"Who is God? How can we know? Why does it matter?"
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I am pleased to serve as a panelist on a new topical radio program on Pawling Public Radio entitled "Clerics Corner. Each week the panel of local clergy will discuss relevant contemporary issues and topics such as "Who is God and Why does it Matter?" and "What is Marriage and is it Relevant Today?" Thus far I have participated in two programs, but I will be taping several new ones in March. You may listen to the first two programs online by clicking the links below.
"Who is God? How can we know? Why does it matter?"
"Who is God? How can we know? Why does it matter?"
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A great crowd had been following Jesus for several days. The crowd included Jesus’ disciples, Mary His mother, and countless others who had heard His teaching and had witnessed His miracles and were hoping both to hear and to see even more still. However, not all who initially heard Jesus would remain with Him to the end. Therefore, to prepare His disciples so that they would not lose heart when it would seem to them that their preaching failed to produce visible or quantifiable results, Jesus taught them to trust, not in their own methods, techniques, and crafted oratory, but in the powerful and creative Word of God alone. This teaching Jesus presented in the form of a parable, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. For, the truth is that many who hear the Word of God will not mature to produce the fruit of faith and will fall into unbelief once again. But, why is that? Is the Word of God to blame? Has the Word of God somehow failed to create faith or to sustain faith to fruitfulness? Heavens no, of course not! No, the problem lies with the enemy of both God and man and with man’s own sinful, restless, and rebellious heart, soul, and mind.
Thus, Jesus teaches that the Word of God is like seed cast by a sower. Like a seed, the Word has power in itself to live, grow, mature, and bear fruit. However, for this to happen, there must be soil, for the Word of God lives, grows, matures, and bears fruit in the soil of human hearts. Thus, if a heart is hard and is closed to the Word of God, the Word will not penetrate. Then the enemy, the devil, will snatch the Word away from a man’s heart so that it cannot take root. The heart will remain hard and closed until, perchance, the Word comes again. Indeed, this is the condition in which all of our hearts once were, for this is the condition in which we were conceived and born, a congenital condition which we have inherited from our fathers, and from our father’s fathers, all the way back to our First Father Adam, the very fruit of his original sin. Therefore, if faith fails to mature and bear fruit, the fault lies not with the Word of God, but with hardened human hearts, souls, and minds. For, it is by God’s grace alone, though His Word alone, that any human heart is broken, tilled, softened, and prepared to receive the Seed of His Word.
But, even when it does, maturation and fruitfulness are not guaranteed. That is to say, once again, fruitlessness is not a fault of the Word, which is always powerful, creative, and fruitful in itself, but the fault lies with the condition of the soil of the human heart. Even when the heart is receptive to God’s Word, it may be rocky or weed-infested, or both! As in your own gardens, rocks in the soil prevent your plants’ roots from rooting deep in the soil, which prohibits them from receiving the nutrients they need to thrive and to be fruitful, and which also prohibits them from gaining a strong anchor by which to remain firmly planted when drought, flood, and winds come. Likewise, when weeds, thorns, and thistles grow up alongside your maturing plants, they threaten to crowd them out and strangle them, and they rob nutrients from your plants, and they compromise their rootedness and stability. Like your gardens, rocks and weeds and thorns sometimes compromise the soil of your heart. Jesus teaches that the rocks are the remaining hardness in your heart which must be continually broken by the preaching of God’s Word of Law that the stones of unrepentance and unbelief may be removed, that your struggling and maturing faith will have root to weather the storms of trial and tribulation that will surely come your way. Likewise, Jesus teaches that the weeds and thorns are the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” which compromise your faith and threaten to choke it out so that it cannot mature and bear fruit.
Gardening and farming is hard work. Even with good soil and just the right amount of sunshine, warmth, and rain, weeds, blight, and insects harm and hinder the healthy growth and maturation of crops and limit and prohibit their fruitfulness. In modern agriculture, a crop yield of 1:3 is considered the minimum necessary to sustain human life. This means that for every three seeds sown, one fruit must be produced for human consumption, one for animal consumption, and one for planting to provide the next crop. A multi-billion dollar industry is built around making crop yield as efficient and plenteous as possible. In contrast to modern agriculture, however, Jesus’ indiscriminate sowing of the seed of the Word of God in places where it is likely to be snatched away by the devil, prohibited from taking deep root, or strangled out by material cares and anxieties seems foolish, reckless, and grossly inefficient. In fact, in only one quarter of the soil in which the Seed is sown does faith mature and bear fruit. However, when and where it does, it yields, not 1:3, but a hundredfold. Truly, God’s ways are not man’s ways, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.
