Sunday, August 24, 2014
John 1:43-51; 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; Proverbs 3:1-8
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. But, that wasn’t because he didn’t think that they would believe, rather, it was because he believed very strongly that they would believe and repent. He knew that the Word of God had that kind of power, to create everything out of nothing, to bring light out of darkness, life out of death, faith out of unbelief. No, he believed very strongly that the people of Nineveh would believe the Word of God. They would repent. They would be saved. And, Jonah thought to himself, “That just isn’t right.”
Nineveh was the capital and the greatest city of ancient Assyria. The Ninevites were wicked and cruel. They were powerful enemies of God and of God’s people Israel. If any city and people deserved God’s wrath and judgment, so thought Jonah, it was the Ninevites. But, God had commanded His prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and to preach repentance to them that they might repent and be saved from destruction. Jonah didn’t want to go, not because he believed it wouldn’t work, but because he believed that it would. The Ninevites did believe. They did repent. And, God did spare them. In fact, Nineveh and its surrounding territories became the cradle of Christianity. Some of the oldest Christian communions and church buildings remain in Nineveh, which today is called by the name of Mosul in the northern part of the country that today is known as Iraq.
While Christians have always been a minority in Iraq, until recent decades they have been a significant minority. Today the country is 97% Muslim with Christians making up less than 3% of the population. Over the past two months, the jihadist Islamic State and the Levant, commonly referred to as ISIS and ISIL, seized control of a major portion of northern Iraq and began carrying out a systematic purge of Iraq’s Christian population, particularly from the city of Mosul, ancient Nineveh. It is estimated that 25,000 Christians were given the ultimatum to convert to Islam, flee, or die. For those Christians who did not comply with the decree by July 19, ISIS warned that, “there is nothing to give them but the sword.” Indeed, graphic photos and videos of Christian executions by rifle, hanging, beheading, and even crucifixion have been filling the walls of social media websites, the pages of many news publications, and the television screens of some national news media. Surely, we have all been tempted to think and feel like Jonah and have no pity or mercy for these modern Ninevites who are persecuting God’s people. Likely we have even hoped and prayed that God would pour down His wrath upon them and extinguish them from the face of the earth. In times like these, however, we must remember, recall, and repeat the words of our LORD: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the LORD,” “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” and “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, persecution is a real and even necessary evil, and I say to you that it is good for Christ’s Church. Let me explain. Persecution is real. It’s ALWAYS real, ALWAYS happening in some way, to someone, somewhere. In our comfortable lives and homes, we too easily become complacent and unaware of persecution in the world, in our own nation, in our own towns. The truth is, however, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is often met with hostility and even violence. Our Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced this firsthand and He promises you that the world will hate you because of Him and will consider it good to persecute you. When horrific persecution like what is happening in Iraq finally wakes us up, opens our eyes, and gets our attention, thanks be to God! That’s a good thing! ISIS means this persecution for evil, but God means it for good.
It is good that you are paying attention. It is good that you are more aware that this fallen world is not your friend, it is not your home. This world’s wisdom is foolishness. This world’s values are not aligned with God’s Word and will. This world’s treasure is fleeting and corrupt, it will not last, it is even now passing away. Yet, there is a treasure that does not fade away, that moth and rust cannot destroy, that thieves cannot break in and steal – the Word of the LORD. Our LORD, His Word, is the one thing that doesn’t change, that endures forever, that will never pass away. It is the only thing that truly matters – “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let all these be gone, they still have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth.” Persecution clears the air, clears the mind, clears the soul so that we can see, once again, that we are not gods, but that the God who created us, who loves us, sustains us still; we exist by the breath of His mouth; our life is His ongoing creative Word.
