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No Shame

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    There is a verse in today’s Old Testament reading that sounds exactly like what the prophet Jeremiah would say if he were preaching today and addressing our nation’s cultural elite and our politicians and our wishy-washy progressive church leaders.  Jeremiah asks, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush.”  One of the signs of unrepentance and acceptance of sin is that you lose all sense of shame and embarrassment.  Instead of blushing at the thought of some disgraceful sin, you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh, whatever.”  This is how it was for the people of Israel.  They had become so accustomed to the various abominations of their day that they were no longer able to be embarrassed.  They had no sense of shame over their false dealings and their covetous hearts and their sacrilegious deeds.  Even when a prophet like Jeremiah would call them to account, nothing could make them blush.

    And so it is today.  It seems the only thing that brings shame and disgrace any more is when people openly agree with God’s Word.   If you say that Christianity and faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life, if you say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, if you say that transgenderism is nothing less than an abuse and mutilation of the body God created, then you are considered to be hateful and bigoted and closed-minded.  Just this past week I was watching an otherwise family friendly show on broadcast TV where a man was talking about his husband as if that were perfectly normal and good and not something corrupt and shameful.  Or the next day I was listening to a morning radio personality give a tribute to fallen Milwaukee police officer Michael Michalski.  And in the process the radio personality made statements of how God created human beings imperfect(?!) and how He gives us all the choice and the ability to atone for ourselves.  And I think this radio personality would think of himself as a Christian.  But there was no mention of the Jesus that Michalski believed in, the One who atoned for his and all of our sins, just more of the ignorant belief that we are responsible for our own salvation.  Everything seems upside down and backwards–not only in the world but even in the church, where pastors and priests cast aside the Word of God for worldly acceptance and success and approve of falsehood in the very sanctuary of God.  And even when error is pointed out and the truth is spoken in love, very often there is no shame, no embarrassment, no repentance and change, no blushing and returning to the Lord.null

    Let us be on guard, then, that we aren’t drawn in to adopt the ways of the world and become numb to the truth.  Do we still think of a sexual relationship outside of God-given marriage as shameful, as Romans 1 describes it?  Or is it so common and accepted that we say, “Meh, whatever.  No big deal.”  Have we lost our ability to blush at such things?  Or when faced with the opportunity to do something a little unethical with work or business dealings or taxes, do we shamelessly justify our covetousness with the thought that everyone else is doing it these days anyway?  Too often, it’s not just the world; even we Christians engage in crude joking, dishonor authority, view media we shouldn’t be viewing, harbor grudges, join in gossip, devote our hearts to stuff rather than God–all without feeling any particular shame, even when we’re confronted about it.  Scripture says that lawsuits between Christians and keeping bad company are causes for “shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5; 15:33-34).  Ephesians 5 says that it is shameful even to speak of the unfruitful works of darkness done by the wicked in secret.  So it is that Jeremiah prophesies, “No man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’... From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.”

    However, let us also be on guard against the opposite error as well.  For when we see the corrupt and degenerate state of things, we can be tempted to stake our hope on our own moral efforts and our own upright living.  We can begin to place our confidence in the fact that we ourselves haven’t succumbed to the ways of the world, or at least that we’ve turned our lives around now.  We can begin to think that our works and our righteousness will keep us close to God and win His favor.  And such a false belief is just as bad as society’s corruption.

    St. Paul spoke of that in the Epistle for today.  He said that the Jews of his day did have a zeal and a passion for God; they were very religious.  But rather than receiving the righteousness God gives in Christ as a free gift, they thought they could produce their own righteousness through the works of the law.  And that’s actually just another form of idolatry, trusting in yourself, making a god out of your own spirituality.  Self-righteousness is no better than sinful immorality.  When you think about it, those who are self-righteous can’t blush either.  For they think they have no real sins to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed of.

    Let us remember then that it is not enough to have religious conviction or spiritual passion as the Jews did.  For too often that zeal and passion are man-centered rather than God-centered, focusing on my works and my life and my walk rather than on Christ’s works and Christ’s life and Christ’s walk to the cross for us.  Our fervor should especially be directed toward the life-giving teaching of the Gospel and not simply to the deadly requirements of the Law.  

    St. Paul says in the Epistle, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  Did you hear that?  Christ is the end, the completion, the goal of the law.  That doesn’t mean that you are free to disobey the commandments.  But it does mean that the entire law is meant to point you to Jesus, and show you your need for Him who has saved you from the Law’s judgment.  That’s why shame is an important and necessary thing.  For without regret and shame over sin, there is nothing to drive you to the cross, to create in you a desire for cleansing and mercy and forgiveness.  The Law says, “Shame on you” so that you might despair of your own righteousness and seek the righteousness of Christ alone, freely given to you in the Gospel.  

    All of the moral demands of the law have been satisfied and kept completely by Christ for you.  All of the old ceremonial regulations pertaining to the Sabbath and circumcision and sacrifices find their fulfillment in Christ, the perfect sacrifice, who was cut off for your sins and raised again to give you life and rest.  

    Christ came to take your shame away by taking your sin away.  It is written in Hebrews, “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus “endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  All that He did because He loves you.  He was shamed and humiliated more than anyone as He faced God’s wrath and paid sin’s penalty at Golgotha.  And then He rose triumphantly, so that His victory over sin and shame might be yours as well.  Now the Epistle proclaims to you that “everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

    I’m sure that all of us could be truly humiliated and shamed and embarrassed if something about us was made publicly known and revealed to the world.  All of us have reason to blush.  Rejoice, then, that even though all of those things are revealed in the eyes of God, He has chosen by His grace to cover your shame, just as Adam and Eve were covered and clothed by God after the sin in the garden.  Your shame was swallowed up in the wounds of Jesus.  In Him your dignity is restored so that you need not cower before God, but you can stand tall and unashamed as His dear children, clothed in the white robe of Christ.

    Jesus weeps and cries over those who do not know their shame, who think they have nothing to be blush about before God, who see no need for a Savior.  That’s why He weeps over Jerusalem, out of love.  It’s bad enough that their unbelief would result in the destruction of the city by the Romans within a generation.  But He weeps especially over their rejection of Him, that they do not want the life and mercy He brings.  God Himself was visiting them in the flesh.  But they did not know the things that made for their peace.

