Jon Vieker

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Posts by Jon Vieker

Chapel Sermon from Missionary Orientation

The following sermon was preached on July 11, 2013 in the International Center Chapel by The Rev. Dr. Leopoldo (Leo) Sänchez, Associate Professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and director of the Center for Hispanic Studies. The text for the sermon is Philippians 2:5–11. 

 

So are you “confessional” or “missional”? Or both? Claiming to be “missional” or “confessional,” or perhaps a “missional confessor” or a “confessional missionary,” really matters little—indeed, nothing—unless one confesses Jesus as Lord. Not just as the Lord in general, but as “my” Lord. This is, of course, easier said than done. For confessing Jesus as Lord means to live under His lordship. Not an easy thing to do, since there are many lords out there that call for our attention and entice us with power, a name for ourselves, a claim to some significance. Easier said than done. This is why St. Paul claims that…well…no one can do it!: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And so the Holy Spirit alone has brought us through the Gospel to confess Jesus as our Lord and live under His gracious lordship.

Confessing Jesus as “my” Lord amounts to more than words. It is a way of life where anything that is a lord in our hearts has to die so that Jesus alone may reign there with His Spirit. One thing is to say “Jesus is Lord.” Another matter is living under the lordship of Jesus. That, my friends, it’s tough business. If St. Paul thought life under the lordship of Jesus were easy, he would not have been writing letters to Christians to remind them what confessing Christ as Lord actually looked like in life. And this is the heart of the matter: You have to die every day to your own claims to lordship so that Jesus alone is Lord.

In God’s Word for today, St. Paul is reminding the Philippians, and us, to die to our own deluded attempts at greatness. No Christian is immune from the lure of power, especially those in positions of authority. Even missionaries are not immune from the attraction of greatness, as grand and even flowery stories about mission successes are shared with donors at home, or as we begin to feel we deserve to have more things because of the special works or sacrifices we are making away from our homes. Yes, the attraction to make something of ourselves, to make a name for ourselves because of our great confession or our great mission, is just too powerful.

Well, as you get ready to go to your work, all of that stuff has to die. Any ambition, significance you may want to attach to yourself or your work, and self-interest of any kind gets nailed to the cross right now and every day. Let the missionary in us say: In all my thoughts, words, deeds, I must always decrease, so that the Lord Jesus may increase.

Mission is about His story, His sacrifice for us, and His lost and poor we are called to serve under His lordship, in His name.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Paul says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul calls all of us to die to our claims to significance in order to make room for others, so that we may be less full of ourselves and fuller of Christ, so that we may be less self-serving and more self-giving. Paul calls this aspect of living under the lordship of Jesus having “the mind of Christ.” To embody in life the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is to have the mind, the attitude, the heart of Christ.

But how does one embody this confession in mission? Only by looking at the cross, by beholding Jesus, every day. There, on the cross, one learns to look away from one’s confession and mission, and to look to Christ alone, to His words, His mission, and His works for us. There, on that cross, the mind is shaped daily after Christ’s own way of life, where nothing is claimed for oneself and everything is given to another without getting any recognition in return. There, on that cross, one ceases to be a lord with a claim to greatness, and becomes a disciple and a humble servant.

On the cross, Jesus gives us His life as a gift to behold, a life shaped by no claims to power and greatness, but by service even unto death for our sake. Behold this Jesus! Behold His great power manifested through humble sacrifice on a shameful rugged cross. Behold His divine outpouring of love for you in the unassuming waters of life at the font. Taste His glorious self-giving for you in His body and blood in, with, and under insignificant bread and wine. Hear His wisdom unto salvation through mortal men who proclaim absolution, and through poor sinners as we are bold to forgive each other our trespasses as God forgives us our trespasses. Behold this Jesus, who comes to us humbly, unassuming, whose power comes to us under the veil of loving service. It is only by tasting the Lord’s power through His sacrificial love that we learn to impart such love and sacrifice to others.