Blessed with the Wisdom of the LORD, Solomon gives us this Proverb: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” This is GOOD advice. This is advice for life. For, what does “your own understanding” think when you face persecution? That you suffer because God is punishing you? That you suffer because God does not love you? That you suffer because God is not able to help you or because He doesn’t exist at all? This was the counsel Job’s so-called friends gave him when God permitted Satan to persecute and afflict him, taking from him everything of worldly value. All Job was left with was God and His Word, and that was enough. When Job questioned why God permitted this suffering to come upon Him, God’s reply was, “That my righteousness might be revealed.” God’s righteousness is His Word, and His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Men are counted righteous when they believe and trust in God’s Word, Jesus. Persecution and suffering helps us by stripping away all other things that get between us and God, idols, so that all that is left is God’s Word and our faith in that Word. God is not the author of evil and suffering and persecution, but He uses them for the good of those who love Him, who trust in Him. God alone is the LORD of life and death. Do not fear those who can only harm the body, but fear the one, the LORD, who has authority over body and soul temporally and eternally.
God’s Word, and His Word made flesh Jesus, is our treasure. St. Paul writes that “we have this treasure in jars of clay,” our fragile, weak, and perishing flesh, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” When persecution comes, to Christians on the other side of the globe or to your own home or body, remember that you carry within your own body the death of Jesus, but you also carry the life of Jesus which will be manifested in the resurrection of your body on the day of Your Lord’s return.
When the Lord called St. Bartholomew, whom St. John calls Nathanael, Bartholomew marveled that Jesus knew who he was and all about him though they had never met. This demonstration of our Lord’s omniscience was enough to evoke Bartholomew’s confession, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” But, Jesus redirected Bartholomew’s faith and attention to God’s Word and promise saying, “You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This allusion to the patriarch Jacob at Bethel also occurred at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. And, in His atoning death upon the cross, Jesus opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and on Pentecost He poured out His Spirit upon His Church. Thus, the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and sealed in the Spirit, cried out as was dying, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
St. Bartholomew is said to have taken the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Armenia, a country just north of Iraq. In fact, a great majority of the Christians in Iraq are Armenians whose ancestors likely first heard the Word of God from St. Bartholomew. Like Stephen, Bartholomew was martyred. Tradition says that he was flayed alive, meaning that his skin was sliced off of him by knife while he was still alive. Clearly, this kind of brutality is commensurate with the cruel horrors inflicted upon Iraq’s Christians today. But, Jesus’ words to Bartholomew, confirmed by St. Stephen, are true for all His Christian people upon their death, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending.” Dear Christian, your Lord means for you to understand Him as the ladder, “the way, the truth, and the life” by whom alone you must come unto the Father.
Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth, between God and man. Jesus is also the gate and the only way to heaven. He is the Word of God made flesh, the treasure we keep in the jars of clay which are our bodies. Let us never fear the breaking of the jar, the loss of our bodies and lives, but only the loss of the treasure, our Lord and His Word. Still, this weak flesh does indeed suffer temptation and waver in faith. Therefore, the best thing that we can do for our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering persecution in Iraq and in other hostile parts of the world is pray for them.
Pray for their safety and protection and for an end to persecution, to be sure, but also pray that the Spirit would strengthen their faith to maintain their confession, even unto death. Pray that they will love the LORD and His Word more than their jars of clay lives. Pray that they will find comfort, peace, and faith to persevere in the unchanging and immovable Word of God, the Word who became flesh and suffered and died for all and was raised again to imperishable and eternal life that can never be taken away. And, pray also for their persecutors, for their enemies. Pray that they may be moved by the Spirit of God through His holy Word and through the faithful confession of those they persecute and destroy to relent from their evil. Pray that the Lord would work through the faithful as He did through Jonah long ago to turn the modern Ninevites to repentance that they too may know forgiveness, life, and salvation through the Lord of life Jesus Christ.
Now, come and receive your Lord’s body and blood for the strengthening of your faith, for forgiveness, life, and salvation. His precious body and His holy blood will preserve, keep, strengthen, and protect you unto life everlasting.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why do you have what you have? What do you do with what you’ve got? Why does the master in the parable commend the dishonest manager? These are but a few of the questions that are raised in today’s lessons from Holy Scripture. But, let us begin by acknowledging that this Parable of the Dishonest Manager (also known as the Parable of the Unjust Steward) is historically one of the most difficult and challenging of our Lord’s parables to interpret and to understand. And, as with most parables, there is more than one approach that we might take in understanding it.
