-rainfall areas such as central Ohio might wonder about God’s promise not to destroy the world by flood again.  Much of the American Midwest does experience regional flooding from time to time, but since the time of Noah there hasn’t been a global flood.  The end of the world will not come as a result of global flooding. (see 2 Peter 3)

God rescuing Noah and his family from the global destruction of the flood to preserve humanity is a foreshadowing of how God rescues us from sin and death through the waters of baptism.

In our baptism we are also brought through the water of the flood- washed clean and  carried by the ark of God’s provision.  We are buried in the death of Christ, and with Him we are brought from death into life.

So where does baptism fit in to our confession of faith, and why is it so essential? We learn from the Small Catechism:

First.
What is Baptism?–Answer.
Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
Which is that word of God?–Answer.
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.
What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.
How can water do such great things?–Answer.
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.
What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?–Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Through baptism God comes to us- it is not a work of obedience, but a gift given to us through which God works saving faith. Through baptism the old Adam is drowned and we are brought to repentance.  We are washed, renewed and kept clean, not by our efforts or merit, but by the hand and will of God.

By the grace of God, may we repent and remember that in the water of our baptism we are made God’s own.  Our sins are forgiven and God gives us the power to stand for Him and to be counted as righteous in the merits of Christ.

 

 

 

October 31, 2018 – Here We Stand- Romans 10:10-17

Martin-Luther-Here-I-Stand31

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Romans 10:10-17 (ESV)

The Reformation was a movement born in response to a number of errors within the Church. The Church had gotten away from the teachings of Scripture and was being corrupted by man-made superstitions as well as by good old fashioned profiteering.  The issue that lit the spark of the Reformation was the sale of indulgences, or documents given out by the Pope, that granted people forgiveness of sins and/or entry into heaven upon receiving a monetary gift.  The doctrine of indulgences was closely tied to the (non Scriptural) teaching on purgatory that was widely taught and accepted at that time, and in the Roman Catholic church even today.  People in Luther’s time believed that they could release their loved ones from purgatory and into heaven by the purchase of indulgences.

St Peter's Basilica

The sale of indulgences in Luther’s day largely financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  Bishops and priests who could send cash to the Vatican for this building were often rewarded with appointments, land and special favors.  One of the most notorious of the indulgence hawkers was a priest named Johann Tetzel, who was known for his sales pitch:

As soon as the gold in the coffer rings / The rescued soul to heaven springs!- Johann Tetzel

tetzel

Martin Luther was offended by such teachings as they are contrary to the Scriptural foundations of Christ Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone that are taught all through the Bible. Luther spoke out against the sale of indulgences in his 95 Theses:

  1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  2. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. – from Luther’s 95 Theses

When Luther and other Reformers discovered the saving truth of the Gospel as presented to us in the Bible, he and they could not help but to stand up for the truth. They could not keep this Good News under wraps any more.

It is God in Christ who does the saving, and redeeming. We cannot earn or deserve God’s favor.  We can’t buy our way to heaven, and we can’t pay the way for our friends and relatives. The proclamation of this truth wasn’t popular among the industry that had built itself around the sales of relics and indulgences.  Just as the apostle Paul found himself in a great deal of controversy and peril for interfering in the livelihood of the idol-makers (Acts 19:23-41) of Ephesus, Luther was controversial and despised.  At times he had a price on his head and had to go into hiding.  Luther was considered an enemy of the church for bringing the truth clearly written in Scripture to everyone, and encouraging people to have and to read Scripture in their native languages. He was accused of being a heretic for suggesting that salvation is a free gift of God rather than something bought or earned or controlled by the powers that be in the hierarchy of the Church.

It wasn’t popular for Luther and others to stand against the power and influence of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Many reformers ended up dead for making their stand.

