SERMONS - JUNE 2017
4 June 2017 - Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21
Jesus had told his disciples that they should remain in Jerusalem until they had received power from on high. And this is what happened to them on the Day of Pentecost.
Some pretty spectacular things did occur on that day. In today’s text from the Book of Acts, St. Luke describes these events:
“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
For many people, these things - the flames of fire resting on the apostles, and especially the speaking in tongues - are chiefly what is associated with the Day of Pentecost. In the twenty-first century, the most popular and fastest-growing churches are in fact those churches that directly identify with these extraordinary “Pentecostal” events, and that seek to appropriate for themselves, in our time, these and similar phenomena.
It is believed that speaking in tongues, and similar overt miracles, were and are signs of the presence of God’s Spirit, and of the working of God’s power. And it is believed that Christians who are able to experience these kinds of things today, can and will tap into this power from God for their lives today.
Churches like ours, where these things are not going on - or where there is no claim that these things are going on - are seen to be quite dull and lifeless. The word “dead” is often used to describe congregations that do not actively seek after such spectacular miracles.
Is it possible that we are missing out on something that God wants us to have? If miracles like speaking in tongues occurred among the first Christians on the Day of Pentecost, might it be so, that such miracles should be occurring among us too - so that we can have a stronger faith, and a greater confidence in the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit among us?
Well, before we go down that road, let’s make sure we understand what was really happening on the Day of Pentecost. Was the power of Pentecost really connected primarily to those extraordinary phenomena? Or was the power of Pentecost primarily connected to something else?
It is certainly true that some remarkable events did happen on the Day of Pentecost. And those remarkable events definitely did get the attention of the crowd.
But how beneficial was the speaking in tongues for the spiritual life of those who heard and witnessed this? How helpful was the speaking in tongues for their faith?
Were the people who heard the tongues touched by God’s Spirit through that experience, in such a way that they immediately recognized these things as evidence of God’s power? Did they immediately fall to their knees in repentance?
Did they in that moment put their trust in Christ? St. Luke tells us what the reaction of the crowd was:
“And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. ... And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others, mocking, said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
The reactions included everything from bewilderment and perplexity to mocking derision. But nobody - I repeat, nobody - was brought to a state of repentance and faith as a direct result of the tongues and other extraordinary occurrences that took place.
This does not mean, though, that the Holy Spirit did not work on the Day of Pentecost, to call people to repentance, and to instill a saving faith in them. Actually, about three thousand people became devout followers of Christ on that day.
But it was not on account of the speaking in tongues or other overt miracles. It was on account of the deeper and more profound “miracle” of preaching. After the speaking in tongues got the people’s attention, St. Peter rose up to preach a Biblically-based, Christ-centered, law-gospel sermon.
He pointed out that the prophet Joel had predicted the events of this day, and that these events marked the beginning of “the last days” of the world’s history. He went on to tell them about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ - declaring that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”; and also declaring that “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
After a couple references to the Psalms of David, with explanations of what those Psalms mean, Peter finally concluded his sermon with these words: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
A few verses beyond the place where the lesson appointed for today ends, St. Luke gives us the reaction to this sermon:
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘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.’”
“And with many other words he bore witness, and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
That’s quite a different reaction than the reaction they had to the speaking in tongues. Instead of bewilderment and perplexity, Peter’s sermon has now brought the crowd to see their need to repent of their sins - and their need to repent of their complicity in the death of Jesus.
Instead of an attitude of mockery and derision, the people are now filled with the joy and peace of divine forgiveness, as they embrace and experience the blessings of Holy Baptism, and as they are incorporated into the ongoing liturgical and sacramental life of the Christian community.
The Day of Pentecost was indeed characterized by great miracles. But the speaking in tongues was not one of them. To be sure, this was a miracle, brought about by God for his own purposes on that day.
But it was not one of the great miracles of that day. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, all by itself, did not result in the salvation of one soul.
The great miracles on the Day of Pentecost were the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacrament, and what God did in and through those seemingly ordinary and unspectacular actions, in the hearts of more than three thousand people.