Fundamentally, the parable concerns how you manage the goods that are entrusted to you by God while you live your life in this world. For, your Lord is not unlike a rich man, and you are not unlike His managers. And, Satan, the accuser, is not unlike one who has brought charges against you that you have been wasting your Master’s possessions. The Master is coming soon to require an account of your management. What will He find? What will you say? Will He not be justified in condemning you? What will you do? Shrewdly, use the Master’s possessions, over which you are given management, for the good of yourself and for the good of others; not just the money and the material goods, but use the Master’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, charity, and peace. Give to all, generously, not sparingly, that when the Master comes to require an account of your management, you will have many friends who think well of you and who will glorify the Master believing that your giving is the fruit of His generosity. “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
For, is this not what the sons of this world do? Do they not give generously to others so that they themselves might profit in the future? How shrewdly they act with the things that they love! They spend money to make money. They use their wealth to make friends. They do favors to gain favors; quid pro quo.
But, not so the sons of light! You were conceived and born into this world, this life, with the guilt of sin. You were brought into this world, this life, with nothing of your own so that all is a gift: your life and breath, your food, clothing, home and family, the Father’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Why do you have what you have? It is the gift of God your Father’s grace. What do you do with what you’ve got? Do you use it for your own good and for the good of others to the glory of God, or do you horde His gifts and selfishly, sinfully, keep them hidden and of no use to others? “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
We are confounded that the Master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness in our Lord’s parable. It is not the manager’s dishonesty that is commended, however, but the wisdom, zeal, and shrewdness he devoted to his earthly future. How much more wisdom, zeal, and shrewdness should you, sons of light, devote to your heavenly and eternal future?
Another way of looking at this parable is to see that the dishonest manager is actually our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, it may seem difficult to see Jesus as being dishonest, it may even seem blasphemous, but is this not the way the world viewed Jesus – as a dishonest criminal, a thief to be condemned to death? Jesus “dishonestly” squandered His Master’s, His Father’s, grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness by showering it upon us poor, sinful, debtors. We, who shoulder an impossible debt to our Master, God, have had our debts, cut, not in half, or reduced by a percentage, but completely erased by our Master’s “dishonest” Manager, His only Son Jesus, our Lord. Jesus believed and knew perfectly well that His Father was gracious and merciful and that He would honor the forgiveness He dishonestly dispensed because of His sacrificial death upon the cross for all sin-debts and debtors.
Does it make you uncomfortable to think of Jesus in this way, as a dishonest manager of His Father’s grace and mercy – as a criminal and a thief? Is that discomfort not the point of Jesus’ parable? The debtors would never have dared to approach the Master to bargain and settle their account, but they gratefully welcomed the dishonest manager, and they did not think Him dishonest, but only doling out the amazing grace and mercy of their Master. They were thankful to the manager and counted him as a friend and they glorified the Master for His grace and mercy shown to them.
If the Master Himself were to have approached His debtors, they would have rightfully fled in terror; but, the Manager they did not fear or flee and they were willing to bargain and deal with him to reduce their debt to the Master. Indeed, Jesus, the man from backwater Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, regularly ate and drank, touched, and had fellowship with sinners and the unclean. They did not fear Him, but approached Him and appealed to Him for mercy; and He showed them mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness. It was the Pharisees who continually cried out, “Not for such as these!”
You sons of light are shrewd and cunning managers of wealth and goods, well practiced in the art of self-preservation. But how do you manage the spiritual gifts you have, grace, mercy, love, charity, and forgiveness. Your Master and Father, God, would have you manage the spiritual gifts with the same shrewdness, cunning, wisdom, and zeal with which you manage your wealth, even more so. For, your life in this world will end, and then you will know the true worth of those things that you value now. But, the spiritual gifts, given you sons of light, bear fruit unto eternity.
