Friday, October 13, 2017

Trinity 17 (Proverbs 25:6-14)

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Proverbs, summarized by the last words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson. Dear friends in Christ: it was just recently that I heard the commercial, advertising adult education through a major university. The spokeswoman first talked about convenient hours and practical classes, but then she gave the punch line: “This is the education I deserve.” The education she deserves. That was the hook, intended to grab the listener, and I have no doubt that it was very effective. We like being told that we deserve things, from a good education, to a well-paying job, to an attractive spouse. Yes, of course I deserve those good things! We like to demand our rights; indeed, the Constitution of our nation could only be ratified if the framers attached a Bill of Rights. We are always looking for the slightest offense, the most minor infringement on our perceived ‘rights,’ and we will pounce, verbally or legally. Rights become a weapon, a bludgeon to beat down others, a tool of our selfish pride to get our own way, and the courts invent new rights nearly every day. We think we deserve certain things, we have a right to them, and therefore we expect others to give them to us.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh preach pride, pride which demands what we deserve, our ‘rights.’ But what we find is that not everyone indulges the proud. “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” ‘Pride goes before the fall.’ We’ve all heard that saying, but we don’t really believe it. We still jockey for position, not necessarily before any kings and nobles, but before employers and friends, at the dinner table and at church meetings. We desire for others to give us what we deserve, to look at us as highly as we look at ourselves. And we take this same attitude with our God, demanding that He give us what we deserve. Our default setting is pride, we seek our own honor, but Solomon teaches us that one who exalts himself will be forcibly humbled, before men and before God. What honor do you have before God? What good is it to exalt yourself before the One who knows you inside and out, who knows your every sin, who is jealous for the glory of His Name?

Jesus didn’t seek His own honor, He didn’t ask for what He deserved. The perfectly innocent Son of God deserved all the honor and glory that men and God could give. Instead, He received a cross. As Paul states, “Being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Christ humbled Himself before God and man, even unto a death He didn’t deserve. He submitted to the Father’s will for you and for me; for those trapped in pride He humbled Himself, and then was told to ‘Come up here,’ as He was exalted to the right hand of God.

We would not have endured such injustice upon us. Indeed, we hardly endure any injustice; we demand our rights and we are ready to take any to court who violate them. But once again, pride goes before the fall. “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” The one who quickly goes to court may find himself not only disappointed, but humiliated and embarrassed. “Argue your case with your neighbor yourself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.” The one who tries to gain an edge by revealing secrets will have the reputation of a gossip who cannot be trusted, and just as surely as if you hung a sign around your neck, “your ill repute will have no end.” Rights are good things, I suppose, useful to protect us from each other, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the concept is Christian. What rights do you have before God? What do you deserve from Him?

What you have a ‘right’ to is death, what you ‘deserve’ is hell; we shouldn’t be too quick to demand what we think we deserve, for God’s holy Law tells us what we deserve: eternal judgment. Jesus didn’t deserve God’s judgment or man’s judgment. He was sent to Pilate without a fair trial, then judged before the governor with a mob exerting pressure. But He didn’t demand His rights, He didn’t ask for what He deserved, He asked for what you deserve, He took your sinful pride upon Himself. He didn’t protest the injustice done upon Him, but instead fulfilled the Scripture: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.”

We would’ve protested, we would’ve opened our mouths. The injunction of Jesus to “turn the other cheek” is frequently quoted, but rarely followed. We don’t want to be corrected or called to repentance. Instead, the itching ears of pride listen to voices which promise much and deliver little. These voices call on you to demand your own rights, to claim that education, that job, that position, that spouse, that vacation that you deserve. Solomon calls such preachers empty and worthless. “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” Nothing that the preachers of pride promise will last, and most of what they claim to give never materializes in the first place. But while our pride refuses to hear correction or reproof, in the eyes of God, those who speak the words that call us to repentance are the most valuable treasures in the world. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reproof to a listening ear.”

These voices, these preachers of repentance, may not promise you the world, they may not stroke your pride, they may not give you what you think you deserve or are owed. In fact, they are going to call on you to die, to lay down your pride in humble repentance. They will call on you to give up on your rights, to forget about what you claim to deserve; a painful killing of pride is called for. They will preach God’s Law to humble you, to put you in your place. But the one who in repentance humbles himself before God will find the words of our text to be true. They will be told, by God Himself, “Come up here.” As Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You see, pride goes before the fall, but humility goes before exaltation. The messengers that Christ sends out to kill your pride are a precious treasure, the words on their lips more valuable than any gold or silver, because they proclaim the glory that Christ won for you. You didn’t deserve it, you don’t have a ‘right’ to it, but it is given to you as a gift, full and free, a gift won by Jesus. You have been struggling in the heat of pride, trying to exalt yourself, to demand your own rights, struggling to crawl to the top of whatever social or business ladder you are on. Repent, and hear of Jesus’ treasure for you as a drink of cool water that satisfies forever. “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the souls of his masters.” In the heat of harvest in northern Israel, a generous master would send servants to the mountains to carry down snow for his parched workers. You dwell in the desert of pride; repent and hear the Gospel, receive the cool water of Christ’s victory for you.

