Reformation – Halloween – Law and Gospel


Sorry to rain (and it is raining) on your Halloween plans, but today is Reformation Day. In 1517, Wittenberg University professor Martin Luther issued a call to debate 95 points of concern. On New Year’s Eve, 1532 he preached, “The Law is nothing but God’s word and command telling us what we are to do and not do and demands our obedience and service.  In 1518, he wrote explaining his 95 theses, “The Law is the word of wrath, the word of sadness, the word of pain, the word of unrest, the word of a disordered condition.”

In contrast, he wrote in 1521, “What is the Gospel? It is that “Christ gave his body and shed his blood, for us for the forgiveness of sins.  In 1522 he added, “The Gospel is “Good message, good tidings, good news, good report.  The gospel means nothing but a preaching and proclaiming of the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  It tells how Christ has taken our place, made satisfaction for our sins, has canceled them.  Of this we sing, thank God, praise him and are happy forever if we only believe and remain steadfast in this faith.”

Personally, one of the most challenging matters was to preach God’s Word, the Law, in such a way that listeners applied to their life and to preach God’s Word, the Gospel, in such a way that the listener applied to their life.  And to do so in a way that they went home with something to chew on.


Law and Gospel

Reformation 2018 Ruma/Evansville Matthew 11:2-19

Matt. 11:17-19, Jesus said “We played a tune on the flute for you, but you did not dance.  We sang a funeral song, but you did not mourn.  John the Baptizer does not eat or drink, and people say, ‘There is a demon in him!’ The Son of Man eats, and drinks and people say, ‘Look at the glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Jesus words reminds me of the old joke about a pastor and a parishioner.  One day a man comes into church. He asks the secretary, “I wanted to see the pastor, where is he anyway?”  The secretary answers, “He’s out making hospital calls.”  “Ach, says the man, “He’s never in the office.”  A few weeks later the man is in the hospital, he calls up, “Where’s the pastor anyway?  He hasn’t been here to visit me.”  The secretary says, “He’s in his office working on his sermon for Sunday.  I’ll let him know you are in the hospital.” The man responds, “I should have guessed, always sitting in his office.” Some people are never happy.

In fact, that’s what Martin Luther said in the 1530’s when he preached on Matthew 11; “For if one preaches the Gospel, it does no good; if one preaches the Law, it does no good.  You can’t make people either really happy or really sad; they do not want to be made sinners.  Nor do they want to be comforted from their sin.”

This morning we see in John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ two distinct ministries with the same purpose in mind.  Both proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was right on the threshold of breaking out in the world.  John as the forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah, came preaching repentance, calling the people to their lives around for Lord is coming.  John was a rough tough prophet, living out in wild countryside of the Jordan River.  If you had invited John out for dinner he would have come in a camel’s hair robe, hair down to his waist because he was never supposed to cut it.  When the restaurant server came and asked if she could bring something to drink he would said, “I didn’t drink,” and he would have ordered a plateful of grasshoppers and a little honey on the side.  He wouldn’t hang around for dessert, he had get back to preaching against people’s sins in no uncertain terms.  Pharisees and Sadducees, he called a tangle of poisonous snakes.  He preached that the Messiah would come the Holy Spirit and fire.  With his winnowing fork he would separate the chaff from the g=rain. The chaff would be tossed into an unquenchable fire.  The people had every reason to mourn over their sins as if they were at a funeral.

And now Jesus came also preaching that the kingdom of God was near, but he didn’t come with fire and brimstone.  John was sitting in Herod’s prison and he likely had a pretty good idea how things would end up for him.  He wondered whether all his work had been useless.  We have those thoughts, “what did accomplish today, or this year or maybe in my life?  When I look back did I really make a difference in all my work and effort?  So, John sent a delegation to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one?”

John came with the law. Martin Luther said the purpose of the Law is “to reveal sins and to pronounce guilty those who were righteous in their own eyes.”  On New Year’s Eve of 1532 he preached, “Law” is nothing but God’s word and command in which he commands us what we are to do and not do and demands our obedience and service.”  In explaining his 95 these he wrote that “The Law is the word of wrath, the word of sadness, the word of pain, the word unrest, the word of a messed-up condition.”  Later he wrote, “The Law gives nothing but demands of us indeed it demands impossible things.”  Wow, who wouldn’t want to get out from under John’s preaching of the law.  The law is God’s Word, but it will demand, demand, demand and not lift a finger to get you out from under it.