You see, Christ does not exercise His power by claiming it, even though He has it all as the Lord of heaven and earth. Instead, Christ Jesus manifests His power by becoming our Servant. Through the cross, Christ redefines what lordship is. We learn that lordship is displaying whatever power we have been given not to make claims over others but by sacrificing for them. One lives under the lordship of Christ by dying to self in order to make room for the neighbor, by giving up seeking a name for oneself in order to worship the only name that counts, the name of Jesus alone. This divesting of one’s claims to greatness is what Paul calls having “the mind of Christ,” the mind of the Lord who, as Mark says in his Gospel, did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.

Luther describes what it means to have the mind of Christ in one of his sermons on Phil. 2: “Service was, with him (i.e., Christ), something assumed for our benefit and as an example for us to follow, teaching us to act in like manner toward others, to disrobe ourselves of the appearance of divinity as he did.” What a great way of putting it: “To disrobe ourselves of the appearance of divinity.” Luther goes on to explain that Christ, who is God, disrobed himself, divested himself, of the form of God, of the “God attitude” as it were, in order to serve us. What His life means for our lives is evident. How much more then should we, seeing what Christ has done for us, divest ourselves of the “God attitude,” which we cannot even claim for ourselves, in order to serve the lost, the poor, the lonely, the widow, the infant, the alien, and all the needy in our midst! To serve others, Christ has given us not “the appearance of divinity,” but the form of His servanthood. That’s the right attitude, the right mind for us, as we approach every person and every task. The form of a servant: That’s what our Lord has given to us, all we have to work with as we meet our neighbor.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go about the tasks God has given us to do in this life, let us die to any form of divinity. Let us lose any “God attitude” of power and significance we may want to claim for ourselves in our speech and deeds. As we go into the mission field God has given us, let us trust and confess Jesus alone as our Lord. Let us make not our name but His saving name alone count in our lives and ministries and thus among those whom we are called to serve, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” Finally, let us behold Jesus as He invites us to taste and see His power through the cross, and let us ask His Spirit in our daily devotion to shape our minds to put on the form (the attitude) of a servant daily, as the Lord did for us.

We pray:

Holy Spirit, You who have led us to confess Jesus as Lord,
Come to burn away our claims to lordship and greatness,
And by the Word and your gracious indwelling in us,
Shape in us daily the mind of Christ, our Lord,
whose power is made perfect through suffering,
and made manifest through service.
Amen.

 

 

On Holy Baptism in the Large Catechism

The following letter was sent to 2013 LCMS Convention delegates from President Harrison.

 

Easter Monday, A.D. 2013

Dear Delegate,

Luther wrote of Baptism, “It is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot understand it. But it requires skill to believe this, for the treasure is not lacking, but this is lacking: people who grasp it and hold it firmly. Therefore, every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to do all his life.”

In the past weeks, I’ve been paying very close attention to the Supreme Court cases on gay marriage. What is billed as simply allowing people to love whom they please, in reality threatens to rule unconstitutional the divinely created mandate that marriage is between one man and one woman And we who hold to natural law and the Scriptures are increasingly labeled “bigots.” The assault on our religious freedoms will increase exponentially—and soon, as we refuse to capitulate to the world. Our world is slipping so rapidly away from sanity that I shudder to think what is just ahead. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

“Nevertheless,” writes Luther in the Large Catechism, “I am baptized!” These are times for us to get back to the basics and stand squarely on the firm foundation of Holy Scripture. Luther’s treatment of Baptism in the enclosed excerpt from his Large Catechism is precious. Luther lays out the scriptural teaching on Baptism with all its glorious “consolation,” “promise,” and “victory.” Baptism is the delivery of what was won for us on the cross.

Luther ends his treatment of Baptism with what Baptism means for our daily lives. “A truly Christian life is nothing other than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.” “Repentance is really nothing other than Baptism.” “If you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism. For Baptism not only illustrates such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For in Baptism are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.”

Baptismal strength is what we need now. We need it as we face a world gone berserk. And we need it as we face this world, together, as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. God grant us all a daily return to Baptism through repentance. God grant us all faith in his blessed Son’s cross. God grant us love for each other, and strength to stand as witnesses before the world, come what may. We are baptized for this moment.

Blessings in Christ,

 

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

P.S. With all the convention material coming your way soon, you are going to have to be “strong”!

Letter on the Augsburg Confession

The following letter was sent to 2013 LCMS Convention delegates from President Harrison.

