Here I Stand – Sermon for Reformation Day 2014

Here I Stand

John 8:31-32

Reformation Sunday (Observed)

October 26th/27th, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             “Here I stand.”  Three words that changed the course of history forever.  Three words that have been associated with the Reformation since they were first uttered by a monk named Luther as he stood on trial before the Roman Emperor in 1521.  “Here I stand.”  While popular culture and little girls everywhere now associate those three words ef593c161fd52978daa5a04cf3ea65cdwith Queen Elsa of Arendelle, they were Luther’s words first.  “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”  Bold words.  Inspiring words.  But what do they mean?  Where exactly is the “here” where Luther stood, and why was he adamant that he would not move?  And maybe more importantly, what happened when he refused to budge?

The answer to the first question is apparent to anyone familiar with Reformation History.  A young law student named Martin Luther was travelling back to school after a visit home when he found himself caught in a frightening thunderstorm.  He feared for his life, so he prayed to Saint Anne and bargained for his life.  If she spared him, he would become a monk.  After surviving the storm, Luther made good on his vow and did become a monk.  As he studied the teachings of the Roman Church, he did his best to live the life a monk was supposed to live.  He prayed when he was supposed to pray, ate when he was supposed to eat, fasted when he was supposed to fast, and did everything else required by the monastic life.  But he always knew he was not doing enough.  He always knew that God demanded perfection, and he knew that he was far from perfect.  He grew to resent and even hate the righteous God for the demands he placed on humanity.  Luther’s internal crisis of conscience became public when the pope began to raise funds for a new cathedral in Rome.  In order to raise the necessary funds, the Roman Church began selling indulgences which guaranteed entrance to heaven.  One story, which is probably more legend than history, relates a time when Luther came across a man from his congregation who had a history of drunkenness and immoral living.  The man had been sober for a while and had been turning his life around, but Luther now found him drunk on the side of the road.  When Luther asked him why he had given in to the temptation and gone back to the bottle, the man showed him his newly purchased indulgence and said that he was covered.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  It didn’t matter how he lived, he said, he was going to heaven because he had purchased his ticket.  Whether or not Luther ever had such a conversation, he did preach several sermons against the sale of indulgences for this very reason.  He believed the practice contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture and led people into sin.
The Roman Church did not like this German monk preaching against action taken by the pope, so as time went on, Luther was put on trial, first with the Roman Church, then with the secular government.  When he would not take back his words before the Church, he was excommunicated.  When he was asked to take back his words by the secular government, his response was the now famous, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”  The “here” where Luther stood, the thing he was not willing to give up, was the confession that God is gracious and saves us through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, a sacrifice which he gives to us as a free gift without any merit or worthiness in us.  No indulgence or other holy act would satisfy our debt before God.  Our forgiveness is a gift.  hissocks_300In the words of Paul, Luther knew that the righteousness of God had been revealed apart from the Law.  It was not a righteousness that God demanded from people who could never provide it; it was the righteousness of Jesus that was given to God’s people through faith.  In the words of Jesus, Luther knew the truth, and the truth made him free.  Luther was free to live in confidence before God as his loving redeemer, not his vengeful judge.  He was free to live in the sunshine of a clean conscience on account of Christ instead of under the oppressive weight of his own personal failings.  That freedom of conscience gave Luther the courage to stand by his words, for they were not really his.  He stood on the words of Scripture.  “Here I stand,” he said, “by the grace of God, I can do no other.”

If the credits rolled there, it would make for an inspiring story.  If this were a Hollywood script, Emperor Charles would have a change of heart and see the error of his ways.  It would make the story of Luther a touching tale of bravery with a happy ending.  But this is not Hollywood, this is history, and the story was far from over.  In fact, in many ways it is still going on today.  In many ways, Luther’s story is your story.  You see, when Luther boldly stood in the freedom of the Gospel, when Luther declared before God and Government exactly where he stood, his proclamation may have been pleasing to our Father in heaven, but it was nothing of the sort to the Emperor on earth.  Those three little words made Luther an outlaw.  Not only was he excommunicated from the church, he was also branded a heretic and a bounty was placed on his head.  He became a hunted man whose life was in such danger that his friends had to take him into hiding until the heat died down.  It would have been nice if Luther found acceptance before the government of his day, but he didn’t.  Yet that did not change the truth of Scripture.  “Here I stand,” said Luther, “and here I’ll stay.”  Those words become even more poignant when we remember that by uttering them, Luther was effectively signing his own death certificate.

