Monday, August 31, 2020

Monday of Trinity 12

 Government You Can Trust

Psalm 146 (ESV) Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!

The appointed Psalm for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity is a good one to focus on as the 2020 election season heats up, since it reminds us to temper our expectations of political leaders: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation….Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever.”

Psalm 146 does not criticize or condemn political leaders or government. No, it calls us to repentance for our twisted tendency to expect more from political leaders and institutions than God has provided for them to give us. The Scriptures demand our obedience to legitimate government, and they urge us to have utter realism about that government, which is staffed by sinners like us!

The reality is that, according to God’s Word, even the best political system or leader can do only so much good, and no more. By the same token, even the worst political leader or government can only do so much damage, and no more. God sets limits and He maintains those limits, because He is the King of the Universe.

The truth is that this Psalm isn’t really about politics at all, or about political leaders; this Psalm is about God. And it’s not just about “God” in some generic sense of the term, as in “90% of Americans still believe in God.” No, it’s about the true God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the only God who actually exists, whether people believe in Him or not; the God who made everything that exists and loved the world so much that, in spite of our sinful rebellion against Him, in the Person of God the Son, He nonetheless became man, a human being, in Jesus Christ, to save His people from their sins.

Psalm 146 describes the great and wonderful things that the Lord our God has done and still does, and it reads, you may have noticed, sort of like a summary of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels. Jesus executed justice for the oppressed, that is, He gave His life to redeem all humans who are oppressed by the demands of God’s Law and the requirement that sins be punished; Jesus executed justice for the oppressed, by dying for our sins and rising for our justification.

Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, and through His Word and Sacraments in the Church, He still does this today. Jesus gave food to the hungry, food that always satisfies and never perishes. Food that cost Him His own body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Food that He freely gives to us in the Bread of His Word and in the Bread and Wine of His Holy Supper.

Jesus set the prisoners free, redeeming from eternal death those condemned to everlasting damnation for their sins, and He still does the same today in the Gospel: if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. No government, no politician, can deliver the freedom Jesus gives you: freedom from guilt, from fear, from death, from the Law.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, and He still does today through His amazing grace. Jesus lifted up those who were bowed down to the ground, hopeless, at rock bottom, and He still does today: He says, “Come to Me”—all who are strong and powerful?—no, “Come to Me all who are weary, burdened, heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus cared about the alien and sojourner in a way that far transcends any immigration plan or policy. And He still does, for we are all strangers and aliens here on our way to a better country, to the Promised Land, and He goes with us all the way.

Jesus cared about poor widows long before there was any form, much less re-form, of Social Security or Medicare, and He still cares for them today and commands His church to do the same. Jesus cared about the fatherless and orphans, the most helpless members of society. He took the little children in His arms and blessed them, not as a campaign photo-op, but as an opportunity to show us what God is really like, a God who loves and blesses even babies and welcomes them into His Kingdom. A God who actually became a Baby in a manger, a God who says that we must become like babies if we have any hope of entering the Kingdom of God.

The Psalmist urges us: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord as long as I live.” Praising the Lord for all His wonderful deeds is our vocation, no matter who sits in the Oval Office or on any other seat of power; no matter what is going on in the world of politics; whatever anybody is saying on Fox News or CNN or BBC or MSNBC—regardless of all of that, the Psalmist says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live…The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”—since His government is the one you can always trust!

Prayer: Eternal Lord, ruler of all, graciously regard those who have been set in positions of authority among us that, guided by Your Spirit, they may be high in purpose, wise in counsel, firm in good resolution, and unwavering in duty, that under them we may be governed quietly and peaceably; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 11

 Teach the Faith!

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (ESV) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Paul and the other apostles chosen by Jesus trained and ordained pastors to carry on the ministry of Word and Sacrament in Christian congregations (Titus 1:5). The purpose of the apostolic ministry was and is to deliver “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:1) to sinners in need of salvation.

