Friday, October 31, 2014

Meditation for Reformation Day

Today is a great day to talk about the blessed Dr. Martin Luther. It’s a great day to sing A Mighty Fortress, with a belly full of brats and kraut. Why not? It’s great to be a Lutheran. It’s great to remember the 95 these posted to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. We should do all these things.

But when it comes down to it it’s not really about our German heritage. It’s not really about being Lutheran. It’s not really even about a guy named Martin Luther. When Luther found out that there was a bunch of Germans running around calling themselves 'Lutherans' he was actually upset. He didn’t want a church named after him. He was hoping followers would call themselves evangelical catholics. Evangelical simply means good news or the Gospel, and catholic means pertaining to the whole, or the universal true church. 

There is a way to honor the Lutheran Reformation that’s better. At St. Paul in Wittenberg, we have a large stained glass window with Luther on it. But he’s not drawing much attention to himself, because his knees are planted in the mud and he is looking up at the face of Jesus hanging from the cross. This is a fitting tribute to a man who directs our eyes back to Jesus – the very Son of God. A man who defied the empire – defied the pope – and the whole world, who was ready to be a martyr for one reason: to show us Jesus. To hold before us the cross of Christ. To show that God is merciful, full of goodness and love.

Satan is alive and well. His work remains the same. He wants you to doubt and to despair of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He holds your sins before your face, eggs you on to despair so that you no longer believe in forgiveness. He wants to keep you shackled in your sins, bound and captive to his lies, your fallen flesh, and this sinful world. 

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  This is a promise of the Gospel. It is not arm twisting law. It is as if Jesus is saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled…do not be afraid…I have forgiven you…you belong to me..your are mine…abide in my word..I am the way, the truth, the life…I have set your free - free from sin, death, the devil, and the power of the grave.”

The first of the 95 theses Luther wrote “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And during the Reformaiton this meant getting back to the Scriptures – back to the Word of God – back to Christ and the simple truths of the holy Gospel.

Hear our epistle "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom. 3).

Paul says that the Law of God ought to make every mouth stop. This means that every mouth must stop flapping. We should stop trying to justify our sins, making excuses for them. Mouths should be stopped we should let ourselves be held guilty and condemned by God. Luther preached to his congregation in Wittenberg that before God can take us to heaven he must first bring us down to hell. To see what we have rightfully deserved.

But now Christ has ransacked the gates of hell for us. He has become guilty on the cross that we would go free. He laid down on the same altar that Isaac escaped from. Jesus is condemned. Barabass goes free and so do you because on Easter morning the tomb is burst open and emptied of its prey. Jesus walks out of the grave and he takes you with him. You are raised up to live with God – baptized into his death – raised in his resurrection. You belong to him and no other.

There is strength in this. It means that we can live by faith in the God of love. We can have joy in the midst of conflicts. Family problems, congregational strife, breakdown in society – the devil cannot win. We belong to Christ.

We believe that the Word of God does everything. The word of Christ forgives your sins even tonight. The word of Christ keeps marriages together. The word of Christ brings forgiveness into the Christian home and casts out the devil. The Word of Christ tonight declares bread to be his body and wine to be his true blood.

The Word of Christ is the only thing that makes it possible for us actually to love one another, because in the words of Paul nothing good dwells within us. Now, it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.
Perhaps you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. When Luther died he had a little rolled up scrap of paper in his coat pocket which said “We are all beggars: this is true.” And perhaps the reformation can be summed up in these words. We are helpless apart from Christ. We are totally lost, tossed about, and damned apart from him. We are sinners. But in Christ we are redeemed sinners.   

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.    

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lutheran Brothers and Sisters in Africa

There are more Lutherans in Madagascar than in all of North America. Let me repeat that! There are more Lutherans in Madagascar than in all of North America! Wait a minute…where, what is Madagascar? It’s a large island off the coast of southwest Africa.

The number of Lutherans in Ethiopia, another African country, roughly double the amount of Lutherans in North America as well. But I thought Lutherans were just a bunch of germans. By no means! The Lutheran Reformation has gone out to the ends of the earth. We are a church body that teaches that we are all sinful and desperately in need of a Savior. We believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ. We believe that in the Lord’s Supper we receive the true body and blood of Christ Himself wherein we bask in the free forgiveness of sins through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

As we just celebrated Reformation Day let us remember that we are joined to our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We gather around the Risen Christ to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. Pray for our missionary Pastor Jacob Gaugert as he continues to teach at the seminary in West Africa. Give thanks that Jo Ann Borchardt and Dar Borchardt crafted beautiful vestments for the students soon to be ordained into the ministry. Pray for our own church but also pray for the whole church of Christ at all times and in all places. Give thanks to God for the rapid spread of the Gospel in Africa. 

Luther said that the Gospel is a “farender platz regen,” or a “passing rain shower,” which goes from one place to the next.  Lutherans writes: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Muslims. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” (Luthers Works, vol. 45:352)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Raising of the Widow's Son

Behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7).

If you’ve ever visited or talked with your life insurance representative, they rarely really talk about death. They will say things like “well if something unforeseen should happen,” or “let’s think about being prepared if something should happen to you.” But when it comes to death there are no maybees. It’s not some possibility or unforeseen event. When it comes to death we should not say “if” but simply “when.” Death isn’t a possibility. It’s a certainty. And it comes to all of us. 

The old saying is true that when it comes to this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. These are inevitable. And, at least for me, there seems to be too much of both.

But for the woman this morning in our Gospel text, she bears an even heavier weight. Her son has died. And not just any son – but her only son – her only child. And what’s more. She is a widow. Not only had she lost her husband, but now the one treasure she had left in the whole world was unfairly taken from her. The Scriptures say that a huge crowd was with her – but in this moment she was all alone – no one and nothing could console her. And so she did what any mother would do. She wept. And there are not tears as bitter as those that come from the loss of a child.  

