Martin Luther on the Word


Since I am altogether obligated to deal publicly with Holy Writ, I want to render as pure a service as I can to my Lord Jesus Christ.  For if divine Scriptures are treated in such a way as to be understood only with regard to the past and not to be applied also to our own manner of life, of what benefit will they be?  Then they are cold, dead, and not even divine.  For you see how fittingly and vividly, yes, how necessarily, this passage applies to our age.  (He is writing about his lectures on Galatians 5:26ff.)  Because others have not dared this or have not understood it-it is not surprising that the teachers of theology have not been hated.  To me it is certain that the Word of God cannot be rightly treated without incurring hatred and danger of death, and that if it gives offense-especially to the rulers and aristocrats of the people-this is one sign that it has been treated rightly.  It is a stone of stumbling in consequence of which the judges of the peoples are devoured.  In short, the church is crying out that the rulers are persecuting her and that the rulers have crucified Christ.

Burning Your Oxen Behind You


When the prophet Elijah found Elisha, (I Kings:19:19-21) he was plowing a field with 11 oxen and Elisha himself filled out the team of 12.  In other words, Elisha had placed himself under the yoke.  Apparently, when Elijah walked past Elisha, he threw his cloak over him and Elisha knew he had been called to be a prophet.  In fact, Elisha would be Elijah’s successor.

This whole story lends itself to some imaginative thinking.  I only wish that Elisha would have had a different name.  It gets a bit confusing.  Having received the cloak, Elisha got himself out from under the yoke and ran after Elijah.  He only wanted to go back and properly say good bye to his parents.  I can just here his mother crying, “my son, my son.”  His dad wants to know who he expects to finish the plowing while he goes off on this wild goose chase with that, to say the least, rather odd prophet Elijah.

What does Elisha do?  He butchered the 11 oxen, used their yokes as firewood and cooked the whole lot.  That must have been some feast.  As you know butchering a beef cow entails a lot of work and then he does 11 oxen?  That even out does Abraham’s morsel of food that he provided the three visitors or the celebration the father threw for his Prodigal Son.  Besides all that Elisha’s action might be compared to wrecking all the machinery on a farm.

But these strange radical events fill the Bible from beginning to end.  God’s call takes priority over everything else.  Fishermen leave their nets, tax collectors leave their booth, Saul’s mission to annihilate believers in Christ is stopped in its tracks and Saul becomes Paul with a whole mission.  God’s expectations are nothing less than amazing.  He even expects his own perfect son to go to the earth, live among His creatures and finally be killed for everything that everyone ever did, thought or said against God’s.

The question then arises for us; what oxen do we have that need to be left behind to be about doing the will of God?

Stand Free. Stand Firm.

Pentecost 6, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Galatians 5: Christ has freed us so that we will be free.  Stand firm the, and do not get caught again under a yoke of slavery.  V.  13, Let the Spirit direct your life, and you will not carry out what your flesh desires.

Immanuel Chapel in North St. Louis County is a diverse congregation which worships about 50 people on a given Sunday.  On a Sunday prior to the fourth of July I picked a hymn from the national songs section of the hymnal.   Sitting behind the pulpit as the organist introduced the hymn, I thought, I picked a hymn that nobody knows. However, as the congregation sang, the words. “Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring.  Ring with harmonies of liberty,” flooded over and around me.   After the service, 90-year-old Dessie Collins greeted me at the door.  She said, “Thank you for picking the Black National Anthem.” “Lift every voice and sing” is a song of liberty from slavery and the segregation which followed.

Next Sunday we will sing another song of liberty, “My country ‘Tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” A song of liberty to worship freely and govern one self.

This morning we consider another declaration of freedom, declaration of independence.  The words almost shout themselves off the pages of scripture as Paul proclaims, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That’s not a political statement, but a spiritual announcement.  Jesus Christ is our liberator and he has set our conscience free from the guilt of sin.   Free from the tyranny of God’s law.  Free from the dreadful struggle to keep it.  Free to receive unqualified acceptance by God and access to God through Christ.  We live in the land where many of our fathers died that freedom might ring. God sent one man that we would have “the free gift of rightness with God…”  In Advent we sing, “He was born to set us free.”