But that’s the thing about God’s Word.  It creates in us the gift of faith and a new life in Christ, a life free from the burdens of the Law.  It creates in us a sure and certain hope that because God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble, we can trust in his deliverance.  But we would do well to remember that God’s Word does not guarantee the worldly governments will believe.  Luther’s government didn’t, so while his confession of the truth made him free before God, it bound him before men.  The same happened to Peter and Paul and the other Apostles.  We know all too well Peter’s famous and oft quoted words from Acts 5.  When Peter and the other apostles were arrested and
told to stop preaching the good news of Jesus, Peter boldly replied, “We must obey GodAB-IN-It-Not-Of-It rather than men.”  But the story doesn’t stop there.  The Apostles were beaten within an inch of their lives for those words, and while it is good, right, and salutary they obeyed God rather than men, they suffered for it at the hands of those sinful men.  Stephen’s preaching led to his execution.  Paul was regularly imprisoned and put on trial for his words.  But these men knew the truth, and the truth set them free to speak God’s Word faithfully even though they knew such speech meant their imprisonment, torture, or even execution at the hands of sinful men.

That, dear friends in Christ, is the part of the story that continues to this day.  Satan hates the proclamation of the Gospel, and he will do whatever he can to silence it.  For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces at work in this present darkness.  Our old Satanic Foe will use violence today just as he did in the days of the Apostles, or in the days of Luther.  Anyone with a TV or a smartphone knows full well that there are places in the world where boldly proclaiming “Here I stand” will result in loss of your head.  But Satan uses more than violence in his attempts to silence the Gospel.  You know that there are places in this country where proclaiming “Here I stand” will be met with mockery, ridicule, and contempt from the people around you.  You will be accused of bigotry and hatred for standing on our Lord’s Word against the assaults of the homosexual agenda.  You will be accused of hypocrisy and arrogance for standing on our Lord’s Word and speaking out against the greed and selfishness that are not only embraced, but esteemed in our world.  You will be accused of brain-washing your kids, accused of perpetrating a particularly cruel form of child abuse, because you are faithful in bringing your children to church and raising them in the Word of our Lord.

But the words of Jesus stand.  If you continue in his Word, if you cling to his Word, if you abide in his Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  It is not freedom as the world understands it, it is the true freedom that comes from knowing you’re right.  Customer relations may be a thankless job, but there is a certain amount of relief to be found at the bottom of the corporate ladder.  You can always pass the buck.  You can always pass the complaint on to your supervisor.  You can invoke those magic words: “Why don’t you talk to my manager about this.”  The freedom of the Gospel workskeep-calm-jesus-is-the-risen-king in a similar manner.  We know the truth of our Savior and our forgiveness, and it is a truth that nothing and no one in this world can change no matter how vehemently they rant and rave.  It is a truth that is above our pay grade.  If someone has a problem with it, their problem is not with us, it is with God himself; we are simply the messengers.  I don’t know what the future of Christianity looks like in this country.  I don’t know if things will get better or worse with our government.  I don’t know if more pastors will be threatened with jail time or severe fines for refusing to perform homosexual wedding ceremonies.  I don’t know if the State of Michigan or the City of Fraser will ever subpoena my sermons or try to silence the preaching of God’s Word in some other way.  But I do know that whatever chains this world may shackle me with, I am free before God.  You are free too, for the blood of Jesus covers our sin.

“Here I stand,” said Luther.  We know where Luther stood, and we know what that got him.  We know where the Apostles stood, and we know what that got them.  The question today could be: Where will you stand?  And hopefully the answer would be a confession that the Church’s only true foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.  But I think a better question is: What do you think will happen for standing there?  Do you think Satan will stand idly by and watch as the truth of God sets people free from his clutches?  Do you think Satan will simply do nothing while we stand on God’s Word and invite others to do the same?  Do you not think he will attack the confession of the truth in every way possible?  And yet, for all his ranting and raving, the truth has set you free.  Just a few moments ago we all sang these words together: “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.  Though devils all the world may fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill, for they cannot overpower us.  Though the world may take our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, and everything else we may have, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.”