Then, what would Jesus have His disciples, His apostles, His pastors learn from this parable? He would have them learn to lean not on their own understanding, but to trust in the Lord and in His Word, the powerful and creative seed that will create faith in the hearts of men where and when the Spirit of God chooses and is pleased. Their job is not to devise more efficient means of sowing the seed, but to broadcast and proclaim the Word of God to all people at all times and in all places. Our God is not concerned with crop yields and ratios, but His Word has gone forth from His mouth and it shall not return to Him empty, it shall accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. That is a fact, a truth, and a promise. Thus, men are, and will be, without excuse. No one will be able to say, “I did not know,” or “I never heard.” Those who have ears to hear will hear because those ears are given by God Himself, they are a fruit of God-created faith, the fruit of the seed of His Word. However, those ears that are given to hear must continue to hear and not become closed once again, for the good soil in Jesus’ parable are “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
Often it seems as if the Word of God is falling upon deaf ears. Even amongst those who receive the Word with joy, many fall away disillusioned that they still face trials and tribulation in their lives, that there is inefficiency or infighting in the church, that not everyone seems to be as spiritual as themselves, or whatever other rocks, weeds, and thorns Satan sows in their heart right along with God’s Seed of the Word. Jesus taught His disciples to place their faith and trust not in what their eyes see but in what their ears hear, in the Word of the Lord. The questions to be asked are never “Is our church growing numerically and financially? Are we producing more works, services, and programs? Are we targeting the right audiences, those who will strengthen our congregation and make us more prosperous?” No, these are not the questions the Lord would have us ask. The only question that matters is this: “Is the Word of God being proclaimed in its truth and purity? Is the seed being broadcast and sown wherever it can be?” If it is, then that’s all that really matters. All your rationalizing, all your attempts at efficiency, all your judging the faith and commitment of others, all your worrying, fretting, and anxiety – these are the rocks, weeds, and thorns that are making you fruitless and that threaten to destroy your faith altogether. Repent, and cling to the Lord and His Word in humility and patience. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in His way, in His time.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Hearing is a passive activity. If you desire to not hear, that takes effort. You must stop your ears or drown out the noise, otherwise you will hear, you cannot help but hear. Therefore, you do not need to do anything to hear. But, you do need to not do something, that is, you need to not refuse to hear, to not close your ears, your heart, and your mind to God’s Word. For, indeed, the Word is near you right now for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation for all who believe. Hear the Word proclaimed to you. Eat, drink, and wear the Word of God made flesh in bread and wine and water. He alone who has made you to be good soil is able to preserve you as good soil and make you fruitful, even a hundredfold. The seed is the Lord’s, the soil is the Lord’s, and the fruit is the Lord’s. You are His precious planting, the work of His hands and the Word of His mouth. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will be fruitful, and the Lord will be glorified.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 - 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Pawling, NY was pleased to welcome LCMS Missionary to Singapore, Rev. Tom Chryst this weekend.
Rev. Chryst gave the homily for Septuagesima. You may listen to the audio by clicking the link above. I hope to post the text later.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“That’s your interpretation.” No doubt you’ve heard someone say that before. Very likely, you’ve said it yourself. But, what does God’s Word plainly say? You heard it just a short moment ago in our Epistle reading: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Now, to be sure, this passage does not apply to man’s interpretation of Scripture, but, rather, to the Words of Scripture themselves, attesting to their truth and authority. Thus, while this may not provide us a hermeneutic, a rule of interpretation by which to approach the Scriptures, it does provide us with a place to begin, and that is with Scripture itself, which is true in itself and must be apprehended by men. Therefore, the first thing to realize when interpreting Scripture is that the meaning of the text lies in the text itself. You do not devise an interpretation of your own and then force that interpretation upon the text, but you draw the text’s meaning out of the text itself. When someone says to you, “Well, that’s your interpretation,” I would respond, “Then, let us try to get at the objective meaning of the text, beyond our own private prejudices and interpretations.”