Timothy was a disciple (Acts 16:1), one who had been baptized and was regularly taught the Word of God (Matthew 28:19-20). Paul commissioned Timothy to accompany him on his journeys (Acts 16:1-5) and trained him to be a pastor. 2 Timothy 1:6 and 1 Timothy 4:14 describe the “laying on of hands” done by Paul and other ministers, referring to the occasion when Timothy was set apart for service in the public ministry of Word and Sacrament. Paul probably referred to Timothy as his “beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2) because he had trained him in the ministry (see 1 Corinthians 4:14-17).

Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, were disciples of Christ who brought up Timothy with a sincere faith in Jesus (2 Timothy 1:5). They taught Timothy from the Holy Scriptures even as a child, establishing a foundation that would last into eternal life (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Though raising Timothy was difficult, unglamorous work, Lois and Eunice became God’s instruments of blessing, first for Timothy, and then for everyone who has been taught by Timothy since then—including us! Let us thank the Lord “for all the faithful women” He has given to His church (LSB 855).

Timothy’s upbringing vividly demonstrates that there is no higher Christian service than bringing up children to fear, love, and trust in God. What good fruit will be produced by our Christian children in ages to come? Jesus has told us, “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:13-15). We fulfill that mandate first by presenting our children for Baptism and then by bringing them to church and Sunday School, as well as by training them at home in daily devotions. As our forefathers in Israel did, we are to teach the Words of the Lord diligently to our children, particularly at home! (Deuteronomy 6:7)

The Small Catechism instructs the head of the family to teach the household the chief parts of the Faith. The Lord uses parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, Lutheran school teachers, and others to hand on “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). None of us can take credit for the faith that dwells in us, because there is nothing in life that we have not received from the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Because Timothy had been thoroughly taught the Faith, Paul repeatedly encouraged him to teach the Faith to others (1 Timothy 4:13) and to train others to teach (2 Timothy 2:2). The source of all our teaching is the inspired, inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Teaching the Faith involves more than just “head knowledge”; it also includes training in piety and godly wisdom. Jesus teaches us to put His words into practice (Luke 6:46-49), which is not a legalistic command, but an invitation to walk in His ways.


Lord God, heavenly Father, You provided Your servant St. Timothy with faithful instruction in Your Word during his childhood, establishing for him a foundation of knowledge that served him throughout his life. Receive our thanks for the knowledge provided for Christian children by parents, teachers, and Your Church. As they continue to learn, grant them Your Holy Spirit that their understanding of Your gifts and talents will increase, leading into the vocations in which You would have them serve; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday of Trinity 11

 Humble Messengers, Healing Words

2 Kings 5:1-15a (ESV) Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

Elisha was successor to Elijah as Israel’s chief prophet. They both worked great wonders, but their main purpose was to exhort people to trust in and worship the Lord alone. Their miraculous signs were meant to turn people from false gods and lead people like Naaman to this conclusion: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15a).

In the Old Testament, leprosy describes various skin conditions that made a person ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 13-14). A common misunderstanding of the Old Testament ritual system is that “uncleanness” equates to sinfulness or condemnation. The Book of Leviticus shows that this was not so; states of cleanness had to do with determining which people were eligible to enter God’s holy presence in the sanctuary.

Leprosy caused discomfort and had serious social consequences. People avoided lepers and considered them cursed by God for some particular sin. Elijah’s healing of Naaman previews Christ’s healing of lepers, which fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). Jesus accomplished eternal healing for all people when He died for the sins of all (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Naaman was a valiant but leprous Syrian who did not know the Lord but had nonetheless been made a great leader by the Lord (2 Kings 5:1). An Israelite girl who had been kidnapped during a Syrian raid worked for Naaman’s wife and suggested that Naaman visit Elisha in Samaria to receive healing (5:2-3). The Lord used this girl’s difficult personal situation to bless others, much as He had done in Joseph’s time in Egypt (Genesis 37-50). She confessed her faith in the Lord and set an example for us by directing Naaman to the Lord’s appointed prophet; we can point our neighbors to the Lord’s appointed place of salvation: Jesus’ Word in the Christian church.

