Jon Vieker

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Sermon on James 4:13–17

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13–17).


When a person comes face-to-face for the first time with the magnificence of this holy space, set aside for the worship and service of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — it is hard not to notice what is taking place just beyond its towering walls of glass and steel scaffolding. Here inside, just within our view and reach, steadfast and firm stand marble altar, pulpit, font, and organ pipe, and we joyfully meditate in resolute peace on a divine Word that abides forever… but out there, beyond the glass… a tidal wave of industrious activity leaps forward at frantic pace. Busy highways give plain evidence of commerce in full swing; salesmen are racing to make appointments, vegetable trucks travel their local delivery routes, civil authorities patrol ribbons of concrete to protect and serve, the titans of the business world are late to meetings with their armies of attorneys.

Mom has just dropped the kids off at school and is on her way to the airport, headed out-of-town on a business trip. She’s making a mental note to call the dentist to change that appointment which is now conflicting with another ad campaign meeting just scheduled and popped up on her smartphone for three weeks from tomorrow. She feels a moment of guilt for texting while driving, but duty calls… and she is bucking for a promotion. Across town, Dad is fumbling with the space bar on his laptop — in the back of his mind wondering who he’s going to call about the balky transmission on the family’s aging minivan — while He brings up PowerPoint slide number seven (out of eighty-three) in his annual review of the strategic plan for an edgy, grumpy board of directors. The CEO shifts in his seat, still grimacing as he recalls his missing the winning three-footer on the eighteenth green at the club championship the prior Saturday morning; better schedule another putting lesson with the pro. The pro is talking with the course superintendent about fixing the pesky drainage problem in the sixteenth fairway; the course superintendent is not listening very closely because he’s thinking more about an upcoming, long-planned golf trip to Scotland next spring with his buddies.

It’s all but a sliver of one huge, interlocking mosaic of human determination, hopes, concerns, and designs.

And it’s all about influencing, controlling the future.

This morning, James the brother of our Lord reminds you that it is all too easy to forget and disregard and simply ignore God in all of this frenzied activity and planning. Yes, here you have Jesus and His cross held right before your eyes and preached directly into your ears and heart. But with a bit of tongue-in-cheek — and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to our wonderful coworkers across the street —there is a rather substantial office building that stands at elevation and dominates the expansive view from this consecrated spot where we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). And then I hardly need point out that this very chapel is located inside of an office building — so that when you depart this space this morning and exit through those humongous doors, you’ll be returning to meetings and plans and a stacked Inbox and reports and hopeful expectations and anxious worries about future outcomes arising from our present common labors, our “getting down to the business” of the mission of God, the Church on the move, the Body of Christ in motion. The clock is running; let’s go!

I think this is fitting and proper and as it should be, at least for now, maybe right now in this chapel setting. Jesus, crucified and resurrected, comes in — in quiet, subversive, thief-like fashion — and He collides with the feverish, worldly enterprise of any man who is all too willing to “cut the cord” with his creator. At first, the Word appears to be little if not nothing. But all of the contemporary cues that surround us continue to confront you and me in a way that ought to give us pause before we arrogantly tear down our old barns… and begin building larger ones… and act as if the future were solely in our hands or that we were even given to know that any one of us is going to be physically standing, breathing here on the face of planet earth when the sun comes up tomorrow. Only “if the Lord wills.”

This is James’ call for you to repent, dear baptized: you are to be constantly watchful in regard to how you think and make plans for your life. It is all too easy to map out a path in which God has been relegated to a secondary, “ride along” position… but you are to remember that everything you do is utterly bound by the limits of His time and His will. To forget this is to fall back into the sin of boastful pride, which can only lead to your destruction. To forget this is to falter and give up the confident hope that is already yours — of eternal life in the bliss of paradise, life with God that surely has come to you as a gift, from outside of you, in the perfect righteousness of Christ for you. To forget this is to give way to fears and anxieties that will inevitably come when you love and trust and worship your own plans and efforts — for your heart is a veritable idol factory, and this morning I am bound to remind you that you are not at all immune to the idolatrous sins of “human enterprisology” and “strategic programism.”

It is as if James is saying, “Hold on.” Even if you are able to run around and get on with the “business” of life, you cannot attribute this ability to your own efforts, but rather you are to accept that you can do these things only by the blessing of God. For after all, “Of what sort is your life? A vapor, a mist — for to tell the truth, you are one appearing for a little while, and thereupon also vanishing away.”

