Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – 2017



25 June 2017

Text: 1 Tim 6:11-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther nailed the “Ninety-Five Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg.  And that was an important event.  Unfortunately, that date will not fall on a Sunday this year.  But today marks a date that is actually more important, and it does fall on a Sunday.  On June 25, 1530, four hundred and eighty seven years ago today, a document called the “Augsburg Confession” was presented to the emperor.  

It was not a declaration of war, but rather an offer of peace.  It was not a break with the Catholic past, but rather a restoration of the Catholic past.  It was not an outline of a new religion, but rather, the good confession of the old one.

The confessors at Augsburg, lay and clergy alike, extended a hand of friendship to the emperor and to the pope.  Their confession was a call to unity.  But that hand was rejected.  And when the emperor, whose mind had already been made up, attempted to command and threaten the German princes into becoming obedient again to the pope, they literally bared their necks, and fearlessly told the young, brash emperor that he might as well chop off their heads, because they were not going to recant their confession of faith.  They would rather die right then and there.  The startled emperor backed down.

Most people, including a lot of Lutherans, get the Reformation all wrong.  It was not a radical revolution, but just the opposite; it was a conservative reactionary movement to replace the new with the old.  It was not about a Lutheran faith to replace the Catholic; but rather the ancient Catholic faith to replace the new and corrupted version.  Our opponents insulted us with the name “Lutheran”; our forbears referred to themselves as catholic and evangelical Christians.

In one sense, our reformation was a failure.  For it resulted in a divided church.  Roman Catholics and Lutherans no longer share altars and pulpits, and have not done so officially for 477 years to this very day.  But in another sense, our reformation was a success, for in accordance with our confession, we continue to practice what page 319 of your hymnal calls “the catholic religion” and we continue to confess what pages 319 and 320 of your hymnal call “the catholic faith.”  There is nothing new under the sun or in the Augsburg Confession, for it is the confessional catholic faith of more than a thousand years before Luther.  

St. Ambrose’s fourth century catholic preaching of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith could have been proclaimed by Luther.  St. Augustine’s fifth century catholic theology that we are not saved by works could have been taught by Melanchthon, who wrote the Augsburg Confession.  Indeed, the catholic position on the Gospel of the sixth century was the very same Lutheran position on the Gospel of the sixteenth century.

Our Augsburg Confession itself says: “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers” and “our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons.”

For there is nothing we properly practice, teach, preach, or confess in this parish, in this synod, and in the confessional Lutheran churches around the world that can’t be found faithfully taught by popes and councils in ancient Roman Catholic history, and most importantly of all, in the Bible.

For as St. Paul instructed another faithful pastor, preacher, and theologian as recorded in our Scriptures: “O man of God…. Pursue righteousness… Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Indeed, we are the church, the people of God, and we teach the universal faith, the catholic faith.  We pursue righteousness, the righteousness that Paul continuously teaches is a gift of the grace of God, and not of ourselves or by our own works.  And indeed, we fight for this faith, and we will fight and contend and scrap and refuse to bow before any idol, whether commanded by president or potentate, by king or commissar, by pastor or pope, or by professor or pop-culture. We will fight. We will not surrender.  We will confess.  We will bare our necks if necessary.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to take up the cross of Jesus, to confess Jesus, and to also confess with Jesus, “who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”

And this is why, dear friends, this remarkable document – short enough to be read in a single setting, profound enough to be studied for an entire lifetime, is called a “confession.”  To confess is to say the same thing.  That which Jesus said at Jerusalem, that which Paul said at the Areopagus, that which Ambrose said at Milan, that which Augustine said at Hippo, that which Luther said at Wittenberg, that which Melanchthon said at Augsburg, and that which we say at Gretna, is the same thing that Scripture teaches.  This is what St. Paul means by “the good confession.”

And, dear friends, confession is not always easy.  The princes who bared their necks could have had their heads removed, as St. Paul did.  Ambrose and Augustine lived in times not far removed from when Christians were fed to lions.  Martin Luther was himself condemned to death, and had he not been protected by faithful princes, he would have been burned at the stake – even as many faithful Lutheran confessors were.  His widow Katie Luther was to die penniless in a Germany ravaged by the pope’s vengeful armies seeking to wipe our confession from the face of the earth.  But Katie Luther was also to die a faithful confessor, saying on her death bed: “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat.”

We don’t know what Paul’s counsel to us today to “fight the good fight of the faith” and that we make “the good confession” will mean for us in our own lifetime in our own country.  But to be a Lutheran, to be an Evangelical Catholic, to be a believer in the Holy Scriptures, to be a believer in Jesus Christ, is to be a confessor: of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith, of the cross and the blood of Christ that pleads before the Father on our behalf, of the truth and reliability of the Holy Scriptures over and against every shred of human opposition, and of the hope of the world to come.

