Month: June 2017

God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25, 2017

 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.”

18 “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He didn’t realize it at the time, but those theses would spark the Lutheran Reformation and change German and Europe forever. Martin Luther famously stood on God’s Word alone, and many in Germany followed.

But by 1530, everything had changed. The Muslim forces were threatening to invade Europe and wipe out Christianity. Peasants were revolting. Some of the reformers were becoming extreme in their views. And the Catholic emperor of the entire Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, was ready to squash out Lutheranism once and for all. Luther’s religious reformation had become a political mess. Everything hung in the balance.

Martin Luther kept writing and preaching, but none of it would matter unless some of the princes would stand firm on God’s Word. And that was tricky. If the emperor ruled all of Germany, the princes were like the governors of states and regions. If these German princes confessed their Lutheran faith to their Catholic emperor, they could lose their high position – or even be killed. Everyone had a lot to lose.

It was at this dangerous time that the Lutherans put together a succinct confession of faith so that they could tell the world, once and for all, what God’s Word says. They called it the Augsburg Confession. And on June 25, 1530, the Lutheran German princes were brought in to Emperor Charles V. Like Luther at the Diet of Worms, these princes were to put their lives and livelihoods on the line and confess their faith. If they backed into Catholicism again, they would keep everything, but Lutheranism would almost die out.

It was a fulfillment of the promise Jesus gave his disciples in our Gospel reading. “You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” It had happened to the disciples and apostles. It happened to Christians throughout Roman history. It had happened to Martin Luther. And in 1530, it was happening to these German princes.

“I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame,” Psalm 119 states. Would these men do that? Would you? Imagine the day when you get brought before a city council and asked what you believe. Or imagine you are taken to Washington D C to give an account of what you believe before the leaders of this country. You could lose everything if you confess Christ, or you could keep everything if you say nothing.

You know what the temptation would be. Your sinful nature advises you to “keep your mouth shut” and “live to fight another day.” Maybe the devil would also have a word of advice: “You know, even Jesus kept his mouth shut when he was on trial!”

Of course, Jesus did open his mouth when he was on trial – but never in anger or retribution. That would be the other temptation for us. We would want to speak the truth, but speak it in a derogatory, angry way. But not Jesus. “As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

Jesus tells us we are to be like sheep, too. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Then he gives us a few memorable commands. “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard.” It is hard for us to think of shrewdness as a good thing. Usually we are shrewd in sinful, self-serving ways. But here Jesus is saying “Be smart – don’t act like fools.”

And be innocent. If you are standing before authorities, it had better not be because you did something wrong, but because of what you believe. “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed.”

Although Jesus’ enemies did everything they could to shame him, he was not ashamed to suffer and die for you. He stood before the rulers and the governor willingly. He spoke calmly, and truthfully. And even on the cross, Jesus shared the eternal truth that your sins and mine are forgiven. Those sins of anger, those sins of being ashamed of God and his word, those sins of remaining silent rather than sharing God’s Word are all washed away forever.

Having taken our sins away, Jesus now gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that gift takes away all worry and doubt. “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Those princes, standing before the emperor with their lives on the line, were literally given the words to say. Martin Luther and the reformers had put together the Augsburg Confession as a summary of what they believe about the Bible. It was now up to the princes to either stand on that confession of faith or give it up.

In one of the most memorable scenes in western history, the emperor met privately with the princes, commanding them to take part in the Catholic worship services, and in effect, come back to the Catholic faith. At that point, one of the princes approached the emperor, knelt down, and boldly stated, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”

Not one of the princes were killed. Their bold proclamation of faith spread throughout Germany. The people stood on God’s Word.

That Augsburg Confession of faith continues to be our summery of faith on God’s Word. Like the disciples, like those German princes, Jesus is also warning us, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Don’t shrink away from those moments. Don’t go silent with your faith. Boldly share God’s Word. Boldly live the faith God has given you. And by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, may our Lord make us ever ready to confess with the psalmist: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame.” Amen.

Posted by mike

Death Has Lost Its Sting

2nd Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2017

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Honey bees are interesting creatures. They communicate with each other through smell. They never sleep. And in the United States, honey bees are responsible for pollinating about 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops.