)If anyone had a right to be proud, it was Jesus, but He laid down all of His rights for you. He made Himself humble even to the point of death, dying for you and me, trapped in the bondage of pride, dying to forgive your sins, to release your bonds. He laid down His life into death, humiliating Himself before God and men, knowing that He would be exalted, knowing that His Father would say to Him, “Come up here.” You live with that same confidence. You have no need to demand your rights, to seek what people tell you that you deserve; you have exaltation coming, not deserved, but gift. On the Last Day, the Father will say to you what He said to Jesus: “Come up here,” and you will take your given place in the King’s presence forevermore. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Trinity 16 (Luke 17:11-17)

“Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, it is the characteristic and nature of our sinful human flesh that we seek help and comfort from other places—any other place!—than God. It is only when we have nowhere else to turn, when we have exhausted every other means that we have available to us, that we actually turn to God. Only when we have tried everything else do we come to God, unless, of course, we simply despair, or worse, curse God and turn away from Him, taking our grief as evidence that God has abandoned us. If we believe that there is no God, or if we believe that God hates us, we then grieve, as Saint Paul says, “without hope.” I have seen people grieve without hope. It is a terrible, alarming thing. I have seen people collapse, screaming before an open grave, I have seen those who cannot leave the coffin, who refuse to leave, who watch their loved one lowered into the ground. They cannot let go, they cannot handle it, they are grieving without hope. That is our nature, to seek help and comfort from any other place than God, but none of those places can comfort, none of those places can help, they only bring despair and never-ending grief.

Two processions met each other outside of the city gates of Nain; one coming out and one coming in. One followed a coffin, one followed Jesus. The first is a funeral procession: “As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” I’m sure that all of you have seen a funeral procession, and many of you have been in one. Just a quick aside: in the city of Lincoln, there are no police escorts, no blocking of traffic; the funeral procession is on its own. I know you have places to be, but I beg you, please be courteous, yield to these grieving people, and take a moment to pray for them. For every funeral procession is a reminder, a reminder that you and I are part of one right now, indeed, every day of our lives. We are all following the coffin.

Our life in this world is a constant, daily walk toward death until the Last Day. One after another is always dying off, and we are busy with our life of suffering, as some carry others to the grave, and we, day after day, follow along. We bring death with us from the womb; we all have in common that we will one day die. We all walk this road, except we are at different stages, someone is always getting ahead of us, and we all follow him or her, until it comes down to the last one. We pretend that it isn’t so, we try our hardest to avoid death, expending money and time and energy to defeat it, we try everything that our human ingenuity can devise, but the wages of sin is death, and death therefore reigns over all, for all have sinned. Death always wins, and one day you will be at the head of your own procession, but for now, you follow.

Immediately behind the coffin is a woman, a woman, Luke tells us, who has lost her only son, and she was already a widow. Even though God’s holy Law calls for the provision of the poor, she is looking toward a life of abject poverty, without aid or comfort, a life that would often lead women with less moral fiber to prostitution. To all appearances, the wrath and hatred of God rests upon her. We have a knack for understanding our world simply by what we see, judging by appearances. We look at this widow and her son, we look at any who lie in a coffin or follow, weeping, behind one, as if they are under God’s curse. But that is not how a Christian judges. A Christian speaks about what is invisible, a Christian knows that appearances are deceiving. God sometimes sends suffering equally on both the wicked and the righteous; indeed, He even lets the wicked prosper and have success while it seems that He is angry with the righteous and hates them. No doubt it seems that He is siding with the wicked and persecuting the righteous, but appearances are deceiving: help is coming.

When suffering comes, we feel hemmed in, it seems that all is lost; God wants us to see that there is no way out on our own. No matter what we think or do, no matter what efforts we expend, we can find no way out, we are encircled. Someone who is starving or poor and knows that they have food or money hidden away somewhere still can trust in themselves. But when someone is completely helpless and powerless, when every prop has been kicked away, then we have nowhere else to turn, then all of our own devices have failed, and we cannot find the solution in ourselves. Then we must look outside of ourselves, and behold, help comes!

“Soon afterward Jesus went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.” Jesus doesn’t come out of the city following death, a sinner subject to death like any one of us. No, He comes into this world as the only human being who ever lived who had no fear of death, for He had no sin; therefore, He comes leading a procession of victory, not defeat, joy, not grief. He is not under death’s power, but He steps into death’s view and takes His stand against it as one who has power over it. First, He gives comfort, He proclaims His coming victory. “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” His words, His actions, were motivated by compassion, the same compassion that led Him to take flesh in the first place, the same compassion that always moves Him to action. Weeping is not evil; indeed, Jesus Himself wept at the grave of Lazarus, but with this command He is pointing this woman and us all to an age to come when weeping will be no more, and He is declaring that He is about to take her grief away.

“Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.” He does the unthinkable, stopping the procession, making Himself unclean. But He has come into this world precisely to take away uncleanness, to stop the procession of death forever. “And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” With one word, one command, Jesus changes this procession of death into a wonderful, beautiful, rejoicing procession of life. The grave, the coffin, the grief are forgotten and left behind. All that remains is joy and gladness, and they go to transform a town in mourning to a place of joy.

The people understand, at least in part, what has happened; they rejoice and praise God with the language of salvation from the Old Testament. “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’ And the report about Him spread throughout the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” A great prophet has indeed arisen among them, one who walks in the footsteps of Elijah in our Old Testament lesson, the prophet promised by Moses. But He is more than simply another of God’s prophets. In Him, in this Jesus, God truly has visited His people, He has come to them in a way that He never had before, this time bearing their flesh and blood. And while Elijah raised the dead through the power of God, He had not ability to defeat it. Jesus comes to defeat death.

Whenever death challenged Jesus, whenever it took Him on, He did not shrink away, but He met death and accepted its challenge. He even willingly gave Himself into death’s ugly jaws. Elijah never died, but Jesus did. He suffered more than this widow, or any of us, could imagine, for He suffered not for His own sins, but for yours and mine, for the sin of the world. He died, as you will one day, and He was placed into the ground, your destination. But the raising of the widow’s son was a preview, a prediction of His greatest miracle, for He who raised the dead outside of Nain was Himself raised never to die again, and He was raised to give comfort and hope to all who mourn, to give comfort and hope to you. For because He died bearing your sin, those sins, past, present, and future, have no hold on you, and if your sins no longer count against you, then death cannot hold you. As the boy was raised, as Jesus was raised, so you too will be raised.