    Let us learn from this so that we may recognize the time of our visitation by God.  It has come upon in Jesus; and it is coming upon you right now, even in this very moment.  This is the hour in which Christ Himself is coming to you in the words of His saving Gospel now sounding in your ears.  Let us penitently acknowledge our shame, and then let us take courage and believe firmly and gladly in Christ.  Don’t assume that you’ll have forever to repent.  It is written, “Behold now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”  Don’t let this time of your visitation pass you by.  Believe in what the Lord has done to redeem you from your sin, how He has suffered your shame on the cross and taken it away forever.  Take refuge in Him and His words; seek His righteousness.

    Jesus says, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, here are the things that make for your peace with God, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest.  Call upon God, and He will hear your voice.  Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.  For He has redeemed your soul in peace from the battle that was against you.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Jesus, the Unjust Steward

Luke 16:1-13

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Today’s Gospel parable is a bit unusual.  It’s about a steward who wasted his master’s goods and handled his master’s accounts unjustly.  And then the master actually praised the steward for his shrewdness.  What does this mean?  Whom does the unjust steward represent?  First of all, he represents us according to our old Adam, who have often been poor stewards of the goods the Lord has entrusted to us.  Have we always used the money and abilities and possessions that we’ve received from God to serve our neighbor and to help build up the Church and the ministry of the Gospel?  And when we have done that (because we know it’s the right thing to do), has there still been a struggle against the flesh which wants to use our resources for other things?  Isn’t it usually harder to give a large amount of money to charity or in an offering than it is to spend the same amount for entertainment or a trip or some new thing you’ve always wanted?  Or in our stewardship as parents and grandparents, have we encouraged our children’s devotion more to the Word of God or to extracurriculars like athletics and theater and dance?  Are we more concerned about them making a good living or having eternal life, being popular or being faithful?  And are we ourselves more concerned about how we look to family and friends or how we look to God, more interested in our physical health and appearance or our spiritual health and endurance in the faith? The truth is, if we were called before the Lord to give an account of our stewardship, to lay it all out in the open, there also would be cause for us to be dismissed from the presence of the Lord.null

    But remember, in the parable, the steward is actually praised.  Jesus holds him up in a positive light.  I would suggest, then, that in a deeper sense, the steward in the parable actually represents Christ Himself, the eternal manager of the heavenly Father’s goods.  For remember what occurred right before today’s Gospel.  Jesus had just finished telling the story of the prodigal son in chapter 15.  Jesus had just been accused of wasting His time and efforts on tax collectors and sinners, throwing away His Father’s “goods,” mercy and forgiveness, on people such as that.  And now He tells a parable about a steward who was supposedly mismanaging goods.  Do you see?  He’s talking about Himself and the way things are in the kingdom of God.

    For what does the steward do in today’s Gospel?  He goes around to everyone forgiving debt!  To the one who owes 100 measures of oil, his bill is reduced to 50.  And to the one who owes 100 measures of wheat, his bill is reduced to 80.  The steward desires to be received by them, and the way that happens is by forgiveness, by debts being cut and taken away.

    That is the way of Jesus.  He comes to us as one who “mismanages” the Father’s goods, throwing away God’s mercy and forgiveness on us.  It doesn’t matter to Jesus that He’s accused of giving away God’s grace too cheaply.  After all, His grace is not cheap, it’s free, since He purchased it for us at the greatest cost of His own blood!  Jesus’ mission was to bear every accusation, to take all that we are justly accused of and make full payment for our debts.  Jesus made eternal friends of us, not by hoarding things for Himself, but by living as one with no home of his own, no place to lay his head.  The material things of this world He used entirely in the service of others, having nothing but literally the clothes on His back.  He became poor so that we might know and receive the riches of His mercy.  He even gave away His own body into death, so that through His atoning and all-sufficient sacrifice we would be cleansed from all unrighteousness.

    Jesus the Steward desires to be received by us, into our homes and into our hearts.  That doesn’t happen by some decision or commitment that we make; it comes by the forgiveness and the release from the debt of sin that He freely gives.  Jesus has done much more than cut your bill by 20% or even 50%.  He’s taken care of it all.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  All of it.  You are debt-free toward God in Christ.  Repent and believe that Gospel.

    Which brings us to one more important point about the steward in the parable–his faith.  Jesus praised him not only because he was shrewd, but also because he trusted in his master’s mercy.  That’s the key.  He believed that the same master who didn’t have him thrown into prison for wasting his possessions (when he could have) would also be merciful to him by honoring the debts he reduced (which the master didn’t necessarily have to).  The steward knew what sort of a gracious and good master he had, and that’s where he put his hope.  He believed his master to be a man of generosity and forgiveness, and he staked his salvation and his future on that.  So it’s not just the steward’s shrewdness, but it is his faith in the master’s mercy that is praised here.

    So also, you are called to trust that the Father is a God of mercy who will forgive your debts through Christ, that you may be received into an everlasting home.  We stake our salvation and our future on the generosity and forgiveness of our God.  It is that faith God desires and which He praises.  We believe that God the Father will be merciful to us for the sake of Jesus–just as Jesus relied on His Father’s mercy and trusted in Him even on the cross.  Remember, as a true man Jesus also lived by faith; He believed that the Father would honor His death in our place to cover what we owed and that He would raise Him up on the third day.

    And now Jesus has ordained stewards to stand in His place, to distribute the eternal blessings He has won by His death and resurrection.  Jesus commends His stewards when they “squander” His possessions in the ministry of the Holy Gospel and cancel the debts you owe Him.  That is the job of a pastor–to be a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:5), to the take the Master’s goods and give them away to penitent believers.  Whenever you hear the Gospel and the absolution, it’s as if I am asking you, “What does your bill say?  What impossible debt do you owe because of your sin?  Sit down, take your bill, and write 0, paid in full.”  You are all squared up with God in Christ–and then some.

    Believing that, living in that faith, you are freed to be shrewd like the steward in the parable. As Jesus said elsewhere, we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  If the people of the world can be passionate and smart about worldly things, why can’t we about eternal things?  By faith you are given to use mammon not only to make friends in this life, but to put it to use to make eternal friends in the fellowship of the Gospel, supporting the mission of the church in your offerings and in your estate planning, investing in the things that will last into eternity, using the things of this life with an eye toward the life of the world to come, desiring to be received by your fellow saints into the everlasting home prepared for you by Christ.