Today we remember that standing up for Jesus and teaching the truth is not always easy. We thank God for the faithful witness of Martin Luther and the Reformation movement that continues even into today.  We pray that we will have courage to be the “beautiful feet”- bringing the Good News to the world, so that the Holy Spirit would bring others to faith as they hear God’s Word taught. (Romans 10:17)

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ and the Holy Spirit are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness?  Why not accept His gifts with joy and thanksgiving? – Martin Luther from his Commentary on Galatians

October 19, 2018 “Sin Boldly?” Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:1-7, Romans 3:21-31

martin-luther

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe in and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”- Martin Luther

Martin Luther is known for the quote, “Sin Boldly.” It is a bit taken out of its original context.  Properly understood, Luther is simply underscoring the Scriptural truth that Jesus forgives us our sins, and that our righteousness before God is through faith in Jesus.  Jesus has already paid the price of death that we have earned. By faith, Jesus forgives our sins and failures.  So our focus should be on believing in Jesus rather than living a legalistic and fearful life.

(Jesus taught: ) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

The Ten Commandments are not the “ten suggestions” or the “ten good ideas.” God put His Commandments in place for our protection and benefit. The penalty for law-breaking (even one teeny tiny bit of it) is still death. There is only one person who ever lived (Jesus) who was able to obey the Law 100% perfectly.  Through faith in Jesus we have life with God forever. Apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins.  There is no other way to life and salvation except for faith in Jesus.

(Jesus said : )“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

The scribes and Pharisees were very careful to (attempt to) obey the letter of the Mosaic Law, which includes the Ten Commandments and a whole lot more (see the entire book of Leviticus…) but they ended up setting themselves up as legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites.  In Jesus’ day the Pharisees made great displays of religiousness and piety that were just outward displays.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:21-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul knew better than most – having been a Pharisee himself- what the Law required, and how utterly impossible it is for people to keep it. Paul knew he was condemned under the law. Paul also knew that Jesus came to keep the Law perfectly, and that He was the sacrifice to cover the sins and iniquities of not just Paul, but of the entire world.

We are not able to make ourselves perfect for God. No matter how hard we attempt to obey the rules we can’t do it. Ironically we often make ourselves even worse when we think that we can earn our way to God by what we do or don’t do.

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”- Martin Luther from the Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed.

Faith in Jesus is the New Covenant. Not faith in our own law-keeping abilities, but faith in knowing that Jesus has already done for us what we cannot do.

So why should we take the Commandments seriously? First of all, even though we break them with regularity, they are still God’s standard and will for humans to follow.  They help us to keep order in society.  We know that even though we aren’t the greatest at law-keeping, that the Law is good and right.

The Commandments show us how we sin, and through that knowledge, and in our confessions, we see our desperate need for Jesus. We come to Jesus in our brokenness and need and knowledge of how we fall short, not like the Pharisee who thinks he has done everything right, but as the tax collector who cries, “forgive me Lord, as I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We can’t save ourselves. We can’t live in a way that pleases God.  But we are made right in God’s sight by faith- faith that believes that Jesus has taken the punishment that we deserve in our place (Isaiah 53) and that when God looks at us He sees Jesus.  Jesus has paid the price for us.  By faith, we trust Jesus, and live.

February 22, 2018 No Greater Love- John 15:13, 1 John 4:9-12

jesus-on-the-cross

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13 (NIV)

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

*I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. – from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism on Sanctification -the Third Article of the Creed.

Belonging to God is not our choice. God is the one who does the choosing and the naming and claiming. God created. God calls us to life in Him.  God loves us first and has plans for us.  In Baptism we become permanently and irrevocably His. The Holy Spirit equips us for a life of faith.  It’s not about what we do, but what God has already done and continues to do in and through us.

The gift of faith and of being named and claimed by God is incredibly freeing. Our salvation is not contingent upon our current emotional state, the good deeds we do, or our good behavior, but on Jesus crucified. He was the perfect example of love- laying down His life for not only His friends, but for every human being.

When Lutherans talk about loving God and those around us, we do so in the realization that we can only love because God first loved us. Much as the moon can only reflect sunlight and has no light of its own, we can only reflect God’s love.

