Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sermon for 15 March 2015, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare

Rev. Paul J Cain
Galatians 4:21-31
Rejoice, Children of Promise
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare, 15 March 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Rejoice, children of promise. In Christ you have been set free. By faith, you are true descendants of Abraham and are members of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
Dr. Pieper taught us that there are only two religions in the world, Biblical Christianity and works-righteousness. The latter says, “Do” and “Don’t.” True Christianity confesses with Jesus, “It is finished!”
Even some Christians get Christianity wrong. Centuries after the Reformation, many American Evangelicals are theologically indistinguishable from medieval Roman Catholicism. Human opinions, recent traditions, and faddish practices are elevated to be equivalent to the authority of Scripture, whether decision theology, contemporary entertainment worship, the explosion of Christian media that isn’t really that Christian, and the disturbing trend of overemphasis of our role in the Christian life.
Centuries after the Reformation, worship among some Christians has again devolved to be again more about what we do than what God does for us. If we know we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to God’s glory alone, that we are saved by God’s action and not ours, why do so many allegedly Christian theologies of worship put more emphasis on what we do on Sunday morning than on what God does? Consider this Lutheran alternative:
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.
How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship throughout the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day--the living heritage and something new.
Norman Nagel, Introduction to Lutheran Worship
There are only two religions in the world, Biblical Christianity and works-righteousness. Religions based on what we do, whether new or ancient say, “Do” and “Don’t.” True Biblical Christianity confesses with Jesus, “It is finished!”
Consider the two covenants of Galatians 4:
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Few people anymore are blatantly honest enough to say that they think they’re getting into heaven for being good, for doing more good than evil. Yet, that is the comfort many seek at a modern funeral. Jesus is downplayed even in some Christian funerals. The good works of the deceased and amusing stories about them are the only pseudo comfort left. Lutherans discourage eulogies because they come from traditions that place some responsibility for earning and deserving salvation with the deceased. Since a Lutheran Christian funeral is a worship service of Jesus Christ, we don’t do eulogies. Either Jesus is a 100% Savior or He is not. What a memorial service looks like reflects what those involved believe about the Bible, the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the gift of salvation in Christ alone. You will see unique Scriptures, Psalms, hymns, and personal accounts in my sermon at one of our funerals so you can actually tell who we’re laying to rest in Jesus’ Name.
Galatians 4 reviews Genesis, especially the promises of God and the mistakes of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah was unable to conceive. She thought her husband could have a son with her slave woman, Hagar. Unsurprisingly, Abraham thought this was a good idea. Ishmael, father of all Arabs is that son. Yet he was not the son the good Lord promised Abraham and Sarah. He was one born of blood, of the will of the flesh, of the will of man. He was born according to the flesh, not according to Promise. Promise is a wonderful Old Testament Gospel word!
The analogy that Paul fleshes out is that those who want to work their way to heaven are really illegitimate sons of Abraham. His true sons, even if not descended from him genetically, are those who shall live by faith. Slavery awaits all who remain under the burden of the law, to do it all. We, of the heavenly Jerusalem are free in Christ. Father Abraham had many sons. No wonder Isaiah 54 urges Sarah to rejoice. Her descendants through Isaac include those of Israel who believe in Christ in addition to all Christians who believe in Christ, including you.
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
The Lutheran Confessions, in article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession explain the difference between depending upon law versus the promises:
84 Fourth. Forgiveness of sins is something promised for Christ’s sake. It cannot be received except through faith alone. For a promise cannot be received except by faith alone. Romans 4:16 says, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed.” It is as though he says, “If the matter were to depend on our merits, the promise would be uncertain and useless. For we never could determine when we would have enough merit.” Experienced consciences can easily understand this. So Paul says in Galatians 3:22, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” He takes merit away from us because he says that all are guilty and included under sin. Then he adds that the promise (namely, forgiveness of sins and justification) is given, and he shows how the promise can be received—by faith. This reasoning, derived from the nature of a promise, is the chief reasoning in Paul and is often repeated. Nor can anything be devised or imagined by which Paul’s argument can be overthrown. 85 Therefore, let not good minds allow themselves to be forced from the conviction that we receive forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, through faith alone. In this they have sure and firm consolation against the terrors of sin, against eternal death, and against all the gates of hell.[1]
Rejoice, children of promise. In Christ you have been set free from sin and its guilt. By faith, you are true descendants of Abraham and are members of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 93–95). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sermon for 08 March 2015, Third Sunday in Lent, Oculi

Rev. Paul J Cain
Exodus 8:16-24
Believe, Teach, Confess, and Faithfully Follow
Third Sunday in Lent, Oculi, 08 March 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Have you ever heard it said, “The ends justify the means”? The basic thought expressed here is that if some end goal is so incredibly important, then nearly anything that gets that goal accomplished is acceptable. No, I didn’t think you would be in favor of this idea. Its consequences are far too severe. Principle is sacrificed to expediency. End results do matter, but so does “how we get there.”