    That’s what Paul was talking about in the Epistle (Philippians 3:7-14).  Paul had much that He could boast of, both in a physical and in a spiritual way.  He had a noble family lineage; he was a leading Pharisee who was honored as a wise and a zealous religious leader.  He had a very bright future ahead of him.  But what does he say after his conversion to Christianity?  “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

    Here in divine service, that righteousness is given to you freely in the sacraments–in the oil of baptism, in the wheat of the supper–where unrighteous mammon is put to a righteous use and eternal friends are made, bound together by the love of Christ.  Common bread and wine are consecrated to be the holy, eternal body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for your forgiveness.  He is with you here in this house.  And in the end when all the accounting is done, there will be an eternal dwelling for you, a permanent home, mortgage paid in full by the Son of God, who gave Himself for you to give you life forever.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Beware of False Preachers

Matthew 7:13-23
Trinity 8

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Everybody expects the pastor to tell people that it’s important for them to come to church.  But do you know why it is that you need to be here every week to hear the preaching of the Gospel?  It’s not to make me happy (although it does); it’s not even to make God happy with you (He already is with those who are in Christ).  In large part it’s because the world is preaching to you a counter-Gospel every single day of the week, and you need to be strengthened and built up and defended against that.  Even if you don’t go to church, you’re still going to hear preaching–just not the preaching of the Gospel.  Worldly philosophies and theologies are being directed at your ears wherever you are–work, home, school, recreation.  And if all you’re hearing are the pop-culture sermons of the world, pretty soon you’re going to start to be led astray from the truth of Christ.  

    Don’t be naive about this.  Every time you watch a TV show or movie, you’re being preached to–there will be some morality, some worldview that is being pushed on you with disarming humor or compelling visual imagery.  Just as a small example, think how many movies have employed the idea of a person’s soul or consciousness moving from one body to another.  Of course it’s just fiction and entertainment, but over time there is a false theology and a false way of understanding soul and body that is being taught.  Or on another subject, a pastor friend recently remarked that on a popular TV sitcom, the unmarried characters are the ones having sex, and the married ones aren’t.  There’s a subtle and subversive message being delivered there.  So also, when you listen to music or go to some concert or entertainment venue, you’re being preached to and marketed to and spun with all sorts of emotional hooks–not only in political ways, but in lifestyle ways.  And lifestyle is always about theology, what you believe about yourself, God, others, how you should spend your money, and so on.  And even in the workplace or at school or college, especially in today’s politically correct, social justice warrior environment, theology and ethics are bound up in the policies about your speech and conduct, in the school or the company's “vision” that you’re asked to buy into, or in all the buzzwords that keep getting repeated.  You see, there’s a way of understanding life and spirituality and what’s good and bad that’s inherent in all of these things–and that understanding is often laced with ideas that don’t align with God’s Word.  So don’t be deceived.  In this present darkness, hearing the preaching of God’s Word once a week is pretty much a bare minimum.null

    Jesus makes it very clear that we should take the danger of the world’s false preaching very seriously when He says, “Beware of false prophets.”  That word “Beware” is the equivalent of a road sign with flashing red lights.  “Danger!” “Watch out!”  He wouldn’t warn us so seriously like that unless the threat were real and important to be alert for.  

    That road sign Jesus gives us is a reminder that there are two paths that you can take in this world, and only one leads to life.  The road that leads to destruction is wide and broad and feels right.  It is the path that most everyone is taking.  It is the way of pleasing people rather than pleasing God, loving yourself more than Him.  You’ve heard the preachers of this path.  They tell you to do what brings you self-fulfillment.  They tell you that you have an inner light within that you must connect with, that you must follow your heart and your dreams and your passions.  Just believe in yourself.  As the Oprah once said, you should speak your truth and live your truth–as if there were more than one truth, no Truth that is higher than us regardless of what we think or feel, just the truth that supposedly flows from our hearts.  But then there’s God’s Word which says, “The heart is deceitful and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus Himself said, “From within, out of the heart...come wickedness and deceit” (Mark 7:21-22).  That’s no place to be looking for truth.  Still, like drivers ignoring a “Bridge Out” sign, people take this broad road and are led over a cliff to their destruction.

    The path of life, on the other hand, is narrow and difficult and is often contrary to what feels right.  It involves going against the flow, following the Word of God and not the crowd or your heart.  The way of life is narrow because it is found exclusively in Christ who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  This path is difficult because it is the way of the cross.  It’s not about self-fulfillment, but self-denial. as Jesus said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me."  It’s not about loving yourself above all but loving others and esteeming others better than yourself.  It is the way of repentance and sacrifice.  It is the Way of Jesus who bore the cross for you so that you may follow Him through suffering to share with Him in the resurrection of the body.  Jesus walked that narrow way of sorrows for you to Calvary.  He died to take away your sins; He cleared the path and opened the narrow gate of faith in Him so that you may have eternal life purely by His grace.

    Beware, then, of being lured off the narrow way of Jesus.  You know you’re being tempted by the spirit of false prophecy when your biggest fear is being accused of being judgmental; when you tell yourself that it’s not your place to speak up, to speak the truth in love, even to a close friend or family member who needs to be called to repentance and faith in Christ.  No, better just to keep the peace and not rock the boat and hope that they’ll magically return to Christ apart from His spoken Word.  But all you’re doing by that is showing that you love God less than you love your relationships with those people.  And in fact it’s not really showing love to those people, anyway, to ignore unrepentant sin which invites God’s judgment on them.

    Beware of false prophets.  They may look like fine, pious, upstanding people you should be paying attention to.  But inwardly, Jesus says, they are ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing.  The devil comes as an angel of light, as something good, and so do false preachers.  The thing that makes the lie powerful is that it masquerades as the truth.  Jeremiah said that false prophets, be they men or women, speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They don’t preach the truth God has given them in His Word, but what the people want to hear; they preach their own dreams and their own wisdom.  They are without the true teaching of Christ, in which alone there is salvation.

