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Be Still in the Fortress

October 29, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Be Still in the Fortress
Psalm 46

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this, the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, is from Psalm 46 (in case you were wondering why we spoke the psalm at a communion service). We’re going to focus on where the Psalmist writes, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. … “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

You may not have known, but this very psalm is the text upon which Luther based that famous hymn which we all just sang, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It is thought that Luther wrote that hymn in 1527, and around the same time that he wrote those now renowned words … a terrible disaster fell upon Wittenberg. The black death, the bubonic plague, had come. You’ve probably heard of the black death before, how this disease wiped out a quarter of Europe’s population during its height, and make no mistake – the moment the people of Wittenberg started to see blackened toes and fingers, they knew that death had come to visit their town.

John, the Elector of Saxony and a personal fan of Luther’s, exhorted the Reformer and all the students and staff at the university to flee to Jena, about 100 miles away. Five days later, the university did do just that, but Luther…remained unmoved. He, his family, and that of Johannes Bugenhagen, close friend and pastor to Luther, all chose to stay behind and suffer alongside those who faced the black death. At one point, the Luther’s turned their house into a makeshift hospital of sorts; you can imagine the suffering that the Luther’s saw, including their eldest son Hans (then only about a year-and-a-half old). People suffering from extreme flu-like symptoms. Mothers, include pregnant mothers, losing the baby and then losing their own lives. Otherwise healthy young men stranded in bed as their eyes sunk deeper into their sockets and developed black rings around them as death approached.

Luther was distraught – understandably so. Writing to a friend, Nicolaus Amsdorf, he finished his letter by writing, “So there are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen.” This was considerable suffering which Luther witnessed, and it was around this time that Luther commentated on our text for this day, Psalm 46. Hear what he wrote:

The 46th psalm is a psalm of thanks, sung by the people of Israel because of the mighty deeds of God. He had protected and saved the city of Jerusalem, in which was His dwelling, against all the rage and the fury of all the kings and the nations and preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons. And, in the manner of the Scriptures, the psalm calls the character of the city a little stream that shall not run dry, as opposed to the great rivers, seas, and oceans of the heathen – their great kingdoms, principalities, and dominions – that shall dry up and disappear.

Luther understood well what the Psalmist was expressing. No doubt, the author had seen his own fair share of atrocity, as Jerusalem was besieged time and again by foreign powers, by heathens who hated YHWH and His people. Nevertheless, rage though the nations would, they could not win. Regardless of how many lives were taken, how much suffering the people had to endure, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not completely abandon His people. He would guard them, vindicate them, and save them. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; [YHWH] utters His voice, the earth melts. Even in their wandering and sin, YHWH still kept His promise that a remnant would remain, and that the Messiah would come. So the people sing their praises for God’s righteousness, as Luther wrote, He “preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons.” He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.

And in the midst of all this violence, in the midst of the blood and the battle, the illness and the dying, the Psalmist writes, Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exhalted among the nations, I will be exhalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. The residents of Jerusalem had nothing to fear! Sure, the Philistines, or the Amorites, or Hittites, or Assyrians would rage and try to break down the walls of that great city, but YHWH would preserve His people. Why worry? The LORD God, our true fortress with walls that CANNOT be breached, is our God, and He is our fortress!

I confess this to be pure speculation, but I could imagine Luther reflecting on the bubonic plague’s three- to four-month stroll through the streets and homes of Wittenberg as he read this psalm. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. It was certainly true for the Israelites, because they were not completely annihilated for their transgressions and Christ was born from the tribe of Judah, just as YHWH had promised. For Luther, God certainly had been a refuge and strength, even as he was hidden behind the walls of Wartburg Castle, protected from the inquisition and bounty hunters who sought his head after he boldly spoke, “Here I stand” at the Diet of Worms. And miraculously, Almighty God preserved Luther and his household through that devastating epidemic; indeed, about a month after the plague had begun to noticeably recede, Katie gave birth to their second child, daughter Elizabeth.