But the funeral procession moved on – like a freight train. There was no stopping it.  I’ve been with enough mothers and widows to know that none of them would even hesitate to exchange their own lives for that of their children. This woman would have gladly given her life in exchange for her son. But no one can do this. Or so we all think.

But this funeral procession was not the only event in town. There was talk about a man named Jesus who was doing miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons. And after healing the centurions son – now Jesus is leading a processional of his own. His disciples are all following him. His procession will go to Jerusalem – to be crucified – to die – but yet to rise from the grave to bring life and immortality to life.

But even now, Jesus sees this poor mother and he does not pass by. His heart is moved with compassion and pity. He tells her not to weep. He walks right up to the coffin, touches it, and the pall bearer all stop. The funeral procession comes to a halt and all become silent. And Jesus speaks. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the man who was once dead opens his eyes. He sits up. The cloth which covered him falls to the ground. He begins speaking and Jesus returns this man to his mother. Her tears of bitter weeping immediately turned to tears of sweetest joy as they embraced one another – and showered one another with kisses and hugs.

It is said in our text that fear seized them all. The big crowd, all those who witnessed this were filled with fear. And why should they not be afraid? A dead man stood up. How could you not tremble at the sight of it? How could your knees not buckle at the sight of God raising the dead. Jesus casts out demons – he raises the dead – he will return on the last day – lightning will crash – a trumpet will blast – and Jesus will descend from the heavens will armies of angels to separate the righteous from the unrighteous  - separating the sheep from the goats. To judge the living and the dead.

Those who stubbornly spurn his love will be cast out into darkness where there will be a weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who gladly await his coming will be received into his loving arms as he transforms our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Raised up and seated with him in glory. Surrounding the Lamb of God will palm branches in their hands.      

But of course, we’re not there yet. We’re down here. In a sort of funeral procession of our own. We’ve said goodbye to too many friends. Too many families have been separated. And our fears and troubles seem to actually grow with each passing year. As the seasons change and the winter picks up we are again reminded that life is delicate like a dry leaf. It dries up, becomes brittle, falls, and returns to the ground. We are no different.    

But the same Jesus who saw this poor widow and cared for her by giving her back her son is the same Jesus who sees you. He doesn’t pass you by. He notices you. He sees your specific struggles – your sorrows and misfortune. This same Jesus – who lives - places his hands on you, and speaks the same words to you. Young girl, young man, I say to you arise. He forgives your sins. He restores your life. For everything that afflicts you – He has an answer for all of it. Your are loved. You will not die you will live.

There is another widow whose heart was pierced with sadness when her only son died – whose body was wrapped up and laid in a tomb. This widow’s name was Mary. But of course this widow’s Son did not stay dead either. He is the long-promised Messiah. His Father raised Him from the dead – and so today’s Gospel anticipates the death of Jesus and His glorious resurrection.    

This morning we have another processional in our midst. We walk to the altar as we walk through death and into life. With those who have gone before us. We approach the new Jerusalem. We fall asleep but we will awake. But even now, today, Jesus is here. God is with us. He comes under bread and wine. Declares it to be his very body and blood. In which we have the promise of eternal salvation and life everlasting. That we shall behold God face to face and that every tear shall be wiped from our eyes. To be joined with all the company of heaven – along with a happy reunion with those we love who have fallen asleep but await the resurrection of all flesh.    

It’s true that death is a certainty in life. But much more certain is that Jesus was raised from the dead. That’s why at every funeral the pastor puts his hand on the casket like Jesus did. And says the following words from Romans chapter six: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his. 

This is what all Christians hope for. Because it’s the answer to all our prayers. In Jesus, death has lost all its power. And just as Jesus hands the son over into the hands of his mother so it is that we Christians believe that everything we’ve lost in this life – will all be restored to us – when this valley of tears is lifted. And nothing is hidden from our sight anymore. In the name of Jesus. Amen.    

Evangelism Starts at Home

Over the last 30 years or so there has been a great deal of interest in what we call “evangelism,” which usually has to do with various programs and committees dedicated to getting more people to come to church. Surely this can be a tremendous blessing when it comes to outreach to those who so desperately need to hear the Gospel.

However, for some reason with all the emphasis on evangelism, the most important place for sharing the good news has been neglected: the Christian home. Martin Luther called each home where Christians live a “kleine kirche,” which simply means “a little church.” Lutherans often had altars, kneelers, candles, family bibles, and hymnals located in their own home where they gathered together for family devotions.

Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism that the head of the household should guide the family in daily prayer, “In the  morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer…Then go joyfully to work, singing a hymn like the Ten Commandments.” Luther suggests similar devotions throughout the day making use of Bible readings and reading sermons or short devotions.

If we want to strengthen our church it is best to start at home where you have the most influence in regards to matters of faith and Christian devotion. Bring yourself to church every Lord’s Day. Bring you spouse. Bring your children with you whether they are 8 weeks old, 8 months old, or 8, 18, 28, or 58 years old! We come to meet with the Risen Lord and He invites us to a feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation!

Take your "Praying Congregation" bulletin inserts home as a guide with daily readings for the week. If you do not make use of our Portals or Prayers devotions that is available to you as well. Our homes should sound and look like “little churches,” where prayers are heard, hymns are sung, and the Bible is read. In the home we forgive one another, pray for one another, and return to the Divine Service every week for healing from our Risen Lord.

It’s true that the whole world needs to hear the Good News of Jesus, but most especially those closest to us – and usually under our own roof.