So, yes, you make your plans and you labor to your utmost with all of those First Article gifts — your reason and your senses, your intellect, your physical body — but you do so with a constant, overriding awareness that it is all under the grace of God, who alone knows and directs all of the details concerning where… when… how long… what will happen. Absolutely forgiven for every sin of arrogant pride and over-reliance on self, you beseech your Father: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” You take to heart the wisdom conveyed through His servant Solomon: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1).

And above all, you continually trust in the eternal will of Him who planned and undertook the greatest enterprise in all of human history, the Lord whose will and business it is that all are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), the One who broke into this world confessing to His Father, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’ ” (Hebrews 10:5–7).

Thankfully, so thankfully, dear baptized, at that loneliest, bloody place upon the earth, upon that cross dark-stained with the very blood of this Lamb of God, all of the plans and schemes and enterprise of sinful man — these meet their eternal end in the irrevocable will, the concluding judgment of God Himself. “It is finished.” And it is through His cross that you now gaze upon the world around you and have come to understand that — thankfully — you dwell and labor here for only a limited time.

This is God’s will and work and enterprise: that by the instruments of His grace, you have been brought to believe in this Son whom He has sent (John 6:29). And so together, we work, we labor, we strive, and it is all under His watchful eye, His mercy, His forgiveness and:

We impart a …hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. …[A]s it is written,

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him [Isaiah 64:4] —

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6–9).

In the name + of Jesus. Amen.


Rev. Kevin Robson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

“My Shepherd”

Choral Vespers
Good Shepherd Institute
Concordia Theological Seminary—Fort Wayne, Indiana
All Saints’ Day, A.D. 2015
Psalm 23

In the name . . .

The 23rd Psalm is virtually universal. When you go to a funeral home, it is nine times out of ten the “go-to” Bible passage printed on the back of those little memorial cards that you take home. Tonight, we were nourished by one of at least three cantatas composed for Good Shepherd Sunday for the saints in 18th-century Leipzig, and for generations to follow of those who have ears to hear. And then, there’s that picture in our mind’s eye of the Good Shepherd. It’s one our earliest childhood memories—from the time we got that first children’s Bible illustrated with what the Shepherd of Psalm 23 must have looked like (coincidentally, a lot like the picture of Jesus later on in the New Testament!). And then that image was forever personalized as we sang in Sunday school, “I am Jesus’ little lamb . . .”



The psalm, of course, begins with the Lord: “Yahweh is my shepherd . . .”, it says. But it also says “my shepherd.” Though the Lord is running the verbs, the psalm is clearly written from the perspective of the sheep. With the Lord as my Shepherd, I will not be in want because he feeds me in green pastures (the good stuff!) and gives me drink from still waters. This evening’s cantata interpolated: “das wohlschmeckend Gras seines heilsamen Wortes”—the tasty grass of His holy Word. That’s the good stuff that the Good Shepherd feeds His sheep—God’s Word, written, preached, spoken, and sung into your ears and so into your heart, into your soul, restoring your soul. You see, the Good Shepherd is all about feeding and caring for you—the whole you, the you that is alive in Him and that will live with Him forever.

But sheep are sheep, and sheep are prone to stray, even though their Shepherd leads them in paths of righteousness. Let’s face it: we sheep are incredibly fearful. It doesn’t take much to shake us, does it? A nasty rumor in the congregation, a painful setback at work, a doctor’s report that wasn’t what we expected, a family conflict that just seems to fester. And sheep wander. We have wandering eyes. We have wandering imaginations. We have wandering fears.

But you have a Good Shepherd. Even though you may wander through that deep, deep shadow of death, the Good Shepherd doesn’t wander. He sticks right with you, because he himself has already “been through that valley, done that death.” You see, the Good Shepherd became a lamb, like you; but unlike you, a lamb of sacrifice on Calvary’s altar—once, for all people, for all sins, for all time. As we heard in this evening’s reading: “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10). Or as we sang just moments ago:

From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever;
I am His because He gave me
His own blood
For my good,
By His death to save me. (LSB 756, stanza 4)



The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for you, now also prepares a lavish table for you. There, you see, the Shepherd becomes the Host . . . and the Meal. At the Good Shepherd’s banquet, he feeds you with his own body and blood, sacrificed for you on Calvary as the Lamb, now given you to eat and drink, for strength in the presence of your enemies. And he anoints your head with oil. Or, as this evening’s cantata interpolates: with the Holy Spirit, the oil of joy. St. Paul proclaims the Spirit’s anointing when he writes: “[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior . . .” (Titus 3:5) From table and font, your cup truly runneth over.