But perhaps the most memorable characteristic of the honey bee is also the saddest. When a honey bee stings you, it dies. Now maybe at the time you get stung you don’t feel so sorry for the bee. In fact, maybe you think the bee deserves the death for the sting it gave you. But the trade off is not equal. A sting to you means death to the bee.

Of course, a sting from a bee can mean death to humans. If you are one of the 2 million people who are allergic to bees, then you know that a sting can mean much more than just a little pain. To some, a bee sting doesn’t just mean death to the bee. It means death to them, too.

Stinging can be a dangerous action. What if, like a honey bee, you died after you stung someone? Obviously, we don’t have physical stingers that inflict pain. But our stingers can still hurt. One word you say can cut to the heart of another. One noise can hurt someone else. One physical action can hurt, too. To hit someone, or to cross your arms, or to walk away can sting every bit as much as a bee. Perhaps even more.

So what if, like the honey bee, you died after you stung someone? One stinging hit, one walk away, one look of disgust, one stinging comment, or even one stinging thought about someone and…boom…you’re dead! That might just bring perspective to your life. If you knew that one hurtful word to another person would kill you, or one stinger of an action, or one little angry thought could kill, you would probably avoid those actions as much as possible.

But there is the catch. You know as well as I know that we cannot possibly avoid stinging one another. Which means that as human bees we wouldn’t last long. In fact, how long could you last before you stung someone? A month? A week? An hour?

Honey bees are pretty extraordinary that way. They can live anywhere between 6 weeks and 4 years. I think our sting would come much sooner than that.

But the situation is actually worse than that. Our sins of stinging one another don’t kill us, or our neighbor. But they did kill someone else. They killed Jesus. In fact, that was why he came. Jesus, who never stung anyone ever, who never jabbed someone with a sinful word, or hurt someone with a sinful action, or even thought a stinging thought, lived perfectly.

He came to be stung. It wasn’t the betrayal that spiritually stung him, or the trial, or the scourging, or the nails, or even the cross. It was your sins that stung Jesus, and mine. And the sting that Jesus endured, the sting that he suffered, the sting that killed him was our eternal death in hell. 1 Corinthians 15:56 calls it “the sting of death.” And that isn’t just talking about physical death that everyone eventually faces. It is talking about eternal death – permanently suffering in hell.

That sting should have been yours. It should have been mine. But instead Jesus took that sting of death upon himself.

A father was once driving in a car with his son. It was a nice day and the windows were down. When they came to a stop a honey bee buzzed in to the vehicle. The pleasant drive all of a sudden became deathly dangerous. The son was allergic to bees. In fact, if he was stung, he would die. Quickly, the father grabbed the bee. And then he did something incredibly painful. He kept the bee in his hand until it stung him. It did. The pain was tremendous. But the danger was gone. After being stung, the father flicked the dead bee out of the vehicle. He was stung, but he had saved his son’s life.

You are that son. Eternal death was coming for you. But at the last second Jesus took that sting of death upon himself. It was incomprehensibly painful. In fact, it was so painful and powerful that he died. But then three days later, Jesus rose again. And because of Jesus’ resurrection Paul can write, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So what if every stinger you gave out could kill? Well, it did. It killed Christ. But when he rose again he won victory for you and me. He took death’s sting away. And now he promises to help keep you from stinging others.

That isn’t so easy. Our sinful nature lives to sting others. “The stronger the better!” it retorts. Holding your stinging in is a daily struggle in self-control. It means speaking well of others. It means putting others before yourself. It means living for others as Jesus lived for you. It means putting away the stinger and making honey for others. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Did you know honey bees are the only insects that produce food for humans? How can something that produces such sweet honey sting so sharply? Perhaps there is a heavenly lesson in that. After all, death is the same way. How can something so bitter and sad and awful and painful end up being a good thing? Because Jesus has defeated death. Death has lost its sting. And now it is but a doorway to Jesus, the means by which Jesus brings us to heaven. Your eternal home, where there is no more sting of death – a place the Bible fittingly calls “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Amen.

Posted by mike

Your Triune God Personally Loves You

Holy Trinity Sunday – June 11, 2017

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. 

