Doxology Rockford Wednesday Morning Prayer Homily_1-18-2012

Doxology Rockford    Confession/St. Peter   Luke 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

When our Lord has His ministry, it is always about Him and His glory.

It is the observance of the Confession of St. Peter, and I freely admit that the confession of St. Peter you just heard was not the Confession of St. Peter you expected to hear.  You expected to hear Matt. 16, when Peter got it so gloriously right…only to get it so spectacularly wrong.  A lesson might be learned there.  Even when Jesus is the Son of God to us, we still fashion Him according to our sensibilities.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” might still be a little removed from salvation through a crucified Son of God.

So my little divergence from the assigned text for the day is not a careless, freestyling, disregard for the Church’s Lectionary.  The roots of Peter’s profound confession in Matt. 16 are planted in the ground of his remarkably humble confession of sins in Luke 5.  Today certainly is “The Confession of St. Peter” and it is not wrong for us to consider his first confession and its connection to his great confession.

You see, Peter is all about “you” and “me.”  No.  That’s not some sort of contrived way of saying we’re just like him, although this is true.  What I’m actually saying is something quite different.  With so many of Peter’s well known utterances, it’s interesting to watch his use of first person and second person personal pronouns.  For Peter, it’s all about his use of the words “I,” “me,” “my” and “you” and “your.”  He does it quite a lot…and therein lies the full force of his confessions, both of sin and of faith.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is a confession which was born on the day of our text, the day Jesus reeled in Peter and began making a fisher of men of him.  To paraphrase him just a little, his conversation with Jesus in Luke began as “Whatever you say,  MASTER, we’ll go fishing” and ended with “Go away from me, LORD, for I am a sinful man.”  All the pronouns match up rightly with the object to which they refer.  Peter’s you goes from being referred to as “master” to the more faithful title “Lord.”  Peter’s 1st person pronouns simply confess sin and a basic unworthiness to be in the presence of the divine YOU.

So how is that Peter’s personal pronouns can get so turned around at times?  On the boat in the fourth watch of the night, doubt crept in and caused Peter to go into the subjunctive voice, a voice Peter doesn’t live in comfortably.  “Lord, if it is you…”  When confessing Christ as Lord, the words “if” and “you” do not go together.  And when Jesus turns on the 2nd person He doesn’t use any pronouns.  I suppose it’s because It’s not about you.  It’s also quite withering.  “O little faithed ones!  Why did you doubt?”  Do you remember their confession?  “Truly you are the Son of God.”

When our Lord has his ministry, it’s always about Him and to His glory.  It is not about you and Peter demonstrates that all we can really say for ourselves is that we are sinful men, plagued with doubts, and given to recasting the Son of God in more worldly and faithless ways.  No, when Jesus is our Son of God, He is who He is.  He is the Son of God who goes to the cross and dies for Peter.  “This shall never happen to you” actually did happen to Him.  “I will certainly also die with you” most definitely did not.  Some things you and I can’t fathom, ergo these same things you and I can’t do.  The cross and the empty tomb being prime examples #1.  You, O Christ, are Lord.  You, O Christ, are the Son of the Living God.  I, O Lord, am a sinful man.  Peter preached, “You crucified Him who was Messiah and Lord.”

“Fear not” Jesus says to us today.  I am the Lord.  I am the Son of God.  I am the suffering Savior.  I am the Risen Christ.  Today I make of you my disciples, my freely forgiven people.  Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, each and every one of you for the forgiveness of sins.  For the promise is for you and your children.”  But make no mistake about it.  He is for you…which means it’s really all about Him.  When our Lord has His ministry, it’s really all about Him and to His glory.  Thus, it is a Doxology.  AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


Doxology Rockford Tuesday Matins Homily And Audio_1-17-2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

When our Lord does His ministry, He never does it halfway.