This is not to say that it is easy or automatic to live a life that honors God.  The difference is that we are called to live in response to God’s love for us.  We cannot earn God’s love and we certainly do not deserve it.

If we say we love Jesus, it is only because He has loved us when we were unlovable.

What does that say for the love that we reflect?

If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

November 24, 2017 – Christ, the King! Colossians 2:6-19, Matthew 20:25-28

christ the king

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision  by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV)

Speaking of kings seems like a very old fashioned thing to do.  The United States declared independence from the British monarchy 241 years ago.  Admittedly, King George III was a rather tyrannical monarch, and history has proven over and over that one man having absolute power will lead to absolute corruption.  Human monarchies typically are not terribly effective forms of government.  Dictatorships are even worse.  Why should One Guy be in charge of everything?

In Scripture we learn that even the “good kings” like David, Solomon and Hezekiah had tragic faults. The “bad kings” were Really Bad. So why would we want to call Jesus “King?”

The answer is that Jesus simply is (that simple little word again) the King.  He was not made- He is One with the Father Who made us. Unlike human beings who want to think they have some kind of divine calling to rule over other humans, Jesus is the divine ruler.  No debate, and no proving ground was ever necessary.

Yet Jesus took the ultimate proving ground. While He could rule over humanity with an iron fist- and be within His right- Jesus took the route of sacrifice and ultimate love.  He entered into the world of humanity and took on the entire human experience, including poverty, suffering and an unspeakable death.

crucifix5

As we think about Jesus the conquering King, we also remember He comes to us in humility and compassion. We represent Him and follow Him when we reflect His example- when we remain humble, when we sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others.

jesus-mercy-compassion

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

 

October 24, 2017: The Office of the Keys: The Power of Intercession – 2 Chronicles 30:9, 17-20, Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:5-8

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For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9 (NRSV)

For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord.  For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (NRSV)

(Jesus, speaking to Simon Peter and a group of disciples): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 (NRSV)

And he (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)

The Office of the Keys– which is the authority of average believers to forgive others and intercede for others- is probably one of the least understood concepts in Lutheran theology, but it is a radical twist from the traditional teaching of the church of Luther’s day.  While the church hierarchy taught that forgiveness had to be earned- or bought- and that forgiveness could only be granted by an ordained priest, according to the Bible, Jesus taught that the authority to forgive and to pray for others (binding and loosing) belongs to every believer.

Jesus also taught that we have the authority in Him to go directly to Him in prayer concerning our own needs. We can and should pray for each other as well, but we are welcome and invited to approach Him with anything and everything.

In prayer, God has a dialogue with us- He changes our hearts and minds to be in agreement with His will.

The idea that Jesus followers have the authority (not just ordained clergy, but everyday garden variety believers) to intercede for others is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the prophets (such as Moses) and sometimes the kings (such as Hezekiah) stepped in for the people and asked God for mercy on the people’s behalf.  Today Jesus has expanded that authority to everyone- a concept known as the Priesthood of Believers.

Jesus encourages us to step in for others in prayer. He tells us to be persistent and not give up when we pray.  He tells us we have the power to forgive others which is another reason why confession is good for the soul, as it allows others to pray for us and intercede on our behalf.

Sometimes in the confusion and hopelessness in this world we find it hard to pray. We don’t know who to pray for or what their needs might be. We wonder if God hears our prayers at times.  Yet intercessory prayer is one of the most powerful ways that every Jesus follower can work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

“You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum! Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.” – Martin Luther from Faith Alone, A Daily Devotional

Prayer is for all Jesus followers at all times, in all things. We are encouraged to come to Him no matter what troubles our hearts and minds.  We are encouraged to pray for others because our persistence in prayer may be the difference between God-life or hopelessness and despair for them.

The other part of this is that prayer and coming before God is more about one’s heart and motive than about following the rules. Anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows it’s not possible to Follow the Rules one hundred percent.  Following the rules doesn’t make us fit to come before God- the fact that Jesus told us to come to Him as we are, in our fallibility and humanity and to trust Him does.

