Category Archives: Book of Concord
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— 2 then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. 3 Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4 Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. 5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
Philippians 2:1-5 (MSG)
947 May you acquire the custom of concerning yourself every day about others, and give yourself to the task so much that you forget you even exist!
Many of us live in our own world, A world, that though we are broken, is chock full of stuff that gives us little chance ot be who we are. In reality, it gives us little chance ot find out who we are. And finding meaning in our lives? After so many years, it seems useless, and perhaps, even a waste of time.
I think part of our problem is trying to determine who we are from some theoretical, philosophical or even psychological study. These tools can tell me a lot of things about me, but they don’t tell me who I am. For example, my MBTI personality type is ENFP, and as I read the description, I resonate with it. It describes aspects of my personality, of my traits and behaviors.
However, I am more than that.
Ultimately, we are the children of God, the men, and women that Jesus says He no longer addresses as servants, but as friends, beloved friends. We are, as the church and as individuals, being transformed into the image of Christ, therefore the image of God.
And His nature should begin to be seen in us.
That is what St. Paul is talking about, this idea of being like Christ. Not that we have to or we aren’t saved, our merits gain us nothing in view of salvation. We are like Jesus because of the incredible love and comfort He pours out on us. If you have experienced this love, this fellowship with Christ, then we do begin to lose ourselves in Him, caring for those who He has brought into our lives. As we realize His love for us, that love is passed on to others, even to those the world tells us it is impossible to love. It is what happens
And our life is saved by losing it. By taking up the cross and following Him.
That is what St. Josemaria talks about as well, as we minister to the various broken people, ministering to the least of these, the sick, the imprisoned, the widow and orphan, the brokenhearted, to mourning, the hurting, the lost. We do it because as we are in fellowship with God, there is no other option, it becomes natural. (see article VI of the Augsburg Confession)
This is how we find “ourselves,” this is how we know who we are.
We are His.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3843-3845). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; 20 do not despise inspired messages. 21 Put all things to the test: keep what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (TEV)
I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.
The words spoken by Christian tongues today are unfortunately anything but fire. They taste all too much like water that has been left standing and is barely lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We have no desire to burn either ourselves or others, but in not doing so we place ourselves at a distance from the Holy Spirit and our Christian Faith degenerates into a self-made philosophy of life that wants to disturb as few as possible of our comfortable habits and relegates the sharpness of protest to a place where it can cause the least inconvenience to our customary way of life. If we elude the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, it is only at first glance that being Christian seems easy for us. What is comfortable for the individual is uncomfortable for the whole. Where we no longer expose ourselves to God’s fire, the frictions among us become insupportable and the Church, to quote Saint Basil, is torn by the cries of interior factionalism. Only when we are not afraid of the tongues of fire or of the strong wind that accompanies them does the Church become an icon of the Holy Spirit. And only then does she open the world to the light of God.
My youngest years were spent on the fringes of the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Roman Catholic Church. And like many, I witnessed abuses, the one lady who always had to have a prophecy, the crowd of people mumbling their prayers, each one trying to be louder than the next, the people that claimed spiritually giftedness, only to go hang out after the prayer meeting talking in ways that weren’t godly. I know too many people who bore scars and are afraid of churches because of those days.
(Note: I have seen similar folk in most of the churches and denominations I’ve been associated with over the years.)
And noting the extremes of such movements, if people stay in the church, they end up in churches that deny the Holy Spirit works in any miraculous way today. They come so close to embracing a form of deism, thinking that God left us the scriptures (and maybe the sacraments) and therefore we need nothing else, even His presence.
You really can’t claim that Pope Benedict or Martin Luther were charismatic or pentecostal extremists. In fact, most would assume they are contrary to the position of those movements.
Yet they both see an incredible need for the church to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. Their words resonate with St. Paul’s about ot restraining the Holy Spirit, but heeding the Spirit’s call, and taking joy in the work of the Holy Spirit, as He calls, gathers, enlightens us and makes us Holy.
Such is a miracle, it is a supernatural work. It goes beyond on anything we can control, and therefore it makes us nervous. Theologians and people who need to understand get anxious, and as we realize God’s ways are not our ways, that who He sends us to serve, that those He brings us to love are not whom we would choose. Nor it the way we are to minister to them the way we would prefer.
