Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — God is Hiding Right Where He Said

  Posted:Jul 24, 2014 (Brothers of John the Steadfast)

Sermon Text: Matthew 13:44-52
July 27, 2014

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN!  Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Matthew’s gospel account the 13th chapter.

Beloved in the Lord,

A.      Acquiring the Kingdom  

Steadfast Sermons Graphic Thinking equality with God something to be grasped humanity follows the pattern of Adam’s behavior. Reaching for the wrong fruit from the wrong tree men, women, and children establish in their heart of hearts the wrong gods.  This is the way of our nature, fallen and depraved as it is.  It is the way of sin and unbelief in the true God, a way which we have trod and are tempted time and time again to follow.

As with all that is false this bears a mixture of truth and deceit.  It is certain that our God, the true God, wishes to be had; to be found, to be our God.  And He wishes for us to be His people delighting in the goodness of His presence.  But He will not be had the way we would have Him.  Neither He, nor His Kingdom will be taken, seized, or grasped.  Salvation is not acquired by our doing.  It is God who justifies.  His is a Kingdom of grace and is to be received by faith alone.  There is no room for the labors of men.  The path that leads to heaven is too narrow for such things.

Thus we are given our text this morning (evening).  Jesus continues to teach of the Kingdom of God.  In the previous parables He has unfolded before our hearts the means by which the kingdom is bestowed – a sower goes out and sows seed.  And He has removed the veil from our eyes revealing to us how the kingdom operates, how it grows and permeates and preserved for the harvest day.  This morning (evening) we are blessed with more parables and thus more insight into the Kingdom of God.  With these words Jesus now holds before our hearts the key to the Kingdom’s  acquisition .  Our God wishes to be gotten, received, tucked away in our heart.  And Jesus’ words set before us just such a way.

B.      Hiding away the Grace of God

Whether it’s a treasure in the field, a pearl found by a merchant, or a dragnet catching fish, the way of our God is found.  His treasures are located on the earth, in this world.  They are of great value, and they are attainable by all.  Thus the God who justifies sinners places Himself with His gifts of righteousness, and pardon, and peace, and mercy and love in the midst of dirt and disease and war and the brokenness of this world.  He locates Himself.  He establishes His kingdom in a very real place, a place that can be seen, heard, and visited.  He sets His Word in a particular place to be preached at a particular time, that a particular people may receive a particular salvation through His means of grace.  He can be found!  He wishes to be found.   And He wishes our hearts to appropriate, to receive, to acquire Him by faith in His means of grace.

That our God is found in a specific place giving out specific gifts is a stumbling block to many.  “How can God be found here?”  “Why would God be in water, or in the word, or in bread and wine?” “ How is that even possible?” God’s Word is questioned, doubted, and rejected.

Surely He is to be found in the field, but where in the field?  Anywhere?  If God is anywhere then God is everywhere?  If God is everywhere, then really, He is anywhere I want him to be.  Then I will look for Him everywhere except where He’s promised to be.  Then I will never find Him.  God will remain lost.  And I . . . well, I will be confused.  How can I find Him?  How can I receive Him?  These sorts of questions abound by those plagued with false teachers and false teaching.

For, false teachers and false teaching steals away the promises of our God and directs hearts everywhere and anywhere except where He’s promised to be.   They empty God’s vessels of His gifts and seek to insert their own gifts, their own strength, their own merits.  Such lies attempt to expand the narrow path just enough to give room for our idols while at the same time squeezing out the God who justifies.  As Luther says, “This is what happens when you fall away from the First commandment:  you immediately set up an idol in the form of some meritorious work in which you trust.  Therefore, Moses says, My dear children, be careful to remain in God and follow Him.  Otherwise, you cannot avoid idolatry.  You will fall into that sin.  For at all times the devil assaults the grace of God.”

Thus, the enthusiast in us all chases after our emotions, seeking after a God who comes to us apart from means, who can be felt and experienced without His Word.  The pietist in us goes after deeds not creeds, devotions rather than doctrine, symbols instead of sacraments.  The fanatic in all of us fails to heed the Word, stubbornly refusing to “Listen to Him,” as the Father instructs, thus not to look for Christ where He’s promised to be for our good.

These false teaches and false doctrines that have their roots in the sin of Adam preach the first commandment, grace, and salvation, but they ignore God’s Word and renounce the means by which He is attained. Each of these is an assault on the grace of God, each emptying the Word of God of the promises of God.  Thus each lead the soul further out into the wilderness, further away from the certainty of the Kingdom of God.

C.      Hidden that He may be found (though art a God who Hides Himself)

Yet, Holy Scripture is clear.  “ It is  God who justifies.”  We may attempt to locate God where we want Him to be, but we are not God, we cannot seize the Lord, put Him in a box and carry Him around with us like some genie in a bottle who must do as we say simply because we’ve rubbed Him the right way.  God will not be gotten that way. He will not be seized by our works, nor our merits, not even our pious love and adoration.  It is God who justifies.

The God who justifies gives us a Word that He may be found in that Word.  That Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The treasure of heaven clothed Himself with human frailty.  Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but He humbled Himself taking the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Thus the Father beckons from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.”  And that we may be more certain He does again on the mount of transfiguration.  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  We have a sure and certain Word directing our hearts to Jesus; Jesus in the water of Baptism and Jesus where He says “Here I am.” Thus the Words, “this is my body and this is my blood” show us, tell us, direct us to the bread and wine that we my find Him, receive Him and all His heavenly gifts, though they be hidden under common, earthly elements.