God was, to Martin, a refuge and a fortress throughout all his life. It was how he could be still and know that YHWH is God, even as two of his daughters died at a young age. It’s how he was able to endure the vehemence, the hatred that came from Rome and his other many enemies. It’s how he was able to stand firm to the end, even confessing with his last words, “Wir sind Bettler; Hoc est verum.” It’s little wonder, then, that he wrote the words – again, based on Psalm 46 – Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us. We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us. This world's prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, He's judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress! That is an eternal truth, my friends. It was the same for Adam and Eve, for Israel, for the early Church. It was the same through the time of the Reformation, for our LCMS forbears when they left Saxony for unknown dangers of the Missouri wilderness, and let me tell you, it’s the same for us, here and now, as we face a world of uncertainties, of new dangers, and insecurity and anxiety. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. For all of human history, God has preserved His people with His promises. He has given them the means by which sins are forgiven, and they are preserved within His flock. Israel had the sacrificial system and the promises of the Messiah, both of which were fulfilled in Christ Jesus, Who was and is the singular sacrifice, once for all. Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross was all-sufficient, to redeem you and me and all of humanity. It’s done! We bear the burden of our sin no more! The walls of YHWH’s fortress is painted in the blood of the Lamb of God, and you are safe within those walls! He has claimed you as His own, and no one will be able to break down those blood-cleansed walls to snatch us away!

It's true, there are many things that distinguish our time and place from that of Luther’s. Still, though, there’s a reason why we hold to the truths Luther rediscovered: it’s because they’re timeless. He finished his commentary on Psalm 46 by writing, “We, on the other hand, sing this psalm to praise God for being with us. He miraculously preserves His Word and Christendom against the gates of hell, against the rage of the devil, the rebellious spirits, the world, the flesh, sin, death. Our little spring is also a living fountain, while their puddles, pools, and ponds become foul, malodorous, and dry.”

It doesn’t matter what the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh tries to do. We are covered in Christ’s blood! Our sins are forgiven! The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth. Whatever this world can throw at us, we can bear because the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. And what a mighty Fortress He is!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

The False Dilemma

October 22, 2017
By Pastor David French

 

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The False Dilemma
Matthew 22:15-22

You’ve heard me say it before and will no doubt hear me say it again but context is always an important factor to consider as we listen to a text. Now to understand just how bizarre the situation is in today’s Gospel, we need to look at the societal context of Jerusalem. In our lesson we heard that some disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians came to Jesus. Since most of us have never met any Herodians or Pharisees, we probably don’t realize how strange that is.

One of the many things that you can say about the Pharisees is that they were extremely nationalistic. They believed that Jerusalem should be ruled by Jews, not by gentiles. After all, the law of Moses states, [Deuteronomy 17:15] One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.

So, the Pharisees hated the Roman occupation. Now they were also realistic enough to understand that Rome had a lot of power and they weren’t in a position to force them out. On the other hand, if someone presented a reasonable plan to get Rome out of Israel, they would certainly help in any way they could.

The Herodians were just the opposite. As you might guess by their name, they supported Herod. Herod was a puppet king of the Roman Empire. The Romans had put his father in power and they kept him in power after his father died. The Herod family was not Jewish. So, if you were a Herodian, you were a fan of Herod, and, since Herod was a puppet of Rome, you were by association a fan of the Roman occupation.

Normally, the Pharisees and the Herodians were at each other’s throats … if not literally, certainly figuratively. The fact that these two groups worked together to attack Jesus tells you something about how much Jesus was hated. But they had a plan.

The idea was to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. They asked Jesus a question that was designed to get Him into trouble: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? If he answered yes, then all those who hated the Roman occupation would turn against Him. If He answered no, then the Herodians would report Him to the Romans to be arrested. If He didn’t answer, then the crowd would label Him as a coward. The Herodians and the Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped.