Jesus, Who first interceded on our behalf, asks us to pray for others and to forgive the way He forgives us. We were put here on this earth for a reason, which just might include being the difference for someone else.

October 17, 2017- Charlatans, Hucksters and Thieves- 2 Timothy 4:2-4

want to hear

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NRSV) 

Urban legend has it that P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Whether this quote can actually be credited to Barnum or not, sadly it is true that human beings can be gullible.  We like quick fixes and instant gratification. We like to look good and appear to be free of any problems or struggles.

In the early 1500s there was a Franciscan friar named Johann Tetzel who was exceedingly well known for selling indulgences, which were special “get out of purgatory free” notes, to anyone who had the cash to spring their dead relatives out of purgatory, or to purchase their own speed pass to heaven.

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”- Johann Tetzel

Tetzel worked for the archbishop of Mainz. The archbishop- Tetzel’s boss- had gotten to his position by culling expensive favors from friends in high places. He needed money to repay his debts, as well as money to send to the Pope in Rome for the expensive construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  What better way to raise money than to appeal to the fears of the masses, who had never heard the real message of the Gospel?  The saddest thing about these shady deals- selling indulgences and saint’s bones and other supposed relics- is that the Pope was all for it.  The Pope was behind the charlatans and hucksters, and the money they brought in.  Keeping the average person ignorant and failing to teach the true Christian message ensured a ready-made clientele for the indulgence and relic trade.

Tetzel and those like him were instrumental in firing up the ire of those who wanted reformation and restoration in the Church- most notably Martin Luther, who detested the sale of indulgences and who was determined to stop the fleecing of the flock.

The sale of indulgences capitalized on the man-made myth of purgatory, which is a concept in which we have to contribute to good works and/or do penance to “clean us up” completely so we can get into heaven. The good news of Scripture is that our salvation and life are in found in the Three Solas- or three “Onlys:”- Christ alone, Faith alone, and Scripture alone- and we can’t earn or deserve our way into heaven. But human beings are stubborn and sometimes we don’t get- or don’t want to believe- the right messages. We have modern equivalents to Johann Tetzel and his fellow religious snake oil salesmen today in televangelists and charlatans who try to sell a prosperity Gospel.  Who hasn’t tuned in to early morning televangelism and heard phrases such as, “Just buy this prayer cloth and God will send you a miracle!” or “Send us ‘seed money’ for your financial breakthrough!”?

God isn’t a vending machine. He answers prayer in His own way and time, and buying prayer cloths or giving money to a fly by night televangelist isn’t going to influence God in the least. There is only one way to salvation, life and peace, which is the way of the Cross. The way that Jesus took for us, the way that only Jesus was qualified to take.

The real message of the Gospel is radical. It brings us to the Cross. It takes us to the heart of Jesus. It leaves no room for profiteering or personal graft.  We give to God and others in response to all that God has already freely given us, and we trust that He provides for our every need.

October 16, 2017- The Priesthood of Believers, Called to Be “Little Christs”- 1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 16:18-19

priesthood of believers.jpg

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,  in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19 (NRSV)

In the Matthew passage, Jesus was addressing His disciples (plural) who were gathered with Simon Peter.  The name Peter means “rock.”  Even though Jesus called Simon by the name Peter, in this passage He wasn’t just addressing Simon Peter, or referring to him alone as the “rock,” but he included all the disciples as well.  The slight misinterpretation of taking the “you” of this passage to be singular rather than plural led to the establishment of the Roman Catholic papacy and of a concept called apostolic succession.

The difference between the priesthood of believers, in which every member of the Body of Christ is intended to be and invited to be the rock upon which Jesus builds His church, and apostolic succession (authority and leadership is concentrated in the hands of One Guy) is a very important distinction.

