Christmas Eve sermon

 

Christmas Eve sermon, Luke 1:26-38 (preached evening of Dec. 24, 2017)

Lectionary Texts:

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

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Reading Luther

As we enter this 500th year celebration of the Reformation, the danger is that we might read about Martin Luther. However, how refreshing it might be to read what Luther actually wrote. Obviously Luther wrote more than most of us read even in a year. So let’s narrow down the list of writings that will expand our knowledge about Luther as a writer.

One invention, the printing press by Gutenberg, appeared ~70 years prior to Luther beginning to write for others. The printing press allowed the rapid spread of Luther’s writings, not just books but especially pamphlets. Thus, instead of what took weeks, months, or years for hand written copies of what he wrote, the speed of the printing press drastically shortened the time from writing to distribution, not just for one copy but many copies.

What should I read?

Confessional writings

As Lutherans we do not follow Martin Luther, rather we confess the same Christian faith that he did. Our public statements of faith are compiled in The Book of Concord, dated in 1580. Surprisingly, Luther only wrote three parts of the book: Small Catechism (1529) Large Catechism (1529) and Smalcald Articles (1537). However, his influence on the others confessional writings is evident. He reviewed and approved of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession (1531). Further the next generation of theologians who wrote the Formula of Concord (1580) borrowed heavily from Luther, quoting some passages in length.

So a starting point for reading Luther is to read his three writings in the Book of Concord. If you have been raised in a Lutheran church, you are very familiar with the Small Catechism. Luther wrote it to help parents teach the Christian faith to their families. In addition, Luther wrote sermons for pastors to teach the congregations, published as the Large Catechism. Thus, the two catechisms complement each other. Reading both will enhance your understanding of the key topics of the Christian faith.

Early writings

The 500th celebration of the Reformation highlights one of his earliest writings (Oct. 31, 1517): “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” better known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.” You can search online for this document. Luther’s direct approach to false teaching emerges in this document and continues in his later writings. He also wrote “An Explanation of the 95 Theses” in 1518. Even in this early period, Luther focused on the Church and the individual Christian. Here is the first thesis:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “Repent,” willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Other early works worth reading: “Heidelberg Disputation” (1518) and “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1519). In 1519 the Leipzig Debate presented a theological disputation originally between Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johann Eck [papal expert]. The topics were originally to be: free will and grace. However, Eck and Luther met and expanded the topics to purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the need for and methods of penance, and the legitimacy of papal authority. In the debate Luther claimed that sola scripture (Scripture alone) as the basis for Christian beliefs. In June 1520 Pope Leo X banned all Luther’s views from writing and preaching.

There are three significant writings from 1520: “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning The Reform of the Christian Estate,” “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” and “The Freedom of a Christian.” These three have significant influence on the public life of the 1500s and lead to the Peasants Rebellion and later to the nobility responding to control the masses.

Other Important Writings

Because Luther wrote doctrinal statements and discussed what is commonly called systematic or doctrinal theology, we have to realize that his other writings were more closely related to his specialty, namely exegetical theology, particularly the Old Testment. Thus, as you begin to search his exegetical writings you discover his series on Genesis (8 books in English translation), his commentaries on the Psalms, and his commentaries on the Minor Prophets (1524-1526). Perhaps the premier commentaries include his ones on Galatians (1535 ed.) [vol. 26 and 27 in English] and his commentaries on the Gospel of John (1537) [vol. 22, 24 in English].

This list is only a sampling of what Luther wrote. But your time will be well spent reading some of these books and articles. And there is no need to rush through them. Take time to understand the key points, to appreciate his writing style (even in Enlish), and to give thanks that God used Luther who dedicated his life to teaching the Christian faith.