The grave cannot hold any who belong to Christ. He is the Lord of both life and death, He comes to us as we follow in the dreary procession of death and proclaims Himself as the One who has come to blot out death and bring life and immortality to light. An hour is coming when He will bring to completion the work previewed by Elijah in our Old Testament lesson, previewed by Christ Himself in our Gospel lesson, the work that He began with His own resurrection, as the firstfruit of life. On that Day, this work will begin, and it won’t only be on one person, but once and for all, and all who believe in Him will rise to live eternally in the new heavens and the new earth. On that Day, there will be a beautiful, glorious procession; all the saints will be called with a word from the dust of the earth, and led into the city, the New Jerusalem, with Jesus at their head. The procession of death will be no more, it will be forgotten in the joy of life. He will transfer you out of death into life and wipe away every tear from your eyes. The commands He gave in our text will be directed at you: “Do not weep.” “I say to you, arise!”

So even if we are stuck in the jaws of death, mourning the death of a loved one, or facing our own journey to the grave, we know that in Christ we have victory over death, and therefore only life. Faith grasps and clings to what it cannot be seen, even when we see only the opposite. We do not grieve as others do, who have no hope. We do not put our trust in the things of this world, the methods of men, to save us from death. Our trust, our faith, our hope, yes, even our grief, is in Jesus, who conquered death by giving Himself into its belly, by forcing it to swallow a poison pill that it cannot endure. Christ is risen, and death is overcome. Christ is risen, and the victory is yours. Christ is risen, and you will rise too. In His Name, Amen.

Trinity 14 (Proverbs 4:10-23)

“My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings... For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of the book of Proverbs. Dear friends in Christ: Who is teaching our children? Right away there seems to be a problem; you would expect me to say, ‘Who is teaching your children?’ Maybe you are single, maybe you are still in college, or a child yourself, maybe the Lord never gave you the gift of a child. There may be no children that you can call your own. But that’s not what I asked. Who is teaching our children? Our children? One of the greatest problems in congregational life today is that we see ourselves as a collection of individuals, not as a community of faith, gathered here together for the good of our neighbors, with responsibility toward one another. The children of this congregation are our common responsibility; we together as the body of Christ are to see that they are raised in the faith. Indeed, that’s what we say whenever a child is baptized at this font, if our words are not empty and false: “We receive you in Jesus’ name as our brother or sister in Christ, that together we might hear His Word, receive His gifts, and proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Who is teaching our children? The Bible has an answer that is clear, and it is implied in the first words of our text. “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.” The way of wisdom is to be taught in the home, it is to be passed on from generation to generation. In fact, God even gives us a commandment to drive this point home: “Honor your father and your mother.” Martin Luther begins every part of the Small Catechism with these words, “As the head of the family should teach in a simple way to his household.” Who is the head of the family? In normal circumstances, where sin has not wreaked havoc on this order, it is the husband and father. Who should teach our children? Fathers, first and foremost. Part of being a man, a husband, a father, is to ensure that your children are raised in the faith. Studies have consistently shown that when fathers bring children to church, the chances are tremendously higher that those children will become regular churchgoers than if the father is absent from worship. This fact isn’t meant to discourage mothers who faithfully bring their children to church, is meant to call on fathers to be men, to man up and take the responsibility that God has given to them.

But this fact doesn’t excuse the rest of us. These are our children, and we all should be concerned about our children. We are to encourage and exhort parents to teach the faith in the home, giving them the resources they need, we are to teach young men how to be heads of their households, how to man up. Who is to teach our children? We as a congregation, the body of Christ in this place, are to supplement the teaching of the faith that occurs at home. That’s why we have Sunday School and confirmation instruction, and that’s why we have a day school and pre-school, to exhort children as Solomon does in our text: “Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” Parents are free to ask other churches, or the government, to educate their children, but if our school isn’t the first option considered—and it clearly isn’t—then our congregation needs to do some hard thinking, for we together, not just the school board, not just the staff, but all of us, have a responsibility to make our school the primary place where the children entrusted to our congregation can be set on the path of wisdom.

For there are others who seek to teach our children, and wherever our children receive their education, there are many seeking to set our children on the path of the wicked. “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” Who is teaching our children? Those in power. Those who control the levers of government education, those who produce the television programs and movies that our children consume, those who are rich and famous. It is no sin to ask the government to educate your child, or to turn on your television at night, but we cannot do so naively, without knowing what our children are taught and countering any falsehood with the truth of God’s Word. “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.”

If you think that our children can be taught that sex is recreation—only be safe!—that the world came into being through chance, or that gender is fluid and has no connection to biology, and that these teachings will have no effect on the faith given to them in their baptism, repent. If you think that an hour a week, or less, of Christianity can counterbalance countless hours of the world’s education, repent. If you think that by sending your child to a Christian school—even our school!—your task of raising your child in the faith is complete, repent. Repent, dear friends, repent, for we are sending our children out as sheep among wolves, and we are neglecting our duty to prepare them for a world that hates them and hates Christ. Repent, for often the last thing we look at when considering colleges for our children is where they will go to church. Repent, for we have made sports—watching and playing—an idol to which we will even sacrifice the salvation of our children. Repent.

The devil wants our children to stumble; he wants them to falter and fall. He presents to them a wide and easy road, shrouded in darkness. He doesn’t want them to know that they stumble, he simply wants them addicted to sin. “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” The devil wants our children to stumble, to leave the faith. He is a master of a thousand arts; he simply changes tactics. He doesn’t care where you send your children to be educated, he just wants them to stumble.

