The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Readings: Micha 7:18-20 | 1 Timothy 1:12-17 | Luke 15:1-10

Text: Luke 15:1-10

What God says about Himself makes all the difference. If we start with the idea of what we think God is like, or what we think He would or should do, we will quickly fall into error.

The Church is perpetually plagued by this. From the early errors of the Valentinians (Gnostics) who try to impose their mythology on the true God, the Arians and Muslims who deny that the Son can be true God, to the Pelagians who say that man is spiritually better and more capable than God says he is. During the Middle Ages in western Christendom, God’s teaching us had been covered over by doctrines of men, which said what the Son of God did on the cross wasn’t everything; you had to contribute your own works to really have assurance of salvation. Contrary to what God tells us in His Word, it was taught that man had some residual bit of good left in him, by which he could respond to God and cooperate in being saved.

The parables of Luke 15 show us plainly who God is and who we are in our sin. They show a God who “receives sinners and eats with them.” Manmade religions from around the world show that this is abhorrent: a holy God is angry with the sinner and rewards those who choose the path of obedience—sacrifices, karma, and holy works appease God and prove to Him that we are worthy.

This is not the true God. The true God is the one who seeks the lost sheep, who by its own foolishness has wandered, and who by its own feebleness cannot bring itself back. The sinner cannot find his way back to God, but must be brought by the Good Shepherd.

Mankind is thoroughly wicked in God’s sight, that “every intention of his heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21) and we “have all turned aside; together [we] have become corrupt” (Psalm 14:3). Nevertheless, as a woman who has 10 silver coins and has lost one, our lives are precious and valuable in His sight. He seeks us, He rejoices over us being brought to repentance and being restored to Him.

from Wikipedia

The Confession made at Augsburg in 1530 (493 years ago today) was a great reset on doctrines of men that had been formulated, codified, and even propped up by plausible quotes from Scripture and revered Fathers of the Church. That sort of reset is constantly needed, not because God’s Word doesn’t speak to people of our own generation. Instead, it’s because we sinners are constantly prone to disbelieve what God says, insert our own appealing thoughts, and wander off into myths about God above and ourselves.

Our own day is no exception in the history of God’s people. There are the gross errors of those who stand outside the faith, and teach that sinners have not sinned and so make God a liar. There are also subtle errors which hinder and poison faith: Repentance is our work to pray the “sinner’s prayer” and give Jesus our heart; that baptism is something we do to demonstrate how we have heard and obeyed; that correct doctrine isn’t important just so long as you feel love for Jesus; that the Lord’s Supper is a matter of our own personal interpretation and so everyone ought to be allowed to commune.

Reset and let God’s word be true—“that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment” (Psalm 51:4) and “Let God be true, though every man were a liar.” (Rom. 3:4) And we will see the true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who loves and saves sinners like you and me, so that we may rejoice in Him and give Him glory forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Second Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-10 | Ephesians 2:13-22 | Luke 14:15-24

Text: Luke 14:15-24

Lutherans are known for their potlucks (or “covered dish dinners” if you don’t want to mention luck). It brings people together at church. Eating is something we all have in common, regardless of differing opinions or backgrounds. In fact, it’s a widely-known church growth practice that handing out food will get people to come to your church…at least the building.

In an effort to connect with people, many a church have fallen into a dependency on being a place that gives handouts. By itself, it’s a beautiful expression of the Lord’s command, “Freely have you received, freely shall you give.” (Matt. 10:8) But the other side of handouts is when they offer to people what they did not have to work for. This plagues Indian Reservations, DHS offices, and pandemic aid because people flock to it. They grow to rely on it. They rave when it’s threatened to be taken away.

Isn’t it interesting, however, that as soon as the Word of God says, “Come, for everything is now ready,” people begin to make excuses about why they can do without? “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’”

That’s when we realize it’s not just a matter of physical nourishment. Yes, people will flock to the earthly handouts because they satisfy the belly. But when the Gospel is freely given, then something else takes over: our sin.

Nonetheless, we can use the language of meals to understand what our Lord is teaching us here. What would cause someone pass up an invitation to a meal for which all that’s required of them is to be the recipient?