For Further reading:

Here is a web site that provides a chronological list of Luther’s writings with the English volume references.
https://lutherantheology.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/luthers-work-chronological-website2.pdf

Sermon: Matthew 18:15-20

Preached Sep. 10, 2017

Forgiveness in the Church and for the Church

 

Matthew 18:15-20 CSB

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XYDMInOhQEekY1SXJYU29ralE/view

Sermon Matthew 16:21-28

Sermon preached on September 3, 2017

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XYDMInOhQENjN6VHZfVFcxY1U/view

Matthew 16:21-28 (NAS)

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to His deeds.

28   “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

The unthinkable becomes reality

Romans 5:6-15 is the epistle reading for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2017). The pervasive reality of sin had always been an obstacle for humans relative to God. No amount of work or effort or wishful thinking could remove that barrier.

The barrier between God and humans existed because of sin that was inherited from the sin of Adam. Every person is born as a sinner, we never have to teach someone to sin let alone how to sin. There are two aspects to the barrier:

  1. The positive demand to be perfect could not be met by human sinners. (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10)
  2. The negative consequences of sin meant that the sinner had to die to pay the penalty of sin.

Left to their own devices, sinners could never satisfy either part of that demand. That meant that sinners were helpless. As Paul writes in our text, Jesus was the solution to both aspects. He  lived that perfect life (2 Cor. 5:17) in the midst of temptation to sin (Hebrews 4:15). In our text, he wrote: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Note the consequences: “declared righteous,” “saved,” “reconciled.” All of this is entirely God’s gifts to us. And that is worth singing about:

Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God! Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1-2)

Romans 5:6-15 (CSB)

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. 13 In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.

By faith in Jesus, we have a perfect standing before God, forgiven, restored, and waiting for that final salvation.

Wonderful news to ponder daily and give thanks.

Church—some thoughts about it

Lately I have been thinking a lot about “church” —what it is, what it is not, how it functions.

There are two approaches that have garnered a lot of attention. As I describe these, at this stage I am observing, not evaluating them The first is the formal, structured church. This is evident in not only architecture but also in worship life. Most of “church” revolves around the building and the liturgy. Great care is taken in the details of both.

The second is the person-centered approach to church. Thus, the person’s needs, wants, desires move center stage. Instead of a formalized liturgy the need to encourage, excite, motivate people is the focus of worship. The second kind of church has been an occasional part of my life in the last 25 years. I have participated in some very moving worship times.

Interestingly, though, I have also felt a hollowness of my own spirituality in such churches. As I examined this more, I discovered that there were no long lasting links with the Church. Songs from 20 years ago were no longer sung. The experience of the gathered people in worship spanned maybe 10-20 years. Yet I am in my late 60s. My spiritual and worship life span almost seven decades.

I grew up and have spent almost all of my adult life in the first kind of church. The liturgical form of worship was all I personally knew until I was in my 40s. The temptation was to let my participation turn to auto-pilot. I knew everything by heart, no need for the hymnal, except for occasional hymn that I didn’t know by heart. At times such participation became automatic with little thought of “what was I saying/singing.”

Yet, in some of the deepest valleys in my life, my participation in that liturgy and hymns brought stability when nothing else did. The congregational span of worship was not limited to the age of the participants. It reached back hundreds of years, and even further. The perspective was not limited to any one in particular but to the Church as a whole, throughout the ages. I realized I was part of a community that could carry me along as we sang the Kyrie, even if my lips did not move. As church, we sang, prayed, and meditated. I needed that. And over the years I have encountered others who have realized this “larger than me” experience of church.

The Foundations: Word and Sacrament

In the Church of all ages, there are foundational elements of Church: The Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution, and our responses of prayer and singing. They form the heart of Church life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 CSB)

And Matthew 18:15-20 (CSB)

15 [Jesus said:] “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

 

 

Church: The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful

Church is an amazing thing—created by Jesus, yet made up of sinful humans. It’s easy to overlook the essence of Church, especially when things aren’t “working” like we want it to. So, let’s step back for a few minutes and consider what an Amazing thing this is.