The “devil’s hermeneutic” aims ultimately at rejection of Christ.  More often than any of us probably care to admit, that rejection begins by getting well-meaning Christians to imagine a God who meets us halfway.  A God who did His thing, many centuries ago, and now beckons us to do our thing.  Once that fruit is consumed, rejection is never very far away.

One might be tempted to look at Saul’s journey to Damascus this way.  Christ had died and risen and had even met Saul somewhere on the way to Damascus.  The mistake is in thinking that, after striking Saul blind, it was now somehow up to Saul.  By extension, the devil’s hermeneutic likes to suggest that somewhere on the way to heaven, Christ meets us.  After that meeting, it’s all up to us.

When our Lord does His ministry, He never does it halfway.  That’s because when our Lord does His salvation, He never does that halfway either.  There’s nothing halfway about seeing, being blinded, and then seeing again.  There’s nothing halfway about dead in trespasses and being raised to new life either.  You and I were not asked to meet Christ halfway on these things.  Indeed, you cannot meet Him halfway on these things.  The language of our text, indeed, the language of all of Holy Scripture, puts to death such notions.  You were blind.  You were dead.  You were an enemy of God.  Christ did not come into the world to enable you.  He came, rather, to kill you.  When David prays in the Psalms for vindication against His enemies, is that not a marvelous illustration of the justice of God which kills in order to raise to new life?  There’s nothing halfway about any of it.

So Saul thought he was on his way to Damascus to “get the saved.”  He had no idea that he was actually traveling there to “get saved.”  That was Christ’s business, carrying out his justice on murderous Saul.  The risen Christ came to kill.  He didn’t kill Saul’s body.  He killed only one part of it.  But a life without eyes is a very difficult life indeed.  Dependent on his traveling companions, dependent ultimately on Christ; this is Saul’s condition.  All he could see now was what the Risen Christ was showing him.

I suspect that if you and I were ever struck blind, even temporarily, the only thing we would think about is what it was we saw last and what exactly that must mean.  Blind Saul had seen the Risen Christ…and that surely must have caused a lot of thought in the midst of his fasting and prayer.  I wouldn’t go very mathematical here, but if you can imagine the arrow symbol, which is used in mathematics for production:  A Risen Christ points to Christ is the Son of God points to the Son of God died.  The Son of God died in order to rise again…and everything is set in reverse.  He came to be killed and rise again.  He came to Saul to kill Saul and raise Him up.  In Saul’s physical blindness, Christ made one thing perfectly clear.  This is all about Christ.  There was nothing more to do than to pray and fast.  Then to rise and receive the gifts.  The new life is all the gifts.

When our Lord does his ministry, He never does it halfway.  The pastor is purely the instrument through which Christ works.  Saul would become Paul and Christ would work wonders through that instrument.  All glory and praise be to God.  Christ comes to you today and kills you.  The new man He raises to life in the forgiveness of sins is His possession, called to His service, bringing all glory and honor to Him.

Paul wrote to another pastor these words, 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.  When our Lord does His salvation, He never does it halfway.  When our Lord does His ministry, He never does it halfway.  To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


Doxology Rockford Monday Morning Prayer Homily 1-16-2012

Doxology, Rockford, IL     Monday Morning Prayer Homily   Matt. 9:9-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

When our Lord has His ministry, He has it in a way which is beyond compare.  Despite the incessant attempts of humans to know and understand the mind of God, His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  He calls whom He wills to this ministry and it’s not for us to question, compare, or size up.

“You never get a second chance at a first impression.”  What we see often leads us to measure up and judge what it is we see.  We see a situation, perhaps a stalled car on the side of the road, and we judge what we will do about it.  We see a person of definite need and, hopefully, we judge what we will do to help them meet their need.  We see a thing that would come in handy, and we judge that we wish to purchase that thing.