    That’s ultimately how you can tell false prophets from true ones, not by the wonders they can do or how successful they are, not even by how loving they are, but by what they teach, whether it is the pure Law and Gospel of Scripture or something else.  I’ve had people comment to me about how packed this Lutheran megachurch is or that non-denominational or Assembly of God church is.  The implication usually is that they must be doing something good and blessed by God to have those numbers.  But do you remember the faithful prophet Elijah?  He thought he was the only one left who worshiped the Lord in his day.  The Baal worshipers had all the numbers.  God reminded Elijah that still He reserved 7000 faithful among the hundreds and hundreds of thousands in Israel who worshiped the spirit of the age.  Remember what Jesus says, “By their fruit you will know them.”  The fruit refers not to their deeds (which can deceive) but to their doctrine.  What spiritual food do they offer?  What do they hold forth for your souls to feast upon?  I John 4 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  It is written in 2 John, “Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.”  “By their fruits you will know them.”

    So in the midst of all the religion talk and God-talk that you hear, ask yourself, is the focus on me and my praising of God, or is it on Christ and what He has done for me and given to me?  Is it about how I can have a better life in this world and find self-fulfillment and happiness through my own spirituality, or is it about how I can have a new life in Jesus solely through His suffering and death and resurrection?

    And if you want to know whether a teacher is true or false, just consider: Does he direct you to the shifting sands of your own decisions and commitments (like an altar call where you come down to give your heart to Jesus or some such thing), or does he direct you to the solid rock of Christ’s commitment to you and His sure baptismal promise which He gives you?  Does he direct you to your own efforts and works as a way of gaining eternal life or saving you from purgatory, or does he direct you always to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross?  Does he only speak of things in mystical, inward, spiritual terms, or does he emphasize the concrete realities of the faith, that Christ took on your flesh and blood as a true man, that He was raised from the dead in the body, that He comes to you now with His true, real body and blood for your forgiveness in the Sacrament, that you will be raised bodily on the Last Day?

    Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  You'll note that the false prophets in today's Gospel were focused on their own works.  "Lord did we not prophesy and cast out demons and do many wonders in your name?"  They were talking about what they did!  But the will of the Father is all wrapped up and centered not in what we have done but in Christ and what He has done.  He is the one who does the will of the Father perfectly for you.  He is the One who prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done.”  The will of the Father was that Jesus go to the cross to suffer and die as the ransom price to redeem you and save you.  And so the will of the Father for you is that you be saved, that you trust in Christ and cling to Him alone for redemption and follow Him day by day in the callings He has placed you into.   It is written in John 6, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  That’s what it means to do the will of the Father: to cling to Christ as the way of life, to believe in Him and stake your life on Him.  He alone is the way into the kingdom of heaven, He who is fully God and fully man, made flesh, who was crucified, resurrected, and ascended for the salvation of sinners.  The will of God is fulfilled in Jesus for you.

    So beware of preachers who teach something different than the faithful pattern of Scriptural words that you’ve been given in the catechism and the creeds.  Learn to know these things by heart; carry them with you as a defense against the world’s false preaching and the world’s allurements.  Beware of those who cast aside the liturgy for something supposedly better and more contemporary, whose teaching doesn’t square with the words of divine service and the preaching that you hear in this place.  Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, just flee from them.  And flee to Christ.  Take refuge in Him, give attention to His words.  Living in the gift of your baptism, follow that narrow way of Him who is Way, the Truth, and the Life.  In Him you are safe.

    The good tree in the Gospel that bears good fruit is the cross on which Christ hung.  As it is written, “Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness.  By His stripes we are healed.”  So you could say, Jesus is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is the reverse; He subverts the devil's ways. He is a sheep in wolves’ clothing.  He is the pure Lamb of God who allowed Himself to be cloaked in darkness and sin at Golgotha in order to put them to death in His body, so that you would be delivered from all evil.  The wolf has been conquered.  Sin, death, and the devil have been undone for you.  Believing in Christ, taking refuge in Him, you are saved and safe forever from all the lying anti-Gospels that are out there.  As St. Paul said, you are the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.  Even when your heart and your feelings say otherwise, you belong to Him still; He will never leave you or forsake you.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from His love.

    Come, then, to the holy tree and receive the holy fruit of His blood and His body, which cleanses you of your sin and gives you everlasting life.  Jesus is your true Prophet and the fulfillment of all prophecy.  By His fruits you will know Him.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Merciful as Your Heavenly Father

Luke 6:36-42

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One thing I’ve noticed about our fallen human nature is that we have a strong desire to want to place blame and to point out people’s shortcomings when something isn’t quite how we think it should be.  Isn’t that true?  For some reason, when something has gone wrong–at home, at work, wherever–we feel compelled to make clear that it was so-and-so who messed up.  We want to be sure they don’t just get away with their mistake.  We often care more about fixing blame than fixing the problem.  It’s much easier to find fault than it is to show mercy.

    Not very many people measure up to our standards, do they?  They fall short in this area or that area.  They’ve got this annoying habit or that character flaw.  It’s easy for us to see such things in others.  Now, if everybody were like me, we say, then maybe things would be better.  But think about it.  What if everyone were just like you?   That sounds to me like a good formula for a horror movie, where everybody walking around is an exact replica of your personality.  

    And even more importantly, what if God were like you?  Would that be good news or bad news?  What if God judged you in the same way you judge others?  What if God exposed all the thoughts of your heart toward others and all of the gossip you’ve spoken about them?  What if He were in the business of finding fault and making sure you null experience the full consequences of what you deserve?

    Jesus warns us that if we insist on living without mercy toward others, we are inviting God to be without mercy toward us.  If we’re all about pointing out specks of sawdust in other people’s eyes, the 2 x 4 in our own eye is going to end up bludgeoning us in the head.  “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

    The way you’ve treated others is how you’re going to be treated.  If that doesn’t scare you a bit, listen to these verses just before today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. . .  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”

    Such words, while good and true, must also terrify us and crush us.  For we have no power of ourselves to do what God asks, not truly and fully, not from the heart with the right motivations.  We don’t want to give away our money and do good to those who hate us and pray for those who use us.  We want payback!  We are not sons of the Most High by nature, we are children of the evil one.  Realizing this, all we can do is to cry out to the Lord, “Help me!  Save me from myself!  Have mercy on me!”

    And the good news in today’s Gospel is that our Father in heaven is merciful.  He is abounding in steadfast love.  In mercy He causes His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good.  And He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He provides daily bread to all people, even those who hate Him and reject Him, even those who through false religion want to use Him for their own purposes.  