Like Jesus, Luther loved to socialize and converse with people.  There were always several guests enjoying a good meal and some beer at Katy and Luther’s table.  On one occasion when he was coming near the end of his ministry, He wondered at how people could take offense at Christ.  “Christ wants to give the kingdom of heaven, while the world wants the kingdom of the earth.”  In Jesus the kingdom of God walked on the earth socializing, eating and drinking in the homes of Tax Collectors and Pharisees, it made no difference to Jesus who you were.  He would even go out to a restaurant with the likes of us.

So, he sent back the messengers John had sent: “Tell John what you hear and see: Blind people see and those who were lame are walking; lepers are made clean and deaf people hear; those who are dead  are raised and poor people hear the Gospel; and blessed is anyone who does not stumble in his evaluation of me.”  Jesus came with the Gospel, he was the Gospel.

For Luther, the gospel was Christ giving his body and shedding his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.  It’s the “good message, good tidings, good news, good report, which one sings and tells with rejoicing.  It tells of Jesus who fought sin, death and the devil, overcame them, and thereby delivered, without any merit of our own, all those who were captive to sin, were. plagued by death and were overpowered by the devil.  Of this we sing, thank God, praise Him, and are happy forever if we only believe and remain steadfast in this faith…. the gospel exacts nothing from us but gives freely and pleads with us to hold out our hands and take what it offers.”  What will we be doing in a few minutes but holding out our hand taking the gospel in the bread of holy communion and drinking the gospel in the wine.  Jesus came eating and drinking and he wants us to do the same “Take eat,” he said.  “Take drink.”  The church becomes a restaurant offering a menu of food which nourishes with the forgiveness of sin and sustains us unto life everlasting.

Luther puts it this way, “The Gospel tastes best to those who lie in the straits of death or whom an evil conscience oppresses, for in that case ‘hunger is a good cook’ So Mary speaks in her song: ‘He filled the hungry with good things’….

The Gospel is the wisdom of God, beyond reason, beyond our wisdom.  We shall never grasp it sufficiently.  There is nothing left for us to do but thank and praise, serve and obey.  This is most certainly true.





In the time of violence in word and deed

During the Prayers at Ruma/Evansville tomorrow morning I,m including this petition:
Mighty Fortress, Rock of Refuge, hear today our prayers to strengthen those who have suffered from intended violence and those who suffered murderous violence this week. Put away all violence in speech and action and lead all to engage in words and actions which uplift and encourage, Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Walk in Unity


When I read the comics during breakfast, I discovered that today in “Unity Day.”  During lunch I learned that someone had sent several bombs.  One or more human beings were bent on blowing to pieces other human beings.

I was intending to write about our unity in Christ.  The bombs add a measure of urgency to the subject.  We are falling far short of the image held up in Psalm 133:1&3, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity…for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”

In Ephesians St. Paul writes of God’s plan to unite all things in the universe and beyond in Christ.  He exhorts us to strive for unity amongst ourselves. “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We are under constant bombardment with political ads in which candidates tear down the other person with at best half-truths and plenty of untruths tossed in.  This cannot help but have a negative influence on us.  Therefore, I need to remember I not only live in this fallen world, but also in God’s kingdom.  As we often pray: “Thy Kingdom come.”


Working out at Concordia Seminary Library


The Sem library has always been a good place for a workout.  Stairways connect the lower level with the second story.  Heavy tomes help build biceps.

But now in the renovated library new features have been added.  The lower level is now crammed floor to ceiling with books.  All the chairs and study tables have been removed, no sitting and lounging while perusing a book.

But there’s more.  To survey the books on the lowest shelves I get down on my knees and elbows. (Never mind the view from behind.)  Then having pulled a book from the shelf I push myself up, sometimes with the help of a higher shelf.

But there is more. To reach the higher shelves a stool is provided, about 18 inches high.  That puts me right close to seven feet.   Sometimes I need to hold onto a shelf for balance, so I don’t go crashing to the floor in an ungainly gymnastics move.   Now, while concentrating on proper balance, I can reach the books on the higher levels.

Now I suppose I could sit on that stool and bend over to peer into those lowest shelves; however, that presents the danger of leaning to far over and tumbling into an unintentional somersault.

