Archive for April 2012
Eric R. Andræ. 1 Corinthians 3:11-23, St. Mark 10:35-45. Commemoration of Olavus and Laurentius Petri, Reformers of the Church, 19 April 2012 (Thursday of Easter II). Annual Conference of Lutheran Services in America (LSA), closing worship. Sheraton Square Hotel, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Christ is risen!
[He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Wrong request, wrong question. Or as Jesus put it, “You do not know what you are asking.”
Who and where is Jesus Christ in all this? Right question, “for no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Who and where is Jesus Christ? Right question, and with the right question, the right answer should follow.
Let’s see…. How can we put this? Well, it’s like this: James and John have poor vision.
And so, dear sinner, do you.
Your vision is poor. You are not seeing things very well.
And I don’t mean just those of you who are blessed with “four eyes,” or those who might be members of a Lutheran Center for the Blind, such as we have at First Trinity, where I serve here in Pittsburgh. No, all of you have poor vision.
And I don’t mean just the poor spiritual vision mentioned in Holy Scripture and of which most of us are very familiar. I don’t just mean the “spiritually blind” – that is, the blindness sung of in “Amazing Grace” –“I once…was blind, but now I see” – I didn’t believe, but now I do: No, that’s not exactly what I’m getting at either.
So, lest I confuse further, let me restate: Your vision is misplaced; your vision lacks proper focus; or, if you will, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, so to speak.
Your vision, like the Zebedeean brothers, is lousy. Like James and John, you all too often look inwardly. You focus on self, and your perceived needs, your desires, your power, your reputation, your feelings, your future, your glory, even – like the famed Pharisee praying in the temple – on the good you do: “I am not like other people; I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess; I go to church every Sunday; I pray every morning; I volunteer; I work really hard; I help the poor and disadvantaged; I go to the LSA conferences; I keep the commandments, well, mostly, as best as I can; I am a nice person; I am a good driver; I am humble; I am smart; I am not like most others; I, I, I, I….”
This type of focus on one’s own person and one’s works reveals a worship of none other than the false god of self, the idolatry of the hyper-individualism and arrogant self-righteousness which is so prevalent. It diminishes and distorts the vision of the eyes…and of the heart and of the mind. It puffs itself up at the cost of others who are then invariably judged to be less: less intelligent, less religious, less good, less worthy, less useful, even, simply, less Lutheran, less Christian…, less.
This inward curvature of the eyes, and the heart and the mind and the will, upon themselves is at the heart of sin, at the heart of pride.
This pride – or its opposite twin, despair – is the logical result when, while looking inward at self, you also look outward at others. – Because, let’s be frank, even this gaze at others is usually one of comparison, and comparison is the way of the law, which for sinners is the way of certain death. This comparing is the judgment which leads either to despair – “I wish I could be as cool, funny, nice, loving, helpful, faithful, service-oriented, selfless, as good a preacher as he is, but I can’t” – or to pride – “Well, at least I am better than she is: she only goes to church once a month, or, he drinks too much beer (or not enough beer), or, she’s not really as pious as I, or, he never comes to Bible Study, or, she doesn’t volunteer as much as I do….” Despair or pride – that is the consequence of even your outward-aimed vision. And we must be honest: like James and John, it’s usually the latter: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…give us GLORY.”
This pride is false worship for, as I said, it worships self. It also does claim to worship God, but its worship is false. Our Lutheran confessions tell us: “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God, while the worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God.” You all have some, or even a lot, of the sons of Zebedee in you: As such, in the way of the law, you like to present your abilities, your devotion, your fasting, your tithes, your offerings, your attendance, your promotions, your sacrifices, your smiles to God and say, “Lookee here, ain’t I been pretty good!” Well, “No. Filthy rags,” says Holy Writ; even your supposedly righteous acts are but filthy rags – not pure enough, not enough of them, far from the 100% perfection that the Law demands.
So, then, what are the good things you are to receive from God in the worship of the Gospel?! Well, our Lord tells us what the worship of the Gospel is: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is worship; this is divine service. This is Christ’s life given in service to you – again, our Book of Concord states, “The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness from Christ, acknowledging him as the Messiah.” Christ’s life given to you – the gifts of God for the people of God in Preaching and the Sacraments. Christ’s life given to you – thus corrected vision, that you may truly see. Christ’s life given to you – for with this revised re-vision, as Bonhoeffer writes, “Everything about other people that repels me falls away. Then I see them in all their need, hardship, and distress…, granting other Christians the same right [I] have received, namely, the right to stand before Christ and to share in Christ’s mercy.”_
Christ’s life given in service to you – indeed your vision of others and self is given its proper place and focus only because through his means the Holy Spirit has fixed your eyes toward…Jesus: always, you thus “look unto him, the author and finisher of our faith….” As the Augustana says, “The highest form of divine service is to seek and call upon Jesus Christ.” It is only when your vision is cruciform and Christocentric, cross-focused and Christ-centered – it is only when you see self and others in the shadow of the cross and through the person and work of Jesus – it is only then that you lay aside your legalistic and selfish goggles, glasses, and lenses, “lay aside every weight, and lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us….”