    But God’s mercy does not stop there.  His mercy extends even to the point of sending His Son into our very flesh to save us from the curse of death.  Though Jesus was blameless, He allowed all of our blame and our blaming to be put on Him.  Jesus made all of our faults and sins His own, and He set us free from their condemnation by dying for us and shedding His blood in our place on the plank of the cross.  Now, because of that, the Father in heaven finds no fault with you.  For you who believe wear the holiness of Christ.  You are forgiven and cleansed and righteous in Jesus’ name.  

    Remember, that’s how God sees you.  The Scriptures say, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God’s not watching you just waiting for you to mess up so that He can nail you.  For He already nailed His Son on your behalf.  God’s not in the blame business.  He already took care of all of that at Calvary.  He’s in the mercy business, mercy that is limitless and overflowing.

    Jesus is Himself pure mercy in the flesh.  Just consider how His words are embodied and fulfilled in His own life.  He is the One who gave freely and did good to all, healing and helping, asking for nothing in return.  He is the One who, when He was struck on one cheek during His trial did not retaliate but turned the other cheek.  He loved His enemies, blessed those who cursed Him, and prayed for those who spitefully used Him.  Remember what He said on the cross of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  

    The Father continues even now to answer that prayer for you.  He perpetually pours out His forgiveness and mercy to you through Christ from the cross.  In fact so great and generous is His love that He even gives you the right to call Him your Father.  Jesus says here, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Only Christ can rightly claim God as Father.  And yet He invites you to step into His place and call God your Father.  When the angel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said that her child would be called the Son of the Most High.  Now that you have been baptized into Christ, you are also counted as sons of the Most High.  That is rich mercy, that God the Father gives you the same status as Jesus.  You have become as little Christs before the Father.

    And if that is true, then you are also given to become little Christs to your neighbor.  Jesus has given you to stand in His place before the Father by faith.  And now you are called to invite your neighbor to stand in your place, that is, to love your neighbor as if He were your own self, to “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  You live in Christ, trusting in the Father’s mercy, and Christ lives in you, being merciful toward your neighbor.  It’s all about Jesus.  For there is no mercy apart from Him.

    Your old Adam can show no real mercy; he’s always in the “I’ll do a favor for you if you can do a favor for me” business.  And so your sinful nature must die through repentance, that Christ may arise in you to be merciful.  By His preaching and the sacraments Jesus dwells in you to love even your enemies and to pray for your antagonists and adversaries.  He lives in you so that you may walk by faith in the Father, letting go of your desire for vengeance, trusting in God to take care of that. Through Christ you know that your life is safely in the hands of the Lord and Judge of all.  Jesus already suffered and paid for your enemies’ sins.  And He says of those enemies who reject His mercy, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”  You don’t have to worry about payback, because God will take care of that.  He’s better at vengeance than you are anyway.  It’s in the Lord’s hands, hands once nailed to the cross.  Perhaps your enemy will repent and be saved by the same mercy that saved you.  And if not, vengeance is the Lord’s.

    Confident of that, you are now free to feed your adversary and give Him drink and to overcome evil with good.  Living in Christ you get to forgive those who have used you, as Joseph did his brothers.  You get to put the best construction on other people’s words and actions and to cover over and ignore their failings and shortcomings.  You get to do good to all, whether or not the recipients are worthy.  You get to lend your money, whether or not you’ll ever get as much in return.  For you know that you have the greatest good in Christ and treasure in heaven.

    This is the way of life in Christ, the life of mercy.  It’s not a way that ignores or doesn’t care about what’s right and wrong.  That’s not what “judge not” means.  The world abuses and misuses this verse to mean that immorality and false doctrine should be tolerated.  But “Judge not” doesn’t mean “Condone sin.”  We’re not loving our neighbors by approving of things that cut them off from eternal life.  Rather, “judge not” is the way which acknowledges that God’s mercy in Christ is greater than the faults and sins of our neighbor and of ourselves.  Only by His mercy do we live.  It is as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery–and note both parts of this statement.  He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” By God’s mercy the plank is taken out of our eye.  By God’s mercy we forgive and remove the speck in our brother’s eye.  

    That mercy comes to you again this day in His supper; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom as you receive Christ’s holy body and the cup that runs over with abounding love, His holy blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

No Excuses for the Great Feast

Luke 14:15-24

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    When people make excuses, it’s often because they don’t really want to take part in the thing they’re being asked to.  You’re invited to a party, but it’s people you don’t really know or don’t like being with, and so you come up with an excuse for why you can’t come.  Or a guy asks a girl out on a date.  But she comes up with all these reasons why this evening or that evening won’t work.  If she really wanted to spend time with him, she’d rearrange her schedule or offer a time that would work.  But the excuses are a sure sign to him that she’s not interested.  So also with church, people come up with all sorts of excuses and rationalizations.  If a famous celebrity or athlete were going to be here, or a beloved friend or a family member that they hadn’t seen for a long time, they’d rearrange the schedule and be sure to be here early.  But simply Jesus and His words and supper?  Boy, I’m really busy right now.  Maybe next week.

    In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about some folks who were making excuses.  He begins, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many.”  This man is God the Father.  His supper is the banquet of salvation, the heavenly meal of forgiveness and life.  This meal was purchased by Jesus through His death for sin and His victory over the grave on Easter.  In fact Jesus is Himself the meal, the Bread of Life given in the Scriptures and in the holy supper of His body and blood.  God has sent out His Holy Spirit to invite many through the preaching of the Gospel to come to the feast.  All things have been prepared by God; there is no cost or strings attached.  null

    But it is written, “They all with one accord began to make excuses.”  They all were looking for ways to get out of this Gospel invitation.  They had other things they thought were more important to do.  Honoring the Giver of the feast, being with Him and sharing in the joy of His meal just wasn’t something they were all that interested in.  It’s the old brush off, “God, you’re really sweet and all, but maybe some other time.”

    The first said, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man is caught up in his property and does not believe that in Christ the meek shall inherit the earth.  He seeks to gain the world and in the process forfeits his soul.  He sees the value of land but does not desire the priceless land of the new creation.  He elects to go and see his piece of ground, almost like a burial plot, showing his destiny to return to the ground in death.  Property and possessions often lure us away from the Gospel feast.  But we dare never treasure what we have paid for above that which God has freely given in Christ.

    The second said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man prefers his work to the work of Christ, who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  This man is like those who want to produce their own righteousness before God, walking under the yoke of the five books of Moses’ Law, rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ, walking in the freedom of the Gospel.  But in the end they will find no rest.  Their labor and struggle will be in vain.  The temptation for us is to value our own efforts at good living over and above the grace of Christ.  Whenever we think we can do without the banquet of Jesus serving us His Word and Sacraments, we are by definition trusting in our own service and works.

