Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Luther on Chastity and Happiness

"Few are the women and maidens today that even think they can be happy and chaste at the same time. Their tongues are sharp and coarse, their behavior is worldly and unchaste. This is the lifestyle that is 'in' today. Yet chastity and happiness should and could stand side by side, if they would but behold this example [of the Virgin Mary]."

Sermon for The Visitation, House Postils, v. 4, p. 346

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Jesus; Less You

The Christian life is a constant struggle. You are constantly fighting against your old, sinful flesh. The devil and the world are allies of your old self, and together they form an unholy trinity, the real axis of evil, to conspire against you, to lure you away from Jesus. When we pray in the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying “that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our sinful flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

Do you see your life that way, as a constant struggle, a fighting against your own sinful flesh? St. Paul did. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 18, 19, 24, 25)

On June 24, we celebrated the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, or, the birthday of John the Baptist. The Church is not in the birthday business. She celebrates two days in the lives of her saints, her children: their baptismal birthdays (their re-birthdays) and their death days (their heavenly birthdays). But there on June 24 every year is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Why? Because John is the Forerunner of Jesus, the one who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, the one whose entire life points to Jesus.

John preached about Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He also preached against himself relative to Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

That’s the solution to the constant struggle against our sinful flesh: He must increase, and we must decrease. More Jesus, less you.

The more Jesus fills you with Himself, as He does in the Lord’s Supper, the less room there is for you. The more He covers you with His righteousness, as He did in Holy Baptism, the less you can cover yourself with sin. The more Jesus drives away sin and temptation in Holy Absolution, the less room there is for you to embrace sin and temptation. The more Jesus fills your ears with His Word, the less room there is for you to fill them with self-worship and the filth of the world. Jesus Word and Sacraments, His means of delivering His grace to you, are the victory over sin and temptation. Through these means, God holds the head of the Old Adam, your old sinful flesh under the waters of Holy Baptism.

And God gives you means, not through which to merit grace or earn forgiveness, but through which you can fight against your sinful flesh. These means have traditionally been called spiritual disciplines. Through disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, tithing, almsgiving, works of mercy, among others. None of these things earns any of God’s favor. Some of them are aimed at your sinful flesh, putting him to death and following after Jesus. Some are aimed at your neighbor, showing him mercy at the expense of yourself.

Most important in the struggle against your sinful flesh is hearing the Word of Christ. He sees beyond the veil of today to see things as they really are. He sees your sinful flesh really dead and done with. He sees you wearing perfectly and completely His righteousness. And the word He speaks about you is truer than anything you can see. Following Jesus is learning to believe your ears over your eyes. Jesus says you are forgiven, set free from your bondage to sin, completely sin-free, a perfect saint. Because He whose very words create and change reality says it, it’s true. He must increase, and I must decrease.

More Jesus, less you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not the Morality Police

Lutheran pastors are not the Morality Police. They are God's Absolution Men. That is, I don't care what sins you commit as much as I care what sins are forgiven.

When I call people to repentance, it's always with this goal: that they would receive forgiveness. When I withhold forgiveness, it's always with this goal: that they would receive forgiveness. When I withhold the Lord's Supper from those who are impenitent, it's always with this goal: that they would receive forgiveness.

Proclaiming the Law to impenitent sinners, those who do not have Godly sorrow--repentance--over their sins and a desire to be free from them, is easily my least favorite thing to do as a pastor. But because I've been called to deliver God's Word and do God's work, I have no choice but to deliver the Law as well as the Gospel. And the Law is never the end of the story. The goal is that the sinner would allow God's Law to work, leading to repentance, so that I might get to do what is easily the most joyful thing I do as a pastor: deliver God's forgiveness.

Sometimes people complain that I'm singling out their particular sins. I don't think that's the case. I try to deal with all sin equally. Some types of sins seem more easily to become public. For the sake both of the one ensnared in such public sin and for the sake of the congregation who sees such sin, these public sins need to be dealt with with a call to repentance. And sin is never the problem. Impenitence is. There are only two categories of people: repentant sinners and unrepentant sinners. The first trusts in Jesus for forgiveness; the latter trusts in himself.

So I am not the Morality Police. I don't care about your sins. I'm the Absolution Guy. I care about God's forgiveness. And I want to do everything possible to see that you receive that forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No More Excuses

To paraphrase the expression, “Excuses are like armpits; everyone has them, and they stink.”

Having thus set the tone for this article, there’s no need to skirt the issue or approach it delicately. You need to be in Bible Class.

Here come the excuses. I can smell them from here.

Seriously. Bible class is the place where we grow in God’s Word, where we wrestle with God’s Word, where we learn the content of Holy Scripture, where we learn more about our God who has created and redeemed us. God’s Word is a gift. The opportunity to study it is a privilege.

And yet old habits are hard to break. If you’ve been away from Bible class for a long time, it will be difficult to get into a new routine. If you’ve never been to Bible class, it will be even more difficult. But it’s worth it.

Your old sinful flesh will recoil at giving up an extra hour a week. The Old Adam or Old Eve will have no shortage of excuses. You will try to convince yourself that you don’t need to study the Word of God. In fact, however, studying God’s word is a part of being a disciple of Jesus, who promised, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). The Word of God is Jesus, our very source of life. To abide in the Word is to abide in Jesus.

Consider the psalmist who penned these words in Psalm 119.

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! (v. 25)

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! (28)

Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. (41-42)

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. (81)

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. (89-93)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word! (105-107)

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! (114-116)

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” (162)

We rotate through several different types of Bible studies. Sometimes we study a book of the Bible verse-by-verse. Sometimes we study Holy Scripture as expounded in the Lutheran Confessions. Sometimes we study Scripture thematically. Our current Sunday morning Bible class is looking at the Lutheran Divine Service. How is that a “Bible” class? Simple. The liturgy is made up of Scripture. All the songs we sing, the words we speak, the words we hear: nearly everything comes directly from sacred Scripture. Even the actions, the non-verbal parts of worship, come straight from the Word of God.

Bottom line: excuses are lame. Bible class is for all members of Hope. If you’re not in Bible class, you are missing out on learning the Word of God, which gives life. The Word gives Jesus, our only source of life. Don’t let your excuses keep you from the full, free life in Jesus. Join us.