Through these means of grace, those people were saved from their sins, and destined for eternal life. They were born again, and were filled with the living presence of God himself.
On the Day of Pentecost, the working of God’s Spirit for the creation of faith, and the saving of souls, was linked, not to the tongues, but to St. Peter’s Biblically-based, Christ-centered, law-gospel sermon. The reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins, was linked, not to the tongues, but to the sacrament of Baptism, administered in the name of Jesus, according to his institution.
What does this mean for us? A lot! If you want to taste and experience the miracle-working power of Pentecost, don’t seek out that power in the spectacular claims of modern-day TV preachers and flashy mega-churches.
Instead, seek out that power where that power resided on the Day of Pentecost: in the preaching of the gospel. Listen carefully to your pastor’s sermons.
If they are based on Scripture, if they speak God’s judgment against sin, and if they point you to Christ as your only hope, you can be assured that the Holy Spirit is working through them, even if there are no extraordinary phenomena associated with them.
Listen, too, to the hymns that we sing. Many of our hymns are really just sermons, written in poetic form and set to music. That’s why everyone should join in the singing as well as they can. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good singer or not.
When you sing one of those hymns, you’re not performing for people, and you’re not performing for God either. You’re preaching - to the people sitting around you, and to your own soul. And it is through the preaching of the gospel that the Holy Spirit works faith and spiritual strength in the heart - just like on the Day of Pentecost.
When you join in the singing of one of the hymns that are addressed to God, you are thereby being taught how to “call upon the name of the Lord,” and thus to “be saved.” And you are helping those with whom you are singing in their prayer, and encouraging them in the exercise of their faith.
Likewise, as St. Peter pointed the penitent crowd to Baptism on the Day of Pentecost, so too are we, in our penitence, pointed by God’s Word to Baptism.
Those who have not yet been baptized are pointed forward to their baptism, with the expectation that a great blessing will be received in that sacred washing. Those who have been baptized are pointed back to their baptism, with the assurance that the gift of God’s Spirit has been sealed to them, and that the gift of God’s forgiveness has been bestowed on them.
We are weak in many ways. Sometimes we are emotionally weak, as we struggle with our fears of the future, with our regrets of the past, and with the uncertainties of life in general.
Sometimes we are physically weak, as we are afflicted with various infirmities that sap our strength and rob us of our health. In the midst of all these weaknesses, we can be led astray by the “siren song” of spectacular miracles, and by the claims of those who say that we can receive such miracles through them.
It is, of course, true, that God does reserve the right to perform extraordinary miracles of healing, for those who are in emotional or physical need. And he has often done so. We would never deny that God is able to show mercy to people in these ways when it is his will to do so.
But the chief miracle that God wants to perform in your life is not that kind of temporary external healing. It is the eternal healing of your soul, through the forgiveness of sins. The deepest need of all people, whether they are weak or strong, is the need for reconciliation with God, and eternal life with God.
And God’s Spirit performs that miracle - over and over and over again - in the ministry of Word and Sacrament that he offers to us in the fellowship of his church. God’s Spirit performs that miracle through the message of Christ crucified for sinners, brought to us, and applied to us, in both sermon and Supper.
After the events of the Day of Pentecost, the Christians in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This was not a let-down or a “low,” after the “high” of Pentecost. This was, instead, a continuation of the true power of Pentecost.
The apostles were teaching the people - expounding the Scriptures to them, and recalling the life and deeds of Jesus for them. The members of the congregation were sharing together in the breaking of bread - the sacramental bread of Christ’s body in the Eucharist.
And through these simple yet profound activities, God’s Spirit was working, vigorously and effectively, to draw the people ever closer to their Savior, and ever closer to each other.
As they continued in “the prayers” - that is, the ordered discipline of public prayer and devotion that the early Christian liturgy provided for the people - they were built up in their faith.
And all of this is available to you, too. All of it. Even after two thousand years, the true power of Pentecost is still here, alive and well, in the church of Jesus Christ.