Of course, it is not so easy to trap Jesus in His words. Jesus saw the error in their thinking; that is, they were focused on Herod instead of God. So there is a third answer given as Jesus says: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

The Gospels record many plans to trap Jesus by His enemies and we’re no doubt tempted to believe that Jesus won all these debates because well He was such an excellent debater. We’re tempted to believe that it was His superior skill and divine knowledge that won all these debates.

And while Jesus was the perfect human being and had flawless thought, that was not His main advantage. His main advantage was that He knew the truth and He never wavered from it. Making your case based on truth gives anyone a tremendous advantage over those who depend on lies.

You see the opponents of Jesus in today’s Gospel engaged in a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. The fallacy is that it falsely offers only two possible alternatives even though a wide range of possibilities exist. His opponents offered two possibilities: either you pay your taxes or you don’t. Jesus simply exposed their faulty reasoning by showing that there actually were other answers.

That is we can pay our taxes, give our offerings, and care for our families. God is gracious enough to give us the resources to do all three and maybe even have a little left over for recreation.

But make no mistake there are still many who face false dilemmas to this day. One that involves our very salvation is the dilemma between self-righteousness and despair. It goes something like this. And please remember this is a fallacy.

We read the Bible; that God gives us a lot to do. So do you do what God says, that is are on the road to heaven, or are you not doing what God says and on the road to hell? This false dilemma is all that many unbelievers have every heard about Christianity. They’ve never been taught there is another way. All they’ve heard is good guys go to heaven and bad guys go to hell. So, are you good enough or not?

This is the false dilemma of the law. I can deny the truth of my sin and insist that I am one of the good guys that go to heaven … but this is self-righteousness and directly contradicts God’s word found for example in John’s first epistle: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Or: If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us. Or again Jesus saying to the rich you fool when he calls out good teacher, why do you call me good, there is ono one good but God.

To even think: I hope I’m good enough to go to heaven is a thought born of pride and is nothing but sin. Continuing on that path is lying to yourself and calling God a liar.

The other option according to this false dilemma is total honesty about your sin and believing there is simply no hope for you so what’s the point. This is despair. Here too, there is a strange sort of pride … the belief that my sin is more powerful than Christ blood shed on the cross … for me. That my sin is so great that there is nothing even God can do about it. In the case of Judas, his despair was so great that he took justice into his own hands and hung himself.

What peace there is when first we learn that the two choices offered by the law are a false dilemma. Just as Jesus provided a third answer to the Pharisees and Herodians, He provides a third answer for all to the false dilemma of the law.

In Divine Service 1 immediately after we are directed to our baptism into Christ with the invocation and the sign of the cross, we are reminded of our sin and God’s promise from 1 John as we recite: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. You see God gave us a third answer to our dilemma when He sent Son to be our Savior.

Jesus is the one who makes a third answer possible because Jesus actually did what God gave Him to do. He kept God’s law perfectly. Then He went to the cross to take the punishment we deserve for failing to keep God’s law perfectly. He by His life and death provided the only way that avoids both self-righteousness and despair.

And He did that by earning forgiveness for all and freely offering that blood bought forgiveness to all through His Word and Sacraments. You see in Jesus Christ there is another way, that is Jesus is the way, the way of forgiveness and mercy, the way of peace and hope, the way of truth the way that by God’s grace you and I and all God’s children rare brought to life everlasting.

In His Name, Amen

Gathered Guests and Wedding Clothes

October 15, 2017
By Martin Luther

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A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French
Matthew 22:1-14

This Gospel presents to us the parable of the wedding; therefore, we are compelled to understand it differently than it sounds and appears to the natural ear and eye. Hence, we will give attention to the spiritual meaning of the parable.

First, the King, who prepared the marriage feast, is our heavenly Father. The bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ. The bride is the Christian Church on earth. God first sent out his servants, the Prophets to invite guests to this wedding; they were to bid them by preaching only faith in Christ. But those invited did not come; they were the Jews, to whom the Prophets were sent, they would not hear nor receive those sent to them. At another time he sent other servants, the Apostles and martyrs, to bid us to come saying: Behold, I have made ready my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come to the marriage feast.