God is hidden, as Isaiah says, “surely You are a God who hides Himself.”  He is hidden but He wishes to be found.  There are no secrets here.  No mysteries to be solved.  Like the treasure buried in the field, or the fine pearl happened upon by the merchant, our God is located in space and time, flesh and blood, Word and Sacraments.  He was made man, was born, suffered, died and rose again.  He was placed in the midst of sin, death, and the power of the devil.  He did not appear godly.  He wasn’t attractive that we should be drawn by Him.  He wasn’t rich.  He wasn’t extravagant.  He wasn’t mighty or powerful or glorious that the world should chase after Him like some celebrity.  He was in fact, poor, humble, meek and low.  He was with sinners, eating with them, forgiving them, healing them, even joining them in death.  Hidden under the cross is where we find our God.  He is there for us and He is risen for us.  He is our treasure in the field, our fine pearl in the world.  He is the God who justifies sinners.  There is room on the path only for Him and His righteousness.  It is truly a narrow way, but it is the way to eternal life and it is a way that can be found.

B’.      Revealing the Grace of God -  The Certainty of the Word

Therefore, we Christian ought always to be found where the Word of Jesus’ directs us.  We ought to receive baptism, not because it’s commanded as though our submission to it were a good work, but because the Word of Jesus is in the Water.  The water is full of His death and resurrection and all the treasures of Heaven.  For, these have been poured into the water by the Word.

We ought to run to confession and absolution.  For there, in the voice of a man, Christ speaks what He alone has earned.  He has voiced His absolution into the Office of the Ministry and now gives His mercy through His called pastors.

We ought to bow before His altar, open our mouths and our hearts, and receive from Him His true body and true blood “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These are sure and certain because the Word of God is sure and certain.  If Jesus says He is hidden in, with, and under bread and wine, He is there.  No need to look elsewhere.  No need to doubt Him.  No need to debate Him.  If Jesus says He is there for your good, then trust Him.   He will not lie. He will not deceive.

And there is no need to bring Him anything.  Cast off all that hinders and cling to Him by faith.  Don’t worry about how these may or may not make you feel.  Your feelings are not to be your spiritual gauge.  Don’t stubbornly ignore what Jesus says.  His Word is not given in vain, but seeks to open before you the very treasure chest of the Kingdom of God.  That you may plunder His mercy He tells you where to look for Him.  He gives you a precise location through a very real word from heaven spoken by a very real voice sent you in His messengers.  Don’t look to yourself, your works, your strengths, your merits, your anything.  But cast your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith.

A’.      Acquiring the Kingdom grace through faith

Yes, beloved, cast your eyes upon Jesus for  “It is  God who justifies.”  He is the treasure in the field.  He is the fine pearl, and His is the boat that gathers you into its net.  There is nothing for you to bring, rather Jesus would have you empty yourself.  Thus, go and sell everything you have, and fix your heart on the Kingdom of God.  In other words, surrender your hearts desires.  Give up trying to acquire by feats of strength, what can only be received by faith.  Leave your labors by the wayside, for there is no room for them on the Lord’s Highway.  The path that leads to heaven is too narrow for such things.

Rather, YOUR HEART must be emptied of your labors.  You must trust neither their strength nor their merits but adhere by faith to the One who is both Just and Justifier of sinful mortals such as you.

Beloved in the Lord, our God wishes us to find Him.  Therefore, look where He’s promised to be.  Hear His Word.  Listen to Him.  Come and receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world.  AMEN!

 

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

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WON ME FROM ALL SINS, FROM DEATH, AND FROM WHO…?

  Posted:Jul 24, 2014 (Brothers of John the Steadfast)

devil-667637-m             Perhaps you have heard the latest from Religious News Services reporting the recent decision of the Anglican Church of England which in the United States is called the Episcopal Church, USA . The Church of England has purged references to the devil and to sin in a new baptism ceremony, saying it is easier to understand compared to the older service. From the Ecumenical News we have:

In the current wording, parents vow to “reject the devil and all rebellion against God,” “renounce the deceit and corruption of evil” and “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported.

The 16-year-old alternative version agreed by the churches’ General Synod on Sunday, however, only asks parents and godparents to “turn away from sin” and “reject evil.”

In approving the new text, the synod said there were apprehensions that the current wording was too complex to understand and easily turned off people particularly occasional churchgoers.[1]

Hmm. If the “current wording” in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer is “too complex to understand and easily turned off people particularly occasional churchgoers” how long before the “complexity” of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone is removed to accommodate the unbelievers amongst the church? Oh wait, this is already happening in quarters of Christendom.

From the Scriptures down through the Early Church all liturgical / sacramental churches have had a reference to the renunciation of Satan in the Rite of Holy Baptism. What follows below shows what we in the LCMS have in our Rite of Holy Baptism by way of renouncing Satan. Sometimes it is referred to as the triple renunciation of Satan:

 

P:    [Name]   , do you renounce the devil?
C: Yes, I renounce him.
P: Do you renounce all his works?
C: Yes, I renounce them.
P: Do you renounce all his ways?
C: Yes, I renounce them.

 

P: Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?
C: Yes, I believe . [etc.]

 

The Rite of Holy Baptism used in the LCMS continues with confessing the Baptismal Creed—the Apostles’ Creed. To omit a renunciation of Satan and his works and ways minimizes much needed teaching which through the Word grows faith in Christ’s delivered gifts. It will not be long before such churches confess that Baptism is a powerful symbol of what, no one can be sure, but a powerful symbol just the same. If Baptism’s deliverance from Satan is hushed or more tragically denied the need to have our children or anyone baptized is certainly minimized as it is among the Evangelical Churches.

Some churches which include the parish where I serve incorporate Luther’s language of exorcism for in Holy Baptism Satan is truly cast out of the individual. In short form the language reads as follows:

P:     Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.

For those interested in pursuing this subject I would highly recommend Concordia Publishing House’s recent publication: I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare , by Robert H. Bennett, Item #: 531204.

Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (Jn 14:15, 21). What helps us keep and treasure Christ’s commandments of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution is teaching and confessing the salutary redeeming work delivered in and through these Sacraments. These benefits are kept and treasured when their benefits are extolled.

Luther succinctly instructs us when he wrote the Meaning of the Second Article of the Creed:

Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, …

This deliverance from Satan expressly happens in Holy Baptism which “… works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” ( What benefits does Baptism give? )

What the Anglican Church has done is most unfortunate. Souls are at stake for eternal salvation is the subject. Perhaps the rise of the global South in the Anglican Communion will be able to address and reverse this unfortunate turn of events. In reading this critique some may object saying we ought not to meddle in other denominational concerns especially since the Episcopal Church USA is one step further removed from the LCMS than is the ELCA who at least still officially retains the name “Lutheran”. In a slightly different context these words from Herman Sasse respond to such thinking. The reader may exchange the words “Missouri Synod” with “The Anglican Church.”

“It is not meddling in the affairs of another church if we today undertake to speak on one of the basic problems of the Missouri Synod. For the life of a church is not like the life of an individual Christian, a private matter; it is a matter for all of Christendom. Whenever a church, whether it be a small congregation or a major part of Christendom, confesses her faith, she does so ‘to those now living and those who shall come after us’ (FC SD XII 40 [BSLK, 1099.42f.; Tappert, 636]).”[2]

We in the Missouri Synod need to be in prayer for our fellow brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion which includes the Episcopal Church USA. And, may we in Missouri in a repentant humble spirit continually judge all our teachers. Lovingly may our members exhort all pastors and officials to cling to the confession of faith enunciated by Luther as received from Sacred Scripture regarding Baptism and all Christ’s Commandments.

In Christ,

- Pastor Weber

 

[1] Miko Morelos, “Anglicans Purge Devil References in Simplified Baptism Liturgy,” Wednesday, July 16 2014, Ecumenical News <<http://www.ecumenicalnews.com/article/anglicans-purge-devil-references-in-simplified-baptism-liturgy-25621>> [Accessed July 18, 2014]

[2] Hermann Sasse, “Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod” in Letters to Lutheran Pastors- Volume II, 6, quoted in: John T. Pless Crossing Bearing and Life in a Lutheran Synod: What Can We Learn from Hermann Sasse? , The Emmaus Conference, Tacoma, Washington, 1-2 May 2014.

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I wish the liturgy were more accessible. . .

  Posted:Jul 24, 2014 By Pastor Peters (Pastoral Meanderings)
"Wow!  That is a lot to take for someone who has had only a passing association with church before!"  So said one visitor to a Sunday morning Divine Service at my parish.  She did not say it but clearly her comment meant "I wish the liturgy were more accessible" to a stranger to the church like me...

It would not be the first time someone has uttered those sentiments.  It IS a great deal to take in for those who have not had much association with the church before.  I will not deny it one bit.  Neither will I suggest that it is a fruitful pursuit to try and find a way to dumb down the liturgy just in case there may be (and there always are) people who are strangers to the church and to the mass).  I am sure it is overwhelming and even shocking.  I would be disappointed if it were not -- for what would it say of us if the Divine Mystery of Christ (both efficacious Word and Sacrament) were easy enough to get and dismiss out of hand!

I tell such folks not to make a judgment quickly but to return to the liturgy over and over again.  Only then, with familiarity, can come the deep appreciation for the mystery and its grace bestowed upon us by Christ through His Word and Spirit.  The liturgy is one of those things learned by doing as much as by studying.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, you know that I do not quote Aristotle -- not ever -- but one of his tidbits of wisdom certainly applies to the Divine Service: 
              “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
                                              -- Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 

Though some find it offensive that any person off the street, a stranger to God and His worship, cannot enter the church and feel perfectly at home, I find just the opposite offensive.  If a stranger to God and His worship feels at home in the liturgy, there must be something wrong with the liturgy.  The liturgy or mass is off putting -- not because it is designed to offend but because it goes against all that the sinful heart values most -- easy, comfortable, feeling oriented, self-centered pleasure.  What is most disarming about the liturgy or the Divine Service is that it compels us to shed ourselves and to become focused upon and open to the work of the Lord through His means of grace.  Such is the domain of the Spirit and not simply the training of the human heart but, that said, it is discipline whose value is learned by experience.

We tell parents all the time that the repetition of the liturgy is helpful to the child learning by the experience of it who God is, what He has done, and how He communicates to us the fullness of His grace and gifts.  Would not the same be also true of adults who come as infants into the presence of God in the holy ground of the liturgy?

Hardly any sport is transparent or obvious upon first view.  Watching the game being played is one of the most important ways we learn its rules and an appreciation for the sport.  In the hospital we have interns and residents who continue their education by watching and doing -- believing that this is the most effective way to train our doctors.  Why do some insist that we must make worship cogent for and accessible to the unchurched who know little of God or His ways?  Why do some visit once and presume that they have seen and learned enough to make a reasonable judgment against the church?

To the stranger come upon us, I say stay here long enough to get to know the liturgy.  Study it and learn the faith from it, to be sure, but resist the great temptation to judge what you see or experience until you learn its words, its rhythm, and its tempo.  To the parent worrying about a child growing distracted from or bored with the liturgy, I say hang in there.  Children learn by doing and they are absorbing from the liturgy more than is obvious to you.  Reinforce what happens in the Divine Service, to be sure, but do not reject what happens as they experience the church's liturgy and song over many years of growing up.
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Well at Least We’re not Debating Whether or not Jesus was/is Divine

  Posted:Jul 23, 2014 (Brothers of John the Steadfast)

Dr. Dale Meyer, current president of Concordia Seminary, relates that one of Dr. Dean Wenthe’s favorite stories was of a cab ride he shared with the president of another denomination’s seminary. Wenthe asked what the hottest debate was on his campus, and he answered “whether or not Jesus Christ was/is divine” (“Pedagogy for a Politicized Church,” Concordia Journal , Winter 2014, 6).  cup-1435999-m Well, we aren’t debating whether Jesus was/is divine. We’re doing worse than that. We’re not debating at all, and we don’t regard the debatable things between us as divisive of church fellowship.