Extraordinary and spectacular miracles come and go. But they’re not really all that important anyway, in the eternal scheme of things. The enduring miracles of Pentecost are not those - not the speaking in tongues and such phenomena.
The enduring miracles of Pentecost are the deeply refreshing, deeply moving miracles of faith and hope, peace and life, which God’s Spirit gives us in the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.
In Christ we are not bewildered and perplexed by these wonders, and we certainly don’t mock and ridicule them. These miracles, in all of their exhilarating power, remain among us today. As God’s Word comforts us, and as God’s sacraments seal to us the pledge of his forgiveness, we know and experience, now and always, the true power of Pentecost. Amen.
11 June 2017 - Holy Trinity - Matthew 28:16-20
There is much mystery associated with God. Because God is so mysterious, God also seems to be far from us.
In humanity’s natural condition, people can know in their conscience that there is a God. But they don’t really know what God is like, or how he operates in general. Our inherited sinfulness blinds us to these truths.
For many, since the question of what God is like is a question that they cannot really answer, little if any time is spent thinking about this question. It is a question that ultimately doesn’t really matter.
If God is as mysterious as he seems to be, and if he is distant from us as he seems to be, then what’s the point of thinking about him? That is the conclusion that an increasing number of people today are reaching.
There are, of course, a die-hard few who boldly assert that there is no God, and who think that they can prove it. But there are many more who just don’t care. To them, talk about God is simply irrelevant.
If God is so completely mysterious, then he doesn’t really have any impact on the practical decisions people have to make in life. If God is so distant, then he’s not really a part of what is going on in this world.
Now, as Christians, we do not share in this indifference. We do believe in God, and that belief is important to us.
But how important is it? And does that faith make a difference in our practical decisions, and in our perception of what is going on in the world?
We have already noted that to natural man, God seems to be both very mysterious and very distant. But does God seem, also to us, likewise to be so mysterious, and so distant, that we don’t really think about him either - except for that hour and a quarter each week when we are here, inside the walls of this building?
On Monday through Saturday, are our moral judgments informed by our faith in God? Are our actions governed by a sense of accountability to God?
Is our ongoing relationship with God a matter of ongoing concern and interest to us? Or - except for that hour and a quarter on Sunday mornings - do we think and live just like those for whom God is so mysterious, and so distant, that his existence simply doesn’t matter?
The Athanasian Creed, which we recited a few minutes ago, fulfills the necessary purpose of refuting false doctrines about God, and of summarizing the true Biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in a very clear and tightly-organized way.
It is a useful teaching tool, but it’s a little hard to get through. That’s why we use it only once a year, on Trinity Sunday.
But our worship of the Triune God cannot be limited to Trinity Sunday. The Holy Trinity is the only God who actually exists!
You and I absolutely cannot dispense with our confession of God as Triune - as Father, Son, and Spirit - because it is only in the revelation of the Trinity that God ceases to be completely mysterious to us, and ceases to be distant from us in our day-to-day experience.
In the revelation of the Trinity, God ceases to be a complete mystery to people, because he shows himself to be a God who does in fact come to human beings like us, and becomes a part of our human story.
When we embrace the Biblical revelation of God’s Triune existence, we know that God is not simply a solitary divine Person who is just “out there” somewhere, unknown and unreachable. He is a God who is the eternal Father.
He is a God who eternally begets his divine Son, who is of the same divine essence as the Father. And he is a God who, through his Son, eternally emits his divine Spirit, who is of the same divine essence as the Father and the Son.
The Triune God is a God of relationships. He is a God of eternal relationships within himself; and he is a God of relationships with us, his creatures.
God the Father, in his love for his creation, sends God the Son into the flesh: to redeem humanity from sin, by the shedding of his blood; and to break the bonds of our captivity to death by his rising from the grave.
Through his Word and sacraments, God the Son then sends God the Holy Spirit to individual souls: to turn hearts and minds away from sin and unbelief, and toward Christ their Savior. God the Holy Spirit, living in the hearts and minds of the regenerate, recreates them in the image of the Son, and unites them by faith to the Son.
