Jon’s Posts

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4–11

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.

 

Water always wins

In a deeply personal narrative, the Rev. Steve Schave, associate executive director, LCMS Office of International Mission, offers a powerful witness to the calling we have as children of God to proclaim the Gospel and share the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, particularly in the face of a devastating event. Schave recently returned from a week in the Philippines, where he served as a member of the LCMS advance disaster response team responding to a call for assistance from our partner church, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Below is that narrative.

 


 

Mud, blood, tears . . . and hope.

I have served as an inner city pastor acquainted with crime and violence. I have served as a hospital chaplain familiar with trauma and death. I have served as a prison minister experiencing some pretty rough criminal elements. I have also served as a disaster relief coordinator witnessing devastation and grief. But nothing could have prepared me for what I would witness in the Philippines. The chaos, the mourning, the whole-scale destruction and desperate need. I went to represent our Synod, to offer our support and concern to our partner church there and to ensure smooth operations were maintained with our Manila office, our missionaries from the Asia Pacific region and our Mercy Operations team. I thought our team might be the equivalent of a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue. But once we found ourselves in the areas that were affected the most, surrounded by endless cries for help and insurmountable unmet basic needs, all I could feel was empathy . . . and pure, unadulterated helplessness.

Surely I would be a changed man, fully aware of the weakness of our human frailty. When I sit at the dinner table, will the memory of a family kitchen turned watery grave be etched in my memory? When I embrace my children upon my return, will I hear the echoes of the father’s account of his children being snatched from his arms by wind and wave? When I walk down the halls of my kids’ school, will I see the faces of hundreds of beautiful children who lined the streets with their hands out begging for food to survive? Will I ever forget the smell of death that enveloped me, the sights of family members sifting through rubble to find the ones they love and the body bags placed on the curb among the debris to be taken away? Can I process the sheer force with which the inescapable beauty of a garden paradise was now covered by a thick layer of the deadly effect of sin, where so many were still reeling from the effects of a recent earthquake? Filled with images of God’s wrath and judgment, with doubts and fears, they were left to ask, “Why”? So much suffering: where to begin in this land of mud, blood and tears? A whole island ravaged: where to begin?

Where else can we begin . . . but the cross? The place where God meets us in our suffering and sorrow. In unspeakable grief and indescribable devastation, we find the mercy of God in His Son, the crucified Christ. At the place of the skull on Mt. Calvary, a hill covered in mud, blood, sweat and tears, the anchor of God’s grace was dropped into the depths of hell and death. Even as I stood at what can only be described as the gates of hell, I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.

A young man approached me as I stood at ground zero of Typhoon Yolanda (where they were still recovering bodies after 10 days with no end in sight). Seeing my clerical shirt and the crucifix that draped my neck, he asked me if I was a priest. I explained that I was a Lutheran pastor. Knowing then that I was one of Christ’s men, he asked, “Sir, would you come and pray for my dead.” I asked for the baptismal names of the three deceased family members, and while not expecting to be in this situation, I quickly turned to the end of the Commendation of the Dying in the Pastoral Care Companion that I had in hand. In this liturgy was a prayer of baptism, redemption, resurrection and a return to the garden paradise in a new creation restored. In this liturgy is the beautiful Nunc Dimittis that we so often sing after communion along with saints and angels. With it we announce to the world and the devil himself that we have received Christ’s body and blood, and we have seen our salvation and are ready to depart from this world in peace. We await the great reunion that is to come with all those who died in the faith before us. Those whom, even though it might seem they slipped through our fingers, we will once again embrace.

At one of the churches we visited, the nearby residents took refuge beneath the altar when the storms hit. Indeed, when we find our refuge at the altar, there is no tempest or whirlwind that can sweep us away because our hope is anchored in Christ. In Him alone are we ready to face the Son of Justice who sits on the throne of judgment. On Good Friday, the earth shook and the waters poured, as Christ bore the full wrath of God against sin. As a result, we can stand at the gates of death and hell, but they will not prevail. We will storm the gates, bringing Christ with us.

So here we find our place to begin on a ravaged island with that which is in most scarce supply — hope. Working with our missionaries, our church partners and our disaster response team, we will give not only shelter, food and water, but the water that gives eternal life — water that allows us to never thirst. We will give the food and drink that offer forgiveness, life and salvation that we would hunger no more. We will give shelter that is not only temporary, but an eternal dwelling place. We will give the Good News of Christ crucified and risen again and the message of how God can use all things for good. Yes, this may have been the strongest recorded typhoon in which 7 feet of water passed through the streets in front of one of our partner churches, carrying homes and bodies, but when the Word of God is attached to the water of Baptism, there is no stronger force on this earth. With all the strength of Noah’s flood or the walls of the parted Red Sea that came crashing down, the water of Baptism drowns our sinful nature and rescues us from death and the devil. It connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection, so that like Lazarus, Christ will one day call us from our tombs; the smell of death will no longer be able to cling to us, but only the sweet aroma of eternal life.

Let there be no doubt, brothers and sisters in Christ, there is hope in the Philippines. We saw it in the smiling faces of the brothers and sisters in the faith who were there. We heard it when they spoke of how God gave His only Son, and if that was all they had, it would be enough. We shared in it when we sat at their tables, and they gave to us from what little they had. We participated in it as we gathered together around God’s Word. There is hope, and you, too, can be a part of it. You can help your Synod to work with the Lutheran Church in the Philippines to pick up the pieces of so many shattered lives and lost livelihoods. With the right team in place, your Synod was able to get to the most affected areas bringing the most needed resources and spiritual care to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. This is what the body of Christ does–it bears one another’s burdens, it suffers together, it brings relief and it comforts. This is what God does–He turns panic into fervent hope, and He turns chaos, violence and danger into order, peace and safety. Yes, even from out of death, God brings new life in the most storm-torn nation . . . AND YOU CAN HELP.

Prayerfully consider joining with your baptized brothers and sisters in Christ to share the baptized hope that is in Christ Jesus. You can make a Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3) gift to the LCMS Global Mission fund at http://www.lcms.org/givenow/givingtuesday. To share hope with typhoon victims in the Philippines or tornado victims in Illinois, visit www.lcms.org/disaster. Together as the Synod, we can make a difference.

— Rev. Steve Schave

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