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 1:1-5,26-28; 2:1-3)

A couple of black holes collided last week. Don’t worry, astronomers estimated that the collision happened 3 billion light years away. But the big news was that they detected it all the way over here on earth. Some were excited by the discovery. Others feared that some similar collision could one day destroy our own solar system. In short, this cosmic event is making people think.

Isn’t it interesting that some new discovery about the universe always seems to bring up the same old questions? Are we alone in the universe? Will the earth someday end? And perhaps the biggest cosmic question of all: How did everything get here?

The world has never come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. Evolutionists say everything formed from a sort of “Big Bang” that happened billions of years ago. But, where did the things that “banged” into one another come from? They can’t answer the question.

Other religions have tried to answer the question, too. The ancient Greeks believed various gods made the different parts of the earth and the universe. The Mayans believed the gods originally formed mankind out of corn. Some Native American peoples thought a hummingbird created the stars. And the Vikings believed the world was formed from the cut up pieces of one of their own gods…which is a truly Viking type of belief.

This morning we hear how everything actually came into being from the words of our very own Triune God. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” That word burst through the formless and empty void, and all of a sudden there was something from nothing. “Let there be light.” God said it, and it came to pass. “There was light.” But God was only getting started.

God powerfully brought everything else into being in perfect order. Over the course of six regular days God created sky and sea, dry land and vegetation, the sun, moon and stars, birds and fish, and land animals. Over the course of five and a half days God had shown omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience.

But then the creation narrative changes. All at once, God stops his creative work on this grand scale so that he can talk to himself. This is important. The three persons of our triune God talk about the high point of what they will create. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’”

Our triune God made Adam, and then Eve in his perfect image. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

That is how it happened. No big bang starting an evolutionary process. No multiple false gods creating problems. No pieces of gods needed. Everything was made from nothing, by three persons in one God.

Do you remember what happened next? The perfect universe suffered an epic calamity when the two perfect people God created ate from the tree he told them not to eat from. It took less than a second for God’s infinitely perfect world to become infinitely imperfect.

As years turned to centuries, this account of God’s creation fell in to legend and myth. When people looked to answer the question of how everything got here, they came up with other ideas. The most pervasive belief of how everything came in to being is also the newest idea. It is now the most accepted belief in the world that evolution on a grand scale, if given enough time, can create.

And while we don’t hold to evolution, it has become a pervasive ideology. Read a book, watch a documentary, use a textbook and chances are good you will hear of “big bangs” and “billions of years.” Those who don’t accept evolution on a grand scale are threatened with being ridiculed personally and ostracized professionally. In turn, those threats lead us to keep our faith in God’s creative work a secret. Why bring it up when we could lose so much?

Because our triune God gave up much more for us. We see our triune God at work at creation. We see our triune God at work throughout the Old Testament. We see our triune God describe himself in the New Testament. But nowhere else do we see our triune God more clearly than in Jesus’ ministry. God the Father sends his Son, Jesus, to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and become one of us.

Then came Jesus’ suffering and death. God the Father forsook his Son, Jesus, and sent him to suffer the hell that should have been ours. The ripple effect of Jesus’ death on the cross was far greater than any two black holes colliding with each other. Jesus’ death took away the sins of the world.

Scripture’s teaching of the trinity isn’t some distant, theological piece of trivia. The trinity personal. God the Father created you and knows you by name. He gave you the talents you have and the mind you use. Jesus came to be your substitute. He pulled you out of the line of criminals about to be killed and put himself in. And the Holy Spirit came to you personally at your Baptism to give you your life-giving and life-saving faith.

This morning in our worship service we have already seen our triune God in action. You heard a Trinitarian blessing. Your sins were forgiven in the name of the Trinity. Our prayer of the day focused on all three persons of our triune God. Every one of our lessons talked about who the Trinity is and what our God does for us. In a moment we will confess our faith in our triune God, sing his praises and pray in his name. And at the end of it all, the words of Jesus sending out believers will be given to us, once again in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday always seems like a lot to take in. Just remember how personal your triune God really is. The Father who created you, the Son who redeemed you, the Holy Spirit who gave you faith now sends you out to share those truths with the rest of the world.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Amen.

Posted by mike