Ah, but when we look at people, we often don’t see things rightly.  First impressions can be, quite frankly, wrong.  What we see in others, particularly negative things we see, often leads us to fail to see ourselves rightly.  When you hear of a brother pastor who “flames out” due to a moral issue, how do you respond?  Do you shake your head and conclude the man foolish or get angry at his immorality?  Or do you live out your ministry in fear and trembling, knowing that it could have been you?

Comparative righteousness is really no righteousness at all.  Perhaps we do not totally get the Pharisees.  We see the title in the Scriptures and immediately assume the worst.  A text like ours reveals not so much how they are different from us as they are like us.  Comparative righteousness is the devil’s business and, unless the devil is not real, it’s the same game he plays with us.  How can Jesus think to call a tax collector?  I doubt the Pharisees really thought they weren’t sinners.  The problem was that they were comparatively righteous.  They weren’t as bad as a Matthew.  Their reputations in the community were solid and good.  The tax collector, well, that was another story.  “A Pharisee and a tax collector walk into a temple” and we all know the punchline.

It’s been joked that Lutherans are those people who have a strong sense of original sin, but are always surprised to find out it’s actually true.  Christ has called you, O Sinner, into His ministry, a ministry beyond compare.  He did not call you because of your righteousness.  He certainly didn’t call Matthew for the same reason.  Still, you and I probably both know those moments when we were surprised to find out what sinners are people were.  That’s typically followed by the sense that we are always right…and the merry-go-round of comparative righteousness begins.  Don’t let your eyes alight on the other person and judge.  I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

The Christ who desires mercy looks on sinners and is moved not to let them die in their sins.  Indeed, He is moved to become the Chief of Chiefs of sinners for them.  In His mercy and love, He has looked on your sin and sought to save.  He made the once-for-all sacrifice so that mercy might supplant sacrifice, truth might defeat self-righteousness, forgiveness might erase sin.  Your people are sinners…and so are you.  Christ have mercy, on all of us!

And so He does.  He goes in to dine with Matthew and a whole bunch more sinners and tax collectors.  He goes in to dine with you because He desires mercy, not sacrifice.  He wants communion with you.  He doesn’t tell you to commune with Him, and expect you can just do that.  He calls you to follow Him.  He opens your ears to hear, your mouths to taste, and your eyes to see that His is a salvation and a ministry beyond compare.

When our Lord has His ministry, He has it in a way which is beyond compare.  Making full use of redeemed sinners like you and me, men made new and holy, to bring His gifts of forgiveness and life to His people.  He gives us the eyes to see what He sees, people who need mercy, love, and grace.  Of course, Christ would call Matthew.  Of course, He would call you.  It shows that His mercy is beyond compare.  AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


Doxology Rockford-Sunday Evening Prayer Homily-1-15-2012

Doxology Rockford–Sunday Evening Prayer Homily–John 1:43-51

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

When our Lord has His ministry, He has it in a way which is as real as He Himself is.  The same Lord born in the hay and straw among the livestock, crucified at the intersection of two pieces of wood, and laid in an earthly grave, has a similarly earthy approach to ministry, it would seem.  When our Lord has His ministry, it is never about social status or one’s sense of self-importance.  It’s not about the more cynical version of “the Golden Rule” (He who has the gold makes the rules).  Jesus is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to His ministry.  Fishermen, tax collectors, and ordinary Joes like Philip and Nathanael will suffice with our Lord for His ministry.

Nathanael is nothing if he is not real.  He seems to be one who is not concerned to have others be impressed with him.  His little joke about anything good coming from Nazareth doesn’t strike Jesus as cynical so much as simply real.  Nathanael seems to be one of those people who have that rare gift of being able to say what they think, even pointedly, without giving too much offense.  Jesus has a sense of humor, it would seem.  He compliments Nathanael.  Here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.  An ordinary guy who says what he thinks without offending.  Just the sort of person Jesus can use.