As Pope Benedict notes, this isn’t the most comfortable of places to be, as we are directed by the Holy Spirit, given gifts and abilities, insights and a new heart (see Ex 36:25ff) that resonates with the will and desire of God.
So how do we listen and hear? How are we guided by the Holy Spirit? How do we know if what we are hearing is the Spirit’s guidance?
Luther would say prayer, meditation, and faith-building stress. For the more we look to Christ- the more we realize He is our hope, our life, the revelation of the Trinity’s love, the more we are hearing the call, the more we are gathered, made holy and used by the Holy Spirit to reflect the glorious love of God into the darkness of this world.
So don’t hold back the Spirit… don’t depend on your own reason or strength, but rather depend on God, as He reveals Himself in scripture.
And dwell in His peace!
Luther’s Small Catechism: Part 2 The Creed: Article Three
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 159–160). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 159–160). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
37 But some of them said, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?” John 11:37 GNT
The third part is the body with its members. Its work is to draw upon and apply what the soul understands and the spirit believes. To use an example from the Bible,17 Moses built a tabernacle with three different courts. The first was the holy of holies; here God dwelt, and in
First of all, thank you. Thank you for the reads, the comments (especially those) and the time you have taken. Thanks for the patience with my poor typing skills. Thank you mostly for returning to listen, and maybe be drawn closer to God.
This blog actually started in a different place, and has been home here since 2012. It started back when a friend from Washington would ask me for my sermons, and send them out to hundreds of her friends. Another friend once raead a journal entry I made, and declared that I should share it. So “asimplechristian” was born. justifiedandsinner followed a few years after when the host company of the first address couldn’t provide reliable service, then when the address was freed I got it back. It is compromised mostly of sermons and my devotional summaries, with the quotes that give birth to the thoughts.
Lots of thanks to God for those whose writings spawn those thougths. St. Josemaria Escriva, Martin Luther, Pope Benedict XVI, the writers of the Book of Concord and the writings of 2 Vatican Council provide some 80 percent of that.
And here we are, 50,000 reads later (not counting the subscribers who get each post in the mail. (I don’t know if you read it. but you get it!) From over 140 countries.
There is one question I struggle with a lot over the years, and it showed up in the gopsel reading this morning.
Why doens’t God bring about the healing and/or conversion of the ones I love? Why do I have to watch them struggle, knowing that God could take care of them in an instant?
It sounds like the question is about Him, but I think the question is more about me.
You see, I know God is God, and I spend so much time telling people what I know and believe about Him. His mercy, His love, His being there for them, as He rescues them, cleans them up and heals them, comforts them.
Theologians have great canned answers as to why this person is healed and not that one. Why this person responds right away, that one doesn’t, and a third struggles in between. But those answers don’t calm the tears, or ease the broken heart.
That’s when I needed to hear Luther’s explanation this morning, Taken from his explantion of the Magnificat of Mary, found in Luke’s gospel. He uses the illustration of the three holy places, and I get it now.
The outside, which everyone can see, I am a pastor, a strong believer who has been able to depend on God in some crappy situations.
It is the middle section, where i think my reason enters into it, that there is a problem. I get frustrated as I can’t understand it all, I can’t reconcile the glory I see to what appears to be inaction on God’s part. And the dissonance is challenging.
Where I find the resolution is the Holy of Holies, the innder court where God draws me into His presence, with you and a billion others. Luther says there is no light there, but there is something more. There is God, and in His presence there is no need for light. There is awe that overwhelms our intellect, our ability to reason, and as we spend time there, we are conformed to the image of Christ. There we find what it means to adore, to worship God, and there our hearts and minds find the peace and take it back out to the Holy Place, and to the outer court to share with others.
That is where I hope these posts have drawn you, into that Holy of Holies, into the presence of God who longs to dwell in you, and with you.
Thanks for coming- keep going, keep exploring the width and breadth, the height and depth of His love for you, revealed at the cross, in Christ Jesus.