Our freedom was declared. when out the darkness of Good Friday, Jesus voice rang out, “It is finished.” That declaration fulfilled the promise that the truth will set you free from slavery to sin and consequent separation from God.  And the freeing truth was Jesus.   As a sign that grace and rightness with God was now released throughout the world, the graves of the saints were opened and the curtain of the temple was rent in two.  A dramatic image of our free access to God is demonstrated at every communion service at the Chapel of Christ the King at Valparaiso University.  The altar, symbol of Jesus death and the empty tomb of his resurrection, are set up fifteen or more above the sanctuary.  Viewed from the pew once sees the saints of God ascending to Christ the king, gathering around the table to receive his body and blood in anticipation of the eternal meal we will eat with him in heaven.

Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, stand firm and refuse to be loaded down again with the yoke of slavery.”  In the book “Chasing the North Star” the mistress of a young household slave, named Jonah discovered he could read.  She didn’t tell her husband but she gave him a Bible so that he might come and daily read to her from the scriptures.  While the mistress was away, his master caught Jonah with the Bible.  Accused of stealing his very own Bible he was severely beaten and placed in stocks.  At the first opportunity, 18 -year- old Jonah ran away and followed the north star to freedom and safety. The journey north was perilous, but he vowed he would never go back to being a slave.  That’s what Paul is talking about.  How then can we dream of putting ourselves under the unnecessary and fruitless effort to make ourselves upright before God through what we do, when Christ has done it all for us?  Christ died for our disobedience and bore our condemnation in our place to free us from that slavery.  He did this while we were still slaves to our sinful nature.

However, Paul cautions, that doesn’t mean that now anything goes.  Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to indulge your flesh, the old Adam or to use the language of Star Wars, “Turn to the dark side.”  No, no, no.   Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.  We have unrestricted freedom to approach God as His children, not unrestricted liberty to wallow in our own selfishness.

In our culture the freedom we usually embrace is freedom from, -from laws, from responsibilities, from anxiety, from hard work.  Another side of self -centered freedom is to demand my rights no matter what and the right to impose my demands on everyone else. Paul warns, “If you go on fighting one another tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.”  Paul’s words sound a warning to be heard and heeded in families, in churches, in communities and in a nation and the whole world.

Paul holds out a better way.   Love one another.  Use our freedom for doing something in behalf of someone else.  Now here may be a surprise.  We respond to God’s grace by, “Loving our neighbor as yourself.”  But isn’t that a summary of the Law?  Yes, it is, but now the law has a positive purpose in our life.  Since our salvation is assured through what Christ did, now we can use the law as our guide in doing good.  As Martin Luther puts it, “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, but also a dutiful servant subject to all.”

The baptismal font at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is an example of the change that Christ has brought about.  When the monks were first building the abbey, they found a large granite stone that stood at the intersection of two roads.  They soon found out that just over a century before, men, women and children would stand on that stone and be sold into slavery.  The monks took the stone and hollowed out a bowl at the top.  They brought stone into the chapel to be used as their baptismal font.  The engraving on the stone reads, “upon this rock, men once were sold into slavery.  Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, men become free children of God.”  The monks at Belmont showed what it means by not only being made alive in the Holy Spirit, but living by the Spirit.

For living by the Spirit also produces a harvest of love, from which flows joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   There is no law against those, but there is great blessing.   In living in the Spirit we are showing people what kind of God we have and are giving them a glimpse of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Following the Korean War in the early 1950’s, a Christian named Jim Atkinson directed an interchurch relief program to aid the people in war ravaged South Korea. Millions of people lacked food, drinking water, housing the clothing.  He managed the arrival of aid packages from all over the world.  On one occasion he received a letter from Norway stating that hundreds of packages were on their way.  The letter noted that each package contained the donor’s picture.  Atkinson wondered at these strange and eccentric Norwegian donors.  When the packages arrived he quickly found his answer.  All the pictures in the entire shipment showed the same person.  Jesus Christ.  To the Norwegians, the donor of these much -needed goods was Christ.

So then, live by the Holy Spirit, who directs our paths. The harvest of the winter wheat is almost completed for another year.  However, the harvest of the Spirit proceeds daily as we live our lives in Christ.   Therefore, as we come to the conclusion of the sermon we end it, as we always do, with these words of St. Paul, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.”






The Augsburg Confession presented in 1530

The Augsburg Confession Presented 486 Years Ago

They had hardly gotten the candles blown out on John the Baptist’s crunchy locusts and honey birthday cake on June 24th, when the next day, Lutherans hurried to the meeting they were holding in Augsburg, Germany with Charles the V the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and other representatives of Rome.

It wasn’t safe for Martin Luther to attend the meeting so Philip Melanchton wrote what has become known as the Augsburg Confession.  However, they made sure Luther approved of these brief statements of how the reformers either agreed with or differed from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Then on June 25th the reformers presented their confession to Charles.