 

Patrick, Missionary to Ireland, A.D. 2013

March 17, 2013

Dear Delegate,

Grace and peace in Jesus!

In this second mailing we are providing you with a copy of the Augsburg Confession (1530) with some explanatory notes, taken from the wonderful Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord (CPH, 2006).

I am asking you to carefully read this brief and basic confession of our Lutheran Church. The section, “Confessional Subscription: An Evangelical Act,” explains why we all subscribe to this confession. The Bible is God’s Word to us. The confession is our response to God, and before all people, regarding what we are convinced the Bible teaches about Jesus. “But you, who do you say that I am!” (Mark 8:27; cf. Heb. 4:14; 10:23; Rom. 10:10; 1 John 2:23). The thrust of the Augsburg Confession is about keeping the Gospel front and center. This confessional standard is enshrined in the constitution of all of our congregations, in our Synod’s constitution, and is solemnly subscribed to by all of our church workers when they are ordained, commissioned, and installed.

Luther claimed the content of the Augsburg Confession as his own work, even though his sidekick, Philip Melanchthon, wrote it. But in a real way it is the great layman’s confession, being signed by the Lutheran princes. It speaks to a context that was heavily Roman Catholic, as the European empire at the time was officially Roman Catholic. It does, however, also mention and reject some teachings of the more radical Protestants.

Herman Sasse often pointed out that in Lutheran churches where people said, “I don’t want to hear the Confessions, just give me the Bible,” the authority of the Bible, too, was soon lost. That is because our Augsburg Confession takes the Bible seriously. And as you’ll see, or be reminded (I’m re-reading it, too, pastors!), the Augsburg Confession is finally a very pastoral document, aimed at delivering the Gospel to people troubled about their salvation.

We must never allow the Augsburg Confession to be pitted against “mission,” or vice versa. The Augsburg Confession is a solid confession of the teaching of the Bible, and a great aid and incentive for us to share the Gospel and all its teachings with the whole world.

As you read the “Augustana” (as it’s sometimes called), you will no doubt recognize the very broad agreement we have in the Missouri Synod on many, many topics. There will also be areas where our confession will challenge us to improve our teaching and practice for the sake of the Gospel.

I hope you enjoy it! You remain in my daily prayers, and I covet yours.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

A Plea for Delegates to Be at Prayer

The following letter was sent to 2013 LCMS Convention delegates from President Harrison.

 

Ash Wednesday, A.D. 2013

Dear Delegate,

Grace and peace in Jesus!

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:4–10).

I have very intentionally chosen this verse from St. Paul as my first communication with you, the delegates to the 65th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. St. Paul reveals his constant prayer of thanksgiving for a church beset with challenges but blessed with gifts—very much like our Synod—encouraging them by the Gospel and appealing to them to be unified in Christ.

You, dear delegates, are “Baptized for This Moment.” You are born again of the Spirit (John 3:5, Titus 3:5). The same Spirit of God teaches us to pray and even intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray (Rom. 8:26 ff.) out of sheer exasperation (not uncommon in the case of Missouri Synod convention delegates!). Following the apostolic example, the place for all of us to begin in preparation for the convention this summer is prayer for the Church (Ps. 4:1; Prov. 15:29; Matt. 6:5 ff., 9:38, 26:41; Luke 11:1 ff.; Acts 1:14, 6:5; Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17; James 5:13). The Lord Himself invites us to pray for peace in the “house of the Lord” (Ps. 122). Jesus prayed for His disciples (Luke 22:32) and for us (John 17) and taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:9–13). As our precious Savior, He intercedes constantly on our behalf with the Father (1 John 2:1). And Jesus loves it when we pray and promises to hear us (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction).