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 99). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 After all the people had been baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened, 22† and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Luke 3:21-22 GNT
16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:16 (TEV)
7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. Acts 20:7 (NLT2)
10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11 (NLT2)
Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
There are several communion services in my life that will always come to mind. One of those had its sixth anniversary this week, as I remember a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half missionaries gathering in Macao one afternoon.
Another was my first Sunday in my journey
It started with hearing the elder say these simple words to people. Bod said, “take and drink, the blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin.” He said it with such confidence, such faith that each word hammered into the hardness of our hearts. I don’t remember anything else, save for one thing, as these words of God were heard, not just
The other thing I noticed was the body language of the people. People I knew from the community, people dealing with more brokenness (I would learn) than I could ever suspect. They approached the altar, hunched over, unable to look up, the burdens of the world, and their own sin so oppressing them. And then, as they received the body of Jesus on their tongues, as they drank from the chalice or the little cups, their bodies changed. They relaxed, the stern reverence was replaced with smiles that were filled with peace, and joy.
I know no other way to explain it, except to say they encountered Christ. They were overwhelmed by His presence, His mercy, His love. And when they sang the traditional Nunc Dimittis after communion, they like Simeon, knew God’s salvation. Not as theology, not as some fact, but something that resonated with every beat of their heart.
That joy allowed them to leave the brokenness behind, it allowed them to be free of what oppressed them. One of my professors would later describe this using the word “incarnational” not restricting the incarnation to an event in the Judean hills 2000 years ago but seeing it happen here. This is what the early Lutherans meant by the sacrament comforting their frightened consciences.
And each of the sacraments does this, baptism, the Eucharist, Confession and Absolution, as we participate, as we share in life with Jesus, who brought us to life in HIs resurrection.
This can’t be adequately explained, even by the best of theologians. The sacraments aren’t something that man has the power to research, to “objectively observe.” But they bring about a healing of our souls, as the promises of God become true for us, as the love of God, in all its measureless dimensions, is revealed, As we are transformed, and that is revealed as well, the glory of God reflecting from us, as it did from
Come, let us adore Him, for the Lord is with us. AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession: The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.
John 18:37-38 (NLT2)
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I wish I could have seen the body language and tone of voice of Pilate when he asked, “What is Truth?”
Was it from exasperation? Did his non-verbals betray a sad sense of fatalism or sarcasm? Did he really want to know the truth, but feel that his search was so in vain?
He was face to face with God’s revelation of the truth, and couldn’t see it. He heard it, but he didn’t realize it.
Approximately 1500 years later, Luther was struggling with the truth as well. He found the truth, and the mercy it promised so much like chasing after the wind. What he had been taught obscured it, to the extent that he knew deep despair and depression.
The hammering of the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg wasn’t a call to arms, it wasn’t the equivalent of the first shot of the American Revolution, it wasn’t a cry for the downfall of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was a plea to examine what was believed, and compare it to scripture, in the hope of finding out the truth of God’s love.
My denomination celebrates this day, and I am not sure I do. I don’t regret the work of Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz and their brothers, but I do regret the necessity. And I, even more, regret that we’ve lost the focus, that the events surrounding Luther’s search for and finding grace are lost in the triumphalism, in the “we’ve shown them.”
You see, in my mind, the reformation should still be about redirecting us to the mercy of Christ, and to the fact we need it. It should be about the hope we who are broken find in the healer. It must be about Jesus.
That is why the first thesis read.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
To remember the beginning of the reformation means we remember the call to a life of repentance.
And that means we have to admit where we are wrong and be willing to be questioned regarding our presuppositions, about our theology and practice. We have to accept the invitations to discuss where we have obscured Jesus, and be willing to repent.
That is reformation, that is putting Christ first, and seeing Him at work, redeeming and reforming His people.
Luther, M. (1996). Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the power and efficacy of indulgences: October 31, 1517 (electronic ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts Rev. 9:20-21 HCSB
10 I sent plagues like those of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I caused the stench of your camp to fill your nostrils, yet you did not return to Me. This is the LORD’s declaration. Amos 4:10) HCSB
212 Hominem non habeo— I have no one to help me. This—unfortunately!— could be said by many who are spiritually sick and paralytic, who could be useful— and should be useful. Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.
