Thursday, August 14, 2008

Last Day

This is the final day for my summer vicarage in Worden, IL. Overall, it has been a great experience. I learned a great deal from Pastor Curtis and from the members at Trinity and Zion. May God continue to bless them all with faithful hearts and minds toward Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Kyrie Eleison+

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Voice of the Church

How does the church respond to happiness or sorrow? It uses its voice and its voice is the hymn. The hymns of the Church possess what is most important to the body of all Christian Saints. Now, what is voiced at different times may be voiced in different ways, but ultimately - hopefully - there remains the salvific message of Christ crucified.

Today there are many ways to express the extreme happiness that the church feels. In fact, this could cause a problem for future generations of Christians. For us, here in America, we have it good. The Church is protected from governmental persecution and sorrow and toil and trouble do not rear its ugly head as it did during the early persecutions of Christians. We have better medicines today, unlike the widespread deaths caused by the Plague, the Black Death. So we have in essence become unaware of what hard-times really are, and to what brink sorrow and toil and turmoil can bring the church.

These happy songs seem to flow out of different parts of Christendom. Christ Tomlin wrote "How great is our God" (voted Worship Song of the Year for 2008) and truly God is - although not necessarily for the reasons Tomlin describes. Martin Luther writes "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" (Nominated for best Worship Song in 1523, but lost to "You are stupid laity and don't know Latin" by the Pope Clement VII) and truly we should rejoice. But what of times of sorrow? What of times when things aren't happy and bright? How then does the church respond?

It seems that today's Christianity has no answer for this. All it knows is happy happy joy joy. It doesn't fully understand sorrow. And truly, neither do I. Yet, while I may not fully understand the extent of sorrow, when sad times do come, a solid part of Christendom does understand sorrow and how to handle it. And that solid bit of Christendom that holds to Lutheran hymns and Lutheran hymn writers gives the church its voice in the times of sorrow. How?

Well, Luther wrote "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice", but he also wrote "In the Very Midst of Life" a hymn which tells of the sorrows and tribulation a Christian faces. In the Hymn the answer is Jesus Christ to all sorrow and woes, yet tells us this very clearly and with a fitting tune to the occasion. In the 17th Century, Paul Gerhardt gives even more life to this voice of sorrow trusting in the promises of God. With a hymn like "Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me" there is no doubt that Christ is the focus of all things and we can cling to him even in times of sorrow. The text and the tune are appropriate for the occasion.

These texts and tunes for sorrow come out of times of great grief and sorrow and they give comfort to us today in times as sorrow as well. Rejoice then, that Lutheran hymns still hold a firm voice for the Church in times of sorrow which cling to Christ and the salvation he has won for us!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is Jesus not enough?

For those of the "experiential age" of Christianity, Jesus is not enough.

It is not enough that Jesus comes into their midst, every Sunday in the Lord's Supper. It is not enough that God has promised them salvation under His triune name in Baptism. It is not enough that the Holy Spirit chooses to work through the Word of God in a sermon, whether or not that Word is excellent preached.

Feeling, apparently, is the paramount of Christianity. Sensuality, almost. Borderline sexual desire, talking about Jesus as if he were a lover. And then to top it all off, there is a general feeling that you have no idea what is happening to you, so you call it the Holy Spirit to cover your tracks.

That is not Jesus. That is not God. He has done his work concretely, by becoming a man and going to the cross. And he continues to still work concretely to give you the forgiveness he won: His Word and the Sacraments.

Looking at yourself takes your eyes off God and off the cross. "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man." Psalm 118:8

Kyrie Eleison+

Homily for St. Romanus, Martyr

Trinity Lutheran Church
Worden, IL

August 6th, 2008

Matthew 10:26-32

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“So have no fear of them.” “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” For Saint Romanus, the converted soldier, these words were all too real. He was martyred. Evil men killed his body, but they didn’t have the power to kill his soul. We, on the other hand, live lives of comfortable security protected from persecution by the Constitution. But then again, while it protects us from men, it cannot protect us from the effects of sin in this world and the fear this puts in us.

There are plenty of things to fear and worry about in this life. You might be fired from your job. Money may run dry and bills left unpaid. Children could grow up and make bad decisions. A loved one could be taken away at any minute. But truly, these are minor cares and worries for they only take their toll on our bodies. And these bodies are bound for death anyway. Jesus says, “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This is the fear that matters.

Who is the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell? It cannot be the devil. Christ has beaten Satan. He’s judged. The deed is done. One little Word can fell him. He has no power over us. So then, the one who can destroy both body and soul is God, the almighty and everlasting. He is the judge. The one who will come to judge the quick and the dead. The one who will come to judge men by their deeds and destroy all those who are not perfect in his sight. He is the one to be feared. For are your deeds perfect? Are you spotless and blameless in the sight of God? Standing naked in front of God with only your imperfect and shameful deeds to cover you is indeed a frightening prospect.

But while he is to be feared, He says, do not fear nor be afraid. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” God watches over all living things, and you are of more value to him than they are. Repent therefore from all your sins, take comfort and see what God has done that he is able to love and value you.

God sent Jesus to stand naked on the cross. But he was not really naked, for he was covered in your shameful and sinful deeds. Jesus Christ the Son of God hung before the face of God and was condemned. The wrath of God, intended for you, was sent against Jesus Christ. Your sins were paid for bought with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Yet, the grave could not hold God. And Jesus came out from the tomb no longer clothed in your sins and shamefulness, but with fresh garments of his own righteousness. And through his Word in Baptism he clothes you with these pure white stainless shameless garments.

This is why he says, do not fear. In those pure white garments given to you by Christ your will be judged at the final judgment according to deeds. But God will look at you and no longer see your shameful and imperfect deeds. He will see you clothed in the deeds of Christ. Clothed in the merits of Christ our Lord and Savior who won salvation for you on the cross. And you will not be destroyed in soul and body but be preserved until life everlasting.

So we rejoice in this salvation and gladly do as Christ our Lord says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my father who is in heaven.” And what better way of acknowledging God before man than by receiving the things which God wishes us to receive? We come to church and hear God’s Word in the Sermon. We take and eat and drink to our forgiveness the body and blood of Christ. And we live in our Baptisms, daily receiving the promise of forgiveness which he gives. Yes, Jesus gives and gives and forgives and forgives. In these things Christ acts, and by receiving we proclaim to others that He is the Christ.

So we fear the Lord, trusting in His promise when he says to us - Have no fear, for my Son has stilled my wrath and you have life, in soul and body, everlasting.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.