And so, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Once again, the cantata adds: “On earth, in the Christian community.” How remarkable, but not surprising! Luther said, “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA XII 2)—your Shepherd, the Shepherd who showers you with his goodness and loving-kindness, through his Word and his Sacraments, in your congregation this morning, here tonight, throughout your life . . . and forever. Yes, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The cantata adds: “with Christ, my Lord.” Christ says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish . . .” (John 10:27).

Just this last Wednesday, seventeen years ago, my mother was suddenly killed in an automobile accident. That was the day that my family and I were packed up and ready to move from Michigan to St. Louis. Our phones had been turned off, so Pastor Heckert from a nearby congregation drove over to deliver the news of a “homecoming,” as he put it. Instead of driving to a new home in St. Louis, we drove to rural Iowa to celebrate that “homecoming” at my mother’s funeral.

As I mentioned, all of this happened the week prior to All Saints’ Day, and so on All Saints’ Sunday, my family and I were gathered in the house of the Lord—there in rural Iowa, there at the table of the Good Shepherd. And we heard those words of the communion liturgy, words we had heard so many times before: “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .” “. . . with all the company of heaven . . .” That All Saints’ Sunday, I heard those words in a way that I had never heard them before—that the loved one I had suddenly lost was now with Jesus; and that Jesus was now with me, feeding me his very body and blood, for comfort in my time of sorrow. You see, together with Jesus, we are together with each other . . . and “with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .”

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Whether in this house, or in the halls of heaven, or at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come—the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep, feeds his sheep, abides with his sheep . . . “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

I.N.I. Amen.




Marriage as a Gift

Genesis 2:13-25
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2015


We do not always know how to pray, so Christ gives us words in the prayer He has taught us. You never have to doubt your prayer when the words are given by Christ Himself. That same wisdom gave birth to our hymnal. While no hymnal is divinely inspired, we are blessed when the liturgy we chant is taken from Scripture and when many of the hymns we sing have been sung by the faithful for centuries, standing the test of time. Our hymnal has passed through scrutinizing theological review to ensure that it will us faithfully. And does it ever serve us well! Consider the order of service for Holy Matrimony found on page 275. Following the invocation, you hear these wonderful words that capture the beauty of marriage. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and before His Church to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. This is an honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise, before humanity’s fall into sin.” Later, it continues, “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise.” In other words, marriage is a blessing, a gift from God.

Christ gave marriage to man and woman when there was no sin. That is just how blessed an estate it is; built into the fabric of God’s good creation. But creation is now fallen, tainted with sin. Still marriage remains God’s blessed, holy gift. From the fall, marriage has been under attack. Satan hates all of God’s gifts, but he has particular disdain for marriage. In the fall, Satan seeks to undo what God had done in marriage. The two became one flesh by God’s grace. At the fall, Adam turns on his wife. God calls Adam to account for his sin and what does he do? He blames his wife – “the woman whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit!” Instead of confessing marriage as a gift, Adam blames it for his fall. And Satan smiled in delight. Satan attacked marriage then and he’s still attacking marriage today. You see it all around us. It is symptomatic of how much sin has blinded our age that we have become confused about what has been understood throughout history. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. That has been under attack throughout the ages. Abraham looked outside his union with Sarah for a son. David perverted marriage by becoming culturally relevant by means of polygamy. But in our age, marriage has been redefined to be whatever you want. When marriage can mean everything, then it means nothing. Which shouldn’t surprise us because we are just like the hard-hearted folk of Moses’ day. Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce because of their hardness of heart. Can the age of no-fault divorce be any different?

We rightly point out where our age has gone astray. But are we willing to point out where we have gone astray? And we certainly have abused marriage because we are sinners. And that is what sinners do. The fall perverts our view of everything. It perverts the most central reality of marriage. Marriage is a gift; it is not a human invention to be manipulated and re-engineered. Marriage is a gift. More specifically, woman is a gift to man. God looked upon Adam and said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So the Lord created the woman and brought her to the man. Woman was given to man. Perhaps that is why I have observed men struggle more than women when a spouse dies. Certainly, losing a husband is hard for a loving wife. And certainly a husband is a gift from God to a woman. Yet I have discussed with other pastors how we often find a widower tied to his wife’s grave for months and years. Man needs woman. But that is perverted by some men to commandeer control over their wives, treating her as a servant rather than bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It happens in the Church as husbands will pervert God’s word so that they might justify their domineering control of their wives. The Biblical teaching of headship is used to force a wife into submission rather than to live in sacrificial love toward her. The Biblical teaching of the one-flesh union will be perverted into the requirement that she be available for his every physical demand.