“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,” Jesus teaches, “so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The dishonest manager was shrewd in using oil and wheat to provide for his earthly welfare. So also do these earthly elements aid us when pressed into heavenly use in the anointing of baptism and the wheat of the Lord’s Supper. Those who have the Sacraments will have an eternal home when their earthly home fails.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The past three Sundays we have listened to the Holy Scriptures, we have prayed the prayers, we have sung hymns, and we have heard the Word of God proclaim to us the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of God our Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit. Today we turn, necessarily, to how then we shall live. Thus, we have listened to the Holy Scriptures this day recount to us the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. We have listened to St. Paul exhort us, baptized and forgiven, to “Go, and sin no more.” And we have heard the Word of our Lord Himself say to us that “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Does it seem to you that, after having the Gospel lavished upon you so richly, you are now thrown under the condemnation of the Law once again? That is the result of your bad conscience. For, the Law of God is good and it is wise, and our Lord Jesus teaches that it will not pass away until He returns and this world is no more. That means, of course, that our lives in this world are lived under the Law and they are normed by the Law, from our first breath until our last. “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Honor your father and your mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet you neighbor’s wife, […], or anything that is your neighbor’s.” This is the Law of God, and it is not given to you that you may know how to please God and earn His blessing; the Law is given to you that you may know what your Lord commands and demands of you and that you may know that you do not and cannot do it, that you may despair of pleasing your Lord and receiving His blessing. The Law of God always shows our sins: it makes demands of us and commands us in things we are simply incapable of doing always, perfectly, in thought, word, and deed.
Rightly do you despair of being righteous by obedience to the Law, but, do not give yourself over to bitterness, resentment, and anger, thinking the Lord a strict master who asks the impossible and has neither grace nor mercy, for He does not desire your obedience out of fear, but because of love. He will not take away His Law from you, but He has fulfilled it for you in His Son and has given Him and His merit to you as a free and perfect gift of His grace that you may obey His commandments freely, in love, without coercion or fear.
And, neither should you puff yourself up with pride, thinking that you have kept His Law well, at least better than most, you Pharisee! Then you have your reward! For the Pharisees indeed did keep the Law of God well, better than most any others. Their prayers were devout and punctual. Their tithes were public and of the first of their fruits. Their Sabbaths were kept with great reverence and intentionality. But, in these their works did they place their trust, and by them they judged themselves righteous, so they could not receive the gift of grace that you have received in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But, when the Law has done its holy work and achieved its divine purpose, then there is hope for the hopeless and comfort for the distraught in the soothing balm of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. For, the Gospel makes no demands of you nor issues commands upon you but always shows our Savior. The Gospel proclaims to you “It is finished, complete, fulfilled. You are free from your bondage to the Law by God’s love showered upon you in Christ Jesus. Love is the fulfillment of the Law, and the perfect love of God has been revealed in the gift of His Son for you.”
How then shall we live? Do we continue to live as though we have not known such love, as if we were not forgiven? By no means! Now that you have been loved and forgiven, you must learn to love again. St. Paul compares this change in us to death and resurrection to new life saying: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? […] For one who has died has been set free from sin. […] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Love is the fulfilling of the Law. This is to say that “The new life in the Kingdom has a new motive. The old was an obedience driven by fear, the new motive is love inspired by grace.” It is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the fulfilling of the Law for you, and it is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the new life you live. For, the Law has not passed away, but it has been fulfilled and it has been changed into a new commandment: Love. “Love one another, as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you must love one another.” “Love does no harm to a neighbor, thus love is the fulfilling of the Law.”
The Law is not to be relaxed in any way, but no longer is it a heavy burden and harsh master. Those set free from the Law by love are set free to love without coercion or fear. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees: The love of Christ Jesus for you, with which you love one another. The scribes and the Pharisees obeyed the Law exceedingly well, but they did not love. They knew God only as a harsh master to be obeyed out of fear and coercion. They did not know the love of God or their need for grace; likewise, they did not love or show grace and mercy to others. Jesus teaches, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you look to yourself for this righteousness, then you will surely despair, be filled with anger, or be puffed up with pride. But if you look to Jesus for this righteousness, then you will have it, and you will be free to love with His love with which He has so lavishly and richly loved and forgiven you.
The Law of God commands, “You shall not murder?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not be angry with your brother or speak harsh words against him in addition to harming him bodily. The Law of God commands, “You shall not commit adultery?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not look at a woman with lust in your heart in addition to approaching her physically. The Law of God commands, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy?” Jesus interprets this Law, not that you should not do work on the Sabbath, but that you should remember God’s love for you and love one another in the same way. Love is the fulfilling of all the commandments; love is the fulfilling of the Law, for love does no harm to a neighbor, but helps and befriends all to the glory of God.