Naaman and the king of Syria thought it was necessary to purchase healing by sending money to the King of Israel (5:4-6). But grace cannot be purchased, and the King of Israel (Joram) knew it (5:7). He should not have panicked in unbelief but instead have sent Naaman directly to the Lord’s prophet, Elisha (5:8).

Naaman’s show of pomp outside Elisha’s house failed to impress the prophet, who sent a messenger to Naaman with the promise that washing in the Jordan would heal him (5:9-10). Naaman was insulted by Elisha’s indifference to his status and angered by the demeaning task of washing in the muddy Jordan (5:11-12). Naaman’s servants wisely convinced him to take the prophet at his word (5:13-14).

Naaman’s notion that God’s prophet should work in an outwardly impressive manner—through magic, or in a crystal clear stream—is similar to the notion that God’s salvation in the church should be accompanied by great miracles or shows of pomp. Instead, the Lord works through humble Words, water, bread, and wine. Like Elisha, Jesus does not even appear to us in person, but sends messengers! When those messengers deliver Jesus’ words of promise, “I forgive you,” we receive that “forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven” (Small Catechism).


Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elisha, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 11

Let Jesus Worry about It

Matthew 6:24-34 (ESV) Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
There are two ways of dealing with anxiety in life. Either we can try to eliminate worries by our own efforts, or let Jesus takes our anxieties from us. The Jesus answer to worry is found in Matthew 6:24-34. It is tempting to make this text into just another practical program for reducing worry in our lives, but the Jesus approach is far more radical. Over against all the momentary fixes that you apply to your problems in this life with practical advice and self-help philosophies, Jesus comes to you with the all-encompassing solution to all of your worries: He presents Himself. The One speaking in Matthew 6 is the one who has fulfilled all of the words of that same text. He wipes out any grounds for you to worry at all by pointing you to Himself as your Savior and by bestowing His eternal life-giving righteousness upon you.
In His Incarnation, the Son of God entered the stressful, anxious existence of toil we live in. He endured hunger, homelessness, and hatred from others, but through it all, He did not sin; unlike us, Jesus never wondered how He would pay the bills, nor did He anxiously sweat about tracking down His favorite food or drink to satisfy His cravings for earthly pleasure. He did not fret about whether He would have clothing on His back, nor did He worry about whether anyone thought He would look strange in a certain outfit. He did not stress about stretching His paycheck just to get by, nor did He worry about fluctuations in His retirement account. He did not worry about having the best medical care possible, and in fact, He didn’t worry a bit about His own well-being as He laid down His life on the cross for you.
All of the worries and cares that we sinfully fret about, Jesus did not. Instead, He lived by perfect faith in God, His Father and yours, who generously gives His creatures the necessities of life even before you think to ask. And then after Christ lived a life of perfect faithfulness in your place, the Lily of the Field, Jesus was thrown into the oven to be burned up for all of your sin, for all of your worries and cares and faithlessness. On the cross His life was consumed by God’s wrath against your guilt. He took the penalty you owed. He died so that you who are so obsessed with the day to day cares of life might be saved from eternal cares, so that you would not be dragged to hell by your sins.
The biggest anxiety for all of us should come as we face up to God and give an account of how we have used our lives. In the light of the Last Judgment and eternity, our day-to-day worries should melt away as we grow anxious under the demands of a holy and righteous God who expects unwavering faith and faithfulness from us.
But look at the freedom of Jesus, your Savior from death and hell! He had no concern for accumulating possessions and pleasures but knew that the Father would provide all that He needed, so He freely entered the oven of God’s burning wrath against your sin, so that you might be spared and saved for eternal life.
Baptized and believing in Jesus, you are saved for resurrected eternal life with Him, because Jesus did not remain burned up and dry in the tomb. On the third day, God the Father sent His vivifying Spirit to breathe life back into that Man, who has now ascended to the right hand of God and constantly intercedes for all of you. When you are anxious, remember that your Savior Jesus has His Father’s ear, and He assures you that the Father cares compassionately for you, even before you think to ask, and now all that is left to do with your lives is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” If there is any passage in the Bible that sums up the work we Christians are to do, this is it. Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Kingdom of God and His righteousness is now all that really matters in this life, because it is what assures us of eternal life forever, and King Jesus is the one telling us that we don’t have to be anxious today because He cares for us.
Prayer: Eternal God, You counsel us not to be anxious about earthly things. Keep alive in us a proper yearning for those heavenly treasures awaiting all who trust in Your mercy, that we may daily rejoice in Your salvation and serve You with constant devotion; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wednesday of Trinity 11