And God the Son, through the righteousness which he bestows upon his people, then restores for his people their fellowship with God the Father - a fellowship that human sin had severed.
St. John writes in his First Epistle: “By this we know that we abide in [God] and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
There is, we might say, a very active “loop” or “circle” of God’s saving work, for us and in us. Everything begins with God and ends with God. And everything that happens - at every point on that loop or circle - happens as the result of the actions of God.
God is the one who sends, and God is the one who is sent. He is everywhere, doing everything.
The Triune God is still in many ways a great mystery. He is God, after all.
But for those who have been called to faith in the gospel, he is not a mystery in every way. He has made himself known to us: by what he has done for us, and by what he continues to do for us. The Triune God establishes and maintains a relationship with those who, in repentance, turn to him for pardon and peace.
Those who ignore God in this life, will also come to know - on judgment day - that the doctrine of the Trinity is true, and that the Triune God is real. It will then be too late for them to know the Triune God in a saving way.
But whether or not they expect it, it is the Triune God who will judge them on that day - and who will judge as many of us who may secretly share their indifference. Listen to the warning that we hear in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? ... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
May God in his grace spare us this fate, and reveal himself to us now as a forgiving Savior, and not as a condemning judge. May our loving heavenly Father turn our hearts to the cross of his Son - by the working of his Spirit - and fill us with hope instead of dread.
In Holy Baptism, which the Lord instituted in today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, God connects himself to each of us most intimately.
The words, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” are much more than a verbal formula for the correct administration of this sacrament - although they are that, too.
These words are a divine testimony to who it is who is at work in Baptism; and they bear witness to who it is who continues to work in the lives of those who abide in their baptism.
Listen - from within your own Trinitarian baptism - to what St. Peter says about the power of the gospel in Baptism:
“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.”
God the Father calls us to himself through Baptism. The Baptism through which he calls us unites us to Christ, and places the saving name of Jesus upon us. And in that Baptism, our Savior Jesus Christ pours out upon us the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Listen, too - again, from within your own Trinitarian baptism - to what St. Paul says about the power of Baptism in a gospel-filled life:
“But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, ...according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
God the Father is our Savior, who saves us by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. And it is through his Son, also our Savior, that he sends the Spirit to us.
Notice that we have at least two “Saviors” in this passage - the Father and the Son. But notice more deeply that we actually have only one - for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.
Because the Triune God is not a complete mystery to us - but makes his loving deeds and his loving will known to us in his Word - our faith in God, and our recognition of his authority, do therefore make a different in how we think about things, and in the moral judgments we make.
St. John writes that it is God’s commandment “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
And in Christ, our divine-human Lord, God had made it abundantly clear to his people that he is not distant from them. He is as close as he can be.
Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
As the Triune God comes to us in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, so too does the Triune God draw us to the wondrous joy and peace of the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus said:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. ... I am the bread of life. ... This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. ... It is the Spirit who gives life...”
Dear friends: as you have been renewed today in your baptism, by repenting of all your sins, and by hearing and receiving the Lord’s absolution; and as you now prepare to come once again to the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood, God, in Christ, is no longer an incomprehensible mystery to you.
And he is not distant from you. The Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is your Savior.
The Father’s voice calls you from death to life, and from hellish slavery to heavenly freedom. The Son justifies you, and makes you acceptable to his Father by his grace alone.
The Spirit converts you and sanctifies you, so that with the new heart and the new mind - the mind of Christ - that he also gives you, you can now honor and serve Christ throughout your days.
The Father transports you into his kingdom, and makes you a citizen of it. The Son redeems you from the power of sin and from the fear of death. The Spirit - the Spirit of adoption - causes you to cry out, “Abba, Father,” as a member of God’s own family.
The Triune God is your teacher and guide. The Triune God is your comforter and protector. The Triune God is your Lord and Master. And because of everything that God in his fulness is to you, you can say a prayer like this:
With Thee, Lord, I am now united; I live in Thee and Thou in me.