If the Modern Era was marked by the presumption that truth can be discovered by observation and testing, then the Post-Modern Era in which we live is marked by the belief that there is no truth to uncover, or that can be uncovered, but that there are only our presuppositions and prejudices, our interpretations, with no objective standard, rule, or truth by which to judge them. The result is a form of radical relativism in which no truth claim is to be considered more valid than another and the primary values are thought to be equality and tolerance. To one who claims “This is right,” or “That is wrong,” the response must necessarily be, “That’s your interpretation.”
While this may be true concerning the words of men, it is not true concerning the Words of God. God has given men His Word in precisely the manner He desired to give it. Moreover, in many cases God’s Word interprets itself. That is to say that, often God’s Word in one place interprets the meaning of God’s Word in another place – Scripture interprets Scripture. This is not a case of men interpreting God’s Word, but of God interpreting God’s Word. Where this occurs, there is no ambiguity or uncertainty in interpretation, whether it be a Word that is easy to apprehend or difficult. We must resist the temptation to rationalize God’s Word, that is, to force it into manmade categories and expectations. But, we must let God’s Word be His Word. He has delivered it to His Prophets and Apostles precisely in the ways He desired – It is what it is. God does not demand that we understand it in every point, but only that we believe in it and trust in it. This is what St. Peter had in mind when He wrote, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, He received the Word of God directly. He delivered to the people of Israel, not his interpretation of God’s Word, but what God had actually said, engraved by God on two tablets of stone. And, as a sign and witness of his face-to-face encounter with God, Moses’ face shone forth with God’s radiated glory. When Moses came down from the mountain, the people of Israel saw that his face shone and they knew that He had spoken with the LORD. Only after the people saw his shining face did Moses then veil himself until the next time He met with God on the mountain.
Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, the glory of the LORD shone all around Him and from Him, shining forth from His face and His clothing. The difference between Moses and Jesus, however, was that Moses shone with the radiated glory of God, while Jesus is the fullness of God’s glory in human flesh. Thus, Moses stands with Jesus as witness and testimony to Him, along with Elijah, the Great Prophet of God’s Holy Word. These two men stand in the glory of God, witnessing and testifying to Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh. The Greek word translated as transfiguration is actually a more familiar word, metamorphosis, meaning “to change in form.” Jesus was changed into another form. However, the form that He was changed into was something that was already there, but that was veiled in fleshly humility, much as Moses veiled His shining face. Jesus’ transfiguration was a preview and foretaste of His glory that would be revealed in His glorious resurrection from the dead, and in His even more glorious return on the Last Day. Jesus was about to veil His glory in the most humble and seemingly inglorious ways, in His Passion, crucifixion, and death. Therefore, to strengthen and prepare His disciples, that when all was accomplished they would remember His Words and the Words of God from of old, and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and go and tell all the world the Good News of what God has done, Jesus permitted three of His disciples to witness a momentary unveiling of His glory.
More than that, God spoke and gave His Word in the hearing of Jesus’ disciples and these heavenly witnesses saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Where God had given His Word by Moses and the Prophets long ago, now He has given His Word by His Son. Jesus stands on the Mount of Transfiguration as the Word of God incarnate – the interpretive key to all the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Scripture interprets Scripture, and Jesus is our hermeneutic, our rule for interpretation. After this glorious vision, the disciples rose up and saw no one but Jesus only. Moses and Elijah, all the Scriptures, find their fulfillment in Jesus. He did not abolish the Law and the Prophets, but He fulfilled them with His obedient life and death for the sins of all men. Through faith in Jesus, you are released from captivity to obedience to the Law for justification. Now you may do it freely, as fruit is borne from the tree or vine, out of love and thankfulness for all that God has done in His Son Jesus the Christ.