But do not fear, dear friends. There is another power in this world, who has already overcome the devil with all of his wiles. He has put Satan under His feet, crushing the serpent’s head upon the cross. It is He who guides His children on the path of life. It is He who marked His children, our children, with the sign of the holy cross on the day of their baptism, who made them His own and will neither leave them nor forsake them. The way of wisdom, the path of righteousness, is not simply a moral code, a path of right and wrong. It is the path of salvation, the path of the cross. “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.” His words are life only if they are the words of the Gospel, the words of the cross, Jesus’ death in our place. A moral and upright life cannot save us, for we always stumble, we enter the path of wickedness day by day. No, His words are life because they give us healing from our sin. As the prophet declares in Isaiah fifty-three: “But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” It is the wounds of Jesus that heal us; He was pierced for our negligence of the children entrusted to us, as parents or as a congregation, He was pierced for when we prioritize other things above the salvation of our youth. He was pierced for your every transgression, and with His wounds you are healed.

Who is teaching our children? Jesus. Jesus teaches His children the path of righteousness, the path of the Gospel, pouring out upon them the grace that He won for them on Calvary’s cross. That is what He does here in this place, bestowing His grace upon us and upon them, forgiving our every sin and reassuring us of our identity as His children. It is He who leads us on a path without stumbling; the words of our text are not really the words of Solomon after all, but the words of the One who suffered and died for you, who suffered and died for our children. “When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” It is Jesus who gave us the faith, who died for us, who baptized us into His Name, but He doesn’t leave us to our own devices after we leave the font. No, it is He who keeps us from stumbling, who leads us on the paths of righteousness, who gives us a way bathed in His light. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” When the Light of the World dwells in us, then we can see the path, and the darkness is driven away. We will not stumble nor fall, because on His path, there is only Jesus, Jesus and His body, the Church.

Who is teaching our children? The beautiful message of the Gospel is that while the children given to us as parents or as a congregation are ‘ours’ in a very real sense, they are even more truly His. They are His children, as you are His children, and He will fight for them. Yes, He does so through you, and He gives you a solemn charge and responsibility toward our children, but the responsibility for His children ultimately lies with Him, they are His. You cannot save another, even one of our children; thanks be to God, that is the work of Jesus. He died for them, as He died for you, He forgives them, and He forgives you, and He has a place in heaven for them, as He has prepared a place for you. He is your life, and He is your healing, forever. In His Name, Amen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Genesis 2:4-7, 15-25

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the book of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ, in his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton describes two acts of marital love between Adam and Eve. The first is just a night or two before the Fall, and Milton, in beautiful verse, praises what God has given as gift: “Hail, wedded love, mysterious law, true source of human offspring, sole propriety in Paradise of all things common else!” There, the marital union is as natural and good as breathing, a beautiful expression of love. But then, many chapters later, after they have fallen into sin, their first deed, after blaming each other, is to return to the marriage bed, however, in a much different way. Milton writes, “He on Eve began to cast lascivious eyes; she him as wantonly repaid; in lust they burn.” And they take each other, no longer in pure love, but in carnal lust, driven by passions now corrupted by sin. The message is clear: the Fall can be no better understood than in the perversion of man’s relationship with woman; even the lawful union of husband and wife is corrupted and poisoned, they are no longer naked and without shame, they are naked and filled with shame. Much has changed; indeed, everything has changed.

Woman was given to man as gift, indeed the highest gift of His creation, to be honored above all save the Creator Himself. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” Adam cries, “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” She is man’s helper, to save him from his loneliness, to fulfill with him God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. He cannot be without her; humanity is incomplete without woman, “it is not good for the man to be alone.” She is the one corresponding to him, alike, yet unlike, they fit together in every way like a puzzle, completing one another, the two halves of humanity, the two eyes through which God’s greatest creation looks on the world. She is morally equal, an equal member of humanity, with equal worth before man, equal standing before God, yet she is placed in an order, with man as her head, her provider, her protector and she in submission, as receiver and bearer of life. As she was taken from man, so she will return to man, and the two will become one flesh again. She is his gift, and he receives her as gift in love.

But no longer. As Milton so dramatically illustrates, man now takes woman, and woman takes man, in lust, even within God-ordained marriage, man and woman are naked and should be ashamed. The trouble is, they are naked and so often feel no shame. And it is no surprise that if lust fills the marriage bed, that it would then spill out into other relations, that adultery and fornication would become common, that even greater perversions would result. The Fall ruins all. Woman is an equal member of humanity, but now she seizes on that equality to subvert God’s order. She seeks man’s headship in the home, in the Church, in society, and man either abdicates his role as head or uses it to tyrannize those whom God has given as gift. Man no longer receives woman as a helper, but as a slave or as a slavemaster, and woman no longer wants to help, but to be the head.

You can speak quite eloquently against cohabitation and fornication of all kinds, you can argue against the acceptance of homosexuality and the erasure of gender, but the root of all these corruptions is the same sin that fills you, that even perverts your marriage bed. You are no different in God’s eyes from those whom you condemn; your lust, whether it leads to action or not, is the root and source of all the corruptions that we rightly deplore. You can declare God’s order and argue against women’s ordination with the best of them, but you do so not out of a concern for God’s order, but from a desire for power, the same desire for power that has led women to seek the headship of men and men to treat women as sub-human. Women, you seek the authority God has given to men; repent! Men, you cover your desire for power with pious-sounding words; repent! You can puff out your chest and say, ‘The LCMS needs to repent!’ Certainly, our church body needs repentance, but so often we say this to avoid our own need to repent. Our time together this week is not an opportunity for self-righteousness, but for repentance, each one of us.