The Good: Jesus Christ Builds the church

The Greek word for “church” only occurs in two places in the Gospels: Matthew 16 and Matthew 18. In Matthew 16, we read,

He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:13-14 CSB)

Certainly a worthy group of people for Jesus to be included. But Jesus presses them for their own thoughts about who he is:

“But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:15-16 CSB)

Peter moves beyond the accolades of the crowds, to confess who Jesus really is, the Messiah [Christ], the Son of the living God. Jesus accepts Peter’s confession, while adding further to it.

Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. (Matt. 16:17 CSB)

That is, for someone to realize who Jesus is means that only God could reveal it. On our own any evaluation of Jesus will fall short. We miss who Jesus really is, and we miss what that confession really is.

Jesus not only acknowledges Peter’s confession and shows him the basis for his confession, he extends it to be the basis of church.

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock [your confession] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18 CSB)

That is amazing, the good.

The Bad: Church is made up of sinners

The reality of the church is that church consists of sinners, only sinners. It doesn’t take us long to be in a church to come to that realization: we are all sinners. We can mess things up in church.

Sinners do sinful things, and it may be easy to spot the sin and sinner. The spotlight helps us identify the sinner, or at least we think it does. If only we could get rid of “those sinners” then church would be acceptable.

Jesus builds the church, and he knows exactly who the people of the church are: sinners. So, he is not surprised by it. Amazingly Jesus still works in and through the church. Jesus does not advocate for the latest and greatest leadership practice, nor the latest conference. Rather because sin is a persistent problem with sinners, even in the church, Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to the Church to deal with sin (Matt. 16:19).

Jesus does not leave the church to fend for itself. He builds the church and he cares for the church. Sin does not surprise Jesus. Rather, he anticipates that people in the church, sinners, will sin. Thus, in the other mention of “church” in the Gospels, Jesus provides the remedy for the church to continue to be the church.

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins [against you], go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. (Matt. 18:15-18 CSB)

Sadly this process of dealing with sin is often ignored in the church. The church either thinks the sin will go away, or it hopes that it won’t be noticed, “We don’t want to ruffle feathers.” Or even worse, “church rules” become the basis for getting rid of people, especially those who question church organization leadership. Jesus knows that sin can only be dealt with by confronting the sin and forgiving the sin.

By following these steps, the church can only do one of two things: bind the sin or loose  (forgive) the sin. Note that in v. 18, in either case, the church declares what God has already declared: “whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

In other words, this is not the church acting as an independent organization for its own good. Rather, the declaration regarding sin is something that God has already determined, and the church speaks that (which will have been already bound/loosed in heaven). The church is not arbitrary in the announcement, but follows the lead of the One who builds the church.

The Beautiful: The Church Lives in Unity

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, chapter 4:

1 Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

He emphasizes that the church living together is not marked by a laundry list of things to do. Rather the church exhibits the character of Christ: humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Elsewhere Paul describes these as “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

It’s is amazing when the church begins to live out that reality. Humility means the other person is more important than me. Gentleness means we treat those who have been wounded, abused, shaken by sin not with indifference or judgment, ridicule, “discipline.” Rather we treat them with the same gentleness Jesus demonstrated to people: the woman at the well (John 4), the one caught in adultery (John 8), even Peter who rightly confessed who Jesus is, and yet who also denied Jesus. Bearing with one another in love means walking with another, who struggles, who lives in fear, doubt, anger.

The life of the church is guided by the one who built it. Note in Eph. 4:3 the church “makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The church does not establish unity, only the Spirit can do that. But the church does strive to maintain what the Spirit established. Note how this is the outcome of the church rightly dealing with sin.

In our eyes, we see the church: battered, torn, weak, divisive. From that perspective it is tempting to walk away from the church.

In Christ’s eyes, he sees the church: forgiven, restored, and his voice in the world.

Walking away from church is not the answer. Being the church, as Jesus creates and sees the church means that we stay in the church. Broken sinners, forgiven. Weak yet strong in love, bruised, but not abandoned. That’s how Jesus intended the church to be.

Christ’s Church is amazing and beautiful