The Augsburg Confession still serve as a brief summary of Lutheran teaching.  In 1580 when the Book of concord was drawn up, the unaltered Augsburg Confession was included as the principal Lutheran Confession.

Lord God, heavenly Father, Your preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg.  Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

John the Baptist has a Birthday


“It’s the birth day of John the Baptist,” I told the Friday morning men’s Bible Class I teach. “How do we know when he was born?” someone asked. “It’s six months until Christmas,” I said.  “But then we don’t know for sure that Jesus was born on December 25, He probably wasn’t.”  I said.  “The church just assigned December 25 to Jesus as his birthday and six months before that is June 24.  Now why they didn’t put his birthday on June 25th, I don’t know.”  Such is the intelligent conversations we have in this class of retirees.  We had 12 in attendance today which is pretty much the usual group.  The class is made up of a couple of engineers, a former president at CPH, a lawyer/judge, others who were in management positions, a plumber etc.

When I finally got the group corralled, we read the story of John the Baptist’s birth from Luke 1:57-66.  I like this story of an older couple welcoming the birth of their first child.  When Elizabeth first found out she was pregnant she hid herself for five months.  She had been childless and in that culture it was the woman who was thought to be at fault.  Now she is pregnant.  “Now the Lord looks upon me to remove my reproach?”

However, eventually she had decided that it wasn’t any use hiding out.  She couldn’t keep a new baby hidden.  And the negative gossip had not developed, rather when she gave birth everyone rejoiced with her.  What was gossiped about in the hill country of Judea revolved around the question, “What then will this child be?”

Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.  Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sitting at Jesus’ Feet


In Luke 8:26-39 a man possessed by a regiment of demons had lost all self-control.  He was a wild man, dwelling among the tombs and suffering the great indignity of tearing off his clothes.  In a dramatic confrontation, Jesus drove the demons out of the man and at their request let them possess a herd of pigs whom they promptly ran down an into the sea.

When the herdsmen and inhabitants of a nearby city came out to see what had happened, they found the man fully dressed and calmly sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his new master.  He wanted to follow Jesus; however, Jesus sent him back to the city to proclaim what Jesus had done for him.

Though we could get a bit wild during VBS at our church at Pipe Lake, Wi. we didn’t quite reach the level of the man in the gospel lesson.  One of my strongest memories is sitting on the parsonage front porch with Eleanor Falb as our teacher.  Eleanor had a pleasant voice as she went through the Bible lessons and helped us with our little projects, crosses and string and paper art.  These were simple items which pressed the limits of my craftsmanship, nonetheless.

In mid – July we will Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.  It’s a quiet scene, though not without tension, when Martha upbraids Jesus for keeping her sister from helping her.  This story is troublesome to Lutheran women.  But the story raises the question of just what is the best way to show hospitality when God comes to visit.  Do we serve God first or does God first serve us?

New Clothes for all God’s Children

Pentecost 5, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 3:23-4:7

4:4, When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman…  3:26ff, It is through faith that you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus, baptized…you have all put on Christ like a garment.

It’s Father’s Day.  Let me begin with a Father’s Day story which you may not thinking fitting for this day.    In this Father’s Day story, the children had gotten themselves into trouble, big trouble, and they couldn’t get themselves free of it.  But the children refused to take responsibility for the mess they have gotten themselves into. They blamed their father for their troubles and wondered why he wasn’t doing anything about it.  According to them, their father had closed his eyes to what was going on. Here we are caught in the middle of this family “row” and not particularly wanting to hear this today, of all days.

Because now the father has his say, “I was ready to help, but no one asked for my help.  I was ready to be found, but no one looked for me.  I said, ‘Here I am.  Here I am” but my children ignored me.  All day long I held out my hands pleading for them to come to me, but they just kept deliberately defying me.  They said, “Stay away from us.  We don’t want anything to do with you.  You’re an embarrassment.  We’re too good for you.  What do you know about life, old man?”

Only minutes ago, we read the account of that family “row” told through the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson. The father in the story is the heavenly Father who long ago had kneeled in the dirt of the earth and had, with the care and precision of a potter, sculpted his children out of the clay.  The children are the people of Israel, whom the Father had saved from slavery in Egypt and given a land in which to live as His chosen sons and daughters.