These words beautifully introduce examples by which the doctrine of the Gospel may be confirmed, so that we may the better, by the aid of such examples meditate upon Christ, and be nourished by and feast upon him as upon fatlings and well-fed oxen. This is the reason he calls them fatlings. Take an example: Paul teaches in Rom. 3, 23f. how the bride is full of sin and must be sprinkled by the blood of Christ alone, or she will continue unclean, that is, she must only believe that the blood of Christ was shed for her sins, and there is no other salvation possible.

Follow now further in this Gospel: “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them.” These are the three barriers that prevent us from coming to the marriage feast. The first, or the farm, signifies our honor; it is a great hindrance that we do not think of Christ and believe in him; we fear we must suffer shame and become dishonored, and we do not believe that God can protect us from shame and preserve us in honor.

second go to their spheres of business, that is, they fall with their hearts into their worldly affairs when they should cleave to the Word, they worry lest they perish and their stomachs fail them; they do not trust God to sustain them.

The third class are the worst, they are the high, wise and prudent, the exalted spirits, they not only despise but martyr and destroy the servants; in order to retain their own honor and praise, yea, in order to be something. They were the Pharisees and scribes, who put to death both Christ and his Apostles, as their fathers did the Prophets. These are much worse than the first and second, who, although they despised and rejected the invitation, yet then went away and neither condemned nor destroyed the servants.

It now follows: “Then saith he to his servants: The wedding is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy.” “Then he said to them: Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast.” Hence, they went out into the highways, namely, to us heathen, and gathered us together from the ends of the world into a congregation, in which are good and bad.

Then the King goes in to behold the guests. This will take place on the day of judgment, when the King will let himself be seen. Then he will find one, not only a single person, but a large company not clothed with a wedding garment, that is, with faith. These are pious people the ones who have heard and understood the Gospel, yet they cleaved to certain works. To them the King will say: “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness,” that is, he condemns their good works, that they no longer avail anything; for the hands signify their work, the feet, their walk in life, and he will then cast them into the outer darkness.

Now, this outer darkness is in contrast with the inner light, since faith alone must see within the heart. There our light, our reason must be covered and cease, and faith alone lighten us. For if a person will act according to reason, there is nothing but death, hell and sin before his eyes. Reason then considers itself a candidate for death; yet it finds no help in any creature, all is a desert and dark. Therefore, reason must despair and surrender itself as a captive to the light of faith alone. This same light then sees that it is God in heaven who cares for us, upon whom the heart can meditate, who rejects all aid of reason and depends upon no creature; then man will be sustained. Now this is the sense of the words, that those cast thus into outer darkness will be robbed of faith, and thus cast out.

Let us now briefly notice what is taught by this marriage feast. First, this marriage feast is a union of the divine nature with the human. And the great love Christ has for us is presented to us in this picture of the wedding feast. For there are many kinds of love, but none is so fervent as the love a new bride has to her bridegroom, and on the other hand, the bridegroom’s love to the bride. True bridal love has no regard for presents, or riches, or gold rings and the like; but cares only for the bridegroom. And if he even gave her all he had, she would regard none of his presents, but say: I will have only thee. And if on the other hand he has nothing at all, it makes no difference with her, she will in spite of all desire him. That is the true nature of the love of a bride.

This true bridal love God presented to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. Now, as the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on the other hand will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. And although he gave us even heaven, the wisdom of all the Prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, yet we would not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied by nothing but the bridegroom himself; as she says in the Song of Solomon, 2, 16: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” She cannot rest until she has her beloved himself.

So also is Christ on the other hand disposed toward us: he will have us only, and besides nothing. And if we gave him even all we could, it would be of no use to him; he would have no regard for it, even if we wore all the hoods of all the monks. He wants our whole heart; for the outward things, as the outward virtues, are only maid servants, he wants the wife herself.