May such confidence in the faithfulness of God fill you today and every day.  While we here-I-stand-martin-lutherare free in the Gospel, we might not be free on this earth.  But regardless of who our next president is, the kingdom ours remaineth.  Regardless of what laws are passed next, the kingdom ours remaineth.  Regardless of what names society calls us or what lies are spread about us, the kingdom ours remaineth.  Our Lord is the only true God.  He is the creator and sustainer of all things.  In him we live and move and have our being.  He is in control.  If things get worse for us before they get better, if we do end up facing persecution and the threat of death even in this country, so be it.  The kingdom ours remaineth.  The devil would have you fear.  The world would have you despair.  Your sinful flesh would have you lose hope.  But because you abide in the Word made flesh, you know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Here we stand, by the grace of God.  We can do no other.

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Funeral Sermon for Millie Reindel

Millie Reindel

Funeral Sermon

John 14:1-6

October 20, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             1919 was a busy year.  In January, the 18th Amendment was ratified, ushering in the era of prohibition, bootlegging, and the Roaring Twenties.  February saw Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy, while in March of that year a man named Mahatma Gandhi begin his crusade of passive resistance.  President Woodrow Wilson was in office1919d_one_cent_obv when the Treaty of Versailles brought an end to World War I in July.  And in December, 1919, Millie Reindel was born Millie Buelow at her family’s farmhouse in Mount Clemens, MI.  Just a few days later she was baptized by Pastor Wuggazer of St. John Lutheran Church in Fraser, MI, where she has been a member ever since.  December 1919 to October 2014.  Almost 95 years.  She was not only a lifelong member of St. John, she was a long life member.  A lot has changed around here in the almost century since Millie became a baptized member of St. John.  Pastors have come and gone.  Principals have come and gone.  Teachers, musicians, and members in general have come and gone.  The congregation has slowly moved itself to the north side of 14 Mile road, both by building and adding to the school facilities, and ultimately by building the sanctuary you are all sitting in today.  Yes, a lot has changed at St. John since 1919, and Millie was part of it all.  But one thing has been constant for all those years: this was Millie’s church.  From the cradle to the grave, St. John was Millie’s home.

Of course, there were plenty of other things that made Millie who she was.  She was a gentle and patient mother who was quick to speak a kind word about everyone she met.  She loved going to her lake house in Lewiston, loved her children and grandchildren, and was thrilled when she became a great-grandma.  She and Irwin were proud of the hardware store, a store opened by Irwin’s dad in 1898 and now in its third generation of Reidel ownership.  From what I hear, she had a special place in her heart for the antique car down there, and I’m sure many of you can still picture her sitting in the car’s rumble seat for the Fraser Parade.  Millie was involved in a lot of activities and had many things in her life that brought her joy, but you can’t tell the story of Millie without St. John.  So much of her social life and friendships were found at church in the LWML, in the 55-Plus Club, in the fish fries and pancake dinners.  Millie was a lifelong member here, and that’s a rare thing these days.  Fewer and fewer people attend the same church from the cradle to the grave.  Millie did.  95 years in one place.  95 years at one church.  That’s a remarkable thing.  And yet we’re here today because as remarkable as 95 years is, it was always destined to come to an end.  As Millie’s kids told me last week, she was the last Reindel of her generation.  Millie’s remarkable 95 years saw her outlive her husband, her siblings, and most of her friends.  As long a period of time as 95 years is, it has an end.  Her days on this earth were numbered from the start.  Each of our days on this earth is numbered.  None of us will be here forever.  No one will be a member of this congregation forever.