    The third said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  This man prized his earthly marriage over the heavenly wedding of Christ and His Churchly Bride.  He loved union with his wife more than communion with his Creator.  When death parts him from his wife, there will be nothing to restore him to life.  So also, we must guard against turning the good blessings of marriage and sexuality against the God who created them, or putting our spouse or family before the Lord.  For He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.”

    Jesus spoke this parable against the unbelieving Jews of His day.  They had Him in their midst.  They heard Him preach and teach.  But most of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior.  They felt no need for the salvation He came to bring.  They didn’t think of themselves as poor, miserable sinners, just people with a few minor imperfections.  Often it was only the lowly and the outcast of society who believed in Jesus and trusted His words of life.  This is what Jesus is referring to in the parable, “Then the master of the house, being angry [at those who rejected the invitation], said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” “If you people are too good to come to My feast, fine.  Then I’ll fill my house with those whom you self-righteous look down upon, those who hunger and thirst for My righteousness.  And they shall be filled with eternally satisfying food.”

    God will have a full house on the Last Day for His feast.  And if those who should come don’t, then many whom you might not expect will–not only the poor and the lame and the blind, but also even many from among the heathen nations will be brought to believe and be saved.  In the parable the servant said, “‘Master  it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’”  For this meal is given not on the credentials of the invitees but on the graciousness of the Host.

    This parable is given by Jesus, then, as a warning to us against being complacent and ho-hum about the Gospel and losing our hunger for the feast.  You’ll often notice this when people start saying that they need something more than what divine service offers–something more entertaining or uplifting.  They’ll say things like, “I’m just not being fed; this just isn’t doing it for me”–as if Christ’s preaching and His Sacraments are of little value.  We always want the attention to be on what fulfills our desires and on what we do.  But to the Jews who thought they had heaven wrapped up by virtue of their genealogy and good deeds, Jesus said, “None of those who were invited shall taste my supper.”  That should put a little of the fear of God in us.  Let us also be on guard against putting our faith in our religious pedigree or our good living.  For when we do that, we’ll lose our hunger for the things of God and turn away from the Spirit’s invitation.

    Notice that in the end the only ones taking part in the feast are beggars and foreigners.  For only they  were given to see their need for what the Master had to give.  This is what you also must become before God: a hungry beggar, a needy foreigner, like a starving man in a third world country with flies landing on your face that you don’t even have the strength to brush away.  You must be brought by God to see that of yourself you are spiritually empty, with nowhere else to turn but to Him.  The divine Law must expose your desperate need so that you will crave the Bread of Life.  Only then will the great supper be not just one of many other more important things to do.  It will be the one thing that you cannot do without, the very source of your life.  For the meal is Christ, and He said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in Him.”  And if Christ dwells in you, then the sin and death which trouble you ultimately cannot harm you.  His presence gives you real life that even conquers the grave. 

    So take to heart what our Lord’s invitation is saying to you: Do not be afraid.  Do not be sad.  Do not think yourself unworthy or dwell upon your past sins.  They are gone.  They are forgiven.  If you are weary, heartbroken, lonely, wracked with guilt or uncertainty, hear the words of the Lord when he says to you, “Come to the feast!”  It has been made ready for you to heal and restore you. The greatest and the least, the popular and the outcasts, the cool and the uncool, the wealthy and the poor–everyone is invited!  Leave behind the love of temporary things.  Dwell upon the love of Christ who has loved you beyond all telling.  The highways and hedges of this world are not your true home.  He has brought you here this day to His House and to His Feast.  Come, taste of His Supper.

    Our Savior desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him.  He wants you here.  You are clean and worthy to be with the Bridegroom.  He is faithful to you.  He wants you to feast, to be reunited with Him, to be full and satisfied, to be without fear and at peace.  You are reconciled with God and righteous in Christ. The banquet table is laid before you, His flesh and blood which give you life and the resurrection of the body.  Partake of this holy, life-giving food.  Fear the Lord, which is to say, love and trust in the Lord with all due reverence.  Believe in Christ and be put right with the Father.  Receive the foretaste of the feast to come.  For blessed is He who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.  And the kingdom of God is here.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Genesis 15:1-6; 1 John 4:16-21; Luke 16:19-31

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

    “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.”  Abram was an aging man; his wife was past menopause and childless.  But the Word of the Lord came to Him with the promise that, nonetheless, His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that one of His seed would bring blessing to all the nations.  Against all the evidence to the contrary, Abram did not stumble in doubt; he believed.  He knew that God was not only powerful enough to carry out His Word–even though Abram didn’t have the first clue how He would do it–but that God was gracious and faithful to bring forth the One who would be the Redeemer of all nations.  By that trust in the promise, God counted Abram as righteous, not by works but by faith.  God’s ways don’t change. They are the same today as they were in the Old Testament.  Faith alone saves.

    However, such faith is never alone.  In the Epistle John wrote: “This commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21) No one should comfort himself that he shares the faith of Abraham if he is without love toward the brother. Faith alone makes us right with God; but such faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by the fruits of the faith, the works of love.

    Did the rich man in the Gospel reading have faith? He surely must have thought of himself as trusting in God.  In the torments of hell he calls Abraham his father, and Abraham even calls him “son.”  But the fact that the rich man’s faith was a sham is revealed by two things.  First of all, it is clearly implied by the Gospel that he walked right by the poor beggar Lazarus without paying him any attention or giving him anything–Lazarus who was pitied only by the neighborhood dogs who alleviated his suffering by licking his sores. What sort of faith is that–that a man has less pity than a dog?  But he not only walked by, he feasted just a short distance from Lazarus, and poor Lazarus would gladly have joined the dogs to lick up the crumbs from under the table. How could we say that the rich man had faith?

    It is very likely that the rich man rarely missed the opportunity to attend the Synagogue. He might even have had a special seat of honor–the pillars of the community often did.  But when Moses and the prophets were read aloud in the Synagogue, he listened but did not take them to heart. He did not let the words sink into him and reduce him to fear. He did not realize that God meant exactly what he said: “Cursed is he who does not continue in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.” To him it was just a nice break during the week, or maybe it was simply a necessary social obligation he had to fulfill. Whatever. He came and listened, but without heeding. And so he was a man without the faith of Abraham, the faith which alone is counted for righteousness, the faith which is never alone, but always breaks forth into deeds of love for the neighbor.