And with our fathers and mothers in the faith for 487 years, we continue to confess before God and men, “that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic” and “If there is anything that any one might desire in this Confession, we are ready, God willing, to present ampler information according to the Scriptures.”  That is our confession.  Christ is our confession.  Amen.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2017


18 June 2017

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a word that is used a lot in our culture, in the movies and TV, in internet memes, on bumper stickers and in casual conversation: the word “karma.”

Karma is about people getting what they deserve. Karma is a sense of justice, where the thief gets his stuff stolen, the bully gets bullied, and the tables are turned.

It is very easy to interpret the Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man through the eyes of karma.  In this parable, the rich man was uncaring and selfish.  He ignored the pleas of poor Lazarus, and instead enjoyed the luxuries of his own life.  And he, according to our Lord’s words, who received “good things” in his life, ends up in hell, in “anguish,” begging for a single drop of water.  But poor Lazarus, whom the Lord says, “received… bad things” in this life, now enjoys the bliss of heaven, being “comforted.” 

Everybody can see this great turn of the tables.  And who cannot relate to the idea that the rich, the one percent, the privileged, the bosses, the brass, the white collars, the CEOs, the elites, whom we assume all got their wealth by oppressing others, dishonestly, hatefully, and probably illegally as well.  Certainly not morally.  This parable is a passage that Karl Marx might have appreciated, but of course, he thought Christianity was a trick of the rich to deceive the poor.  At any rate, there is always someone richer, more blessed, with possessions that we can’t afford, enjoying a life that we might be envious of. And even someone who is consider rich can be dissatisfied with what he has in this life, for there is always someone richer.

And who cannot identify with poor Lazarus?  Who hasn’t been bullied or mistreated or ignored?  Who hasn’t fantasized about revenge on those who got over on us, who bullied us, who raised themselves up by tearing us down?

In fact, a very easy reading of this lesson of our Lord would fit on a bumper sticker about karma.

Karma turned on the rich man, and he is in hell.  Karma elevated the poor man, and he is in bliss.  Karma seems great!  At least as long as you are the oppressee and not the oppressor; as long as you are the poor guy, not the rich guy.

But there are a couple problems here, dear friends.  First, karma is not a Christian concept.  It comes from Hinduism.  It comes from a religion that teaches that there are many gods, and that human beings reincarnate after they die to move up or down the food chain based on karma.  In the religion of karma, there is no grace, no forgiveness, no cross, no Son of God, no divine mercy - “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky” as John Lennon said in the famous song.

Secondly, in the religion of karma, there is a great impersonal cosmic scorekeeper that records every sin “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  Karma purports to compare everyone’s life to the standard of cosmic goodness, to divinity or sainthood, and then bump you up or down at the end of your life.  And with no mercy, no forgiveness, and no loving God to drag you out of the pit of hell, you simply come back to life as a dog or a toad or an earthworm, only to repeat the cycle again and again and again.

So how does karma sound now, dear friends?

Christians should never speak of karma.  It is a deception of the devil to make you self-righteous.  For in the religion of karma, everybody sees himself as Lazarus, and not the rich man.  Everybody judges himself not by the Ten Commandments but by some attainable goal of external good deeds, without looking too much under the hood.  

Now, to be sure, Scripture does warn us that we will reap what we sow.  If we persist in lying, we will eventually get caught.  If we persist in drinking and driving, we will eventually get arrested, injured, or killed.  If we treat others contemptuously, we will eventually get our comeuppance.

But this is just common sense, dear friends.  It isn’t karma. 

For we don’t worship many gods, we worship the one true God, the one who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And the Son took flesh.  The Son died a sacrificial and substitutionary death for you, and for the life of the world.  The Son shed His blood on the cross not so that we would get what we deserve (as in the religion of karma), but rather so that we would get what we don’t deserve (which is the religion of grace, the way of the cross, the mercy of God).

So where is your karma now?  Would you rather be judged by your deeds, or by Christ’s deeds?  Would you rather appeal to your own goodness, or to the blood of Christ?

But what about our Lord’s text?  Doesn’t it say that the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven?  Doesn’t the Lord promote a kind of karma because of the turning of the tables?

No indeed. For we have to be honest with ourselves, dear friends.  Even if you are poor by American standards, you are rich according to the lives of seven billion people on the planet.  You enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of most of the people on the globe.  And how much money do you send to poor people around the world?  How much do you give to the poor here in America?  Maybe you do, but is it enough?  Is it ever enough?  Do you give enough to satisfy karma?  Do you give enough to satisfy the Ten Commandments?  Do you selflessly love your brother and sister even to the detriment of your own life?  Are you perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect?