No sorrow fills my soul, delighted It finds its only joy in Thee.
My heart has now become Thy dwelling, O blessed Holy Trinity.
With angels, I - Thy praises telling - Shall live in joy, eternally. Amen.
18 June 2017 - Pentecost 2 - Romans 6:12-23
“For the wages of sin is death.” We all know what a wage is, especially in comparison to a gift. A wage is something you get as a consequence of your own work.
A wage is something you earn. It is not given to you as a gift, with no strings attached. Rather, lots of strings are attached to it.
Your labor is attached to it. When there is a functioning economy in a country, the rule of law, and the honoring of labor contracts and agreements, there is a direct correlation between work and wages.
This is the framework for understanding the meaning of St. Paul’s terminology, in his statement in today’s text from his Epistle to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death.”
When there is sin in your life, what can you expect to be the result of that sin? Death is the normal and natural result - spiritual death, temporal death, and eternal death.
Death means separation. Spiritual death is the separation of the human spirit from God’s Spirit, and from fellowship with God.
Temporal death is the separation of the soul from the body. Eternal death is the separation of the resurrected reprobate person from heaven, and from God in heaven.
God had all of these aspects of the meaning of death in mind when he gave this commandment to Adam in the Garden of Eden:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.”
When Adam disobeyed God and sinned against this commandment, he instantly became spiritually dead. His eyes were opened, we are told, and he realized that he was naked. His inner communion with his creator was gone.
When Adam sinned, and when he was - as a punishment - cut off from the tree of life, he also became mortal. Eventually, he would now also die physically. He had come from dust, and to dust he would now return.
And in his disobedience, and in his rejection of God’s will and command, Adam also put himself on a trajectory toward eternal death. He destined himself for hell. It’s what he had earned, and it’s what he deserved.
Adam would have been damned, if it had not been for the Lord’s gracious and undeserved intervention - as God revealed to Adam the promise of a coming Savior; and covered Adam’s sin and shame with forgiveness, as illustrated by the garment of skin that the Lord made for him and placed upon him.
The fact that Adam will not eventually suffer an eternal death says something about God’s mercy in Christ, which prompted him to give Adam - and all humanity - a second chance. It doesn’t diminish our recognition of what Adam’s sin had actually earned for him in this respect.
Sin earns death, in the way that labor earns a wage. For sinners, who ply their trade in sin, death is not given as a gift. It is the deserved compensation, for those who have succeeded in their craft of sinning.
And when there is death in your life, there is no mystery as to how it got there. It is the wages of sin. That’s how it got there. That’s where it came from. Death is the evidence that sin was there first.
Before we would attempt to make individual correlations between specific sins and specific deathly results, we need to look at the bigger picture. Adam’s sin was humanity’s sin.
We were in Adam, our ancestor, when he fell away from the Lord. And Adam, our ancestor, is in us now, as we perpetuate - through our own culpable acts of rebellion - the sinfulness of the human race.
Earlier in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul had explained that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
The wages of humanity’s sin is humanity’s death. Only in that larger, general context would we then say that the wages of your sin is your death.
But we would say it, because you are not only a victim of sin - namely the sin of your ancestors. You are also a perpetrator of sin.
And your sins - your own sins, for which you are personally guilty - have earned the death that surrounds you and infects you. If there is any death in you - deathly thoughts and actions in the present; deathly fears of the future - that’s where it comes from.
This is not an invitation to try to make a cause-and-effect connection between this or that sin of the past, and this or that deathly consequence now. In most cases that cannot be done. But the general correlation between sin as a whole, and death as a whole, remains.
God is not to blame for human sin. Humans are to blame. And God is not to blame for human death - the wages of sin. Again, humans are to blame. Human sin is to blame.
When you experience death - outwardly and inwardly - don’t shake your fist at God. Rather, shake your fist at yourself.
Beat your own chest with your fist, in repentance. It is by your fault, your own fault, your own most grievous fault, that you are dead, and that you will die. For the wages of sin - your sin - is death.