Which is why we celebrate that Millie was a member not only of St. John Lutheran Church in Fraser, MI, but also a member of the Body of Christ.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, we now regard no one according to the flesh, for if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[1]  Millie was a new creation, brought forth in the water of Holy Baptism on December 28, 1919.  Since that day, since that holy washing, the Spirit of our Lord has been alive in her, nourishing her through the proclamation of God’s Word, strengthening her through the body and blood of Christ given and received from this very altar, from these very hands.  In this very room, from this very pulpit, Millie heard week after week of her Lord Jesus.  She heard how he was born for her, how he lived for her, how he suffered for her, how he died for her, how he was buried for her, how he was raised for 09921b4fde359d4fc3cc49da1c3e272cher, how he ascended for her, and how he was now in heaven preparing a room for her in their Father’s house.  If it were not so, Jesus would not have told us.[2]  But it is so, and Millie knew it.  She knew it because she is a member not just of St. John, but of the flock of Jesus, her good shepherd.  She is one of his sheep.  She knows his voice, and nothing can snatch her out of the Father’s hand.[3]

That is our consolation.  That is our hope in the midst of grief.  For over 80 years Millie received the body and blood of Jesus from many different pastors in this place.  The pastors changed over time.  The language changed from German to English.  The location changed from the building across the street to the one we’re in today.  But Jesus didn’t change.  It was always the same Jesus coming to his precious daughter Millie to guard her and protect her in the true faith unto life everlasting.  And because it was always the same Jesus, Millie could always leave the altar singing, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.  Your word has been fulfilled.”  Dear friends in Christ, God’s Word has been fulfilled for Millie.  She has now departed in peace to be with our Lord.  In the Father’s house are many rooms, and one of those room’s belongs to Millie now.  December 1919 saw Millie Reindel born into this life in her parents’ farmhouse.  December 1919 saw Millie Reindel born into life eternal in the waters of holy baptism.  October 2014 saw Millie take the next step in her eternal life, one step closer to the resurrection of the body unto life everlasting.  Her time at St. John may have come to an end after 95 years, but her time in the Church Triumphant will never end.  Her days on this earth may have been numbered, but now she lives in the Kingdom of God that needs no sun or moon to mark the time, for there is no end of days there.[4]

There is no end to those days because our Lord has swallowed up the covering that is cast over all people in these.  He has swallowed up death.  Death may have swallowed up our Lord in the cold darkness of cross and tomb, but death could not hold him.  He burst forth to life that Easter morning.  In the resurrection of Jesus death itself is now swallowed up.  Now it has no hold over Jesus or any of those who have been united to him.  It has no hold over Millie.  Death may have swallowed up Millie on this earth, but that was just theIs25 trip through the birth canal into new life in paradise.  Millie has now added her voice to the chorus of saints in heaven singing, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”[5]

Today Millie is rejoicing in the salvation of our Lord.  Let us learn to walk the same road.  For while we may not have been members of one single congregation all our days this side of heaven like Millie was, our days remain numbered like hers.  Our last day is coming.  She approached her last day with hope in her heart, for she knew she was a forgiven child of God.  Let us also learn to cling to that same hope, found in the cross of Christ.  Lift up your eyes to the hill of Calvary, and see your salvation.  From where does our help come?  Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, even in death; he who keeps you will not slumber.   Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.[6]

He did it for Millie.  May he do it for us too.

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[1] 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

[2] John 14:2

[3] John 10:27-29

[4] Revelation 21:23

[5] Isaiah 25:9

[6] Psalm 121

The Sabbath of God (Sermon for October 12)

Sabbath Rest

Luke 14:1-11

17th Sunday After Trinity

October 12, 2014

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

It’s the weekend again.  Well, it’s the weekend for another couple hours, then it’s right back to the work week, right back to the daily grind.  Back to the calendar making demands on your time, places to go and things to do, deadlines to meet and sleep to miss out on, all until next weekend.  Most people in our world work for the weekends, those precious days off.  Of course, when you look at what we do with our days off, you have to wonder what they’re days off from.  Sure, we don’t necessarily go to work those days, but they’re hardly days off.  There’s sports practices and games, there’s house projects, there’s grocery shopping, there’s cleaning and laundry, there’s all kinds of things we fill our Saturdays and Sundays doing.  It’s not that these are bad things or that we shouldn’t spend our weekends doing them, it’s just that I sometimes wonder busycalendarwhy we get so excited to finally get to Friday when often times Saturday and Sunday aren’t much different than the rest of the week.  We’re pretty good at filling up our times of rest with stuff to do.  We do it to our weekends.  We do it to our vacations, filling those days with trips to adventure parks and museums and landmarks.  Again, it’s not that we shouldn’t do those things.  The point is that we have a knack for working just as hard during our time off as we do at our job, so much so that we often find ourselves more exhausted at the end of a weekend or vacation than we do in the midst of a regular week.  As a people, we tend to struggle with rest.