If not, you need grace, not karma.  You need the Lord Jesus Christ, not the lord Krishna.  You need forgiven of your sins, not rewarded and repaid for those times when you have been bullied and put upon.

For in our text, we have to avoid the karmic temptation to envision ourselves only as poor Lazarus, while we imagine someone we don’t like cast in the role of the Rich Man.

Dear friends, we are the Rich Man in the story.  Even if we give to the poor, we have mixed motives.  We are selfish and we delight in our own entertainments – great and small.  We are indeed poor miserable sinners just as surely as the Rich Man was.  We are no better.  The critical difference is that the Rich Man did not heed the warning of Moses and the Prophets.  And the rich man did not have someone who did, in fact, rise from the dead.  Dear friends, we Rich Men have been warned by the One who truly did come to us from the dead, who rose again, and who has sent to us the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth by Word and Sacrament.  We have Jesus who comes to us from beyond the grave in the means in which He has promised, washing us with Holy Baptism, absolving us, preaching to us, and serving us His very body and blood, bearing a promise: not of karma, but of grace, the forgiveness of sins and eternal communion with God.

And there is more good news, dear friends.  We are indeed Lazarus as well.  We come to the gate of heaven laden with sores – physically and mentally wounded, festering with aches and pains and sins and injuries.  We carry heavy baggage, perhaps not unlike the chains we forged in life, as the character Marley from “A Christmas Carol.”  And yet, we are comforted by the Gospel; we are graced by the Word of God calling us to repentance and new life now, and not when it is too late. We have the promise of being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

And we don’t get what we deserve – Lord, have mercy!  We get what Christ deserves – Christ have mercy!  We are not saved by our own works of karma, but rather by the Lord’s works of grace – Lord have mercy!


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sermon: Holy Trinity – 2017

11 June 2017

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Religions that are made-up by men generally have either one singular god and are monotheistic, or they have a plurality, that is, many gods, and are polytheistic.  

But of course, the real world is never quite so simple.  The real God is both singular and plural at the same time.  The real God is indeed one, but the real God is also three.  

You can’t make this up.

For Christianity is the only religion that has an eternal and yet incarnate God who died and rose again – and there is an empty tomb that bears witness that this isn’t just a myth told by men.  For once again, the human myths either describe a logical unitary god, or a great logical hierarchy of competing gods.

Christianity is the only faith that can say, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “God loved the world.”  And in the Old Testament, this word for “God” is plural, though every verb that goes with it is singular.  And this God sent “His Son,” – whom John had just a couple chapters past called “the Word” and said that “in the beginning” this “Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, how can the Son be God and be with God at the same time?

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  We believe, as Scripture teaches, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is into this one name that we are baptized: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are not baptized into three names, but “in the name.”  Or as we said in the creed: “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”  We say this because “the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.”

This is why St. Paul uses an unusual word in the letter to the Romans that we just heard: “inscrutable.”  God’s ways are “inscrutable.”  The word in Greek means that it can’t be traced out on paper.  It cannot be grasped by the human mind.  God’s ways are simply unknowable to us.  God Himself is a mystery.  But we do know quite a bit about Him from His own revelation to us in the Bible.  We can’t understand the Trinity, but we can confess it.  We can’t explain it, but we can teach it.  We can’t wrap our minds around it, but we can believe it.

And, dear friends, to believe in God is to worship God.  For if you truly believe that He exists, that He created all things, if you truly believe that a man can be “born again” being born this second time “of water and the Spirit,” being baptized into this inscrutable and mysterious name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then you will worship this God.  For the faith, the true faith, the Christian faith, the “catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

The one true faith is the Trinitarian faith.  Everything else is a human, manmade religion, a mere myth that suits the mind of man.  But our God, as revealed in Scripture, doesn’t conform to our logic, but rather calls upon us to conform to His will.

Now, maybe all of this just sounds like theological jargon, something for ivory tower debate that has no effect on our lives in the real world.  Nothing can be further from the truth, dear friends.  For it matters what you believe.  Do you worship the true, inscrutable God, the one who is “holy, holy, holy,” the “Lord of hosts,” the omnipotent and omnipresent almighty Creator, or do you worship a God who can safely be tucked away within the confines of a logic textbook?

The fathers of the church understood that without faith in the true God, man is lost: for the true God “so loved the world” that His Son became incarnate, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus Christ, the one who in the beginning was both “God” and one who was “with God,” for He hasn’t come to us to confuse us, but to save us.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  

This, dear friends, is why we are born again of water and the Spirit, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for as our Lord explicitly taught us: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  Saved, dear friends, that is, rescued from sin, death, and the devil, pulled out of the grave and out of hell that we might not perish “but have eternal life!”