Our perversion of marriage pours over into children. The Lord loves life, so He brings life from the one-flesh union as children are conceived and born. Today, we rejoice that the Lord’s gift of marriage has led to another child being brought to the font that she might be an heir of everlasting life. Still, in our sin, we have perverted the gift of children. On one hand, we commoditize children so that they are desired based upon economic stability or they are feigned because the economics are not right at this time. Others will overreact to such a de-valuation of children by turning them into a legalistic requirement of marriage. Children are not a commodity nor are they a burden of the law. Children are a gift within the one-flesh union.

If only that were the only way we have abused marriage. We have also treated it as an idol. That is the temptation with all of God’s gifts, pervert them to be the end-all rather than a gift from He who alone is our all. We have idolized marriage by seeing a man or a woman as somehow less without marriage. Similarly, we are tempted to see those one-flesh unions who have not been blessed with children as somehow less than those who have been given children. Was Jesus somehow less because He did not marry and did not father children? What about St. Paul?

Dignity, value and worth is found in one place. It is found in union with Christ. That allows for marriage to be seen in its proper light. Marriage is not for me to gain stature, dignity or whatever. Marriage is for me to serve another in a unique way. And if Christ has not united you with another, you can still serve others with all the beauty and dignity that is yours as a child of God. And if Christ has not blessed your one-flesh union with a child, you can still love and cherish your spouse faithfully and serve all those whom Christ has placed in your life.

Christ brings the woman to Adam who says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The depth and beauty of those words is only surpassed by God’s own words. “This is why a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” Two become one. It is a mystery. If you think you have “two become one” all figured out; you don’t. It is a mystery that transcends our understanding. It is like the two natures in Christ. He is at the same time fully human and fully divine. How can that be? It’s a mystery. It is like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons in one God. How can that be? It’s a mystery. I can no more wrap my mind around “two become one” than I can wrap my mind around the two natures in Christ or the Trinity. I cannot fully comprehend it; but I can confess it. I can love and cherish it.

Love and cherish the mystery of two become one because it is a reflection of the greater mystery which is the one-flesh union of Christ and His bride the Church. Jesus sealed His marriage to His bride by shedding His blood for her that she might be cleansed and made holy. Christ gives His body and blood under bread and wine to His Church that His union with His bride might be tangible and real. Christ binds Himself bodily to His bride. This is where we find answer to how our sinful age attacks marriage. You will honor marriage as the one-flesh union of man and woman until death parts them because it proclaims Christ’s union with the Church. Christian men, you will not domineer your wife, for Christ does not domineer His bride. He serves her, perfectly, selflessly, sacrificially, completely. Whether you are married or single, engaged or divorced, widowed or yearning for a spouse, with a herd of children or praying fervently for just one child to be given, you will look to one place for fulfillment; you will look to Christ. The union which makes you whole, complete, never in doubt about your value, confident in your place in this world and in the world to come is the union in which Christ unites Himself with you by His body and blood.

Rev. Kevin Golden, PhD
Pastor, Village Lutheran Church
Ladue, Missouri

Jesus Takes Care of His Family

A Sermon for Good Friday 2015
John 19:25–27

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

We’ve all been there, and if you haven’t yet, you will be. I’m speaking, of course, of the deathbed of a loved one.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a dear friend in the hospital with some brother pastors. We were there to sing hymns for our beloved professor, and it was great visit. But as we were leaving his room, a woman about my age came up and quietly asked whether we might be able to come to her mother’s room and sing there as well. So we did. Her mother was ninety-two. She was frail and unconscious, clearly nearing the end. And there at her deathbed, she was surrounded by her many children and grandchildren. The family was all there. And so was Jesus. You see, Jesus takes care of his family.

St. John is the only writer to record this intimate account of Jesus caring for his mother. The only other place where Mary is mentioned in John’s Gospel is at the very beginning, at the wedding at Cana, where she is alerted to the impending shortage of wine and tells Jesus, who replies: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” And yet Mary tells the wine stewards in faith: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4). You see, Mary knew that Jesus takes care of his family.

Mary knew that from the very beginning, when the angel spoke into her ears the incredible news of a child to be conceived in her womb by the power of the Most High, a child who would be called “holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And Mary’s faith received those words from the Lord, and the Son of God was thereby conceived in her womb. As we confess of Jesus,

“. . . conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died and was buried . . .” (Apostles’ Creed)

You see, Mary also knew of the pain that would come to her infant son. For at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at forty days old, Old Man Simeon had prophesied: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce through your own soul also . . .” (Luke 2:34–35).