Rest is a gift from God.  It is part of his design for creation.  God spent six days creating, and then on the seventh day he rested.  Rest is so much a part of his design for this world that he included it in the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Sabbath, as you probably know, is the Hebrew word for “rest.”  So if you translate that commandment a little differently it says, “Remember the day of rest by keeping it holy.”  In part, this rest was instituted by God so that the people in Israel and their work animals might have time to recover and not be weakened by endless labor.[1]  In their zeal for keeping God’s law, the Jews began to understand the rest of this day only in terms of physical activities.  By the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees had outlined a series of regulations to guide those who considered themselves serious about God and his Word.  They had a policy manual that detailed what constituted too much work and what didn’t.  They wanted to be sure they rested enough to keep God happy.  They outlined the proper way to prepare food so that it wasn’t considered work.  They outlined the proper way to wash your hands so that it wasn’t considered work.  They invented a multitude of rules and regulations to guide people in their effort to rest appropriately.

But it all missed the point, and that’s Jesus’s point to day.  He poses a question that shows that God’s intent in the Sabbath Day was not to forbid work of any kind.  Jesus shows that even the Pharisees would work on the Sabbath if the situation demanded it.  Even they are not so hard-hearted as to leave a child or an ox trapped in a pit on therestarea Sabbath rather than working to let get out.  Jesus makes the point that the real issue is not ultimately what kind of work is or isn’t being done on the Sabbath, but on what kind of rest.  The presence of rest, not the absence of work, is the key to the Sabbath of God.

Don’t forget the second part of the commandment.  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  We’ve know what “Sabbath” means, but what about holy?  How does one keep something holy?  Well, according to the Apostle Paul, things are made holy by the Word of God and prayer.[2]  So if we rephrase the commandment once again, it says, “Remember the day of rest by keeping it filled with the word of God and prayer.”  That’s the purpose of the Sabbath rest – not to stop us from being busybodies, but to get us to sit and hear the Word of God, to get us to spend time in communion with him and in fellowship with one another.  Sabbath rest is not limited to Saturday or Sunday, it is any time where we set aside all worldly concerns and instead occupy ourselves with God’s Word.  We come to hear the proclamation and preaching of God’s Word in this place of Sabbath rest.  When we gather together for Sabbath rest here, we sing God’s Word to each other in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God.[3]  When we gather together for Sabbath rest here, we study God’s Word in depth through Bible Classes and Sunday School so that we interact with it, asking questions, meditating on the answers, and being shaped and formed into godly people through it.

Sabbath rest is all about God’s Word.  Here, as we gather together for Sabbath rest, God’s Word fills this place.  And yet how easily we turn this gathering into a place of work!  Ask yourself: Why am I here today?  Are you here to try and keep God happy by giving him an hour or so before you can go back to ignoring him the rest of the week?  If so, then you are focused on the work of Sabbath rather than on the rest.  Are wordyou here because you think God hears your prayers and praises better in this place than anywhere else?  Then you’re focused on the work of the Sabbath instead of the rest.  If your primary reason for being here is to give something, anything at all, whatever it may be, to God, then you are focused on the work of Sabbath, not the rest.  This place, this gathering, this worship is the place of our rest.  This is the place where our Lord comes to us in his Word to feed and nourish us, to strengthen us in our faith, and to equip us for the work to be done in our vocations.  6 days a week our lives are living sacrifices filled with working for God by working for those he has placed around us – our children, our co-workers, our parents, our neighbors.  Today is the day of rest.  Today is the day where God works for you.  That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything at all in worship.  When the Lord opens our lips, our mouths declare his praise.  But it all begins with him.  Sabbath rest is the time where God works on you.