We’re not debating at all because resolutions sent in to synodical conventions by congregations and whole districts to get the debate on the table, like whether we should continue to be fellowship with the AALC who publicly and proudly practice open Communion, are kept off the convention floor.  A floor committee consisting of a handful of people effectively forestalls the debate, but in truth, even if such things made it to the convention floor only about 11% of the LCMS pastors and congregations are represented there.  N.B. 100% of LCMS bureaucrats are.

Worse than our non-debate is our continuing to go to communion together when we know we are not of the same mind as Scripture pleads with us to be (1 Cor. 1:10).  Into the beautiful union Christ gives to us in His Body and Blood we bring our human disunity.

As there is no possibility of light having fellowship with darkness, so there is no possibility that open Communion has any fellowship with closed Communion.  Moreover, Jesus doesn’t say both that His order of creation pertains to home and church but not at all to world and that it pertains to all three.  Also, Jesus doesn’t say both that Christians pastors may pray with pagans to spread the Gospel and that they may not. Finally, Jesus doesn’t say the world was created in six days and that it evolved over billions of years. When those who hold such contradictory teachings commune together, they are either saying that Jesus doesn’t care about the differences or that He is speaking out of both sides of His mouth.

One of the main points of Meyer’s article is that discussion between pastors is to be theological not political.  I agree.  And the very first theological thing that ought to be spoken by our leaders is a plea for us to stop going to Communion together when we know we do not agree.  Stop pretending a koinonia exists where we know it doesn’t.      As Elert’s Eucharistic and Church Fellowship abundantly demonstrates, even the Arians and other heretics wouldn’t do that. Neither would the orthodox of course.  The only ones who were in favor of continuing and even forcing opposing theologies and contradictory truths to commune together were the politicians of the State and later of the institutionalized church.

Finally, what bugs me with the “well at least we’re not” argument is that it is contrary to Paul warning us not of big bugs in loaves of bread but of a little leaven that leavens the whole lump. Besides the argument for pure doctrine can never be one of degrees.  There is no such thing as being close enough to the truth.  If you’re close to the truth you’re still in error.

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They all look alike. . .

  Posted:Jul 23, 2014 By Pastor Peters (Pastoral Meanderings)
Sermon for Pentecost 6, Proper 11A, preached on Sunday, July 20, 2014.

    A harried parent in the summer doldrums sent the demanding child to the garden to weed it.  Forty-five minutes later the shocked parent looked as all the carefully tended plants of her garden were pulled up and the weeds left in place.  The response of the child was simple – "But they all look alike..."  And the child is correct.  The most successful weeds look like the plants we want.
    There has always been a great temptation to weed the church like you would weed a garden – to get rid of all but the true blue believers.  Maybe the church would be better off without those Christmas and Easter folks or those with such obvious problems in their lives. There have ben chose who tried to turn the church into a purity cult of holy people whose perfect lives attested to their genuineness.  The Puritans were such a group.
    We may also be tempted to do just that.  And we would be in good company.  The  disciples wondered if Jesus did not want them to pull up the weeds and get rid of the them; like the elders of Israel, they were concerned about those who were not one of them.  But Jesus says "No."  In fact, Jesus insists that judgment does not belong to the church or to individual Christians but to the Lord.  God has determined that His church will remain among unbelievers until the day of judgment.  Only then will the weeds be exposed and will God separate the wheat from the chaff, and not before.
    Weeds?  In the church?  You betcha.  Where did they come from?  The devil, of course.  He sows the weeds and steals the seed of God's Word (as we heard last week).  Who are they?  Not the obvious characters but sometimes the people whose outward life looks pretty good.  But we cannot see into the heart.  We cannot tell the actors from those who are genuine.
    Why not get rid of them?  The risk is that they look like believers.  We cannot see the heart – only God can – and so we cannot risk harming the good in order to get rid of the bad.  In addition, we are not given the right of judgment.  God has reserved that for Himself.  He who has saved us will sit as judge and this He earned by being faithful to death on the cross.  If the Church were given this duty, we would surely forget the call to be witnesses and speak the Word of Christ to the world.  Judgment is a consuming power in our hearts.
    What will happen to the weeds in the church?  God will judge them – perhaps the better word here is expose them.  Once exposed, He will condemn them to the eternal fire.  But we dare not rush this or presume that we can do this judgment.
    What about the wheat?  The wheat in Jesus' story are those who hear the Word of God and keep it by faith.  They are those whom the Lord has sowed through the seed of His Word and in whom the Spirit has worked saving faith.  God insists they belong to Him.  He knows them.  He protects them.  He sustains them through the Word and the Sacraments.  We are secure.  We will endure by His grace to the harvest day.
    Why not deliver the wheat – the faithful – from the weeds – the unfaithful?  God says the time is not yet.  Just as the world waited for thousands of years before the promise was kept and Christ took flesh and blood to enter our world, bear our weight of sin, and die to deliver us from our bondage to death, so the great and awesome day of the Lord will come in His time.
    Instead of worrying about who or when, Jesus directs us to the what.  What will happen to the faithful?  God will harvest them – He will harvest US – to eternal life.  Those whom He has called by His Word, washed in baptism, and set apart by faith He will keep to the day of judgment and He will deliver from this world of death to His kingdom of life – forevermore!
    Here is the good news of the Kingdom.  God has it in hand!  He does not need us to clean house.  He does not need us to decide who is a true believer and who is not.  He does not ask our advice nor does He give us to know what is only His to know.  In other words, we live not by sight but by faith, not by judgment but by trust.  Our call is to live by faith in the holy Word of the holy Lord and that is enough.
    Our focus is not the harvest (which God says the angels will handle and not us) but with the sowing of the seed.  If we speak and live His Good News before the world, He has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose in sending it.  And that starts with you and me.  Convinced of this promise for ourselves, we speak it to the world.
    Now let us be clear.  We cannot judge the heart but we are called to judge doctrine or teaching.  You are called by God to know His Word well enough that you can discern truth from falsehood – whether from this pulpit or a classroom or what you hear on TV or read on the internet.  The Word is our guide to sift through the whispered and even shouted voices speaking lies, half-truths, and deception.  We do not judge the heart but we had better judge what we hear by the standard of God’s Word and what has been believed and confessed since the cross – the creed does just that.
    This is not simply a parable to explain why unbelievers and believers coexist until God determines the day but a call to trust the Lord and His Word to do what He has promised to do.  We wrestle with this call to patience and trust but such is life in the kingdom of God.  We have not everything but we have enough.  We are not given the authority to judge but we are given the authority to baptize, to forgive sins, to proclaim the Gospel, and witness what God has done.
    The problem is that we are not content to wait upon God but always tempted to act first and trust Him later.  We are not content to wait upon the Lord but always tempted to judge because either God is not judging fast enough for us or we fear He does not know really know the playing field of this earth.  We are not content to wait upon the Lord because ultimately, just like in the Garden of Eden, we want to be in charge.  But we are not.
    Ours is to sow the seed of God's promise and then to trust in that promise that it will not return to Him empty.  We are so darn full of ourselves that we fear God cannot handle things without our assistance.  But we are the ones in need.  In need of patience... in need of trust... and in need of focusing less upon the authenticity of the saints below and more upon the genuineness of the grace that is from above.  This is what we pray.  Give us faith, trust, and patience.  NOW!
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A clear pastoral dilemma. . .