In human history it never fails that when power is concentrated in the hands of one person (dictatorship) or held by a small group of select people who share a like mind (oligarchy) that power will be misused. Absolute power, as the expression goes, corrupts absolutely.  Human beings are by our very nature, fallible (prone to error) and in need of correction.  We need community. We need to act as checks and balances on each other.  The “Great Experiment” of American government (still fallible, but in many ways self-righting) is based on the concept of government by consent of the governed, and on the premise that all people have a role in government and in the community.

In the Roman Catholic teaching of apostolic succession, the declaration to the disciples  regarding both the establishment of the Church and the authority to bind and loose (known as the office of the keys) is taken to mean a singular rather than plural “you,” and was interpreted to mean Jesus was only addressing the apostle Simon Peter and not the other disciples.  So in Catholicism, the Pope is considered to be a direct spiritual descendant of the apostle Peter, as Peter is considered to be the first Pope.  This keeps the line of authority firmly in the hands of One Guy- the Pope.

The Pope was considered to be the “Vicar of Christ.” A rule was set down making him a sort of “substitute Jesus” here on earth. The Pope was considered to be infallible, meaning he was not capable of being wrong or of making an error. Unfortunately the only person who ever lived who could claim to be infallible is Jesus Himself.

Throughout the history of the Church, (and to this day, we as Lutherans share common history and many, but not all, doctrines with the Roman Catholic Church) the doctrines of papal infallibility and apostolic succession have proved time and time again to be rather damaging. Many Popes in early Church history were thoroughly corrupt and more concerned with secular politics and building their own wealth than with being Jesus followers here on earth.

Under the government of the Popes – with One Guy in charge rather than all believers contributing to the growth and development of the Church- the Gospel got lost in a lot of man-made rules and silly superstitions. The average person couldn’t read the Bible in his or her own language.  The knowledge of Scripture was reserved for the priests and monks- who could interpret it in any way they pleased, or not interpret it properly at all.   The Church claimed authority over granting absolution (forgiveness of sins) rather than acknowledging the truth that Jesus had already paid the price for our sins, and that our forgiveness is entirely a free gift from Him.

By the time the sixteenth century rolled around, the Church was full of profiteers and others who had completely gotten out of touch with the original message of the Gospel. The small misinterpretations of the doctrines of the priesthood of believers (the call to be the Body of Christ, and to embrace Jesus as our Savior is for ALL Jesus followers, and is not determined on the authority just one human, fallible guy) and the office of the keys (the authority to bind and loose, aka: make rules for the Church) led to countless abuses of power and severely weakened the Church and its mission in the world.

This was the primary and the most radical premise of the Reformation- that ALL people are invited into the Body of Christ, and to BE the Church. It’s all about Jesus, and not about one, human, fallible guy being in control.

ALL believers have the power to interpret and live out their calling as the Holy Spirit leads them.

Jesus died on the Cross to save us from sins.  At His death the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two- (Matthew 27:50-52) and the Holy Spirit was set loose over all the earth. We no longer needed a priest as a mediator, because Jesus became our Mediator. We are free to go directly to Him with anything, any time, all the time.

ALL believers have the authority to be as Martin Luther put it, “Little Christs,” doing Jesus’ work here on earth- forgiving, healing, restoring, and letting the Holy Spirit work in and through us.

October 9, 2017- This IS…My Body, This IS…My Blood, Matthew 26:26-28

bread and wine

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28 (NRSV)

One of the smallest words in the English language can be one of the most expansive: the word “is.”

When we as English speakers read the Bible we need to take care that the message in Scripture doesn’t get lost in our translations. Many thoughts expressed in the Hebrew or Greek languages are difficult to pin down in English.  The English word “love” for example, has many shades of meaning depending on the context- “love” as in, “I love this fish sandwich,” or “I love art,” or “I love the human race,” or “I love you and want to marry you,” use different meanings of the same word.  Hopefully nobody wants to marry a fish sandwich- but here is the difficulty of translation.