The ministry to which we are called is nothing if it is not real.  President Harrison is right to tout the level of training of the average LC-MS pastor.  Spend a little time in an ecumenical graduate program and you will see the truth of what he says.  For this training, we all should be grateful to God.  Nevertheless, there is much to this ministry that cannot be taught in classrooms.  The cure of souls happens at the intersection of the Word of God and daily life.  The cure of souls happens at the place where the comforting Word of the Gospel meets humanity’s greatest need.  Those who would take the message of Christ and deem it irrelevant have no idea how tuned out they are to true reality.  The pastor’s task is to bring the Word’s real-ness to a world growing more and more unreal by the second.

When our Lord has His ministry, He has it in a way which is real as He Himself is. He has it in a way which sees the truth for what it really is, a way which speaks truth to truth by pastors who know the reality of their own sin.  And, consequentially, know all too well the truth about this life and its struggles and temptations.  These pastors, too, are awed like Nathanael that Jesus sees their reality so clearly.  When our Lord has His ministry, He uses the Nathanael’s bring God’s real message to people’s real lives.

That real-ness of God’s Word is bound up in Jesus’ very simple statement that it was He who saw Nathanael under the fig tree.  Philip came to Nathanael saying that he had found the Messiah, but the truth was actually quite the opposite.  The Messiah had found Philip and He saw Nathanael under the fig tree.  In Nathanael’s joke, Jesus saw Nathanael’s character and commended His earthy real-ness.  It is Jesus who sees, who speaks, who calls.

Jesus sees you this evening, gathered together as brothers who too often feel the full weight of the world’s reality.  It’s hard to be real without growing cynical.  It’s hard to be a Nathanael, who speaks the truth without guile.  Not everybody hears us the way Jesus hears Nathanael.  What is Murphy’s Law as it is applied to proclamation?  “If you can be misunderstood, you will be.”  It’s hard not to lose patience with all those sinners whom Christ calls us to serve.  It’s hard to remember that they are actually sinner/saints.  When the Lord has His ministry, that ministry is nothing if it is not real.  Quite often, it feels a little too real.

But, my brothers, Jesus sees you.  Jesus sees you where you live.  He sees the reality, the hurts, the pains, the temptations, the anger, the sadness, the failures, and with them the joys and the privileges.  He sees your sin.  He knows it.  Even though He knows your sin, you still do well to kneel before Him as real sinner/saints.  From His cross, He sees your sin.  He knows your sin.  He sees what you need; the reality of what you need the most.  He sees and He forgives.  He sees and He strengthens.  He sees and He enlivens.  He sees and He loves.  He loves you.

Nathanael is awed that it wasn’t he who saw Jesus first, but it was Jesus who saw him, Jesus who noticed him.  “Well,” Jesus says, “if you’re that easily awed, Nathanael, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”  Through the lens of God’s grace, we will see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  Our eyes will be lifted from this world’s earthiness to spectacular sights beyond our human knowing.  Because it’s all about Him.  He’s the king.  He’s the king who sees from His eyes dripping with blood from His crown of thorns, real blood which cures real sin.  There are rewards: forgiveness for this life, eternity for the next, resurrection at the Last.  Brothers, just think what the Lord Jesus Christ still has to show you!  When the Lord has His ministry, it is not without rewards.  AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

The Value Of Confession

Reprinted from The Shepherd’s Anthology on the Doxology website.  All Christians should consider the value of Individual (Private) Confession.

Luther on Confession

There is also another kind of confession I which one takes another person aside and tells him what bothers one, so that a person may hear a word of consolation from him…

I will allow no person to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what consolation and strength it has given men.  No one knows what it can do for him except the person who has struggled long and hard with the Devil.  The Devil would have killed me long ago, if the confession had not supported me.   There are many confusing matters which a person cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he take his brother aside and tells him his trouble.  What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, embarrasses himself, looks for a word of consolation from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read, “if two of you agree about anything the ask, it will be done for them.”…

If any person is wrestling with his sins and wants to get rid of them and desires a secure piece of advice on the subject let him go and confess to another in secret, and accept what he says to him as if God himself had communicated it through the mouth of this person.  However, one who has a strong, secure faith that his sins are forgiven may omit this confession and confess to God alone.  But how many have such a secure faith?  Therefore, as I have said, I will not let this private confession be stolen from me.  I will also not have anybody forced to it, but left to each one’s free will.   Sermon 8 at Wittenberg (Martin Luther)

Ed. Jerome Neufelder & Mary Coelho, Writings on Spiritual Direction by Great Christian Masters, Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1982, p. 80.