In Christ, your righteousness does indeed exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is into Christ you have been baptized, and in Christ you have died to sin and have been raised in His new life. The Law does not pass away, but it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You are now raised with Christ to walk in newness of life and to share in His resurrection on the Last Day. And, for now, He sustains your new life in His own by absolving your sins and by communing with you, flesh and blood, by means of this sacred feast of His love, which is a foretaste of the feast to come.
In the precious and holy + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the repeated themes at the Higher Things youth conference we attended two weeks ago was that there is nothing particularly attractive or exciting about Christianity when you get down to its nuts and bolts. After all, as Americans, we extol freedom – and, by freedom we mean the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, so long as it doesn’t hurt or harm or interfere with someone else’s freedom, for the most part. However, Christianity actually inhibits that kind of freedom. There are explicit things that Christians are commanded to not do. Christianity goes against the grain of our permissive culture and even our own flesh.
Moreover, the doctrines and beliefs of Christianity are, well, quite simply, absurd to human reason. We worship a God whom we confess to be one, but also three. And, for a God who is supposedly all-powerful and good, He sure doesn’t seem to do much to prevent evil and suffering in the world. And, where is He anyway? Why doesn’t He make Himself visible and demonstrate His power for all to see? Then we’d believe in Him, right? Of course, Christianity teaches that He did make Himself visible once. But, consider the circumstances: He was born of a virgin mother who had never had sexual relations with a man. Yeah, right. He spent His time hanging around the low-life and the riff-raff of society – prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, and the diseased. He kept talking about a kingdom that He was ushering in. Oh, they crowned Him king alright; they put a purple robe on Him, beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, then stripped Him naked and nailed Him to a cross for all to see. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
And, the same goes for so-called Christians themselves. They preach about meekness and humility, being charitable and forgiving, and loving their enemies, but look at how so many of them live. They chase after wealth and possessions, power and prestige just like everyone else, except they are hypocrites about it, play-acting like they’re so noble and pious and it’s everyone else that is selfish, self-serving, ambitious, and cut-throat. What’s worse, though, is how they are so quick to judge and condemn others when they lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, when their marriages end in divorce at the same rate as non-Christians, when they give in to their passions, desires, and lusts for drug and drink, food, sex, power, money, and whatever else. Then, they are so quick to judge what’s right and wrong, good and evil, and to make rules and laws that limit or take away the freedoms of others, all the while crying that their own precious religious freedoms are being threatened and attacked. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
Satan knows this about you, and he uses it as a lure and as a weapon to get you to take his bait and to choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s. That’s what he did to Eve in the garden: “Did God really say?” “Hmmm? Now that you ask the question, I know what God said, but somehow, now it just doesn’t sound right.” That’s what he tried to do to Jesus in the desert: “Go ahead! Throw yourself down from the temple spire. God’s angels will catch your fall.” “Yeah, well, you kind of left out that part about walking in God’s ways and not putting Him to the test.” The question, the doubt, exposing the absurdity – that’s the lure. When you choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s – And, I ask you, whose voice and word would that then be? – you take Satan’s bait, hook, line, and sinker, and you choose to act upon your will – which means that you are not acting upon God’s will – and you break the First Commandment: You worship a false god before or in place of the true God; you worship yourself, and by worshipping yourself you worship Satan.
Alright, so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic. I just want you to think about the seriousness of those sins that you like to think of as “little,” “minor,” or “white.” While the only un-forgivable sin is unbelief – the outright rejection and refusal of the Holy Spirit’s work in you – there are no little, minor, or white sins. Sin is sin, period, and a single sin of thought, word, or deed merits you eternal death and damnation. This is why St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, quoting the Psalmist, “There is none righteous, not one.” Indeed, the purpose of God’s good and holy Law is to show you just that – that you are a sinner, curved in upon yourself, whose every thought, word, and deed before God’s grace is corrupted by evil, unholy, and unclean. The Law is meant to break you, to crush you, to kill you so that you stop trying to justify yourself, stop trying to make God’s ways fit according to your ways, stop trying to force His wisdom to submit to your fallen and corrupt wisdom. For, only then can you receive the Gospel – the Good News God loves you anyway and that He forgives you and restores you to holiness, not because of anything good, or evil, that you do, but because of the perfect and holy good that He has done for you in His Son’s selfless, sacrificial suffering and death upon the cross.