  Posted:Jul 23, 2014 By Pastor Peters (Pastoral Meanderings)
Children irregularly conceived present a dilemma to the church which will be ultimately answered not so much by decree or theological opinion but pastoral discretion.  I am referring to the explosion of children conceived in vitro (Latin literally within the glass) versus in vivo (within the living), children conceived with donor eggs and sperm, children born of surrogates (whether or not contributing their eggs), children born to lesbian and gay, and so on. . .  This is not just the stuff of the big city or the far coastal urban areas.  This is increasingly common throughout the heartland as well.

On top of this is the more ordinary conundrum of how to deal with children of cohabiting parents or children born to a woman without a father named (or, perhaps, known).  We have had this phenomenon presented to pastors for many, many years.  Although the issue is not new, its regularity is more recent -- the increasing normalcy of such births and the acceptance of such circumstances as ordinary within society is newer.

This is not a question of how to deal with the adults in such circumstances but the children.  Bluntly, do we baptize these children or not?

Whereas the pastor was able to deal with such things more discreetly in the past, the very public nature of the lifestyles and the tolerance and acceptance of such lifestyles make it increasingly impossible for the pastor to deal with these requests discreetly.  While no one in the church suggests that by baptizing the children irregularly conceived constitutes approving of the circumstances of their conception or the status of the parents, it is difficult to separate the practice toward the child from the situation of those presenting the child for baptism.

Yet discretion is exactly the urgent need when situations such as these present themselves to the pastor.  The child is not to be punished for the intentional or unintentional sins of the parent.  Where the parents present the child and make promise to raise the child in the faith (for Lutherans this means promising to raise the child to know and confess the Apostles Creed, to know and confess the Small Catechism, and to be prepared to receive the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood), the church must be careful about refusing baptism to the child.

Unlike some who would insist that baptism is the capstone of a progressive piety of faith, witness, decision, and promise, we acknowledge that God is the only actor in baptism and that it is purely grace at work in the water.  Baptism is not an accomplishment or personal achievement.  We come naked with nothing to commend us but our sin and living in the shadow of death.  We are met by the gracious Lord who bore our sin, entered our death, bestowed upon us forgiveness, life, and salvation -- all apart from our worth or merit.

Nevertheless, the church and the pastor must take care not to celebrate the event in such way that it confuses our witness to the world or causes scandal and offense to the faithful.  Discretion and discreet practice will be the rule of the day when such children (for lack of a better way to put it, irregularly conceived) are presented for baptism.  It will also mean that each case must be treated individually.  It will be impossible to establish a rule to cover every eventuality.

This will mean that pastors will not practice this discretion uniformly and we will find ourselves tempted to second guess one another and to subject the judgments of others to our own scrutiny.  This will certainly test the boundaries of the faith as much as the pastoral discretion of close(d) communion does.  The rampant pace of legalization of gay marriage and the prevailing approval of much of our society mean that these issues are on the fast track even for a rather stodgy, rural, and Midwestern denomination like the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I would only suggest that while pastors in previous eras may have had difficult circumstances presented to us the challenges before us today represent an even greater burden upon those entrusted with the stewardship of the mysteries.   Pray for the church, for pastors who must make such decisions, and for our faithful witness to the families involved and to the world watching what we do.
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Show #301: All the Worst

  Posted:Jul 22, 2014 By Table Talk Radio (Table Talk Radio)

In honor of 300 shows of miserable radio, today’s edition remembers all those games that never made it to regular rotation. They include Church Father Or…, Page for points, and 20 questions.