They’re not hungry – Who wants to go to an all-you-can-eat banquet on a full stomach? Similarly, a self-righteousness that fails to understand or acknowledge the darkness of one’s sin. What’s being offered on the menu—forgiveness, life, and salvation don’t taste good. Consider this analogy of Martin Luther in the Large Catechism:

Suppose there were a physician who had such skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live forever. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon him! Because of the pressing crowd of rich men no one else could get near him. Now, here in Baptism there is brought free to every man’s door just such a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men. (Large Catechism, Article IV “Baptism” para. 43)

Taking a detour on the road of bodily health, consider what funds and sacrifice we pour into the medical complex. It promises to relieve our temporal suffering, and often doctors are successful. But the truth remains that no man can cure death. Only Christ can, and has done that for us! How do we receive such a healing? “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16) “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:32-33) This perfect and eternal healing of body and soul was delivered in humble water, and the lips of the pastor—whoever he was: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” [Matt. 28:19] If you’re not hungry for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, it’s likely because you imagine your sin isn’t that serious, you’re not all that dead, and you think salvation comes to those who try hard enough.

They’ve got more appealing things – I have a wife and earthly affairs that need my attention more than my soul. In this case, it’s not necessarily that forgiveness doesn’t sound wonderful. It’s just that the things of this life sound more appealing and capture our time and attention. Someone from our congregation pointed out when Pop Warner Baseball started having games on Sunday, it made a change in the congregation. It’s not just that baseball games alone caused unbelief, but it allowed an outlet for those whose hearts were more devoted to the things of this life. Never underestimate our power to harden our hearts against God’s clear Word and even tangible evidence [Ex. 7:13].

What is offered doesn’t satisfy immediately – In the weakness of our mortal, sinful flesh, we are drawn toward what brings fulfillment here and now. How can I feel and touch the kingdom of God? Well, if it won’t come on my terms, then I’ll find assurance somewhere else that does. Be it popularity, or health, or a life free from struggle—these are the temptations we have to forsake the faith and turn toward the promise of immediate payout of the lies.

Back to the topic of handouts, there is a protest when people might lose these gratis benefits. And we know that our sin can cause an indifference to the gift of the Gospel. But where’s the protest when the Christian congregation is threatened? When the ministry of the Word falls into disuse, and the house of God is in disrepair? We are presently suffering some of the consequence of many who have “begun to make excuses.” But now that we’re here, shall we just throw up our hands, and say, “I guess that’s how it goes?” What has taken the fight out of us, the zeal, for the “food and drink” which truly satisfy, for our Lord says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:55)

This parable a warning to us who are hearing this Word of Christ and holding fast to Him: Beware, lest we also miss the Kingdom of God in our midst, and give in to earthly things over heavenly. God’s Word will fill His banquet hall. God shows no favorites toward us or those who came before us. Apart from a steadfast faith, we have no promise of a place at His table.

It won’t be by our own strength that we remain steadfast in this faith until the end. It will be where our gracious Lord grants it to us. And where we find this spiritual zeal, let God the Holy Spirit do His good work! Do not let this vine which the Lord planted by the hand of our predecessors bear thorns or die out [Isa. 5:1-7]. Lord, let this congregation be roused from our complacency, our satiation to the hunger we’re supposed to have! Save us, Lord Jesus, from putting our hope and trust in the things of this life. Rather, let our fear, love, and trust, be in You alone. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

First Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 15:1-6 | 1 John 4:16-21 | Luke 16:19-31

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Last week, we confessed in the Athanasian Creed, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”  Today, we see the application of this biblical truth—The rich man is in hell, while Lazarus is comforted at Abraham’s side.

So, the biggest question from the Gospel reading today is: What shall we do, “lest we also come into this place of torment” where the rich man finds himself? At first glance, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus seems to say that rich people go to hell and poor, sick people go to heaven. Wouldn’t that make it easy?  Then the Marxist ideology would be right which says struggling, disadvantaged people are more noble than “fat cat” CEO’s.  That’s the message we hear all the time, so much so that it seems to be evil simply to have money.  If you don’t believe me, just ask any Christian what kind of looks they got when they drove to church in a Tesla.

