Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (Mark 13:3-13)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Bethel Lutheran Church, Sweet Home, OR
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25, 2017
Text: Mark 13:3-13

We live in the end times.   This is clear from the signs which we see around us.  Just look around and see that it’s only getting worse each year.  In these last days, Christians will be called upon to confess their faith.  But when you confess, you have to know what to confess.  As was mentioned earlier, to confess is to say the same thing as God’s Word.  In order to confess Christ before men, you need to know what God’s Word teaches.  This is not just a responsibility laid on pastors and theologians.  It is a burden that is laid upon every Christian to confess who the true Christ is and to be able to identify false Christs and the lies told in the name of Christ.
This is what happened at Augsburg.  By the year 1530, the Reformation had spread quite a bit.  The first Lutheran hymnal was published in 1524, the Small Catechism was published in 1529, and Martin Luther and his teachings were widely known and opposed by Roman church leadership.  The difference with the Lutheran reformation from other movements was that it was about doctrine—the teachings of the Bible.  It wasn’t targeting moral abuses among the clergy or overthrow the government.  It came down to learning the faith only from what the Scriptures teach.
Yet, this theological Reformation would not have gone anywhere significant if it just happened in the ivory towers of universities and church councils.  The teachings of Scripture were broadcast to the masses—“Salvation unto Us Has Come/by God’s free grace and favor” was on the lips of parents and their children, God’s Word was available in German, and the Small Catechism outlined the Christian faith for young and old.  Among those who received the pure teaching from God’s Word were many princes and court officials.  So, when strong political resistance came against Luther and those who follow him, it was these civic leaders (not just the theologians) who answered for their faith.
At the Diet of Augsburg in June 1530, two court lawyers (chancellors), devout laymen, Christian Beyer and Gregor Bruck were the ones who presented the confession in front of Emperor Charles V.  The signors at the end were all laymen. They were presenting their case in a civil proceeding, but they were confessing Christ.
They had been asked to cease and desist supporting Luther’s divisive teaching about grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and Christ alone.  Yet on this ground they took their stand: This is what the Word of God teaches, which they themselves had studied. They didn’t desire to cause political or religious schism.  They were convinced that if they only presented their case on the basis of Scripture, the offense would end.  Notice the language in each of the articles: “Our churches teach…” They were talking about their pastors and what they believed from Scripture.  But, neither pope nor an angel from heaven could convince them to turn from their faith in Christ.
In these Last Days, the Lord Jesus warns all Christians, “See that you are not led astray.” The only way to not be led astray is to know the true Way.  Jesus Himself is the Way, and He is revealed only in the Bible.  So the way to learn the true way is to diligently study the Scriptures.  It is a heavenly gift that God’s Word is so readily available in our own language (as well as so many others in the world).  We really have no excuse for not knowing what the Bible says, but we neglect the Word in favor of other more pressing business.  Much damage can be done to Christians who blindly follow whatever “the Church” teaches without knowing what that really is.  No one should join a church—regardless of the name—without thoroughly knowing what they believe and whether it’s faithful to the Scriptures or not.
So, study the Scriptures as the God-breathed writings[1] for our good, that we would know Jesus Christ to be the crucified Savior of sinners.
The Lord goes on to say, “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”  Every Christian needs to know biblical doctrine, not only to defend against possible lies from outside, but also inside.  In Matthew 7, Jesus also warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits”[2]  That is, you will recognize false prophets by their teaching. Instead of gathering the sheep into the fold of their Shepherd, they scatters and destroy them with diabolical lies.
We can thank God for pastors who you can trust to feed and tend the flock faithfully, giving them the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word.[3]  This relationship between congregations and their pastors is what the Lord intends.  But would you do if your teachers ever start mixing the poison of false doctrine into what they feed you?  St. John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”[4]  The devil is indeed at work in the Church, and no one is protected on the basis of heritage.
But the Lord has always been a zealous protector of His flock.  As we heard last week, when He sees His people “harassed and helpless,” He steps in to raise up faithful shepherds to give the healing only His pure Gospel can give.
That brings us back to the Diet in Augsburg.  The theologians and laymen who followed Martin Luther were falsely accused of being rebels in both the spiritual and civil realms (Anabaptists, Karlstadt), so they made a confession both of what they believed and those things which Scripture shows to be false.
Their aim was that they—the pastors, teachers, and the princes themselves—had not invented anything new, but believed nothing but the Biblical faith handed down by the Apostles and Prophets.  They made this clear confession and explanation before Charles V for that occasion, but it has enduring value for the spiritual descendants of Augsburg.  Besides Evangelical, one of the other early names the followers of Luther’s teaching called themselves was “the Churches of the Augsburg Confession.”  If you belong to a Lutheran Church, you would do well to read the Augsburg Confession.  You should find that it says nothing beyond or contrary to the Holy Scriptures.
It’s a great comfort that we have this true exposition of Scripture.  When we are subject today to so many different interpretations and opinions, the Lutheran Confessions, like the Creeds, give a touchstone for biblical interpretation that is truly built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.[5]
This teaching of Christ in His Word is your heritage.  The Word has been preserved without corruption and the true interpretation of that Word has been preserved by God’s providence.  When Peter confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the Lord said this confession of faith—this rock—would endure so that even the gates of hell should not prevail against it.  God is faithful and He will sanctify His people with this truth until the Lord’s glorious return.  The Lord promises in the Gospel, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” We trust Your promise, dear Lord, Amen.
[1] 2 Timothy 3:16
[2] Matthew 7:15-161 John 2:18-19
[3] 1 Peter 2:2
[4] 1 John 4:1
[5] Ephesians 2:19-21