But this is not just a story from the long dead past.  It takes place even today within the human families of the earth and of the church.  Not long ago a member of the Friday morning Bible Class told of his oldest daughter, years ago, who had gone off to marry a man who dumped her six months later.  She was so messed up that it took her more than five years to come back to the family.  The Father was so hurt and angry at their former son-in- law that in his mind conjured up numerous ways to get back at that man.  It took him a long time to let go of his anger and his hurt, with God’s help he and his wife managed it.  Though the memory is still at hand.  But it’s a story that has been experienced and told many times throughout the history of the family of humanity.  If something similar to that story has occurred in your family, you know the truth of it. Those are not the kind of Father’s Day stories that are covered in a card at Walgreens or Walmart.

Let me tell you another Father’s Day story which we may find more fitting for this day. It’s the story of how our heavenly Father overcame his anger and hurt, which we his children have caused him.  Him to whom we once again pray this morning, “Our Father who art in Heaven.”  Our Father set forth a plan for laying aside his hurt and anger over our sins, our disobedience, our neglect of him in our daily lives, our failure to see how he is available to help and uphold us at every moment of the day, our failure to give him thanks for our daily bread and the families through which he cares for us.  We may even be able to find a fitting card at Walgreens or Walmart for this story.

It started with a promise to Abraham some 4,000 years ago.  God called on Abraham and “preached the gospel to him, ‘In you all nations shall find blessing.’” St. Paul tells us, “He put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness.”  He trusted in God’s good news and that put him in the right with God.  However, the fact that Abraham was right with God through trust was God’s doing, not Abraham’s.  We call that grace, unearned, undeserved and unlimited.  Our Father’s anger is but for a moment but his mercy is forever.

Our Father’s promise and would not be fulfilled for another 2,000 years after Abraham, with the coming of Jesus.  However, now we are 2,000 years beyond Jesus time on earth and we are still reaping benefits of our Father’s promise revealed to Abraham 4,000 years ago.

To get us by, while the promise worked its way through history, our Father gave us a guardian.  He gave us the Law.  The Law was never intended to be the way in which we cleared our records of the less than stellar moments in our life.  The first intention of the Law was to give us some detailed instruction in how to love our Father with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But because of our sinful nature we couldn’t meet its requirements. Too many gods of all sorts and kinds beckoned us.  Too many people proved to be unlovable, including you and me at times.

So now what were we to do?  Well, nothing.  Our Father took care of everything for us.  I know it’s still about 188 days until Christmas, but this Father’s Day story includes the story of Christmas.  St. Paul tells us his version: “But when the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to buy freedom for us who were under the Law, in order that we might receive adoption as sons.”  If sin and the Law are like being confined in prison, then God sent us a get out of jail free card for Christmas, that card was Jesus.  Now that’s a Christmas card to keep in our grasp.  Jesus paid the fine with his life.  He became the sin which put us into prison.  He became the curse for our failure to keep every provision of the law.  Through His Son, our Father extricated us from the mess which sin had made of our lives. And He adopted us as his sons and daughters guaranteeing an inheritance of eternal life, kept in the heavens for us.  Sort of an eternal lay away plan for us.

You may even have your adoption papers at home.  I have a sample here.  (Read from a baptism certificate).

We don’t look for these gifts under an evergreen tree, but at the baptismal font. At our baptism our Father gave us the new garment which we are wearing right now.    At baptism, Paul tells us, “you have all put on Christ.”  And how stunning we all look to our heavenly Father.

That’s the kind of Father’s Day story fit for this day. A story of how Our Father loved the world so much he sent his only begotten Son.   A story of how we have once again become our Father’s children, through adoption.  A story of being clothed with Christ and properly dressed to enter into the heavenly banquet.  And Christ is not intended to be worn only on Sunday, but every day, all day.  He will never wear out and will always keep you and me looking our best in the eyes of our heavenly Father.  Happy Father’s Day.



Martin Luther Quotes for Galatians 3:9-4:7


  1. Priority of the Promise:

Galatians 3:6-9

Luther: With these words Paul makes faith in God the supreme worship, the supreme allegiance, the supreme obedience and the supreme sacrifice. Faith attributes glory to God, which is the highest thing that can be attributed to Him.

Galatians 3:10-14,

Luther: Faith always justifies and makes alive; and yet it does not remain…idle or without love.  When we believe then we live simply on account of Christ, who is without sin, who is also our mercy seat and forgiveness of sins.

Galatians 3:15-18,

Luther: “Before there was a Law, God by a promise granted Abraham the blessings of inheritance, that is, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, salvation and eternal life which means that we are sons and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Galatians 3:19-20 The law is a third-hand revelation: God – angel- Moses.  The promise: God – Abraham.