But it’s not that simple.  The point of this story isn’t found in purple robes and feasts or starvation and open sores.  In the Athanasian Creed and the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, we confess, “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”  What St. John says his first epistle is true, “whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[1] But there’s more to it than the outward actions.

Despite the first blush of this story, our lot in life doesn’t determine our place in heaven or hell.  If you’re young, healthy, and everything is going well, it doesn’t mean God loves you any more than a middle-aged woman who suffers with chronic pain.  If you can barely make ends meet and live with an endless stream of trouble, God’s love is undoubtedly yours because of Christ.  What you have or don’t have in this life where to look for God’s love.

The more important issue is, Where is your faith?  Jesus illustrates a rich man who believed in his material blessings and was comforted by them.  On the other hand, Lazarus despised his earthly life and looked only to God for comfort.  But it doesn’t have to be just deluded rich people and God-fearing poor people.  St. Paul writes to Timothy and to us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[2]  Yes, there are wealthy people who boast in the comfort of their wealth.  But there are also poor people who look to money as if it were their savior.  There are millionaires with messy divorce fights over property and there are poor people who scrape and fight to get every last dollar they think they’re entitled to.  But before God they are all alike: “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”[3]  Whether you’re comfortable or lacking, if you believe your help comes from the things of this life, your faith is in the wrong thing.

In Colossians 3, St. Paul writes, 1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2) This is where your Lord wants your faith to be: in Him, who made heaven and earth, who adopted you as His dear children, and who gladly and freely gives you all that you need to support this body and life.

And if that’s where your faith is, what flows from that is contentment.  The unnamed rich man had faith in his prosperity. He was content with having everything his heart could desire—a fully belly, fine clothes, and people to wait on him.  Lazarus, though he had nothing, he was content with it.  That’s not to be confused with being happy about it.  But how can we make such a claim that he is content with his condition?  Because, in the Gospel, the Lord tells us something we don’t normally have knowledge of: Lazarus had faith in God, and thus went to paradise.

Faith in God brings about contentment with whatever your earthly lot gives you.  Again from Colossians 3: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)  The trouble really isn’t what stuff or how much stuff people have; it’s our earthly sinful hearts that are filled with jealousy and covet that Tesla that our brother or sister drove up in. 

But you have been crucified with Christ and were put to death with Him.  All that fills you with discontentment has died on the cross.  Your true God, the maker of heaven and earth, has given you a new heart and His Spirit, so that you trust in Him for all things.   With your faith you acknowledge Him as your loving Father who always and forever cares for you, His child.

Whether you have much or little—it is enough.  You might have good health or poor health—it is enough.  Your living situation might be ideal or lacking—it is enough. Whether He gives or He takes away—it is enough.  It is enough because it is what your Heavenly Father has given you for today.

With a right faith and contentment in Him, He sends each believer out to love His neighbor.   The faithful who are amply supplied now get to share in something amazing.  St. Paul writes to Timothy, 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”[4] He has freed His children from the “American Dream,” which is the pursuit of affluence that ensnares so many. In its place, whatever we have is a gift from Him for serving your family, your brother or sister, and whatever need He brings before you.

But on the other side, if you’re the one in need, your place in this economy is no less important.  While you might not be able to be generous the same way someone who has more can, God has also given you empty hands to lift up to Him.  Receive whatever good things God gives you by the hands of others, giving thanks and praise to Him.  The Holy Spirit who has been given to you also will guard you from trusting in and hoarding these gifts from God, delivered by the hands of His faithful.

            When our journey is over, and God brings us from this valley of sorrows to Himself, these differences will pass away.  In the Kingdom of God, none are lacking and all are fully comforted.  And this amazing inheritance is yours through God’s gift of faith.  Therefore, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him at all times.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] 1 John 4:21

[2] 1 Timothy 6:10

[3] Psalm 62:9

[4] 1 Timothy 6:17-18

The Holy Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-7 | Romans 11:33-36 | John 3:1-17

Text: John 3:1-17

You may think that faith is just a mental activity. It all happens in the mind, which assents to the proposition that there is a God, that this God is so favorably disposed toward us that He decided to send His Son into the world to seek out those who would agree to this eternal truth. Yes, we may allow this thought to seep into our emotions and evoke joy, happiness, and contentment. But at the end of the day, all of this takes place in the conscious mind.