LCMS President H. C. Schwan (d. 1905) once made some remarkable observations on the importance of Jesus’ own directive for prayer regarding the Church’s mission to share the Gospel:

“Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Remarkable words! We would certainly have expected something else. He did not say, “Now go to it, My disciples. Run, go, grab hold of the work. Don’t wait. Everyone go out in any way he knows how or can do so! Only get to work now!” Not so. Nor does He say, “Put your heads together, make wise calculations, think through all sorts of means and ways! Any means is acceptable, if it only leads to the goal!” Rather, He says, “Implore! Pray! That is the first thing.” Thus our Lord held that that which is regarded as the very least is the most necessary, most important, and most effective. He himself prayed much; [He] spent many a lonely night in solitary prayer, began all His work with prayer. He Himself had also first prayed before he chose His apostles. Note this well! It is so easily forgotten! . . . Praying is not merely the first thing we are to do, but properly and actually, everything that we have to do. If we only pray as the Lord Christ wills it be prayed for, so all other matters come of themselves, or (in order to say it more correctly) everything that remains, the Lord does Himself. He promised indeed with clear words: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). (At Home in the House of My Fathers [CPH, 2011, page 559])

Indeed, Schwan goes on to say that as we “pray the Lord of the harvest, send workers,” we’d better get ready because the Lord may soon be sending us!

Friends, to help us all grow in the gift of prayer, I’m sending you a remarkable little document by Martin Luther: A Simple Way to Pray—For Peter, the Master Barber. As Luther sat getting a hair cut, his barber shared with him his struggles with prayer. Luther responded with this beautiful little booklet. Here, Luther reveals his own method of praying texts from the Bible and Small Catechism. There is always debate about whether prayers should be read or simply flow uncoerced from the heart, as the words come. It is Luther’s genius to say “yes” to both of these. Luther begins with a text. (In his booklet, he uses the First Article of the Creed, but any text can be chosen based upon the occasion or need.) Then he prays the text according to a four-fold pattern. 1. Instruction, 2. Thanksgiving, 3. Confession, 4. Prayer. (I call it “I.T.C.P.” to remember the pattern.) As you will note, Luther says that when the Spirit prompts through the Word of God, one must let the thoughts flow in prayer. Let me demonstrate with a verse applicable to our upcoming convention: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1).

  • Instruction: Dear Heavenly Father, You instruct us in this Psalm that unity in the Church is pleasing to You and is Your heartfelt desire for us, Your children. We know that division in the Church grieves You, especially when it impedes the sharing of the Gospel.
  • Thanksgiving: We give You thanks that Your Word is very clear on the necessity of unity in faith and life in the Church, while also teaching us that we are not all the same, and there are varieties of gifts and vocations in the Church. We thank You for the unity we have enjoyed. It is Your doing, not ours.
  • Confession: We confess that we are by nature sinful. We often are cold and indifferent to Your Word. Our hearts are filled with jealously, envy, and anger at each other. Our pride causes us to fail to repent and seek reconciliation. Our many sins and failings embroil us in controversy in our homes, families, churches, circuits, districts, and Synod. Our lack of unity and love weakens our witness to Your saving Gospel. We deserve nothing but wrath.
  • Prayer: O Lord Jesus, forgive us. Renew us. Give us humble hearts. Instruct us together by Your Word. Give us unity in faith and love. We thank You for Your blessed and clear Word, and for the many blessings of our church (congregation, district, and Synod). We confess that we are nothing but sinners, and if this Synod depends on us and our doing, we are lost. Give us great joy in the daily renewal of baptism! Teach us that we are “Baptized for This Moment,” and that we have a sacred worldwide task of sharing the Gospel for the spread of Your kingdom. And cause us at this convention to realize in every way, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

You will of course find many biblical texts that are helpful for your prayers. Our convention theme verse is rich with prayer potential! I.T.C.P.! “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” I’ll be praying the Litany (LSB 288 ff.; LW, pages 279 ff.; TLH, pages 110 ff.) constantly as we close in on July. Please commit to prayer today for this convention. The challenges before us are monumental.

That’s more than enough for today. I’ll be sending you something to study every few weeks as we head toward convention. I plead for your prayers for me, as this is the first convention I’ve chaired, and I have much to learn.

In the Name of Jesus,

 

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Sermon on Luke 20:9-19

The following sermon on Luke 20:9-19 was preached by LCMS Fourth Vice-President, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus at the International Center Chapel on Friday, March 22, 2013.

In Jesus’ name, amen. As I read this text over a number of times, there was one thing about it that jumped out at me as being truly interesting. It was the initial reaction to the telling of Jesus’ parable. Jesus tells this story about the owner of the vineyard whose servants were brutally treated and then sent away empty handed, whose son was beaten and killed and thrown out. He says the owner of the vineyard will surely come to punish those who have acted this way and the response is, “Surely not!”