It is only then that you understand the correct place for the law in your lives today, which Bo Giertz points out. Previously it stood between you and God, an obstacle blocking the way. As a mirror of sin and a curb of evil, it frightens and threatens the fallen sinner in demanding utter holiness.
But now Christ has fulfilled the law, kept it, and suffered under its punishment, for you – thus he has opened the way for you to the Father, for his sake. And now, then, the law does not stand in front of you as an obstacle in the path to God, but rather it is behind you, so that it meets you when you turn around to go out among your neighbors. And you know that the law is right and good; it is the voice of God, of his LOVE; and so you listen to it as you make your decisions, order your day, and serve your neighbor. It now describes you, because it describes the life of Christ in and through you, my dear saints. The law shows you not the way to God – that’s only through the gospel – but rather the law shows you the way to your neighbors, and into those works that God has already prepared beforehand that you might walk in them._
The beloved disciple writes, “Beloved, let us…love one another” – not only ourselves – “and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. … In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this we have from God: he who loves God loves his brother also.” As Luther said, a “Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. … He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love” (AE 31:371). And you do love! – not by your own efforts or striving, for then, indeed, it would be impossible – the love would not be pure enough, or frequent enough. But with God all things are possible, and so with his divine love, his superabundant love poured out onto you in Baptism and into you in the Lord’s Supper, his love overflowing through you and thus onto others – with this love, you see; with THIS love you love and you serve your neighbors.
But that’s not all. – It’s not over. There’s always more with Gospel – more gifts than your hands can hold or your lives can share, more wonders than your mind can imagine, more forgiveness than you’ve got sins! For, ultimately and especially and uniquely and wonderfully and amazingly, mercy for the sinner means this: God’s vision is messed up. God himself is the one who has poor vision!
He, above all and only, would be justified in looking outwardly upon others, upon you, with self-importance, with smugness, with pride. For he is almighty, he is perfect, he is sinless; as a matter of fact, he goes to church every day, he volunteers, he works really hard, he goes to every LSA conference, he keeps the commandments, he is nice, he is smart, he is not like others. God would be just in looking upon you with utter disappointment, derision, scorn, rejection, pride, even hatred. But, but he does not. Rather, God has a vision problem, for when he looks upon you he sees…Christ; that’s right, Christ! When he looks upon you, he sees one who has been joined to Christ, one who has died and risen with Christ, one who has been baptized with Christ, one who is a participant of the divine nature, one who has been clothed with Christ, one who has the sacred body and blood of Christ coursing through the veins and clinging to the bones, he sees one who is “of Christ,” that is, a Christian, a Christ-ian!
God remembers and sees your sins…no more. “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine.” The eye of the Lord…. – And what God sees he declares. And what he declares, is: be it light or parted waters or virgin pregnancy. And he looks upon Christ and says of him: Behold, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. And thus God looks upon you and says of you: Behold, this is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.
And so it is.
Christ in you, that’s the hope of glory.
That’s some blessed “poor vision.”
One more thing! We need to get back to James and John. Don’t forget that they were restored. James was part of the inner circle of disciples closest to Jesus, he witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, was with him during his agony in Gethsemane, and James was ultimately martyred in 43 A.D. by Herod Agrippa I for confessing Christ. John, well John helped with preparations for the last supper – where he sat next to Jesus, stood by Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion, after Pentecost he became a missionary with Peter, and he wrote the fourth gospel, three epistles, and Revelation! This is to say that Jesus had mercy on James and John, and that mercy, and the power of the resurrection, transformed them to be pillars of the ancient church, and pillars of the church today. Jesus had use for them. He has use even for you…now in the present, and even as he uses you and LSA “to shape the future.”
Christ is risen!
[He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
I am at beautiful Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee, located between Knoxville and Nashville. The Conference is themed Witness, Mercy, Life Together. Dr. Albert Collver spoke on WMLT, and Dr. Adam Francisco spoke on Islam. Below is the sermon on Witness from last evening.
Luke 24:48 and Acts 3:15
Pastor Albert Collver
Third Sunday of Easter – 23 April 2012 East Region Pastors’ Conference Mid-South District
Dear Friends in Christ,
“You will be my witnesses.”