7 The source and cause of evil is not God’s foreknowledge (since God neither creates nor works evil, nor does he help it along and promote it), but rather the wicked and perverse will of the devil and of men, as it is written, “Israel, thou hast plunged thyself into misfortune, but in me alone is thy salvation” (Hos. 13:9). Likewise, “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness” (Ps. 5:4).
8 God’s eternal election, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but by God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus it is also a cause which creates, effects, helps, and furthers our salvation and whatever pertains to
Every year at this time I end up reading the minor prophets and the BOok of Revelation. It is not a pleasant time in my devotions, as I am forced to face passages like those above.
Passages that deal with the stubbornness of man, and our ability to ignore God’s call to repentance, and to the healing repentance offers. It is all too easy to see myself among the sinners, the idolators, to see friends, people I dearly love, condemned by such words.
Our rebellion is clear, our inability to give up the sins that we fall into, time after time., to powerful. Reformed and Arminian Theologians will argue about predestination, in an attempt to hide from the sorrow that one observes in our lives. Even the Lutheran Theologians who come up with the answer that is described, their words about predestination and foreknowledge don’t help the one who is struggling, questioning their salvation in light of their sin.
For scripture declares that some will never repent of their idolatry and sin.
And there are days when we wonder with the apostles, “Is it I, Lord?”
AM I the one who won’t beat sin and temptation? Do I know people like these the prophets and Revelation describe? And if I do, given that they won’t respond to the gospel ( or I won’t) what good is the ministry, what good is evangelism?
Why engage in a task that has no promise of being fulfilled, given the weight of our sin?
And what can I do, if, like Elijah, I see no hope for the brokenness of this day, and how those broken will have to stand before You, Lord?
I thank God for the words of St Josemaria this morning, the very first quote I came to among his writings, and the heartfelt prayer he wrote,
Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.
There are times when dealing with these quotes from the prophets and Revelation, I could give up, I could write it all off, and leave their salvation and mine in the hands of God. It belongs there, right?
But He calls each of us to take the news of His love and mercy, of the forgiveness of our sins, of our restoration and healing that He will provide into this world. It is not all of us that Revelation describes, and the prophets always return to God saving Israel, to His saving a remnant, to the light of the world reaching out to every nation, every tribe, every language.
The answer to the prophetic trauma is to remember the end of the story, not just the cross and God’s wrath, but the Resurrection and God’s joy. To know that God will save sinners like me, that I can trust and depend on Him for that, and to help me grow more aware of His holiness, His setting Himself apart for us – to be His children, His people, His beloved.
If people will change, and many many will be changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit. We need to know His mercy and the promise. We have ot let the Spirit internalize it, even as the Spirit transforms our minds, and replaces our hearts. For this scripture reveals as well, as His promise becomes reality.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1095-1098). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 617). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Pres
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12 HCSB
28. Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.
This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.10 God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.11
There is a great difference between judging sin and having knowledge of sin. Knowledge of sin does not entail the right to judge it. I may see and hear that my neighbor sins, but to make him the talk of the town is not my business. If I interfere and pass sentence on him, I fall into a greater sin than his. When you become aware of a sin, simply make your ears a tomb and bury it until you are appointed a judge and authorized to administer punishment by virtue of your office.
267 Those are called backbiters who are not content just to know but rush ahead and judge. Learning a bit of gossip about someone else, they spread it into every corner, relishing and delighting in it like pigs that roll in the mud and root around in it with their snouts.
268 This is nothing else than usurping the judgment and office of God, pronouncing the severest kind of verdict and sentence, for the harshest verdict a judge can pronounce is to declare somebody a thief, a murderer, a traitor, etc. Whoever therefore ventures to accuse his neighbor of such guilt assumes as much authority as the emperor and all magistrates. For though you do not wield the sword, you use your venomous tongue to the disgrace and harm of your neighbor.
It is amazing how much judgment we see today in the world. And equally disturbing how much we see in the church. So many people claiming to be experts regarding situations they have no intimate knowledge, of, but simply reacting to the news and rumors put out there. As so we somehow think we can judge (and prosecute or defend ) those whose situations are in the public eye.