3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6A)( Matthew 9:35-10:8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Bethel Lutheran Church, Sweet Home, OR
3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6A) + June 18, 2017
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Common themes
The Lord’s care for His people by sending the elders with His Word
The message: “You are my treasured possession”/”The Kingdom of heaven is at hand…Heal the sick, cast out demons in my name”
The people are in a wilderness (the Israelites knew it because they could see it, people today don’t realize how desolate the world is and full of wolves)
Harassed and helpless – On the one hand, burdened by heavy Law and false religion, on the other hand ignorant and left to follow myths about God.  Either way, without the pure Word of God, they were in grave spiritual danger.
In the Old Testament lesson, the context is Moses leading the children of Israel in the wilderness.  God gives His Word to Moses, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[1]  You can hear in those words how precious the people are to God, that He ransomed them from Egyptian slavery with a strong arm, so that they would be His treasured possession.  He wanted good and blessing for them.
In short, God was a father to them, and He showed compassion to them.  He heard their cries from slavery and bore them up on eagles’ wings.  He provided for all their material needs—bread from heaven, quail for meat, clothing and furnishings, health,  He even promised them an everlasting inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.  But most important to them was that they hear God’s heart toward them while they walked through the wilderness.  Without His Word and faith in it, they quickly fell into despair—“Was it because there were no grave in Egypt that you have brought us here to die?” “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”[2]
God’s response is to send His Word and heal them (Ps. 107:20)
[1] Exodus 19:5-6
[2] Exodus 14:11, 17:3

The Day of Pentecost (Numbers 11:24-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Day of Pentecost + June 4, 2017
Text: Numbers 11:24-30

At this point in history, the Church needs to spend a lot of time straightening up the public office of the ministry—the preaching office.  In previous generations, it was never challenged that congregations need pastors, and of course those pastors are men.  However, when those simple truths are challenged by false teaching, it’s necessary for the Church to take a stand.[1]  So, this is why we drive home the point that Jesus called 12 men to be apostles (14 counting Matthias and Paul), that St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14 that women are not to preach in the congregation, and that a pastor should be the husband of one wife.[2]
Likewise, when our Synod is pressured to distinguish between regularly-called pastors, “specific ministry” pastors, and licensed lay deacons[3] who do the work of pastors, we have to make a clear confession.  There is one Office, the “ministry of reconciliation”[4] to which the Lord gives His commands: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”[5]  And it is to this one Office, the Lord attaches His precious promises: “The one who hears you hears me” and “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[6]  So any talk of different levels or authority should be squashed by the Word of the Lord, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”[7]
Indeed, Pentecost is an example of the Holy Spirit empowering the public Office of the Ministry.  Yet, the Holy Spirit is given to all who believe in Christ. So, today, we will consider Moses’ request, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,[8] that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” and the Scripture quoted by Peter, “even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.”[9]
The Third Person of the Trinity calls us to faith in Christ, out of darkness, makes us alive through the Word.  What does it mean to prophesy, though?  It means to be a bear God’s Word and announce it to others.
There’s an important point.  The Word of God does not enter your heart and stay there.  It’s not a treasure to be buried in the ground once you receive it.  The word “to prophesy” in Hebrew means to “bubble up or pour forth”[10]  In that way, Jesus says in the Gospel, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”[11]  The Word which God gives is not for you alone, but also for everyone whom you meet in your life!
By that same Spirit He empowers us to live faithfully, each in our vocations (where God has placed us in life).  Each of us has been called in Baptism to be a child of God, holy and beloved.  Each of us has received the Holy Spirit, and we each have a place in the Body of Christ and in the world.  Hear what St. Paul says about this in Romans 12:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3-8)
Not everyone is a preacher, a man who publicly declares the Word of the Lord for the congregation.  And that is perfectly okay.  However, the Spirit does assign us teach a measure of faith “for the common good.”[12]  Every Christian is a bearer of God’s Word in word and deed.
As fathers and mothers, the Spirit gives the work of bringing up our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”[13]–showing them while they’re young how important the faith is (even when the unbelieving world offers so many other options), and continuing to support and admonish them in the Lord after they are grown.  Sometimes this even comes in the form of godly grandparents rising to the occasion when the parents can’t or won’t.
As husbands and wives, the Spirit leads them to pray for one another and share God’s Word of encouragement and comfort with each other in difficult times.  In mixed faith marriages, this manifests itself in one spouse showing the patient, loving heart of God to the one who doubts or does not believe, with the hope that the Lord might win them.
As friends, the Spirit makes you prophets by the example of sharing the love which Christ has shown you, and by sharing what God has done and is doing whenever the occasion arises.
As students, the Spirit puts the Word in you, so that when the challenge comes against your Lord and His teaching, you would “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, being ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope within you.”[14]
It’s about prophesying where God places you.  Although the Spirit calls some to service to the Church, each Christian is called to everyday life.  While everyday life may not sound very exciting, for you who believe, it is a life that is built on the sure foundation of God’s mighty works.  In that you rejoice, and with that you touch the lives of your family, friends, and coworkers.  Praise the Lord that He is the One who works all this in and among us.  Amen!
[1] Galatians 2:4-5
[2] 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 3:2
[3] The LCMS resolved at its 2016 convention to move such licensed lay deacons toward ordination. (Resolution 13-02A)
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:18
[5] John 20:21-23
[6] Luke 10:16, Matthew 28:20
[7] Matthew 20:25-27
[8] Hebrew does not have the word “prophets” but says, “as these” referring to Eldad and Medad who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, were prophesying.
[9] Acts 1:18 [Joel 2:29]
[10] NVA (Brown Driver Briggs)
[11] John 7:38
[12] 1 Corinthians 12:7
[13] Ephesians 6:4, KJV
[14] 1 Peter 3:15