 Finding Certainty

1 Peter 1:1-9, 22-25 (ESV) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls… Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
An article in the Roman Catholic magazine America reports that a priest in Detroit recently found a video of his Baptism some 30 years ago and learned that the officiant had used “improper wording,” saying, “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” followed by “in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The article continues, “Because the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders can only be conferred upon validly baptized Catholics, Father Hood was ‘devastated’ to learn that not only was he not baptized or confirmed, but he also was not a validly ordained priest… As a consequence of the invalid baptism, Father Hood lacked the ability to confer most sacraments since he thought he was ordained in 2017, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in an Aug. 22 letter to Catholics in the archdiocese.”
This reminds me of the anecdote that I heard from a professor at seminary. When a man was about to be ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood, the presiding bishop learned that the man had been baptized “in the name of Jesus and of Mary and of Joseph,” so right then and there the bishop baptized and confirmed him in the vestry before the public ordination could occur. In that case, there is no question that the baptism was invalid, since the Words given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 weren’t used.
However, I take issue with the judgment rendered by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about this particular priest’s Baptism being “invalid,” for a couple reasons, the first biblical, the second theological.
First, the “I baptize” is not in Jesus’ words of institution for Holy Baptism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Some things get lost in translation, though, since the English obscures the second-person plural imperative and participles: “Therefore, after y’all have gone, y’all make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Since this is the case, then it would have been just as reasonable for the apostles to say “we baptize” as “I baptize.” That part doesn’t matter. What constitutes a valid “washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:26) is the combination of water with “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” done according to Christ’s command.
Second, our Lord did not give the gift of Holy Baptism to the Church in order to create uncertainty (“Did the priest or pastor say the words just right?”) but to offer us certainty of salvation: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).
St. Augustine said that it is not the absence of Baptism but the rejection of Baptism that condemns. Jesus says as much: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). We trust that the God of all grace will not determine the salvation of a sinner to the precision (or imprecision) of a fallible minister. “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Christ is the Savior; we trust in Him and are saved.
But what about the “validity” of sacraments administered by a pastor who was “improperly baptized”? As Lutherans, we reject the Roman Catholic notion that some sort of spiritual efficacy inheres in priests by virtue of their ordination. Instead, we trust that the Word and Sacraments are efficacious even if your pastor is an unbeliever!
Shocking, right? But this is how the Augsburg Confession, Article 8 puts it: “Strictly speaking, the Church is the congregation of saints and true believers. However, because many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled within them in this life, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat’ (Matthew 23:2). Both the Sacraments and Word are effective because of Christ’s institution and command, even if they are administered by evil men. Our churches condemn the Donatists, and others like them, who deny that it is lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who think that the ministry of evil men is not useful and is ineffective.”
Ideally, your pastor is both a true believer and was baptized properly, but no matter what, you should find certainty of salvation not in any human being but in God’s Word! “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25).
Prayer (LSB 509):
1. Christ is surely coming
    Bringing His reward,
Alpha and Omega,
    First and Last and Lord:
Root and Stem of David,
    Brilliant Morning Star;
Meet your Judge and Savior,
    Nations near and far!
2. See the holy city!
    There they enter in,
All by Christ made holy,
    Washed from ev’ry sin:
Thirsty ones, desiring
    All He loves to give,
Come for living water,
    Freely drink, and live!
3. Grace be with God’s people!
    Praise His holy name!
Father, Son and Spirit,
    Evermore the same;
Hear the certain promise
    From the_eternal home:
“Surely I come quickly!
    Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 11

 The Rightly Ordered Way

Psalm 50 (ESV) The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

The Psalm of the Day for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity concludes with words that have always struck me as crucial, but also easily misinterpreted: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23).