Repent and hear the Gospel. The Gospel is that woman is a gift, and not just a gift of creation. She is a gift through which God will bring forth salvation when man falls; from her womb will spring forth a line that will culminate in the One who will crush the serpent’s foul head. When God gave woman to man as his helper, little did Adam know that she was not just a savior from loneliness, but through her would come the Savior from sin. From generation to generation, every act of procreation in the promised line, as taineted as it may have been, was for the purpose of salvation, bringing humanity’s Savior ever closer. And when the time had fully come, man didn’t participate, but it was in the womb of a woman where God miraculously conceived the Messiah, God in the flesh, brought forth of woman alone. The second Eve, Mary, fulfilled woman’s task as helper, sent by God for this very purpose, to bring Jesus Christ, our Savior, into the world.

And this Jesus went forth and resisted every temptation, the temptation to lust, the temptation to tyrannize, the temptation to subvert God’s order. He honored and taught women, but He did not lust after them, He did not make them apostles. And as the women wept, He gave up His life into death for you, for me, for all. His death for your sins; He who didn’t lust after anyone, died for all your lust, He who never subverted God’s order, died for your desire for power. He died for your every sin, and when He rose again on the third day, it was the women who once again fulfilled their role as helper, not preaching, but taking the message of Christ’s victory to the apostles so they could take it into the world.

Through the apostles, the Bridegroom sought you out and made you His own, incorporating you into the salvation that He won. The Bridegroom sought out His bride, you, along with all of fallen humanity, and laid down His life for her. She had fallen into sinful adultery, idolatry that could only lead to death, she was destined to return to the dust. But Jesus laid Himself into the dust for His bride, He gave up the breath of life that was God’s first gift only to breathe again on the third day and rise up from the dust of death to make His people alive. He calls on all who are naked without shame to see their sin and repent, and He calls on all who are naked and ashamed to hear the Gospel. He sought you out in your sin, a walking corpse, destined to give up the breath of life and return to the dust, and He made you alive, giving you a new birth in water and the Word. You are His bride, and He the bridegroom, and the order of creation which we receive as Law is a picture of the Gospel: Christ the head of His redeemed, saved, purified body, the Church.

That’s why we fight to preserve the order of creation, within ourselves through daily repentance and in the world through our confession, because it gives us a picture of salvation, it points us and the entire world to the Gospel. Every perversion of the marital union, every attack on our creation as male and female, every perversion of God’s order, is not just a corruption of the Law, it is an attack on the Gospel. In response, the Church, who is the Bride, holds forth the beauty of marriage and the marital union, she declares woman as gift and highly exalts her in her role as helper and receiver in God’s good order, and she encourages men to take their place as provider and head. The Bride condemns perversions of God’s Word, and she also holds up the beauty of what God created and how He set all things in proper, wonderful order, all in service of the proclamation of the Gospel. For the Bridegroom has come for His bride, and He calls on all to take that honored place as His body, receiving protection and provision from He who is our head. He promises the removal of all shame, a restoration of the paradise we lost. There we will stand as Christ’s bride, living forever in these words: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” In the Name of Jesus, our Bridegroom, Amen.

Tenth Sunday after Trinity (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Church of God in Corinth. Dear friends in Christ: What is more important, diversity or unity? I could hardly have picked a more explosive question. If you want to see some excitement, just drop this hand-grenade into a faculty forum at a major university, or a newsroom staff meeting, or onto the floor of Congress, then quietly (and quickly) walk away. How you answer this question puts a label on you, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, but the debate isn’t that simple. Both sides of the aisle call for unity, the differences come in how diversity plays into that unity, and what kind of diversity we’re talking about; there the debate lines are drawn. But this question is certainly not restricted to the secular realm. Foundational to the debates that rock Christianity in general, and our church body in particular, is the question: How much diversity in practice can we tolerate while still remaining unified in confession? That question is the key to the worship wars, to debates over the role of women in the church, to arguments over communion practice, to division of almost any kind.

What is more important, diversity or unity? Saint Paul has as much to say about our political and social debates over diversity and unity as the book of Daniel has to say about dieting—that is, absolutely nothing. But he may have something to say about the similar debates in the Church, and his solution is quite simple: diversity flows from, and is in service of, our unity. Both diversity and unity are important, but the center of gravity is always found in our unity, unity in the one Spirit who gives all good gifts to Christ’s Church, gifts given in diversity to individuals for the service of the whole.

You see, Saint Paul cannot conceive of a congregation that isn’t diverse. Not necessarily ethnically diverse, though that will certainly be the case as the Gospel goes out to the four corners of the world. That kind of diversity is only skin deep—the great message of the Gospel is that Jesus died and rose for all, every nation, tribe, language, and race, and such outward diversity really means nothing when it comes to salvation and the gifts of the Church. No, Paul is thinking of the diversity that still exists among brothers and sisters in Christ, that isn’t abolished by the common call of the Gospel, the diversity that comes when the Spirit gathers a variety of individuals into a congregation and gives to each different gifts. Not everyone is given the same gift, and not everyone is given gifts in the same measure. The differences can be vast from one Christian to another. He gives us just a taste of what these gifts might be: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”

That’s a pretty impressive list, with some incredible gifts. But the list isn’t the point. If you leave this sermon thinking that you need to go take a spiritual gift inventory, or that you need to find a congregation where people still do miracles, heal, and speak in tongues, you are falling into exactly the trap that Saint Paul is warning about. The time of the incredible, extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit came to a close nineteen centuries ago. Those gifts were for the age of the apostles, the first decades of the Church, and we are not to expect them any longer. Indeed, it isn’t even Paul’s intention for us to match ourselves with some list of spiritual gifts at all. Instead, Paul wants us to recognize that we all have been given different gifts, with this key: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The common good. That’s what spiritual gifts are for. The Spirit gives them in diversity for the good of all. A congregation that is filled with people gifted in exactly the same way is woefully deficient. Only a body of believers who has a variety of gifts can supply what others lack, the assembly of Christians can then fit together like a puzzle, or to use more Biblical imagery, we can be built together as a house, or live, move, and have being as a body. Each part is necessary, and each part supplies something the others don’t have, something essential. No matter what gifts the Spirit has given you, no matter in what proportion He has given them, they are for the good of the Body of Christ, the Church universal, and for your fellow believers.