    And here’s the second way we can know the rich man didn’t have faith.  When he is in torment in hell, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus back as a warning to his five living brothers, and Abraham responds that they have Moses and the prophets, the Scriptures, and they need to listen to them.  But the rich man dismisses such a thought. “No, father Abraham,” he pleads, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  You see, even in hell, unbelievers like the rich man despise the Word.  They don’t think it has enough power, and they want something else and something more.  Miracles, signs, anything.  But they don’t think the Word of God is enough.

    Abraham, though, is no unbeliever. He knows the power of the promises of God, the might of God’s Word. That Word called him from unbelief to faith. That Word brought him from death to life. That Word gave him a child and through that child the promise of the Messiah who would bring blessing to all. That Word sustained him all the days of his pilgrimage. That Word kept him humble before God so he never trusted in his own deeds, and yet that Word made him fruitful in good works.  Abraham was well known for his hospitality.  The Word worked this love in him.  It was a Word that brought Him joy in the end.  It was not a Word to be despised. So he says to the rich man here: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”  Miracles don’t work faith; only the Word does that.

    So here we sit, richer in the Word than they were. For God has given us the witness of Apostles and Evangelists to add to Moses and the Prophets. We do not merely have the foretelling of the One who would bring blessing to all. We know His story! We know how He came to us who could not get to Him. We know how He shouldered the burden of our sin and carried it to death on the tree. We know how the Father raised Him from the dead and glorified His body with a life that never ends. We know that sharing that life is what the Word of God is spoken to us for. We know He has a baptism that robes us in righteousness and glory. We know that He spreads a table where we may eat a divine food that yields eternal life. The riches are laid out every week.

    But are any of us sometimes like the Rich Man?  Do we merely hear but do not truly receive the Word that is spoken?  Do we doubt its power and instead wish for and look for something more–miracles and signs, impressive performance, something more to really do the job?  Or how many of us ignore the particular people God lays at our gate?  And would we like a public comparison of what we give in charity and offerings vs. what we spend on our own entertainment and eating out?  Or a comparison of the amount of time we spend teaching our children sports vs. teaching them God’s Word, or in recreation vs. in prayer and Bible study?  Mere historical knowledge of Bible facts is useless on the day of judgment; it is not what God reckons to anyone as righteousness. As James points out, even the demons believe like that!

    What should a person do who wonders if he is like the rich man and his brothers? Abraham points the way. He doesn’t tell you to get busy showing love in your life as though deeds of love are what brings faith alive. No. He tells you to listen to the Scriptures; listen to what the Word of God says. Take it to heart. For the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My Word.” (Is 66:2)  Humbly receive the Word which does its work on you.  If the words of God which you have heard cut you to the heart and make you tremble, that is good, for the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves those who have a contrite spirit.  To be aware of your sin and to be brought to repentance is the working of the Holy Spirit within you.  

    Even more so, the working of the Holy Spirit is to bring you to faith in Christ Jesus.  In the ministry of the Word, the Spirit is always pointing to the Word made flesh who sacrificed His flesh to save you and to win your forgiveness.  The phrase “Moses and the Prophets” should call to mind the time later in this same Gospel when Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples.  There it is written that “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  To believe that Moses and Prophets aren’t enough is to believe that Jesus isn’t enough.  But through the Holy Spirit you have been brought to believe that Jesus is more than enough, that He is everything for your faith.  From that faith love will come–for faith lays hold of the Word, and the Word is God Himself, who is Love.

    We see that love of God most clearly in the fact that He made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us in Jesus.  Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him.  Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet.  And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . .  And by His wounds we are healed.”  Though Jesus was despised by the rich and the powerful of His day, yet the blood that flowed from His wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.

    The name Lazarus is the Greek way of saying the name “Eliezer” that we heard in the OT reading.  Eli means “my God” and ezer means “help.”  My God is Help–Lazarus.  Despite his miserable condition in this life, Lazarus trusted in God’s promises, like Abraham his father.  He believed Moses and the Prophets and in the Messiah they foretold.  He believed in Jesus.  By that faith alone He was saved and comforted and granted perfect life without end in God’s presence.

    Let us all take our place with Lazarus, then, and trust in God alone as our Help.  He has helped you most fully and completely in His Son.  Where you have fallen short and failed to love, hear and believe the Word of God that you are forgiven; you are cleansed and holy and put right with God again through the cross of Christ.  Receive Him who is perfect love in Holy Communion, let this salutary gift of Christ’s own body and blood strengthen you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another and the Lazaruses at your gates.  In such faith, trusting solely in what Christ has done for you, you can indeed be confident of dying a blessed death and being welcomed to the Feast that never ends with Lazarus, Abraham, and all the saints and angels in the Kingdom of the Father.  To Him with the Son and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor and praise, now and forever.  Amen.

(With thanks to the Rev. William Weedon for much of the above.)

In the Image of Love, the Holy Trinity

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    It’s not enough simply to say that you believe in God.  That’s an incomplete confession of faith.  For the term “God” can and does mean any number of things to any different number of people.  “God” for a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist is something much different than for a Christian.  Most Americans will say that they believe in God, but that God is often just a generic and undefined being.  The true God is certainly more than just the “man upstairs,” as Isaiah learned.  Who is the God you believe in?  Who is the one and only true God?

    That’s where creeds like the Athanasian Creed come in and are so important.  They may seem unnecessarily detailed at times, but they are important both because they defend against falsehood, and because they declare the Scriptural mystery of who the one true God is.  He is the Blessed Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–one God in three persons.  

    Reviewing very quickly, Scripture makes it clear that there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6 says, "The Lord our God, the Lord is One."  Isaiah 45 says, "I am God, and there is no other."  Unlike the pagan religions which had many gods that were connected to parts of creation–the god of the moon, the god of the sun, the god of the sea–Christianity confesses only one God, who has created the moon, the sun, the sea, and every living thing, and who is Himself outside of creation.null

    But the Bible also clearly teaches that this one God is three-fold.  Three distinct persons are referred to as God in the Scriptures.  First there is God the Father, the One we are directed to pray to in the Lord's Prayer, the one James refers to as the source of all good and perfect gifts.  Second, there is God the Son, Jesus Christ.  John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word (the "Word" being a name for Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  And third, there is God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  In Acts 5 it is said that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit.  And then the Apostle Peter declared to him, "You have not lied to men but to God."  Clearly then, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God.