I know. Your flesh, your reason, your wisdom, and the so-called reason and wisdom of the world cries out, “Foul! It can’t be that easy! It doesn’t make any sense! That’s ridiculous! That’s absurd! That’s not fair! That’s not how justice works!” Indeed, thanks be to God! All that thinking and offense, all that scandal – that’s the way of your fallen sinful flesh which, at once, hates the Law of God, but also seeks to justify itself according to the Law. That’s why the flesh seeks out any other gospel but the Gospel of Jesus Christ – not that there is any other gospel. That’s why most of the denominations of Christianity other than confessional, orthodox Lutheran doctrine, work in just a little bit (or a lotta bit!) of your own work, your own choice, your own merit, your own decision, and your cooperation with God in your justification and salvation. But these are the teachings of demons, says St. Paul. They are the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan to lead you back into the bondage of sin and the Law and to keep you in chains there forever.
By nature, man is a theologian of glory, because Satan is a theologian of glory. “But, I thought glory was a good thing? What’s a theologian of glory, and why is that a bad thing?” Good question! A theologian of glory refuses to accept things and believe things the way there truly are, the way God has ordained them to be. To use Luther’s words to Erasmus in the Heidelberg Disputation, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.” Thus, a theologian of glory looks at the Trinity, which is good, and calls it preposterous, ridiculous, foolishness. Likewise, a theologian of glory hears God’s command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and says that God’s command is unfair, unjust, even evil. And, worst of all, a theologian of glory looks at God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ crucified and dead upon the cross and exclaims, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolishness.”
All of you, according to your fallen and sinful flesh are, by nature, theologians of glory. In contrast, God calls you to be theologians of the cross who do not call evil good and good evil, but who call a thing what it is. The fall into sin was rebellion, apostasy, and real and damning sin. Jesus’ crucifixion and death was Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan, and the glory of God. The kingdom of God is not powerful and glorious according to the wisdom, reason, and reckoning of the theologian of glory, but to the theologian of the cross it is a glorious kingdom and reign of grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The theology of the cross does not come easily to us theologians of glory. Indeed, when Jesus began His ministry and called His first disciples, they were theologians of glory too. They vied for positions of honor, power, and glory in Jesus’ kingdom and they asked when Jesus was going to restore glory to Israel. Yet, even His disciples were not honorable and glorious in the eyes of their contemporaries, but they were fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and others of common, ordinary, and even low estate. Still, the Lord worked through them and with them to establish His kingdom and reign of grace and mercy and to establish His Church, which remains to this day and will remain until the day of His return. They often stumbled over Jesus’ ways, trying to send away the children, the women, and others in need who were drawn to Jesus. They refused to believe Jesus when He taught them about His Passion and resurrection. They all abandoned Him when He was arrested and crucified. And, when He died and was buried, they were despondent and without hope, believing that they had made a great mistake in following Him. They were theologians of glory, calling good evil and evil good. But, at Pentecost, Jesus made them to be fishers of men and theologians of the cross when He poured out His Holy Spirit upon them and His Church.
There isn’t much that is attractive or exciting about you, O Christian, or this little outpost of Christ’s Church in Pawling, NY to which you belong and worship. However, you have been given a new mind, new reason, new eyes, ears, mouth, and soul to know the kingdom of God for what it is, the power of the God for the salvation of all who believe. Your fallen reason and wisdom, the world’s ungodly theology of glory, looks at Christ’s Church and cries, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.” But you, O theologian of the cross, call a thing what it is, God’s kingdom of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness breaking in and spreading throughout this world, reclaiming it for God in Christ Jesus.
Do not be afraid or dismayed. The Lord is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.