A better text could not have been chosen for a Pastors’ conference that has the theme of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. Yet this text was not chosen to fit the Conference theme, but rather is the appointed text for The Third Sunday of Easter. It gets even better than that; the reading from Acts also speaks about being a witness. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” What does this mean?
At first glance, one might think that this is a mission text par excellence. Yet in terms of modern missio Dei thought, this text barely registers. You see, being a witness is too passive. It does not have enough sending. Yet in the context of the Gospel reading, the witness borne by the Apostles is accompanied by Jesus sending his Apostles into the world to bear witness to him.
Indeed, the Apostles were eye-witnesses or martyrs of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This conforms with the legal, court room usage of “witness” in Greek. The Apostles testified and bore witness to what they saw. Saint John speaks this way when he says in 1st John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” Saint John goes on to say that this “witness” is proclaimed so that “so that you too may have fellowship.” (1 John 1:3) The witness of Jesus Christ creates fellowship, koinonia, and gives us a Life Together with God the Father, and His Son, Jesus.
This “witness” original came from the Apostles, who were eye-witnesses. You see, eye-witnesses had a credibility in Greek society that others did not. This also is in part why the majority of Apostles were martyred. Those who did not believe, those who hated the church, needed to eliminate the eye-witnesses. Their testimony was silenced. Yet in the process of being martyred, the Apostles bore witness to Jesus.
What precisely did the Apostles bear witness? The reading from Acts provides the answer, “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15) The Apostles always bore witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, through out the Book of Acts, the word martyria (witness) most often appears with the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no witness. Without the resurrection, our faith is in vain.
Although during this Easter season, it may seem blatantly obvious to say the cornerstone of our faith is the resurrection of Jesus, unfortunately, it is not. We as preachers of the Gospel frequently are tempted to move beyond the basic, elemental teachings of the faith and more onto something more advanced. Yet preaching without the resurrection of Jesus as the center is not a witness.
Recently, on a trip to Geneva to meet with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), I mentioned that since I was in Geneva I would like to visit the grave of Jean Calvin out of interest in Reformation history. A person from the LWF replied, “it isn’t much to see, just a little stone with the letters J.C. On it. We hope it is the grave of Jean Calvin and not Jesus Christ.” The witness of the resurrection of Jesus is constantly under attack by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. The only reason the Apostles could endure martyrdom is because they believed and witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus rose, they too had hope of the resurrection.
This brings us to the other usage of “witness” in the New Testament, a person who bears witness, who testifies, who confesses what he believes to be true. The Apostles also were this kind of witness, for they testifies to what they believed, that Jesus rose on the third day. Since we were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, this is where we link up with being a witness. We witness and testify to what we believe, chiefly that Jesus rose from the dead. This also makes the church a witness to the truth, and a martyr in this world.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading is a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophesy. In Isaiah 44, the Lord declares, “You are my witnesses.” In Isaiah, the Lord not only delivers his people, but he knows them before they are even born. The Lord’s people, Israel — his holy church, is witness to all the mercy that the Lord bestows on his people. The witness is to what the Lord has done. Unlike the people who worship idols made with hands and out of wood, the Lord’s people testify and bear witness that the Lord is God and that He is merciful. You see, the Lord has made his people witnesses and he gives them the content of their witness. Confession and witness go together.
It seems that some “mission” sermons focus on what you need to do. You need to go out. You need to witness. The Gospel text portrays a different picture. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” You see, Jesus makes you into his witness. You have heard the Gospel. You have received the gift of Holy Baptism. In the Lord’s Supper, you receive Christ’s body and blood. In the fellowship, participation, or Life Together of his body and blood, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. You are his witnesses.
Live in the resurrection of Jesus. Witness to the resurrection as the Apostles did. Jesus has made you his witnesses.
Go in peace.
- Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Unnamed Rd,Spencer,United States
I am writing from a motel room in Mason City, Iowa, on my way to the Minnesota North District convention, which is on my way to the South Dakota and Oklahoma conventions later in the week–district conventions four, five, and six of our Synod’s 35 during 2012. I like conventions, and I look forward to showing up for as many as I can. But I like good order even more, which is really what brings me to Mason City, headed for points beyond.
The purpose of these convention visits is to make certain that the process we have developed to register and certify our 10,000-or-so district convention delegates for their participation in the vote for President of the Synod next June is both workable and reliable. What was a relatively simple convention decision is a bit more complicated to accomplish. And, of course, we need to get it right the first time.
