Monday, June 26, 2017

The Birthday of the Lutheran Church

Does the Lutheran Church have a birthday?  I say it does, and it was yesterday.  But it's not too late to celebrate!

You have probably heard that we are marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is based on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses.  The date may be used to mark the beginning of the Reformation, but cannot really be used as the birthday of the Lutheran Church.

A much better date for that is June 25, 1530, the day the Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V.  To this day, the Augsburg Confession ranks as the number-one Lutheran statement.  A person could read it (in about two hours) and have a very good idea about the Lutheran Church.  It contains twenty-eight articles, and the fourth one is this:

"Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Rom. 3:21-26; 4:5)."

In my sermon yesterday, I said that these words are tattooed on my heart.  But more correctly, they are tattooed on the heart of the Lutheran Church.  In fact, never mind the tattoo.  These words are the heart and soul of the Lutheran Church!

And for that reason, June 25 should be considered the birthday of the Lutheran Church.  Interestingly, it comes six months after, and six months before, we celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Happy Birthday, Lutheran Church!  I won't sing "Happy Birthday."  No, I think this song is far better:

"Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer."

Monday, June 19, 2017

James the LESS

Out of the Twelve Apostles, I think I have learned the most from the one we know the least about.

"James the son of Alphaeus" (Matt. 10:3).

Two of the Twelve Apostles are named James.  First, the prominent, well-known James the son of Zebedee.  His brother was John, and together with Peter they made up the inner circle around Jesus.  Then there is James the son of Alphaeus.  We know nothing about him from the Gospel.  Nothing.  Without going into detail, it's possible that we know LESS about this James than any of the other apostles.

Because both are named James, the Bible uses their fathers' names in order to distinguish them.  Tradition uses a different method, calling the first James "James the Greater," and calling the second James "James the LESS."

Even if we know nothing else about James the son of Alphaeus, simply his nickname - James the LESS - offers a rich spiritual LESSon.  That is, Christ calls some to more prominent, visible roles of leadership, but calls and needs others to fill LESS visible roles - but no LESS important or effective!  So think LESS about the role you'd like to play than about the one God has given you to play.

Who are the ones who know all about James the son of Alphaeus?  The people to whom he went with the Gospel and love of Christ.  Seek not to be remembered by the world, but only to love those around you.  And say these words: My hope is built on nothing LESS than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

But a Slumber

"The child is not dead but sleeping" (Mark 5:39).

We could live without death.  It wouldn't be missed.  Woody Allen said, "I'm not afraid to die.  I just don't want to be there when it happens."  But Benjamin Franklin wrote in a 1789 letter, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."  He died five months later.

The Word of God could be summed up in the following way: Nothing is certain but death and the power of Jesus Christ over it.

In Mark 5 Jesus raises the twelve-year-old daughter of a man named Jairus.  Yet before doing so, He makes a startling announcement: "The child is not dead but sleeping."  And this is truly a monumental moment in the Gospel.  It is the Son of God coming and renaming death.  It is the day Christ changed death's name to "sleep."  With these seven words, among the most powerful in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus is doing three things.

He is teaching us faith.  Faith, by way of definition, is to call something what God calls it, even though our eyes, mind, and experience say otherwise.  A Christian dies and we hold a funeral, yet by faith we conclude and confess that the person has merely fallen asleep.  I receive a small piece of bread at Holy Communion yet believe that it is what our Lord calls it: His body.

He is showing how easily He alone can raise the dead.  "'Little girl, I say to you, arise.'  And immediately the girl got up and began walking" (Mark 5:41-42).  He is just like a mother here, waking up her dear child in the morning.  "Time to get up!"  How difficult is that?  And it is with the same ease and love that He will waken you, His dear child, on the Last Day.

He is taking away the fear of death from which we suffered.  He has, by these words and His own death, altered both the name and the reality of death.  It is now, to quote Luther, "but a slumber."  Which of you is afraid to take a nap or go to sleep tonight?  Such is the Christian faith and view of death.  This hymn line makes it memorable: "Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed."

Also memorize these seven words: "The child is not dead but sleeping."