St. Peter was one of those who witnessed the Lord’s glory with his own eyes and heard the Word of the LORD with his own ears. In response to those who would say, “That’s your interpretation,” St. Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. […] We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” And yet, St. Peter also writes, “We have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” That “morning star” that “rises in your hearts” is faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, crucified, died, risen, ascended, and reigning. Moses and all the Prophets pointed to Him who is the fulfillment of God’s Law and prophetic Word. All New Testament belief, doctrine, and confession flows out from Him who is the interpretative key to God’s Holy Word – “Listen to Him.” “But, that’s your interpretation.” No. That’s God’s interpretation, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s Word is “a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh and the Light of the world. Through faith in Him, you, who once were in darkness, are children of the Light. Now that Light shines through you to lighten others who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death. The Transfiguration of Our Lord was a glorious foreshadowing of your adoption by grace, the benefits of which you reap now in your access to the Father through Him. Though His glory remains veiled, nevertheless, you receive God in Word and Water, Bread and Wine. Though, now, you see through a mirror, dimly, soon you shall see Him face to face. Until then, we have His Word and we have Jesus, His Word made flesh.
However, as glorious as that Transfiguration Mount surely appeared, its glory could not eclipse that of God’s Son upon the cross. For, at the Cross, we see God's justice through the judgment of sin, God's love through the forgiveness of sinners, God's power through his defeat of Satan, and God's wisdom in his upholding of holiness yet making a way for sinners. Christ's death is the ultimate Word of the LORD: It is finished. You are forgiven. Go in His peace. After the Transfiguration, the disciples were prepared by God to interpret the meaning of the cross. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are prepared to interpret it as well. In Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection God’s Word of promise in Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled: Satan has been defeated, you have been redeemed, God’s sacrificial Lamb stands as though slain, victorious over sin, death, Satan, and the grave. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who rise from the dead. Through baptism and faith in Him, where He lives and reigns there you shall also be. This is God’s interpretation. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
It is really hard to live in the freedom of the Gospel. The flesh actually likes, loves the Law. Well, ok, it's a love/hate relationship. The flesh loves the Law because it justifies itself (falsely, of course) by it. The flesh hates the Law because it forbids what it wants to do. Like a toddler, however, the flesh rebels against the Law in part to test that it is still there. The flesh receives comfort knowing that the rules are still in force.
This plays out in interesting ways in the Christian life. How tempting it is for those who are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to grope around for laws to follow and to impose upon others? And then there's the temptation to rebel against the Gospel itself, because it contains the Law fulfilled in Jesus. This is to say that we are free *in* the Gospel, not *from* the Gospel. The Law is fulfilled; it has not been abolished, nor did it pass away. That's a BIG difference!
Well intentioned Christians both cast the justified back into the shackles of law and teach that the law no longer applies! My heart is comforted in the proclamation that Christ has justified me in His blood, and then some yahoo comes along and says, "Now you have to do this...: evangelize, witness, read your Bible more, attend small groups, whatever." Of course, some other yahoo will come along and say, "Just go to mass, that's all."
No. Justification means something. It means that you are freed from the Law's demands that you may live freely *in* the Gospel. You see, that's a bit different from the kind of antinomian freedom some peddle. In Christ you are a new creation; that means a new life and a new way of living. It doesn't mean a sinless life, but it means a repentant life, a contrite life, a humble life. However, the works of this new life are not to be quantified or measured -- that is purely a human rationalistic idea. The fruit of faith is not to be quantified or measured, but they must be there; and they will be there, if there is faith. Christ says that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. I don't know anyone who's moved any mountains. Undoubtedly, "O ye of little faith" are amongst the best that our Lord will ever find. "O Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief," a father cried. "He who believes... will be saved." How much? How often? Doesn't enter into the equation.
"Give, and it will be given..."
"Love God...., and love your neighbor..."
"Forgive...., and you will be forgiven..."
How much? How often?
Doesn't enter into the equation.
Living in the freedom of the Gospel can only be done in continual contrition, humility, and repentance in faith and trust in Jesus Christ who is making (still) all things new. The faithful follow Him in the Way that He goes. They cannot be Him, but they are baptized into Him and He will make them like Him throughout their lives, culminating in the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day and eternal life with Him thereafter.
What does that life look like? Perhaps it's better to say what it does not look like. The new life does *not* look like a life lived under the Law or law. It does not have a long list of "must dos" or "pieties" or "steps" or anything else contrived by human reason and sinful pride. It does not force a rationalistic interpretation upon God's Word breaking it into "three rules" or "seven dispensations" or any other forced categorization. I suppose it might be said to look like the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, not because they describe a new Law, rule, or guide for the Christian life, but because they describe Christ and His kingdom which has broken into this world and is day by day establishing its reign until the culmination and unveiling of Christ's glory on the Last Day.