Perhaps part of our inability to truly rest comes from fear.  We are afraid to take away all the distractions because it will force us to come to grips with reality.  Perhaps we fill our days with activities so that we don’t have to face the guilt or shame clinging to our conscience.  Perhaps we fill our vacations with exciting events because we’re afraid that if we weren’t moving then we wouldn’t have anything to talk about with our spouse or kids.  Perhaps we bury ourselves in projects at work to numb ourselves to that nagging sense of failure and not living up to expectations.  Perhaps we are afraid of true rest because once the distractions are gone, the reality of our failures and shortcomings begin to gnaw at our conscience.  Like taking down the curtains and pictures will show you just how filthy your walls are, like taking out the couches and chairs reveals the dirt in the walkways of your carpet, so also removing the distractions of business often forces us to see our lives in a new light.  Perhaps the same thing happens in our relationship with God.  Perhaps we insist on considering our faith and our thanks and our praise to be the result of our own efforts because it distracts us from what we know deep down inside: that there will come a time when our bodies will fail.  There will come a time when, if you live long enough, your arms and legs won’t be strong enough to do the work you once did.  Your mind won’t be sharp enough to remember the things you once remembered.  Perhaps fear of that helplessness inspires us into blind ourselves to the reality of our true standing before our Father in Heaven.  We refuse to see ourselves as weak or helpless in any way, so we cling to what we think we have accomplished; we refuse to let go.

The problem with coming into our Lord’s presence to offer him our best efforts and intentions is that they are never enough.  We often think too highly of our own accomplishments, which can make us smug and self-righteous before God.  Jesus compares approaching God with our own efforts to showing up at a wedding reception wedding-reception-head-table-etiquetteand sitting down at the head table that’s obviously reserved for the bridal party.  What would you think if you walked into your wedding reception and saw the head table filled with casual acquaintances from work or those old college friends that you haven’t seen in 5 years but still wanted to invite?  If you take it upon yourself to sit in the place of honor uninvited, you will be humiliated in front of all the guests when the bride and groom show up and ask you to move.  It’s embarrassing when it comes to a wedding reception – it would be catastrophic when it comes to eternal life.  The problem with our efforts is that they are temporary.  They are never enough.  It would be not only silly, but a bit arrogant to place them before God as if he should be impressed by them.  It’s not that they’re useless, it’s that they’re useless for our salvation.

But if all we get out of the Sabbath rest is being forced to come to grips with our own weakness and shortcomings, we remain focused only on the absence of work, not the presence of rest.  When you think of the Sabbath rest, remember the man healed of his dropsy.  There is work to be done on the Sabbath, but it is not our work to do.  Jesus works on the Sabbath.  He does the healing.  He comes to us in his Word.  He comes speaking words of forgiveness through the servant who is here in his stead and who speaks by his command.  He comes to us in his body and blood.  He comes to bring our inability into focus so that his life and immortality can be brought to life.  He comes into our lives filled with personal failures and unhappiness and brings healing and restoration.  Like the rejuvenation you feel at the end of an actually restful night of sleep or after a particularly relaxing weekend, so also our Lord comes to us in our time of rest to strengthen us for our the lives of service waiting for us when we leave this place.

Another great obstacle to Sabbath rest is pride masquerading as boredom.  “I already know that stuff,” we tell ourselves, “why should I bother going to Church to hear it again.”  Or we’ll say, “I already went to church, why should I bother with Bible Class.”  But being in our Lord’s Word is not merely a matter of instruction or head knowledge.  We don’t spend this time in God’s Word for purely informational purposes.  This is the place of Sabbath rest and restoration.  As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining God’s Word in memory.  Do not think it is optional or of no great importance. . . . Likewise, those fussy spirits are to be rebuked who, after they have heard a sermon or two, find hearing more sermons to be tedious and dull.  They think that they know all that well enough and need no more instruction. . . . Let me tell you this, even if you already knew God’s Word perfectly and were already a master in all things: you are daily in the devil’s kingdom.  He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts. . . . Where the heart is idle and the Word does not make a sound, the devil breaks in and does the damage before we are aware.  On the other hand, [God’s] Word is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit.”[4]