But, the “free gift” of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We recall that Adam earned death, and deserved death. Spiritually he died.
But God revived his spiritual life through the power of his Word and promise, and through the power of his forgiveness. Adam and his wife then looked forward in faith to the coming of their Savior - the Seed of the woman - who would crush the serpent’s head for them and for their descendants.
Adam’s time on earth did come to an end. Bodily, he died. But he died - implicitly if not explicitly - in the hope of the resurrection.
And he will be resurrected with all of God’s forgiven and justified saints. This physical death will be undone.
And for Adam, a hellish eternal death was never experienced, and never will be experienced, because his sin and shame were indeed covered with the garment of Christ’s righteousness, prepared for him by the shedding of Christ’s blood as his substitute.
As for Adam, so also for you - if you know what Adam knew. Or more precisely, if you - by repentance and faith - know who Adam knew.
The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. There are at least a couple words in New Testament Greek that are generally translated in our English Bibles as “gift.”
One of those words is “doma.” This is similar to the English word “donation,” and describes a specific thing or object that is presented to someone - sometimes as an expression of gratitude for some previous service rendered to the giver of the “doma.”
Another Greek word translated as “gift” is “charisma.” This is the word that St. Paul uses in today’s text, when he says that the “free gift” of God - the “charisma” of God - is eternal life. Our English word “charismatic” is derived from this term.
“Charisma” never describes something that is given as a reward for some previous meritorious conduct. A “charisma” is always a “free” gift, motivated only by the grace of the giver.
And a “charisma” is not simply a thing or object that is presented to someone. It has the connotation of an endowment that is placed upon someone, or into someone; and that then becomes the source of a good change in that person, or of a positive transformation of that person.
This is the kind of gift that God gives you, when he saves you from death. You can’t earn it. The only way to have it, is for God to have given it to you.
Again, there is a connection between sin and death. Death comes from sin, and because of sin.
The present and future death of the human race, and the present and future death of each human being, is the result of the sinful wickedness and sinful rebellion of the human race. But eternal life, for those who have it, does not come from humanity’s goodness and obedience.
A bad result for humanity is earned by bad human actions and bad human thoughts. But a good result for humanity is not earned by good human actions and good human thoughts.
The good result of eternal life - a cleansing and a deliverance from death, in time and in eternity - is not earned at all, by any means. It is a gift. And it is a gift from God.
If there is any cause or reason for God’s giving of life to you, that cause or reason is not found in you. It is found in God.
And more specifically, it is found in Jesus Christ - the eternal Son of the Father - and in his life for you, in his death for you, and in his resurrection for you.
When an earthly boss pays you your wages, he does so on the basis of looking at your performance, and at the results produced by your efforts. When God gives you eternal life, he does so on the basis of looking at his Son’s performance, and at the results produced by Jesus’ efforts.
That’s why the free gift of God is eternal life “in Christ Jesus.” Not in you, but in him. Not because of you, but because of him.
And the eternal life that we have in Christ Jesus - the life we have in him now, filling us and renewing us; and the life that we will have in him in the resurrection and in heaven - is a divine life. Because the one in whom and through whom we have it, is divine.
The free gift of God is eternal life “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Literally, the Greek says: “in Christ Jesus, the Lord, of us.”
Jesus is “the Lord.” Jesus is Jehovah - in human flesh, to accomplish human salvation.
“God” was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. The risen one, who is “my Lord and my God” - to quote the apostle Thomas - forgives my sin, and gives me life, because of who he is, and not because of who I am.
If someone would offer you a job, and a certain salary for that job, he might say: “If you do this work that I need done, then I will pay you this wage.” It’s conditional. Strings are attached.
If, however, someone would offer you a gift, there are no “if-then” conditions. The gift is held out to you. You are invited to receive it.
When you receive it, it is yours. The gift of eternal life is a gift that God holds out to you.