At last having safely procured my wanted books I then carry them up stairs to the check out counter.  By the time I walk back to the car with a satchel full of books I have been through a full body workout.  Who needs to go to the gym?

Praying for What is Beneficial


Yesterday, in the Prayer of the Day (Collect) we prayed for “us.”  We prayed for each other.

“O God your divine wisdom…”  We asked God to act in divine wisdom, which we already know is not like our wisdom.  We acknowledged that God had “set in order all things in heaven and on earth.”  That includes creation and resetting them through Jesus.

Okay, what do we want God to do in his wisdom?  “Put away from us all things hurtful and give us those things that are beneficial for us.”  Oh, no, if we weren’t paying attention, we asked that God feel free to take away some of our most prized possessions and ideas of what is hurtful and beneficial.  I not only asked that for myself but for you too.

Yes, James writes that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights.  But Job told his friends we only have glimpses of what God does, we only hear a whisper of him.  God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.

Once again, trust and believe that when we come before God we come before his throne of grace and mercy.  Trusting in God’s concern for our well- being and salvation, we prayed, “ through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

Exodus as viewed in Psalms 105 and 106


Psalm 105 Acknowledges that Yahweh is the one who acts through all of history.  Beginning with V. 12 He protects Israel when they were few, wandering from nation to nation.  But in V. 16ff he brought on the famine, he sent Joseph in fetters and iron collar into slavery in Egypt so that Joseph could become powerful and invite his family to live in Egypt.  Though he caused the Israelites to be fruitful and multiply, Yahweh also turned the hearts of the Egyptians against Israel.  Which led to Yahweh bringing Moses on the scene to deliver Israel from slavery.

In Psalm 106:6ff, Yahweh delivers the people even though they have a long  history of sinning.  While in Egypt they forgot about everything God had done previously. At the Red Sea, they rebelled against being caught between the water and the attacking Egyptian army. “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake.” (v. 8). The result was Vs. 12, “They believed his words; they sang his praise.”  But in V. 13, “They soon forgot his words…”  So, it went.  Rebellion, God would hit them upside the head, they would repent, he would save them, and they would praise him until the next day when they forgot.

Engendered quite a discussion this morning in class.


Wading Through Grace


Being in Jesus Christ means we are wading through grace.  That’s what the Prayer of the Church (Collect) tells us about our life in Christ. “Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace always precedes and follows us.”

Therefore, living in Christ’s flood of grace we ask Jesus to “help us forsake all trust in earthly gain.”  Does that mean that though the lottery is nearly a billion dollars this weekend we shouldn’t buy a ticket?  Well, how about if I don’t come to trust in such earthly gain?

The prayer goes on to tell us in what we should trust.  Notice that we are praying for each other.  “Help us.”  Lord help us “to find in You (Christ) our heavenly treasure.”

According to the entrance psalm, 112:3-4, this is the heavenly treasure of the “wealth and riches” that “are in his house.”  Wading in grace means that our rightness before God and in our life endures forever.  The light that dawns in the darkness is that Jesus grace, mercy and rightness also flows out of our life to flood the lives of those we encounter.


Joseph, Mary and family to go Jerusalem

Pentecost 20, 2018, Ruma/Evansville, Il Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.

Fifteen psalms, 120-134, were used by groups as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover.  This sermon is an imagined account of one family’s experience.

Joseph closed his carpentry shop.  He and his family would be gone for about three weeks. It was their annual spring trip south to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  The prospect of a journey of over fifty miles was daunting.  Especially considering Joseph and Mary had five boys and a couple of daughters, all age twelve and under.

More than a dozen years ago, while pregnant with her firstborn, her cousin, Elizabeth had said that she was blessed among all women; indeed “blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  So, it was that following that arduous trip south to Bethlehem the fruit of her womb was born while angels sang, and shepherds visited her and her newborn in the maternity ward stable.  According to the angel Gabriel’s direction nine months before, she named her son Jesus, for he would be a Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.  That and the experience in the temple when the aged Simeon took her 6-week-old in his arms declaring that he had seen salvation with his own eyes. He could take his leave of life on earth in peace. Then the star gazers from the east arrived, followed by the hurried escape to Egypt, and then the return to settle in Nazareth.  She was left with much to ponder and think about.

Although she didn’t have much time for pondering as her oldest continued to grow in mind, body and God’s favor.  Her womb was soon fruitful again. She and Joseph were now parents to James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, and their daughters.