Think fruits, not rules.
Think contrition, repentance, and humility, not works and obedience.
Think what Christ has done, not what I must do.
And, do your vocation. Be your vocation. Faithfully, in humility and repentance, every day of your life.
Live *in* the freedom of the Gospel. That is all.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Luke 2:22-40; Hebrews 2:14-18; 1 Samuel 1:21-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Presentation of our Lord in the temple is similar to His circumcision on the eighth day of His infant life and to His baptism by John in the Jordan thirty years later in that none of these acts were necessary for Jesus who alone was holy and righteous and without sin. Nevertheless, He submitted to these works of the Law for you so that all righteousness would be fulfilled.
For, the Law commanded that a firstborn son must be redeemed with a sacrifice. This Law was directly connected to the Passover, that terrible night in which God required the lives of the firstborn sons of all of Egypt. Then, the firstborn sons of Israel were spared by the shedding of the blood of a firstborn, unblemished male lamb. From that point forward, all firstborn sons were holy to the LORD and must be redeemed by a substitutionary sacrifice.
Thus, Joseph and Mary came to the temple to do for Jesus what the Law required; they presented their firstborn son to the LORD and offered the required sacrifice to redeem Him and to purify His mother. The difference in this case, of course, was that Jesus had no sin or guilt of His own. Thus, His submission to the Law was as your substitute, redeeming you from the Law that would require your blood and life.
The Law required that this sacrifice be offered forty days after birth. Likewise, the Law required sacrifice to be made in purification of the mother, thus it was necessary for Mary to present herself in the temple as well. Today is precisely forty days since Christmas, at which we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Therefore, today we remember and celebrate both the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord. However, this does not represent the first time that our Lord submitted to the Law on our behalf. Indeed, on New Year’s Eve we celebrated the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, eight days after His birth in fulfillment of the Law.
All this He has done for you. As the preacher to the Hebrews has put it, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [the Son of God] likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil […] For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
In the Presentation of our Lord in the temple, the prophecy of Malachi is fulfilled: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the Covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” The LORD had promised that the second temple would be greater and more glorious than the first. The truth, however, was that the second temple was considerably less glorious and inferior to the first. However, the LORD had in mind, not a temple of mortar and stone, but a temple of flesh and blood. The second temple, within which the glory of the LORD would dwell with men once again, was not the temple built by Herod, but the temple that was conceived by the Virgin Mary when the Glory of the LORD overshadowed her and she conceived the Son of God in her pure and holy womb. Years later, in the days leading up to His arrest, trial, and execution, standing outside the temple walls Jesus would teach His disciples saying, “Tear down the walls of this temple, and I will raise it up again on the third day.” The temple to which Jesus referred was His body.
Though the sacrifice made that day was not necessary for Jesus, it was for you. Therefore, our Lord was not redeemed, for no redemption was necessary, but He was presented to the LORD as holy in your place. He was presented so that He could become the substitutionary sacrifice providing your redemption. In His conception and birth, Jesus became the temple of the LORD’s glory, our Great High Priest, and the unblemished sacrificial Lamb of God’s offering. This is why aged Simeon prayed to God saying, “My eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” Jesus is God’s salvation. Jesus is God’s offering for the sins of the world. Jesus’ blood will mark the doorposts and lintels of this world that the Angel of Death might pass over once again those who believe and are baptized, having Jesus’ blood cleanse and mark their foreheads and their hearts.
Likewise, aged Anna spoke of Jesus to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” confessing that Jesus was this redemption. He who needed no redemption was presented that He might become the redemption of those indebted to God by sin and death. There was no lamb for a sacrifice, but Jesus was the Lamb of God’s providence. God’s favor was upon Him, and He grew and became filled with wisdom that He might be anointed the Christ in Holy Baptism and become God’s sacrificial offering upon the cross, His altar and throne. And, because He has done all things well and His Father is well pleased with Him, He has raised Him from the dead and He has ascended to the right hand of His Father from whence He reigns and rules over all things. He is our Great High Priest, even as He is the sacrificial meal of forgiveness, life, and salvation. And, as His holy, innocent blood pours over the doorways of your mouths, the Angel of Death continues to pass over, and you are forgiven and live.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.