The following sermon was preached at the LCMS International Center Chapel service on September 11, 2014 by The Rev. Michael Meyer, Manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Paul had to deal with the accusation that he was arrogant and that he was shamelessly promoting himself. He writes of the Corinthians that they are his “letter of recommendation” from Christ to the church and to the world. But he is sensitive to the thought that people think he is bragging. So Paul writes, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” This is the heart of the passage. Paul confesses that in and of himself, he is not particularly sufficient or competent for the task he is performing, and the work he does is not successful because of his talent or intelligence. He acknowledges, instead, that everything comes from God. His competence and his success are God-worked. God has made him sufficient to the task. He writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
Similarly, when I preach, my confidence is not that I am something, but that God is at work through His Word. The good things that may happen are not the pastor’s work or that of the evangelism committee, rather they are God’s work. My sufficiency and my confidence are from God. If I measure up to the task, it is the gracious working of God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the truth of everything in general, and the Holy Ministry in particular. No one who holds the office of the ministry is competent for the task, in and of himself. Their sufficiency is also from God. Surely there are pastors that you have liked more than others, here at the IC, or at the seminary, or in your congregation. Some may have been better speakers. Some may have been just wonderful at calling on the home-bound and sick, making them feel right at home. Some may have fit in like a glove, while others may have seemed odd and out of place. The truth, however, is that whether you like them or not, the power and sufficiency for doing the work of the ministry is God-given. Faith does not come by the eloquence of the preacher, or his intellectual arguments, or even his personal appeal. Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is by the Word of God.
We confess as much in the Small Catechism, in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it in Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
God must create faith, because, ‘a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually dead.’ So, our faith does not depend on us or on the skill of the preacher, but on God. As long as a pastor is faithful and teaches the whole counsel of God faithfully, God is at work through him, making him sufficient for the work which God has called him to do and granting the success which God Himself has planned for His Word in that place.
Of course, the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God – both the Law and the Gospel. That is what Paul writes about when he mentions the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness. Paul first writes about the Law. He calls it “the ministry of death.” He describes it as “engraved in letters on stone.” That is Mt. Sinai. He says that the Law came with glory — such glory that the Children of Israel could not stand to look at the shining face of Moses. He had to cover his face for a time, until the reflected glory of God faded. Paul writes that the “letter kills.” That is the work of the Law. It condemns us. You may have heard the Latin phrase- “lex semper accusat” – “the law always accuses”. Now, that’s not the only thing it does, but it always finds us guilty of sin.
“And the wages of sin is death.” Our sin, revealed so clearly (and cleverly) by the Law, causes death and makes us worthy of death — and not just death of the body, but that eternal death which we call hell — which is more than just being “dead and gone” and unconscious of everything forever. It is misery. It is regret. It is condemnation. That is why the work of the Law is called the “Ministry of Condemnation”.
And the Law is true – it is good and wise as we sing in the hymn. It came with glory, and still possesses the glory of being God’s own will and law. And yet such truth and glory is not enough. The Law has no power to save us, only to kill us. In Romans, Paul tells us that “the Law was given in order that sin might increase.” That does not mean that its purpose is that we might become more sinful. The purpose of the Law was that we would see our sinfulness. That we would recognize our corruption and helplessness in sin, learn our deserved condemnation, and despair of our own righteousness and of our own ability to save ourselves.
This is why we need a Savior. The Law always accuses and always condemns and leaves us no hope. But God wants us to live. He wants us to have hope, and to trust in Him. So, He sent Jesus. Jesus accomplished what we could not. He kept the whole will and Law of God perfectly — without failure or sin or exception. He earned life where we had earned death. Because He is true man He was able to earn life, just as He was liable to death if He had sinned. Because He is true God His obedience was sufficient to exchange for all sin. His life was of ample value to cover all of our lives. His death was sufficient ransom for all of us. “By His stripes, we are healed,” not made a little better, but healed, as Isaiah the prophet said.
It is faith, created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, that lays hold of this and claims it as its own. That is “the ministry of the Holy Spirit,” “the letter of the spirit, written in our hearts.” “He that believes and is baptized will be saved”. We who believe have life everlasting already, and will rise from our graves on that great day when Jesus returns to create for His people a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness and glory dwell.