We must be careful when we read and interpret Scripture, and be mindful of the translations we use, especially if we do not speak or understand the original languages. We need to be sure we understand what the writers meant and that the translations are saying what God was saying through those writers.   The Holy Spirit is ready and willing to guide us if we ask Him for help in rightly interpreting and applying God’s Word.

There isn’t any confusion on the meaning of the word “is” as Jesus used it when He said, “Take and eat, this IS My Body,” and “Take and drink, this IS My Blood.”  The word “is” means exactly what Jesus said.

The Sacrament of the Altar – or Communion- in the Lutheran understanding, takes Jesus at His word. He IS present in, with and through the bread and wine.  When we partake of the Sacrament (the Word combined with the physical elements of bread and wine) we are taking in and taking part in His Body and Blood.

In some traditions Communion is merely taken as symbolism- something you do because Jesus did it at the Last Supper, but for Lutheran Christians the Sacrament of the Altar is much more than just sharing a piece of bread and a shot of wine or grape juice.

Martin Luther wrote extensively on the value of coming to the Communion table, and the importance of remembering that the ability to share in the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of grace to us. While it is good for us to come to the table understanding why and what benefit it is for us, we can’t really completely “be worthy” or “get it.”  We have to trust that God is at work in and through the elements, and that we are worthy because Jesus said so, because He is the one extending the invitation to “take and eat.”

Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar!

Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word of God.

It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et At sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence fear, and humility.

With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and say: If a hundred thousand devils, together with all fanatics, should rush forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ? etc., I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as wise as is the Divine Majesty in His little finger. Now here stands the Word of Christ: Take, eat; this is My body; Drink ye all of it; this is the new testament in My blood, etc. Here we abide, and would like to see those who will constitute themselves His masters, and make it different from what He has spoken. It is true, indeed, that if you take away the Word or regard it without the words, you have nothing but mere bread and wine. But if the words remain with them as they shall and must, then, in virtue of the same, it is truly the body and blood of Christ. For as the lips of Christ say and speak, so it is, as He can never lie or deceive. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

The simple answer to why we take Communion is because Jesus IS present. He is one with the elements that we consume, and He becomes part of us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar, we literally take Him in.

 

October 4, 2017- Baptism for All Ages- Isaiah 55:10-11, Ephesians 4:4-6

infant baptism picture

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 (NRSV)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

The big deal about the universality of the sacrament of Baptism – why it is something meant for all, regardless of age or cognition or profession of faith- is that it’s God doing the calling.

God has a way of calling the unlikely, the underdog, the weak. This isn’t to say that baptism is not for those who come to faith as adults, but that it is always God’s Word that makes it effective regardless of who is brought to the font. It is God’s calling, whether through our own volition or through our parents and sponsors, that names and claims us through the water and the Word.

I have had the privilege of witnessing Baptisms of all ages, from an infant at the age of three days to my own grandfather who was baptized three days before he died at age 91.   Whether the person was aware of what the pastor was doing and why, or not, the power of the Sacrament is still manifested there.  God is the Author of our salvation and of our faith. It is His promise being given.

We can have confidence in what God promises, even though we might not fully believe and comprehend His promises. It’s always God doing the calling and the equipping.

Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. This now is perhaps somewhat acute but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Today’s children and young adults have tremendous challenges ahead of them. It is easy to get caught up in the things this world tempts us with and not give the things of God a second thought. Often teens and young adults stray from the faith and don’t understand or don’t acknowledge the promise they were given in their Baptism.  Yet God is still at work in them and in their lives whether they acknowledge His work or not.

Baptism, and particularly infant baptism, clearly is an affirmation that God is in control. It is God Who redeems.  It is God Who names and claims and restores.

Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.

Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Many of us have children or grandchildren who have strayed from the faith or who fail to acknowledge God. Yet we can call on God- and know that His promise given to them through His Word in their Baptism will not be empty.

If we have loved ones who have been raised in faith and baptized, but have strayed from God, we can take comfort that in their Baptism they too have been named and claimed, and that God will find a way to restore them.