All gifts, in their wondrous diversity, have their unity in their source: the Spirit who gives them. He gives the foundational gift, the gift from which all others flow, the gift of faith. “I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” There is no room for looking down on any in the Church as if they are sub-Christian or even non-Christian because they don’t seem to have much (or anything) in the way of spiritual gifts. The fundamental, foundational, vitally important spiritual gift is the gift of faith, faith which confesses Jesus as Lord. No other gift is possible without this one, and every other gift is secondary next to it. This gift makes you a part of the body, this gift makes you fit building material for the house. You cannot be saved without it, for the forgiveness of sins, won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is received only by faith, and faith is only given through the Spirit.

Mute idols can make no one speak, nor can the dead make themselves alive, but the Spirit has come to you and done both; He has raised you up in Christ’s resurrection and He has given you faith to confess your Savior’s holy Name. Jesus died for all, every nation, tribe, language, and race; all humanity, despite our diversity, is unified in two facts: we are all sinners, and Jesus died for us. And all Christians, despite our diversity in spiritual gifts, are unified in this single fact: the Holy Spirit has created faith within us through the Word and the Sacraments, and we are members of the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters of each other, brothers and sisters of Christ. There is our unity, given in this one spiritual gift, the one that comes before all others: the gift of faith.

No other spiritual gift saves, no other spiritual gift brings you Jesus, every other gift is for the common good of the body, they do not make you Christians, but this one does. So there is no room for bragging or boasting in the Church, there is no room for looking down on others with regard to spiritual gifts. In common, we have the greatest spiritual gift, faith, which delivers to us Christ’s blood-bought treasures, and then every other gift is exactly that—a gift!—for the good of the body of Christ. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Spiritual gifts are not ours at all, they are gifts entrusted to our use, and they are for the good of the Body of Christ. That’s why the Spirit gave them. The Corinthians held some gifts more highly than others (speaking in tongues!) and looked down on others who had more ‘boring’ gifts, or didn’t seem to have much in the way of gifts at all. Their life as a congregation was a competition to see who was more ‘filled with the Spirit’ than others.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be! “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” The Spirit is interested in diversity, in variety, and He determines how he will give the gifts; it is not human choice, individually or as a congregation, that gives out spiritual gifts. That is the task of the Spirit, and He does this for a specific purpose. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It is not our Church, it is not our congregation, it is Christ’s Church, His congregation, and He has sent the Spirit first to deliver His forgiveness in our midst, and then to give the spiritual gifts necessary for the building up of His Body in this specific place and around the world.

So there is no need to take an inventory, but it is worth thinking about how the Spirit has blessed you with certain gifts and how those gifts may be used in service of the common good, for the building up of the Body of Christ. These gifts always serve the good of the whole, and thus are never for our own personal use, or to be exercised apart from God’s Word. Someone who thinks that they have the gift of preaching should first consult Scripture’s qualifications for a pastor and then, if qualified, seek the Church’s order of putting a man into the office of preaching. In the same way, we can have diversity in practice only if such diversity doesn’t threaten the unity of our confession founded on the truth of God’s Word. Diversity must serve unity. Our variety of gifts are to be used for the good of others in accord with God’s Word.

So what is more important, diversity or unity? Throughout our text there is a pattern, a cadence, between diversity and unity, but in every case, the emphasis is on the latter: the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. The diversity that we find in the Church flows from what unites us: our common confession that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus in our place and on our behalf, the same Triune God to which we now belong. The blessed diversity that we find in the Church serves the unity of the whole, the common good. Diversity serves unity, it never rules over it, for we all have one Scripture, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one Jesus who died for us, one Jesus who rose for us, one Jesus whom we confess as Lord by the one Holy Spirit who gives us every good gift. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Romans 8:12-17)

“You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Rome. Dear friends in Christ, we are debtors. We owe someone something. You can’t avoid it; you stand in someone’s debt, the question is, who will that be? “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” What do we owe our sinful flesh? What did it ever do for us? It held us in bondage, separated us from God and other people, and promised us great things while delivering only death. We don’t owe the flesh anything. We are not in its debt any longer; it used to have a claim on us, because we were chained to it, living in its bondage, but no more. We have been saved. Jesus, the stronger man, came, and robbed the strong man’s house. Whatever we owed to our sinful flesh He paid, dying our death in our place. He killed our sinful flesh when He dunked us under the baptismal waters. If we are debtors to anyone, we are debtors to Him. Not that we owe Him anything to pay for our release—the price has been paid—instead, having been released, we live under Him as His debtors in grateful love.