Actually he speaks this life to you, and upon you, and into you, when he speaks the gospel of Jesus Christ to you, and upon you, and into you - through his called servants, in sermon and in sacrament. And as with anything that is offered to you through a word or a message, the way in which you receive it, is by believing it.
What we read in the Book of Proverbs is exactly what God, in Christ, would say to you and me:
“My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.”
And Jesus himself says, in the Gospel of John: “It is the Spirit who gives life... The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Eternal life, in Christ Jesus our Lord, is a gift. It is always, and only, a gift. It is a gift to be received, by being believed.
If you sin, have no doubt that the wages of that sin is death. All sin deserves death.
And all sin will result in death - spiritual death, temporal death, eternal death - unless God intervenes, to cause you to receive something instead of death; something that you do not deserve, and have not earned; but something that will halt and reverse the deathward trajectory on which you sins put you.
To the penitent, God gives eternal life in Christ Jesus. Those who believe God’s word of life, receive that life, and live forever.
In Christ Jesus the Lord, God has intervened. In Christ Jesus your Lord, God has intervened for you.
God is intervening right now, for you, in the very words that I am speaking to you, right now. God is giving eternal life to you right now, through these words.
As you believe God’s word of life, you receive that life, and will live forever. Believe, and live! For the wages of sin is death, but... but... the free gift of God, to you, is eternal life, for you, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
25 June 2017 - Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Today, June 25th, is the 487th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This is a commemoration that does appear on Lutheran church calendars, even though it is seldom observed.
During the almost twelve years that I have been the pastor at Redeemer, we have not observed it here. But since this date falls on a Sunday this year, and since this year in general is an important anniversary year for the Lutheran Reformation as a whole, I think there is a benefit in marking this occasion today.
Reformation Sunday - the Sunday closest to October 31st - marks the occasion when Martin Luther, a professor and pastor in Wittenberg, Germany, nailed 95 theses of protest against the sale of indulgences and related abuses to the door of the Castle Church in his town.
Reformation Sunday focuses on this specific action of Luther, and in many ways also on Luther himself - his personal pastoral concern for the members of his parish, who were being misled by the indulgence preachers; and his personal boldness, in being willing to stand up to those in authority when he believed that they were either corrupt or indifferent to the genuine spiritual needs of the people.
But the commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession takes the attention off of Luther as an individual. Today we are leaving aside any thoughts on Luther’s personal weaknesses or his personal strengths, his flaws and foibles or his gifts and abilities.
We do not repudiate Luther as a leader and teacher of the church, whom we believe was raised up by God for the troubled times in which he lived. We feel the same way about many other fathers of the church, both before and after the 16th century: people like St. Athanasius and St. Augustine in the ancient church; and C. F. W. Walther in the 19th century.
But we do not preach Luther - just as we do not preach Athanasius, Augustine, or Walther. We preach the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, and the message of God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation in his Son, that these men - and millions of others in history - previously preached.
We preach the gospel that God has called his church also in our time to preach. We preach the unchanging gospel that is embodied in the Augsburg Confession.
The Augsburg Confession is an official creedal statement of our church. It is the primary confession of the Reformation period, building on the ancient creeds that came before it.
At the invitation of the Holy Roman Emperor - who wanted to try to sort out the religious conflicts that had begun to afflict his empire - this confession was presented at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530, by those princes who had begun to implement ecclesiastical reforms in accord with Luther’s protest, on the basis of Holy Scripture and in the spirit of the gospel.
Luther himself was not at Augsburg in 1530. And Luther was not the author of the document that was presented there. The Augsburg Confession was not about Luther. It was and is about God, God’s Word, God’s church, and God’s salvation.
The presentation of the Augsburg Confession marked the birth of the Lutheran Church as a distinct confessing body of Christians, and as a distinct communion of territorial churches. Because this confession is an official statement of belief for us - and has been for 487 years - we used some key excerpts from it as our creed today.
It is one of our creeds. But it is longer than the creeds that we ordinarily use, because it addresses a fuller range of topics belonging to “the whole counsel of God” as revealed in Scripture.