In the Holy Gospel for Lent 3, Jesus is accused of performing exorcisms by the power of the devil. This makes no sense. Yet, in the Old Testament Reading, the Egyptian magicians try and fail to imitate what Moses does by the power of the Lord.
16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
This is the Third of the Ten Plagues. The Lord told Moses what to say and do. Aaron did as Moses directed. This is how life is supposed to work under heaven. God says it, we hear it, believe, teach, and confess it, faithfully do it, and keep on hearing, believing, teaching, confessing, and doing what the Lord has directed. Pharaoh would not listen.
“No, I don’t want that,” some will say. They may be contrarians on principle, are content in their sin, or just plain stubborn. Such things are the status quo for sinners in a fallen world, dead in trespasses and sins, hostile, rebellious, and enemies of God. No, there is none righteous, not even one!
The Egyptian magicians’ attempt to get the same results by their own means, secret satanic arts, actual black magic. Why one would even want to make one’s own gnats is beyond me. They tried and failed to imitate the inimitable and only Creator, the Lord. Those who venerated creatures like flies and beetles and calves and cats look foolish in the light of actual creative results from the servants of the one true God.
Would Pharaoh bend his hardened heart to submit to the one true God? Would he worship the one true God? Would he let servants of the one true God leave Egypt to worship the one true God?
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 21 Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. 23 Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.” ’ ” 24 And the Lord did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
Elsewhere in the five books of Moses we 1) hear what the Lord says for His servants to say, 2) hear His servants repeat the message the Lord gave them to say, and then 3) observe the consequences. This paragraph is different. We get to hear the Word of the Lord Moses is to proclaim to Pharaoh, but there is no repetition. We jump right to the consequences, judgment:
23 Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.” ’ ” 24 And the Lord did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
Thus. Tomorrow. No response from Pharaoh is recorded. “And the Lord did so” is the next thing we hear. The Fourth Plague has come.
There was in Moses’ message to Pharaoh an invitation from the Lord Himself to repent and believe: “Let my people go, that they may serve me… that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.” In other words, serve me by allowing my servants to serve me. Believe my words. Or else believe my deeds. Pharaoh did not repent. He did not believe.
Judgments in Scripture are all the result of sin, unfaithfulness, disobedience-unfaith. They were the consequences of unbelief. The Egyptians refused to believe in and follow the one true God. They were devoted to their man-made idols. False gods replaced the one true God.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. This is most clear in God’s Gospel words of the New and Old Testaments. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the manifestation of this steadfast love, grace, and mercy to all nations.
The Exodus era was not Egypt’s first contact with true believers. The man named Mizraim, whom English Bibles call Egypt, was a descendant of Noah. Genesis 10:6 says Egypt was a son of Ham, and therefore a grandson of Noah. How quickly the faithful fall away! His nation was named after him. Read Genesis 12. Abram and Sarai are in Egypt way back then. Joseph gets to Egypt when his brothers sell him into slavery in Genesis 37. By chapter 41, the Pharaoh then puts Joseph in charge of the place. And then there was a Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.”
The Egyptians of Moses’ day, like people in many times and places, prefer to go their own way. They reject the Lord, His Word, His Will, and His Ways, and pick or even invent their own. They have fallen for a lie: “There are many roads to God.” No, there are not. Wide is the way to destruction. Narrow is the way to life. It is as if the Lord planned the pathways based on anticipated traffic flow!
Another lie that plagues the Egyptians and us is that of sincerity. Some believe that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Not so! You can sincerely believe that iron sulfide, commonly called pyrite or “fool’s gold” is gold, but no metallurgist or coin shop would ever be fooled.