It would be easy to mistakenly infer a works-righteousness from this verse, along the lines of, “If you are sufficiently thankful to God and live a righteous enough life, then He will save you.” However, the internal logic of the verse doesn’t allow for such an interpretation, since the act of thanksgiving must be preceded by the reception of a gift, and following a certain path cannot occur unless the way is first shown.

The Epistle reading from Trinity 11 describes both what we are to thank God for and the way we are to walk: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

St. Paul clearly excludes the possibility of works-righteousness, since salvation—and the faith that receives it—is a “gift of God”! We who were dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) had to be born again, “created in Christ Jesus,” who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life,” the only path to God the Father (John 14:6). And once we are made new creatures and are brought into “the Way,” we simply travel the path of good works that God prepared for us to perform in our vocations.

Psalm 50:23, therefore, is not about our initial conversion but about our sanctification, the daily life of faith, wherein, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we put to death our old Adam and rise up to newness of life. Offering to God thanksgiving and living a rightly ordered life of repentance is simply part and parcel of the life of God’s “faithful ones” (Psalm 50:5).

One of the crises of our current day is disorder in homes, schools, and cities. This is but a consequence of the profound disorder in hearts and minds captive to Satan, who is a master at creating chaos. But it shall not be so among you: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

Taking up our cross and following Jesus each day, cleansed by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, walking in the good works God has prepared for us, faithfully looking forward to His coming—that is the rightly ordered way that culminates in everlasting salvation.

Prayer (LSB 707):
1. Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
    To keep His statutes still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
    To know and do His will!

2. Order my footsteps by Thy Word
    And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
    But keep my conscience clear.

3. Assist my soul, too apt to stray,
A stricter watch to keep;
And should I e’er forget Thy way,
    Restore Thy wand’ring sheep.

4. Make me to walk in Thy commands—
    ’Tis a delightful road—
Nor let my head or heart or hands
    Offend against my God. Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Monday of Trinity 11

 Saving Righteousness

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV) Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the Gospel reading for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, Jesus tells us that the Pharisee went to the Temple to pray. However, the Pharisee didn’t really go up to pray, but to be seen and heard, to compare himself to others, and to boast. The Pharisee stood by himself in a very noticeable way, set apart from everyone else so that people would look at him and be impressed. Then the Pharisee prayed, if you can call it a prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

But the problem with the Pharisee’s “prayer” is that he wasn’t really giving thanks; he considered that he possessed all the things he was talking about by his own efforts, so his prayer wasn’t thanking God for gifts received; rather, he was using that speech as an opportunity to compare himself to others, look down on them with contempt, and declare himself righteous before God and man. And there is some of that Pharisaical attitude in all of us. So we need to learn from this parable to seek out, find, and attack the Pharisee inside our sinful hearts.

Even if you can fool yourself and other people into thinking you’re righteous, here is the kicker: you can’t hide your sins from God, and that is what damned the Pharisee: he thought either that he had no sins or that he could cover them up with his good deeds. The Pharisee’s kind of outward righteousness, and our righteous deeds, aren’t the kind of righteousness that can get us right with God and save us. So repent.