We don’t have to understand how this works, we simply have to believe it, trusting in the Word of God, in His mercy, in His love for us, and in His desire that we be saved.  For that is the message of the cross, the result of the Lamb’s pure sacrifice, and the very reason we are born again by water and the Word.  This is why we are here: to worship this God, to sing praise to the Father, to joyfully receive the Son in His body and blood, and to be drawn into this one true faith by the Holy Spirit.  And through this faith which we confess, which receives the grace and love of the Triune God, the faith that confesses the Holy Trinity and the person of Jesus, we are born again, born to eternal life, born to walk out of our own graves, born to live forever in joyful communion with the one true God.

And like Isaiah, the “mighty seer of old” who was “high and lifted up” to the throne of the thrice-holy God, a “burning coal” from the altar is placed upon our lips, and though we are people of unclean lips, we have the promise of the Triune God Himself: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”  “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “This is the catholic faith” into which we are baptized,


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sermon: Pentecost – 2017

4 June 2017

Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

At the end of our Lord’s teaching, He says, “Rise, let us go from here.”

Not long after this, our Lord will indeed “go from here,” from life in this fallen world to death.  And He will also “rise.”  He will destroy death.

And after He has risen, He will again say, “Go… Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  He tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

And “when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”  They didn’t stay huddled together in one place for very long.  For the Holy Spirit came to them, and dispersed them, spreading out over the known world, making disciples by baptism and teaching, by Word and Sacrament, establishing churches and spreading the Gospel.  

And not even the language barrier from the curse of Babel got in the way, because the Holy Spirit gave them the gift to speak in foreign languages – and this jump-started proclamation enabled the Gospel and its preachers to disperse themselves all over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all over the known world of their time.  And their successors would board ships and bring the Gospel to the New World, to Asia, to Australia, to Africa, and into great cities and tiny villages around the world.  Places to go, indeed!

Just before the events of the Tower of Babel, Noah’s family left the ark.  The Lord told them to “fill the earth” with new life.  But the flood did not eradicate all sin from the earth, and the people found a great location, a “plain in the land of Shinar,” and instead of dispersing and filling the earth, they “settled there.”  Rather than establishing villages around the world, they concentrated in one place, and even set about building a skyline with their new technology of brick and mortar.  They began to dream of divine power.  Their technology made them think they were godlike: “Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

They had places to go, but didn’t want to go.  They had things to do, but didn’t want to do them.  They had become arrogant and disobedient, full of themselves and forgetful of their own history.  The “children of man” began to regard their tower to the heavens more highly than the Creator of the heavens.  

And in spite of their desire to remain and not do as God instructed them, God Himself would let them know that they indeed had places to go and things to do.  He confused their tongues along tribal lines.  They could no longer engage in a massive building project. The tower came to naught, and was abandoned.  They could no longer cooperate and live together in one place as a multilingual multiculturalism split their once unified city into rival factions.  “And from there, the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

This was a renewal of the Lord’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” and to exercise dominion over the world.  The “children of man” indeed had places to go and things to do.  For God has a plan and a will, and it is His will that human beings multiply and rule the earth.

It was God’s will that one of those tribes, the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Judah, who had been dispersed to the fertile land between Egypt and Syria, in their fruitfulness and multiplication, would bring forth the Messiah, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would redeem man from the curse of sin, including the curse of Babel.  For the Lord’s coming to forgive our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift is good news indeed.  And good news is meant to be told, not hoarded.  It is meant to be spread abroad, not kept bottled up in a single place.  The disciples were to be witnesses – those who see and testify, and their testimony is to spread abroad like a fire raging out of control, a proclamation that does not respect border or tribe, but which subsumes every race and ethnicity that it encounters, like a flame that cannot be controlled.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” – independent of language or location or parentage.  Baptism transcends language; the Lord’s Supper transcends location; the Fatherhood of God transcends all earthly parentage.  

And though we may not see the unique signs and wonders of that first Pentecost today, we nevertheless still experience the Holy Spirit’s work as He “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  We still experience the power of the Word of God to transform individuals and build up the church in faraway nations – bringing entire tribes of people into the ark of salvation, and calling men to preach and teach and evangelize in even more languages and tongues.

And while most of us are not called to serve in foreign mission fiends, dear friends, our own country has become a mission field.  We are getting closer to that time when African missionaries may need to be dispersed to our Babylonian cities: technological wonders lined with skyscrapers, in order that we hear the word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel, the call to repent, and the good news that Jesus has come to redeem us from death and hell itself, to bring us out of Babel into the City of God, a glorious metropolis of the saints that extends from earth into the heavens for all eternity.

And there is a world that needs to hear this good news.  Yes, indeed, dear brothers and sisters, the people of God have places to go and things to do.

“Rise, let us go from here.”  Amen.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.