It takes more than sincerity to make faith powerful. It takes Christ and Him alone as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the One Name given to us for salvation. Certainly, one may be a sincere believer in this or that world religion apart from Christ. But personal experience teaches us that it is possible to be sincere and wrong at the same time. Investors in Enron-remember Enron?-were sincere in the financial stability and profitability of the company. They were sincerely wrong. The truth was hidden from them. So too with the devout followers of non-Christian religions and so-called Christian groups that deny the clarity of what Scripture proclaims.
Burger King may let you “Have it your way,” but the Lord taught Christians to pray, “Thy will be done.” And He practiced what He preached by His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and obedience, even to death on a cross.
It matters what you believe. It matters what you do. The Lord punishes all who refuse to believe and obey. There are not many roads to God. And the ends do not justify the means.
What does the Lord expect? For us to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things! The Lord told Moses what to say and do. Aaron did as Moses directed. This is how life is supposed to work under heaven. God says it, we hear it, believe, teach, and confess it, faithfully do it, and keep on hearing, believing, teaching, confessing, and doing what the Lord has directed.
In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of His own people were not like faithful Aaron and Moses. The plagues were miracles of the Lord—horrible miracles—but miracles nonetheless. Jesus’ healings, resurrections, and exorcisms were also divine miracles to be believed by faith.
LCMS Pastor Paul Maier writes:
For believers, the Gospel reports of miracles are proof enough.
But for non-Christians and any whom we wish to reach with the Good News of what happened 2, 000 years ago, additional confirmation may prove helpful.
Is there any non-Biblical evidence supporting New Testament claims for the miraculous, including the greatest miracle of all: triumph over death in a resurrection? Indeed there is, and, at times, more than mere traces of evidence. What might be called "fallout" from the explosively miraculous can be detected also in purely secular sources. The probable arrest notice for Jesus is a case in point.
John's Gospel tell us: "Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him" (11:57). We may have some idea of how the arrest notice read. A rabbinical tradition recorded in the Talmud spells out the indictment against Yeshu Hannozri (Hebrew for "Jesus the Nazarene"). Combined with the New Testament evidence, the notice can be reconstructed as follows:
He shall be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf. Anyone who knows where he is, let him declare it to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
The reference to stoning rather than crucifixion is extremely credible. Jesus had not yet been arrested, and had he been seized anywhere or anytime the Romans were not present, he would most probably have been stoned to death, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7). For the present discussion, however, the mention of "sorcery" is quite remarkable. By definition, sorcery is something extraordinary or supernatural accomplished with help "from below." A miracle is the same, though achieved with help "from above." In any case, the supernatural is conceded.
This admission gains even greater importance from the fact that it comes from a hostile source. Positive testimony in a negative or hostile context becomes self-authenticating, an "admission against interest" in legal terms. Furthermore, this arrest notice also bears out the Gospel accounts of how Jesus' enemies responded to His miracles by claiming that they were accomplished not through God but Beelzebul. Clearly, this notice is strong outside evidence for the miraculous.
The Lord calls us to faith. He gives us that faith by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word. The one true God calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the one true faith until life everlasting. This is a lesson that Pharaoh and the idolatrous Egyptians would not learn. Will we? This is a lesson many of the Jewish leaders refused to learn. They knew the Scriptures, but misunderstood them so much that they could not and would not see Jesus for who He really was. Rather than believe who the Scripture said Jesus was and who Jesus Himself said He was, they invented an idol of their own, institutionalizing their unbelief in Jesus. Sadly, even these Jewish leaders believed more about the supernatural then than some so-called progressive Christians are willing to believe today! They have fallen away from faith, denied the Scriptures, and constructed yet another idol for themselves!
TLSB: The plague of gnats is more intense than the previous plagues, and the magicians concede that there is a God greater than the ones they serve. God’s judgment increases in magnitude as this plague drives Pharaoh and his magicians toward despair. People who trust Christ the Lord are drawn closer to Him in times of tribulation, seeking His forgiveness, comfort, strength, and healing for the sake of His cross and resurrection. [1] The Lord distinguishes between Egypt and Israel by protecting His people in Goshen from the plagues. Pharaoh wants the Israelites to sacrifice and worship according to his expectations, but Moses could never allow this. The means and character of worship must be subject to God’s Word rather than the will of any government or mob. The Lord distinguishes us by His grace and redemption. [2]
Jesus said: Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it! God grant that we would hunger and thirst for His Word, His righteousness, and His Sacraments, that we would nourished by Christ, to believe, teach, confess, and faithfully follow. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 108). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[2] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 109). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.