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God, my loving Savior sends them…

  Posted:Jul 22, 2014 (Brothers of John the Steadfast)

christ-on-cross Often the topic of how God governs all things comes up in parish life during suffering and struggles.  Questions will arise about God being the cause of something (sin is the cause of this damned mess), allowing something (as if He is distant from things and is often merely wordplay), or even sending something.  This is of course a difficult topic, and it deserves much attention in the lives of Christians who indeed will suffer in this life.

Recently I had a opportunity to sing and meditate upon one of my favorite hymns, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” (LSB 756, but if you want a longer version check out TLH , although an even older English version includes even more stanzas to it [truncation of hymns is bad hymnal practice and often reflects a desire to avoid the hard stuff].  There are several points in the hymn where Gerhardt lays even sadness and suffering squarely at God’s feet as the one who sends them.

Is God sending sadness or suffering such horrible news?  From one point, suffering sucks.  Life in a fallen world is not fun, no matter how much we think we have advanced or progressed, in the end the fallen world catches up with us and grabs hold of us.  Sometimes it is at death, more than often it is during a time of great trial or suffering.  Then all of the fake gods have to move aside, all of the petty idolatries we have set up for ourselves show their powerlessness to maintain our good life.  At that point it is only God and us who are left and it appears we will not last long.  So what is wrong with saying that God sent suffering?

Nothing.  I don’t want to endure suffering that happens by chance or by some distant God allowing it and watching on.  I don’t want the cliche which tries to paint a rosy picture in a fallen world.  I don’t want a theoretical or philosophy daydream of a god.  I don’t want anything other than the God who I know, or more importantly Who knows me.  He has to be the one to lay down a heavy cross or burden upon me.  Why?  Because I know that God, for He has revealed Himself to me as a God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is slow to anger, merciful, compassionate, abounding in steadfast love – the God who in the Son gave Himself up for my temporal and eternal benefit.  The God I want pushing down on my flesh is the very same one who gave up His flesh for me and still feeds the same along with His blood to me each week.  The God I want sending the waters over every last bridge and breaking the dams in my life has to be the very same God who baptized me and claimed me as His own.  The God I want to receive a cross from has to be the One who endured the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father.  The God I want to hear words of sorrow from is the God who has spoken to us by His Son, a man of sorrows and well knowing of grief.  This God is with me, the God named Immanuel (God with us), Jesus.

If my suffering is not from Him, that same God who baptizes, preaches, teaches, and feeds – then who can know my suffering or bring relief to it?  If it is by chance, then by chance I will come out of this.  If it is only allowed by God, then I suppose maybe He will allow relief?  If it is sent by Him – the very God of very God who cared for my life and well-being more than anyone else ever could, then I suppose there is something greater to it.  If it is sent by THAT God, then it can be somehow good (What God ordains is always good).  This is a matter of faith, of trust – but there is no one except the Triune God who deserves such trust, even when He sends sadness.

So as you experience suffering, trial, sadness, loss, and all of the various other crosses which come in this life take heart – God your loving Savior sends them.  He has been faithful to you for all of your days up to now, and He will not leave you now either.

 

 

 

 

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Can There Be Peace in the Summertime?

  Posted:Jul 22, 2014 (Brothers of John the Steadfast)

IM000195.JPG “They look so peaceful sleeping. Don’t they?” I remember speaking these words to my wife about our children. After praying, we lay them down to sleep and they sure look peaceful. It almost makes you forget the rest of the day; almost.

If you have any experience with children, you know what I am talking about. From morning to evening, there is only word that comes to my mind: chaos! It is one fight to another, one toy to another, one topic to another, and plenty of not listening to go along with it. During the summer we can send them outside to wear off some energy, but they always seem to find more.

Children remind us of who we truly are: we are children! We are God’s children. As our Heavenly Father tells us and teaches us what and how we are to live with each other, we act just like children. We go from one fight to another, from one toy to another, from one topic to another, and we don’t always listen to Him either. Many times during the summer, we take a break from God’s Word. We are absent in churches. We are absent in His Scriptures and then we wonder why our children we don’t’ care. We fail to raise our children in God’s Word. We fail to teach them the importance of God’s Word by failing to be in worship and Bible Study ourselves. We don’t teach them that is it important, and then when they are older, we ask the question, “Why?” Why don’t my children think God’s Word is important? How come my children don’t know the basic Bible stories? Why do they fight and act just wild at the town celebration? Well, how do we teach and what do we teach by our actions? Before we come down on our children, we must remember who raised them and how they were raised.

Yet, among our sinning and fighting, we have forgiveness. We teach our own kids that they need to forgive each other, and then live in peace. We have been forgiven by God through the blood of Christ, and we are free to live in peace with each other. We live in peace until we fall asleep in faith. There we hear these words again, “They sure look peaceful. Don’t they?” Jesus has said “You faith has saved you, go in peace.” (Luke 7:50) These words we hear from the mouths of our Pastors. These words we should hear from each other, and more importantly live with each other. Yes, we will not always get along, but we still live in love. After all, we are kids. May you enjoy this summer and don’t forget to take of your children both physically and spiritually. In the chaos, may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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Religions A couple years ago I began asking our college students to be featured in our church newsletter. This was to help the members of our congregation become acquainted with these fresh young faces. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about what they might write! What has ensued, however, has been a special reminder to me of the joy and importance of confessional Lutheran campus ministry.

In the article I ask each student:

Have you been a Lutheran your whole life? If so, what makes you so convinced to remain in the Lutheran faith, especially having been exposed to new worldviews on campus?  If not, when and why did you become a Lutheran?