Instead, we need a righteousness that covers all of our sins and truly fulfills all of God’s righteous Laws, and that is not something we can achieve or even find on our own. So if we want to be right with God, we can’t be like the Pharisee in his self-righteousness, but instead like the tax collector in his humility, repentance, and trust in God. Jesus tells us that he didn’t go up to the front of the Temple to be seen by all; he was embarrassed even to be seen, so he stayed far in the back. The tax collector didn’t shout up to God his virtues like the Pharisee, but he wouldn’t even look up to heaven out of guilt and shame. And he didn’t raise his hands in the air, presenting his good works to God, but he beat his breast out of grief over his sins. And as he continued to beat his breast, he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And God has been merciful to all of us sinners in Jesus Christ! When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom, signaling that ever since Christ’s sacrificial death, the Jerusalem temple is not the location of God’s merciful sacrifice for us, nor are we to offer our prayers there, but now the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is the Temple of God and the location of the sacrifice that has saved us. In Him alone is the righteousness of God that saves; in Christ alone are we are declared righteous and acceptable in God’s presence. And so we poor, miserable sinners, like the humble tax collector, do not come before God with our own righteousness, but with the humble prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And God is merciful toward you, because He has achieved atonement for all your sins in Jesus Christ and He promises to be merciful to all who trust in Christ’s atonement. Because of Jesus, you can be assured that the answer to your prayer for forgiveness is always going to be met with the Lord’s grace and mercy: “Yes! Yes!” He says to you: “You are my righteous child because I have given you regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism. Every time you confess your sins, in Absolution I declare you righteous and holy for the sake of Jesus. And now come, my righteous child, to My table, and eat of the sacrificial Lamb, the true body and blood of Jesus given and shed for all of your sins.” And in Christ and His righteousness you have the righteousness that saves you, that puts you at peace with God and grants you everlasting resurrected life in heaven.

Prayer: O Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, rescue us from our hypocrisy, which keeps us from seeing You as the center of all Scripture and acknowledging the present time as the time of salvation. Call us to repent of our self-righteousness so that we might look to You alone as the source of our life; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 9

 Live Like You Have Died

Galatians 6:14-18 (ESV) But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

The country music singer Tim McGraw had a chart-topping song in 2004 called, “Live like You Were Dying”. The song is about a man who receives a diagnosis of a life-ending illness and his response to it. In the song, the man’s life-threatening illness leads to profound moral changes in him.

Some elements of the man’s change are undoubtedly good and worthy of imitation: he begins speaking more kindly to others; loving more generously; being a better husband; reading the Bible; forgiving where previously he had withheld forgiveness. Other elements are rather trivial and even risky, perhaps even tempting God: skydiving, mountain climbing, bull riding. This has the air of “well I’m going to die soon anyway, so I might as well live dangerously.” In contrast with the better elements, this leaves the listener with a rather worldy message of carpe diem, “YOLO,” do what makes you happy.

But my main beef with the song is in its chorus: “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” This “were” is the helping verb you employ when you want to use the subjunctive mood, which communicates a hypothetical situation, such as, “If I were a rich man,” but clearly I’m not. So when the song says “live like you were dying,” this means, “I’m going to make it a point today to live as if I just received six months to live, but I can be confident that I will have that time, and I’m going to make the best of it.”

But what’s the reality? None of us is promised tomorrow, much less our next heartbeat. Consider the rich fool in Jesus’ parable, who had big plans for the future, yet God comes to him and says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:13-21). Or as St. James says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–15). Which is why God teaches us to pray, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

In other words, God tells you to live like you are dying. It’s just a matter of time, so you’d better be ready at all times, since you have to answer for your way of life as soon as the Lord calls you. This is a terrifying thought, that we will have to answer for our every sinful thought, word, and deed.

But the Good News is that Jesus Christ has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Why has He done this? That you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

But how do you know for certain that you belong to Christ Jesus and that His life, death, and resurrection has benefitted you? How has He claimed you as His own? By Holy Baptism! St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3). That means we have already died with Jesus! In Galatians 2, St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” That means Christ’s death for sin is your death for sin!