Now she and Joseph were about to once more herd this rambunctious and growing family along the trail on the east side of the Jordan, which may have taken at least three days. They were traveling with other relatives, friends and neighbors.   As they recrossed the Jordan at Jericho, Joseph tried to get the kids to pretend they were their ancestors who centuries ago had completed a forty-year journey through the wilderness and crossed the Jordan into the promised land. But what the kids really liked was choosing a rock to carry across with them and place it on a pile of stones, just as their ancestors had done in the time of Moses.  Joseph and Mary hoped that something of this would stick with them and be remembered when they grew up.

Joseph thought that this might be one more way to build up his family in the Lord.  To keep the Lord in the center of their lives. He knew the psalm verse we read earlier, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  Though raising a family had its ups and downs he tried to keep in mind another verse from the psalm, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord.  They are a reward from him.”

Joseph was a man of integrity.  He was a man blameless and upright in the way he lived his life, as a husband, a father, and in his work.  Without the Lord, it was useless to get up early in the morning and work all day into the night and eat one’s meals worried and anxious.  No, sleep too was a gift of the Lord.  No use staying awake baby-sitting the world all night.

And Mary, blessed among women marveled, when she had the time to marvel, that the lord had looked upon her, a humble servant of God, had shown her such favor in that she would be the mother of the promised Savior, her own savior.  Both Joseph and Mary sought to live by the words of another psalm recited during the pilgrimage, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.”

But now having crossed the Jordan into Jericho, the most difficult part of the walk to Jerusalem ahead of them.  Another psalm verse said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved.”  Well, when they lifted their eyes they saw the beginning of a fifteen mile climb up hill along a narrow road, with wall of cliffs to one side and a precipitous drop off the other.  Now they were about to try to get their family up that climb safely.  They needed the help of the Lord, who had created these hills, but also who promised to keep their going out and coming in forevermore.  Not only their strength but the safety of their family and their trust in the Lord’s keeping would be put to the test.

At last they made it, all intact.  As they viewed the gleaming walls of the temple complex across the Kidron valley, in more ways than one they could sing another of those pilgrim psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”  Their pilgrimage was finished.  They would they find a camping spot among the thousands of others from the whole Mediterranean who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover.

However, the drama was not over with their arrival, and the making and eating of the Passover meal. When they started back down the fifteen mile stretch to Jericho, Jesus had stayed behind, and Joseph and Mary supposed him to be with his friends and didn’t discover his absence until that evening.  Then back up the hill and after searching for three days they found him in the temple.  Mary burst out in distress at her son.  Even the Savior of the world could be a challenge for his parents. The twelve-year-old answered, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Jesus went back down the hill with them and was an obedient son in his earthly father’s house.

But in about twenty years he would for a last time walk up that fifteen mile stretch from Jericho, He would be welcomed to waving palms and acclimations of Hosanna to the Son of David.  He would return to his heavenly Father’s House, clear it of the merchants selling their goods right there in the court of the Lord.  Soon he would be led up another hill to be fastened to a cross and there die and carry out his mission as Savior.  After his resurrection and ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit to aid us in our trust in himself and out of his never-ending patience and loving-kindness help us to think and to do those things are pleasing in his sight.  To help us live holy lives. Blessed as Mary and blameless and upright as Joseph as we live as members of a community, a church, a family, and in our labor. That we remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain.”



Patience and Loving-Kindness without end.

Patience and loving-kindness without end.

Well, we may not have never ending patience and loving-kindness, but that is what we ascribed to our eternal heavenly Father in the Prayer of the Day on Sunday.  I was surprised when I drove to the Seminary library early this morning by my patience with the traffic, That, is not usually the case with me.  So, to have never ending patience and loving-kindness is beyond my reach.  Thankfully, it is one of the chief characteristics of our eternal Father, who in Jesus Christ puts his arms around us and blesses us.

What we did pray for on Sunday is that our eternal Father would send the Holy Spirit to help us “always think and do those things that are pleasing in “Your sight.”  Of course, no matter how much aid I receive from the Holy Spirit I’m not always able to think and do God pleasing things.  Thankfully we pray our request through Jesus Christ who visited us with God’s patience and loving-kindness and lives and rules our lives in grace and mercy, along with the eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, yes, both now and forever.  To that I add my grateful, “Amen.”