As Luther explains the third article of the Creed, it is the work of the Spirit in keeping us in the “one true faith.” The questions above are helpful for the students to reflect upon this and to confess God’s work through His Word and sacraments.

Below are responses from sixteen of our students.  It is interesting to see that many of them understand Lutheranism to be Christ-centered, faithful to Holy Scripture, and as the first student notes “liturgical, sacramental, and confessional.”

#1 My father is an LCMS pastor, so I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran faith. I wrestled a lot with the different worldviews my first semester at UNI, and I found myself stumbling over my words when I tried to explain my own faith to others. So, I began studying Lutheranism more in depth. I’ve stayed in the Lutheran faith because we are liturgical, sacramental, and confessional. Everything we do in service, believe, and confess adheres to the Bible.

#2 From birth until 6 th grade, I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. My family came familiar with the Lutheran church, because my siblings and I attended Clemons Lutheran School. This school is connected with St. John Lutheran Church in the rural area of State Center, Iowa.  From attending the school, my parents became curious about Lutheran theology.  They recognized that chapel services at school spoke of grace and forgiveness of sins. The emphasis at the Church of the Nazarene was often focused on the importance of good works to prove a person is saved. We were taught we needed to make a personal decision for Christ. This was done by asking Jesus into our hearts at some point in your life. Through teaching we started to understand that it’s not about us, but what Christ has done for us on the cross.  Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Eventually, my family started attending Lenten services at St. John Lutheran Church and my parents and older brother started adult catechism classes. In August of 2003 my parents and older brother were confirmed, and my three younger siblings and I were baptized by Pastor David Steege.

#3 I have not been a Lutheran my whole life, in fact I have only been Lutheran for a little over a year. I was originally Roman Catholic, then Methodist, Baptist, Reformist, etc, etc, etc. My mother was a big fan of church jumping, as she was trying to find something that worked for her. Due to this, I have often been confused in my own relationship with God and was in a kind of limbo concerning what denomination I was. To use my own words, I was ‘non-denominational’. However, after attending College Hill Lutheran for almost a year I decided that this denomination was the one for me. I liked that it was very structured, Bible based, and conservative. Over the years I have been in a lot of churches that were not any of those things. The last few churches were all emotionally based experiences and it was nice to finally attend a service that could be traced back to the Word of God completely.

#4  Yes, I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran faith since birth.  I have always been proud of my Lutheran upbringing; however before I came to college I assumed every Christian basically had the same beliefs. Upon reaching college, I was overwhelmed when my new friends at UNI began teaching me about their own denominations of Christianity and even some of my friends’ atheistic worldviews.  This caused me to want to take a closer look at my own faith, so I began studying Lutheranism in greater detail.  What I found and continue to find in the Lutheran faith is a Christ-centered, Biblically accurate response to any other Christian denomination’s differing beliefs as well as a solid apology of the Christian faith for those of non-Christian beliefs.

#5  I was baptized and raised Lutheran, which is typical of someone whose father is a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. As many worldviews are constantly thrust upon me by the university and world in general, I have found that only one holds true when inspected closely: Christianity. Not only is it logically sound, but it is also exactly what sinners like me need. All other worldviews I have encountered seek to explain life and solve the problems of humanity but fall short with unattainable rewards, false promises, and the like. Studying Lutheranism further at College Hill has been a joy as I see more and more how Lutheranism is firmly scriptural and Christ-centered. God’s gift of faith in Christ is far more important than any homework assignment or business arrangement. I am completely dependent on Christ and His death and resurrection. Thus it is important to me to be part of a church that treats the Sacraments properly and has solid doctrine in accordance with the Word of God. It is wonderful to be able to confess with fellow believers what God has made known to us in His Word and to continually receive God’s blessings.

#6   No, I was baptized into the faith at a Catholic Church in Illinois within the first few months of my life. After moving to Norwalk, my mother, being raised Catholic, and my father, being raised Baptist, found a perfect mix of their confessional faith at the LCMS Church in Norwalk. I have been blessed to have remained a Lutheran in my upbringing, and continue to hold fast to this confessional church’s faith and practice. When I came to UNI, my faith had prepared me to hold fast to the true teaching of the Word regardless of my own logic or other human opinion I was about to receive from the “educated teachers of the world.”

#7  I have been a Lutheran since I was born so it is easy to stay in the faith. I have always been privileged enough to be surrounded by other Lutherans so there is always another person to lean on if I begin to question my faith. When surrounded by such a liberally biased campus it is easy to begin to question one’s faith, but with a church and a good surrounding one can just as easily stay grounded in the faith.

#8  I was baptized Lutheran as a baby but I did not grow up going to church every week. I had a friend invite me to her Methodist church camp one year and I went to her church/youth Wednesdays from 6 th to 10 th grade and was confirmed in that church. It wasn’t until Spring Break of freshman year in college that I decided to reconnect with my Lutheran roots. I was confirmed in the Lutheran faith – June 2010!!

#9  Yes, I have been a Lutheran my whole life which is one of the reasons I find it easy to remain in the Lutheran faith.  I have been fortunate to hear the truth of our Lord for my whole life, a truth that is the foundation I hold to.  The new worldviews I am exposed to on campus are certainly thought provoking but at the end of the day these ideas are like candy bars, they can feed you but they will not sustain and nurture your body or soul in the same way His word will.  Also, knowing that I am a poor miserable sinner who is still forgiven, despite my missteps, is a beautiful assurance that no other thought from campus that I am exposed to can even come close to.

#10  Yes, but I have not been in the LCMS my whole life. Growing up, my family went to the church that my father had gone to pretty much his whole life, which was at the time affiliated with the ELCA (now affiliated with the NALC). During the winter of 2010 (my senior year in high school) we switched churches to the church I currently go to now as a result of changes in the ELCA. The main reason I still remain a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is due to the fact that we have easily the purest and most well thought out doctrine and practices that do not stray at all from the main bastion of our faith, the fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.