So the Christian motto really should be, “Live like you have died.” Yes, the baptismal reality for you is that you have died with Christ and you live under grace, not under law and condemnation. In Colossians 3:1-4, St. Paul says to the baptized: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”


God, our Father in heaven, look with mercy on us, Your needy children on earth, and grant us grace that Your holy name be hallowed by us and all the world through the pure and true teaching of Your Word and the fervent love shown forth in our lives. Graciously turn from us all false doctrine and evil living whereby Your precious name is blasphemed and profaned. Strengthen us by Your Spirit according to Your will, both in life and in death, in the midst of both good and evil things, that our own wills may be crucified daily and sacrificed to Your good and gracious will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday of Trinity 9

 Pardon and Power

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Sometimes Lutherans are accused of promoting laziness and aversion to good works, perhaps justifiably so. We correctly shout, “Salvation is by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone, without works of the law!” But the part about good works, let’s just whisper that, or leave it out.

However, Martin Luther himself observed that while faith in Christ alone saves, true faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by good works, by crucifying our sinful flesh and rising up to newness of life. And his explanations of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism tell us not only which sins to renounce and avoid, but also the good works called for in each commandment.

St. Paul, in Titus 2, also makes it clear that Jesus came to save us not only from sin, death, and hell, but also for something. The grace of God is more than just a “get out of hell free card” that I keep in my pocket to use when I die, and between now and then I can just pretty much live as I please.

The Son of God did not come down from heaven to live a life of poverty so that you can indulge in luxury and laziness. He did not sweat blood in Gethsemane so you can fill your blood with alcohol and sweat it out hung-over. He did not close His eyes in agony so you could fill yours with pornography and lust. He did not stretch out His arms on the cross so yours could embrace a forbidden lover. He did not have nails driven through His hands so you could fill yours with dishonest gain. His feet were not pierced so you could walk alongside evildoers. His tongue did not thirst so you could use yours for gossip and slander. He did not suffer the torments of the cross just so you can be free of the eternal consequences of your sins but in the meantime hang on to your favorite pet sins and live a selfish life devoted to worldly pleasure.

Instead, Jesus gave Himself up for you to ransom you from slavery to the lawlessness of sin; He purified you of your guilt in the waters of Holy Baptism, so that He could make you His own possession, people who are zealous for good works, eager to do excellent deeds, saying “No!” to ungodliness and fleshly lusts, living self-disciplined, respectable, and God-pleasing lives as you eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead and take you into His eternal Kingdom.

The good works we are called to be zealous for aren’t necessarily flashy or spectacular, but are very down to earth, just as our Savior is. Our Lord calls us to do whatever is at hand to do with all our might. In our vocations we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, doing humble good works like Mary and Joseph, caring for Jesus and bringing Him up in the Church. Humble good works like those taught in the Ten Commandments, such as praise of God, prayer, worship, honoring parents, disciplining children, helping a neighbor in need, contributing time, talent, and treasure to the Church, sharing the Gospel with others.

What’s a bit surprising is that the St. Paul says “The grace of God [is]…training us to renounce ungodliness...and to live godly lives.” We might have expected the text to say, “The Law of God has been given, training us to say “No!” to sin.” No doubt, God’s Law does say “No!” to all unrighteousness, and it has a degree of coercive power that helps keep our sinful flesh in check, but it certainly can’t save us or inspire a willing spirit that is eager to lead a godly life. Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the difference between right and wrong, so our problem is less about knowledge of what to do and more about needing the power to do it.

Elsewhere St. Paul says that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Paul says that the saving grace of God in Christ trains and empowers us to renounce ungodliness and embrace a life of good works. Christ’s grace is not only what justifies us but also what sanctifies us. And He attaches that saving and sanctifying grace to His Word and Sacraments, His Means of Grace given out in the Christian Church.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus your Savior and on the good work He has done of saving you. Don’t cut yourself off from the source of your pardon for sins and power for service by neglecting to read the Scriptures and use the Means of Grace, but make zealous use of them, confident that God will continue to work good things through you each day.

Prayer (LSB 824):


1. May God bestow on us His grace,

    With blessings rich provide us;

And may the brightness of His face

    To life eternal guide us,

That we His saving health may know,

    His gracious will and pleasure,

And also to the nations show

    Christ’s riches without measure

And unto God convert them.