It is the ministry of Christ’s righteousness, which works righteousness in us and for us. The Holy Spirit makes those in whom He dwells holy. And it is glorious, for it is life and salvation for all who believe. Thus, the Law, which is true, and perfect and glorious, and came with great glory, cannot hold a candle to the gospel. The gospel is as much better than the law than life is better than death. The glory of the Law, which is great, is overwhelmed by the glory of the Gospel like a candle, which serves quite well as a light at night is overwhelmed by the bright light of the sun shining in broad daylight. You cannot always even see that the candle is lit, if the sunshine is bright enough. So, when we compare the Law with the Gospel, the truth and glory of the Law are simply not enough.
The Law is still true (and good and wise). But the Gospel is better. It is not ‘more true’, it simply gives what the Law cannot. Forgiveness trumps condemnation, and the righteousness received by grace through faith trumps sinfulness, and eternal life trumps death. It is received by those who believe, the gift of God, worked through the Holy Gospel. It is faith that Paul describes as confidence through Christ toward God – confidence in forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal; and confidence for this life here and now for you.
Thus, we are made sufficient by Christ. And with Paul we confess: “such is our confidence through Christ towards God.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bitterness is an ugly thing. It is not attractive when displayed and causes other people to feel uncomfortable, at the very least. However, we all know bitterness. It has lived in us, crept up on us, held us hostage, and destroyed relationships and opportunities. It is a powerful, invisible beast that can eat you from the inside out and is a favorite tool of the devil.
I have been bitter at God in the past. Have you? Twenty years ago, at the age of 34, I was angry and bitter at God that I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was bitter, for a time, that I was going to lose out on so much in life and not be able to have all I dreamed of….or so I thought (turns out I was wrong…really wrong). You might have felt bitterness in the past for some other matter or situation. Bitterness is the same in all of us though as it blinds us from truth and love. It is hard to see joy when looking thru the lens of bitterness.
But thanks be to God that He is greater than all the devil’s schemes and ways and more powerful than our weaknesses. He promises to hear us when we pour out our soul to Him, comforts us with His peace and fills us with joyfulness.
Today is the Commemoration of Hannah. Hannah, wife of Elkanah, was barren for years and deeply anguished, but later was blessed with a son, Samuel (and many more children). Through the merciful, divine love of God, Hannah went from bitterness to joyfulness. Even in Hannah’s “great anguish and grief” and “weeping bitterly” she did not turn from God but kept praying to Him. Despite difficult circumstances, she went to the temple and poured out her soul. What a great example for all of us.
Learn more about Hannah here. Read her prayer (1 Samuel 2: 1-10) below which so beautifully includes a reminder to not trust in your own strength but to rejoice in the Lord, your Rock who “raises the poor from the dust” and “lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
1 And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s,
and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Norway’s Defender of Life Børre Knudsen Dead at 76
(August 18) Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning, surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Borre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”
“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Borre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”
Vårt Land writes, “Borre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”
Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.
This protest was modeled after the Church’s resistance against the World War II Nazi occupation of Norway. When the occupation government attempted to transform the Church along their lines and brainwash children as was then being done in Germany, the bishops wrote a Confession known as “The Church’s Foundation” (Kirkens Grunn). This confessed that the Church is bound to God’s Word, that Word and Sacrament cannot be reshaped by the government, and that parents must resist government efforts to pervert their children’s faith. On Easter Day 1942 this Confession was read from the pulpit in Lutheran churches all over Norway. Most pastors then resigned their state appointments, refusing to serve the government or to accept their government salaries, but continuing their pastoral services. The bishops and many pastors were imprisoned, but the Church remained free and faithful.
Following the Kirkens Grunn model, Knudsen continued to serve his parish despite government efforts to remove him, until the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled against him in 1983. He was not, however, defrocked at that time and continued his ministry in a valgmenighet, a Norwegian form of congregation nominally within the state church, but independent of its bishops. On Easter Day 1991, Knudsen and several other pastors formed the Strandebarm Deanery (Prosti), also called the “Norwegian Church in Exile.” The Deanery viewed itself as continuing the historic faith and practice of the Norwegian Church, but outside the control of the government and the government-appointed bishops. It held to confessional Lutheran positions, and thus opposed the state church, on such matters as abortion, homosexuality, and ordination of women.
Knudsen was consecrated bishop for the Deanery in 1997, and this led to his being defrocked in 2001. He continued serving in the Deanery until 2011, when he retired for health reasons. Bishop Thor Henrik With was consecrated in 2012 to replace Knudsen for the congregations in northern Norway. These congregations constituted themselves into what is now called The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. It cooperates closely with the Mission Province in Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland. Bishop Knudsen was one of the four Lutheran bishops who assisted Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya when he consecrated the first Mission Province bishop, Arne Olsson, in 2005.