Luther: The Law is a hammer that crushes rocks, a fire, a wind, and great and mighty earthquake that overturns mountains.  Then the still small voice followed.

2.Why the Law?

Galatians 3:21-24

Luther: As the dry earth thirsts for rain, so the Law  makes the troubled heart thirst for Christ.

Galatians 3:25-26

Luther: We are free from the Law, our prison and our custodian, for after faith has been revealed, it no longer terrifies the troubles us.  According to our feelings, however, sin still clings to the flesh and continually accuses and troubles the conscience.  (But the conscience is) always encouraged by the daily coming of Christ.  Just as he came to us at a specific time to redeem us from the harsh domino of our custodian, so He comes to us spiritually everyday, causing us to grow in faith and in our knowledge of him.

  1. Baptized into Christ:

Luther: Put on Christ.  1. According to the Law: Imitate the example and virtue of Christ.  2.  According to the Gospel: Not of imitation, but of new birth and a new creation, namely, that I put on Christ Himself, that is, His innocence, righteousness, wisdom, power, salvation, life and Spirit.  Christ becomes our garment.

Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:29

Galatians 4:1-7

Gen. 4:4 Paul’s Christmas story.

Luther: He who is Lord of the Law, who is not under the Law subjected himself voluntarily to the Law.  Christ says” I have conquered the Law by a double claim: first, as the Son of God, the Lord of the Law; secondly, in your person, which is tantamount to your having conquered the Law yourself.


Before Faith Came and After Faith Came


Come Sunday most churches will hear the epistle lesson from Galatians 3:23-29.  Those seven verses are packed with plenty to consider.

Before faith came we were held captive under the law.  The law tells us to do this and that and not to do that and this.  The law was like a guardian who was in charge of the children in a family to get them to school on time, pay attention and do their lessons.  When Christ came we were freed from such a restricted and confined life.

Furthermore, in baptize, we were given Christ to wear.  Perhaps this image goes back to early baptisms when the person stripped off their old clothing and went into the water naked.  Upon emerging they put on a white robe and joined the congregation to celebrate Holy Communion immediately afterward.  Since we put on Christ the racial, social, and gender separations were eliminated.  Though these might continue in society in general, in Christ we are all one.  We also became the children of Abraham through whom the promise of blessing to all nations was first given.

As if that were not enough, the Missouri Synod added 4:1-7 which contains St. Paul’s version of the Christmas story.  At the appointed time God sent forth his Son born of Mary, born under the Law, in order to buy us back from our slavery to the Law and adopt us as children of God.

What is more, God sent the Holy Spirit crying out in our behalf, “Father, Father.” As adopted children of God we are heirs to the same inheritance which Christ gained through his resurrection and ascension.

Well that’s just too much to cram into one sermon, at least for this preacher, unless the people in the pew wouldn’t mind extending the use of their sitting flesh.  So I hope God and the people find sufficient good news in the 1,300 words I will preach Sunday; rather than the 2,600 words it would take to cover everything.


Belief Does Not = Faith


For most contemporary Christians the words “faith” and “belief” are interchangeable.  The confusion, at least among Lutherans, came after Martin Luther’s death in 1546.  His motto, “justified by grace through faith,” evolved into agreement to certain doctrinal articles which defined correct belief.

The root meaning of faith in Paul’s letters is “trust.”  The demons in the upcoming gospel lesson from Luke 8: 26-39 know who Jesus is, but they don’t trust in him.  “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

Faith is not something we achieve, an act of “believing the unbelievable,” or a “work” on our part.  Faith is “revealed” to us as God’s work. For Paul, faith refers to the “faith of Jesus Christ” to the father as witnessed by his death on the cross and to Jesus’ mission to set humanity free from the bondage of sin.  Faith is the grateful reception of God’s unmerited and undeserved gift of Christ to us.

Christians have faith in a person, not in a doctrine.  We trust Jesus Christ for putting us in a right relationship with God, our Father.  Faith is equivalent to trust in Jesus Christ and not an activity of the brain reflecting upon the meaning of that event, which is “belief.”

The demons possessing the man on the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee would have agreed that Luther’s Small Catechism was certainly correct in everything it said, but they would see it only as pointing to their destruction.  They would have believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, but they would not have trusted him as the one commanded to save us (Ps. 71:3) nor as the One sent forth by God to redeem us from sin and the curse of the Law and thus adopt us as His children. (Gal. 4:4)