# 11  I have been raised in the Lutheran faith my whole life.  I agree with the doctrine of the Lutheran faith, which is based on Scripture and one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.  As I participate in Bible Studies, I have compared and contrasted the other faiths with the Lutheran faith.  Our faith is the only faith that is completely based on Scripture.

#12  I have been Lutheran throughout my life, and one thing specifically enjoy about being and staying Lutheran is the fact that Lutheran sermons/teachings are more scripturally based in comparison to other surrounding church teachings. It is my joy to study the Bible every time I am at church, whether it is at Sunday service or Wednesday night youth group.

#13  I have been blessed to be raised in a strong Lutheran family my entire life. This has given me a solid support system to rely on whenever questions arise. However, I have not always been good at defending my faith. Being a part of CHLC’s Campus Ministry has equipped me with the knowledge and confidence to proclaim to others the one true faith, founded in Christ alone. The knowledge that what we believe and confess as Lutherans is based on nothing less than Christ is what gives me the confidence to continue in the faith.

#14  I was raised in an LCMS family and have always considered myself a Lutheran. However, I have not always known what that title meant until the past few years. During my freshmen year of college I started getting really involved in other campus ministries such as the Navigators and Prairie Lakes Church. Attending church services there led me in a different direction, encouraging you to do more to become a “better Christian” and really “feeling God in your heart”. I ended up working at Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca that summer, an LCMS camp in Solon, Iowa. There, I learned a lot more about Lutheran beliefs and started attending LCMS services again. While I was there I made some really strong connections with great friends who encouraged me to go back to College Hill. Ever since then I have remained grounded in the Word.

#15  I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life. Growing up in a college town, I encountered many different faiths before I came to UNI. With a lot of great teachers (parents, friends, youth leaders), I learned a lot about what it means to be a Lutheran. Christianity is the only religion where I stand a chance, because I am judged by faith instead of works, and Lutheranism follows the bible in the most Christ-centered way.

#16  I was raised in the Lutheran faith, and I have been attending an LCMS church all of my life.  When I first came to college, I was attending services at College Hill, but I was also part of a Bible study in my residence hall that was affiliated with a non-denominational church in town. Although I enjoyed the social aspect, I started to realize that some of the things we talked about in this study were different from what I had been taught in my Sunday School and Catechism classes, which was pretty confusing.  Attending Pastor’s Wednesday night study and looking more closely at Scripture has shown me that everything the Lutheran faith confesses comes directly from the Word.

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Do you hear the people singing?

  Posted:Jul 22, 2014 By Pastor Peters (Pastoral Meanderings)
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.



In the wonderful movie adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables these lines are sung just before the battle begins.  Do you hear the people singing?  Well, I am sure there cannot be more than a few folks in the entire world who do not know its melody.  Powerful stuff...

In Acts 16:16-40 we read about singing.  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly  there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately  all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.  

Singing was once the hallmark of Christians both in worship and in witness.  Music, if it has any purpose whatsoever beyond personal pleasure, is given us to raise songs to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving for His grace and favor.  But not so much anymore. . .

Christians today more often hear others sing than sing themselves.  Liturgies that were once mostly sung are now mostly spoken.  Hymns have given way to praise songs.  Choirs to worship divas.  The world does not hear us singing like it once did.  There is something wrong here.

Why do so many Lutherans stand with mouths shut as some around them sing but they do not?  Why do so many of us struggle with words and notes to the great hymns that were once sung without heads in a book?  Why is hymn singing limited to the first, third, and fifth stanzas of hymns that once sang out all 15-20 stanzas?  Why do we follow the bouncing ball on the screen for a repeated refrain instead of raising full voice to the hymns and spiritual songs that once caused a world to stop and listen?

I have little patience for those who do not open a book or their lips on Sunday morning.  Sometimes I have to look away from the people to keep my composure.  And our congregation sings better than most!  I have been in churches where I was sure I was the only one singing.  Yes, acoustics are often targeted for control of sound (meaning amplified sound) and so the rooms in which we sing do not echo the sound of our singing like they once did.  But that does not explain why we are content not even to try to sing.

Don't tell me you cannot sing!  You sing the complicated lyrics and melodies of pop music or Christian contemporary artists.  You can sing the jingles of a thousand products advertized on TV and radio.  The melodies of the vast majority of hymns are easier than these and the multiple stanzas give you the chance to learn what you might not have known in the first stanza.  Sing people.  Try it -- not with the timid voices of the uncertain but with the confident voices of those who know the grace and mercy of God.  Sing the story of His love.  Sing the Gospel to a world still captive to sin and its death.  Sing the hope that is in you.  Sing to your children, with your children, and they will sing in your place when you are gone.

I could throw a hundred Bible passages at you to compel you to see how the Lord expects, anticipates, and is glorified by the songs of His people (singing back to Him what He has said to them -- the surest word of all!).  But I truly think the most powerful is from Acts 16.  Do you hear the people singing?  That is what the jailer and his family work up to ask.  They heard.  And before the night was through, the song of Paul and Silas became their own.

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1. The Parables of Jesus: The Prodigal Son – Pr. Peter Bender, 7/25/14

  Posted:Jul 21, 2014 By Issues Etc. (Issues Etc)

bender Pastor Peter Bender of Peace Lutheran-Sussex, WI

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1. The Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep – Dr. Scott Murray, 7/24/14

  Posted:Jul 21, 2014 By Issues Etc. (Issues Etc)

Dr. Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran-Houston, TX


“Memorial Moments” by Scott Murray
Dying to Live Radio

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