At a time of much confusion and theological weakness in the church, when renewed clarity was called for, the Augsburg Confession provided that clarity. At a time when penitent sinners with a troubled conscience no longer knew whether God would be merciful to them and accept them into his kingdom, the Augsburg Confession proclaimed from God’s Word the truth of God’s peace and comfort in Christ, for all who call upon the name of the Lord.
The Augsburg Confession announced to the larger church, and to the world, what Jesus had told his apostles to announce, when he said to them in St. Luke’s Gospel:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
The Augsburg Confession explained to unsettled yet open minds what St. Paul had explained to unsettled yet open minds, when he wrote in his Epistle to the Romans:
“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.”
Good works necessarily follow, and flow from, a true and living faith, as the natural fruits of such a faith. But we are not reconciled to God by the fruits of faith. We are reconciled to God by the object of faith - that is, by what faith believes, and by the One to whom faith clings.
And what faith believes, is God’s pledge and promise in his Son Jesus Christ - offered to all who repent of their sins and acknowledge their need for his forgiveness - that as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us - as the Psalmist states.
What faith believes, is what God proclaims to the world about his love for us, and about what that love gives: that God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life - as Jesus told Nicodemus.
The Augsburg Confession is not referred to very often in the ongoing life and worship of our congregation. But it is always in the background.
Our church’s constitution pledges us to its doctrine, and obligates all pastors and preachers in our church to conform their teaching to this doctrine - since this doctrine is drawn from Scripture. The Augsburg Confession does not supplement Scripture, and it is not a substitute for Scripture. It is not our equivalent of the Book of Mormon.
Rather, it is a faithful statement and exposition of Scripture. As such it teaches us and guides us, as a servant of Scripture and under the authority of Scripture.
It draws together the essential points of the doctrine of the Bible, and teaches them to us. It guides us into and through the Bible, showing us what the Bible says, and warning us against distortions of the Bible.
And through the Augsburg Confession, we as a church also declare to others what we believe, and invite them likewise to believe this - and to receive from God the eternal blessings that God offers in his Word and Sacrament to those who do believe in him.
Our confession of our faith is often a private and informal thing. To those we know, who are interested in learning more about the Christian church and its teachings, we defend and explain our belief in the authority of Scripture.
We defend and explain our belief in the mystery of God’s triune existence, and our belief in the mystery of the incarnation of God’s Son as Jesus of Nazareth. We defend and explain our belief in the sinlessness of Jesus’ life, in the sufficiency of Jesus’ death as an atonement for all human sin, and in the vindicating truth of Jesus’ glorious resurrection.
And we share with those we know the divine message of law and gospel, through which the Holy Spirit has brought conviction and hope to our hearts, and has worked within us a new nature and a new life. We invite those we know to join us in the enjoyment of this hope and this life, by joining us in the enjoyment of Christ.
But our confession of our faith is also a corporate thing, and a formal thing. As members of the Lutheran Church and of this congregation, we are able to join our voices to the voices of all Confessional Lutherans, in expressing our conviction that the testimony of the Augsburg Confession is a faithful testimony of the saving truth of God himself.
We do believe that in the providence of God, the Reformation of the 16th century was a good and beneficial thing for the Lord’s beloved flock on earth. As the Word of God was once again exalted and restored to its place of honor, and as the gospel was once again proclaimed in all of its truth and power, the Reformation was a purifying and cleansing thing for the church of God in this world. Jesus preserved and renewed his church.
What a blessing it is to know God’s gracious forgiveness of all our sins, and his gracious justification through the righteousness of our Savior being placed upon us and credited to us. What a privilege it is to be able to confess to other people - to all other people in the entire world - that by means of his Word and promise, God offers this salvation also to them, and invites them and everyone to believe him.
We can use the Augsburg Confession for this purpose. And for this purpose, God and his church - by means of our subscription to the Augsburg Confession - can use us.
We close with these words from today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans - words that are very applicable to what we are commemorating today, and to what we are committing ourselves to today:
“‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 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 ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Amen.