However, the flesh keeps knocking, it keeps calling for our allegiance, it keeps asking for its bills to be paid. The flesh wants us to believe that we are still in bondage, it wants to keep us in slavery. In fact, Saint Paul calls our sinful flesh the ‘spirit of slavery.’ “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Like an unwelcome houseguest that you just can’t get to leave, the spirit of slavery hangs around even after you have been released from his bondage. The spirit of slavery calls for our obedience, it wants us to think that we are still in chains. Even though we have been set free, even though the chains have been removed by the work of Christ, the spirit of slavery wants us to return to our cells and put the chains back on. And the remarkable thing is, we actually do it. Day after day, we, who have been set free from sin, put ourselves back into its bondage. We willingly, openly, put the chains back on and settle into our cold, hard, cells. We believe this lie, this ridiculous lie, that slavery is freedom.

This is the message trumpeted forth in every corner of our world: slavery is freedom. The world claims that living in sin is actually freedom, that doing what your sinful flesh wants is freeing. This is most often spoken of with regard to sexual sins—free love, sexual liberation, ‘I’m free to do what I want with my body’—but the same lie is told about every sin. The spirit of slavery claims that it’s the ‘Christians’ who are actually repressive, that the Bible wants to put you in chains. This even finds its way into the Church, where the freedom of the Gospel is used to excuse or cover for living in the bondage of sin. It doesn’t make any sense, but people believe it, and you, who have been set free, fall for it all the time. Repent! “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Sin enslaves, as any addict can tell you, it grabs onto you and controls your life. Indulging in sin is putting the chains around your ankles and making sure they’re nice and tight. The end of these things is death; that is all that the flesh can give you, and Paul is quite clear that the freedom of the Gospel is not the freedom to do whatever you want, to live however you want. The freedom of the Gospel is exactly that, freedom from sin and its bondage.

For we have been given another spirit, not the spirit of slavery, to return to our chains, but the Spirit of adoption. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Our status has changed dramatically. We were born into slavery, chained to sin by virtue of our birth as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We had no choice, that was our identity. Our natural birth was one of slavery; the chains placed upon us even in the womb. But then we were adopted. The Spirit of adoption came to us in our chains and set the prisoners free, for the price of our release had been paid upon a cross two thousand years ago. Jesus came to be our brother; He came and saw us in our chains, and even though He was without sin, He submitted Himself to our slavery and paid its ultimate price—death. Then He broke the bars of death with His resurrection, and set us free. But we were not freed from prison to run around on our own. We were given a new status; no longer slave, but adopted child. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are sons of God, given a watery birth in place of our natural birth, made children by adoption instead of slaves by nature, destined for life instead of death.

Why return to the slavery of your birth? “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The life of the free is a daily putting to death of the spirit of slavery. That spirit entices us with its chains, its assertion that you can only be free by living in sin’s bonds, but the Spirit helps us resist its call by reminding us of our identity: our baptism into Christ, where the Spirit of adoption made us God’s children. Martin Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” The spirit of slavery is put to death only by repentance, when we see our sin and turn away from it, drowning the Old Adam in a return to the font. The Christian life is one of daily, continual repentance, as we see our sin better and better and drown the Old Adam again and again.

This isn’t easy. The spirit of slavery, the Old Adam, is a tenacious swimmer, and his enticing words lead us astray again and again. We are tempted to despair of our identity as God’s children, especially when the Law confronts us and calls us out for not living as Christians should live. But we are not left alone. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” There are three spirits in our text: the spirit of slavery that wants to bind us, the Spirit of adoption that sets us free, and our spirit, which needs reassurance as the struggle goes on within us between slavery and freedom, peace and fear, old man and new. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make us God’s children through our baptism into Christ, He is daily active and working within us, killing the spirit of slavery and reassuring us of our status before God as we struggle and suffer in the battle against sin, death, and the power of the devil.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” We will suffer death to our flesh, the daily drowning we are called to, we will suffer the opposition of a world that doesn’t understand why we refuse its bondage, and we will suffer the ravages of sin in a creation that is still fallen. But the Spirit reassures us, bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and that we have an inheritance with Jesus. You are God’s beloved child, you belong to Him, that is your status right now, but you are also an heir, for you have an inheritance that is still to come, waiting for you on the Last Day. For as Jesus suffered and then entered into His glory, so your suffering, too, will only be temporary, and not worth comparing to the glory that is to come. You are children of God, adopted through the work of the Spirit, and an eternity of freedom awaits you, your inheritance won by your brother, your Lord Jesus Christ. In His Name, Amen.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 7:15-23)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, Jesus doesn’t have many good things to say about false prophets. In fact, He gets downright upset when He starts discussing them. His greatest fire and brimstone is reserved for those who teach falsely, who lead others astray. Elsewhere, He talks about millstone necklaces; here, He sounds much like John the Baptist. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” False prophets are doomed, they are condemned, their fate is destruction. No matter how much they protest, the Last Day will not be a pleasant experience for those who teach falsely. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” I never knew you. There are no more terrifying words that one could hear on the Day that Christ returns. I never knew you. Though they did signs and wonders, though they claimed to speak for Jesus, their destination is hell.