2. Thine over all shall be the praise

    And thanks of ev’ry nation;

And all the world with joy shall raise

    The voice of exultation.

For Thou shalt judge the earth, O Lord,

    Nor suffer sin to flourish;

Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word

    Their souls to feed and nourish,

In righteous paths to keep them.


3. O let the people praise Thy worth,

    In all good works increasing;

The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,

    Thy Word is rich in blessing.

May God the Father, God the Son,

    And God the Spirit bless us!

Let all the world praise Him alone,

    Let solemn awe possess us.

Now let our hearts say, “Amen!”

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 9

 Forgiven Much, Loving Much

Luke 7:36-50 (ESV) One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

We’re like the Pharisees in that we don’t understand the depth of our sin. In truth, we are so sinful that we need forgiveness everyway we can get it. But Simon and the other Pharisees didn’t get that. Luke tells us three times that Simon is a Pharisee, so it has to be significant. It means that Simon had the typical self-righteous, prideful attitude of Pharisees throughout Luke’s Gospel. In chapter 7, we hear that the Pharisees rejected God’s purposes for themselves because they refused the baptism of repentance of John the Baptist. In chapter 11, when the Pharisees noticed that Jesus did not ceremonially wash before the meal, Jesus said, “you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Lk 11:39).  In chapter 15, they complained about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners. In chapter 18, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray, saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of these sinners.”

Since Simon was a Pharisee, it’s not surprising that he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." Simon could only see external sins, sins between one person and another. He couldn’t see the deadly sin that was festering inside himself, the sins of self-righteousness and pride. He didn’t realize that he was sinning against God through these things, basically saying, “God, I only occasionally mess up, and even then, it’s not so big. I’m not really a sinner!” That’s why Jesus told Simon the parable about the two debtors and the creditor. And that is why today, we too need that condemning word of Law to be placed in our ears so we recognize that sins of self-righteousness and pride might not be apparent to the world, but they are sins against God and you need forgiveness for them.

The Law condemns you with continual accusation, but Jesus is the Man who is always ready and waiting to forgive your sins. Jesus had forgiven the sinful woman at some earlier time before the dinner table scene. But because the Law again had made her aware of her great sins, she wanted to hear Absolution from Jesus again. We learn from this woman that the Christian life is one of continual repentance and returning to the Lord for forgiveness. That’s why Jesus has given the Church the Office of the Keys, to give you the Absolution that you need to hear. Anytime your conscience is plaguing you, you can come to your pastor to confess your sins and receive Absolution with the same certainty as if Jesus were the Man speaking the words Himself.

Because Jesus forgave the sinful woman, she showed her love for Him through her actions. The forgiveness of your sins also frees you for works of love. These don’t include weeping at Jesus’ feet and wiping them with your hair; that’s not where Jesus directs you. Jesus points you to love Him by loving your neighbor. This is an impossibly large task, and you will take notice of your great failures to fulfill it, but you will also love your neighbor without even knowing it through your vocations. Changing diapers, feeding and clothing your children, helping out a friend in need, or taking care of your aging parents are all works of love. Works of love toward your neighbor are those that are done in faith, for the life you live in the body, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you (Gal 2:20).  

The last words Jesus said to the sinful woman were “Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Those are his words for you, too. St. Paul wrote, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Jesus told His disciples before His death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27). Through the Means of Grace, He delivers that peace to you today, the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of a clear conscience, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Prayer (LSB 659):


1. Lord of our life and God of our salvation,

Star of our night and hope of ev’ry nation:

Hear and receive Your Church’s supplication,

    Lord God Almighty.


2. See round Your ark the hungry billows curling;

See how Your foes their banners are unfurling

And with great spite their fiery darts are hurling,

    O Lord, preserve us.


3. Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us;

Lord, be our shield when earthly armor fails us;

And in the day when hell itself assails us,

    Grant us Your peace, Lord:


4. Peace in our hearts, where sinful thoughts are raging,

Peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging,

Peace when the world its endless war is waging,

    Peace in your heaven. Amen.