Here, at Calvary, when Jesus’ hour had finally come, that “dagger to the heart” came to Mary also, as she beheld the son she once cradled in her arms—now beaten, mocked, and crucified as a common criminal, bleeding, and dying in agony. Yet, in the midst of all of that, Jesus took care of his family.

And Jesus takes care of you, too. For Mary and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” are a picture of you and me, a picture of Christ’s holy church, his family. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised his disciples (John 14:18). And he has not left you abandoned and alone in your sin. He has not left you alone to face death. He will not leave you alone at the deathbed of your loved one. And he will not leave you alone at own deathbed. For Jesus has already passed through death, for you. By his death and resurrection, Jesus has swallowed up death forever in victory (Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). And through your Baptism, you have been buried with him into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, you too might walk in newness of life. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4–5).

Jesus takes care of his family. As he took care of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, so also takes care of you and me, His Church. For “that same heart which began to beat in Mary’s womb and had been silenced on the cross, once again began to beat in that cold dark tomb, and it still beats to this very day. It still beats for you and me” (O.P. Kretzmann).


The Blood of the Martyrs

Martyrs“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Some 1800 years after Tertullian of Carthage wrote these words about Christian martyrdom at the time of Roman emperor, Septimus Severus, his prophetic utterance comes to mind at the news that radical Muslims murdered 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the same north African coast not 750 miles from Tertullian’s home. It is a sad reminder of the horrid conquest by Islam of the once thriving and dominant intellectual center of Christianity in North Africa. Pope Francis’ words were right. We, too, stand with all martyrs and confessors of Jesus, no matter what Christian church or confession. These men died with the words, “Jesus, help us!” on their lips. That is the fundamental confession of a genuine faith. We mourn with the Coptic community, not only in Egypt and North Africa, but here in the United States.

As Christians, we plead in prayer for secular leaders everywhere, and certainly for our own. We also plead in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith all over the globe, and particularly in the morass of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, Nigeria, and wherever else the irrationality of radical Islam and Islamic states threatens the lives of not only Christians, but also Jews and of anyone who dares to contradict the dictates of their insanity. As Christians we know Tertullian’s words are true. We know that, in the divine plan of the suffering and cross of Christ, the victory belongs to Christ. We know that martyrdom is the normal course of Christianity (Luke 21:12). “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9–10). Even as we know the Lord’s recompense must come, we will continue to pray for the souls of those who are possessed of the devilish delusion that such murderous action is pleasing to God. “Pray for those who persecute you,” is a mandate of the Savior (Matt. 5:44).

We also stand and bear witness to the genius of Luther’s two-kingdom doctrine. Religion and government are distinct. “Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts to hold property . . .” (Augsburg Confession XVI 1–2). “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI 58). “Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and secular, should not be mingled or confused” (Augsburg Confession XVIII 12). Governments do not possess authority over the mind and heart, and certainly not faith. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We seek no Christian government per se. We seek governments that recognize the basic and universal dignity of all people, the right of free speech for all people, and the right of freedom of faith and worship for all people and all religions. Such freedom guarantees the free course of the Gospel. Islam’s “one-kingdom” dogma—that is, that state and religion are one—is a gross confusion of what God has determined ought be distinct and separate, and it threatens not only Christianity but free intellectual discourse as well as the rational functioning of the state in carrying out its divinely mandated and rationally determined functions. The state exists for the protection of life, property, and freedom. The governing authorities, according to the Bible, “do not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). No soldier or government official is criticized for his vocation per se in the New Testament (Luke 3:14). Governments are to punish evil and wage just war. Wanton violation of the rights of Christians, and any and all citizens in this world, demands the recompense of legitimate authority.

By all accounts, Christianity in America is following the path it has taken in Europe. Luther, whose death we commemorate today (February 18), prophesied that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower, which comes for a time and then leaves. He correctly foretold that after a time in Germany, the Gospel would leave, and they would have Islam. That is coming true today, even as many German Muslims are converting to Christianity. The reason the Gospel passes away, according to Luther? Thanklessness (Luther’s Works, 23:261).

On this Ash Wednesday, and during this Lententide, may the horrid events of the past days in Libya and beyond, remind us of what a precious treasure the Gospel is and the freedom to believe and act upon it as we see fit. Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us ever thankful hearts.

Matthew C. Harrison
Ash Wednesday
February 18, 2015