Bishop Knudsen led an increasingly controversial series of protest actions in defense of the unborn as long as his health permitted. He was the object of much hatred and abuse by militant abortion supporters. He maintained a gentle but steadfast attitude in the face of much persecution. His family, especially his children, were also targeted for persecution.
Public attitudes toward Bishop Knudsen have mellowed considerably in light of his consistent and gentle witness. He is the subject of a book entitled A Priest and a Plague (En Prest og en Plage) and a full-length documentary film of the same title. The film was released in Norway earlier this year and shown all over that country. Norwegian TV has scheduled a nation-wide prime time broadcast on Tuesday (August 19). The film has been released on DVD in Scandinavia (in Region2 format), and is expected to be released in North America in October.
Coverage (in Norwegian) of Børre Knudsen’s passing:
Link to documentary film website [a DVD is available in Scandinavia, but has not yet been released in North America … it will have English subtitles]:
Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
A while ago I renamed my blog a “blahg.” This is one of those. Not real exciting. More of the “blah” kind of thing. But important for our life together as a synod.
The 2010 Synod convention sought to restore visitation circuits to their primary purpose. The 2013 convention decided to reflect that restoration by also restoring the historical name “circuit visitor.” Some of us, myself included, have trouble making the switch from “circuit counselor” to “circuit visitor.” Earlier today I sent out an email to district presidents in which I got it consistently wrong. Consistent, but wrong. Old habits die hard.
The convention also sought to enhance the procedure for electing circuit visitors, moving away from congregations mailing in ballots to having circuit forums meet to select these important officers. Several of the postcards that congregations have been receiving to call attention to their convention preparation responsibilities have called particular attention to preparations for the circuit forums that will select circuit visitors for the next three years. One of those preparations is the nomination of one or more active or retired pastors for consideration by the forum for the circuit visitor position.
Every congregation of the circuit should consider nominating one or more pastors from within the circuit or possibly living just outside the circuit to serve in this important position. The name(s) and biographical information, including specific experience, number of years as a member of the Synod, present position, offices previously held in the district or the Synod, and any particular qualifications for the office, should be sent to the current circuit visitor prior to the forum.
Which brings me to the email I sent earlier today to the district presidents (with terminology now properly corrected to protect the embarrassed):
EMAIL MESSAGE TO ALL DISTRICT PRESIDENTS:
We are receiving questions regarding circuit forum elections of circuit visitors, namely, if congregations do not submit nominations or do not submit them prior to the forums, what is the forum to do?
Bylaw 5.2.2 (d) (1) appears to make floor nominations at the time of the circuit forum less than possible. If the current circuit visitor is to have all of the information at hand to make his presentations to the forum (including such information as is listed in Bylaw 126.96.36.199 [c]), he will need to have the names and required information prior to the meeting.
This makes suggestions of names by district presidents important (Bylaw 5.2.2 [b]), especially if they are made aware that no nominations are coming or expected from circuit congregations. District presidents then have the opportunity/responsibility to suggest names (along with accompanying bio information) to circuit visitors prior to their forums so that the forum will have names to consider.
Circuit visitors should note, therefore, that if they are not receiving nominations, the solution is to inform their district presidents so that the district presidents have time to suggest names and provide information. District presidents have the opportunity to suggest names anyway, even if nominations are made by circuit congregations, which names the forum may (or may not) choose to consider. But in such case when no nominations are made by circuit congregations, it is essential that the district president become involved so that the forum does have names to consider.
It is good that district presidents have the opportunity to suggest names for circuit forums to consider. It is especially good that district presidents are able to suggest names when there are insufficient nominations. But I expect district presidents would also agree that it is best when a circuit selects the pastor who will serve as its circuit visitor for the next three years using primarily a list of nominees provided by the congregations of the circuit.
The Rev. Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the recently formed Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, has been defrocked by the nominally Lutheran Church of Finland. His offence was participating as a founder and leader of the Mission Diocese, which the CoF considers to be “violating his ordination vows.” Dean Pohjola earned a STM at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, in 1999 and will defend his doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki on August 15.
The following report is written by The Rev. Samuli Siikavirta, a doctoral candidate in New Testament at Cambridge University who was ordained in the Mission Diocese earlier this summer.
Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Rev Juhana Pohjola, Defrocked by the National Church
On 5 August 2014, the Cathedral Chapter [Consistory] of the Diocese of Oulu ordered Rev Juhana Pohjola to forfeit his pastoral office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, invoking ELCF legislation (ELCF Church Law 5:3.3). The decision came into effect immediately.