    And therein lies the mystery.  It's not as if each of these three persons are 1/3 God, so that when you put them all together, you've got the one true God.  But of course neither is it true that there are three Gods or even three different forms of God.  No, each of these persons are fully divine, and yet they are so perfectly united and joined together in love that there is only one God.  That is the paradox of the Trinity.

    Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why spend all the time and effort on this?  What’s the point?  This isn’t something that’s rationally understandable anyway, so why should we make a big deal out of it?”  Well, for one thing, if we only paid attention to those teachings of the Bible that were logically explainable, I don't suppose that we would baptize or have communion or believe that God became a man in Christ.  Those are mysteries of the faith, too.  But more importantly, this is our God, this is how God has revealed Himself.  Part of worshiping Him is meditating on who He is, even if we can’t fully grasp it all in this life.  There is much to be gained simply in pondering who God is and what He has done for us that the Scriptures declare and the Creeds confess.

    And here’s one benefit in particular in meditating on the doctrine of the Trinity:  The better we understand what God is like, the better we'll understand what we've been created to be and to do.  For man was created in God's image, right?.  Mankind was made to be a reflection of God's being.  So understanding Him is going to tell us something about ourselves.

    Now, keeping in mind that God is a Trinity, listen to Genesis 1:  "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .'  So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  First of all, notice that God says, "Let us make man . . ."  A conversation is going on within God Himself, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But also notice what God then created!  Did He make a single, androgenous, self-contained being?  No, He created a relationship of beings who together formed a oneness and a unity.  When God made man in His image, He made them male and female.

    Now, of course, I'm not suggesting that there's anything "female" in the nature of God, like some churches do which ordain women, or which change masculine references to God to feminine ones, even going so far as to baptize in the name of "Mother, Daughter, and Comforter."  God's masculine nature is clearly made known in His self-given name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them both.

    What I am suggesting, though, is that for God to create something in His image meant creating more than one.  Now why didn't He make three of something?  Well, I'll get to that in a minute.  But what's important for us to understand now is that God is and always has been a personal being, one who by nature always relates to another.  Even before the creation of man, there was a relationship of persons within God.  God is Himself a community and a unity of persons.  And that is precisely why the creation of man wasn't complete until Eve came on the scene.  So to be created in God's image is to be made to be in a certain kind of relationship with other people.  God is a relationship of persons.  Man, therefore, is also a relationship of persons.

    An early church father, St. Augustine, gives us some helpful thoughts in gaining a deeper understanding of the Trinity.  He began with the Bible verse, "God is love."  Now love, he said, isn't something which involves only one person.  In fact it has three aspects:  the one who loves, the one who is loved, and the love itself.  Augustine equated these three aspects of love to the three persons of the Trinity.  So, for instance, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father's voice came from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son," and then the Holy Spirit came to rest on Him.  The Father is the One who loves, the Son is the One who is loved, and the Holy Spirit is the Love itself, that love being an actual person.  So within God there is a relationship of outward reaching love that draws the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together in a perfect unity.

    That’s why it’s just not right to lump modern-day Judaism and Islam into the same category as Christianity and call them all monotheistic, as if we all worship the same God.  We don’t.  The Trinity is of a very different nature.  The Christian God of the Old and New Testaments is very different from those who have rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  If you think about it, the other so-called monotheistic religions cannot have a god who is love within Himself.  For love by its very nature requires more than one person.  Allah cannot be a god who is love; for he’s all by himself.  Poor guy is lonely; maybe that’s why he seems grumpy all the time.  Only Christians can say, “God is love,” the blessed Holy Trinity.

    We can see from this, then, just how highly God has exalted marriage, that He made it the first relationship to reflect His image.  Adam was the one who loved, Eve was the beloved, and together they shared in a love from God that drew them together as one.  There's the three we were looking for, the third usually being concretely represented in the children God gives.  To be created in the image of God, therefore, means that we are to be reflecting divine, self-giving love–not only in marriage, of course, but in all our relationships–the kind of love that caused God to create us in the first place, a love that seeks to extend itself and reach out and give and sacrifice in order to draw others into a harmonious unity and a God-pleasing oneness.

    Now, understanding that such is the image of God, we must admit that as we look at ourselves and the world around us, it's often difficult to see that image being reflected in our relationships.  We should not forget or ignore the fact, therefore, that since the creation of Adam and Eve, mankind has fallen into sin.  The image of God has been corrupted and broken in us.  We no longer reflect who He is.  And that, at its essence, is what sin really is–a degrading of our Maker by failing to mirror His goodness, a rebellion in thought, word, and action against the nature of God, in whose likeness we were intended to be.  God is loving and self-giving, we are often self-centered and proud.  God is characterized by unity and oneness, we are often characterized by division and individualism and a stubborn attitude of self-sufficiency.  Such a corrupted image of God is doomed to eternal separation from Him.

    Fortunately for us, it is in God's nature to love even the unlovable.  As we heard in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  And Romans 5 says, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  You might say that God was just being Himself when in His love He initiated His plan to rescue you.  In the sending of Jesus, God was reaching out in a complete and ultimate way in order to draw you back into unity with Himself.  On the cross Jesus received the full judgment for your corrupted natures.  And then by His resurrection from the grave, Jesus restored the image of God for you.  Therefore, all who are joined to Christ by faith share in that restored image and are made right with God.  That's what Baptism and Holy Communion are all about.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are fed with His very body and blood.  Through those means, God makes you one with Christ and recreates you in His likeness.  As Colossians 3 says, "(You) have put on the new nature [of Christ] which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."  We look forward, therefore, with eager expectation to the second coming of Christ, when that newness will be fully revealed in us, when the vestiges of our corrupted natures will be forever destroyed, when we will perfectly reflect the image of God and share in the unity of His love.

    So, you see, to reflect upon the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a once-a-year exercise in intellectual gymnastics.  It is rather to meditate on the God who is love and who is life for us all.   To begin to understand God is to know what you were created to be by the Father and who you are in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is to be drawn into the Father’s love given you through His Son, poured out upon you by the Holy Spirit, so that you may share forever in His divine life.  Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to Him, for He has shown mercy to us.  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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