And what do we present to him? An impure bride, a dirty, old, wrinkled outcast. But he is the eternal wisdom, the eternal truth, the eternal light, an exceptionally beautiful youth. What does he give us then? Himself, wholly and completely, the whole fountain of eternal wisdom. If then I am thus his and he mine, I have eternal life, righteousness and all that belongs to him. Therefore I am righteous, saved, and in a sense that neither death, sin, hell, nor Satan can harm me. If he gave me only a part of his wisdom, righteousness and life, I would say: That is of no help to me, I want all of thee, without thee nothing is real and true. When he gives me his servants, his Prophets, he gives me only a part and a morsel; the gifts are only concubines, among whom there is only one who is the true bride.

And, what do we bring to him? Nothing but all our heart-aches, misfortunes, sins, misery and lamentations. He is the eternal light, we the eternal darkness; he is life, we are death; he righteousness, we sin. This is a marriage that is very unequal. But what does the bridegroom do? He is so fastidious that he will not dwell with his bride until he first adorns her in the highest degree. How is that done? The Apostle Paul teaches in Tit. 3, 5-6: “He gave his tender body unto death for them and sprinkled them with his holy blood and cleansed them through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” That washing is baptism, with which he makes her clean. More than this, he has given to her his Word by which she is clothed and through her faith she becomes a bride.

But whoever has not on the wedding garment does not belong to the congregation, is filth, like the slime, pus, and ulcers in the body; it is indeed in the body, but it is no part of the healthy body. Counterfeits are among money, but they are not money; chaff is among the wheat, but it is not wheat; so there are those among Christians, but they are not Christians. This is sufficient on to- day’s Gospel. Let us pray God for grace, that none of us may come to such a precious and glorious marriage feast without a wedding garment. Amen


 

Counting the Cost

October 08, 2017
By Pastor David French

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Counting the Cost
Philippians 3:4b-14

When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson about loss and gain we tend to think in economic terms and how we come out in the end. Now our context tells us that’s not the case but still in our own sinful hearts we do the math if you will to work out our salvation. Truth is the word Paul uses for gain is better understood in the sense of winning a race. And when he speaks of loss, he’s using a word that carries with it the idea of suffering violence. Clearly, Paul is not talking about economics but a willingness to suffer things that are hazardous to his health and well-being and that all for the sake of Christ.

But still we do all too often show what has top-billing in our hearts by how we use our money. If a problem arises in life, even within the life of the church, we tend to either throw some money at it or complain about not having enough money to throw at it.

But, like I said, this isn’t a lesson about economics, this is a lesson about you. So, I’ll ask the obvious question: What are you willing to lose? What do you count as loss for the sake of knowing Christ as your Savior?” … See how easy it is for the Word of Gospel that Paul speaks here to be turned, with the holiest of intentions, into Law. That is into something that you must do, something that can only condemn you.

See how quickly these words of loss and gain are translated into synergistic terms; that is – you were no doubt already thinking about what you could or perhaps already have given up for your salvation, as though you’ve done some noble deed for God. My friends always keep in mind the words of Luke 17 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

Honestly, I cringe when I hear questions like: What are you willing to surrender and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Beside the fact that questions like that are not faithful to this text or the doctrines of grace and justification, in general, still I would caution you to be very careful before you answer such questions because your words and actions will betray your good intentions. We may not like to admit it; we may not even be aware of it, but there is a huge disconnect between what we’d like to believe is our reality and what our reality really is. And when I say reality I mean from God’s perspective.

Certainly, we’d all like to think of ourselves as those who would be willing to suffer the same fate as those modern-day Christian martyrs, who’ve literally been be-headed by instruments of satan for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ. And while none of us wants to be martyred, still we’d all like to believe that we also would kneel down and let our blood be spilt for the name of Christ.

But what I see in our culture is that most aren’t willing to give up a few hours’ sleep for their faith. Not many will chance losing even a Facebook friend over something as “subjective” as their faith or the doctrines of the church. Many are afraid to speak the clear truths of Scripture because well, offending someone is the greater sin. Honestly, more often than not it seems to me what we’re willing to lose is the truth.