A lot of our judgment is based on our own experiences, and on the experiences of someone who did something to us or to someone we love. And therefore, all in a similar situation we judge based on our experience, not on the facts that we don’t have access to.
Or we judge the case because of the affiliations or demographic data of the person who accuses or is accused. They agree with us, so they are the ones under attack. The other side is only loyal to their peers, therefore, since their peers are wrong, they must be lying.
A great example of this is the present situation with the supreme court nominee. I have some friends who have been sexually harassed and a couple who I have counseled because they were trying to cope with rape. I also have been involved in situations where one accused of such was the target, and they were out to hurt him. In the process of one such situation, the accuser was presented with evidence that proved her story a lie, and she confessed to it.
Been there, cried with both, was anxious with both, and the present situation has brought me to pray for those who stories are never far from my mind. And as I hear the details, as I see people share the rumors across social media, both groups of stories come to mind. The victims who no come forth, and the victims who had their lives damaged by false claims. No, let me rephrase, these situations today doesn’t just bring their stories to mind, it tears at the heart, as I remember the pain I tried to help them deal with.
Oddly enough, three of my readings this morning dealt with judgment and the notion of our judgment and condemnation of those people whom we don’t have the responsibility to judge, or all the information to judge the stories of those involved.
And then I see all those who would play God, who would decide this situation based on their own past realities, or worse, based on political issues. And my heart tears for them as well.
And then we have scripture, and the writings of Vatican II and the Large Catechism. All three warn us, they even command us not to judge. They ask us to leave it in God’s hands, something that takes a lot of faith, to trust God with what we would rather handle. It takes humility, such humility that is only found when we are in the presence of God, witnessing His glory and wisdom, which show him to both just and merciful. It takes trusting in God to set aside our own presuppositions and to be healed by our own pain.
But this is God who I am urging us all to trust in, a God who would reconcile us all through the blood of Jesus.
Trust Him, depend upon Him, leave the lynch mobs behind…
And rejoice in the presence in your life. AMEN!
Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 401). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)
24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.
The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.
In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel. It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk. And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”. While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale. Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.
Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box. Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.
Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias. Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force. We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them. ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.
But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel. Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate. For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.
What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed! Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel. The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.
Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus. The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.
And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.
This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you. Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel
Devotional thoughts of the day:
17 But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18 First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19 But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (NLT2)
19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.
If liturgy is to survive or even be completely renewed, it is essential that the Church be rediscovered. I add: if people’s estrangement is to be overcome, if they are to find again their true identity, it is indispensable that they find again the Church that is not a misanthropic institution, but the new “we” in which alone the “I” can acquire its foundation and its security.
Paul’s admonish to the church in Corinth is one I think we need to hear today. It is neither easy nor would it make sense to most Christians today.
They might see the admonition as one solely concerned with what I call hospitality, the reason Paul admonishes them is that they don’t wait for each other and that the taking of the Lord’s Supper becomes a testimony to their division and their lack of love for each other. I think it is far more severe than that, for the Lord’s supper is not a simple meal.
It is given to us, this blessed Body and Blood of Christ, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to heal our very souls, to quench the doubts and empower a trust in Him that would result in seeing the world changed.
And yet we neglect it. We put it off and only celebrate it on occasion, or we rush out of church after it, unaware of what we have received, or if aware, minimizing it. We don’t see it as what establishes us, as a “we” (the people of God) and gives a real identity to the “I”.
By the way, in regards to Pope Benedict’s use of misanthropic, I had to look the word up. It is the exact opposite of philanthropic. It is to hate mankind, a charge we have to take seriously, for I do believe many see us that way. It shouldn’t be accurate; but many see us as trying to oppress mankind, rather than freeing them from guilt and shame. In many ways. our poor and unbalanced proclamation of sin and the gospel does this, as we close off communion to only those in the club, or make people think they have to be “good” enough or have a perfect understanding of theology in order to receive the gifts of God.
It is about His ministry, His welcoming us home, it is the feast for prodigals, the feast He throws, giving all of Himself, to lift us up, to nourish us, to help us realize we are united to Him.