This is Christianity according to modernism, the child of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. All that’s truly important can be grasped with the mind, measured by the caliper, and viewed by the microscope or telescope. But the modernist has a problem with the faith which clings to a God for whom “the whole three Persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped.” (Athanasian Creed) Again, when one approaches the one true God with the mind, he ends up saying with St. Paul,

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33)

This leads many to despair of ever knowing the God who Created all things, who Redeemed the world, and who Sanctifies us and brings us out of sin and death into eternal life. They say maybe it’s an elaborate fabrication, or maybe such a complex deity has no interest in foolish little people like us.

But know that this God really does want to be known by us, and the proof is as close as our five senses.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
    the whole earth is full of his glory!”
        (Isa. 6:1-3)

Isaiah saw with his eyes the throne room of the Almighty. He heard the song of the angels proclaiming God thrice holy. But when he despaired of life because his eyes had seen the King, the Lord of Hosts, the seraphim touched his lips and spoke this word into his ears:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

In the Holy Gospel, Nicodemus came to Jesus under the darkness of night, where shadows play and obscure the sense of vision. He came with the assumption that what his eyes and mind were perceiving were the whole truth of the Almighty.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

The Son of God taught him that the Almighty makes Himself known in the sense of touch—the new birth of water and the Spirit. By this He also gives us perception in our vision, that we may see the Kingdom of God and where He is at work. Just as the wind rushes against the skin and makes its sound in our ears—not giving perception as to where it comes from—so the Spirit gives assurance that He has come near to bring His hearer into the Kingdom of God.

Again, the eyes are employed in the reminder of the serpents in the wilderness. After the people’s disobedience of the heart, grace and salvation were given to those who looked upon the serpent Moses fashioned at the Lord’s command (Number 21:4-9). Yet more potent is the gaze of faith upon the event where the Son of God Himself is lifted up. All future generations, who hear this news with their ears, whoever faithfully looks upon Him may not perish, but have eternal life.

Our God makes use of our senses so that we may perceive and believe. So far, we’ve seen how He has come in sight, in touch, in hearing. He doesn’t neglect our sense of smell and taste either. The sense of smell was in the sacrifices offered up to the Lord—a recognition of the deadly price of our sins. On earth, it is the smell of death, but before God, He calls it a pleasing aroma. Hear the account of Noah:

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:20-21)

Likewise, the sense of smell filled the worship of God’s people through the fragrant incense. This smell was to connect them to this place, where prayers ascended and were graciously heard by the Lord. Thus, David sung in Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” In many places where the faithful gather, incense marks the worship with this potent reminder of our fellowship with our Triune God. Yet, even our sanctuary has a smell imbued by the burning candles and the smell of Holy Communion.

The Lord also made Himself known through the taste. For His people in the wilderness who ate the manna, “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (Exod. 16:31) In the sacrifices, the peace offering was eaten before the Lord, where that taste wasn’t just the savor of the roasted meat, but one of joy in having been reconciled to God (Leviticus 3).

As people living in the New Testament, the words of the Psalmist ring true, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)  God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The only-begotten Son says to the believer, “Take; eat. This is My Body given for you.” “Take; drink. This is My Blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

So, you see that the Holy Trinity, which is too high for our minds to comprehend, descends to us so that faith may take hold of this mystery even with our lowly senses. Thanks be to the Triune God who makes these truths known to us in our bodies! This gives us so many opportunities to reminder His work:

  • With water, we remember our Baptism into the Name of the Holy Trinity.
  • With the hearing and reading of His Word, we embrace His speech to us with repentance for our sins and joy at how He restores and gives us new life.
  • With the smell of church—the burning of candles or incense—call us back to where He gathers us together around His cross
  • With touch, as for centuries, Christians have made the sign of the cross upon themselves in remembrance of Baptism.
  • And today, with the taste of Holy Communion. It’s not so much about the appeal of the simple bread and wine, but faith believing that this bread and wine are our Lord’s own Body and Blood for us.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.