The thing is - our text is not about what you should be willing to lose for the sake of Christ. To be sure it is often taught that way turning it into nothing more than a sales pitch to getting people to surrender “all” to up-grade their seat at the heavenly banquet. Many Christians today are brow-beaten and shamed into thinking that they haven’t given up enough to gain the heavenly prize, and the result of that is, satan rejoices!

dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Believe it or not this lesson isn’t about you. It’s not a prescription for better Christian living but a description of what Christ has already given up for you! This is about all that our heavenly Father gave up to gain your salvation! Our God completely forsook or gave up His only-begotten Son to pay for your sin so that life eternal could be freely offered to you and to all. That’s reality! Remember you weren’t just lost—you were a spiritually dead and condemned creature.

Jesus humbled Himself and suffered the greatest loss for your eternal gain. Your sins, even the so called “little ones” that many don’t even think of as sin because “everyone does that,” like say not honoring but taking your father and mother for granted, that one sin alone is so great before God that only the blood of Christ could take it

as we grow in our understanding of ourselves and God’s mercy that the words of St. Paul begin to make sense to our ears. That’s why I love Paul’s statement: … that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. You see “… by any means possible is not Paul’s way of saying that he’ll do whatever it takes to get to heaven.

When Paul says: “by any means possible” he actually is making a very profound statement of humble faith and trust in His eternal God and Father. When, whatever this life has to offer is looked at through the lens of the cross he understands how useless it really is, that it’s rubbish, literally dung.

That means that whatever may befall us in this life is truly not worth comparing to what is already ours in Christ. For Paul … by any means possible is another way of saying, “I’m okay with whatever God has in store for me because I know that God is working all things for the good of His church. And if that means that Paul has to suffer before God brings him home, then so be it.

That’s what “trust in God above all things” looks and sounds like in real life. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it’s not something that can be commanded or coerced or taught. This “sanctified trust” is a blessed fruit of faith in Christ alone.

Here is Christ Jesus…for you! Here is the One who lost everything for you that you by grace thorough faith might gain everything from Him. The Gospel reality of “Christ crucified for you” is the life-giving seed we sow, the seed that by Gods’ grace and nurturing takes root in your heart and springs up to bear the fruit of faith.

A faith so real that even when you doubt in your sinful mind God’s gift of faith in our heart firmly trust in Him in good times and in bad times, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until finally death separates us from this veil of tears and face to face we are reunited with our eternal groom in His heavenly Kingdom.

But until that day forgetting what is behind we press forward in faith. Will we ever run this race of life in the faith perfectly? No, we can all honestly own the words of our lesson: Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect … but that’s not the point, as you know Christ has already paid for all sins. We run not counting the cost because with Paul Christ Jesus has made us His own.

In His Holy Name, Amen.

United

October 01, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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United
Philippians 2:1-18

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, where Paul writes to his beloved friends in Philippi, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

One watches the news at one’s own risk these days. If you dare to brave those channels and websites, you’re likely to be bombarded by messages bemoaning the current state of affairs in our world, proclaiming a doom-and-gloom message in a sort of twisted anti-Gospel. There are murders … epic and spectacular natural disasters … and everywhere, there is division. On the international stage, countries continue to debate over the best way to disarm a belligerent North Korea, as some proclaim that “more extreme economic sanctions” will pummel the hermit-state into submission, while others worry that the only language Kim Jong Un understands is force. Europe is tearing apart at the seams, with Britain having left the European Union and others contemplating similar action. The Spanish region of Catalonia is seeking secession, and the Spanish government is pulling out all the stops to ensure that doesn’t happen, even deploying soldiers to barricade polling stations.

In our country, terror groups like Antifa, the KKK, and BLM are causing an uproar, seeking to stoke the flames of revolution and anarchy. You see movements from atheist and LGBT-whatever groups seeking to end any protections of conscience one may enjoy by forcing them to affirm actions that are contrary to nature. Most recently, I’m sure you’ve seen our nation divide over the actions of NFL players as they protest … well, something. I remember what Colin Kaepernick was protesting about a year ago, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess as to what they are protesting now.