It is there, at the altar, that the liturgy goes from being an ordeal to become a blessing of renewal. It is there our hope is renewed, our lives transformed, our hearts and souls healed.
It is what those outside the church need to see evidence of so that they too will be drawn into union with Jesus, through His death and resurrection. It is what those in the church need to have, that they may once again realize their sins do not separate them from God, for God separates the sin from them.
If the church is to find renewal, it will be here… celebrating the love of God given to us all, welcoming us home. All of us.
Don’t neglect this necessity in life, don’t diminish it, hear God’s words, hear what they promise, and then come, take and eat the Body of Christ broken for you… and drink of His blood, poured out for you, that makes you part of His family, and cleanses you of all your sin.
You and I need this… so let us celebrate His love, together! AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 484). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 248). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day
15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT2)
6. We also believe, teach, and confess that, although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.
Men expect redemption from themselves, and they seem quite prepared to provide it. Thus there is linked to the primacy of the future the primacy of practice, the primacy of human activity above all other activities. Theology, too, shows itself more and more open to this concept—orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy. “Eschatopraxis” seems more important than eschatology. If in earlier days it was left to popular enlightenment to tell the lower class that artificial fertilizer was more effective than prayer, now, after a suitable interval, we can read similar commentaries in the kind of “religious” literature that strives to reflect the contemporary Zeitgeist; we can even find voiced there the argument that under certain circumstances prayer itself will have to be “refunctioned”: it can hardly be considered any longer an appeal for divine assistance; on the contrary, it must be regarded as a period of quiet composure in preparation for the practice of human self-help.
Benedict XVI’s words about orthopraxy replacing orthodoxy (right practice replacing right praise) seem eerily prophetic. Written in 1971, these words I believe talk of the church today. For the focus on doing things correctly, doing things in a way that seems holy to man dominate both traditional and contemporary Christianity, It can be seen in both conservative and liberal voices.
As he notes, even prayer becomes the preparation for doing things correctly,
As I look at this, I think I see a tie into the quote from the Lutheran Confessions in green. I think that we struggle with the fact that while we believe, the weakness and shortcoming we have (which is simply a fancy way of saying we still sin). We don’t know how to deal with our own frailty, our own brokenness. We are impatient with the healing we are experiencing in Christ, and so we seek to fast track our own sanctification.
If only we can do everything right, if only our performance reveals how much faith we have, then maybe others will see us as holy, and then, based on our testimony, we can believe we are holy. So we look for the masters, the life coaches, the pastors who will show us the way to worship, how to live, how to raise our kids, and be a bastion or moral and religious perfection.
And instead of being an imitator of Christ, we try to become a clone of those who we follow. Driven by the fear of being revealed to be something less than faithful, we take on the mannerisms, while leaving a soul behind that is empty, broken, and struggling with the sin that so easily ensnares us.
Prior to the passage from Romans above, we see Paul going from the joys of rising with Christ in baptism, to the absolute low of discovering he still can’t get things right. Orthopraxis is impossible, He can’t do what is right, he can’t help but do what is wrong. In this moment of shame and self-pity, he finds in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That despite his struggle with sin, God sees Paul as righteous, holy, a son of God.
This discovery changes things, it changes our fear of our sin being discovered into a cry for help, Daddy! Daddy! HELP! We realize that our hope is not found in our attempts to be holy, but in hearing His voice tell us we are His children. In hearing His promise to complete everything in the day of Jesus. We find our transformation not by our work in ministry, not in our perfection of word and sacrament, but from being there, broken, and finding healing.
Nothing I can do will bring you the level of holiness you will be satisfied with, in this age. For satisfaction means you want to judge if you have made it, or rely on the judgment of others. That desire for satisfaction will drain you, ripping out from you the core of your heart and soul.
But allowing God to minister to us, allowing His grace, His mercy and love to pour into us, living life being drawn to Him, sometimes in tears, this is our hope. Not starting with prayer, but a life lived in Him, allowing Him to recreate us.
This is our hope of wholeness, of holiness. Letting God be God, as we realize we are His.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 474). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 242–243). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.