There is godly fruit to be borne as we live in the devil’s kingdom.  It’s spiritually dangerous out there.  We are constantly under the threat of attack.  Satan attacks our conscience.  The world attacks our beliefs.  But there is God’s work to do in our lives Business_Card_Image_0and in our world, so in spite of the danger we do it. We arm ourselves for battle with the full armor of God, knowing that our enemy prowls around like a lion seeking to devour us.  It’s tiring.  It’s exhausting.  But not here.  Not this morning.  Today is your Sabbath rest.  Today is your opportunity to be filled with the life-giving Word of God which prepares you for the rest of the week, for the rest of your life, and for the life to come.  Today is your day to rest while Jesus heals you from whatever scars the world has left on your conscience.  May God grant us hearts that rest in his Word and lives that reflect the healing we have been given in this Sabbath rest.

 

[1] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions p.367 (Large Catechism.  Part I: The Ten Commandments, paragraph 80)

[2] 1 Timothy 4:4-5

[3] Ephesians 5:19

[4] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions p.369-370 (Large Catechism.  Part I: The Ten Commandments, paragraphs 98-101)

Thou Shalt Not…God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized (Part 3)

Thou Shalt Not . . .

God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized

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I remember the first time I surprised my wife with a trip to the theater.  We were dating at the time, but she was in town visiting.  I bought tickets to see Les Miserables at the Fisher Theater downtown.  I knew how to get to Detroit from my parents’ house in Auburn Hills, and assumed I would be able to find the theater once we got down there. Boy was I wrong!  I think we were almost in Dearborn before I realized our mistake!  If only I had looked at a map first, instead of assuming that I could figure out where I was going on my own, we might have had a more pleasant trip to the theater.

The Law of God often acts as a map in the life of the baptized.  Once Christ is alive in us, that new creation desires to do God-pleasing things and live a God-pleasing life.  The Law of God describes such a life to us, for the Law shows us life as we were created to live it.  In this way, it acts as a map or GPS device to get us to our chosen destination.  While our conscience acts more like a curb or guard rail that keeps us on the road by force, the Law in the life of the baptized becomes a map guiding us to a godly life on earth.

One of the problems we run into with the Law is trying to use the map to get to the wrong destination.  Just as a map of Chicago will not get me safely through the Black Hills of South Dakota, so also we cannot use the map of the Law to get to heaven – our sin is too great for that.  Arriving at that destination requires salvation that is beyond our ability, salvation that is given to us as a free gift through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  No, the map of God’s Law is not a map to heaven; it is a map to a godly life this side of heaven.  The new creation alive in a baptized child of God desires to hear and follow the directions given by the GPS.

The difficulty is that such striving to follow the guide will only force us to see the true depth of our sin.  When we truly dedicate ourselves to following God’s Law we become all the more aware of how far short we fall on a consistent basis.  It is easy to conjure up excuses for the sin we lived in before we became “serious Christians.”  But the gift of the Law is that it forces us to come to grips with the reality that we can’t even live God’s Law when we try our best.  It is in trying hardest to live righteously that our failures hurt the most and that we begin to truly see our sin for what it is.

Thus the Law is once again acting the mirror and showing us our sin.  That’s what it means when we say that the Law always accuses us.  First, it accuses us of not having lived a godly life.  Then, when we try to live perfectly according to the Law, it shows us that we cannot.  It is always shining its holy light on our imperfections and sin.  Rather than hating the Law for this, the child of God receives this knowledge as a gift, continually turning to our Lord in repentance and seeking his forgiveness.  Then, having been forgiven, the child of God continues in daily life listening to the voice of the GPS.

Such is the life of the baptized.  This is what Martin Luther meant when he wrote in Martin_Luther_95_Thesesthe 1st of his 95 Theses that the entire life of the believer was to be lived in repentance.  This is the attitude we take into our families and workplaces: striving to live according to God’s design to the glory of his name and for the benefit of the people around us, but being willing and even eager to acknowledge when we fail, trusting in his gift of forgiveness.  Continual hearing of God’s Word, Law and Gospel alike, keeps this attitude alive in us.

Next month we will begin to look more closely at God’s Law itself as we attempt to understand the relationships that our Lord has created for us with him, with the people around us, and with the world in which we live.