Our nation is divided, in ways that we haven’t seen since the mid-19th Century and the bloody Civil War that tore our country apart. I wish I could say that this is something new, but it’s not. Division among humanity has always existed, even in the early Church. Congregations split on different issues – in Galatia, it was whether or not radically Jewish Christians should be supported in their “Judaizing” efforts to make keeping the Jewish customs also a prerequisite for salvation. In Corinth, the congregation there had numerous issues, to say the least, among them what to do about Christians who engage in sexual immorality. Idolatry and sexual immorality, likewise, snuck into the church at Thyatira, and Sardis is described as appearing to be alive, but due to the lack of faith, was actually dead. Divisions in the Church were then, as they are now, deadly serious business. So it’s little wonder, then, that Paul has such a love for the congregation of believers at Philippi, who seem to have been united.

Paul starts his letter to this incredibly generous church by saying, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. These people were wholly committed to Paul and his mission, but more than that, to the purpose and focus of his mission: the propagation of the Good News of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. These are people that Paul had known to be united in their commitment to missionary work, in their area and abroad, and Paul could not be more relieved.

This is why, in our text, he writes, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. We may be tempted to read ourselves into those “if” statements, as if we are the ones who have these things among us of ourselves, but it would be wrong to do so. The subject of all of these verbs – the comforting from love, the communing in the spirit, having affection and sympathy, mercy and pity, these are all attributed to Christ. It is Christ’s love that is comforting, and it is the result of this fact that the Philippians fill Paul with joy, with relief, with removal of a burden that he would feel for them, because they are adhering to this Gospel and not another. They are acting with one mind, thinking on Jesus, and by doing so, they are being harmonized, united by Christ in their belief and confession.

They are being encouraged, as Paul later says, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. That may sound suspiciously like works-righteousness, but that word “to work out” in the Greek carries with it another meaning – one, frankly, that the editors should have selected instead. It can also mean “to produce,” the same way that a farmer produces a crop. It’s not him actually doing anything, since he is at the mercy of the elements, but simply gathers the fruits. The Philippians are being encouraged to produce their faith, their salvation by making confession of this and nothing else for their salvation. That is where their unity comes from: their common confession. Paul is encouraging them to let nothing and no one come in the way of the congregation’s desire to make this clear Gospel confession the most prominent thing that they are known for: We believe that Jesus died for our sins and we believe that He’s coming again. That was Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, and history shows that his prayers were answered and his hope was well-founded.

Paul’s words certainly transcend time and space, as we sit here today and ponder his words of encouragement, but I’m sure they may carry a twinge of sting with them. It’s very easy to allow divisions to creep in. After all, we are all sinners, and like all sinners, we do often have self-seeking agendas and ulterior motives. We are prideful, self-serving, turned inward upon ourselves – I suppose we take the American ideal of rugged individualism and bring forth the worst of it. We look to how things can better our stations in life. “That’s great,” we think, “but what do I get out of it?” Perhaps that’s the reason that Paul also includes, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Knowing what we do about our sinful selves, understanding and acknowledging our sinful and helpless estate, how could we do other than to count ourselves as the chief of sinners, utterly ashamed and thankful for God’s love for us in spite of our sin. True humility is the remedy for the egocentric, just as unity of confession is the cure for division – not in and of itself, but only and always when the reason for the humility and confession is Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected.

Our world is divided to be sure, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry looking to their own interests, and to hell with everyone who stands in their way. We are not to be this way as Christians; however, when we are, we have been given a different heart and mind – one that repents at wrongdoing, rejoices in service to others, and confesses the hope we have in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, who will return. At that time, when Jesus finally does return, Paul tells us of the unity of all flesh in resurrection, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. May He preserve us in this one true unifying faith, this single confession, so that we bow, not in terror, but in reverence, with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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