And they are taking as many as they can with them. False prophets are condemned so harshly because they do not keep their opinions to themselves. The false teachings that leave them condemned they spread to others, a poison that robs the true faith from the hearts of others. Make no mistake, dear friends, false teaching, false doctrine, false theology, condemns, it robs true faith and leads you straight to hell. During the World Wars, posters carried the handy phrase, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ We should have posters up all over this church, saying ‘False doctrine brings hell.’ Why? Because a wrong Jesus cannot save you, no matter how wise He sounds or how nice He is. In the same way, a wrong path of salvation can bring you only condemnation, no matter how appealing and easy the wide road may look. False doctrine is a poison; maybe a little won’t kill you, depending on what kind it is, but it sure isn’t healthy, and as the doses get stronger and you take them more frequently, you are killing off true faith so that you will hear with the false prophets: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Are you interested in avoiding that fate? Does having the door to heaven shut in your face on Judgment Day sound like something that you would rather not have happen to you? If you’re here this morning than you probably think that avoiding hell is a goal that all people should have, right? If not going to hell sounds like a good thing to you, then Jesus has one word for you: Beware. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Beware, dear friends, beware of false prophets. Keep your eyes open for them, be watchful and alert. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because false prophets don’t typically put ‘leading people to hell’ on their resume, or print ‘false teacher’ on their business card. In fact, if there is one thing that Jesus stresses about them in our text, it is that false teachers are always in disguise. He calls them ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ and then says that not only do they prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works, but these are all done ‘in my Name.’ You see, false teachers will often claim the name ‘Christian.’ These are the most dangerous; we are pretty good at spotting false prophets when they come from outside the visible Christian Church, like Muslim imams or Hindu priests, but things get much more difficult when false prophets call themselves Christian. And in fact, it is very difficult to find any false prophet who has something bad to say about Jesus.

Appearances are deceiving. Not only may false prophets bear the name ‘Christian,’ but they will probably do a lot of good works. Sure, there are many who are sleazy and outwardly wicked; those are much easier to spot. It’s the ones who are outwardly good, who make great neighbors, who serve in the community, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, who are actually the most dangerous. While we praise any good deed done by believer or non-believer, the good deeds of a false prophet can cause us to let our guard down and open our ears to their teaching. Miracles can do the same thing. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that miracles are restricted to those who are true disciples of Jesus. In fact, Jesus explicitly promises in Matthew twenty-four that false prophets will do many signs and wonders “so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

How can you “beware of false prophets?” If they are so well-disguised, how can you mark and avoid someone who will poison the faith given to you by the Holy Spirit? Jesus has a very simple answer: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Now, we may be tempted to think that ‘fruit’ here is the same as ‘fruit’ elsewhere in the Scriptures, referring to good works. But we already said that what makes many false prophets so dangerous is that they do have good works and even miracles. So the fruit of false prophets must be something else, indeed, the very thing that makes them a false prophet in the first place: their teaching. You can only know false prophets by examining their teachings. There a false prophet cannot hide. You see, a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, you don’t gather grapes from thornbushes. They can try to obscure their teaching with flowery, pious-sounding words, they can make the task more difficult for you, but ultimately, as Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

How can you recognize bad fruit? Only by knowing good fruit, knowing the truth. False prophets can only be avoided if you know the truth of God’s Word, if you know the Scriptures. Every minute spent reading your Bible, every Sunday morning or Wednesday evening spent in this place receiving Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service or learning His Word in Bible Class, is arming you to recognize the fruit of false teachers. Bankers are not taught to recognize counterfeit bills by looking at a bunch of fake money, they are instead taught every aspect of the real thing. That is what we do here; we give you the real thing, so that if you encounter false prophets, on your television, in a book or magazine, on your front porch, or in this pulpit, you can recognize the fruit, mark and avoid them.

Appearances will get you nowhere. The truth is often clothed in rags, while falsehood wears a $3,000 suit and drives a Jaguar. The most ardent atheist can do as many outwardly good deeds as the most sincere Christian. You judge your teachers by their fruit, knowing that “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” You judge your teachers on the basis of God’s Word, which means you must know God’s Word. That is your task, for the sake of your own soul and the souls of others around you; to listen to any who proport to be teachers and judge their fruit, their teachings. That includes me, Pastor Poppe, and any who stand in this pulpit. Any pastor that is afraid to be judged on the basis of God’s Word, who instead throws around his weight as a teacher of the Church, is afraid that his teaching won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the Word of God. Call him to repentance, for false teaching brings death and hell; true teaching brings life.

The true Jesus does save you; the true Jesus bled for you, He died for you, He rose for you. The true Jesus took all the sin of the world upon Himself, your sin and mine, and died to pay its penalty. The true Jesus has placed His Name upon you in Holy Baptism, He has made you His own dear child and delivered to you all the gifts of His Kingdom. The true Jesus has placed into your mouth His Body and Blood, feeding you with His grace unto life everlasting. The true Jesus is true God in the flesh forever, seated at the right hand of the Father, for you. The true teaching of the Church isn’t just right; it’s good, it’s beautiful, and it’s for you. The true path of salvation isn’t just the right way, it’s the only way, and it’s the best way, because it’s all about grace alone by faith alone, without any merit or worthiness on your part. If you have indulged your itching ears with the slick lies of false prophets, if you have mixed a little poison in the waters of life that you receive from Christ, if you have by neglect of God’s Word left yourself open to the assaults of false teachers, repent; repent and return to the true faith. This is the truth: you are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s shed blood, poured out on Calvary’s cross and applied to you at font, pulpit, and altar. The truth that you in weakness have neglected is the very truth that forgives you for that weakness, the very truth that saves you for eternity. You are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, a child of God forever.

On that great and terrible Day, you too will cry out ‘Lord, Lord,’ but this will not be the insincere cry of those who claimed the Name and refused the teaching; instead ‘Lord, Lord’ is the cry of faith. “Abba, Father,” you cry out, all you who have been adopted as sons, who have been made children of God through Christ, and the door will not be shut against you. No, it will be opened to you forever, for Jesus does know you, He died for you, He rose for you, He made you His own. Your lawless deeds are forgiven; He died for them all. That is the truth, the truth that has set you free, the truth that is not only right, but so much better than anything the false prophets offer. They bring death, Jesus has life, life for you. This is the truth we hear, this is the truth that we study, this is the truth that we read in the pages of the Scriptures. This is the truth that we cling to, because this is the truth that saves, and you who abide in that truth by the work of the Holy Spirit will live forever, world without end. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.