What an amazing response! When Jesus tells this parable, he is picking up on an Old Testament theme. In Isaiah 5 the prophet depicts God as planting a vineyard, taking care of it in every way possible and then coming to look for fruit on the vines and instead of finding good sweet grapes, finding only wild grapes or as one translator puts it, rotten, stinking grapes. Jesus picks up on this illustration in His parable and depicts the owner of the vineyard, whom all understand to be God, sending servants to determine what kind of fruit his vineyard is producing. The servants in the story are obviously the Old Testament prophets who frequently confronted and condemned the people for their lack of fruit – for their faithlessness. The servants are not only sent away empty-handed, however, with no fruit whatsoever, but are beaten and treated shamefully. The owner then sends his Son. Surely they will respect the Son of their Lord! But instead the vine-growers determine to kill him, thinking the inheritance will then be theirs. And then they do kill him and throw him out. In the face of such unthinkable dishonesty, brutality, murder and treason the owner of the vineyard determines to destroy the evildoers, take the vineyard away from them and give it to others – and the response to this parable of Jesus? Surely not!

Surely not!? The response seems so incredibly illogical, unreasonable and strange. And it is – but it’s not so unusual. Take a culture like the one you and I live in where increasing numbers of people forsake and show contempt for the commandments of God, where they dabble in the Eastern religions or forsake the worship of the one true God entirely, where they insist that all gods are equal and all religions have equal access to the truth, where those who are actually faithful are treated with disdain or even persecuted. What is the reaction when God’s law is applied, when people treat the owner of the vineyard as though he had no right to expect fruit and the one who made them and has so abundantly blessed them promises to punish them for their disobedience and unbelief? What is the reaction? An indignant “Surely not!”

And what about you and me? When the Lord comes to us and says, “I came looking for good, sweet fruit and I didn’t find it. I came looking for those who would love me with all their heart and soul and mind, for those who always love their neighbors like themselves and I didn’t find them. Your fruit stinks! You deserve to be punished; you deserve to be destroyed.” What is our reaction? It is in our nature to think, “Surely not!” In the face of judgment, it is in our nature to justify ourselves and say, “Surely not!”

Thank God that, in the face of his Law, the Holy Spirit has led us to reject that self-justification that is always striving for domination in our lives and spirits and has led us to remorse for our sin. Thank God that in His mercy, He has led us to cry out for mercy and forgiveness and has provided a way to forgiveness that has removed His judgment from us.

But perhaps when the people reacted to Jesus’ parable with the cry, “Surely not!” they were not disagreeing with the just judgment of the owner of the vineyard. Perhaps they were instead telling Jesus that he was wrong when he said that the vine growers would kill the heir when he came. Perhaps they were expressing outrage at something so unthinkably horrible that they simply could not imagine it happening. That they would kill the Son of God. No, that would never happen! Surely not!

But of course, it did, and the scribes and the chief priests, whose voices may very well have joined with the others in crying out, “Surely not!’ were already planning to take him captive and to kill him. And their crucifixion of Jesus became a rejection of everything he ever said about Himself.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” Surely not.

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Surely not.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his onlybegotten Son.” Surely not.

It is this message of rejection the chief priests and scribes intend to send with their crucifixion of Jesus.

But then He rises from the dead! And of course in the resurrection of Jesus all those “Surely nots” are dissolved and evaporate in the face of his clear conquest of death, as his power to deliver on all his promises is made evident to all who will see.

And now the heir to the vineyard, the one who holds the whole world and everything in it in his nail-scarred hands has a message for weak and sinful people like you and me. It is a message of forgiveness and comfort from the one who freely gave Himself up to death in order that we might live. It is a message that responds to every doubt and every fear you have.

“I am afraid that I have been too disobedient for God to forgive me.” Surely not!

“I am afraid that I have been too weak and dirty for God to love me.” Surely not!

“I look at my troubles. I am overwhelmed. I am afraid that God has deserted me.” Surely not!

“I look to my future; I consider my frailties and I am afraid that death will defeat me.” Surely not!

“Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Amen.