I thought I would use this blog to let you know what delegates can expect by way of this registration and certification process. There are three stages to the process, information-gathering, certification-granting, and voter-information-recording:
- Information-gathering: Bright yellow registration forms are being used to collect the specific information that will be required for the electronic voting process. Districts are being asked to mail these forms to delegates prior to the convention. Voting delegates are asked to fill out and bring the forms with them to their district conventions. Regestration personnel will check to make certain that the forms are completely filled out, and will verify that the person submitting the form is indeed the delegate properly authorized to attend the convention.
- Certification-granting: These forms will be given to the district secretary (or possibly the convention credentials chairman if so delegated) for a cross check with the list of eligible delegate slots provided by the Rosters and Statistics Department of the Synod. When satisfied that the delegate submitting the yellow form is a rightful delegate, the district secretary will initial the form, thereby providing the required certification.
- Voter-information-recording: At the close of the convention, the secretary of the district will mail the forms to the Synod’s Rosters and Statistics Department, and the names of the certified district convention delegates will be added to the Synod-wide list of certified voters for the presidential election in June, 2013. The information on this list will be updated continually using change-of-information and voter-substitution forms.
Thank you to you, whether a district convention voting delegate or just an interested person, for your cooperation and/or for any help you can provide to others in understanding and participating in this very important process. Perhaps I will see you at the registration table of your district convention.
My Dear Brother Pastors!
Our Lord’s Apostle writes,
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1).
Many issues can cause us to lose heart in the pastoral ministry, even (perhaps especially!) in this holy season. The devil seeks to divide us from one another in hopes he can divide some from Christ. Our sinful flesh in its pride seeks the place of honor at the expense of Christ. Brothers fail us, sometimes miserably. Our people won’t listen to us. The world doesn’t care about the Gospel. The culture is going to you know where in a you know what. The list of complaints can be as long as your arm! And they all involve sin.
Where are you right now? What are the burdens of your heart? How is Satan tempting you to lose heart? Where does your ministry tend to go off track? What are your secret sins? What do you see when you quietly and privately examine yourself?
One subtle deception common to every preacher is the impulse, when things are not going well, to go the way of the law. When people are not measuring up or things are not getting done, we are tempted to go back to the rules. We’ve got to find more principles to follow, guidelines for living the Christian life, instruction to take to heart, etc. – these are the watch words of this way of thinking.
But what does the law always do? Without fail? It will always accuse you, always show you your sin. No matter how you think you are using the law, it always shines the light of God’s perfection into the darkness of our sin. This, by the way, may be one of the reasons we are tempted to lose heart!
But Paul says we have this ministry by the mercy of God. It is not our doing, not our performance, but His mercy. As he writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us… We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, 10).
What does that mean? You are not the center. Christ is. You are not the driving force. Christ is. The Gospel’s power does not come from your cleverness, but from Christ. Without Him we are dead. Only in Him are we alive.
Let me simply encourage you, my brothers, in your preaching and teaching. Go over your sermons, your lessons. How many of them walk in the way of the law? How clearly do you bring your people the gifts of God in Christ? Preaching the law in a general sort of way is easy. Everyone does it. But preaching the law so as to kill that God can make alive in Christ – that’s difficult. And even more difficult is preaching the Gospel clearly so that it’s fresh, good news for your people. That’s because the Gospel is unlike anything else in the world.
God gives! It’s not our doing, but Christ. All our sins are laid on Him. All the issues that cause us to lose heart? He carried them to the cross. They drove Him into death for us. Killed Him so that we might live. And when God raised Him from the dead, He removed our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west. Jesus lives to say to you and me, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21). It’s all gift, His gift to us and His gift to our people through us.
Now go preach that! It’s God’s call and your privilege. Go give away the gifts of God to your people. The law accuses and lays burdens. Jesus has come to absorb the accusations and lift the burdens. You are His agents, His servants.
Make sure the heart and soul of every sermon is the life of God in Jesus Christ. “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” Let the people see and hear Jesus through you – not only Jesus the example, but most of all, Jesus the Savior. Jesus the Life Giver. Jesus our Peace. Jesus our Joy!
Know also that Jesus carries you. It doesn’t depend on you. It all hangs on Him. Now “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit…” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15a). He will provide you with everything you need to bring His Good News clearly. It’s all here in His Word.
That’s why, Paul says, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18). You handle the unseen, eternal things when you proclaim life in Jesus’ name, when you forgive sins, when you give away His body and blood.
All the stuff that goes the way of the law is temporary. What is eternal is the unseen work of God in the hearts and minds of believers when they hear the Good News of Jesus from your lips. What is eternal is the change that only God’s Spirit works to bring life by the Word of Jesus, the Word you bring.
So we end where we began. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Go preach it, my brothers! Preach Life in Jesus’ name – with passion and with joy! And remember, it’s for YOU, too!
You fellow preacher of the Living Christ!
First Vice President – LCMS