Rev. Pohjola was ordained by former Bishop of Oulu, Rt Rev Olavi Rimpiläinen, in 1999 to serve the newly founded Luther Foundation Finland within the Church of Finland. The intention of Rev Pohjola’s work in the Luther Foundation was to build up confessional Lutheran liturgical life within the ELCF and to insure that members holding to the apostolic view of the Office have places where they can receive the Sacraments and hear the Word.
In 2013, the congregations that were part of the Luther Foundation Finland and a handful of other independent ones formed the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. From 2005 until last year, the LFF was a supporting member of the Mission Province in Sweden. What began as the work of one part-time Pastor (Pohjola) and one congregation in the capital city in 1999 has today grown into a network of 30 congregations and missions nationwide. The Mission Diocese sees itself as an independent, confessional and non-geographical churchly structure in Finland that lives out the official confession of the ELCF that the ‘national church’ has largely abandoned.
The Cathedral Chapter of the ELCF Diocese of Oulu argued for its decision in the following manner:
“The Cathedral Chapter deemed it to be clear that Juhana Pohjola, who had been a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Oulu, has acted contrary to the duties of the pastoral office and transgressed the ordination promise [vow] that he had made on 18 Dec 1999, and turned out to be obviously unfit to be a pastor by becoming the Diocesan Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, by directing the head office of the Mission Diocese, by belonging to its College of Pastors, by acting as a member of its Consistory and under it, together with being under the pastoral oversight and acting as the aide of the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Risto Soramies.”
“The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was founded in March 2013. The said community that is an unregistered association [a Finnish legal term] has organised itself resembling a Christian church by having its own congregations, diocese and bishop. The Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland have stated together in March 2013 that the newly formed Mission Diocese has no organisational status in our church and neither is it attached to the structure of our church. According to the Bishops’ statement, a Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland who acts in the Mission Diocese stands in obvious conflict with the loyalty expected of a pastor and with the ordination promise.”
The defrocking of a pastor is the most severe punishment that the ELCF can issue. Excommunication or the revoking of membership is no longer a possibility. The Diocesan Chapter appealed to paragraph 5:3.3 of the ELCF Church Law, stating,
“A pastor who acts against the duties of the pastoral office and the ordination promise, or neglects them or behaves in a way unfit for a pastor, may, according to the quality of the matter, be given a written warning or suspended from the pastoral office for a minimum of one and a maximum of six months by the Diocesan Chapter. If the pastor’s unseemly behaviour, neglect in the pastoral office or other behaviour indicates him/her to be obviously unfit to be a pastor, the Diocesan Chapter can order him to forfeit his pastoral office [i.e. be defrocked].”
In a blog post on the Mission Diocese website, Rev Pohjola acknowledges that the decision to be defrocked pains him deeply but that it was also to be expected in the current church-political situation.
“The words ‘obviously unfit’ leave no room for interpretation. They are rough especially when talking about the office in which one is to act constantly with the great Day of Judgment in view. Being defrocked also contains shameful dimensions. Hardly anyone wants to be unfit and dismissed.”
The defrocking of those Mission Diocese pastors and bishops who were ordained in the ELCF before the Luther Foundation or Mission Diocese were formed may also have wider consequences on the identity formation of the Mission Diocese.
“The message, ‘you are obviously unfit for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’, has been sent to thousands of people attending Mass in the Mission Diocese”, Rev Pohjola writes.
He maintains that the decision shows the theological decline that is going on in the ELCF.
“This decision of the Diocesan Chapter is yet another step within the reformation [in Finnish: ‘purge of the faith’] that is going on in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Instead of the Church being purged with God’s Word, she is being purged from God’s Word.”
Despite being now defrocked by the national church, Rev Pohjola will continue preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, now as a pastor only of the Mission Diocese.
“What now after this? One friend reminded me of a liberating Bible verse: ‘set apart for the Gospel of God’ (Rom. 1:1). That gives me, too, enough to do in the Apostolic Office until the end of my life!”
An interesting church historical quirk is that Rev Pohjola will be defending his doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki on 15 August on the topic of ordination rites in the ELCF between 1963 and 2003 and their understanding of ordination and the pastoral office. His Opponent at the defence will be Rt Rev Jari Jolkkonen, ELCF Bishop of Kuopio.
Link to Dean Pohjola’s statement (in Finnish):
Links to reports on the confessional Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland:
Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Ph. (260) 399-6565