Out With The Old, In With The New

Eph. 4  22 Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

It’s the time of year again for well-meaning people to look at themselves in the mirror and make resolutions to improve various aspects of their lives with which they are not happy.  Truthfully, I’ve never been sure whether or not to be thankful for this annual activity.  On the positive side, self-examination and resolving to do better is the closest many will come to “real Christianity.”  (I’ll explain that comment below).  On the negative side, it seems like a prelude to failure for many, maybe even the majority of people who make resolutions.

I can explain why the making of New Year’s resolutions often fails.  It’s not hard for pastors to talk to people who are working on their resolutions and figure out fairly quickly why it didn’t work for them.  The self-examination which goes into New Year’s resolutions is a good thing, a fairly holy activity.  The solution which people arrive at from this self-examination, on the other hand, is missing one very important point.  In fact, it’s the most important point for the Christian.  It’s missing the grace of God for repentant sinners.  A New Year’s resolution is, ultimately, a works-based attempt to save oneself from a particular sin.  Grace is just plain missed in that equation.  In a New Year’s resolution, a person tries to save themselves instead of seeking God’s grace for their self-improvement, their “salvation.”

            For Christians who live in the grace of God for repentant sinners, this activity is not limited to a once-a-year frequency.  It’s the daily life of the baptized child of God.  When Luther penned The Small Catechism, he asked a question of Baptism which I often refer to as the “So what” question: What does such baptizing with water indicate?  (Translation:  “So what does my Baptism mean for me today”)?  Answer (Part One):  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.  The self-examination which many only employ once a year is actually a daily activity for the Christian.  Drowning our Old Adam (sinful nature) is a matter of self-examination leading to sorrow over sin.

Part Two of Luther’s answer reads, and that a new man should emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Dead in our sins, Jesus doesn’t look on our deadness and then say, “Now it’s up to you.  Straighten up and fly right.  Do better.”  No.  The new man cannot emerge without the water of Baptism.  There is no new man who is not made new by the forgiveness of sins.  God’s grace forgives those sins, removes them from us as far as the east is from the west.  With those sins totally gone, the new man has strength to live the life of Christ.  In fact, future editions of the Small Catechism should put a capital ‘N’ and ‘M’ on the words New Man so that the reader has no doubt who the New Man really is: the Christ of our Baptisms.

            Now this does not guarantee that when we try to do better after forgiveness we will always succeed.  The expectation that we will succeed, paired with it only being a once-a-year activity and the lack of God’s grace, is often what breeds failure in our New Year’s resolutions.  Christ offers us the solution for all of our failures in the forgiveness of sins.  In the same forgiveness, He gives the strength to live daily as “little Christs,” living in the rhythm of Christ’s own life, dying for our sins and rising again.  Every day we die to sin and rise again to new life.

So, in this New Year, my prayer for you is not for success in any New Year’s resolutions you may wish to make.  (I certainly want you to be successful).  As your pastor, my prayer for you is to find your joys living in the daily repentance and forgiveness of your Baptisms.  As that self-examination, sorrow, confession, and absolution become part of your daily lives, Christ Himself will make of you the Christian He intends for you to be.  Lord, forgive our sins.  Strengthen us as we live for you.  Grant us a heart of wisdom.  Be our Savior every day.  AMEN.

The Lord bless you mightily in this New Year,

Pastor T.